Exploring History: When to Be a Tourist

Ginny Lafean Glasgow, Scotland


October 25, 2021

Since I got settled in my classes, I took a few weekends to explore the beautiful country I came to see. The past few weeks have taken me high and low throughout Scotland, and I don't think I've ever seen so many shades of green. The trips I've had so far, Arcadia-organized or spontaneous, have only made me want to stay in the green longer!


First up was the Firbush trip—a day on Loch Tay full of kayaking and hiking. I was up before dawn to catch the 7:15 train to Edinburgh to meet the group, but I still could not close my eyes on the two-hour bus ride. It's still exciting to look out the bus window and see mountains in the distance, so there was no way I was sleeping through that ride. 


When we arrived, we went straight on the water and pushed off in our kayaks for a trip around Loch Tay. As it started to rain, the wetsuits provided by Firbush were much appreciated, and the fog and clouds made the hills surrounding the Loch look enchanted and mystical. 


In the afternoon, our hike took us halfway up one of the hills (not one of the Munroes—those are for expert climbers, though you can see one in my photos). It was quite a climb, but when the view at the top opened before us, we were breathless for a totally different reason! Our hike back down was a little more rugged, as the path we were following on Firbush's map faded into nothing. We ended up bush-whacking our way through the forest, falling in holes and slipping on rocks; though it sounds difficult, all of us were having a grand time: laughing, eating wild blackberries, and saying "There's no going back now!" We were exhausted when we got back to Edinburgh, with an active and fulfilling day behind us—and a survivalist experience worthy of Bear Grylls.


My second weekend trip was highly anticipated: We drove from Glasgow to Dumbarton Castle, where we wandered around prison and battlement ruins, through the Highlands, and to Blair Castle: a beautiful, restored castle passed down through generations of dukes. Blair Castle had a unique museum of Highlander culture, featuring the Jacobite rebellion, traditional tartan uniforms, and a Victorian period film. The highlight of my day was visiting Loch Lomond. Having sung of its bonnie banks since I was in fifth grade, I was so excited to stand on its shore. As the mountains faded out into the mist, I could almost see the singer of those melancholy words across the way: "Me and my true love will ne'er meet again…" 


Finally, I decided to take a self-guided tour around the charming village of Culross in Fife. For any Outlander fans, this village is the site of tons of filming for the show, including the center of Cranesmuir in season 2 (pictured is the location, known as Mercat Cross); the herb garden of Castle Leoch (the garden of the Palace); and Brianna's bedroom in Laoghoire's house from season 4. The town alone has a lot of history as a wealthy, bustling mining town known as a hub of commerce during the 17th century. Though it has since quieted down, the buildings remained untouched. When the National Trust of Scotland came to restore the buildings, it was as if time had utterly passed Culross by. 

I visited inside the Palace, the home of mining pioneer Sir George Bruce. It's a grand structure with a clear view of the pier—so Bruce could keep an eye on the ships coming and going—and a luxurious interior, from the painted bedroom upstairs to the huge stone oven down in the kitchens. After my tour, I walked around the little town feeling like I should be wearing a frock and corset. Though you may think it's busy since it's an Outlander filming location, the town was quiet and calm, like it's still lingering in the past. I visited Culross Abbey, the home of 12th century monks which has been restored and is currently in use, and ventured out onto the pier before it was time to leave the past behind. 


I'm definitely not done with touring Scotland, and already know some places I need to return to. I'll be reporting on those, so check back soon!