Iona Abbey a Christian Pilgrimage

Iona Abbey a Christian Pilgrimage

It was 563 AD, Irish settlers were migrating into Scotland bringing Christianity with them. St Columba arrived on Iona, looked out over the sea and deemed the spot that Iona Abbey now sits on the sacred ground. St Columba is the revered Saint of Iona Abbey (for more on his life, see the books below).

As time passed, 795 AD brought in the first wave of Viking raiders. The first raid was brutal, much of the Abbey was looted of its precious relics. Subsequent raids in 802, 806, and 825 resulted in burning of the original wooden Columban monastery, and a replacement stone abbey being built to help protect the monks. The remaining Abbey relics were hastily spirited away to Denkeld Cathedral in Perthshire and back to the Kells in Ireland for safe keeping.

Iona Abbey
Inside of Iona Abbey

In 1200 Reginald MacDonald turned Iona Abbey into a true Christian Pilgrimage. The Benedictine Monastery and an Augustinian Nunnery were built on the island. Pilgrims flocked to the Abbey by boat, making their way to the Monastery pausing at each cross that lined the road giving an offering of supplication.

The 8th Duke of Argyll swept in and commissioned the restoration in 1899, then turned it over to the Iona Cathedral Trust. Restoration of the Abbey continues today slowly returning to its former glory.

The Experience that is Iona:

What I expected from Iona Abbey was not what I experienced…..
What I expected to see was a cold, dank, dark stone house with a few crosses and lots of gold embellishments. What I expected to feel, well….frankly I expected to feel bored by yet another abandoned religious establishment with some historical facts.

Iona Abbey in Scotland

After the hustle and bustle of getting off the boat, I started the trek to the Abbey (a 20-minute walk up a slight incline). The tiny stone houses that dotted the road were quaint and full of local crafts and artisanal products. Giving the feeling you were in a small, yet tightly knit town. Another few minutes of walking, and you come upon the farms filled with plants sprouting produce & color on the gray and blustery day.

Iona Abbey in Scotland

What I experienced was turning the corner nearly missing the 13 foot Celtic Cross. I wondered why this cross was so far away from the Abbey. There was a sign at the bottom that told of how pilgrims to the Abbey would stop at each cross and make an offering. This was to prepare the soul for worship, and I felt that in a way it helped introduce the story of this Abbey & all it has been through.

When first seeing the Abbey, it indeed was a stone church but set against the backdrop of the mainland, I couldn’t help but feel inspired that it was a refuge from the threatening storm moving into the area that day.

Iona Abbey

I paid for my ticket, inquired about the small graveyard. The graveyard itself is home to several Scottish Kings due to the belief that Iona Abbey was the closest place you could get to heaven on earth. There is said to be 48 Dalriadan (Scottish) Kings, 8 Norwegian kings, and 4 Irish Kings.

Iona Abbey

Walking through the ancient nunnery, made me feel that there was once determination, hardiness, love, and order that contributed to this being a spiritual place for many. It is always a beautiful thing to see human beings working together in harmony for the same peaceful purpose, it is not something often seen in the world today. When experiencing other cultures religions, I try to keep not only an open mind but an open heart. Doing this leads to greater understanding and insight for me personally.

Iona Abbey

Making my way to Iona Abbey I was regaled with tales of resistance against the invading Vikings. The plundering’s of the relics, the persistence of the priests, the miracles said to have been performed here. The thing that struck me to the core though, was with the images of Vikings, being brutal warriors and conquerors. Many Vikings ended up converting to Christianity and became protectors of a faith that they once attacked. It just shows how love, patience, kindness and long-suffering won them over.
How many wars have been fought both in the name of religion and in the name of power? So often we try and force our beliefs upon another, or take their beliefs away because we feel we are ‘right’. Ultimately when approached this way, everyone loses. Yet, when approached with love, longsuffering, kindness, open-mindedness, and suppressing our own internal boundaries….it creates change that is far greater than the change that would have occurred if it was forced.

Iona Abbey

The conversion of the Vikings’ to Christianity, knowing this Abbey was the key that allowed Christianity to come into Scotland gave me a sense of spirituality as well as inspiration to be a better example and human being. I am Christian, learning of the Abbey in the face of such dangers, I hope inspires all of us to be better at being an example and being that change we wish to see in the world.

Iona Abbey

In Summary:

Should you find yourself near Fort William, Glasgow, the NC500 or just want a holiday. Head to the west coast of Scotland, stay in Oban for a few days, then head to the Isle of Mull and Iona Abbey. You are sure to come away from this place feeling inspired by the enduring spirit of the early Christians in this area that helped to create change for the good.

Iona Abbey

Happy Travels, Happy Tales, and See You on the Flip Side…

Opening times and Closures:

Open year-round, Plan on spending around 3 hours here excluding transport time to Iona which can vary between 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Historic Scotland closures page for any unexpected site closures

Iona Abbey

Service Times:

Church Service Times for Iona Abbey

Travel information:

All Scottish public transport is covered by Travel Line, the National Rail, the Scotrail, or Long distance Coaches
Take a Caledonian Macbrayne Ferry to Iona, or hop aboard a local bus on the Isle of Mull

Local Links

Iona Tourist Board, Isle of Mull Tourism Board

Books on St Columba

Iona Abbey

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Things to do in Oban Scotland – There is more than you think

Things to do in Oban Scotland – There is more than you think

Oban seems like a small, out of the way sleepy town – but for those looking for a peaceful and slightly spiritual retreat, I highly suggest Oban. Here you will find avenues to the Isle of Mull, Iona Abbey and Fingal’s Cave on Staffa Island

Things to do in Oban Scotland

History of Oban:

Oban sits on the Firth of Lorn overlooking the Isle of Mull, Kerrera and Lismore. Oban in Gaelic is An t-Oban, which means ‘Little Bay’. I was corrected several times on how to say the name of the town, it is not O-bahn, it is Obin. Gaelic is the language of the Scottish Highlands and since the 17th Century Battle for Culloden, was systematically banned and nearly lost. Now it is being taught in schools throughout the Highlands to help preserve both the culture and the language. Should you visit the Scottish Highlands, you will see many signs both in Gaelic and English. As of 2006 9.4% of the population in Oban still speaks fluent Gaelic.

Mesolithic Times:

Oban itself dates back to the Mesolithic times, where early evidence of cave dwellers was found in the centre of Oban (right where Oban Distillery sits). Bones found within this cave has since been dated to be around 4500BC. Oban is a unique bay compared to others in the Highlands, as it has two sides of the land masses protecting its bay during the brutal winter storms. This makes it a perfect place for fish and other oceanic animals to take refuge, and also was the perfect place for cave dwellers to find food.

Things to do in Oban Scotland

Kilmartin House and Standing Stones


If you head up to Kilmartin House Museum, you will see one of the earliest forts made, dating to approximately 500 AD! This structure is under the care of Historic Scotland, so be sure to plan your visit and opening hours accordingly. Surrounding this area you will also find 350 ancient monuments including burial Cairn Stones.

I was able to see some of the Kilmartin Standing Stones, and the small cup and ring marks within the stones indicating these were placed here thousands of years ago. I could feel that sacred ceremonies were conducted in this area for nearly 5,000 years. Perfectly aligned with the symmetry being obviously visible to anyone who cares to look.
At first I didn’t want to see these stones, I was so exhausted, but pushing through my own fatigue I was able to see some of the most beautiful coastline and be witness to history that was thousands of years older than I. It is about a 30-minute drive, easily navigated to via Google Maps.

Traveler Tip: Before going to Scotland be sure to download Google Maps onto your phone and the Outlander Audio Book. These are great ways to both stay entertained (as the radio is not easily tapped into in the Highlands), and to not get lost should you run out of Wifi.

You will see a gravel parking lot on the left, pull into any spot and walk across the street to the gate opening. You will cross over a bridge to the sign explaining how old the Kilmartin stones are and where the other stones in the area are located as well. Walking in a space this old only adds to my own data bank of belief that Scotland is full of magic and mystery, and that I had just become part of this lands history as well.

The Sixth through the Ninth Century:

By the early 6th Century AD under the Kingdom of Dalriata, with the Scotii tribe the Kingdom of Scotland would grow. Legend has it that three sons Fergus Mor, Aonghas and Loarn mac Eric were not given this kingdom and it was passed to their uncle. They then took their followers and migrated to the west of Scotland to establish their own Kingdoms — brining with them the ‘Stone of Destiny’ (an important Scottish Royalty tradition that is still used to this day).

Things to do in Oban Scotland

The 9th Century brought Viking crossings into Scotland which also brought 400 years of war and struggle. This will play an important role in the history of Iona Abbey on the Isle of Mull just off the shores of Oban.

The Eleventh Century Onwards:

By the 11th century Oban was in Viking hands, the MacDougall family, who were Viking descendants established themselves as one of the most powerful families in the Scottish Highlands. Eventually the family relocated and their castle fell into ruin in Oban.
Sir Walter Scott, a famous Scottish author published his book Lord of the Isles in Oban. This brought many visitors to Oban, and houses began to pop up in the area.

During the 19th century, the steam ships were using Oban as a stopping point and refuge from storms on their way from Glasgow to Inverness. A local banker, obsessed with Roman and Greek art decided it was a good idea to build an amphitheater at the top of the hill. John S McCaig wasn’t the smartest banker and the unfinished tower tops one of Scotland’s most striking shores to this day.

Things to do in Oban Scotland

Where to Stay in Oban:

We stayed at a quaint little Oban Airbnb Home with our lovely host. She grew up on the Isle of Mull and speaks fluent Gaelic. She has loads of stories and just wants you to sit down and have a cuppa tea before you do anything else.
She gives great directions, provides you with the BEST breakfast and has the best Blood Pudding of anyone in the Scottish Highlands.

Traveler Tip: It gets cold at night, even in the summers (especially if you are from a dry climate like me), so bring a sweater.

Our room was comfy, warm and was so cozy….we nearly got stuck to it the next morning trying to get up for our early 730am tour.
There are places to park with a quiet neighborhood, nearby grocery store and petrol station. The shower is warm and is a short 10-minute drive from the center of town. Should you choose to walk, be sure to check the weather. As we were going to be dropping the car at the Edinburgh Airport right after our tour the next morning, we chose to drive.

Culture Trekking Coupon: Want $40 off your first stay with Airbnb? Sign up with the Culture Trekking Coupon here.

