A Student's Trip to Scotland

May 25, 2017

by Kolby McWilliams '18
Edited for content and length

Today was the day we’d been waiting for ever since that one chilly morning when we signed up to go to Scotland at the travel office in Lakeland. We knew today would be the longest day we’d ever endured: traveling to Scotland. My excitement could not be contained as we got onto the bus to the Tampa airport to start our ten day journey across the world, somewhere I, along with others, had never been before. One flight from Tampa to JFK, and another to Edinburgh, Scotland and we were there.

When we arrived, it was 10:30 am in Scotland, and it felt like I’d been awake for forever, but it was only just the start of the first day’s adventure. We got into vans and headed to a town called North Berwick, where we would go to the Scottish Seabird Centre to eat lunch. I remember walking through the little town of North Berwick and thinking, “this is just like I pictured it from movies: small town, narrow streets, local people.”

Tantallon Castle! I don’t think we could have gotten out of the van fast enough. Everyone got out their cameras, and we started towards the cliffs. As we walked up to the castle, we all stopped in awe to take pictures at multiple points. It was unbelievable. This rustic castle with a bridge was sitting right on the water, cliffs edging out towards the sea beneath it. I remember not even going inside the castle until after I had taken pictures of the cliffs outside overlooking the ocean. It was beautiful.

Going across the bridge leading into the castle.

After we were done admiring the view, we ventured across the bridge into the castle, where we explored every room and window, climbing up narrow stair-cases to the roof and down them to the prisons. Standing on the top of the castle and looking at the landscape of Scotland for the first time was a feeling that I will never forget.

Edinburgh

After a short resting period, we went on our way into the city for dinner. Seeing Edinburgh for the first time was unforgettable: the architecture of the castles and churches towered over me like I was in a romantic novel. It felt like I was in New York City, but with the skyscrapers replaced by medieval churches, museums, and castles.

We ventured around the city as a group, up the Royal Mile, then back down it, passing Edinburgh Castle and more touristy shops than I could count. We explored the city a bit more after dinner, but knew we would have all day the next day to appreciate it, also knowing we would appreciate sleep after a twenty-two hour day. We said goodnight to Edinburgh, but only till morning.

On our second day we caught a double-decker bus from our hotel to downtown Edinburgh, which we all thought was cool, and headed toward the giant castle we had seen the night before, Edinburgh Castle. In the middle of the city, Edinburgh Castle stands on a hill, attracting people for miles to come inside and reflect on its beauty. I was definitely one of those people.

Unlike Tantallon, this castle was functional and acted as a museum of history for tourists to experience. We went from spot to spot, exploring the museums and prisons in the castle. I distinctly remember getting to see the crown jewels of Scotland, which was a highlight of this stop since they were stunning and made with such precise measure that it seemed impossible.

Before we knew it, it was time to move onto the botanical gardens. This was an experience I remember vividly. The botanical gardens had the most unique set of greenhouses I had ever seen. There were ten of them, each different from the last, and when I say different, I mean different climates. Each greenhouse was separated by climate from plants located in the tropical rainforest to the ones in the arid desert.

Exploring the many different plant species in the gardens.

We were able to walk through each one and feel like we were in a completely different place in the world each time we stepped foot into the next. Not only was the concept unbelievable, but the plants were as well. I saw plants that I never knew existed, and learned about flowers from all over the world.

The next day, we woke up earlier than usual to make the drive to St. Andrews to visit the home of golf. St. Andrews is the home of the British Open, and one of the most famous golf courses in the entire world. Being a collegiate golfer, my excitement was through the roof as we drove into the town of St. Andrews and I looked out the window just to see a course that I had only ever seen on the golf channel once a year. We parked right next to hole 18 and were able to walk beside the hole, watching members play. It was one of the most incredible experiences to be able to see the course in person, even though I was not able to play while I was there.

We explored the museums, hit the shops, and got back on the road towards Crathes Castle. After about an hour and half in the van, we arrived at Crathes and began walking around the castle grounds. It was past 5:00, so we weren't able to go into the castle, but the grounds were beautiful as well. We walked through a maze below the castle, different flowers and trees around every corner, taking pictures and enjoying the weather until it was time to head to Inverness, where we would be staying that night.

