In my last Edinburgh post, I got a little verbose about the Nut Roll. I shared a few photos of yummies from Henderson’s, but that was it – I didn’t show you any more photos of the gorgeousness that is Scotland, and I certainly didn’t mention any of the other places we ate. Let me remedy that by sharing a few choice pictures and a few paragraphs of accompanying explanations.
First up, how about something that every American clamors to see when going abroad?
The first real stop during our coach tour of the highlands was at Stirling Castle, where we paid a rather large amount of money to spend barely an hour walking around inside the castle grounds. But it was a lovely day, we got to see one of Scotland’s largest and most historic castles, and we were on vacation – the most appropriate time to spend more than you usually would, right? Anyway, do you see that bit of yellow-gold peeking over the frontmost turret? That color is called King’s Gold, and much of the castle’s exterior would’ve been painted that color in the castle’s heyday. Much cheerier than grey stone!
After leaving the castle, our gregarious tour guide, Rob, narrated many harrowing tales of Scottish history while navigating the equally harrowing roads in the highlands. He took us on a quick detour “to see his cousin Hamish,” who, as it turns out, is a Highland Cow. Oh, Rob, you so silly. Hamish was pretty silly-looking too.
Hamish has gained fame for being the oldest Highland Cow (‘scuse me, Highland Coo) in Scotland – he is, allegedly, nineteen years old and is basically a tourist attraction. The inherent tackiness of exploiting an animal so tourists can ooh and ahh and purchase Hamish-emblazoned sweaters and keychains and Christmas ornaments aside, Hamish does seem to have a pretty sweet life – he has a decent amount of land to traverse, he gets lots of (hopefully healthy) food from tourists who can buy it from little machines, and he has a live-in girlfriend. He even has his own children’s book. Hamish is something of a national treasure, which made Rob’s easy transition from showing off Hamish to talking about the deliciousness of Highland Cow meat rather jarring and disappointing.
We didn’t spend too much time with our shaggy friend, however; we had a lunch reservation to catch. Gulp. Vegans in the house, do you, too, get that sinking sense of dread any time you’re told that someone has “thoughtfully” made a meal reservation at an unknown restaurant? S and I were very wary indeed, imagining that our only option would be a wilted iceberg salad and that we’d have to watch our fellow travellers chow down on Hamish’s less fortunate cousins. But! What luck! Rob had booked us at the Oak Tree Inn, a feted establishment on the shores of Loch Lomond. Among the meat and fish and cheese on the menu lurked a – wait for it – vegan pizza! Yes, it was vegan as offered – cheeseless and veggie-laden, if a bit bland.* Vegan food in the highlands; hallelujah! S and I felt very American indeed as we munched pizza and chips (that’s French fries to you) while our less dietarily restricted traveling companions tried the more traditionally Scottish Cullen skink soup and “locally caught” (ahem!) haggis. Ah well – we all got to enjoy the same beautiful views after our meals, skink or no.
Ah, Loch Lomond – its banks are, indeed, bonnie. After a small failure at finding the path to the lake (really; I don’t know how we missed it, it was a stone’s throw from the Inn!) S and I meandered along the bonnie banks for a good 45 minute, taking photos and enjoying the view. Then we hightailed it back to the bus so Rob could ferry us to our next stop – a bona fide Scottish whisky distillery. I don’t have any particularly grand photos from Glengoyne because we were too sloshed on free samples to focus the camera.
Not really; we just didn’t take many photos because we were quite engrossed in the truly interesting and in-depth tour. I was also trying valiantly not to freak out after a fleck of our tour guide’s spittle landed on my face as he explained the intricacies of the single malt process; that distracted me from taking too many photos. Suffice it to say that we left the distillery with a few photos, a taste for single-malt, and a gift of whisky for our host. We also brought back a small ceramic water jug that came free with our purchase – it is emblazoned with the distillery’s logo and is our most treasured souvenir. ;)
Then it was back to the bus for the thrilling conclusion of both our tour and Rob’s narration of the various battles in Scottish history, which included Rob playing a rather melancholic version of the aforementioned Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond that left Rob choked up and S with an obsession to find that very version of the somber song so he could own it for his very own. (Spoiler: He did; it’s a version by The Corries, if you’re similarly masochistic.)
And thus ended our day-long whirlwind tour of the highlands. If you’ve been following along, this was the point when we returned to Edinburgh in the rain and hightailed it to Henderson’s for our second meal there. Full circle, y’all.
Whew – I wrote far more than intended (what else is new?). Apologies, and thanks for slogging through my wordiness. You’re chums, you know that?
How do you feel about using animals as roadside attractions? Have you ever been pleasantly surprised to find a vegan option in a less-than-promising locations?
* Editor’s note, 1/23/18: As of today, the Vegano Pizza is still on the Oak Tree Inn’s menu! There’s also a chickpea and sweet potato curry that might be vegan — it’s marked with a (V) for vegetarian, but does come with (presumably non-vegan) naan and could contain cream or yogurt.