Most Americans feel that the upcoming presidential election is the most divisive and stressful election in living memory, and with the most favorable exchange rate between the British pound and the U.S. dollar in years, there has never been a better time to travel to Scotland than in 2017. Here are three reasons why Scotland is the relaxing escape that you need next year.
-Stunning scenery: The dramatic landscape of the Scottish highlands may be one of the greatest natural wonders of the world. At Glencoe, flowing mountains of impossible green tower over lush valleys trickling with babbling brooks like ocean waves frozen in time. Visit in late summer or early fall to see the famous purple heather blooming to full effect. For an ethereal experience that you won't soon forget, be sure to make time for Quiraing on the Isle of Skye. A moving landslip flowing from the summit of the Trotternish, Quiraing offers otherworldly views of rocky slopes, windswept peaks, and grassy lunar landscapes dotted with glassy reflecting pools. The more intrepid traveler can hike the entire Quiraing circuit, a 6.8 km., moderately difficult path with unsurpassed views. On a clear day, you can see all the way to the mountains of the Outer Hebrides and the Scottish mainland.
-Charming castles: Everyone loves castles, and Scotland has them in spades. Whether you're fond of climbing over crumbling medieval ruins like Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness or touring stately royal residences like the Queen's summer estate of Balmoral, Scotland has a castle for you. If you're a fan of television and movie locations, check out Doune Castle, a popular film setting featured in HBO's Game of Thrones and Starz's Outlander series, as well as numerous movies, and is one of the most well preserved medieval castles in Scotland. Another of my favorites is the charming Eilean Donan, a thirteenth century castle settled on a tidal island at the meeting point of three sea lochs on Scotland's east coast. Reached by an arched stone bridge curving over the mossy loch, Eilean Donan is a smallish castle which offers visitors a quick tour of the refurbished interior. It's highlights, however, are its scenic, picturesque views of the medieval fortress surrounded by glassy waters reflecting the typical moody Scottish sky and rolling hills that seem to rise from the depths of the frigid loch. For the history buff, it's hard to beat Edinburgh Castle which looms over the city's Old Town district from the volcanic Castle Rock. This extensive castle has served as a defensive fortress, a royal residence, a military garrison, and a prison, and it is worth devoting several hours to its museum and exhibits.
-The people: Scots are some of the friendliest and chattiest people in the UK, and they are more than happy to welcome you into a local pub for a pint of ale or a dram of whisky, some good conversation, and traditional music that will have you tapping your toes. You can even dance along at a ceilidh, a traditional country dance with Gaelic folk music, singing, and dancing. The dances are fairly easy to learn and tons of fun, and the locals are usually quite willing teachers to the newbies in the crowd. I even had a chance to try out the bagpipes, but only managed a sickly sheepish bleat that earned me the good-natured scorn of all the locals within earshot. Be sure to ask about local history, legends, and folklore. Scotland has a rich cultural history that will bring the highlands to life and add depth to an already magical experience.
So, pack your bags, a rain jacket, and a camera, and make 2017 the year that you travel to Scotland. Say hello to one of the iconic and adorably fuzzy highland cows for me!