EY Travel Tips: Scotland

Sunny Spot Scotland

Consider a trip to Scotland: hikes along steely-blue lochs, green glens full of wee-wooly sheep, everyone talking like Sean Connery.  For these features and so many others, the rugged land of the bagpipe and thistle grabbed a place among my three all-time favorite countries after one visit. Scotland boasts the United Kingdom’s highest mountain, the island’s most epic weather and its best-known monster, first reported by a visiting Irish saint in the Loch Ness area during the sixth century.

Cynics might put Scottish sea monsters on the same plane of possibility as sober, reliable Irish saints, but it’s still fun to search the lake. Plus you can always see the many fascinating, albeit less legendary animals, which settled in Scotland, from shaggy highland cattle and Shetland ponies to the reintroduced white-tailed Sea Eagles to the red deer and endangered wild cat.

A fantastically underrated place to eat, Scotland harbors a wealth of fish from the North Sea alongside local meats and dairy, while the confluence of Gaelic, British and Viking culture give the nation a set of vibrant and unique traditions—fashion-wise and otherwise. The many castles Scots built over hundreds of years, existing today as ruins and restorations around the country, offer windows into the rich history and traditions of the country and its numerous clans.

With the considering completed, here are four tips for a first-time visitor:

1.      Feast not Fear-try the local cuisine.

Scottish food has a fearsomely poor reputation, and I’ll be the first to tell you knowing what’s in haggis (sheep heart, lungs, liver, oats) made me question the sensibility of an entire nation. But, like rump steak (which is fine so long as you don’t visualize the source), haggis turns dubious ingredients into a richly appetizing dish. Pair it with tatties (that’s mashed potatoes) and mushy peas, and you’ve got a hearty spread. Or try some of the best fish (and chips) you can find, wash it down with a Scotch whisky, and contemplate the scent of peat and the mercurial Scotch skies from a pub. If you really can’t stomach local food or need a break, there’s plenty of other European and Asian options. But you know the saying: when in Scotland, try some sheep organs; your taste buds might surprise*.

2.     Kilt Etiquette                                          

Calling a Scotsman’s kilt a skirt is a “deadly” insult. I read that in a letter to the New York Times’ editors nine years ago, and as they saw it fit to print I saw it fit to avoid (at least out loud) in Scotland and everywhere else. None of the good-humored Scots I met seemed inclined toward violence for kilt besmirching or any other infraction, and aside from a few older gentlemen the garments weren’t widely worn; however, kilt etiquette is still a hot topic. Last year the Scottish Tartan Authority controversially recommended wearing underwear beneath kilts for the sake of hygiene. Kilt enthusiasts must now choose between “common decency” and the ironclad Highland tradition of going commando under their garments. Both camps make passionate arguments, but if you enter the fray by buying or renting a kilt, it’s wise to assess the strength of the wind before making a final decision.

3.     Layers People

In Scotland, “sunny” easily substitutes as a synonym for light rain. It couldn’t literally be called a sunny spot and it’s definitely not the place to treat a vitamin D deficiency, but it doesn’t resemble perpetually rainy Seattle so much as say Chicago, where (the joke goes) people who don’t like the weather need only wait a few minutes. Yes, the Scottish climate can be temperamental, and its best to prepare accordingly. Heck, even the local cows where coats, so your best solution is to layer up and then remove or add clothing to adjust to the prevailing conditions. For comfort, an absolute essential is a shell that keeps you dry but won’t overheat (the country stays pretty temperate if you’re not on the mountaintops), while gloves in the winter and fall make outdoor adventures much more agreeable. They may not look cool, but those cargo pants that transition to shorts prove very handy.

4.     Winding down for winter

Fancy a magical trek to the seaside on the Harry Potter Train (also known as the Jacobite) or some light washing with Lady MacBeth at Cawdor Castle? Make sure to check opening times and dates, because as Scotland’s weather gets seriously rough many of the country’s sites shut down operations. Typically closures last from late summer/fall to spring, and while there’s tremendous natural beauty later in the year, it appeals largely to rugged outdoor types, and even some of them prefer to steer clear until the situation brightens up. If your profile trends away from mountaineer, and for example, you’re just dying to see the interior of Eilean Donan Castle, just like in the romantic comedy Made of Honor, then a spring or summer trip will suit you better.


