Burns Night – A Scottish Festival

The Scottish know how to have a good party – in Scotland both January 1st and 2nd are public holidays (so as to offer good recovery time from Hogmanay) and the national day, St Andrews Day, is patriotically celebrated.  There is little excuse needed then for a further festival which takes place across Scotland on January 25th each year to celebrate possibly the nation’s greatest poet – Robert “Rabbie” Burns – and few festivals could carry with them such intrinsically Scottish tradition!

Scottish Poet Robert Burns
Scottish Poet Robert Burns

Taking place on or around January 25th, each year, the Birthday of Robert Burns, “Burns Night” is celebrated widely throughout Scotland as a tribute to the life and works of this great Scottish poet.  Robert Burns, who was born in the 1700s and loved in the Scottish Borders region south of Glasgow, was, and still is, revered as a master of the Scots Language as well as writing in English and a Scots dialect of English; his poetry and folk songs are widely known across Scotland and indeed the world and include the famous “Auld Lang Syne” which is traditionally sung at Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve) each year and of course, his “Address to a Haggis” a fantastic work dedicated to Scotland’s national dish.

Piping of the Haggis
Piping of the Haggis

The Burns Night celebration usually takes place as a traditional Burns Supper which can be a formal meeting and meal of a society, club or social group or simply a family gathering. Nowadays this gathering can take many forms however typically the evening starts with contributions from the attendees which could be story-telling, recitals of verse or performances of songs, original or old but most definitely including some of Burns’ work.  Then to the important business of food and drink – the main dish is of course Haggis (minced offal and oats cooked with onion and seasoning and served in a sheep’s stomach lining) usually served with neeps and tatties (Parsnips and Potatoes).  Traditionally the meal is served only after a recital of the famous “Address to a Haggis” often accompanied by the sound of the bagpipes in the background.  The dish is of course washed down with some quality single malt scotch whisky!  In more formal quarters the evening is then rounded off with “a toast to the lassies” whereby a male speaker shares his views and words of wisdom on the subject of women followed by what’s now often referred to as the “toast to the laddies” in which a female responds with her insights and anecdotes regarding  the male species!  And all followed with general socialising, drinking and banter that the Scots are so good at.

If you find yourself in Scotland in January, don’t miss out on a chance to experience a Burns Supper and even if you’re not here for Burns Night itself you can still enjoy a traditional Scottish evening in Edinburgh including the piping of the Haggis.

Scottish Festivals is one of “Top Five Reasons to Visit Scotland
For the full poem “Address to a Haggis” click here and to hear some stunning recitals click here.

Top Five Reasons to Vacation in Scotland!

There are literally hundreds of good reasons to choose to Scotland as your vacation destination so you’ll understand my concern when I was asked to compile just FIVE for this blog post!  Well, you may call it cheating, but I’ll call it creative thinking when below I have listed five categories under each of which there could be dozens of other reasons, but you get the idea…

1. Scottish Festivals and Cultural Events

Edinburgh Military Tattoo - Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Military Tattoo – Edinburgh Castle

Whether it’s a traditional Highland Games event where kilted competitors toss the caber or dance a Highland Fling to the tune of the bagpipes or the stunning celebrations of seeing in the new year at Hogmanay, Scotland knows how to put on a show!  Nowhere is this more apparent than during the month of August at the Edinburgh Festival where the city comes alive with street entertainment, theatre, musical, visual arts and comedy events.  Not forgetting of course the internationally renowned spectacle of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo which takes place to the stunning backdrop of Edinburgh Castle itself.

2. Scottish Scenery and Wildlife

Puffins on Isle of Mull
Puffins on Isle of Mull

If the aim of your vacation to escape the hum-drum of life then there is nowhere better in the world to get close to nature!  One of Europe’s last remaining wildernesses, the Scottish Highlands, islands and coasts are a landscape lovers haven – rolling hills, unspoilt golden bays, shimmering lochs and heather-strewn glens in abundance.  And these landscapes, the invigorating air and the chilly coastal waters provide perfect unspoilt habitats for some wondrous wildlife from the red squirrel to roaming wild deer, from circling eagles to nesting puffins and from tiny seals to magnificent whales.

3. Scottish Castles

Eilean Donan Castle, Scottish Highlands
Eilean Donan Castle, Scottish Highlands

From castellated baronial manor houses to imposing fortified towers, few countries can offer the vast array of contrasting castles that Scotland has to boast.  Eilean Donan Castle, on a tidal island in the glassy waters of Loch Duich has become a Scottish Icon in itself having appeared in many films, most notably Highlander.  The dramatic ruins of Urquhart Castle near Inverness on the weather-beaten shores of Loch Ness offers an excellent look-out point for some nessie-spotting whilst Dunottar Castle, reputedly Scotland’s most haunted fortress clings to cliffs near Aberdeen overlooking the wild waters of the North Sea.  Possibly most famous however is the stunning Edinburgh Castle, once the royal seat for Scottish Kings and Queens; perched atop a volcanic rock in the heart of the city the castle offers stunning vistas and is still home to the Scottish Crown Jewels to this day.

