Last year while visiting Edinburgh, Chris and I took a day trip with our friends up to a couple of locations at the boundary and just beyond into the Scottish Highlands. While we had hoped to travel farther north, our time constraints in Scotland made a quick journey the best option for us. Our tour included Stirling Castle, Loch Lomond, and Glengoyne Distillery. Castles, lakes, and whiskey–is there anything more you need in life?
Nerd alert as I discuss the human-created and geological differences between the Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland. The social science geek in me (of course) is (always) interested in the impacts of history and culture on landscapes. While the human-created “Highlands Line” is the divider between the Highlands and Lowlands, it isn’t a a static, distinct boundary, but instead changes as people move, cultures shift, and languages change.
Where are we?
Mainland Scotland is divided into two main regions: the Lowlands and the Highlands. The definition between the two regions is not clearly defined; while the Highland Boundary Fault cuts between the areas north and west of the major fault zone, exact boundaries have never been truly defined between the two regions. Historically and culturally, the division between the two areas started during the Middle Ages when Lowland Scots replaced Scottish Gaelic in most of the Lowlands.
From the 15th century to the mid 1900s, language became one of the biggest divisions between the Lowlands and Highlands; Gàidhealtachd (typically the Highlands and Islands) is the Scottish Gaelic-speaking part of Scotland, although the Highlands form of Scottish English is spoken there today. Clan units governed the Highlands until the Jacobite uprising of 1745 and remains a source of romanticized culture (see: Outlander).
The Lowlands include Scotland’s largest cities, Edinburgh and Glasgow; the Highlands are sparsely populated. While the Highland Boundary Fault does not necessarily define the line between the two regions culturally, it does play a huge role in the geology of both areas. The Highlands contains the majority of the mountainous terrain in the United Kingdom, while the southern part of Scotland is flatter, with less elevation.
You can spend weeks (or in a perfect world, years) exploring the Scottish Highlands. The landscape is absolutely beautiful, with so much to see and experience. We just crossed over from the Lowlands and our tiny sliver of the Highlands was one of my favorite days in the United Kingdom.
St. Mocha Coffee Shop & Ice Cream Parlour:
Incredibly thankful to experience a little slice of the Scottish Highlands ❤
I absolutely adore Scotland and can’t wait to visit again.
Reading: Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed by Men (Caroline Criado-Perez) Watching: Years and Years (HBO) Listening: The Scarlet E (On the Media)
I LOVE GLASGOW. This January we traveled to Scotland’s most populous city to fulfill our teenage dream of seeing Cake play a live show. Wintertime Scotland may sound intimidating, but so worth it.
Pro tip: If you’re cheap like me, traveling off-season is a great way to save money on transportation and accommodations (flights and apartments are usually a lot less expensive) meaning more funds for whiskey and postcards. We’re walkers–our favorite way to travel around a new city is on foot–so we definitely packed our winter-wear for this trip. For me, this meant double leg warmers and wearing something other than flats.
This is a really long post but Glasgow is too amazing to not discuss #allthethings. Get ready for a an extra intense history overview and too many cemetery pictures.
Why “a life less ordinary”? This quote was written on the floor of the entrance to Hillhead Bookclub, where we had dinner our last night in Glasgow. Is this also an excuse to reference Danny Boyle’s 1997 film starring Ewan McGregor, Cameron Diaz, and Holly Hunter? Am I pressuring you to listen to the soundtrack that includes the best version of REM’s Leave? Yes to all those things.
Where are we?
Glasgow is the most populous city in Scotland and known for its industrial landscape. While the origin of the name is under debate, it is believed that Glasgow is derived from Middle Gaelic, meaning “green basin”. The city has the largest percentage of Gaelic speakers outside of the Highlands and Islands. Although the indigenous language is not recognized by the United Kingdom or European Union, Gaelic is an important part of Scottish culture and history.
A great source of fishing, the River Clyde and the surrounding areas were settled by many different communities near Glasgow. In the 6th century, Christian missionary Saint Mungo (you know, THE St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries in Harry Potter) established a church where the current Glasgow Cathedral stands.
Walking through the Merchant City area, I was surprised to see a sign for Virginia Street; ever the pochemuchka (the Russian word for the one who asks too many questions) I had to learn more about the connection between the American south and Glasgow.
Many of the streets and buildings still bear the names of the Tobacco Lords, the group of merchants that made the most profits from transatlantic trade (and some owned plantations in the New World too) although there have been calls to hang plaques to tell the full story.
Glasgow became a central trading port following the Acts of Union in 1707–the treaty that combined the Kingdom of England and the Kingdom of Scotland–and played a large role in transatlantic trade and slavery. A central part of the triangular route, much of Glasgow’s wealth was derived from slave labor:
“There are 19 recorded slave voyages which left from Glasgow’s satellite ports of Greenock and Port Glasgow over a sixty year period from 1706 and 1766 – with these direct voyages estimated to have carried around 2 to 3,000 people directly into slavery.
Yet Glasgow was far, far from being an innocent bystander in the slave trade.