Festivities of Oban:

Royal National Mod (aka Highland Games), with Oban being considered the home of it and has been held in Oban since 1892 every 8 years.
Highland Games

Things to do in Oban Scotland

West Highland Yachting Week
Winter Festival
Highlands and Islands Music and Dance Festival: This one draws thousands of visitors throughout the Highlands into Oban each year in early May.
Festival of the Sea
Stargazing Weekends with Coll & the Cosmos

Things to do in Oban:

Isle of Kerrera : This is the island directly visible from Oban, but due to no ferries servicing the area, can take several hours to get to. Currently the population there is only 35, but if you have the time stop by and see Gylen Castle. This castle was built in 1587 by Duncan McDougall of Dunollie. If you get a look inside, there is a passage underneath it that reportedly still has visible head carvings with an inscription reading “trust in God and sin no more”. Here is a Map of Kerrera and accommodations are available on the island with Airbnb style homes.

Things to do in Oban Scotland

McCaig’s Tower – see Oban history above for more information on this quirky Roman tower in the middle of the Scottish Highlands.
Dunstaffnage Castle: Flora MacDonald was held at Dunstaffnage in 1746 before being sent to the Tower of London after she helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape the Battle of Culloden. The castle is also host to a 13th Century Chapel and imagine what it must have been to live in a place so isolated.

Things to do in Oban Scotland

Castle Stalker: This picturesque castle is located just north of Oban and beautifully surrounded by water. Only open between April and October, tours must be arranged in advance. There is intrigue, murder, wars and revenge that surround this castle. Take a deeper look into this small Stalker Castle’s BIG history.
Iona Abbey: A must visit for any Christian who wants to see how Christianity was passed to the Vikings. I will be posting more on this lovely and very spiritual place next week.
Staffa Island’s Fingal’s Cave with Puffin Sanctuary: This will also be included in the post for this next week on tours there, how to get there, opening times, best time to go and so much more.
Inveraray Castle is not to be missed as this is the Clan seat for the Duke of Argyll, which Oban is

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In Summary

You wouldn’t think that such a small spot on the map in Scotland would hold so much history! It doesn’t appear, at first, to hold much in the way of tourism….but oh how wrong I was. So should you find your way home from Inverness or Fort William to Edinburgh or Glasgow….be sure to spend a few days in Oban.
Take the ferry to the islands, see the castles, check out the Kilmartin Standing stones and especially the Oban Distillery. Plan your visit around the many festivals, and make Oban your central hub for visiting so many wonderful places in the Scottish Highlands.

Where To Stay In Oban

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Self-Guided Edinburgh Ghost Tour

Self-Guided Edinburgh Ghost Tour


Any local knows that Princes Street Gardens used to be the site of the Nor Loch and we’ve heard the tales of Greyfriars Bobby and the Mackenzie poltergeist many times before. Not only are these famous creepy tales of Edinburgh originating from here, but stories of Scrooge and none other than Lord Voldemort of the Harry Potter series were inspired characters of this city. So for all those story hunters, doing a self-guided ghost tour of Edinburgh will give you loads of stories to draw from.

Keep in mind that there is only one area that will require you to pay for access and that is to the underground vaults beneath the city.

Nor’ Loch:

Self-Guided Edinburgh Ghost Tour

Now the lush, and peaceful gardens in the center of Edinburgh these gardens were once witness to horrific events that took place on Princes street ages ago. A large body of water once graced this valley north of the Castle Rock, claiming the land as far back as 15,000 yrs ago as a byproduct of the ice age. The lake eventually dried up and Edinburgh was quickly thriving and growing. With many residents living in the 15 story housing within the cities fortifications, all the human waste had to go somewhere convenient. Enter the story of the Nor’ Loch. The stench from this ancient sewer plant must have been overpowering if the wind blew the wrong way, thus giving Edinburgh the nickname ‘old reeky’. Not only did the Nor’ Loch hold the human waste of the overpopulated city, but brutal punishments, murders, executions and public ‘dookings’ were very common at the edges.

Self-Guided Edinburgh Ghost Tour

Mr Sinclair was one of these tales, where him and his two sisters were sentenced to die for the crime of incest in 1628. Mr Sinclair and his two sisters were packed into a box with holes drilled into it and dumped into the Nor’ Loch with a padlock firmly in place. When renovations were made to Princes Street Garden, and the swamp drained, a box with 3 human remains were found in the mud. Upwards of 300 men and women were burned alive here for the crimes of witchcraft and wizardry. They were tied up, dragged down the slopes & dumped into the filth. If they sank to the bottom, well they were declared free of evil spirits. If they floated, well then a swift burn at the stake was in store with the human waste being a terrible fuel for those fires. It was some 200 years later that the city began to call for the draining of the cesspool. The New Town was beginning to be developed and by 1764 Nor’ Loch was drained. Princes Street Gardens was then built from East to West and finished around 1876.

Grey Friars Bobby:

John Gray arrived in the city in 1850, looking for work and attempting to avoid the dreaded workhouses, he joined the Night Watch with the Edinburgh Police Force. The nights in Scotland can be long and lonely and sometimes haunted. John Gray adopted a Skye Terrier named Bobby. These two were truly the best of friends. After years of roaming the streets and keeping the good people of Edinburgh safe, John came down with Tuberculosis. He eventually succumbed to the disease on February 15, 1858 and was buried at Greyfriars Kirkyard. Continuing his watch unfailingly, Bobby, his loyal dog and companion continued to stay at his masters grave – even in the worst conditions and weather.

Self-Guided Edinburgh Ghost Tour

The gardener tried to oust the poor thing several times but the dog was steadfast. The gardener’s heart eventually softened and a bed was made for bobby, complete with padding… allowing him to stay by his master’s side. People would come from miles around to see Bobby take his afternoon meal, following a cabinet maker to the Coffee House where he and John Grey would often go together. This routine took place for over 14 years, Bobby keeping constant watch of his masters grave until his own death in 1872. A Baroness, moved by this story of loyalty, erected the granite monument and statue commemorating this loyalty, who is now the most famous dog in Scotland. The Scottish people’s love of Dogs is still apparent today throughout the city. If you visit the statue, you will notice that it’s nose is quite worn. It is believed that rubbing Bobby’s nose will bring the visitor good luck and safety while touring the Kirkyard. The Grave of the beloved Bobby will also have several sticks placed by tourists, to help Bobby’s ghost be able to play fetch with his master again.

Self-Guided Edinburgh Ghost Tour

Mackenzie poltergeist

Not long after the ‘National Covenant’ was signed into practice, a document to keep Scotland Presbyterian, King Charles II took the throne and disavowed all those who covenanted and forcibly demanded those throughout England and Scotland to accept the state religion. It was June of 1679 that the military forces swept the country in the most bloody battle for religion known as Bothwell Brig. Several thousand Presbyterian Covenanter rebels were bound and imprisoned in Greyfriar’s Parish – this became known as the ‘Covenanters’ Prison’.

Self-Guided Edinburgh Ghost Tour

These covenanters endured inhumane torture, starvation, exposure, beheadings and so much more. This was all done at the hands of Lord Advocate Sir George Mackenzie, who we now know as ‘Bluidy MacKenzie’. His double life found him as both a loving father and business savvy gentleman, as well as the sadistic side of torturing these souls in the name of the King. Bloody Mackenzie was responsible for 18,000 deaths of these Covenanters, until his death in 1691. He is now buried in a tomb in Greyfriars Kirkyard. This Black Mausoleum Tomb is now the source of the most well-known paranormal activity in the entire world.
In 1998 a homeless man broke into the sealed tomb, ransacked the tomb breaking many of the things inside. While trying to open the casket that held Bloody Mackenzie’s body, a hole reportedly opened up in the floor and the man fell into another chamber. The homeless man had fallen into a Plague tomb, where many bodies had been previously dumped and buried during the great Plague in Scotland.

Self-Guided Edinburgh Ghost Tour

This released the vengeful spirit of Bloody Mackenzie, who has since been named the Mackenzie Poltergeist due to the 500 ghostly attacks that have been reported and photographed near this tomb. These attacks include burns, skin gouges (around the neck and abdomen); unexplained bruises; broken fingers; feeling as if one’s hair is being pulled. Some visitors have said they were punched or kicked by an invisible attacker.

Self-Guided Edinburgh Ghost Tour

In 2000, Colin Grant, an exorcist, and minister of a spiritualist church performed an exorcism ceremony on the graveyard. Standing in the cemetery, it’s said he was overcome by the sensation of being surrounded by hundreds of tormented souls and evil spirits trying to break through to the mortal realm. Fearing for his own life, he left quickly, saying the evil was too powerful for him to overcome. A few weeks later, Colin Grant was found dead of a sudden and unexpected heart attack.

Witch Trials

Self-Guided Edinburgh Ghost Tour

With the belief of magic, faeries and superstitions always comes the belief that witches are indeed real. Witch trials have a long history in Scotland and will be discussed in another article, as there are far too many things that are needing to be mentioned. To see just how far back these tales go, check out the full list of Witch trials and how the individuals died & stay tuned to for more on Witch Trials in Scotland.

The Source of Scrooge:

Self-Guided Edinburgh Ghost Tour

Charles Dickens invented the famous character of Scrooge when he misread the tombstone of successful Edinburgh merchant Ebenezer Scroggie in the Canongate Kirkyard. Dickens was horrified by the apparently hard-hearted inscription ‘Meanman’ – but the tombstone actually read ‘Mealman’ in recognition of Scroggie’s successful career as a corn trader. Thus, a legend was mistakenly born.

The Last Public Execution in Edinburgh History:

This grizzly tale of George Bryce’s execution for the murder of Jane Seton by cutting the 23-year old’s throat after breaking the relationship with him. It was 1863 and the townsfolk were enraged that this man would cut such a young girl’s throat with a razor-blade. He was sentenced to public execution on the corner of Lawnmarket and High Street.

Self-Guided Edinburgh Ghost Tour

He was to hang, with the more civilized method of the trap door mechanism ensuring a quick death by the neck quickly breaking. Thousands gathered to watch his execution, stories of the murder had been circulated and embellished to ensure the crowd was thirsty for revenge. As George Bryce was strung up, the priest giving him his last rights, a drunken Thomas Askern stepped up as the interim hangman for this occasion.
What the awaiting crowd didn’t know, was that Mr. Thomas Askern had lied about his qualifications. He had miscalculated the amount of rope needed for George Bryce to fall to his death. When the trap door opened, the length of rope needed to drop Bryce quickly to his death only let him fall 2 feet and he began to strangle in full view of the crowd. The crowd began to change their tune of hatred towards the accused, to hatred towards the authorities for having to witness the slow death of Bryce.

There are various stories of the man falling to the bottom and breaking his legs, then trying to be hung again and still being alive when he was cut too quick. After which the crowd took the limp but alive body of Bryce and paraded up and down the street complaining about the authorities. Askern was nearly beaten to death by the crowd for the atrocity of his failure. Then the man was hung again and finally pronounced dead. The stories, like all stories in Scotland, were a bit embellished, and records show the public execution lasting anywhere from 12-minutes to 40-minutes. If you walk by Lawnmarket street at night, you may still see the ghost of  Bryce walking the streets, confused and angry for the way his execution happened.