For tips on enjoying the Highlands on a  Low Budget, check out tales from Will’s Scotland travel journal…



Running in China

This story was a submission to’s first ever “Best Running Story in a Foreign Country Writing Contest” – April 2011. Our story’s author, EY Contributor, Martin Mudry, an avid traveler and runner, is currently filming a documentary in Kenya called “Where Dreams Don’t Fade.” You can follow his latest project on a special facebook page devoted to the movie.  Or check back here for more stories to come!

Carl had just arrived in China. Wade, Megan and I picked him up at the airport in Kunming, the city he’d be spending the next 4 months in for his study abroad. While Wade, Megan and I had been traveling around China together for a few weeks, Carl should have been tired, jet lagged, and ready for bed. So what did we do? Immediately upon returning to the hostel we made him take a shot of one of the strongest and foulest drinks known to man called Baijiu. At $.50 for the equivalent of 5 shots, it also must be one of the cheapest drinks available anywhere.

The rest of the first night was pretty tame. We walked around a bit past some empty stores, through the big square where our hostel was located and then went to bed. The next morning we all went out to breakfast together before bidding Wade and Megan goodbye, as they flew back up north to the city where they are both teaching.

Once they left, Carl had quite a bit on his plate. He had just arrived at altitude, (Kunming’s altitude is 1,800 meters ~6,500ft); he was with someone who has a dairy allergy but doesn’t speak any Chinese; he was adjusting to a 13 hour time difference from where he had just come; oh yeah, and this was his first time traveling outside of the United States, EVER!

So as a good friend, what did I do to ease the transition? Take it easy for a few days? No! Carl and I immediately headed out to the city outskirts and hiked into the nearby mountains where I had previously seen a few hotels. We hiked up to an even higher elevation at which point the real fun began- watching Carl barter for a room with people in Chinese. The problem was, aside from Carl not having practiced Chinese for a few months, he also had to speak to people who barely knew Mandarin- the only dialect he had been taught.

We checked out one place, which seemed nice, but the price was a bit high, so we decided to check out another knowing we could always come back and try to drive the price down more.

At the second place, the guy showed us rooms but opened each door by sliding open the room window first and then unlocking the door from the inside with his hand. But the price seemed right after a little negotiation, so we made the decision to stay and asked for the room key.

What? The guy didn’t seem to understand. “The key to the room” Carl said again in Chinese. He seemed very confused and reluctant, but took a key off a key chain that appeared to hold only the master keys. We went back to the room, where I took a closer look at the window- thinking: “Great, no lock, so the key is useless per his little trick to get in.”

As I debated whether we should leave our stuff in the room while we went for a run, I realized that there was a key to the bathroom and if we locked our stuff in there, chances were he wouldn’t be able to get past that second door.

So with our passports and cash secured behind one door with virtually no lock and behind another door as flimsy as balsa wood, we went out for a quick walk and then a run.

As we were leaving with our backpacks to explore the area, we ran into the guy who had given us the room and key. He asked us for the keys. Carl tried to tell him that we had it, but he kept asking for it. I, of course, didn’t know what he was saying, although it was pretty clear that he was motioning for the keys. Finally Carl told him for the 4th time that we were just going for a walk; that we would be coming back; and that we were taking the key but would give it back before we checked out.

On the run we went through small villages, down single track trails and came upon some kids. They appeared utterly terrified and I’m sure the youngest thought the foreigners were going to kill her and leave her dead in the forest. We tried to tell them it was OK and the older ones actually start to laugh, but one of the youngest continued to run in terror.

We ducked by some houses and got back out onto a main road. A few more times we took trails that came to dead ends. One looked nice but quickly ended at a small temple in the hillside. Another led us down a path toward a village but soon we were surrounded by huge German shepherds, which while chained, were barking furiously, giving us the clear message about which way to go (back the way we came). We wandered through more fields, before finally coming to a trail that led down a steep path and crossed a beautiful hill of tall grass.