4. Scottish Food and Drink

Scotch Whisky Dram
Scotch Whisky Dram

With its rich rural and coastal landscapes it is not surprising that Scotland produces its own quality foods such as beef, local game and the freshest of seafood. Traditional Scottish dishes are hearty affairs such as Aberdeen Angus steak, Cullen Skink, (a thick seafood broth), and Abroath Smokies (haddock smoked over woodchips for a distinctive flavour).  Not to mention Haggis, not a wild-animal as some cheeky locals will have you believe, but minced offal and oats cooked with onion and seasoning and served encased in a sheep’s stomach lining – perhaps not everyone’s ideal dish but should be tried at least once during your stay!  And of course if it’s a cold night there is no better a way to warm up by an open fire than with a nip of Scotland’s Water of Life – a “wee dram” of Whisky.

5. History, history and more history

Callanish Standing Stones - Isle of Lewis
Callanish Standing Stones – Isle of Lewis

The castles mentioned above are, of course, a stark reminder of Scotland’s turbulent past but there is so much history besides.  Why not visit the Scottish Borders to see the famous abbey ruins of Melrose Abbey, where Robert the Bruce’s heart is buried or the intriguing Rosslyn Chapel whose intricate carvings have been connected to the Knights Templar, freemasonry and the Holy Grail, most notably in Dan Brown’s the Da Vinci Code.  In Stirling you’ll find the towering Wallace Monument and the site of the Battle of Bannockburn, history that was brought alive in the 90s movie Braveheart whilst at Culloden Moor you can remember the infamous battle between Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Highland armies and the English forces.  And if this centuries-old history isn’t quite old enough for you then you can always travel to the Scottish Isles where you’ll find the beautiful Callanish Stones (Isle of Lewis) dating back to 3000BC or head to the Isle of Orkney to see the Neolithic dwellings of Skara Brae (predating the Egyptian Pyramids) the ancient tomb of Maes Howe and the Ring of Brodgar all built long before Stonehenge.

Scotland is a truly spectacular destination and the above five pointers are just the tip of iceberg – for further suggestions for your own voyage of discovery through Scotland ask your adeo Travel vacation expert and they’ll be happy to help.

Scotland’s Scenic Rail Journeys

The British invented the steam locomotive, constructed the first subway system in London and just recently we announced plans for a massive new high-speed line connecting the North and South of England.  Due to this long railing history, it’s little wonder that train-spotting is a popular past time and that we have a wealth of picturesque rail routes around our little island, not least in Scotland where the journeys have been rated amongst the most scenic in the world!

The West Highland Line

Glenfinnan Viaduct on the West highland Rail Line.
Glenfinnan Viaduct – West Highland Line.

Awarded “World’s Best Rail Journey” by the Wanderlust Travel Awards in 2009, the West Highland Railway Line in Scotland is undoubtedly one of the most scenic railway journeys in Britain.   Running from Scotland’s largest city, Glasgow, to Fort William and then to harbour town Mallaig the train ride takes you from a cosmopolitan cityscape to the stark contrast of some of Britain’s most remote and untamed landscapes in the Scottish Highlands.  With work commencing on the line almost 125 years ago and with little money behind the project to build expensive bridges and tunnels, the line winds its way around sharp turns and along steep gradients as it navigates the dramatic Highland terrain.  The result today is a relaxing ride of awe-inspiring vistas.

The North Highland Line

Highland Train
Highland Train

Another of Scotland’s stunning rail journeys is the North Highland line between Inverness, capital of the Highlands, and the coastal port of the Kyle of Lochalsh.  This line passes even further north through Scotland’s Highland wilderness and has been likened to a three part orchestra passing firstly through gentle, pastoral hills near Inverness, then through the mountain scenery of Achnasheen with views of the Torridon Peaks before dropping to the seascapes of Lochcarron and its coastal villages and ports.  Whilst taking in the scenery keep an eye out for the array of birdlife circling overhead and herds of wild deer which can often be seen from the train.

Fortunately, enjoying rail travel in Britain and these scenic rail routes of Scotland couldn’t be easier for overseas visitors who have access to a range of inclusive rail passes via the excellent Britrail system.  The Explore Scotland by Rail itinerary also takes you along both of the majestic rail journeys mentioned above.  The new high-speed line through England will reach speeds of up to 200 miles per hour but is not predicted to be ready to open for another 20 years so in the meantime why not sit back and enjoy the scenery at a more leisurely pace on one these scenic rail journeys!