The moral of the story? Don’t kill your girlfriend for dumping you, you may end up with a fate far worse than death…..a very very slow and painful death.
Interestingly enough, hanging’s continued in Scotland (in a more private way) up until 1963 when a man was hung for killing a husband of his lover in a jealous rage.

The Watcher in the Underbelly of Scotland:

These caverns were built in the 18th Century beneath the South Bridge of Edinburgh. Previously used as housing for the base of Scottish Society, body snatchers and prostitution….it is now full of hauntings and paranormal activity.

Self-Guided Edinburgh Ghost Tour

Taking a tour with Mercat Tours is the only way to visit these ghostly haunts, but well worth the cost. You need to have a strong sense of the paranormal, and an open mind to the unseen. As you take back alleys and passageways to the entrance to these vaults you get the feeling you are descending into a certain level of Hell.

You twist and turn through alleyways as your guide tells you of experiences the other staff members have had with the electricity. Now candles are placed along all the tunnels as a backup, should the electricity fail while a group is underneath Edinburgh again.

Self-Guided Edinburgh Ghost Tour

One particular room is called the ‘Watcher’s Room’, with the ghost said to be the most aggressive of any within the Vaults. Apparitions of a man standing within a doorway in the largest of the vaults, following guests and flipping hair, bruising staff, or saying ‘get out’ repeatedly in someone’s ear have been experienced. Paranormal crews have attempted to interact or stay the nights within the vaults, but have been unable to complete missions due to the aggressive nature of this ghost.

Should you find yourself in Edinburgh, take this tour, you will find yourself grateful that the hotels and hostels have several floors. The highest room in your accommodation is likely where you will want to sleep after this tour, as far from the presence of the Watcher as possible.

Self-Guided Edinburgh Ghost Tour

In Summary:

Never have I been a believer in ghosts until after visiting Edinburgh & feeling the cold grip of something on my leg while in the vaults of Edinburgh. The brutality that was exhibited, encountered here along with the plague, fires, and religious wars have made this area by far the best most haunted I have been to.
Not wishing to tempt fate, I never ventured outside while it was dark, there are plenty of tours that will take you to the vaults, graveyards and even the McKenzie Poltergeist grave. If you venture out during the day, be sure to stroll through Princes Street Gardens and realize just how many people must have been buried there or died in the city. The flowers may give a small comfort, as the cold chill of the Ghostly tales drifts down your spine.
If you enjoyed this Self-Guided Edinburgh Ghost Tour, be sure to share the love 🙂 Pin it, Tweet it, save it!

As Always….Happy Travels, Happy Tales, and see you on the Flip Side.

Where to Stay in Edinburgh

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What Does Responsible Tourism Mean?

What Does Responsible Tourism Mean?

This post may contain affiliate links, for more information read our full disclosure The travel industry is throwing around this term: Responsible Tourism or Sustainable Tourism. So what does Responsible Tourism mean? Each year we travel, consume, photograph and share on our social media channels, exposing friends and family to expand their knowledge of the cultures of the world.

The world gets a little bit smaller, those in different countries can see your social media posts on Instagram and Facebook and may compare it to your lives. Animal rights, environmental responsibilities are becoming more and more talked about….especially the use of plastic. Stop and question what you think you know about plastic vs paper bags, look at the whole environmental impact. Look at how the production and use of plastic impacts and effects low-income households, did you know there is an actual place called ‘Cancer Alley’? In our ever-increasing virtual connection, what can we do as travel addicted wander lusting Instagram posting fiends to be more responsible when we travel? First things first….to understand what it is.

What does Eco-tourism mean

Responsible Tourism is a multifaceted approach, which includes:

  1. Minimizing negative social, economic and environmental impacts while traveling
  2. Generating greater economic benefits for local people and enhancing the well-being of host communities
  3. Improving working conditions and access to the worldwide industry
  4. Involving local people in decisions, markets, and trade that affect their life and chances at life.
  5. Making positive contributions to the conservation of natural and cultural heritage, embracing the diversity.
  6. Providing more enjoyable experiences for tourists through more meaningful connections with local people and a greater understanding of local cultural, social and environmental issues.
  7. Provides access for physically challenged people
  8. Is being culturally sensitive, encourages respect between tourists and hosts, and builds local pride and confidence.
What does Eco-tourism mean

There are many different ways that this can be addressed and focused on. The Culture Trekking Community is one that focuses on numbers one, five, six and eight. Creating a community where ideas, religions, cultural idiosyncrasies are both shared, respected and embraced. As the Community grows I want to improve awareness on environmental impacts as well as fight the uphill battle of having more meaningful human connections. Today I will focus on the latter.

Where the idea started for my own Responsible Tourism:

The video was quite graphic when I saw this 2 years ago, but it really impacted me in so many different ways. The moral of the story is… don’t know what you don’t know until you educate yourself on how small choices like using single-use straws can impact the environment. I now carry a reusable metal straw in my purse at all times. This video is where responsible tourism started for me….watching this turtle in so much pain made me feel like I needed to do more for the environment.

It isn’t just the plastic straws, it is garbage that is left strewn about in all the different places that I visit. I remember walking behind someone in Yellowstone National park…..they dropped a wrapper on the ground (a large one). I was so frustrated by this because they had a bag they could have easily slipped that wrapper into. I picked it up and gave it back to the tourist, who naturally acted like they dropped it by accident (even though I watched them look around before dropping it). It is not that hard to slip those wrappers into a pocket, a bag, in your shoe….anything but on the ground. Taking a few more steps to ensure your rubbish gets into the proper receptacle is not as hard as you think… Nike says ‘JUST DO IT’!

Another video that truly impacted me was one man in India, who returned to his home to find the beach he loved filled with garbage. He knew he had to do something so he started knocking on doors and aims to be that change he wishes to see in the world. Take a look at the video & then I want to think about how much of a difference we could make if each of us committed to picking up 3 pieces of trash wherever we travel to. What about taking an extra garbage bag on a local hike in your hometown? We could all use a few more squats in our day, right?

Why am I showing you all these videos? A picture is worth a thousand words (or so they say), but I feel that videos are the way to make an impact that can create change. What is better than a video? Visiting a place like the Washed Ashore Gallery in Bandon Oregon (several displays are located throughout the United States, see the Washed Ashore Exhibit Locations for more information) can both teach our generation and the generations below us how to protect our earth and save our oceans.

Traveling can be an exotic thing full to the brim with activities that will make your friends envy your life & maybe even despise you a little. The more I travel the more I realize that I want to make a difference in the world, no matter how small it is. Ecotourism and Volunteering for cleanups and service can help connect our communities, open minds and hearts, and help start the change we wish to see in the world.

Supporting Companies with good causes:

What does Eco-tourism mean

Save the Baby Turtles!

A Blogger friend of mine in Fort Lauderdale Florida was able to participate in the nighttime protection of hatching baby turtles. These baby turtles get confused by the city lights and instead of going into the ocean (following the moon), they follow the city lights. This leads them to be run over or crushed by bikes, cars or fall into holes they cannot get out of. What these volunteers do is once the baby turtles hit their 10-foot periphery line, they gather them up in a bucket and take all the confused little fellas to the ocean where they set them free. They also move beach chairs and sandcastles to allow for the mothers to come to the beach easier and lay their eggs. Check out her post on Saving Baby Sea Turtles and how you can help or participate!  

Soul Flower Clothing Company

As soon as I found this clothing company, I know I had found my tribe. Just look at their tagline:

Soul Flower is a natural clothing brand for kind souls and free spirits. Mindfully made with natural fibers and heartfelt art, we design our threads with kind vibes from start to finish. We seek inspiration in the simplicity of everyday life – in nature and in music, in free-spirited adventures and in like-minded souls. We create clothing in a way that supports our planet, spreads a positive message, and most importantly — helps you express yourself.”

what does responsible tourism mean

Beyond the message of Freakos‘. When looking into building your eco-friendly and ethical wardrobe, look no further.
The inks they use have a low impact on the environment with citrus solvents being utilized. They reuse paper boxes and packing materials to ‘keep the story going’. All cotton that is used in their clothing is organic cotton, recycled fibers or hemp. Not only do they focus on the clothing, but they also decreased the catalog printing and now use recycled paper with soy-based inks. They are also green office certified (aka: energy wise usage of products and environmentally savvy).

Why is this important? Small companies like this are able to be more environmentally friendly and I support those who make an effort to do so whole-heartedly! I feel privileged to be able to collaborate with this company as I love their manifesto, Soul Flower’s practices, and policies and their clothing is SO COMFORTABLE!

What does responsible tourism mean?

To all my big headed ladies out there (I’m talking literal, not egotistical) – this is the place you should get your headbands! Every time I wear these headbands I feel a little better about myself, I read the inspirational message printed on it and cannot help but feel inspired to finish out the day with a bang! Plus, let’s be honest, sometimes a girl just needs a headband to decrease the stress of doin’ da hur….ya feel me? To get your headband:

What is responsible tourism

The other items I have personally tried and fallen in love with so far are the yoga pants and shirts. If I’m being honest, I wear the pants EVERYWHERE! Not just because the pants are comfortable, but because they have the most adorable prints on them that inspire me to continue to be Eco-friendly in my day to day life & inspire me to live a simpler life to help have less of an impact on the environment.
I wore the shirt for two days in a row people! I know that’s gross but it has been so hot over here, and it is so light, airy and cute with the little leaves on it… I couldn’t resist

Personal Note: It is sooooo hard to find cute and comfortable clothing as a curvy woman — so to find a company that caters to my desire to be eco-friendly and embraces those of all shapes and sizes really just gives me warm fuzzies and I want to shout out from the rooftops how much I appreciate and love them for this.

You don’t just have to participate in environmentally friendly activities at destinations you visit. You can start being environmentally friendly to companies just like Soul Flower. Check out Soul Flower Summer Specials today!

Other Ways to be a Responsible Tourist:

Be Respectful of Religions and Cultures:

Look at local customs and rules when entering churches across the world. Do not make derogatory jokes or compare those within the country to something you deem as ‘more sensible’ or ‘better practices’. Do not impose your beliefs on those within the country unless prompted to. Respect the cultural idiosyncrasies of what is considered ‘normal’ for that country.

What is responsible tourism

The bottom line is, just because something, someone, or a country as a whole does something different than what you know to be normal — doesn’t mean that it is wrong. There are some exceptions where it endangers basic human rights, practices, or harms/mutilates any animal or human being (obviously). Even if you do see something wrong, intervening as a tourist could land you in jail – be careful, be cautious and if you have a concern about the country/destination use a guide that you can ask questions about what is appropriate or if you can do something/intervene without landing yourself in jail.

