People need to appreciate Scotland more.
Europe is so packed with different cultures and geographies that more popular destinations tend to overshadow some amazing parts of the continent. Though Edinburgh is a relatively well-known city, London and Dublin often steal the spotlight when people consider traveling to the British Isles. Also, while the Alps are the most prominent and famous mountain range in Europe, I had never heard much about the beauty of the Scottish mountains.
After adventuring through western Scotland for a week, I fell madly in love with the wild diversity of the landscape and the humble beauty of the small ports towns such as Oban, Tobermory, and Portree. Most nights in these quaint little towns consisted of strolling through unique shops, enjoying local food, and taking in the picturesque harbour views. Every location represented a quiet and peaceful escape from city life where people were friendly, whisky and shortbread were plentiful, and ferry rides were the easiest form of transportation.
Though we did take a few ferries to hop between different islands, we rented a car and spent loads of time driving through the countryside. Despite the stress that accompanied driving on narrow single-track roads, the natural beauty of the landscape overshadowed any fear of driving off the edge of a cliff, hitting a stray sheep, or colliding with the local drivers who speed around corners like crazy. Every time we turned a corner or drove over a hill, the scenery took my breath away. We encountered everything from huge, sloping, multi-colored hills, to intimidating snow capped mountains, to white, sandy beaches, to lush, fairy-tale forests. From the road we also caught glimpses of adorable bridges, stone walls, colorful fields of flowers, waterfalls, rivers, cliffs, tiny villages, an endless supply of lochs, and street signs warning against stags, wind, falling rocks, and feral goats.
Though we only briefly passed the feral goats while driving, Scotland blessed us with other animal encounters that warmed my heart. The countryside was overflowing with sheep, and we often found these fluffy, blank-faced creatures wandering through people’s yards or hanging out next to the road. The highland cows made me so happy with their long, fuzzy hair that covers their faces, and we spent quality bonding time with some very outgoing horses. One day, we ventured to the Treshnish Isles and spent a few hours in the company of puffins, where we were endlessly entertained by the hilarious behaviors and adorable appearance of these tiny birds. During the boat ride to these islands, dolphins splashed through the water around the boat and seals rested lazily on the shores of surrounding small islands, so we definitely had a wildlife filled trip.
I also had the privilege of seeing mind-blowing natural sights in Scotland. For example, the Isle of Staffa may be the most interesting place I’ve ever been. This small, uninhabited island is mainly composed of hexagonal basalt columns, and contains the famous Fingal’s Cave where the saturated teal water swirls beneath the volcanic rock columns. The odd patterns and formations of the island evoked a strange, organized chaos that was wildly intriguing.
The Quiraing was another breathtaking location. Situated on the Isle of Skye, this area of land consisted of weird geological formations covered in vibrant green grass, and made for an excellent afternoon hike. The whole surface of the earth was oddly shaped into hills, valleys, and cliffs, with many strange shapes randomly emerging out of the land. Again, it was like nothing I’ve ever seen before.
Another magical sight was the Fairy Pools, also on the Isle of Skye. Here, the Cuillin Mountains feed into a rushing river, which rolls through the rocky landscape and creates a series of beautiful little waterfalls. But the most amazing aspect of the Fairy Pools was the crystal clear water that shimmered in a vibrant turquoise against the rugged, gray stones of the stream.
All the areas of Scotland that I was lucky enough to visit were thoroughly impressive and unique. Though the weather changed from snow, to hail, to rain, to sun, to wind roughly every hour, the gorgeous scenery remained consistent. I honestly could not stop gawking at the rich, sapphire blue of the sea, or the powerful presence of the lavender mountains faithfully resting on the horizon. While we also spent some time in Glasgow and Edinburgh, absorbing the natural beauty of the islands and the coastline of western Scotland will forever be one of my greatest memories.