There are not many countries which have the images of a poet on their currency, or have a major national day in that poet’s honor. Scotland does. That is just one thing marks this geographically small country with worldwide connections as a place of difference. Burns Night, that celebration in honor of Scotland’s national bard Robert Burns which takes place at the end of January, is on the way as I write this, which has me thinking it is time for a look back at stories of Scotland I’ve shared with you.
As we are in winter, it is a good time to think about Scotland’s mountains, of which there are many. They are beautiful in all seasons, and in winter eastern, western and central Highlands offer fine skiing destinations at Ben Nevis and in the Cairngorms, and there are other winter sports — including that of sitting by the fireside and admiring the view — on offer when you ski in Scotland, as well. Not up for skiing, or looking for something else to do in the Highlands? You could visit the Cairngorm Reindeer Herd. Cairngorm Reindeer Herd. You do not have to do this only in winter. The deer, cared for by herders, range out on the mountains south of Aviemore and are available to visit through the year.
Scotland is a country of islands, as well. Earlier this year I took you on a brief journey to the Western Isles also called the Outer Hebrides. Remote, beautiful, Gaelic speaking, filled with history, the site of one of the world’s great music festivals, the Hebridean Celtic Festival which happens in July, the Western Isles are off the beaten path, as perhaps they should be. They are also the native home of several of Scotland’s greatest musicians, both tradition bearers and those who carry tradition forward, among them Mairi Smith, Margaret Stewart, Gillebride MacMillan, Kathleen MacInnes, and Julie Fowlis.
Music is a part of life in Scotland, and part of many of its greatest festivals.
I’ve often taken you along for stories from Celtic Connections, which happens in Glasgow each January, and the Blas Festival across many Highland communities in autumn, the Solas Festival in spring, the Heb Celt Festival in July, and Perthshire Amber in October are but a few of the ways Scotland’s festivals celebrate music. There is music at the holiday markets around the country in the winter festive season, too. Wondering how you’ll travel to these places? The Explorer Pass from Scottish Citylink Explorer Pass from Scottish Citylink is one option to consider. While at your festival travels, here are four Scottish foods you may wish to taste.
Outlander, the television series based on stories from Diana Gabaldon’s best selling books, has as a center point a circle of standing stones. Gabaldon’s stone circle came from her imagination. I introduced you to several of the many very real standing stones in Scotland, each with connection to history. If you are following the Outlander series you might also want to see this piece about the Gaelic, Scots, and Oultander: Speaking Scotland.
Then there is Robert Burns. The eighteenth century poet traveled through Scotland a good bit himself — following several of his travels is a subject I plan write of in future stories — and though he is perhaps better known for his poems and songs of love and friendship such as Ae Fond Kiss, Auld Lang Syne, and My Love is Like a RedRed Rose, Burn also wrote a number of poems celebrating Scotland’s natural beauty, among them Westlin’ Winds and My Hearts in the Highlands. That’s one reason you may want to consider including his music and poetry in your travel kit.
There’s so much more to explore in Scotland — the Lewis Chessmen in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh , the standing stones at Calanais, the quiet, rugged beauty of the West Highland Way. May reading these stories inspire you to make your own journeys.
Top two and bottom photographs by Kerry Dexter, middle photograph by Colin Ewing.