International Travel Guide: Pitlochry, Scotland, UK

Destination: 

Pitlochry, Scotland, UK

Information on the location:

We were mostly in the middle of Scotland.  From Glasgow to Inverness.  It’s beautiful there.  Lots of castles, hills, mountains, and stone buildings.  It’s not as green as the Yorkshire Dales, but it is still very pretty.  We went in May, so by about 8pm, it never got any darker.  The sun kind of stayed just below the horizon, making it appear dusk for hours.  It was very easy to lose track of time after 8.  It would suddenly be 11pm, and I would have no idea.    

 

Booking the Flight:

This entry will be very similar to the entry from the Yorkshire Dales.  I come from the United States.  If you are flying from here, I’ve never had any trouble with American Airlines.  I usually fly into and out of the Philly airport.  It’s smaller than New York, but is still a sizable airport.  They have lots of food options while you wait.  The flights to Europe are overnight flights.  I leave myself a few hours layover in between, so that I don’t risk missing the evening flight over.  If the airline fare is less than 1200 ‘round trip, then I recommend buying it.  It changes year to year, but it’s rarely that cheap.  Sometimes you can find it as cheap as 500 dollars, but that’s a steal!  When heading specifically to Scotland, fly into the Glasgow airport.  

 

Tips on the flight:

This entry will be very similar to the entry from the Yorkshire Dales.  The flight from Philly to Glasgow is about 6.5 hours.  It usually departs around 8 or 9pm.  After takeoff they’ll serve dinner—I always decline dinner in favor of trying to sleep.  It will be very hard to get some sleep on the plane, but a few things can help.  The first thing is to make sure you’re not too hot or too cold.  I always bring a spare jacket in case I need to cover up with it.  On the overnight flights they also provide a pillow and a blanket.  Adjust your situation until you are feeling just right.  Some people will bring ear buds to block out noise, and maybe even a face mask to cover the eyes and make it nice and dark.  The next problem is trying to rest your head.  This is much trickier.  The pillow they provide can help a little, but not as much.  If you are against a window, the pillow can help lean up against that side of the plane.  The best solution I’ve found is something similar to the TRTL travel pillow you can find on amazon.  It compacts down to be pretty small.  When open, you wrap it around your neck.  There’s a rigid section that keeps your chin supported.  I can sleep a little bit with that on.  It’s still very restless sleep, and by the time the plane lands in England the next morning, you will feel exhausted.  Make sure you have a pen.  In years past they have asked us to fill out a customs card.  If you don’t fill it out on the plane, no worries—they have more and extra pens before you get into the line to clear customs.  Read the customs card and fill the form out correctly.  It’s specific on how to do so.

 

Once in Glasgow:

This entry will be very similar to the entry from the Yorkshire Dales.  The planes usually arrive around 7:30 or 8am.  Your body will feel like it is 3am (if you live on the east coast).  In addition to not sleeping well the night before, this first day will be tough.  You will very likely be exhausted.  You’ll head to pick up your bags first, and then you’ll head to customs.  You’ll hand them the card they had you fill out on the plane (this has been changing in various places—it may change here too.  Just follow the instructions).  When you go up to the customs agent, they’ll usually have a brief conversation—they’ll ask where you’re going, how long you’re in, where you’re from, etc.  They’ll be gauging whether or not you seem like you’re lying.  Just answer honestly and to the best of your ability.  After you’re cleared by the agent, proceed on your way, and to an ATM.  I recommend pulling out a couple hundred dollars/about one hundred and fifty pounds (depending on the exchange rate).  Most places will take card, so save your cash for the places that don’t.  Some won’t.   After you’ve gotten some pounds, head on out of the airport.

 

Rental Cars:

There are rental car companies at the airport.  I suppose that’s true of almost all airports.  Make sure you do that before your flight.  Once you leave the airport, just head to the rental car area.  You may have to take a shuttle, and/or ask for directions.  We usually go with Hertz.  A word of warning:  one year we had some friends traveling with us.  They had booked their rental car through one of the agencies like enterprise or expedia.  I don’t remember which one they used.  The rental car company did not honor their booking.  They told our friends that they never offer fares that cheap, and to request a refund from the intermediary they had purchased it through.  They had to pay the rental car company what they were asking.  It was more expensive.  So be careful if you are booking through one of those sites.  It’s beneficial to both groups to honor those prices, so I’m not sure what dispute the car company had with the servicer.  If you book with one of those services, though, you are not guaranteed to be booked with the airline/car rental/etc.

