10 Things I Learned in Scotland

by Audrey on January 7, 2014 · 32 comments

My week in Scotland flew by and I am now back home in sunny Chiang Mai, which means it’s time to share with you some of the things I learned during my visit.

1. It’s pronounced Edinbra

Edin-burg, Edin-bro, Edin-bo-rough… How do you even pronounce the city’s name?! After a bit of eavesdropping, it seemed like all the locals were saying Edinbra. I’ll admit at first I felt like a bit of a phony trying to pronounce it with a Scottish accent, but the locals wouldn’t have it any other way. Whenever I slipped back to my default Canadian pronunciation, they would correct me right away, “No, it’s Edinbra!”

The Scottish Stage at Hogmanay in Edinburgh, Scotland.

2. The Scots know how to throw one crazy party

While in some cities the New Year’s celebrations are a one night affair, in Edinburgh the festivities went on for days. The Torchlight Procession lead by the Up Helly Aa vikings got the celebrations underway on the 30th, and that was followed by a massive street party on New Year’s Eve. Multiple stages were set up along Princes Street with everything from Scottish bands to international artists like the Pet Shop Boys gracing the stage. My personal favourites were Treachorous Orchestra which played their accordions and fiddles on the Scottish stage (so much fun even though I walked away with bruises from all the kicking and dancing!), and the Rewinder Stage where DJs kept the crowd going to the likes of The Fratellis, Franz Ferdinand, and The Killers long after the party had ended. And if that wasn’t enough, the following morning it was time for the Loony Dook!

Fireworks at Hogmanay 2014.

3. The best place to see the fireworks is beneath the castle

About half an hour before the clock stroke midnight, I broke away from the main stage where the Pet Shop Boys were playing in the Princes Street Gardens, and made my way west so that I was standing just below Edinburgh Castle. There was hardly anyone there and it was a nice spot to enjoy the fireworks as they painted the dark sky with a sparkling shower of golds and blues.

Saint Cuthbert's Burial Ground by Edinburgh Castle.

4. Edinburgh has a spooky history

It’s easy to see why Edinburgh is home to so many ghost tours and how it inspired J.K. Rowling while she was writing the Harry Potter series. Edinburgh lends itself well to the dark side…at least from certain angles. On my first day out in the city I randomly ended up at the Saint Cuthbert’s Burial Ground which sits directly beneath Edinburgh Castle. I would later learn that the watchtower on Saint Cuthbert’s Church was built in the early 1800s in order to protect bodies from being snatched by Edinburgh’s grave robbers. This was a big business at the time considering the leading medical faculty was in need of corpses for its anatomy lessons. Another look at Edinburgh’s spooky history came in the form of a visit to Mary King’s Close – a tour down a narrow alley and a series of houses that now lie underground feared haunted due to their connection with murders and death by the plague.

Scottish tartans for each clan.

5. There is a tartan for every clan

It’s kind of cool visiting Scotland if you’re of Scottish descent because you can easily find your clan’s tartan. While kilts are a popular choice, there is also the option of picking out a tie or a scarf with the same pattern. And if like me you’re not Scottish, fret not because you can still pick up a tartan. The Isle of Skye, for example, has a special pattern based on the region as opposed to a clan name, which means you can pick up a little souvenir even if you’re not a MacLeod or a MacDonald.

Scott's Porage Oats - it's not porridge.

6. The Scots have their own way of spelling things

Let’s start with the national beverage of choice: whiskey. The rest of the English speaking world may spell it with an ‘ey’ ending, however, in Scotland it’s whisky without the ‘e’. Make no mistake of that or the Scots will stare at you in horror. Next up another variation I noticed at the supermarket: ‘porage’ instead or porridge… I guess it looks the way it is pronounced, but I still found it strange!

Lunch at Hula's Juice Bar in the West Bow, Edinburgh, Scotland.

7. You can eat more than greasy food

While Scotland may have a reputation for deep-frying a lot of its food (I’m talking about pizza slices and chocolate bars!), Edinburgh introduced to lots of great eats. With its healthy fruit smoothies, fresh salads, and toasted bagels, Hula Juice Bar made me feel like I was back home in Chiang Mai. Oink would tempt me through the window with its pulled pork sandwiches every time I walked down the West Bow. And One Square made me like venison with its tender Venison Wellington. Of course, I ate plenty of fish and chips while I was there, but I just wanted to show you that there are other options in Scotland!

The Loony Dook, January 1, 2014.