Be Respectful of Shop Owners Overseas:

Do not take photos of products, items, or anything in different countries that could affect their livelihood. Do not get offended if they ask you not to take photos, there is a reason! Unnamed countries citizens will visit these economically struggling countries and take photos of their products and produce them at a fraction of the cost, but they are not authentic products.

What is responsible tourism

Moroccans, for example, rely on their skill and artistry of furniture, clothing, architecture, woodworking to profit from their craft and provide for their families. How many times have you visited a country and thought, ‘Oh I can get that back in my own country, I don’t need to buy it here’. This is why it is so important….so many countries rely on tourism and the money it brings in to put food on the table. So please….before you take a photo in a store, ASK the owner if it is ok.

Be Aware and Educate Yourself on Regional Issues:

What is responsible tourism

Human trafficking, terrorism, and so many more unsavory things happen in this world. I have too much of a tender heart to focus in on the negative all the time, so rarely listen to the news – but I do search for those individuals who have the capacity to handle situations such as this. I support them, I share their stories and donate when I’m able to.

It is important to be sensitive to cultural and religious practices (as part of Responsible Tourism) that help to positively define a culture, but that never means we should tolerate those who continually violate the basic human rights of food, safety, and shelter.

With having experienced Rape and sexual assault myself, the topic of sex trafficking is a very passionate topic for me. Operation Underground Railroad is a team of individuals of highly specialized individuals who have years of experience in special forces, law enforcement working proactively since 2013 with local governments that I wholeheartedly support. This is a video that had me in tears for how grateful I was to the men & women who do this. Please support them in whatever way that you can….
If you would like to Donate to O.U.R. please feel free to do so, if you are unable to donate, then try and Volunteer for O.U.R. to help aid in their efforts.

Small changes can make a big difference:

Wear environmentally friendly products:

  • Keep any soap while camping at any location away from runoff areas (at least 100 feet).
  • Bury or pack out your human waste. Look at the requirements for each camping spot you visit for their rules and regulations.
  • Wear environmentally and Ocean friendly sunscreen as this often washes off the ocean, causing damage to coral and marine life.
What is responsible tourism

Biodegradable products:

  • Bringing your own straws, skip the straw at Starbucks. If this doesn’t make sense, please keep watching the video of the Turtle above until it does.
  • Get a recycling bin or start a recycling group in your neighborhood. (More information below on recycling that could be available in your country).
  • Make a list of low-cost companies that produce Biodegradable Products and keep a list. Hand the list out to anyone who uses straws, show they alternatives. Don’t force it down their throat — educate with KINDNESS! Honey works better than vinegar when trying to entice people to change their daily habits or companies to change the status quo.
What is responsible tourism

Utilize the Reusable Grocery Bags:

  • This is such a simple change that we can all do (especially those of us in the States). In most other countries they are charging for the plastic bags, yet when we implement it here to try and help support the environment….everyone loses their minds! They tried to do this when I lived in Texas and I would stand there and see with my own eyes, these grocery baggers get verbally assaulted for doing their job and charging for the plastic bags. Come on people… better than that……do better than that…….realize that this isn’t just about YOU and YOUR needs, but for the betterment of humanity and animals. If you still aren’t convinced that plastic bags are a big deal, watch this video of the whale found dead with hundreds of pounds of plastic bags in its stomach. If that doesn’t convince you, well…..I don’t know how to help you become a better human being.
  • I need some advice myself on this one….grrrhhh….. I have all the reusable bags I can handle. I start daydreaming on the way to the grocery store, then out of habit, forget to take the reusable grocery bags I brought off the garage wall where I put them so I wouldn’t forget them. If you have some advice on how to remember these things…..let a girl know in the comments below.

A Call to Action for Responsible Tourism:


  • Here is a great resource if you would like to participate in Ecotourism on your next trip:

Volunteering through worldwide programs/cleanups

Companies that Participate in Eco-friendly Product Production:

Clothing: Patagonia, Thought Clothing, Encircled Clothing

How to encourage clothing companies to not use plastic hangers

Straws: The Last Plastic Straw is a great website for a list of all the different types of straws, where to get them and how they are better than the plastic straws. There is also a site completely dedicated to Living a life without plastic, this is where I get my reusable metal straws (bamboo and glass is also available).

Home, Pets, Cleaning supplies and more: Life Without Plastic gives you so many bamboo or steel options that can replace many of the household items that have or contain plastic. Gift certificates, gift registry, and points program are also available on this site to help you invite friends to the #noplastic movement.

Trash Bags: Biodegradable Trash Bags, Green Legacy Tall Kitchen Trash Bags

Grocery Bags: Reusable Grocery Bags

Sandwich Bags: Eco-Friendly Reusable Sandwich Bags

Recycling throughout the world: Recycling in the States (contact your city councils to arrange this), Recycling in Australia, Recycling in Canada, Curbside Recycling available in New Zealand please check your local city councils, Recycling is also available in the United Kingdom for each household (mandatory supply of bins from government), Spain also has recycling available in some areas, and the Netherlands actually pays you to bring in your recyclable materials (typically at grocery stores).


A Must Read Plastic Free Blogger: If you are like me and feel a little overwhelmed by how many things in your home contain plastic, visit Beth Terry: My Plastic Free Life Blogger. She will teach you, take you step by step through the process and show you how to live a plastic-free life.

Worldwide Plastic Pollution Coalition – Now NO ONE has an excuse to not participate in reducing their plastic use. This is a global alliance of individuals, organizations and businesses working together to stop plastic pollution.

what does responsible tourism mean

How To Tour Responsibly:

We have such a duty to protect creatures who outlived the dinosaurs, are essential to our planet’s ecosystem – the Sea Turtles. We don’t have to start being Eco-friendly or participate in Responsible Tourism practices only when we are traveling. Get involved in the activities now, one goal or plastic straw at a time.

Be respectful of religions, people, cultures, and races as long as they do not infringe on basic human rights to live life peacefully, safely without fear of bodily harm and can provide for basic human needs of shelter, food, and water.

Get involved in volunteer programs locally where you can help end human trafficking, gang violence, opioid epidemics, and so much more. There seems to be an Instagram hashtag or Facebook group for everything these days. If you have any suggestions for local groups you are passionate about, please let it in the comments below with a link to their site.
Teach those around you, share the information on your social media platforms….it just takes one rock in a pond to start a ripple that turns into a wave. Be that change you wish to see in the world.

How do you like to contribute to Responsible Tourism?

What is the most important thing to you regarding Responsible Tourism?

Dunrobin Castle Crown Jewel of the NC500 Coast in Scotland

Dunrobin Castle Crown Jewel of the NC500 Coast in Scotland

Dunrobin Castle 2-1

The History of Dunrobin The area of Dunrobin goes way back to Freskin de Moravia, a Norman who helped both David I and William the Lion regain control of the Nothern Highlands. Earl Robin was granted the title, and allowed to fortify the area. Earl Robin was the founder of this castle in 1275, which looked very different than the Dunrobin Castle we know today. Although it has transformed from that time, the castle still holds his name Dun in Gaelic meaning Fort, and Robin, being his name.

Fun Fact: The 5th Earl ended up marrying Princess Margaret, daughter of Robert the Bruce. The Wolf of Badenoch lived here as well. A wildly brutal man who is known for terrorizing many of the Highland lands.

Dunrobin Castle History and Building the Chateau

The oldest part of this castle comes from the 1320’s, a stone keep was added in 1401 to help fortifications of the castle. Dunrobin was built to be a holdfast and military fortress, which can be seen by the iron yett at the entrance to the castle.

Dunrobin Castle in Scotland

During the Jacobite Rising, the Earl of Cromartie was George McKenzie, a staunch Jacobite. It was April 1746 when the Earl heard rumors that Prince Charlie and many Clan members had been successful at the Battle of Culloden. Fueled by the passion of a Scottish King being on the Throne of England, he gathered his men and attacked Dunrobin. The castle fell to him and he claimed it in the name of the Stewart King. A short time after this the true news of the loss at Culloden reached the Earl. The Duke of Sutherland surrounded the castle, with a brutal battle the Earl was captured and Dunrobin Castle was back in the hands of the English.

The apartment where the Earl was hiding is still called the Cromartie Room (this room is now used as the children’s playroom). It was a short 40 years later in 1785 when Elizabeth Gordon, Countess of Sutherland began to clean and upgrade the estate, and the surrounding areas. The 2nd Duke of Sutherland inherited the castle in 1841, who then had 8 children. This gave way to the massive expansion of the castle. Most of the French Chateau styling came from 1845 by Charles Barry, who was a master of the Gothic Revival style. Charles Barry’s success at this castle is what influenced the men who built the tower of London to be what it is today. When Dunrobin castle was finished it was three times larger than it had been 6 years earlier.

Dunrobin Castle in Scotland

The Castle was used as a Naval Hospital during World War I, and a boarding school from 1965 to 1972. It overlooks the beautiful Moray of Firth with a path leading directly to its shores. It is the most Northerly of Scotland’s castles and the largest in the Northern Highlands with 189 rooms and has been continuously inhabited since the 1300’s. Home to the Earls and Dukes of Sutherland. Visitors are allowed to take a self-guided tour through some of the 20 rooms in one of the most extravagant residences in the Northern Highlands.

Inside Dunrobin Castle

The tour starts in the inviting dining area, where a table set for 10 with the family silver adorns the table. The table is set exactly as it would have been in 1850. The walls are not filled with gold, gifts, and do not bestow the sense of trying to intimidate their guests like you would see in most castles. Rather, the walls are lined with wood paneling that provides a sense of warmth that would make anyone want to linger after dinner chatting and solving the world’s problems.

Dunrobin Castle in Scotland

Next, you will head into the old boy’s mess hall now turned into the Drawing Room. I was astounded at the intricate details of the ceiling. Imagining the boys sitting in this room, trying to get their ‘wiggles’ out of their bodies & drawing the patterns of the ceiling with their fingers. It would be hard for me as a child to pay attention to the schoolmaster in this room.

Dunrobin Castle in Scotland

You will be especially impressed upon by the French style furniture, the oldest piece being the Louis the XVI table with a Florentine Dura top. I can just imagine ladies in their frilly dresses playing a round of cards, while the men look out at the ships passing by the castle on the Moray of Firth discussing politics.