 

Driving:

The first thing I will recommend before you leave the parking lot of the rental car place is to check your car for any damage.  Indicate it on the slip before you leave.  The next thing that is going to be of vital importance to getting around is a GPS.  Make sure you’ve updated the map for Europe.  Gas is very expensive.  They have a much higher gas tax there than here.  Usually, filling a small to mid sized car, takes about 80 dollars.  Once on the interstate, the left lane is the slow lane while the right lane is the passing lane.  So while here, you stay out of the left lane except when passing, there it’s reversed.  Be careful about your speed—rarely will an officer chase you down, but they will take a photo of your license plate and send it to whoever owns the car.  If you get a ticket, the rental car company will charge you an extra fee.  It’ll take about two to three hours to drive up to Pitlochry from Glasgow.

 

Recommended First Stop:

For this I will say Pitlochry.  The town has everything you’ll need, even a railway station.  It’s not a far hike from where we stayed to the town itself, so we would just carry our groceries to the cottage.  It would take maybe 10 to 15 minutes to walk it—so be mindful if you’re carrying heavy things.  I would take my hiking backpack to fill it so we could walk the distance without feeling overburdened. 

 

Recommended Places to Stay:

We often look for self-catering cottages or castles to rent instead of hotels or pubs.  The cottages can be stunning.  The only place I’ve stayed in Scotland so far was My Scottish Cottage, right next to the Moulin Inn.  This was a great location.  Moulin Inn was right next to us, which made getting a bite to eat very convenient.  The town was only a short walk, and had a grocery store attached.  There were easily accessible hikes right from the front door of the cottage.  And right next to us was an old church with a graveyard. 

 

 

Recommended Pubs/Food:

Moulin Inn for convenience.  It was right next door to our cottage.  Otherwise the pubs were similar, with similar food as the Yorkshire Dales, albeit some minor differences.

How to Order: The pubs that serve food generally have similar things.  I love the chips they serve, and will often crave them when I’m back home in the States.  They’re just plain fried potato wedges with no seasonings, but so good.  Especially with vinegar.  Lamb is very common to find in the pubs up there, and is very good, especially when paired with mint.  When you go to eat at a pub, traditionally you go up to the bar to order.  Check your table for a number first—you’ll need that when you tell them where you’re sitting.  You order, pay for it, and then wait at the table.  The food will come out when it’s done, not for the entire table at once.  You can go up and order more, or order dessert.  It’s very informal.  What’s nice about this is because you’ve paid first, when you’re done, you get up and leave.  It’s polite to stack any glasses back at the bar, but they’ll pick up the other dishes.  Don’t leave a tip unless you’ve had full table service.  If you go up to the bar to order, you won’t tip.   A lot of pubs are pet friendly, so you’ll see cats or dogs (mostly dogs) hanging around—sometimes sheep or lambs.  It’s not uncommon.  Occasionally you’ll find one that bans pets, but for the most part they’re allowed in most of the pubs.   

 

Top Five Castles/Abbeys to See:

There’s so many!  I’ll go over my top five recommendations for castles and abbeys to visit. 

 