8. It takes some serious guts to do the Loony Dook

If you’ve ever done the Loony Dook or any kind of event that involves running into a freezing body of water in the middle of winter, then my hat goes off to you! I was shivering in my winter jacket and boots as I watched from the shore – I didn’t even dip a toe! I can’t imagine how the Loony Dookers felt as they leapt into the Firth of Forth in full costume!

The town of Dunkeld in the Scottish countryside.

9. Scotland is a great destination anytime of year

Even if you missed Hogmanay there are still plenty of reasons to visit Scotland. This year Scotland is going to be hosting a number of events hence dubbing 2014 “Homecoming Scotland”. This will include a number of annual events like the Edinburgh International Book Festival (where J.K. Rowling and Sean Connery have been known to make appearances!), the Fringe Festival, and the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, as well as special events like the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup. Plus if the above photo shows you what winter is like, you can be sure the landscapes are only better in summer when the hills are purple with heather. For more information on events happening throughout the year, you can click here.

Driving through the Scottish Highlands.

10. You can’t come to Scotland and not visit the Highlands

Scotland’s landscapes are nothing short of dramatic. I wasn’t sure this part of the country would be very scenic in the middle of winter, but I was wrong. The dark skies and occasional fog only added to the mysterious feel of the place; especially once we reached the Isle of Skye and our guide began to regale us with folkloric tales of fairies, water spirits, and dark creatures said to live in the lochs.

And that was Scotland!

Have you been to Scotland?
Do you have any strange or interesting facts to share?

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#blogmanay is brought to you by Edinburgh’s Hogmanay and is supported by ETAGEventScotland,
Homecoming ScotlandVisitScotlandEdinburgh FestivalsMarketing EdinburghHistoric Scotland and
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{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

Savi of Bruised Passports January 7, 2014 at 10:48 am

Porage made me chuckle. We visited Scotland during winter in 2009 and it was absolutely gorgeous. The Highlands are surreal this time of year
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Audrey January 7, 2014 at 6:02 pm

Agreed! I was worried I wouldn’t enjoy travel in the wintertime, but it was such a good time to go. Every trip to Scotland needs some dark, brooding clouds and a good dose of rain for drama. It is the UK after all! ;)

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Stefania - the Italian Backpacker January 7, 2014 at 1:15 pm

Great post, you made me nostalgic about Scotland. I love the area below the castle too, I used to live nearby, so I would just take a walk there and have my daily doses of “spookiness”!
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Audrey January 7, 2014 at 6:12 pm

Nice! Even though I was only there for a week, I could tell right away that Edinburgh would be a pretty cool city to live in. ;) That’s great that you got to call the place home for a while.

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MollyG January 7, 2014 at 1:25 pm

Scotland is beautiful any time of year! I was there midsummer and it was lovely. Looks like your weather wasn’t too bad either! The new year celebration sounds rad. We were in Melbourne for New Years. Not half bad, either!
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Audrey January 7, 2014 at 6:20 pm

I would love to visit again in the summer, mainly to be able to hike and enjoy the scenery. :) And Melbourne sounds like a great place to ring in the New Year. I hope there were lots of fireworks!

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Renuka January 7, 2014 at 3:40 pm

Scotland is one of my dream destinations, thus, I always make it a point to read about it. You have listed down interesting things with beautiful pictures. I am intrigued about the spooky part!
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Audrey January 7, 2014 at 6:24 pm

I hope you get to visit soon, Renuka! It’s a beautiful country. :)

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EuroTripTips January 7, 2014 at 4:22 pm

I always wondered about that whiskey thing! Now it’s all clear. I wish I had been there for Hogmanay!

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Audrey January 14, 2014 at 10:14 am

Hogmanay was so much fun! You should try to hit it up next year. ;)

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Julie January 7, 2014 at 4:33 pm

Scotland is a destination I would so love to visit especially since I have been to England and Ireland and much of my ancestry is from there. I actually learned about the “whisky” thing this past year when I visited Maker’s Maker as they in honor of their Scottish ancestors, call it “whisky.”

And for sure, I would visit the Highlands :)
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Audrey January 14, 2014 at 10:15 am

I hope you get to visit soon, Julie. And yes, the Highlands are truly magical!

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Neil January 7, 2014 at 4:39 pm

Nice post Audrey, glad you enjoyed Hogmanay! If you think the Edinburgh accent is tough try Glasgow and Aberdeen :-). Hope you guys make it back someday.
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Ashley January 7, 2014 at 5:00 pm

Jumping into a frigid lake sure doe take guts- but its addictive after you do it once!
I remember being in cottage country in Finland and our group cut out this huge chunk of ice form a VERY frozen lake (seriously, it was inch after inch of ice), added a climbing ladder, and so began the saunalake dip runs! It hurts so good! Haha And the locals say it keeps you healthy in the winter time :)
Just remember not to go in head 1st or there could be some serious medical repercussions!

