Kinship between India and Britain has been forged over centuries by shared interests and passions. An appreciation of history, team sports, aristocracy and outstanding natural beauty are just some areas of common ground. Few places embody Britain’s magical, dramatic history and glorious scenery quite like Scotland. Here IndiaGBnews special correspondent Aline Dobbie, a proud Scot who spent the first 16 years of her life in India, explains why a spellbinding experience awaits visiting Indians in Scotland.
Now that the political turmoil of Great Britain is perhaps subsiding and life might return to normal, the UK, invites you to visit at a time when the pound is probably at an attractive level for Indians. A warm welcome awaits you as ever and hopefully September will prove as beautiful as it was last year when two Indian families came to visit us personally during that time and into the first week of October. So often the autumn colours are astounding and the weather calm and sunny for what we call ‘an Indian Summer!’
Edinburgh is a most delightful city with so much to intrigue and entrance but it is not a big city and I think that is part of its magic. Moreover, because there are four universities and other colleges of education the city is alive with thousands of young people, many of them Indian; indeed Scotland now has over 4,000 Indian students studying at her various universities four of which are considered ‘ancient’ ie very very old, the oldest of which is St Andrews on the coast of Fife, but there are modern institutions that have been designated as new universities and these provide a plethora of courses for overseas students.
Edinburgh has a number of luxury hotels but the city is also full of good B & Bs which can suit many budgets. Indians may find the whisky centres of great interest and a visit to the distilleries in the Highlands & Islands can be very rewarding! George Street has many restaurants and cafes; some of these are beautiful conversions from erstwhile bank properties. In decades past Edinburgh had numerous grand bank buildings which are now mostly superfluous as so much business is now done on the telephone and internet banking so they have become gracious restaurants that particularly at Christmas are decorated and give one a really festive feel. Indian restaurants abound as do Thai and Chinese along with good budget priced French and Italian and Mexican.
Edinburgh Castle, St Giles’s Cathedral, The Palace of Holyrood House, the Royal Mile which is the ancient street between those grand buildings, the Royal Botanical Gardens of Edinburgh, the New Town of Edinburgh (which is not new it is over 250 years old, but just not as ancient as the Old Town!), Princes Street Gardens and Arthur’s Seat are some of the main attractions. At Leith which is the port for Edinburgh and had its own ancient history the Royal Yacht Britannia sits at anchor and is a worthwhile attraction and nearby there are many restaurants in which to eat and rest your weary feet. At the end of the famous three week long Edinburgh Festival (which takes place in August) there is always the most stupendous firework display which is set off with the background of the castle. On a fine dry night it is nothing less than stunning accompanying grand classical music being played in Prince’s Street Gardens. The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo also in August is always a wonderful event and usually booked out months ahead of the three weeks duration. Very often Indian Armed Forces or artists come to add their special mark of history and grandeur to the unfolding scene. The fireworks display also takes place on New Year’s Eve and that is the Winter Festival which also lasts for three weeks over Christmas, but it could be very cold and may not be that attractive to Indian visitors for that reason! The Castle itself is fascinating and is now often used for grand events and government functions.
The beautiful Scottish Borders which have gentle hills and valleys and famous rivers like the River Tweed running through is a short drive south of Edinburgh. This is the haunt of serious fishermen and women for trout and salmon. The hills are alive with sheep and birdlife, the fields full of young cattle and the air on a summer’s day is mellow with the sound of contented livestock and the curlew’s cry in the sky. Peebles is a most attractive town to visit south of Edinburgh and it is an easy drive of 25 miles with many lovely little restaurants and coffee shops in which to assuage your hunger and rest your feet. Peebles has a nearby castle called Neidpath standing proudly right on the banks of the Tweed and the River Walk is a delight. At nearby Innerleithen Traquair House is a wonderful old mansion that is reputed to be the oldest inhabited country house in Scotland. Jedburgh, Kelso, Melrose, these are all fine Borders towns and worth a visit and one can see the ruined Abbeys that are so evocative of times past. Abbotsford is the historic house of the great Sir Walter Scott the 19th century writer who helped to create the romance and myths of Scotland and this fine old house is very close to Melrose famous for its rugby. Nearer to Edinburgh there is also the famous and intriguing Falkirk Wheel that takes canal barges up into the air to lift them to a different canal and is very enjoyable to experience and right close by are the now famous iconic Kelpies, stunning immense statues of two horses’ heads depicting the horses that used to pull the old barges on the nearby canals in central Scotland. Railway journeys have huge appeal because it is a wonderful way to see our beautiful country and sometimes the legendary Flying Scotsman returns for special rides, I loved that old railway engine and actually travelled on a train pulled by her in 1963 when a young girl.
Another beautiful area of Scotland is Argyll and the area around Oban. That region is in the Highlands of Scotland but with wonderful coastline and sea lochs (lakes), and little villages and hills and valleys; there are superb historic gardens to visit with ancient castles and keeps and other heritage sites. From end of April to end of October Scotland is a wonderful country to visit, the early months show you her beauty in Spring which turns into Summer and then by late September the Autumn colours prevail and they can be truly stunning and rival Canada or the East Coast of America in their vivid array. Further north from Oban there is yet more stunning country and the Western Isles which are easily accessible by ferries which ply to and fro across those waters. The historic and beautiful tiny island of Iona has great Christian traditions and heritage and is really worth visiting. On a good day the sea around is an azure colour with the white sand, the yellow gorse bushes and bluebells in May – outstandingly beautiful. Tobermory is the colourful town in north Mull from which you can take a ferry to Ardnamurchan and then again it is wild and stunning Scotland with so few people. For Indians the lack of people would be the great find I imagine! Deer, seals, otters, and birdlife – these are in abundance for those who have patience and are quiet and respectful of wildlife. From Mallaig one takes a short ferry ride to the famous Isle of Skye. Yet again wonderful vistas open up with much to see and do.
Other places I strongly recommend are Pitlochry, Dunkeld, Aberfeldy, Inverness, Perth and the area around Loch Tay. Around Oban the most wonderful and huge loch (lake) is Loch Awe which we love and visit regularly, but Loch Tay is also very large in beautiful Perthshire. I have not even touched the Far North of Scotland, or indeed the East Coast, or the Kingdom of Fife with St Andrews the original home of golf so beloved of Indian men, but in one short article that cannot all be achieved adequately. Suffice to say the whiskies are extraordinary and always here too. But now they have been joined by Gins…. suddenly Scotland has become the home of artisan gins and they are truly stunning…. the famous Edinburgh Rhubarb gin is extraordinary and I love it.
Visitor Information: www.visitscotland.com A warm welcome awaits you in Scotland and if you have been before let me say ‘Haste ye back!’
http://photos.alinedobbie.co.uk to see Aline’s beautiful Scottish photography