It reminded me a lot of the hills on the coasts of Northern California, with little halftrack trails. Carl was out running in front when all of a sudden he slipped. The image flashed before me of Carl tripping and tumbling a hundred feet down the steep slope. Luckily he caught himself.

Feeling like my mother, I warned him: “Be careful Carl.” “I know” he said. A few minutes later, he tripped again, and then again. I felt at a loss, and could picture having to call his parents to tell them how he slid down a hill in rural china. Again, with a little luck, we found a way up and over and finally were on the path heading back to the hotel.

We planned to go out to eat, but after a shower Carl was exhausted and just wanted to call it an early night. I didn’t blame him. When Wade Megan and I first arrived at altitude, we took it really easy. With Carl, I’d had him hiking, running, and translating from day one and maybe the jet lag was finally catching up with him. I read for a bit then lay down as well and we both dozed off until 9:30 pm or so.

We were both awake and talking when we heard a car pull in and the doors slam. Then, all of a sudden, loud piano music. It sounded so real – could there be a piano somewhere??

Carl and I were like what the ??, until the background music started and people started singing karaoke in Chinese for the next few hours. The music randomly went from loud to unbearable at no discernable intervals.

The absurdity of the situation – high up above Kunming, on the border of mountains and farmland – people were blasting music and singing as if their sole goal was to break glass.

Hours later the music stopped. Then we heard footsteps coming downstairs to where our room was. Then there was someone at the door trying to get in. We tried to say hello, but then the window slid open. I quickly got up to turn on the light as Carl yelled “What do you want?? We’re in here” in Chinese. As I turned on the light, whoever was there left quickly and that was the last we heard of them.

The next morning, we got up early and caught the sunrise on the hill. It was completely quiet and we were the only people. It was a complete 180 from the day I had discovered the place with Wade and Megan.  That day it was New Years and there were hundreds of Chinese people in high heels, suits, and dress shoes, miraculously scrambling over the rocks and shouting to each other across the valleys. This time we were alone and the light was perfect.

We hiked around a little more before returning to our room to gather our stuff to leave. Our friend who was so worried about our keys and maybe was the one trying to come into our room the night prior was no where to be found.  We left the keys with his wife and headed out.

We had 20 miles to hike and many more memories to be had before the day was up.  It may have only been Carl’s first few days in China, but it was important that he learn the rules to successful travel- do it while you can, push yourself, and don’t forget to go for a run.



Highlands, Low Budget – Scotland Part IV

Part IV

Ben Nevis and Glen Nevis

(This story is a continuation of Part I: London to Inverness ,                Part II: Inverness to Loch Ness and Part III: Kyle of Lochalsh to Fort William)

View of Glen Nevis from Ben Nevis

Sunday, our last day in Scotland, we followed Benny’s directions to Cow Hill for a view of the mighty, 4,000-foot hump of Ben Nevis and its verdant adjoining valley, Glen Nevis.  Zigzagging up the ridge, the sun shone unimpeded for the first time on our trip. We chased sheep, lay in the sweet heather and made up stories about a Highland Goliath as older hikers passed us. I promised to be less of a miser—within reason.

Atop the hill we saw the sparkling expanse of Loch Linnhe and Fort William, and finally got a peek at Ben Nevis as it emerged from its cloudy wreath. We chased sheep back down the hill before returning to town. We only had a few hours left, but Bijani had one more thing on her agenda: the Harry Potter Waterfall in Glen Nevis.

It was too far to walk, and the only way to get there was by cab. I wanted to renege on my promise.

“You only get to go to Scotland once, but we have the rest of our lives to be broke,” I muttered.

“What’s that?”  Bijani asked.


The taxi driver pointed out the sights along the way: a field where Mel Gibson filmed a “Braveheart”  battle, hiring local amputees to fill in as the wounded; a bunch of shaggy highland cattle. He kindly agreed to pick us up in four hours.


A thin but strong current ran along the path to Glen Nevis. We walked through ferns and conifer trees. It seemed like a long way to go for sights from a movie. I walked ahead, rounding a bend past the stony face of a huge boulder and into the opening of the valley. A vast meadow unveiled itself. In the foreground stood the cloudy edifice of Ben Nevis; in the background, the forked deluge of Steall Falls.