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Angela January 7, 2014 at 8:23 pm

I enjoyed Ireland this past year, but I would like to return to the area and explore Scotland.
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Audrey January 14, 2014 at 10:16 am

I bet Ireland was beautiful! I’m heading there in the late spring and hoping to do a road trip. :) Any tips?

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Nita January 8, 2014 at 12:09 am

Scotland looks like a combination of natural beauty, charm, character and liveliness! Can’t wait to visit someday and drink the whisky (autocorrect almost had me there!) and what to say about Edin-bra? Just sounds fun saying it. Edinbra!! ;)
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Sam January 8, 2014 at 2:08 pm

I’m from London and I can’t stand it when I hear people mispronounced Edinburgh! There is really only one way to pronounce this city’s name: /’edinbrǝ/, and you don’t have to put on a Scottish accent to say it (I certainly don’t!). I definitely want to see more of Scotland. Having grown up so close by, it never seemed somewhere that interesting, but given the gorgeous landscapes and the fact that my partner has Scottish heritage, I definitely see a trip in our near future!
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Audrey January 14, 2014 at 10:20 am

Haha, I’ve never heard anyone from North America pronounce it properly, that’s why I felt weird saying ‘Edinbra’. After this trip, the proper pronunciation was drilled into my brain. ;)

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memographer January 8, 2014 at 3:41 pm

How nice! Thanks for refreshing my good memories, Audrey!
I love Edinburgh and Scotland!
The Scottish girl on my flight to Edinburgh had thought me how to pronounce Edinbra :) .
And I am still using my 5 y.o. tartan plaid (the best blanket ever!).
And nights in old Edinbra’s pubs can’t be forgotten LOL
Great times!

Happy New Year full of wonderful memories to you and Sam!
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Audrey January 14, 2014 at 10:21 am

Oh, those pubs in Edinburgh are a lot of fun! That’s a city that knows how to have a good time. ;)

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Maria January 8, 2014 at 3:55 pm

Who knew there were so many choices in plaid? Love it – looks like you had a ball and this is a must-do event!
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Agness January 9, 2014 at 4:09 am

I always though Scotland was a great travel destination for summer only, but it’s good to know any season of the year is great to explore it!
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Audrey January 14, 2014 at 10:21 am

Yup, it was just as magical in the middle of winter. :)

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Natalia | Always Trekking January 9, 2014 at 4:31 pm

Mmm, Edinburgh definitely knows how to party especially when you’re 18 years old. Ahem. Aside from that, it was such a wonderful city. I have very fond memories, definitely need to visit it again. Nice list. :)
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Aggy January 9, 2014 at 5:29 pm

I fell in love with “Edinbra” the first time I came there and I hope to be back there soon. Lovely experience Audrey, I enjoyed following you hogmanay experience there!
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Jessica Wray January 10, 2014 at 2:29 pm

I have trouble pronouncing it too. Every time I want to say the city’s name, I pause for a second haha.

I would love to visit for all the reasons you listed. Especially the spooky history! Hopefully, I’ll make it there this year :)
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Heather January 10, 2014 at 10:44 pm

I have some Scottish in my ancestry and yet I’ve never been! I hope to remedy that soon!
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Ahimsa January 11, 2014 at 8:40 am

Glad I didn’t oversell the “smogmany” experience. Pretty wild time eh?

As to whisky/whiskey, the extra e unusually implies it’s from Ireland or the US. No “e” tends to mean a scottish, canadian, or japanese (who have tried so hard to create their own single malts) variety.
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Audrey January 14, 2014 at 10:23 am

Haha, it was great just like you said it would be! :D

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Peter Taylor February 11, 2014 at 2:08 pm

Hello Audrey!
I’ve found your site recently, and it is great that you have a post about Scotland, because I am going there to fly-fish a bit in July.
It is nice to know that you don’t have to eat deep-fried Mars bars, although I am going to try that at least once :) And see how it goes from there. But that salmon bagel looks delicious!
And that Loony Dook thing looks tempting, as strange as it may sound :) I can stand cold weather pretty well, it would be nice to stretch my limits a bit.

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Keyli February 12, 2014 at 11:42 pm

I went to Scotland in 2011. My fav part of it was going to the Edinburgh Castle and the Mary King’s Close Underground city tour. It was REALLY creepy but very interesting.

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