Flying across an ocean in coach class is the pits, but this is what average people do when they head to Scotland. When we landed in Edinburgh we made a beeline for the rental car place and were told we were getting a “free upgrade,” which always means they don’t have what was reserved. We requested an automatic and they gave us a Mercedes…van. Like, a bigass van that would make our friends with kids jealous. So we asked if they had anything smaller, but it was the only automatic and we reluctantly took it. Trying to concentrate while driving on the opposite side of the road and using a stick was one too many things to focus on. The van actually ended up being great because it was comfortable, very fuel efficient, and there was room for outfit changes on days when we did a lot of driving, hiking, and eating out.
GLASGOW BOTANIC GARDENS
Our first stop in Scotland was the Glasgow Botanic Gardens, but what we couldn’t figure out was the parking situation. We drove around, got annoyed with each other, made a hundred turns down tiny streets, and were finally going to just leave the city when we found the perfect large spot on a bridge right near the garden. We arrived shortly before the glass houses opened, and I’m so glad we got to see them. The greenhouses held really impressive collections of tree ferns, begonias, cacti, carnivorous plants, orchids, and of course some lovely tulips in bloom to brighten the season. There were also happy fields of daffodils on the property. Other than the botanical garden, there wasn’t a lot that stood out about Glasgow on first glance and we were glad to leave the city for quieter roads and more dynamic scenery.
LOSS & LOCH LOMOND
Luss and Loch Lomond National Park were our stopover points for the first day, and I can’t think of a better place to have landed for the night. Luss is a charming little village on the shores of Loch Lomond, overlooking islands and rolling hills that go on forever. Sheep dot the countryside, cozy cottages line the narrow streets, and a gorgeous village church and graveyard stand watch on a hill beside the loch.
The village was every quintessential thing we’d pictured in our minds when thinking of this country, trying to guess what we might find. We visited a few shops and ended up taking a walk partway up the trail to Beinn Dubh. Just as we headed up, the rain started really coming down, so we were walking through a muddy sheep pasture, up a hill in the rain with the wind blowing straight at us. I had this insane smile on my face and was basically like, “Let me die on this hillside with the sheep, overlooking this lake, and I will be a happy woman!!!” Rob looked like he wanted to be anywhere but this hill. The sopping effort was worth the bird’s eye view of Loch Lomond over the quaint roof lines of Luss. Later on in the day, the weather cleared and the sun came out so we ran back up the same hill to get a clearer view with the sky shining back at us. The little girl who’d incessantly begged her parents for two sheep was standing among sheep and lambs, trying to soak in all the beauty of the moment…or was actually literally soaking it in because the ground was still quite wet.
We stayed at the Culag Lochside Guesthouse, 1.5 miles from Luss. I cannot say enough good things about this place. The owner, Patrick, has lived there for 26 years and has turned the property into a living for himself with a guesthouse that has several rooms, an event space, and cottages. He described living there as “Heaven” and I can’t imagine what it must be like to walk out your front door everyday and feel like you’re on the edge of paradise. There is a walking path from the B&B all the way into town, and if we were staying longer it would have been a lovely morning stroll. Rob took a nap and I headed out to explore along the shore and get my fill of the hills. When I came back and sat down, a wave of nauseous exhaustion hit me so I slept for an hour before bouncing back and begging Rob to go for a hike with me. This was a great way to beat the jet lag, and after that first day we didn’t have any issues.
ARGYLL FOREST PARK
We went down the road to Loch Long, through the towns of Argyll and Bute to a forest trail that went on for miles. We walked up to a bench and sat overlooking the picturesque town that had two adorable tea rooms and the perfect amount of buildings to create a cozy feeling along the perimeter of the loch.
Finally starving, we headed back to Luss for a meal at the Village Rest. Less a pub than a small restaurant, we were pleasantly surprised by the food. Steak and ale pie was a popular item, and the salad I had was delicious. We walked past the chapel once again to look at some of the gravestones. What a beautiful place to find eternal rest.
The first day of our trip was a success filled with so many new things to boggle us out of comfortable familiarity and introduce us to the lovely newness of culture and spirit.