A wire bridge traverses the stream to the waterfall trail, and gripping the coiled metal I forgot my fear of heights in the pale mist from the falls and the smell of wet grass. We ran slipping and losing our shoes in the thick mud, to the base of the falls.

It was time to return to the cab. I looked over my shoulder one more time as we re-rounded the bend. Bijani and I waited in the parking lot for the cab that would take us back to the train that would bring us down from the Highlands to our cold London apartment.  I looked in my wallet. I had $30, just enough for the return trip and to buy some snacks for our homeward journey.

“What a wonderful trip,” I said to Bijani and smiled.

She hugged me and for a moment I felt rich.

The End…(for now)



Highlands, Low Budget – Scotland Part III

Part III

Kyle of Lochalsh to Fort William

(This story is a continuation of Part I: London to Inverness and          Part II: Inverness to Loch Ness)

Eilean Donan Inside View

Kyle of Lochalsh  is notable for many reasons, depending on your priorities. It’s home to remarkably inexpensive fish and chips for example. A bay borders the one-mill town, which looks onto the Isle of Skye, while the restored Eilean Donan Castle, made famous by such movies as Highlander and the romantic comedy Made of Honor, lies aways to the East. Kyle also marked the penultimate leg of our journey before phase Harry Potter began in full.

Rain greeted us in the tiny town, as did a wryly good-natured fish and chips salesmen.

“How ya liking the weather?”

“It’s nice.”

“Sunny enough for ya?”

“We’d feel cheated if it was. We wanted the authentic Scottish experience.”

“It donna get more authentic than this.”

Bijani and I had taken a morning train from Inverness across the heart of the highlands—with its snow dusted mountains, its bright grassy valleys, its steely rivers and lakes—and if this trip and the stormy sound of Lochalsh represented the real Scotland , I was prepared to sign up for a lifetime membership.


An hour later we hopped on a bus that carried us along similar terrain south toward Fort William, on the shores of the beautiful Loch Linnhe. It’s a bed and breakfast town, not as picturesque as Inverness, but shadowed  by the 4,409 foot peak of Ben Nevis.

In town we found more rain and Benny, the friendly Englishman and transplanted owner of Invernevis, a handsome stone B&B with twin gables that overlooked the lake.

“Lovely weather, isn’t it?” he said as he took our bags.

“Yes,” we said in unison.

Bijani and I both ordered a traditional Scottish Breakfast, before heading to the Jacobite Train, named for the anti-British revolutionaries, now commonly known as the Hogwarts Express. The classic, black engine puffed smoke onto the platform and excited children ages 3 to 70 rushed into the cars, “just like in the movie!” The beautiful look accounted for the train’s finest attribute, and I couldn’t help note that another half-price train ran along the same tracks, to the same destination.

“You know, we could’ve just looked at this train and taken a ride on the other one,” I said as we boarded.

“Humbug,” Bijani laughed.

The Jacobite Train does not go to a school of wizardry, but rather Mailag, the dainty western-most port town in the UK. Locals say its home to Scotland’s best fish and chips. Best usually means expensive. As we chugged along, the ashy-white mountains and whaleskin lakes lying starkly against green and yellow grasses lost some of their luster.

In Mailag I loitered around the station, ordered fish and chips, vowed never to eat fish and chips again and got back on the train in an antagonistic mood.

“You know we could have saved fifty…”

“You don’t get it,” Bijani said.

We missed the famous aqueduct bridge on the way back because we were fighting. We went to bed in a bad mood back at Invernevis.

…To Be Continued in Part IV – The Final Installment!


will & bijani on train

Highlands, Low Budget — Scotland: Part I

Part I

London to Inverness

Things started poorly.   Beneath a gloomy London sky at King’s Cross Station, my fiancée and I (see our Engagement Story Parts 1 & 2) boarded the Caledonia Sleeper  for Inverness, the Scottish Highlands’ largest city. Bijani had mapped a triangular tour of the region by train and bus, incorporating Loch Ness, the United Kingdom’s tallest mountain and many, many things Harry Potter.

Fun? Sure. Affordable? Probably not.