The Significance of Dunrobin Castle Library

Dunrobin Castle in Scotland

In my opinion, the crown jewel of the castle is the Library. This library has over 10,000 books, with books ranging from politics to art to world history. Some of these books date clear back to the 17th century. There are many of the books that include original Scottish law, which is very rare. After The Battle of Culloden, many of these books were burned, the Gaelic language was banned & Scottish law was changed completely. To have this knowledge so carefully preserved and protected within the walls of this castle makes Dunrobin all the more important piece of Scottish History. Duchess Eliean, the 1st wife of the 6th Duke of Sutherland is lovingly placed over the fireplace. Dressed in very modern clothing for that time period, she is responsible for how the castle, as you see it today, is designed. She was also a voluntary nurse and helped turn Dunrobin into a Naval hospital. Working alongside her Mother-in-law, she aided soldiers during World War I.

The Green and Gold Bedroom: 

The French interior decorating really comes through in this room. The bed that dominates the room, is a four-post bed with delicate flowers climbing the posts and topped with doves. Commissioned specifically for Queen Victoria’s visit from September 6th-11th 1872, after which the bed was used by Duchess Eileen.

This is not an ordinary bedroom, it is a suite, with a dressing room and a bathroom within a short distance of this bedroom. This is an older part of the castle, built around 1784. As you pass through this room, you can still glimpse what the original bathroom would have looked like,  a skylight and a claws foot tub.

Dunrobin will always be a Family Home: 

Dunrobin Castle in Scotland

The staff and the current Countess and Duke work with the general manager, Scott Morrison, to ensure that the castle will always appear as a family home. In any of the rooms that you walk in, you can imagine them playing board games in the dining room, having tea in the old mess hall, or children rocking on the wooden horse in the playroom. No matter what facelift, transformation or event Dunrobin is used for, both the family and the staff ensure that it is filled with love, warmth and a welcoming hand to all. Even at the entrance, you feel this warmth both figuratively and literally.

The ticket booth is directly across from a roaring fireplace with sweet townsfolk gathering the payments and tickets to see the castle. They warmly greet each visitor and seem truly interested in your own story. It is almost as if they take these stories, and lovingly place them into the castle itself. So that those who enter their doors will know that all are welcome to Dunrobin. This falls in line perfectly with the Clan Sutherland Motto, Sans Peur, which is French for ‘Without Fear’. For a full tour of the castle, be sure to check out the interview with Scott Morrision, General manager, and his tour of Dunrobin Castle giving all the details, tidbits and history of Dunrobin.  (Coming soon to Culture Trekking on YouTube).

Falconry at Dunrobin Castle: 

Originally Falconry was introduced in England in 860 AD, and from there spread like wildfire throughout both England and Scotland. Falconry at Dunrobin has an exceptional display of the birds of prey.

Dunrobin Castle in Scotland

  The keeper, Andy, raises the birds from the times they are chicks, develops a relationship with them with food, aids them during hunting, cares for them if they sustain injuries, and treats them like they were a member of the family.

Dunrobin Castle in Scotland

Many people get angry that the birds are kept tethered at times, but this is just not true, every morning the birds are let loose to fly, hunt and leave if they wish. They always return to Andy, and he secures them for the night in a warm and safe environment.

Dunrobin Castle in Scotland

There are plenty of fields nearby full of mice, chickens, and jackrabbits that the birds regularly bring home to him to share. If you do nothing else, make sure you go to the Falconry show. It is a perfect opportunity to teach children about how animals who are treated well, will treat you well. Stay tuned for a portion of the Falconry show I was privileged to film….

Dunrobin Castle in Scotland

The Tea Room and the Gift Shop

Dunrobin Castle in Scotland

At the conclusion of the journey through this stunning castle, you will find an excellent tea room and gift shop. Wind your way through the gardens and sip on your tea and crumpets for a truly Scottish experience. The cost to visit Dunrobin is

My Final Opinion on Dunrobin Castle

Dunrobin Castle in Scotland

If you want to feel as if you have been adopted into an ancient Scottish Clan, while feeling like you are visiting France at the same time, then head to Dunrobin. It is not just the castle staff that create a wonderfully friendly environment, but each room is crafted with a sincere message of the importance of family in mind. Even when you stay in nearby Airbnb’s, there is a general expression of love for Dunrobin, it’s Countess and Earl and all they have done to help the community. If I could pick one place in my lifetime I have visited and would love to continue to be a part of, this town would be what I would pick. It is calming, friendly, kind, and has a feeling of community that is hard to find in a world that is becoming more and more rough around the edges.

How to visit:

Fly into Inverness, Rent a Car and take a tour up the NC500 Coastline, there is plenty to see along the way – but Dunrobin is the crown Jewel of this bucketlist road trip in Scotland.

Dunrobin Castle in Scotland

Where to Stay in Dunrobin:

As always….Happy Travels, Happy Tales, and See You on the Flip Side.

If you enjoyed this Article, you may also enjoy:

Cawdor Castle in Scotland

What to see on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh

The Battle for Culloden in Scotland

Edinburgh in Two Days – by Eternal Arrival

Outlander Self Guided Tour

5 Classic dishes to try in Scotland

Top 5 Hidden Gems of Wales


Cawdor Castle in Scotland

Cawdor Castle in Scotland

Cawdor Castle in Scotand

Nairnshire Scotland stands a charming 14th century keep, Cawdor Castle. This castle not only has rumored ties to Macbeth but a history of thorn trees, donkeys, and kidnappings. Intrigued? Come with me on a journey through this fabled castle ripe with stories for the telling.

Early History:

The earliest notations of fortifications in this same area were with William the Lion in 1179. He was assigned to command the ford over the river Nairn near the sea.

Cawdor Castle in Scotand

Traveler tip: Make sure to stop by Nairn Beach, a very popular place to relax and have a picnic whilst on your road trip in the area.

Cawdor Castle in Scotand

After a dreadful fire, and many years uninhabited, the license to fortify was granted to William Calder, Thane of Cawdor. The oldest stonework has been dated by historians to be from 1380, with the license to fortify being granted in documentation in 1454. History in the Scottish Highlands is sparse due to wars and clearings of Gaelic tenants.

Legend of the Donkey:

It is said, that the early Thane of Calder decided that animals know best, and so bestowed upon his donkey the rights to claim the land which he would build his castle. The Thane of Calder loaded up his donkey with the gold (thought to bring good fortune to the site) and off they went.

Cawdor Castle in Scotand

The donkey, after miles and miles of walking finally chose to lay down under a Holly Tree (Thorn Tree) with radiocarbon date sampling from the core dating back to 1372. This Holly Tree has become the focal point for the castle, although after building a castle around the tree it eventually died, you can still see the tree in the vault of Cawdor castle.

Cawdor Castle in Scotand

Something you should realize about Scottish history is that there are many places throughout the Highlands that are believed to have a sense of magic. There is the Fairy Glen, the Devil’s Pulpit and even some hidden valleys where they believed Ghosts lived and roamed. (Stay tuned for posts on these areas) The Scottish Highlands were full of both religion combined with magic and superstitions. So the fact that the Thane of Calder used a donkey to find this place, and believed loading it with Gold would bring the castle good luck….something obviously went right, otherwise like so many other castles in the Highlands, this one would be left in ruins. So I will let you choose if you believe in superstitions and magic.

The Interior:

Cawdor Castle in Scotand

This is not just an ancient castle with loads of history, it is also home to the current Countess of Cawdor. She resides here mostly in the wintertime when there are not as many tourists here to see the castle. Everything is set up exactly as you would see if when she is living here.

Here you see the grand entrance to Cawdor castle, complete with a grand piano and a fireplace that has the family symbol of the Stag’s head with a buckle. Statues and topiary’s, with fresh flowers, adorn the room to give it life. Notice the wooden pillars that are supported by the stones. This is classic of the 16th-century architectural style.

As you walk through the rooms, make sure to look around you, at the little embellishments just like the ones you would find in your own homes.

The Tapestry Bedroom:

Here you are greeted by tapestry’s depicting Don QuixoteThese Flemish tapestries are quite rare, called Arras Tapestries. A tapestry woven in wool and silk and used to cover the plastered walls to keep in the warmth during the harsh Scottish winters.

A velvet lined bed dominates the room, topped with feathers that look as if they came directly from Angels wings. This is truly where I felt like I was walking into a medieval castle.

This extraordinary bed was the marriage bed for Sir Hugh Campbell and Lady Henrietta Stuart in 1662. Be sure to make a note of the headboard, an original Venitian guilded headboard. The combination of it all makes this bed quite an extraordinary piece of art in and of itself.

The Dining Room:

Cawdor Castle in Scotand

Your imagination takes hold as you enter the dining room. Greeted by a table laid out in the same way that you would see it when the Countess would be dining there. Silver plates edged with the Cawdor coat of arms, with (comically) an 18th-century Portuguese shaving bowl as the centerpiece.

As you walk past the dining table, you will see an exquisite fireplace, said to commemorate the marriage between Sir John Campbell of Argyll and Muriel Calder of Cawdor.

You can see the Calder Clan’s symbols on the righthand within the shield, and on the left is the Campbell clan symbols. This fireplace was made as a single piece, the Laird and 24 other men tried to bring it across and into the castle via the drawbridge. Alas, the fireplace was so heavy, along with 24 men – the drawbridge collapsed under the weight. The fireplace split in half killed one man and broke another man’s leg.

The Sitting Room:

I wandered through the sitting room with photos of grandchildren, several large marble balls, a bronze age vase with a Photo of John Campbell next to it.

Go down the hallway and you will be able to go down the winding stairs to several other rooms: the peach room, a room where the countess guests stay, stairs with the Cawdor tartan and an array of priceless guns.

Cawdor Kitchens:

Cawdor Castle in Scotand

As you make your way to the basement you descend down some stone stairs, on the right-hand side of the windows in the corner you will see the signature of a Campbell from the 16th Century. Diamond pens were all the rage at the time, and this chap was a huge fan. Can you make out the name and the year he signed it?

Cawdor Castle in Scotand

After you finish staring into the windows, and everyone who passes you thinks your a lunatic. You will come to the basement vault with the thorn tree (discussed above). Just outside the vault, you see an original cannon and the original gate of the keep.

In the Kitchens:

There are two kitchens, a modern kitchen and the original kitchen complete with a well, a cooling cupboard (seen at the end of the long counter). Copper pots, measuring devices and more.

The Gardens

John Campbell of Muckairn, 3rd of Cawdor added a beautiful medieval garden in 1635 which I would highly recommend wandering through. You will be greeted by a beautiful array of color, flowers, and unique sculptures that complement the elegance of the castle perfectly.

Cawdor Castle in Scotand

For more photos of the gardens, be sure to check out the Culture Trekking YouTube Channel. You won’t want to miss this… me, these gardens are considered some of the most important medieval gardens in Scotland.

Make sure to wear your best dress, because the Instagrammability of this place is around every corner, nook, and cranny. Be sure to find the walled flower garden, originally planted in the 17th century.