  • Urquhart Castle:This was an amazing castle.  It over looks Loch Ness, which is a bonus.  The ruins are interesting, and widespread.  You can still climb up on sections.  In front of the castle ruins there’s a trebuchet, with a little history talking about how they would have been used.  It’s a nice touch.  The castle was very busy—I’m guessing because of it’s location right off of Loch Ness.  But I did love it.  It was very interesting.
  • Saint Andrew’s Cathedral:The Cathedral is in ruins now.  The remaining structure was fascinating to see.  There’s just enough of the foundation in places to get an idea of what it would have looked like in it’s full glory.  The area is huge.  There are different levels of the graveyard attached, separated by stone fences.  The pieces of the cathedral left are like jagged spires sticking up high from the ground below in unusual shapes.  It was very cool.  From here, you could see Saint Andrew’s Harbor. 
  • Doune Castle: I loved this castle.  It was where they filmed most of the castle scenes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  I guess they had a ton of castles lined up that all fell through at the last minute.  They were in a pinch, and just had to get creative on the camera work to film the castle.  You can absolutely see where different scenes are filmed while there.  This castle is mostly still finished.  I was horribly sick the day we came here, but I’d been looking forward to this for so long that I forced my way through it.  The courtyard was green grass surrounded by the castle walls.  You could sit at a big wooden table in the great hall.  You could even walk on the walls along the roof, and look down at everything below.  It was awesome.
  • Cawdor Castle:  This is near the town of Cawdor.  The castle is huge, with tons of rooms to explore.  The family still lives in the castle.  This one is not in ruin.  The gardens are the most impressive part of it.  They are expansive, and beautiful.  Large hedges, pretty flowers, fountains, statues, and gravel paths.  It definitely made this castle stand out. 
  • Stirling Castle: It’s another castle that is not a ruin.  It’s set on the side of a cliff, which makes for an impressive view.  Apparently an old inventor jumped to his death off the side of the cliff, trying to prove to the Duke that his contraption could fly.  It could not.  There are lots of rooms to explore.  The site itself is large, with several open stone courtyards leading to more rooms.  There’s lots of little spaces to explore.  Definitely worth a trip. 

 

Top 5 Hikes:

There are so many places to hike, and incredible things to see along the way.  I love getting lost in nature, but also appreciate finding ruins to explore.  You can hike just about anywhere here, so I’ll do my best to narrow it down to my top five!

 

  • Ben Vrackie: This hike is 8 miles.  It was by far my favorite hike in Scotland.  We could walk to it from our cottage, which was nice.  You’ll walk over some gentle hills before you get to the base of Ben Vrackie.  The climb up the mountain is steep.  There are uneven stone steps all the way up.  The wind was blowing, so anytime I wanted to lift my head and look around or take photos, I needed to plant my feet, and then look up.  At the top you can see the highlands to the north.  The view was incredible.  There are two stones at the top you can take pictures in front of.  After we climbed up, we sat on the side of the mountain that blocked the wind and had lunch before climbing back down.  The climb down was worse—mostly because the tendon around the outside of my knee started hurting, and the more I walked, the worse it got.  There wasn’t much I could do except keep walking.  There’s a lake at the bottom.  We followed the long route around the lake to get back to Pitlochry.  With my knee being how it was that probably wasn’t smart, but it was very pretty.  Beautiful hike!
  • Three Sisters Hiking Trail Glencoe:Glencoe is the prettiest place I think I have ever seen.  We only made it part way on the trail before a storm brought it’s fury down upon us with snow, rain, and wind.  Even though we saw the storm coming, the beauty of Glencoe beckons you in.  There are two places to park along the edge of the road to hike those trails.  We parked at the smaller of the two.  We started our way down the hill to follow the trail in between the mountains.  There’s something about it that just calls to you.  It’s worth it even for the view of the mountains from the road.  There’s a little bridge over the river before you head up, and that’s where the storm stopped us.  So I did not get a chance to fully explore this hike.  Next time I’m there I will do so.  However, words can’t do Glencoe justice.  This place was magic, and worth seeing in person.      
  • Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh: I believe while we were in Edinburgh I got whatever illness that would lay me out a couple of days later, and make me miserable when I was trying to see Doune and Stirling Castles.  There is a castle there, which is where we started the hike, which is a bonus.  Negative points for making me sick.  From the castle, you’ll walk down the main road, and split off from the right at the bottom.  You’ll follow the paved road for a while, and then split off to follow a smaller road up the hill.  It’s steep, but not crazy, and with the paved road to help, it’s not as treacherous as other climbs I’ve done.  Once the road levels off near some water, you’ll turn right, off the road, and head up a grassy hill.  That takes you to Arthur’s Seat.  When you get close to the top it gets very rocky.  I had to climb up on my hands and knees, and climb down by sitting down.  But it was worth it to go all the way up.  The view overlooks Edinburgh.  This is rumored to have been one of many possible locations for King Arthur’s story.  I think this one is less likely.  But it is still a nice hike, with pretty views.  The park has more to offer than just that, and you could keep exploring.  We climbed it despite the rain, and I’m glad we did.  But it was raining all day—which is why it is good to always wear waterproof pants when hiking in England and Scotland.
  • The Falls of Bruar: This isn’t a long hike.  It’s relatively easy to do, but the forest, the river, the stone bridges, and the views are amazing.  There are multiple falls and stone bridges to see.  The higher you go, the more spectacular the view becomes.  It only took an hour or an hour and a half to walk it up and back.  The forests had a lot of moss covering the ground, which was really pretty.  Even though it was bright outside, there were areas so thick with trees it was quite dark to walk through, which was a cool experience.  There are jagged rocks, particularly down by the river.  And the view looking back down the gorge is amazing.  You can even see mountains in the distance over the trees.  The mossy ground around the trees was my favorite part of it.  It just was so vibrantly green, and looked so interesting.
  • Glenfinnan Viaduct and Station: This is only a two mile hike from the station to get to Glenfinnan viaduct.  That’s where they filmed the train scenes on the way to Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies.  The viaduct is impressive, and you can clearly see the scenes from the movies.  The landscape around is also very pretty.  Impressive hills and crags surround the whole area.  And the viaduct set in the landscape is also very striking.  The whole area is just very pretty.

