From 25 April 2023, ferry travel is no longer included within the Spirit of Scotland travel pass. Any ferry travel should be purchased separately and directly from www.calmac.co.uk
In our latest guest blog, follow travel storyteller, lifestyler and gadgeteer One Tech Traveller as he Unlocks Scotland with our Spirit of Scotland Travel Pass.
Scotland has always been right there for me to visit. But since I always decided to travel outwards from my home in Reading, I’ve not had the chance to travel upwards… until now. Loading up my backpack for the week, I couldn’t be any more excited to go north and traverse around the Highlands of Scotland, exploring the natural beauty and what local living means out there. With my plans all set, it was finally time to put them in motion and travel the breadth of Scotland!
The Spirit of Scotland
If like me, you love to travel and explore far and wide, while keeping transit in between destinations as smooth and convenient as possible, then the Spirit of Scotland pass is the way to go. Unlimited train and coach travel across Scotland for either a period of four or eight consecutive days. Awesome.
The conventional concerns of how far I could explore and the costs that go with it are behind me. All of a sudden, there were no bounds to how far and wide I could explore - just simply, as much as I could handle.
So, join me and let's go discover and unlock the Spirit of Scotland. All packed up for the trip? Great. Onwards and upwards we go!
The Journey Begins in Edinburgh
My journey begins in Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. A bustling city with a thriving community, I found myself caught in the middle of city and landscape. I love the vibe out here - everyone outside enjoying the sun, lots of green areas to relax in and stunning historic architecture to enjoy.
The Walter Scott Monument stood within the public garden, where people gleefully walked in slow strides, while many others sat down on the grass conversing together.
I gingerly walked up to the narrow entrance of Scott Monument with a turnstile that caught my backpack and I was stuck for a few moments. A few seconds later, I managed to squeeze through to begin the climb to the top; little did I know the narrowing walls that awaited higher up. Fortunately, checkpoints of platforms opened up to walk along the perimeter and appreciate the views as I headed up.
As I reached the top, the entrance archway was hilariously small - I just about squeezed through, breathing out as I stepped onto the platform that overlooked Scotland’s capital city. What a great way to soak in the cityscape.
Up here, we could see beyond the buildings and the long road that leads to the ocean terminal in the distance. On the right was Holyrood Palace - residence of the Queen of Scotland - and hiker-friendly, Arthur's Seat. You get quite a nice glance of Edinburgh up here.
The journey down the steps was head-spinning as I circled down too fast, needing to pause for a few seconds before I could head back out on to the street. A sight worth seeing nonetheless.
We crossed over the bridge and continued along to Princess Street Gardens, situated at the foot of Edinburgh Castle. An open music concert happened to be playing which was a delight, with locals and tourists coming together to enjoy the talent on show.
As lunch approached, we headed into Edinburgh’s Old Town and made our way to a place called 'The Arcade Bar' where we were greeted by Highland Dancers and our first glimpse of a kilt!
Now, as much as I love travelling, I also love tasting traditional food. And since I’m in Scotland, it had to be 'Haggis'. It was recommended that I order their 'Famous Robert Burns Haggis with Neeps and Tatties', so I had to oblige and order it - I wanted my first time eating Haggis to be special.
And oooh it was special alright. Scrumptious. A nutty and peppery taste, with the Haggis meat thick in texture and bursting with flavour.
'Neeps' (turnip) and 'Tatties' (potato mashed) are traditionally served, sat below the generous layer of Haggis. Add the whisky infused sauce and you get an unrivalled combination. Mmmm-mmm, special indeed and highly recommended from me.
My time in Edinburgh was brief, but we caught a good glimpse of the capital. The adventure was only beginning however, as we walked with a full stomach back to the train station, and boarded on our ScotRail train for the next hour and a half. Where to? Why St. Andrews!
After arriving at Leuchars train station, we caught the local bus to St. Andrews, with the weather fortunately clear and pretty sunny. St. Andrews is an intimate place, with many key landmarks within walking distance. Being home to The University of St. Andrews and many historical events, there is a lot to unravel here.
St. Andrews has a good blend of traditional architecture, landscape and sea views to enjoy. Shortly after dropping our bags at the hotel, we walked down to West Sands - a sandy beach that extends far beyond where my eyes could reach. The sky had a cool hue on our walk back towards the town and past the Old Course, the oldest and most iconic golf course in the world.
Golf is very much the biggest attraction here, with St Andrews an internationally renowned location that is part of the PGA Tour. The greens were smooth and pristine; very pleasant to the eyes. I can imagine golf in this surrounding would be beautiful - hopefully next time I visit I'll take to the driving range!