Cawdor Castle in Scotand

Traveler Tip: When you come out of the castle, across the drawbridge. If you wander to the left you will see the medieval gardens. If you wander to the right, you will see an adorable garden gate entrance to the walled flower garden.

Cawdor Castle in Scotand

No matter where on these grounds you decide to visit, Cawdor castle Gardens are sure to delight, enthrall and provide you with a plentiful amount of memories (and perhaps your next Christmas Card photo).

To Be, Or Not To Be…Connected to Shakespeare:

Cawdor Castle in Scotand

It is rumored that the Shakespearian play Macbeth is connected inherently to Cawdor Castle. For those who need to brush up on your literary stories: The story of Macbeth has three witches who foretell that Macbeth, (then Thane of Glamis), would become the Thane of Cawdor, and then a King!

The King at the time, King Duncan I, immediately made Macbeth Thane of Cawdor. Macbeth was so convinced by this coincidence of prophecy, that he, and his wife plotted to kill King Duncan in order for Macbeth to fulfill the rest of the witched prophecy and become King. The King comes to visit Macbeth in Inverness and is murdered while there, in his sleep.

You can easily imagine the King staying in this velvet lined bed, and being murdered there. Alas, this tale is not actually connected to Cawdor Castle in this historical facts.

Cawdor Castle in Scotand

King Macbeth ruled Scotland from 1040-1057 after killing King Duncan I in battle near Elgin. Macbeth was never actually Thane of Cawdor, and Cawdor castle didn’t exist during that time. Shakespeare wrote this gruesome tale in the early 16th century, causing quite the kerfuffle with the 5th Earl of Cawdor who has been quoted saying, “I wish the Bard had never written this damned play!”

The Kidnapping:

Cawdor Castle in Scotand

The Calder (Cawdor) Clan in the 15th-16th centuries was a very powerful family. Ensuring that their heirs also marry into powerful families. They were not the only ones with this game of power in mind. The nearby Clan Campbell was assigned (along with Rose of Kilravock) to be the guardian of then infant Muriel Calder….who was also the heir to the Calder family Castle and fortune.
A plan was devised by the Campbell Clan to bring the child to Inverary, and raise her under the Campbell roof. Her uncles opposed this plan vehemently, and this is when the chase began.

Things were quickly put onto carriages and horses, the child was miles away, it was a matter of hours before her fate would be decided. The Campbell’s were on the hunt, led by Campbell of Inverliver who upon reaching the child led a gruesome battle. Six Campbell lives were lost that day, all of which were sons of Campbell of Inverliver. In the end, Muriel was safely delivered to Inverary…..but not without considerable loss of life.

Despite all of the drama that led up to her delivery to Inverary, Murial led a happy life and was brought up as a Campbell. She fell in love with Sir John Campbell, son of the Earl of Argyll.

Sadly Murial died in 1575, and her descendant, John Campbell of Cawdor was raised to Lord Cawdor in 1796, after which his son was created the first Earl of Cawdor in 1827. This my friends is how you play the game of Scottish Thrones. This sealed the fate of the Calder family and is the reason there is now a ‘Campbell of Cawdor’ in the name of Cawdor Castle family Crests.

Stop by the Gift Shop:

Here you will see the prior horse stable turned into a gift shop. The items within the gift shop are chosen by the Countess of Cawdor. I personally bought 2 beautiful pillowcases and a teacup when I visited the shop last time.

The castle also has a gift shop, bookshop, and wool shop, in addition to a restaurant located in the castle itself and a snack bar near the car park. Make sure you stop at the Cafe earlier in the day if you are planning on lunch there, the two times I have visited they closed up the kitchen and only had cakes available at 430pm. The Cafe does not stay open as long as the Castle does.

Golf at Cawdor Castle:

Visiting Cawdor Castle is guaranteed to educate, enthrall, excite, and fill your mind with awe at this spectacularly preserved building. It is so close to Inverness and well worth a visit if you are a fan of Shakespeare, intrigue and spectacular gardens. This castle will give you an excellent introduction to both Scottish History & the Highland Clans.

I want to also would like to say thank you to Cawdor Castle staff for hosting me and allowing me to take photographs inside. They were warm, informative, and very helpful throughout the FAM trip process. I will definitely be returning for a third visit in the future.

How to Get To Cawdor Castle:

Map to get there by Car – travel time approximately 3 hours from Edinburgh, or 25 minutes from Inverness.
Map to get there by Train/Taxi – Travel time approximately 4 hrs 51 minutes with an additional 7-minute taxi drive from Nairn. You go through Inverness then to Nairn, from Nairn is where you will catch the taxi.

If you are planning to visit the Scottish Highlands, I would fly into Inverness Airport and then rent a car from there.

Where to Stay in Inverness

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Travel by Train in Europe: My Top 15 Tips

European Train[/caption]

Steps to not screwing up your Travel by Train in Europe:

1- Buy a ticket, reserve a seat & make sure you are there at least 30 minutes early so you don’t miss your train. Especially if you are traveling across country lines. Only buy tickets from reputable places, there are a lot of scams in Europe around travel. Educate yourself on how to avoid scams in Europe. 2- Get on the right train from the right platform. Look at the train names above the numbered platforms. Then make sure that the car you enter is the exact car you need to take. The cars separate at different stops and you don’t want to be left behind unknowingly. IF YOU DON’T KNOW, ASK!!!! Ask someone after you get on the train if you must. They will close the doors when the conductor blows the whistle. The trains in Europe wait for no one (and I don’t mean the No One referenced in Game of Thrones, lol). architecture-buildings-business-374684 3- Once seated, look at your ticket……look at the next platform you need to go to. Look at when your train arrives and when the next departs. You may need to run across the station to platform 12b from platform 1a in 15 minutes. There is always going to be someone slow in front of you, so take the stairs. 4- Keep your ticket in hand! You need it to scan in and scan out of each of the train stations. The ticket must be current, or you can get a fine. If you have a Eurail Pass, you can just scan the code on the outside of the ticket to get through the gates. The Eurail tickets sometimes have their own gates. Try to go with the gate not everyone is going through (if you can’t understand the Language). 5- Make sure you are getting on the right type of train. If you get on the wrong train you can still get fined. It may be going to the right place, but if you get on the faster train or get on an inter-city train instead, you can get fined. bridge-clouds-forest-461772 6- Bring your own water, your phone charger, and a Travel Pillow— especially if you have a sleeper train — small backpacks are the best…..just minimize by packing like the news told you the city was going to be bombed and you had 15 minutes before you had to be evacuated. That will get you everything you need in one bag. Yes, you will probably smell……bring Febreeze… me…..there are people who smell worse on the trains. 7- Take your trash with you when you exit the train. There are small little garbage cans underneath the tables or right under the window on most trains. These fill up very quickly, as well as the ones in the bathrooms, so take your rubbish with you when you get off. 8- Don’t sit in a seat with a paper at the top or an electronic name above the seat…..You will lose your seat. I had this experience once, and that is all it took for me to learn to not do this. Was very unpleasant to be laughed out of your seat by a group of teenage boys. Then I stood in the café car for two hours till the next stop, the train was so full you couldn’t find a seat even between the cars. 9- Don’t put your feet up on the seats, or let your luggage take a seat near you. Put your bags on top and your coat on the hooks. MOVE if there are people looking for a place to sit. You wouldn’t want to sit on a spot where someone’s muddy shoes have just been, ruining your outfit. Take your shoes off first at least before you do this. They don’t exactly clean these seats regularly. 10- Be the first in line to get on the train…..the seats run out very quickly. Don’t be rude and shove people aside, but if you have the chance, stay close to the train. I also would gauge where the train door would stop ultimately by the train next to us. You stand right where the train opposite would stop, and you get to be the first one onto the train! Worked like a charm every time. Most people just stand at the platform thinking if they are near the front they will get a seat, this is not true. If you are at the front of the platform, right where the doors are going to stop, THEN you will get a seat. 11- Please don’t bring 500 pieces of luggage that require you to ask for help onto and off the train. If you cannot easily get up and down 4 very tall 18-inch steps with both luggage pieces in hand…..people will get mad. The longer you take to board the train the less likely the people behind you will be able to find a seat. commuters-london-platform-979714 12- If you are just going one stop, you can sit in-between the cars. If you try and do this for the entire trip….you will have to get up and move every time someone opens the car doors……very annoying. 13- There are seats in the back at the café car that you can order food and sit or stand there. I wouldn’t recommend this, as it gets crowded very very quick. No one can eat for 6 hours straight… would go broke.   14- Don’t try to use the bathrooms unless it is an emergency. If you do try and use them— bring hand sanitizer and toilet paper in your purse. The few I did have to use were so gross I was gagging. One had a floor so sticky and stinky that I had to breathe through my mouth. A coin-operated train station in Amsterdam was another bad experience.This particular bathroom had no toilet paper (luckily I had Kleenex in my bag), the sink had a powerful water flow and you could literally see the poop near the walls of the sink. I am a pretty laid back person when it comes to expecting things to always be perfect (if you do expect it, your trip will be horrible); but this particular restroom was the most disgusting one I have used in the ENTIRE world. Who would have thought that a train station in the Netherlands would be that gross…..they are usually a very clean people. I will say this though, there are some trains (typically the newer ones) that have decent bathrooms with air-fresheners and everything. They give hefty fines to people who are caught using first class bathrooms without a ticket. 15- If you get a sleeper car for an overnight train trip, get one in first class with one other person if you must. I’m telling you….. it is amazing, and I actually slept…..everything is so clean and really just like a hotel room. You even get breakfast. Second class sleeper trains are adequate but don’t expect to have it be perfect. My experience with the Second class sleeper was with 4 people in it, and nowhere to put your things because the ladies on the bottom bunks took up all the space. On top of that, you are usually at the end of the train which is a lot more bouncy and less restful. The Air conditioner broke and it was so incredibly hot woke up drenched in sweat. The gentleman in charge of our car and cabin just apologized, said they tried to fix it, and there were no other rooms for us to go. Photo Sep 30, 4 07 50 PM

In Summary:

Now all these things may make you not want to take the train at all. These 15 tips, were constructed from the worst parts of my experience. These tips and tricks will help your experience better. There are many many more wonderful parts of train travel, that can end up being a really great experience. My luck on trains is not the greatest. Apart from the one time I got a first class cabin all to myself. Being in first class was sooooo worth the money! To be in a cool, quiet, restful place with an attendant who really cared. So don’t let this article deter you from train travel, it really is a great way to get around. I hope these things have helped and will allow at least those in the Culture Trekking Community to travel with ease, by learning from my mistakes. If you would like to have help planning your trip, email me at

As always, Happy Travels, Happy Tales and See You on the Flip Side.

