The question that’s on everyone’s lips is yes or no. Should Scotland decide to be independent from Great Britain in this week’s referendum?
The timing of my trip to Scotland couldn’t have been better. Blessed with a rare indian summer of blue skies, temperatures in the 70s and no rain, it was the perfect opportunity to visit the Highlands before the country decides whether to break away from England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
My journey to Scotland started in Shropshire, just over the border from Wales where my aunt and uncle live. The railway journey from Shropshire to Edinburgh was supposed to take approximately 4 hours by train, but my mistake turned our trip into a 11 hour journey. It ended up being a blessing in disguise.
After traveling by train from the ancient town of Chester to Crewe, I mistakenly jumped on the wrong train from Crewe to Scotland. Instead of catching the one to Edinburgh, I took the one to Glasgow.
Along the journey up the west coast of England, the train stopped at stations in Warrington, Wigan, Preston and Lancaster before hurtling along at 125mph deep through the heart of the incredible Lake District, with mountain ranges on both sides of the train as well as stone hedges separating the numerous fields filled with sheep.
At Carlisle, we could have disembarked and changed platforms to catch the train to Edinburgh, but we decided to stay on board and head to Glasgow because the experience was so relaxing. Plus we were enjoying a conversation with a fellow passenger so much that we didn’t want to leave.
The passenger was an ESOL teacher who lives in Glasgow, but was originally from Manchester. A lot of the conversations we had were about the differences between the USA and the UK, as well as observations about traveling around the world. But the most insightful part of the conversation was her viewpoints regarding the referendum vote. Even though she’s originally from England, she wants Scotland to vote yes in the vote on September 18. She made a convincing argument that the unknowns far outweigh the known’s of what may happen if the referendum passes.
The unknowns are aplenty …
• What impact independence will have on the economy of Scotland,
• What currency Scotland would use if/when they become an independent country,
• Whether the British-based companies and banks will decide to pull out of Scotland if independence is granted,
While the unknowns are numerous, the known’s are far fewer. Scotland already knows what the British government is capable of. They’ve lived through London rule for as long as they can remember — for better or worse.
The topic of independence framed our two days in Scotland. No matter where we went, we couldn’t escape the topic, whether it was live debates on television, or the multitude of “Yes” or “No” signs, banners, flags and posters that could be seen throughout Scotland, no matter whether you were in a big city or in the remotest parts of the country.
After we arrived at Glasgow’s railway station, we went down two levels to a lower platform to catch the train to Partick (home to Scottish club Partick Thistle, but not the reason for our pilgrimage there). At Partick, we then caught another train — this time to head to Balloch, the town that sits on the edge of Loch Lomond.
It’s hard to imagine such a tranquil setting as Loch Lomond, so close to the hustle and bustle of Glasgow. The large lake features a series of mountain ranges merging near the lakefront, while a nearby castle overlooks the extraordinary views. We took a public footpath along the edges of the lake, and were awestruck by the majesty of what we saw.
Before jumping back on the train, we stopped at the Lomond Fish Bar adjacent to the railway station for some traditional fish’n chips. And they did not disappoint. The crispy batter, succulent fish and fresh, hand-cut fries were simply delicious. We walked back besides the lake to eat our meal on a park bench.
That evening, we took the train back to Glasgow and then on to Edinburgh, where we stayed the night in anticipation of the next day.
Edinburgh is a fascinating city. It’s a better version of London. There’s a greater abundance of ancient stone buildings that populate the old town section of the city. London has a lot of history too but many of its historic buildings were flattened during World War II. Edinburgh, on the other hand, is complete with cobbled streets, a huge ancient castle peering over the city, statues aplenty, as well as steep streets and spectacular architecture. Although it’s a bustling city, it’s not as noisy or as frenetic as London is.
After getting a good night’s sleep in Edinburgh, we hopped on a guided coach tour that promised to be quite an adventure. The 12-hour bus tour left at 8am and wouldn’t return until 8pm later that day. The journey would take us from Edinburgh, up the west coast and into the highlands, as far north as Inverness and then back down the east coast of Scotland, through Perthshire and back to the capital city near the end of the day.
I had been to Scotland once or twice before but had never ventured north of Edinburgh, so I was seeing everything with new eyes. And let me tell you, what I saw was absolutely incredible. It was beyond my imagination and gave me a far greater appreciation of the wonders of Scotland. Simply put, it was magical.
The tour stopped at so many places that it’s impossible to list them all. But the highlight for me was The Three Sisters, a collection of three mountains ridges, next to each other, that sprung out and into the air, was a spectacle that was even greater than the best of the French or Swiss Alps. To stand beneath, and gaze up at these three wonders piercing the blue sky was a majestic experience.
There were so many other lochs and mountain ranges that we passed that were spectacular to see and drive around. We also took a ferry ride around Loch Ness, where we saw ancient castle ruins next to the lake as well as the beautiful, deep blue water that is so deep that it is more than 2 miles in height in places.
Other highlights along the way included Glen Coe, Cairngorms National Park and Loch Ness.
If you do travel to the United Kingdom, be sure to travel through Scotland as well as England and Wales. All three countries have so much charm and history within them. And by using a BritRail train pass, I was able to comfortably travel through all three countries with ease.
PS — The Scottish leg of my journey wasn’t quite the last stop. With train pass in hand and a free afternoon available before jetting out from Manchester to Miami, we decided to stop at York on our way to Manchester. There we took our suitcases to the Left Luggage department, and headed into the City by way of the hop-on hop-off bus.
If you have an opportunity to visit York in the future, be sure to add it to your must-see list. The city is one of a kind in England. The city walls are still standing and form a barrier around the old city. You can even walk across the top of the walls to get a birds-eye view. There’s York Minster, the famous cathedral. But the part of the city that captivated me the most were the narrow, winding streets with buildings from the 1600’s and 1700’s, still standing, and selling a unique variety of goods from local sausages, arts and crafts, jewelry and more. It was the perfect end to a dream vacation before heading to Manchester Airport.
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