As we continued our passage along the coastline, we passed by the picturesque Ruins of St. Andrews Castle, which was once used as a prison. You can still see the castle’s bottle dungeon where various miscreants were held, definitely worth a visit!
The ruins overlooked 'Castle Sands Beach', a small beach that fades into the North Sea. The scenic route along the coast eventually led us to the North Pier, only a 25 minute walk from where we started. The rain poured but I walked all the way to the end. What a sight to behold.
We wanted to get the best view overlooking St. Andrews, and that happened to be from St. Rules Tower. The top of the tower opens up to a panoramic view of the North Sea, the buildings of St. Andrews and even the nearest City of Dundee, only 10 miles away from here.
By now, it was getting late (9pm) so we headed to The Doll's House, for a cosy dinner. The casual setting and decorations felt a bit like being back home.
Reading the menu, I couldn't help but be tempted by the Haggis - this time, served Isle of Arran style. I already had one Haggis based meal earlier today in Edinburgh.. could I handle a second? Of course!
The service was impeccable - I'm not sure what sort of wizardry they use at The Doll's House, but both of our dishes came piping hot and fresh from the kitchen in under two minutes! My stomach was happy. Very happy.
Late into the evening, we called it a night eager and ready for tomorrow's adventure.
We had breakfast at the Playfair restaurant where I was graced with Scottish porridge - a staple in Scotland served with honey. Tasty.
But that wasn't all. Breakfast part two consisted of a full Scottish breakfast. Oh yeah. My mouth salivated and my eyes lit up as two Scottish breakfasts rocked up to our table - sausages, poached eggs, black pudding, bacon and baked beans. It was heaven on a large plate and I dug right in.
Unfortunately, I enjoyed it a little too much and cleared the plate before taking a picture to show you what it looked like *sob*.
Before bringing our time in St. Andrews to a close, I headed out for a walk along Castle Sands Beach. I spent a moment lost in thought as I peered into the ocean abyss... then it was time to set off and discover our next location.
We were now back on the ScotRail train heading further into the Highlands. Tall trees lined the base of the mountain ranges, with peaks shrouded by the Highland clouds. Noticeably colder, noticeably wetter. We were in the Highlands alright. Pitlochry was our next destination, just an hour and a half up the train tracks.
Disembarking at Pitlochry, the town had a welcoming cosy feeling to it. It became a destination of interest in the Victorian times, particularly after Queen Victoria's visit and the opening of the railway in the 19th century.
We passed by the main street with shops lined up on either side, on our way to check-in to our hotel for the night. It had been quite a tiring day but we couldn't call it a night just yet.
We thought it would be fun to run towards the Hydroelectric Dam and Fish ladder. It was like exploring wildlands - we passed by streams that trickled along rock beds, small wooden bridges and a suspension bridge that crossed over the river with the Hydroelectric Dam and Fish ladder appearing on the other side..
Although it started to rain heavily during our jog towards it, I was able to capture some picturesque views on either side of the dam which was subtle and seamlessly built into the fabric of the landscape.
We ended up having only a few hours’ sleep as we set off early for The Queens View. With buses only going up a few times a day, we decided to take the first bus at 6.10am.
The bus followed winding narrow roads that climbed up for 20 minutes, before we reached the viewpoint. What a sight.
A few faint clouds lingered in the sky and sun rays piercing the flowing water of Loch Tummel as we followed a trail through the forest and down to the calm waters of the loch.
After a few moments, we slowly trekked our way back up to the top, taking one last second to soak it all in before catching the public bus back to Pitlochry.
There were still so much to see in the surrounding areas, but I'll have to leave it for a return visit. Boarding the train we sat down for the next leg of our journey and headed on to Aviemore.
After a relaxing hour and a half on the train we arrived in Aviemore. Many people come here to hike and enjoy the many mountain ranges, we decided to visit the most famous mountain: Cairn Gorm.
The tourist centre was very helpful, suggesting activities or hiking trails to do in the time we had. A free map of the area and a free bus timetable meant we were quickly on the bus headed to the base of the mountain. The bus driver was super friendly and acted like our personal tour guide, even stopping to let us take photos of the journey.
There are several hiking trails you can take to the top, or a Funicular railway that takes less than 10 minutes. We chose to hike!
By the time we reached the top, the temperature dropped and the winds grew stronger. It was very chilly but the air was so fresh. I loved it. I could have stayed up there for ages. We sat down on a rock and looked out… No one else up was up there. Just us.
Two park rangers who oversee conservation of the mountains befriended us and generously took us back to Aviemore. After returning to civilisation and having recovered from the days trek - reaching 22,000 steps - we departed for the City of Inverness.