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What to See On the Royal Mile in Edinburgh

Although Edinburgh is smaller than most European cities, the history within this town is really just as jam-packed. It is quite touristy along the Royal Mile for good reason, but not all activities and venues are created equal. So here are my tips on What to See On The Royal Mile in Edinburgh.

The End of the Royal Mile at the Palace

There are several streets along the Royal Mile that each has their own unique treasure of history. The streets that make up the Royal Mile are Castle Hill, Lawnmarket, High Street, Canon-gate and Abbey Strand (which leads to the Holyrood Palace). These streets are an excellent example of what life in the 16th and 17th century would have been like.
The side streets between houses or ‘closes‘ housed the livestock for those inhabitants in the skyscraper-like apartments.

Building Edinburgh & its History:

King David in 1124 was the first to recognize the hill as an ideal place for protection, he built a fort and named it the Burgh of Eiden. This later gave rise to Edinburgh Castle, I like to think it was someone who was dyslexic that just got the name mixed up somehow.
In 1544 King Henry VIII burned much of the city because of Scotland’s refusal to allow him to marry Mary Queen of Scots, who was an infant at the time. King Henry VIII was historically a bit weird, so it is a good thing that did not happen.

Sign post in the Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle Sign Post

The year 1645 saw as many as 70,000 people living within the Royal Mile. Some of the housing units were 14 stories high, and up to 10 people sharing a single room!
Renovations were initiated in 1865, with new housing built on Blackfriars street and St Mary’s street. Cockburn street also connected the Royal mile to the Train Station.
Patrick Geddes then remodeled the Canongate and top of the mound to look more like the original Royal Mile 500 years earlier.
Now that I have spouted off much of the data and dates associated with Edinburgh and Royal mile, hopefully, I haven’t lost all my readers 😉 It is important to know this backdrop of history, as it allows you to realize what a dark history of war this area has had over time.

Edinburgh Castle:

St Margaret’s Chapel:

The tiny Norman chapel built in the 12th century is the oldest surviving part of Edinburgh Castle. Named St.Margaret’s chapel after the saintly wife of Malcolm III, it can still be used today by the castle guardians for weddings.

What to see on the royal mile in edinburgh

The Great Hall, with its ornate hammerbeam roofing, built by James IV in 1510 holds a fine collection of armor and weapons. Don’t ask me what hammerbeam means, because I really have no idea. I’m assuming it is the shark tooth like appearance of the arch itself.

The Stone of Destiny:

Not only was the castle of great importance during Scotland’s Wars of Independence but it was also the seat of the Scottish Kings. Be sure to take a gander at the Stone of Destiny, a tradition of the Scottish Kings that would sit on this stone during their coronation.

What to see on the royal mile in edinburgh

It is believed that this is the stone that Jacob (of the Bible) dreamed about Jacob’s ladder. Thus the stone is considered sacred, and likely why in 1296 Edward the I built it into his throne. Make sure to watch the movie associated with the stone, uniquely called, The Stone of Destiny.
The Stone of Destiny can be found and viewed along with the Scottish Royal Crown and Jewels at Edinburgh Castle. A ticket is required to view these items, so be sure to plan accordingly.

Ancient Royal Apartments:

You can still see the little room in the Royal Apartments where Mary Queen of Scots gave birth to her son James who would eventually become James VI of Scotland and James I of England.

What to see on the royal mile in edinburgh

Vaults and Graves:

Among the other things to see at the castle are its eerie vaults. The Scottish United Services Museum is a humbling thing to witness. There is also a gallery in hospital square, the Witches Well (where women were burned for witchcraft), Mons Meg ( a 15th-century cannon ).

My favorite part was a little cemetery towards the summit of the castle where the regimental pet dogs are buried. This is the part where I knew I was truly Scottish, my love for dogs was evident in the honor they give their dogs. It made my heart burst knowing that these animals will forever hold a place in the history of Edinburgh Castle.

What to see on the royal mile in edinburgh

Tickets: £16.50 Adults with discount rates for seniors and children, free for children under 5 years of age. Opening Hours: Monday to Sunday: 9.30am – 6pm

New College

The Royal Mile is home to the Edinburgh University’s School of Divinity and Library. John Knox will promptly greet you at the doors, as he did in his sermons of old. You will read more about John Knox in the St. Giles Cathedral section.

What to see on the royal mile in edinburgh

This School of Divinity is one of the most renowned universities for post-graduate theology studies with programs coming from 30 different countries. Established in May of 1843 after one-third of the ministers left the Church of Scotland. They left the church out of protest and striving for their spiritual independence.
An assembly of the Free Church Representatives decided this college was to be used for the training of Free Church ministers. This University continues to be used to teach theologists of our day. An excellent example, of many you will see in Scotland, of the past meeting the present.

A Personal Moment at this University: 

I didn’t know what this building was, and likely shouldn’t put this part in writing. A door was slightly open and I wandered inside to this courtyard. The statues I encountered appeared to be people of importance, but I didn’t know why. I have to admit that I did feel a sense of peace in this place.
The need to explore more to find out why I felt so peaceful, won out my brain telling me it was wrong.

What to see on the royal mile in edinburgh

I tried to climb some of the stairs, but young adults with backpacks on were attempting to pass each other on the narrow stairs. This is when I realized I was actually in a school of some sort & left.

It was interesting researching what this building actually was after I came home as I felt such peace there. Scotland was the first place I had ever traveled alone. Ironically it was also 4 months after I had endured significant trauma. (See: When you try to keep it together, but some days you just can’t – post for more on that). I wandered into this building within the first two hours of arriving in Scotland

St Giles Cathedral

Saint Giles is actually the saint of cripples and beggars. You will find a few of the beggars on the Royal Mile, but they are not aggressive like in many of the cities in the USA. This church was built in 1126 but was destroyed by the English in 1385. The Scottish Reformation came about and so did the great minister John Knox who served here from 1559 to 1572.

What to see on the royal mile in edinburgh

There are several important Scottish people buried here including James Graham, Marquis of Montrose (who was incidentally hung at Mercat Cross).

If you head to the West side of the Cathedral you will find the Heart of Midlothian within the cobblestone street. This marks where Parliament was held in the 15th century until the 19th century. It was also the commonplace where executions took place. For some reason unknown to me, Scottish locals will spit on the heart as a way of obtaining good luck (so just be aware of the spitters).

What to see on the royal mile in edinburgh

Mercat Cross is actually just at the opposite end of where St Giles Cathedral is. People were often tied up and whipped, tortured, and killed due to their crimes. It did not matter if they were real, witchcraft or false claims.

Real Mary King’s Close

What to see on the royal mile in edinburgh

Take a tour underground, visiting the bowels of Scotland underneath the towering buildings along the Royal Mile. You will descend into the dark depths of the city and be transported into the Real Mary King’s Close (or alleyway).

Tour the homes and the streets of the 17th century. Dive into your imagination as you learn of those who were afflicted with the plague. Learn what the centuries-old medical management of the Plague was like. The historical content of this tour is fantastic. The creepy factor for this tour, on a scale of 0 to 10, is only about a 3. I would hesitate to take young children on this tour. It is, however, a fantastic tour for all those who work in the medical field or are fascinated with ancient medicine.

Hours of Operation and Pricing

Holyrood Palace:

This is truly one of the highlights of your self-guided tour of the Royal Mile in Scotland, a place where old meets new. Be delighted by the Royal Art Collection at Holyrood Palace, where I was able to see several Vermeer paintings. Here you will find special collections that are favorites of the royals. Take a tour of the many rooms of Holyrood Palace and the history that accompanies it.

What to see on the royal mile in edinburgh

This is the place where, in the 16th Century Mary, Queen of Scots had her official apartments. Both the Queen of Scots apartments and the State Apartments are open to the public year round. Keep in mind that the Queen of England comes to stay in Scotland at the first month of Summer every year (June to July) and holds ceremonies and banquets for her Holyrood Week with Garden Parties. This Palace and it’s grounds have been home to Scottish Royalty for over 500 years.

There are several options for tours of the Palace available so be sure you know which one you would like to participate in. You can visit just the State Apartments, or you can include the Queens Royal Art Collection and the Palace Grounds. I personally did the Royal Visit (includes State Apartments, Royal Collection which housed many Vermeer paintings, and the Garden tour).

Why Choosing the Royal Tour is the Best Idea:

While touring the palace you quickly realize you can only walk on the sidewalks. Walking on the grass at any time for any reason is prohibited unless accompanied by a Palace Warden. Do not test the Warden’s people, you may find yourself in hot water if you do.

What to see on the royal mile in edinburgh

The Royal Tour, which includes the gardens and palace grounds, will give you a unique view of the Palace. Walking on the pristine grass is allowed on the Royal Tour. You also hear the funny stories about why certain items are kept on the grounds. There is also a story of sibling rivalry that taught me that family feuds never change no matter the century, there is always one….you know who you are. 🙂

Other Travel Hacks for Edinburgh:  


There are not a whole lot of public restrooms I found along the Royal Mile itself. I happened to be staying at the Castle Rock Hostel which is right at the base of Edinburgh Castle. You can go into a restaurant and use their facilities, but typically only if buying a meal. There is one public Toliet at the backside of the Castle in Old Town, but it only has 1.5 stars on google, so utilize this at your own risk. Here is a map of other public restrooms in Edinburgh.

Weather & What to bring:

During the day the cobblestone streets hold the heat really well. When the sun sets the temperatures drop quickly and with the water being so close to this area, it can get rather chilly, even with warm blankets. The restaurants will fill up quickly after the sun sets and will be difficult for you to get a table. There are some restaurants that allow reservations, but most are a ‘first come, first serve’ basis.

It will not matter what time of day it is, when the sun sets, most people head indoors because of the cold. Make sure to bring gloves, slouchy beanie, and a Winter Coat as it gets quite windy. I will typically layer my clothing with a Fleece sweater (that is breathable), then a rain jacket. I know many travelers want to look cute in their photos. When you start freezing you will wish you had the proper gear.

In Summary: 

These are just a few of the things you can see along the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. I would give yourself at least two days to see everything on the Royal Mile properly as there is a lot of walking you are going to have to do.

