As the countryside mist sways to and fro, bagpipes can be heard skirling in some far-off location. You’re surrounded by acres of overgrown grass, all covered in the fine dew of a Scottish morning.
Ahead of you a castle covered in bracken, behind you the mewing sound of sheep roaming through their usual day. You take a deep breath and close your eyes.
Even people who live in contemporary Scotland carry these Romantic visions around with them. It’s become a unique location, where the contemporary mingles effortlessly with a rich cultural heritage.
Bagpipes and Franz Ferdinand, Edinburgh Castle and Grand Theft Auto, the Loch Ness Monster and Trainspotting – they’re all equally successful Scottish exports, and they’ve all retained a lasting cultural currency.
Admittedly, ask anyone outside the UK what they think of Scotland and their minds will probably jump to Groundskeeper Willie from The Simpsons. But that’s the beauty of this country – it’s a cultural powerhouse that somehow flies under the radar.
A country of unexpected wonders
Just look at the American tourists who flock to Edinburgh every summer. They take their photos of the castle, as usual, but become visibly excitable at the world of possibility around them. During the Edinburgh Fringe – the world’s largest arts festival – their joy becomes almost palpable. In the cosmopolitan heart of the country, the sheer breadth of things to do can stupefy the average tourist.
But let’s get back to those Romantic visions, those broad expanses of countryside that are difficult to replicate anywhere else.
A drive to the Highlands is where you’ll find those tourist-satisfying spots of tranquillity. For anyone without the time to search every nook and cranny for the wonder of the Scottish countryside, there are a series of beautiful spots surrounding that most famous of locations, Loch Ness.
Urquhart Castle, a bracken covered ruin that gives you vista views of the Loch, is the perfect way to enjoy Scottish Romance with a capital R. And if you want to check the murky depths for the notorious Nessie, Loch Ness Cruises can be undertaken at cheap prices.
On one of these cruises, you’ll enjoy the soothing winds of Scotland and amazing views of country manors, dense forestland and even the occasional herd of deer. Once you’ve reached dry land, head to one of the loch’s delectable restaurants (Fiddlers Highland Restaurant is our favourite) and have a slap-up traditional Scottish meal.
More than the Highlands
All this is only in one small area of Scotland, barely more than a larger-than-average patch of land.
If you had the time you could head to Dundee and watch its billion-pound cultural regeneration project take shape. You could spend weeks in Glasgow visiting its bars, modern art museums and serene parklands. You could even take a ferry to Shetland – a tiny island at the most northerly tip of the country – and enjoy crashing waves on remote cliffs.
The world is you tartan oyster in Scotland – so what are you waiting for?