 

 

Other Things to Do:

  • The Queen’s View: This is near Pitlochry.  It’s a beautiful view of the river and the mountains beyond.  There’s a car park nearby, and the walk is only a few minutes from the car park to the view.  It’s worth a look.  The view was absolutely incredible.
  • Fort William to Mallaig on the Jacobite Train: If you’re a fan of Harry Potter, this train actually takes you over the Glenfinnan Viaduct used in the filming of the movies.  The first class cabins were used in the filming on the train.  Someone even comes by with a trolley if you end up in first class, but, sadly, they don’t have chocolate frogs.  They slow down over the viaduct so people can get pictures.  There’s also a train station not far from the viaduct where it will stop, before the train continues on to Mallaig.  The views on the train were amazing the entire trip.  Mallaig is a charming little coastal fishing town that is sadly lacking Hogwarts.  But if you love great views, this is a good ride to go on.
  • Highland Games: There are highland games near Blair Castle once a year in May.  We were lucky enough to be there while it was happening.  It was incredible.  Blair Castle still has it’s own private army, and they march through during the games.  There will be dancers, and pole throwing, and discus throwers, and races.  It was amazing to see.  It was a little festival with items to buy, and incredible food.  One of the vendors even had ostrich and kangaroo burgers as an option.  Amazing crepes that are made right in front of you.  T-shirts, and kilts, or handmade objects were on sale.  There were little mini games you could participate in.  It was a lot of fun.
  • Explore Saint Andrews: This town is very pretty.  It has Saint Andrew’s University nearby.  Saint Andrew’s Cathedral is here.  There is also a castle, but we did not go in.  You can see a good portion of the castle from the coast.  When the tide is low, you can walk down on the rocky ocean floor around the town.  It’s very cool to see.  There are beaches in some places, namely by the harbor on one side, and jagged rocks to explore on the other.  This is also where they’ll have major golf tournaments here.  There is a little tiny bridge that is very commonly photographed with golfers here to explore, if you like it.  The bridge was quaint, and a good photograph even though I’m not a golf fan.  There’s a lot to see and do here outside of just the cathedral.  It is a very walkable town.
  • Black Castle Ruins: This isn’t really much of a hike from where we stayed.  It’s just across the field.  The ruins themselves have mostly been reclaimed by nature.  You can see humps where the walls once were in some cases.  There is still some of the stone up, but not as much.  The black death spread to the castle, which ushered in its demise.  There’s something eerie about it when you know that history.  It was abandoned after that, and just fell to ruin.  On our way back from the castle, we stopped into the church right next door to us to check out the graveyard.  It’s called the heritage center.  There is a grave from someone who served in the crusades.  It was also very cool.  It’s worth taking a couple of hours to explore them both, but you won’t need more than that. 

 

I would highly recommend visiting Scotland.  It’s a great place if you love hiking, and being outdoors.  I sincerely hope I can go back, even if just to see Glencoe again.  I can’t express how incredible that area looked.  With the storm that rolled in on top of us, my photographs don’t really do it justice.  It really is a magical landscape.      

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