Early on there was tension: if nine years together had demonstrated anything, it would be the futility of lobbying me to “splurge” on a sleeping berth, and she didn’t even try. But my future wife clearly wasn’t keen on the half-empty railcar and reclining chairs we settled into, premade salami sandwiches in hand.

The situation didn’t improve. Near the end of our journey I awoke to a man shouting at his phone, “Yeah, Mate. I’ve been sitting next to a convicted murderer since Perth. Just introduced himself. Had his daughter with him. He was all right, but…”

I closed my eyes. When seats don’t actually recline and railcar temperatures fluctuate between steam-room sweaty and walk-in-freezer, murder seems less disturbing. For nine hours I’d questioned the wisdom of saving $20 to the point where my core beliefs faltered.

Then the brand new light unveiled our first real view of Scotland: fresh green pastures; sheep, cloud-like in their fluffiness; friendly white cottages economically trimmed with red.

As the train rambled into the unofficial Highland capital, I prepared for a wonderful time in Scotland, home of my ancestors, at whatever price—within reason.


A city by population, Inverness (meaning “Mouth of the River Ness”) charms like a slightly stern European village. Inverness Castle, the modern day incarnation of a former Pictish stronghold, overlooks the city center from a small hill, while the Ness’ clean, industrious waters divide a picturesque downtown. Its main thoroughfares are appealingly cluttered with church steeples and stone buildings, many of which border an idyllic pedestrian mall.

Our guidebook compared the city’s High Street to London’s frenetic Oxford Street, just less crowded and with a kilt store instead of Dolce and Gabbana; a dollar store instead of a Gap, and instead of a Virgin Megastore, a dollar store.

The guidebook also noted Scots, perhaps by undue reputation, are notorious penny pinchers.

This was my kind of place.

“Does my Scotch ancestry explain why I’m so cheap?” I asked as we walked the empty mall toward our hostel.

“I don’t think there’s any question.”

“Oh good, it’s genetic.”

She laughed, though some resentment lingered in her voice. She’s still upset we’ve seen every breath in our London apartment this winter because I insist layers are more cost effective than heating, microwaves are luxury items for the upper classes and an authentic Dickensian experience will advance her literature studies.

Working back toward her good graces, I requested a private room at the BazPackers Inn,  a cozy site across from Inverness Castle, for $10 extra. Seated on a warm bed, we unloaded our stuff, took inventory and prepared for a full day of exploration.

…To Be Continued in Part II: Inverness to Loch Ness



Reaching New Heights writer Martin is off on an adventure in China!  He’s traveling around the country on foot and via trains, boats, and buses to find the best views.  Here he’s seen climbing his way to the top of Green Lotus Peak overlooking Yangshuo!   So this is what it’s like on top of the world!

For more fun pictures of Martin’s adventures check out’s facebook page

Or check back here – we’ll be sure to update again soon.

empty armchair 3

Give It A Rest

Sometimes it dawns on me that I’m probably an armchair adventurer.  You want the best trip into the wild?  Read someone else’s account, complete with beauty, hardship, awe, and maybe a little disaster thrown into the mix. 

Early on in this particular hike the heat and sun were getting to me.  Why had I left cooler Hollywood to head inland to the higher, and in the summer, hotter mountains? I was lucky I brought my hat and yet the sun was still making me squint and I was feeling the precursor to a headache.  I finally relented to using my sunglasses, but I always find they make my world feel completely different.  I like the idea of them, but I always feel a bit out of it when I wear them, and I don’t think they help with the headache.

As I’m walking I wonder what brought me out here.  What made me leave my apartment on one of my few days off to hike alone into the mountains during the heat of the day?  Then the summit feels closer, I can see the radio towers up top and they are closer than I would have expected.  I also notice a single track trail heading off into the woods.  I take the detour and relish the change in direction.

I am starting to enjoy myself until the bugs reach me.  My head is swarmed by small flies and gnats that are infatuated with my eyes and ears.  I had had a massage the day before and realized how tense I had been.  On the walk I am trying to relax however, the bugs make me crouch forward, ready to flinch.  Still somehow, I feel I should keep going, that I’ll enjoy the experience more in retrospect than if I simply turn around.  At least there’s some shade and I’m pretty sure I pass both bear and mountain lion scat. 