What to see on the royal mile in edinburgh

Edinburgh is one of my favorite cities in the world. I have ancestors who are from Scotland. Pedestrians have easy access to all the major sites within 20 minutes of walking. Making friends is incredibly easy in Scotland due to how helpful, kind and jovial most of them are. Basically, you need to go to Scotland right now or move it to the top of your bucket list.
If you would like help planning your trip, please email

Happy Travels, Happy Tales and see you on the Flip Side 😉

Where To Stay in Edinburgh
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Outlander Self Guided Tour

  1. Doune Castle in Perthshire: (Castle Leoch) – Medieval stronghold near Stirling Castle, built in the 14th century by Robert Steward, Duke of Albany.  This was a really fun visit because the show didn’t have to change much about this well-preserved castle. There is an audio guide tour that actually has the actor who plays James Fraser (Sam Heughan) in Outlander that is narrating, and yes ladies, it is as lovely as it would seem.[gallery ids="7025,7028,7027" type="rectangular"]
  2. Culross Fife (Crainsmuir): Where Claire and her Husband Frank stayed at the beginning of season one. This is where we saw the ghost of Jamie looking up at Claire in the window. I honestly wish I could have spent more time in this charming little town! There are small little B&B’s and hotels that look like they could have been operating in the middle ages. It is actually one of the most well-preserved cities from the 17th Century. There is a path by the sea with beautiful wildflowers and a FANTASTIC little tea shop tucked up around the left-hand side of the center of town that has a fantastic cup of tea. Funny enough, this is also where Sam Heughan had his own cup of tea and I literally sat right by the signed photo of him (insert sigh) sipping on a wonderful warm cup of Scottish Tea whilst nibbling on my bannock.[gallery ids="7030,7031,7032" type="rectangular"]
  3. Blackness Castle (Fort William): This is where Jamie (in Outlander) was flogged and kept a prisoner. It is the setting for Black Jack Randall’s Fort William. Coincidentally, it actually used to be a prison for the worst of the worst. The prisoners were put in a pit at the tip of the castle where, when the tide would come in, it would actually flood the prison cell. The prisoners would get soaked with the frigid water and many would end up freezing to death because of the bitter cold that often envelops Scotland. Even just standing in the guard room above the cell, in the middle of June, was VERY COLD. This particular cell was at the very tip of the castle and would require the prisoners to be lowered into the pit by a rope. The castle itself is known as ‘the ship that never sailed’ because it looks like a flagship in its unusual shape. It is easy enough to do a self-guided tour as there are placards dotted throughout the castle with detailed descriptions and drawings to explain what life would have been like for these prisoners. I arrived early in the morning and didn’t realize that you can actually park close to the castle itself, but I parked far away and ended up walking quite a ways to get to the entrance. It was a nice peaceful walk over the bridge to the castle itself. I let my imagination run wild with imagining how it would feel to be a prisoner taken to this castle. Can you imagine trudging to this place knowing you were likely walking into death’s cold and harsh embrace? It was a sobering thought indeed.[gallery ids="7040,7041,7042" type="rectangular"]
  4. Aberdour Castle (Abbey of St Anne): (This is where Claire cared for Jamie after his time in Wentworth Prison in the first season of Outlander) This 12th-century hall is the oldest standing stone castle in Scotland and features 17th Century painted ceilings. The feeling in this place was so relaxing, homey, and really like you could have stayed overnight and had crumpets and tea in the morning. I can almost imagine Cinderella singing with the birds in the attic above 😉 It is often used as a place where couples get married and maybe that is why there is such a great feeling within Aberdour’s walls. There are also BEAUTIFUL gardens within a stone’s throw of the castle. You can stroll around the perimeter and smell the lovely roses, reflecting on how lucky you are to be able to visit a place like this that has withstood the test of time and amazingly still holds so much whimsical, romantic charm.[gallery ids="7053,7054" type="rectangular"]
  5. Glencourse Old Kirk, Midlothian (the church where Jamie & Claire were married): I wasn’t actually able to make it to this location; I kept getting lost and was a little stressed about driving on the other side of the road for the first time, lol. The BMW I was driving got a little scratched on the wheel covers…..oops. Because of the fact I didn’t know how to properly drive in Scotland, I kept getting lost because the address I had for this place was utterly useless — bottom line, I didn’t make it here. Apparently, during filming, they made the Glencourse Old Kirk seem abandoned, when in fact it is actually quite nice inside with red carpeting, seating and an altar.  It is located on the Glencourse House Grounds and if you look it up on the GPS, it actually says it’s a private road, so proceed with caution so we all don’t get in trouble for pursuing a picture at this adorable and romantic little church.[gallery ids="7065,7066" type="rectangular"]
  6. Newtonmore (The Highlander Villages): This was far more impressive in person than it appears in photos. The drive to the village is long, but to be able to see this perfect recreation of 17th century Highlander life made it completely worth it. Make sure to bring enough cash to enter the Village as they do not accept cards. You start out by wandering through a recreated 18th-century village. As you wander through the village, every step brings you further back in time. By the end, you are able to wander through the woods to this quaint and perfectly replicated village of the 17th Century Highlands. There were ducks, chickens, cows, and even a carpenter that was making new homes. The thatched roofs were made of twigs & then heavy stones were tied around and attached to the roof to help keep the roof down during the strong winter winds in the Scottish Highlands. There is even a house for the Coo’s (Scottish for Cows 😉 so that during the winter months they do not freeze to death. The people of that time period would actually welcome the animals into their home on the cold nights so as to help heat the inside of the home. I asked one worker dressed in period clothing if she was able to see when they were filming Outlander. This lovely woman laughed and said that the film crew would get really frustrated with the all the noise that one of her chickens used to make and would ask her to make the chicken cluck on cue and the rooster not crow so much. Apparently, the chicken and the rooster do NOT like to have a whole lot of people around. So there was quite a lot of fuss about how to keep the animals quiet while they were filming. One thing about Scottish people is that they are really dedicated to their animals. I mean, even the Queen of England has dedicated a whole plot INSIDE Edinburgh Castle to the Royal Furbaby guard dogs 🙂 Just knowing how dedicated they are to animals made me enormously proud to be Scottish.[gallery ids="7086,7087" type="rectangular"]
  7. Hopetown House, Edinburgh (Duke of Sandringham’s House): This house is open to the public during the summer months and has specific opening hours. Most international museums have a ‘last call’ entrance, where if you don’t make it to the museum or residence one hour before closing time, then you are out of luck. I hope to visit Scotland again next year so I will have a chance to visit this place because it looks absolutely stunning. The house is located in Queensferry which is about 20 min outside of the center of Edinburgh. You will likely need to either pay for a tour, a taxi or take an Uber and hop around to the other tourist locations nearby like Stirling Castle and my favorite, Midhope House (aka Lallybroch). Tulloch Ghru 123rf.jpg
  8. Tulloch Ghru (When Claire & the Clansman head to Castle Leoch in the first Season and is also in the opening credits): It is located just outside of Aviemore, I had a bit of a hard time finding it but with all the beautiful landscape around you, I doubt you will be sad if you don’t find the EXACT location. wentworth
  9. Linlithgow Palace, West Lothian (Wentworth Prison): Once the royal seat of the Stewart kings of Scotland and Mary Queen of Scots’ birthplace. Mary Queen of Scots only actually was at Linlithgow Palace for seven months before she was moved to Stirling Castle for better protection. There is a lovely hill and picnic tables near the ruined palace. The roof collapsed from a fire set by the British soldiers, unfortunately, but you can wander through the ruins and imagine what all the rooms must have looked like in the 1500’s. There is an eerie feeling inside, but once you step outside and are surrounded by a beautiful lake and lush green hills with a church right next door, that eerie feeling goes away. I may have been tainted by Outlander and the dark things that befell our beloved James Fraser here. After coming home, I learned that Linlithgow is actually said to be haunted with two different apparitions of ghosts seen on the property, both women in dresses, one blue, and one white. (Take this with a grain of salt though, Scottish people tend to be very superstitious, but I guess with all the history of this country — I would be too). Midhope house
  10. Midhope House (Lallybroch): Partially ruined 16th Century tower house near Edinburgh by the Hopetown House. I literally felt like I was Claire walking up to the house for the first time, at the beginning of Season One. The outline of the house is so iconic for the series I literally started giggling and skipping down the road. This is the first time in my life that I have actually visited a place that was associated with a TV series or movie of some sort. I found I really like visiting countries or locations this way because it helps the imagination make what was once an abandoned old house come alive with people, flashes and images of ‘what once was.’ I loved every peaceful second here. If trying to navigate here, I would definitely put the address into the car navigation system. Upon driving to this particular location I traveled along a few dirt roads with charming fields and sheep grazing lazily on them. When you arrive, it looks like you are pulling into someone’s private farm. There is parking down the road, but everyone suggests to get here early as it can be crowded with tourists who have been touched by the ‘Outlander effect.’ Be respectful of the property, please. Observing is great, but don’t try and break in. It has not been up kept up due to the expense and could be very dangerous inside with unstable flooring. The filming on the inside of Lallybroch was actually done in a studio, not inside the house. They also used computers to change the windows to look like it was lived in and not in ruins. (For the actual history of the house and more information, click on the link embedded in ‘Midhope House.’) [gallery ids="7103,7104" type="rectangular"]
  11. Clava Cairn (the standing stone circle) Inverness IV2 5EU, UK: The one on the TV series was partially rebuilt in the middle of a farm somewhere in Scotland, allegedly. But this one is so similar you will barely notice. Plus you get the added benefit of experiencing the burial grounds that are here as well. I felt like it added a certain mysticism to the place. I think after being here, I truly felt like magic did exist in this beautiful country at one point. It’s an easy drive and there is no fee to enter. I recommend getting there fairly early so you can see the way the sun hits the stones. Be gentle on the stones, and please don’t climb on the burial grounds; it’s bad form, people. I don’t care how big you think you are on your social media channel — this is my heritage and ancient history. Consider yourself warned.
  Directions: This is the best-plotted course I used myself for the Self-Guided Outlander Tour. I utilized Google maps and wrote down the exact address for each of the locations. If it was rural, I took note of the town name so that I could at least ask for help when arriving in that particular town. I found everything fairly easy to locate and if I was lost, I just pulled out my phone and plugged the address into Google Maps, and I was easily able to find each location.  Here is the map for your own Outlander Self Guided Tour (via Rental Car). This map does not include leaving from Edinburgh or a stop in Inverness to see Culloden. For more information read The Battle of Culloden. Other tips:
  • Rental car: most cars in Europe are manual transmission but there are automatic transmissions available, you just have to actively search for them. I also recommend getting navigation within the car itself. Many of the places you will drive through are very remote and often do not have cell phone service. Also, make sure that the car has unlimited miles in the contract itself so you can enjoy traveling without having to worry about the cost of the miles. Last but not least, if you are NOT used to driving on the opposite side of the road (for all my left seated and American drivers) PLEASE GET INSURANCE! I was literally screaming the first 30 minutes in the car on the way out of town because people get SO CLOSE when they pass you. I also arrived at the rental place (Europcar) as soon as they opened, or the bus could get me there so I would miss all of the morning traffic.

As always….Happy Travels, Happy Tales, see you on the flip side.

Slàinte mhòr agus a h-uile beannachd duibh.

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