Monday 28 April 2014

Bonnie Edinburgh and Haggis Adventures

It is midnight. My clothes are sticking to my skin, there is a crick in my neck and my head is ponding due to excessive heat. I am 2 hours into a 9 hour coach journey to Edinburgh
In a typically British manner, no-one directly confronts the driver. Those who do raise a complaint are waved away dismissively with uncaring words. 

By 2:00am, I begin to shiver. There is cold air being blasted through the coach. Baked and freeze thawed to the numbing vibration of the night coach, Alice, MC, Eric and I reach Edinburgh in a suitably dishevelled mess. 

Megabus? 9 hours - never again!

It is a bright morning and we spend the first 7 hours 'homeless' in Edinburgh. We dismiss our yearnings for a soft bed and a shower and we set off, embracing an empty Edinburgh with glee until our hostel check in time at 2:00pm. 

We descended into the city without a clue. Starting with a budget breakfast at Snax Cafe, we proceeded to explore the cobbled streets from Princes Street, across the water of Leith then down through the Royal Mile. There is something so captivating about walking through an empty city. We arrived in Edinburgh at 7:00am and there wasn't a soul in sight. The blue sky was the perfect backdrop to the Fairy-tale like architecture.

Evil Disney Tower 
I attributed the Scott Monument to a evil Disney tower. The castle felt all encompassing, where ever we stood in Edinburgh, as we felt the presence  of the building above us.  

Edinburgh Castle from the streets 
By lunchtime, the quiet streets were replaced by the bustling crowds of Easter. We return to Haggis Hostels for a much needed shower in the afternoon, renewing ourselves for our sunset trek up to Arthur's seat

It was a 3 hour round trip from Haggis Hostel to Arthur's Seat. With the sun blazing down on the city, we decided to take an unconventional route up the extinct volcano, crawling on our hands and feet up a eroded but pathless ascent. 
Go MC! 
 We ended up on hills parallel to the peak of Arthur's seat, looking down upon the panoramic views of Edinburgh and afar. It was a beautiful evening for the hike. 

Alice and I overlooking Edinburgh 
Our hunger pangs eventually drove us back down to the city centre. With a Gourmet Society Card at hand, we rounded up our day with a delicious meal at Ryan's Bar in the West End. Our table was situated in what felt like a mini private cove. We were seated at a round table lit by flickering candlelight with soft, ambient piano music playing in the background. 
Delicious and relaxing end to the day! 

Haggis, neaps and tatties!
(sheeps stomach, mashed turnips
and mashed potato)

7:00am - 9:00pm: 14 hours in Edinburgh and still more to embrace in the city. We spent our second day wandering through The Childhood Museum, strolling through the West End and warming up in The Royal Mile Tavern with a pub lunch.

Wee Tips fer Edinburgh

  • Book your hostel in advance, especially during the holiday season. We ended up sneaking Alice into our hostel and secretly bed sharing due to lots of hostels being fully booked! 
  • Edinburgh is best done over approximately 2 days. One day felt too rushed. By the end of Day 2 we felt like we had covered the city quite comprehensively. 
  • My top 3 recommendations for things to do in Edinburgh are: an ascent up Arthur's Seat, The National Museum of Scotland and a stroll down the Royal Mile to take in the beautiful architecture. Don't forget to check out 'The Elephant Cafe', where JK Rowling wrote Harry Potter and Tom Riddle's grave!
  • Cheap Eats: The Snax Cafe (famous for it's Scottish Breakfast only £3.20!) and The Royal Mile Tavern (only £5.95 for a massive and delicious pub lunch). 
  • Don't take the coach to Edinburgh, it's torture. Opt for a 4.5 hour train journey or a one hour flight instead. Our Megabus single was £19.00. Our return flight from Edinburgh to London Gatwick (EasyJet) was £24.99. 
  • We stayed at Haggis Hostel and Budget Backpackers. Haggis Hostel was standard yet cosy at the cost of £30.00 a night including free breakfast. Budget backpackers was very cheap at £12.50 a night with quirky and fun surroundings!
Budget Backpackers/Kick Ass Cafe 

Haggis Adventures - 3 Day Skye High 

I have a level of skepticism attached to tours that I can't shake off. It's the obligation of travelling in a group. The shepherding from one location to another. The irony in the lack of freedom and spontaneity that is normally embedded in travelling. Nevertheless, I knew I really wanted to see the Highlands for my Easter break in Scotland. We managed to find a incredibly good deal with Haggis Adventures at 50% off at the TNT Travel Show (£125.00 marked down to £62.50). After a day in Edinburgh, we embarked on the 3 day Skye High Tour. 

It's a 8:30am start on Day 1 and our first stop is The Wallace Monument. 