Inverness

Tuesday was our day to explore Inverness and Loch Ness: Culloden battlefield, Balnuaran of Clava, and Urquhart Castle. On a more serious note, Culloden was our first stop. The battlefield was the location of the final confrontation of the Jacobite rising of 1745 and part of the religious civil war in Britain.

After we finished at the battlefield, we got in the van and started our trek to Loch Ness, the location of the infamous Loch Ness monster, Nessie. We stopped on the side of the road to walk down to the pebble beach, where we were able to take great pictures. This was one of the most beautiful views we experienced in Scotland thus far, but we knew it wouldn't be the last.

After we got back on the road, we traveled to the Balnuaran of Clava, which is a field of rock structures that dates back to the time of the Mayans. This was yet another extremely cool historical landmark in Scotland.

Urquhart Castle was next on the list, and boy was it worth it. Similar to Tantallon, the castle was simply ruins of what used to be a functional home, but it was still beautiful. The castle ruins sat right on the water, with views of mountains and hills behind them. This was one of my favorite castles that we visited, truly a sight to see. We all loved adventuring around it and climbing to the roof through the narrow stairwells. The rest of the day we went into Inverness and hung around at the little shops until we ate dinner again at the hotel.

Isle of Skye

Our first morning on Isle of Skye, we went to the waterfalls. We had a short hike and then made it to these beautiful falls in a forest that has more colors than I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing. We went over a wooden bridge that you would likely see in a movie, and explored the falls, taking pictures of the beauty.

After enjoying these sights for a while, we moved onto Fairy Glen, my favorite spot of the entire trip. Fairy Glen was not any official landmark with a museum or anything like that, but a huge field with giant hills and beautiful landscape. I’m not much of a climber, but I climbed to the top of one of the hills overlooking the fairy glen and could not have been more impressed with the view. It was nothing short of incredible.

FSC students visit New College Library in Edinburgh.

We made our way back to the van and onto Old Man of Storr, a view almost as amazing as the last. After taking pictures and appreciating the view, we moved on to do about the same at Kilt Rock, another location of beautiful landscape and waterfalls. We looked over the edge of the railing into the ocean and could see the Kilt rocks on the side of the cliffs with waterfalls plunging into the ocean below. Isle of Skye was the most beautiful place I had ever seen.

Another day in Isle of Skye. We went to the Fairy Pools. The Fairy Pools are one of the most well-known locations in Scotland. These pools are completely clear and bright blue in the summer. We walked all the way along the Fairy Pools until they came to an end about 45 minutes past where they started. These pools were definitely one of the prettiest parts of Scotland.

From here we went on to Talisker Distillery where we saw how their local whiskeys were made. This was a pretty cool experience because whiskey is the national drink of Scotland and is widely known throughout the world. We went on a tour of the distillery, did our shopping, and went on our way to explore another castle.

We traveled back onto Skye and down to Armadale to catch a ferry to Mallaig. We started our day at Glen Finnan at the Harry Potter filming sites. This was super cool as we had a ton of Harry Potter fans in the group. We were able to see the tracks where the train to Hogwarts was in the films, the tower where they shot a lot of their scenes, and the location of Hogwarts itself. We jokingly played Harry Potter music and enjoyed seeing exactly where everything happened.

The last day in Scotland, we went sightseeing in Glen Coe and Rannoch on our way back to Edinburgh. After driving through these areas we made a stop at the Stirling Castle that can be seen in the movie Braveheart. This castle included renovated parts of the actual palace including the king and queen’s quarters, the royal rooms, and the prisons below the castle. This was a very cool castle to visit and it was a good last stop on our way back to Edinburgh.

It was about three and a half hours from where we started back to Edinburgh. We got back to Edinburgh and were able to relax for a little while which was extremely nice. We went out to eat in Edinburgh for one last time and traveled back to the hotel. Scotland was the most unbelievable experience and one I will never forget.