The very reason the Tobacco Lords became successful – and why the city prospered as a result – was because they were able to monopolise the produce grown by slaves on the plantations of Virginia, North Carolina and Maryland, namely tobacco and sugar. So much so, in fact, that for 50 years from 1740 to 1790, Glasgow became the hub for the world’s tobacco – at times trading more than all the English ports put together.
A trade built almost exclusively on forced slave labour. ”
Williams, Craig. 2018. “The History of Glasgow and its Relationship with the Slave Trade.” Glasgow Live. Available here.
While the city profited from slave labor in the New World, many Scots and the University of Glasgow played a large role in the abolitionist movement. Following American independence, Glasgow continued to grow during the Industrialized Revolution, which saw steel making, shipyards, and heavy industry further the development of the city. After WWII, economic decline led to de-industrialization of the city.
Glasgow is known for its architecture; there are a large number of historically and culturally important buildings throughout the city. During the Industrial Revolution, many of Glasgow’s red and blonde sandstone buildings were covered with a black layer of soot from industrial pollution and furnaces. The Clean Air Act was passed in 1956 and many of the city’s 1,800 buildings were restored to their original appearance.
In 2013 “People Make Glasgow” became the official motto for the city.
University of Glasgow:
The People’s Palace:
The Glasgow Cathedral and Necropolis are absolute must-sees if you’re planning a trip to Glasgow.
Glasgow Botanical Gardens:
More Beautiful Places:
Restaurants & Pubs:
Innis and Gunn:
Papercup Coffee Company:
++Special shout out to the Old Ship Bank pub in Glasgow too! We stopped by to use the bathroom and ended up hanging out with an older gentleman named James, a native of Glasgow, for hours. He told us about the history of the area, current politics, and his excitement for a date he had scheduled for the next day. The pub was awesome and just felt so Glasgow… that’s the only way I can explain the atmosphere. The entire space was filled with people who just returned from a funeral and, according to James, this is “typical” for natives of Glasgow.
Voltaire and Rousseau:
I ❤ Glasgow
Don’t forget that you can download the MWA Map and have all of my food/pub/sites/bookstore recommendations with you whenever you travel.
Currently: Reading: Not That Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture (Roxane Gay) Watching: Big Little Lies Season 2 (HBO) Listening: Burn it all Down
Sigh, Scotland. Edinburgh has been at the absolute top of my travel list since I first saw Danny Boyle’s (equally both amazing and scarring) Trainspotting.
Edinburgh is a gorgeous city filled with a ton of history, culture, and of course, whiskey. Get ready for a loooooong post filled with Scottish adventures including murder legends (obviously), cocktail villages, and of course #alltheharrypotterthings. Somehow I even managed to find Russian pierogi (but are any of us actually surprised?)
Where are we?
The capital of Scotland, Edinburgh is the seventh largest city in the United Kingdom. Its name derives from the Brittonic Celtic word “Eidyn” and although the meaning is unknown, scholars believe the term references Castle Rock, the location of Edinburgh’s Castle. Castle Rock was formed over 350 million ago out of volcanic rock. Often compared to Rome, Edinburgh was built on seven hills.
Earliest human inhabitation of the area goes all the way back to 8500 BC. In 1706, the Treaty of the Union combined the Parliaments of Scotland and England to form the Parliament of Great Britain. This was largely opposed by many Scots, which led to numerous riots in Edinburgh. During the Jacobite rising of 1745, Edinburgh was occupied by the rebel Jacobite Highland Army until their defeat by the British at the Battle of Culloden. Scotland remains a part of the United Kingdom today.
Known for its distilling, brewing, and printing industries, the city’s Old Town has its trademark smoke-stained buildings and the winding, cobblestone streets feel like you’re stepping out of a Harry Potter novel, which of course makes sense because much of J.K. Rowling’s inspiration for the series came from the time she spent in the city.
Overwhelmed by all the things Edinburgh has to see? SAME. Friendly reminder that you can find all of the sites (including my personalized Harry Potter walking tour) in the Middle World Adventures map.
Trainspotting Dreams Coming True:
First #myheartisexploding moment came immediately after exiting the bus from the airport into the city. Our stop on Princes Street is the location of the infamous “Choose Life” scene at the beginning of Trainspotting, when Renton and Spud are being chased by police officers.
True Crime Spots:
Harry Potter Tour:
Scottish International Storytelling Festival 2018:
It was a (very) happy coincidence to visit Edinburgh during their 2018 Storytelling Festival. While I was hopping-up-and-down-ecstatic at all the nerdy possibilities, my friends were the absolute best and came along on a couple of stops. Unfortunately, due to the limited time we had in the city, I could really only see a couple of exhibitions.
Restaurants & Pubs:
My Favorite Meals in Edinburgh:
Edinburgh Cocktail Week:
Whiskey & Folklore Class
The Pop Up Geeks:
Edinburgh absolutely tops the list of my favorite places. I can’t wait to plan our next trip.
Extra special thank you and love to Kristin Earwood, an insanely talented photographer and wonderful friend. Check out her amazing work here.
Reading: Josephine Baker’s Last Dance (Sherry Jones)