I haven’t seen any hikers in at least an hour and so am surprised when I come across a few older women.  They warn me of a rattlesnake and lots of poison oak ahead.  This only makes me more committed to going further.  I’m careful to avoid any plants and am on the look out for the snake that I assume will not be an issue.  I pick up a few dry pieces of grass to wave around my head to keep the bugs away. 

Finally, more of a rhythm.  I hear water and know there must be a creek ahead.  When I arrive I am surprised to find a pristine camp site, but as I near the creek the water seems shallow and the bugs make me think twice of going in.  Still I realize it’s early, I have plenty of water, and it doesn’t feel like time to turn back.  The trail is less defined and I’m hoping it will lead to the steep ridge I spotted earlier that looks like it might be passable with a little scrambling.  The terrain is dense with chaparral though and I can never tell if the trail is going forward or about to switch back again to climb higher away from the creek. 

Reaching the top of a different and much lower ridge, I’m blasted again with heat.  I try to figure out whether there are more bugs in the shade or heat.  I don’t think it matters. It seems impossible to escape them either way, and yet, I can’t seem to ever get used to them.  I’m always tense.  The sound of one buzzing toward my ear instinctually feels awful. 

The trail begins to descend again and I hear the familiar sound of water- now this will be a good place to take a dip and call it a day before turning around.  However, as I approach the creek I see it is barely a trickle.  It is less than three feet wide and no more than 8 inches deep.  Furthermore, it looks oddly yellow.  I wonder if the color is somehow related to the regions up stream that were burned during the great forest fire last year.  Still, I sit down to get the rocks out of my shoes and decide at the very least to put my feet in.  I move into the sun and realize after a few minutes, the bugs don’t seem to be around as much.  Could something so simple as stopping for a rest have allowed them to become bored with me?

I’m always amazed at how water that can feel so cold when you first put your feet in can start to feel fine and I’m convinced that I should attempt to sit in the creek.  I take off my shirt, face the sun and slowly lower myself in.  The water is so low it doesn’t even cover my legs, but it feels good.  I take another look at the creek and decide I should lie down. Now getting my back and chest wet sounds like torture, but I know that as soon as I turn around I’ll be as hot as can be once out of the trees.  So slowly I lower myself into the water.  I cringe at the cold, but try to relax telling myself soon it won’t be so bad. I lower more and more until all but my head is in the water.  Finally I put my hands behind my head and fully lay down.

 And there I am, six miles from the trailhead, in the middle of the national forest, lying down in a tiny creek. I feel like a reptile, a cold blooded animal whose top half is baking in the sun while my back is cooled by the water.  I have a Zen moment.  The intense cold, the insects, the comfort, the ability to relax are all one.  The absurdity makes it all worthwhile.  It also somehow makes it feel real.

As I get up to leave I’m in a remarkably more upbeat mood.  I know soon I’ll be hot again, and I’m willing to bet the bugs will feel unbearable once more, but in the moment and on into the future I know it’ll have been worthwhile to give the old armchair a rest.


Cabot Walking Path

Sunny Spot: Cabot, Arkansas


Cabot Walking Path

SHOUT OUT to our fans in CABOT, ARKANSAS This week you have the second highest number of hits on the website following Mountain View, California.   We LOVE it and we wanted to find out what you’re up to there! Looks like GOLF is a favorite way of Entertaining Yourself! And you have the perfect weather for it today – Saturday, 11/20/10 – High of 63 degrees & partly SUNNY! Other Fun Facts –Arkansas is home to 6 National Parks, 52 State Parks and over 100 Municipal or private parks, including the 3 Golf Courses and Community Park in CABOT! Awesome! For other Fans thinking of traveling to Arkansas – listen to this: Their Adventure Parks include: Backpacking, Hang Gliding, Hiking, Horseback Riding, Kayaking & Canoeing, Cycling, River Running, Rock Climbing, Motorcycling and Snorkeling & Scuba Diving! That’s right – Arkansas’s crystal lakes are perfect for snorkeling and scuba diving. And we think that an adventure in Arkansas sounds like a perfect way of Entertaining Yourself! We’re glad you stopped by our site.