I would like to dedicate this post to my dear friend Gail who recently took her first European trip to Scotland. Gail's love for horses centered her trip around traditional Scottish riding. After returning from Scotland, she told me all of the great things she had done and seen. I asked her what her most favorite part about Scotland was, and she gave me a simple, but perfect answer: "How genuinely friendly everyone was." For any country this has to be the ultimate compliment. Thinking back to my own experiences there, I fully agree with Gail's response, and so began this post with my inspiration from her tales of friendly Scotland.
Scotland is filled with smiles and happiness. I have never once spoken to someone who doesn't give a raving review after their adventures in Scotland. While each person finds a different part of this country enticing, everyone undoubtedly finds something that makes them say, "I want to go back!"
After hearing the tales of my dear friend's recent trip, I started remembering all the great things I LOVED about Scotland. It was one of my favorite trips and I want to go back for more. So what makes this country, this bagpipe playing, scotch-whisky drinking, unicorn country so great? My theory is the happy state of the people and the blissful ingredients that make up this land of Scots.
Scotland is part of the sovereign state known as the UK or United Kingdom. However, it is much more confusing than that. Scotland is only partially controlled by the UK. Technically considered its own country, Scotland has its own parliament which sets all of its own judicial rules except for "reserved matters." These "reserved matters" are still under the control of the UK Parliament and or British Government as stated in the Scotland Act of 1998. Anything not specifically stated in that document is the responsibility of Scotland, and according to section 30 of the Scotland Act even those terms are negotiable and may be transferred from the UK Parliament to the Scottish Parliament if an agreement is reached. Whew, now that's a bit tedious and boring to comprehend.
In terms I find more understandable, Scotland runs its country how they want, and the UK Parliament only deals with them on big matters which involve Ireland and or England and Wales.
Scotland has a population of 5.3 million people. To put this in perspective, New York, a single USA city, has a population of 8.5 million. I'm guessing Scotland's government has a pretty good handle on what the people want since they run a "country" the size of Atlanta, Georgia.
Men in Skirts Playing Odd Instruments
Women, this one is mainly for you, but I know the guys are secretly saying, "man, that kilt looks surprisingly comfortable and freeing." From the perspective of American culture, a guy in a skirt has a whole different set of connotations. In Scotland, the kilt is manly, traditional, a sign of lineage, and oddly sexy. Then to add to the display of toned calves, and hints of muscular thighs, the Scotsmans serenade you with music. Looking at a bagpipe, it is a fascinating instrument. Literally a bag with pipes sticking out, this invention plays notes and sounds unlike anything else. It's distinct, somewhat annoying, and yet completely addicting. In Edinburgh specifically, it is not uncommon to see a man playing his bagpipe in the street for people to hear. The sounds draw you in as they echo off old cobble buildings and streets, and the image captivates you. His plaid attire, his knee high stockings, his funny hat, and his warrior frame hold your attention. Before you know it, you're in love with Scotland, or at least a Scotsman.
The landscape of Scotland is simple and beautiful. The Highlands are full of rolling hills and bluffs that often hold an eerie fog. The green fields go on for miles and the twisting roads were built with the daredevil driver in mind. On my day-long Highlands Tour the bus driver gave several historical accounts and facts about the highlands, but the one that stuck in my mind was on the sheep. These fluffy, peaceful animals are everywhere. In fact, they outnumber the Scots. There are about 6.5 million sheep (give or take the time of year) to only 5.3 million people. It's a sheepademic! How awesome and funny is that! Sheep, they give us clothes, warm our toes, and God knows they put us to sleep.
Woolly creatures inhabit the Highlands farms, and the sheep are not the only eye catchers. The cows are awesome too! Yes, the highland cows were the coolest cows I've seen. If you didn't chuckle about the sheep, google a picture of these fine creatures. Definitely not your typical brown cow; it's just Scotland providing one more opportunity for happiness.
Scotch, Scotch, Scotch
What is Scotch? After many very confusing technicalities I've discovered that scotch is Whisky. Note the spelling.
Quick History Lesson:
1494- First record of distilling in Scotland. (Yes, it's an old country!) It was made by a Friar.
Ireland was also distilling at this time or before and spelt their product Whiskey to differentiate from Scotland.
1539-1550 Dissolution of Monasteries, spread of distilling as a trade
1800s - Phylloxera beetle devastated French vineyards and wine became less prevalent. Scots swooped in and Scotch Whisky became the new popular spirit.
So if Scotch is Whisky, and Whisky is Whiskey, and Whiskey is Scotch, why all the different titles? Here is the skinny: The word Whisky originally comes from a Gaelic term meaning water of life. The Irish decided they wanted to differentiate their whisky from the Scot's so they added an 'e' to the word making it Whiskey. American's also took this adopted word, Whiskey, when the spirit became popular in the southern states. Scotland, Japan, Canada, and a few others continue to use the original way of spelling it without added letters.
Another reason for these "separations" is because of ingredients. All whisky is classified as any alcohol distilled from fermented grain mash. This mash, however, is where the separation comes in. There are several different grains that can be used in whisky such as rye, corn, barley, or wheat. The combinations and or mash process itself is what differentiates each of them and creates distinct flavors.
The third explanation is location. Each producer of whisky, whiskey or scotch thinks their alcohol is the best, and desires recognition for producing the best. Scotch has come about because Scots think their whisky deserves its own name. (After hundreds of years of perfection it probably does.) The qualifications for being called Scotch are these:
1. It must be made from malted barely.
2. The spirit must be aged in oak casts for no less than 3 years.
3. Finally, and most importantly, it must be made 100% in Scotland.
So there you have it. Scotch is certainly whisky, but whiskey can most certainly not be Scotch.
