Travel tips

Maps and Guides | By Air | Cars, Trains, etc. | accommodation
Climate and clothing | Not only megaliths | Other Web sites

Beauty itself doth of itself persuade the eyes of men without an orator.
So wrote William Shakespeare in 'The Rape of Lucrece'. And so the beauty of Scotland persuades the eyes of any visitor. Open to any kind of traveller, from the young person travelling cheaply with a sleeping bag to the wayfarer who can afford a noble night in a castle, Scotland doesn't need a long tourist presentation. In these short travel tips, we only want to give some advice, enriched by our personal experience; the simple experience of a travelling couple with only a few pounds and a lot of curiosity. It's up to you to discover the beauty of Scotland, from the middle of a stone circle or inside a crowded pub, 'without an orator'.

Maps and guides. In order to better plan your journey, we suggest to buy and examine a map of Scotland in advance. In Europe it's easy to find the right Michelin map (sheet 401, scotland/Ecosse,1:400.000). It has got a good index, a lot of road and tourist indications (megalithic monuments included), a nice price and it is easy to fold up. However, the key is in English, French, German and Dutch, but not in Italian, Spanish and Portuguese; after a journey under the inevitable Scottish rain it will be drenched with water and hard to be read near the creases. Lastly, it has got only maps on a scale of 1:800.000 for the Orkney and the Shetland Isles (megalithic paradises). So we suggest buying more detailed maps locally. The best of all are the Ordnance Survey ones. Quite expensive (in 1997, from 3.95 to 5.95 pounds each), they are neverthless well worth the expense and essential in searching the most remote megaliths. Extraordinarly detailed, updated and full of useful information to get you really know an area, they have also the National Grid squares so that any feature can be given a unique reference number (see also our location page). The Ordnance Survey maps are easily recognizable by the colour of their map cover: the pink Landranger series with 204 sheets covers all Great Britain, isles included. It is the only one at the 1:50.000 scale, then there is the family of 1:25.000 maps: the yellow Outdoor Leisure series (37 sheets that cover Britain's National Parks and popular Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty: in Scotland, Aviemore and the Cairngorms, the Cuillin and Torridon Hills, the Cheviot Hills and Isle of Arran); the orange Explorer series (10 sheets for well known recreation areas and beauty spots throughout the country); the green Pathfinder series, that completes the coverage of Great Britain at the 1:25.000 scale for areas not already covered by the Outdoor Leisure and the Explorer maps.
In our opinion, the best guide is Scotland - The Rough Guide. Excellent, extremely helpful and packed with great info and intelligent notes, the Rough Guides are easy to find almost everywhere. They are often updated: be sure you are buying the very last edition. In Scotland, you can find some other good guides as well, and if you have a sense of humour, Scotland for Beginners - Bannockburn an 'a' thatby Rupert Besley, a very funny and well illustrated book using a lot of Scottish clichés.

By air. Usually, a charter flight is the cheapest choice. But take information about airports and timetables: for example, arriving in UK, from Luton airport to London you have to take (and pay the fares of) coach, train and underground. And if your return charter flight is scheduled early in the morning, you have to stay and pay for one more night in Britain. In other words, look at all the possibilities. Among national airlines, we have appreciated both the efficiency and the kindness of British Airways a lot more than Alitalia's. From Edinburgh to London, without any reservation, one could get a very cheap airfare; as a last minute choice, and naturally depending on seat availability.

Cars, trains, etc. We rented a car from Europcar in Edinburgh. It is possible to rent a car in Scotland (remember that in an airport it costs more than in town) or to buy a 'fly and drive' offer from a tour operator in your country. This second choice helps save time and trouble as soon as you have arrived (the car is ready at the airport). Cars, even small, are good; they usually have a radio and cassette player, so be prepared to take some music cassettes with you. Be careful: of course, Scottish, as British, drive on the opposite side. We suggest you take great care particularly in the first days and always at roundabouts. And don't forget your seat belt: in Scotland it's not considered an option as in Italy and in other countries.
In Scotland there are many single-track road with passing-places: remember that who's nearer to the passing-place has to reach it in order to allow the oncoming vehicle pass. The Scottish usually greet when encountering a vehicle on these roads. Another little tip: take from home a parking disc. They don't give it to you with the rented car, but it is very useful in parking areas in town. After the first fine, we prepared such a handmade message: 'The car is rented. They didn't give us a parking disc. Please, don't give us a fine. We are coming back as soon as possible. Thank you!').
It is also possible to travel by train or coach. For both a variety of reduced fare tickets and travel passes of various validity are available. And they are a good way to meet and talk to local people. However, trains are pretty expensive and it is better to make a reservation on long distance ones.
We took Caledonian MacBrayne and P&O Ferries to reach the Outer Hebrides and the Orkney Isles. It is easy to leave at any moment as foot passengers, but it is more difficult when you have a car, especially in the summer: we suggest booking in advance. We were forced to return one day early from Lewis Isle because we were unable to reserve for the following. Boat fares are pretty high: ask for their package offers, it can help save money.

accommodation. We have always slept in Bed&Breakfasts. Often located in splendid places, not expensive, B&Bs are almost everywhere and they help in meeting local people. A lot of foreign travel agencies offer vouchers you can spend in B&Bs and country houses. We liked better choosing our B&Bs daily, in order to be free to go step by step. Even if we were in Scotland during the most crowded period of the year (in August), without any reservation, we always managed to find a room. And when we had difficulties, on the Isle of Skye, some B&B owners called each other and helped us to find a room with a wonderful family, by the way.
Some tips on etiquette: in case of 'vacancies', ring the bell and ask to have a look at a the room; if you don't like the place you are always free to say goodbye and look for another B&B (we never did). Usually it is better to look for a room before 6/6:30 in the afternoon. They will ask you at which time you'd like your breakfast (generally it will be served between 8 and 9:30 a.m. so forget lazing in bed in the morning). Breakfast is plentiful: cereal with milk, orange juice, tea or coffee, toast, butter, jam, eggs with bacon and tomatoes or baked beans. At last, never forget you are a guest in a private home: your manners are a kind of message you send about your country. The lady at whose house we slept in Invergloy had a dreadful opinion of Italians. The very night that we stayed in her house, we had an unpleasant confirmation by a group of fellow country-men that she was completely right.

Weather and clothing. Scottish people go around in short sleeves and enjoy any faint ray of sun, but for us Mediterraneans Scotland is cold and it rains unbelievably often. In a megalithic expedition we suggest wearing warm and comfortable clothing. Special regard to shoes is important, to avoid slipping and for walking easily for a long time in soggy soil. In the summer, it's better to dress in a so-called 'onion style', that is several layers of clothes. A K-way or a waterproof jacket is a must, even if there are no clouds at all in the sky. Try and you'll see.

Not only megaliths. Several megalithic monuments and a lot of castles, abbeys and historic buildings are in the care of Historic Scotland, a public institution that preserves almost 300 historic sites. The National Trust for Scotland is similar, but private. To enter some monuments you have to buy an admission ticket. If you plan to visit more than one monument in your wanderings, you'll do better buying a weekly ticket. Both Historic Scotland Explorer tickets and National Trust Touring tickets are available for single adults or for families and for various days. The Explorer we bought in 1990 for 6 pounds was valid for two weeks. Anyway, in our opinion it is a wonderful way to preserve a country heritage: we appreciate very much the excellent work that the Historic Scotland and the National Trust do.

Other Web sites. If you'd like to know more about travelling in Scotland, we suggest visiting the following Web sites:

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