Top Five Tips for a Self-Drive Tour of Britain

We are often asked by our guests for some hints and tips for travel in Britain, especially for self-drive tours where you have lots of independence and flexibility.  I jotted down a few of these that came up in conversation this week with some our guests who are travelling this Summer and thought I would share them with you…

1. Bring your Own GPS and buy a map.

adeo Travel - Edinburgh Map
adeo Travel – Edinburgh Map

It may sound obvious but buy a map!  Request one and we can stick one in with your vacation documents or you can pick up a good British road atlas when you get here at most service stations and book shops throughout England, Scotland and Wales.  It’s worth the investment and will help when planning your daily route and act as a back-up if your GPS battery dies.  A sat-nav or GPS system is useful in each town/city especially when finding your specific hotel or B&B as you can punch in the exact post-code/zip code.  If you own one already then I would recommend bringing it with you; you can usually download overseas maps/programs in advance and most modern GPS systems are small and can be easily packed.  Bringing yourown will not only save you money on renting one here in Britain but can also save time as new and unfamiliar systems can be confusing – you don’t want to spend half an hour each morning working out how to program it!

2. Enjoy the Scenic Routes.

Self Drive Scottish Highlands
Self Drive Scottish Highlands

We know you want to get to your destination and a GPS will send you the most direct route, but we advise that you get off the beaten track.  Avoid the commuter traffic on the boring highways and get on the back roads where you can take in the scenery and where you’re more likely to stumble upon quaint villages and towns and sights that you weren’t expecting to find.  Particlularly in Scotland, scenic routes to certain destinations are well sign-posted.  Remember, when you’re on your holidays the journey should be just as enjoyable as the destination itself!

3.  Look out for the brown road signs.

Here in the Britain all of our visitor attractions, heritage sites and historic buildings are clearly signposted from major routes by road-signs with a brown background.  Knowing this can help you reach the sites you plan to visit but can also highlight places you didn’t even know existed but will be glad that you didn’t miss.

4. Fill up the car at a supermarket.

Edinburgh Tourist Route Sign
Edinburgh Tourist Route Sign

Gas (or petrol) prices in Britain are generally higher than many other countries so it’s a good idea to fill up in the most economical way possible.  Large supermarkets generally have gas stations and often provide the best priced fuel in the area.  If you spot one fill up there rather than at a highway service station and you’ll save several pence per litre of fuel – it may not seem like much but over the course of your trip you’ll make some savings.

5. Park and ride in to town.

Most of Britain’s major cities offer park and ride schemes whereby you can park in an out of town car-park (parking lot) and take a short bus ride in to the city centre.  This saves the high cost of city-centre parking and the stress of driving in city centre traffic.  Most towns and cities can then be explored on foot or by hopping on the local open-top bus tour which will take you to the major places of interest within the town.

If you have any of your own travel tips or things that you have found useful to know when driving in Britain why not leave a comment below?

Halloween is here in eerie England, spooky Scotland and weird Wales!

Do you believe in ghosts?  You may well do after your Britain vacation!  In the wake of Halloween I have been asked about where to visit for a good fright-fest and in a nation with such a long history, it seems that there are eerie goings on whenever and wherever you visit! 

Pumpkin on Halloween
Pumpkin on Halloween

In Scotland you should start of course with a visit to the eerie waters of Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands.  For years there have been sightings of the famous Loch Ness Monster, an unidentified sea creature which reputedly lives in the depths of the murky lake.  After a cruise on the Loch with one of the local guides you’ll definitely come away believing there really is something down there!  From the Highlands to historic Edinburgh where there are a wealth of walking tours to choose from to hear the city’s ghost stories; only the bravest however will venture beneath the city’s old town itself to Mary King’s Close, a warren of alleys which were buried beneath the city and sealed from the outside for centuries and which are haunted by victims of the black plague!

London too is host to a number of chilling tales.  Why not embark on a tour which visits the sites of the grisly murders of a number of women at the hands of one of the most notorious murderers of England, Jack the Ripper; try to discover his true identity and solve one of Victorian England’s greatest mysteries.  For something a little lighter, you could take the children to the Harry Potter film studios to discover the secrets of the Dark Arts, see the study of professor Snape and meet the Dementors face to er… hood.  In the West Country of England the brave may choose to venture down 50 000 year old natural caves to unravel the mystery of the Witch of Wookey Hole who, according to local legend, was turned to stone and still stands lurking in the shadows of the caverns.

Mary King's Close - Edinburgh
Mary King’s Close – Edinburgh

Crossing the border, you’ll visit the ancient land of Wales which is renowned for its Medieval castles which were the setting for torturous killings and bloody battles.  Almost every fortress has at least one resident ghost and eerie tales of hauntings from the depths of the dungeons to the tops of the towers.  Conwy Castle in the north is haunted by a soldier whose wife and child fell to their deaths from the watch tower whilst at Cardiff Castle look out for the Marquess of Bute who roams the library and passes through a wall to the chapel where he breathed his final breath.

If you’re not scared yet, why not come and see for yourself if they’re real on your own Britrain vacation!  For further information on visiting any of the above locations or tours, let us know.  Or if you have your own eerie tale, why not leave us a comment below!