It's a beautiful building and I immediately begin to associate it with the tower in Disney's Sleeping Beauty. Overall, we hop on and off the bus for the day, taking in the rolling scenery in Glen Coe with a 30 minute walk and stopping off in Fort William to marvel at the snow capped peak of Ben Nevis. We arrive in Fort Augustus in the early evening for our x2 nights stay on tour at Morag's Lodge. Alice and I opted for a Loch Ness Boat cruise (£13.00) in order to go Nessie hunting for the evening. 

Maybe it's Nessie. Or maybe it's a sticker on the boat window, who knows! ;)

At the hostel, to our absolute delight, we were luckily assigned a private 4 bed dorm with a en-suite bathroom! "Whoop whoop whoop! It's like a hotel!!". We bounce around the room excitedly, bags strewn across the floor and spirits high after a packed first day on tour. At 9:30pm, we go down to the hostel bar for the longest drawn pub quiz I'd ever been to then enjoy a restful nights sleep in our room.

Day 2 

We're on the coach again, watching the rugged scenery pass by. The lochs mirror the mountains, with the water reflecting the sun's rays, like scattered glitter. "I love this" I mumbled fondly to Alice. I felt a deep sense of appreciation and peacefulness and I found it difficult to comprehend that such captivating scenery was part of the UK. 

We stop off at Eilean Donan Castle, a location modelled on Pixar's 'Brave'. 

It's a direct drive to the Isle of Skye. After driving across the bridge to the island, we suddenly hit a long line of traffic. The tour guide, Katie, informs us that there was a motorbike accident and cars were being turned back. 

We drove to the southern part of the Isle of Skye instead, where we stopped off at Armadale Castle Gardens as an alternative. I felt utterly crushed. There was nothing more I wanted to see then the mountainous scenery of Skye. As we queued for the tickets, I felt a growing streak of annoyance. I can go anywhere to see manicured castle gardens. Not here, not now. I began to insist exploration as a better alternative. Who wants to hang around a manicured garden for 3 hours? There were 49 of us on total on the tour and me, Alice, MC and Eric decided to rebel against the set activity. We crossed the road and climbed over the wall, stumbling upon a rocky outcrop surrounded by turquoise waters. 

It felt like summer and my heart inflated with joy. We mucked about on a rope-swing. Sat on a tree. Climbed up rocks. Dipped our feet in the icy cold water. Picked up crystal like stones and peered curiously into rock pools teeming with life. 

 We couldn't be happier. We envisioned the 'pretty gardens for £6.00' and laughed at the prospect. It was T-shirt weather and we soaked in the sunlight.
It was an hours drive back to the hostel after our Skye Adventure. We spent the evening playing cards and cooking up tuna mayo pasta. Katie insisted on a toga party with the group. I quietly slipped back to my room, with the terribly invalid dinner excuse of "I have bread to put right back". I can't help but find parties really draining and overwhelming and I knew  I wanted a cosy evening beneath my duvet with music and my travel journal.

Day 3 

It's our last day on tour with Haggis Adventures. We bid a fond farewell to our luxurious room at Morag's lodge and set off for Tomatin's Whisky Distillery, just south of Inverness. 

The smell was awful in the distillery. I couldn't help but take very shallow breaths whilst she spoke of how the whiskey was made. We were given a free sample of the 12 year old Tomatin whisky at the bar. Bleeeeeeerggggguuuuhhhhhh!! I drank the tiniest sip and I completely recoiled at the taste. I don't like alcohol, and I don't think I ever will! 
Our last few stops on the final day of the tour included Culloden Battlefield, the banks of Loch Ness and a waterfall.

Porridge Waterfall 
We arrive back in Edinburgh at 6:00pm. I genuinely enjoyed going on tour with Haggis Adventures. Although it takes away a degree of freedom, the tour was extremely convenient and with great stops. I knew it was difficult to get to the Highlands via public transport and going on tour meant that we were able to make the best use of our time for our Easter break in Scotland. 

Haggis Adventures Trip Tips 

  • Get the tour for half price! Visit the Haggis Adventures stall at the TNT Travel Show in London for 50% off the tour price.
  • The tour doesn't include accommodation. Budget £17.00 a night for Morag's Lodge. Dinner was priced at £7.50 and breakfast at £4.00. 
  • There were optional extras that I thought should've been included in the tour price, but they weren't. The boat trip on Loch Ness (1 hour) was £13.00, and a show was £5.00 on the last night.
  • Although we did cover 300+ miles in the 3 days, the coach journeys never felt long. There were lots of rest stops in between for stretching your legs.
  •  Overall, I'd highly recommend Haggis Adventures. Great stops, great knowledge of Scotland and an all round good time on the trip!

No comments:

Post a Comment