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Situated in the hilly Trossachs National Park, Loch Lomond is the largest inland waterway in all of Britain. Just a short ride from neighboring Glasgow, Loch Lomond is wilderness simplicity at its absolute finest. Inside of the park and along the shores of the loch, it’s possible to either take part in one of the many activities going on in the energetic little town, or take off into the hinterland and find a valley, hilltop, or other sliver of nature with the most pristine isolation that a national park can offer.
Only having a day to explore the surrounding area, I spent the majority of my time at the Loch perusing the local village and partaking in a small crafts fair that had assembled along the damp shoreline. After sampling many local dishes and handicrafts, I came away with a bundle of some delectable smoked cheeses from Ireland’s Aran Islands, which made for a perfect snack while strolling the shores of the postcard-quality lakeshore. Remarkably scenic, the entire Loch Lomond area exhibits the allure of the Scottish highlands that rest just to the north, and the scenery begs the visitor to simply walk off across the horizon and get lost in its rugged terrain
Resisting the strong urge to go feral back in the Scottish hills, I hopped a bus from quaint little Loch Lomond out east to seemingly everyone’s favorite Scottish town, the always-happening capital city of Edinburgh. Famously boasting the highest concentration of pubs per square kilometre of any city in Europe, Edinburgh, without saying, is a tightly packed cluster of music and energy. For those looking to get a handle on the infamous pub scene, there are a number of pub crawls that hit the high points of all the different watering holes around the city. One fellow Scottish barmate I encountered in the depths of a happening pub wore a black t-shirt that simply stated “Shit happens when you party naked”. Welcome to Edinburgh.
While some local university students may argue, there is much more to Edinburgh than the pub scene. Notably famous is the stroll through the well-preserved old town from Edinburgh Castle down the Royal Mile. Situated at a prominent vantage point overlooking the town, Edinburgh Castle is everything a castle should be: impressive, daunting, elegant, and a veritable fortress. Focusing largely on the storied military history of Scotland and offering incomparable views over the town of Edinburgh, a visit to Edinburgh Castle is an absolute must for anyone spending time in the city.
Down from the Castle is a stretch of road known simply as the Royal Mile, which easily serves as the main tourist thoroughfare in all of the Old Town . Awash with souvenir shops, clothing shops, street performers, and of course, a large number of pubs, walking the Royal Mile is walking a gauntlet of ceaseless Scottish charm. Running from the Castle down to the ornate Holyrood Palace, the Queen of England’s official residence when in Edinburgh, what I found to be more impressive was to continue on past the Holyrood district out into the pasturelands and climb up Arthur’s Seat for a private and scenic view of the surrounding area. Climbing Arthur’s Seat is a refreshing rural retreat from the constant thump of the energy-packed city center, and though a popular walking destination, it isn’t hard to tuck away in your own little corner of the hillside and be completely alone with nothing but the panorama of Edinburgh and the gusting breeze to keep you company.
Outside of the Royal Mile district, anyone looking to brush up on their Highland history and lore can eat their heart out at the National Museum of Scotland. Located in a somewhat non-descript part of town, inside of the massive walls lie endless streams of information on anything and everything considered to be representative of the great region of Scotland. Most impressive, I feel, is the display of William Wallace’s sword (the glorified hero of Mel Gibson’s Braveheart). Seriously, the thing is beyond massive. To this day I refuse to believe that the thing is real. There is simply no way that any human being could lift–much less swing–a sword of that magnitude. For me, that gargantuan steel staff sitting stoically in its well preserved case simply added to the lore, the intrigue, the mystery, and the storied history of life in these fabled, tartan-covered, beer-splatterd highlands way up north.