Like most cities Inverness is lively with many people, bars, restaurants and shops. Explore a bit deeper however and it starts to offer something different.
We explored our way through the city, full of historic landmarks and pretty scenery we enjoyed every step. Inverness Castle is the highest viewpoint overlooking the city, so we made sure to check it out during our stay. But first, we wandered around at ground level.
There are several religious establishments in the vicinity including Inverness Cathedral situated alongside the banks of River Ness. It’s the northernmost Cathedral in Britain and also the first Protestant cathedral since the British reformation. What was interesting about this cathedral is that two spires on either side should have been built, however a lack of funds meant it was never completed.
And so, it continues to stand like this today - unorthodox but equally distinctive and unique.
While there is a plethora of historical landmarks like Inverness Castle, Inverness Cathedral and many churches dotted around the city what really struck me was the easy-going and relaxed demeanour of the city and its residents. I felt this across all the places I visited and it made my trip even more enjoyable and relaxing.
The next morning, we had breakfast at The Waterside hotel, looking over the River Ness. I chose the delicious Scottish Porridge with honey and another full Scottish Breakfast, oh too soon engulfed in lightning speed, once again before taking a picture – my apologies!
And while there are many things you can do here. Being able to just walk around and explore what local life means here is really enjoyable. We finally headed up Inverness Castle to get a farewell view of the City of Inverness, before heading to the west edges of the Highlands and a small town called Plockton.
We made for the train that would take us to the West Coast and settled in for the journey.
Small villages like Plockton sometimes slip under the radar due to their size, yet sometimes these little gems end up being the best part of a trip.
Plockton really resonated with me, this isn't a place you visit for the many things to do, oh no - this is a place you come to soak up the scenery and enjoy some amazing local seafood.
After arriving we walked down the narrow street from the station which opened up to reveal the coastal town of Plockton. Even under the heavy-looking clouds, Plockton was beautiful.
We continued on to the pier where fishermen were docking their boats and preparing their castings and nettings ready for the next catch.
With dinner approaching, I wanted to find a place to sample some of the famed seafood. I had set my eyes on Plockton Shores, a family-run restaurant that uses locally sourced ingredients. Just what I was looking for.
Oh, was I in for a treat. The recommended Cullen Skink soup for starters and the delectable Shellfish sea platter (large) were Mmm-mmm. Magnifique. As a lover of seafood, this combination was perfect.
We left with full stomachs, strolling along the coast line to appreciate the surrounding mountains, which really put into perspective just how small Plockton is. I could have stayed here far longer but the final train of the day was approaching, we boarded and left for the final stop on our journey – Kyle of Lochalsh.
Kyle of Lochalsh
We spent the night in a cosy B&B and as dawn broke the next day we boarded the 916 bus to go and see Eilean Donan Castle. It was less than 15 minutes before I could see the iconic Scottish castle through my window.
We got off the bus, crossed the bridge and there was Eilean Donan Castle. For a moment, I was actually breathless. I now understand why this is one of the most photographed castles in the world. Standing majestically on its very own island it's something else, a true spectacle.
After enjoying the stunning views of Eilean Donan castle and quaint village of Kyle of Lochalsh, we made the long journey back to Glasgow. I spent the journey gazing out of the window enjoying the stunning views.
Finally, we arrived in Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city, full of friendly people (known as Glaswegians), culture, history, shops and numerous bars and restaurants. With bars in mind we decided it was time to try some Whisky!
We headed to The Pot Still were I tried Dalmore, Jura and Bocan, after a few sips, I could taste the differences in texture and taste, determined by the type of barrel used and how long it has been aged. Everyone was very merry and jolly, bringing a brilliant close to an enjoyable evening.
The morning presented a scorching hot day in Glasgow, and what would be the finale of my travels in Scotland. We headed west towards Kelvingrove Park to soak up some sun and relax.
Overlooking Kelvingrove park is the University of Glasgow, the University is the fourth oldest in the UK and the second oldest in Scotland and has more listed (and beautiful) buildings than any other university.
And here by the River Kelvin and under the shadow of Glasgow University, my six day adventure concluded. It has opened my eyes to the hidden beauty of Scotland that I had never considered and often, guiltily overlooked. From small picturesque gems like Pitlochry and Plockton to the bustling cities of Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness Scotland has been truly awesome!
One Tech Traveller (also known as Russell-Harvey Fernandez) is a travel storyteller, lifestyler and gadgeteer. Check out his website here , and you can follow him on Facebook , Instagram and Twitter .
Please note: Local bus journeys to Cairngorm Mountain and Eilean Donan Castle are not included in the Spirit of Scotland Rover and can be bought separately.