History of alcohol is a great lesson of culture. The Scottish people take their drink seriously. The drink itself also says a lot about them. Scotch is not an easy swig. Rather, it's an acquired taste; one taking much practice. Try sitting and drinking with the locals and you will find yourself under the table as they carry on roaring with laughter. Scotland is full of recipes for happiness and if you are ever feeling down, simply head to the pub for a drink of cheer. It will warm your insides through and through. Scotch, another great buzz in the country of Scotland.
"I couldn't understand a single thing you just said, but I loved it."
The people of Scotland have basically two languages, English and Gaelic. Either one, however, may be very difficult to understand if you have an American English background. Depending on which part of the country you are visiting, the Scottish accent is heavy and mesmerizing. I typically had no problem understanding the dialect unless I got caught up in listening to the unique flow and tune of their voices. Thanks to actors like Sean Connery and Gerard Butler the Scottish accent is romanticized. The sounds are masculine and strong, automatically signaling our brains that they come from the same heritage as these famous men we see in movies. The accents of Scotland not only sound friendly, they actually are friendly. Just another reason to smile in Scotland.
Still full of open space and natural beauty this country has a love for horses. My good friend was able to experience Scottish riding and said it was amazing. Knowing hardly anything about horse riding, I'm taking her word for it. She said the people were happy to share their knowledge and passion for horses. Not only did she explore their great landscape up close, but she was able to do it on the backs of their beautiful creatures. Horses bring to mind a few key words: knightly, elegant, and majestic. All of these bring good feelings to the heart, as to be expected of Scotland.
Scotland is home to the most irritating, addicting, allusive and exciting game known as Golf. (Which could also be a reason why scotch gained so much popularity in the country) Known traditionally as the Guys Only Ladies Forbidden club, it is a true tradition in Scotland. Started around 1457 the Scots are the ones that made this stick and ball game famous no matter who else claims to have invented it before them. I think it is quite interesting that this wonderful country has such a claim to fame as the sport of golf. Now watched and played world wide, golf is a game that retired people turn to for enjoyment, rich people play for status or business meetings, and everyone else plays for the challenge.
It's a famous game and even though some say it is a dying game, it is one that traditionally can be played late into life. In fact, my great uncle played until he was in his late 70's. What other sport do you see the older generation still getting up at 6 in the morning for?
The game itself definitely has a Scottish feel as it is not for the faint of heart. Many books and psychology studies have been done on golf because it messes with the mind as much as it challenges the muscles. You practice hitting the ball the same way every time, but the truth is that it will never be the same. The feeling of control will slip in and out of your hands as you land a great shot one time and the next shot land in a hazard. This challenge is what keeps most people coming back for more.
If the challenge, the exercise or the tradition doesn't hook you, the picturesque courses will. While visiting Scotland, I played on one of the oldest courses in the world, St. Andrews. Just being on the soft green grass with deep sand bunkers and the nearby sea lapping sounds was out of this world. I took just as many pictures as I did strokes because I was so struck by the beauty of the course. It's a peaceful feeling to be on a golf course like St. Andrews. It's no wonder the Scots take pride in bringing golf to the world. What other country can say we gave you a game that mirrors the up and down challenges of life wrapped in nature's finest landscapes while providing you exercise and happiness among friends?
Fantasy and Fairytales
As kids we play knights and princesses, we watch movies with imaginary creatures and happy endings, we read books about made up worlds. When visiting Scotland all of these happy memories flood back because it's a treasure chest of fantasies and fairytales.
First and foremost there are the castles. Built for defense these structures loom over the rest of Scotland's landscape. They are old, strong, and romantic. The castles are a platform from which imagination and creative stories stem. Knights in shining armor, like tales of King Arthur, are must read stories in school. Scotland is home to a vantage point called King Arthur's seat, which you can hike up to and view the city of Edinburgh from. Then there are Hollywood films that have brought historical events into reenactment, like Braveheart. The real history is even better when you step on the battle grounds where Scotland warriors battled it out. From there you can visit the tales of a mysterious creature, the LockNess monster. Tales or facts blend together as no one will tell you one way or the other if the sea monster is still in the lake, but you better keep a watchful eye just in case the stories turn out to be true. Then to top it off you can visit the original Hogwarts from the famous book series, Harry Potter. Rowling herself was inspired by this fantasy land of Scotland and used to sit at a cafe in Edinburgh musing over the views she could see outside the window. Places like Hogwarts School (aka George Heriot's School) and the grave sight of Tom Riddle flowed from her pen and into the setting of Harry Potter books. There is also the well known train scenes which can transport you into the story as it crosses the highlands of Scotland.
All of these stories make Scotland a magical place and maybe that's why their national symbol fits so perfectly. The unicorn, a valiant creature symbolizes the Scot's strength, beauty, rarity, and purity. The characteristic of a unicorn that usually leaps to mind is mystical, meaning of our imaginations. Well I have to say if you are going to pick a creature to symbolize a nation, why not pick one that transcends reality and has an association with perfection and power; something that combines all of the goodness of earthly creatures into one being. The unicorn is just that, a proud representation for the inner soul of Scotland.
These stories and tidbits only touch a small part of what Scotland has to offer. It's a country full of adventure with a little something for everyone. The mix of ingredients and the unicorn hearts of the people who call this home guarantee a joyful trip for anyone visiting. I will not believe anyone who comes back with out smiles from a bagpipe playing, scotch drinking, unicorn flying adventure in Scotland, for they must have made a wrong turn somewhere and landed in Ireland. (Just kidding, no harsh feelings to their common rival.) Get happy, get to Scotland.