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Posts in ‘Things to do in Scotland’

Homecoming Scotland 2014

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Homecoming Scotland 2014 is the follow up to the highly successful first edition of 2009. The initial Homecoming was designed to encourage people of Scottish ancestry to visit the area and to celebrate all things Scottish. Of course, it also served as an open invitation to visitors from all over the world.

Homecoming Scotland was originally born from the idea of celebrating the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns; the famous national poet. The event grew into showcasing Scotland’s other significant contributions in the realms of culture, heritage, innovations, golf and of course, whisky. 

The year-long programme for Homecoming Scotland 2014 will feature the same attributes as it did the first time around. The two main events this year are the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and the Ryder Cup in Pertshire. The other events spread over the year focus on activities, ancestry, creativity, food & drink and nature, celebrating the very best that Scotland has to offer. Here are our favourite picks from the vast selection of events:

Highland Games

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There will be staging of the traditional Highland Games in towns, villages and castles across the country. The exciting games, where contestants compete in some truly unique activities such as caber tossing and competitive dancing, are a combination of culture, sport and social entertainment with a uniquely Scottish twist! Some of the more well-known locations for the games are Cowal, which stages the largest Highland games in the world, Braemar, attended annually by members of the Royal Family, and the Ceres Highland Games, the oldest free games.

Stirling – Battle of Bannockburn

28 Jun 2014 – 29 Jun 2014

The medieval city of Stirling in Central Scotland will host a number of exciting events that will recreate and commemorate the 700th Anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, a significant victory for the Scots in the Wars of Scottish Independence. Here you will see extraordinary re-enactments choreographed by Clanranald, known for their work on Hollywood blockbusters such as Gladiator and Thor II. Walk amidst interactive medieval encampments of 14th century Scotland; kitchens, blacksmiths and armouries with a real feel of the excitement before the great battle. There will also be hundreds of tartan clad pipers, drummers and Highland dancers providing a real Scottish atmosphere.

Edinburgh

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Edinburgh will once again be at the heart of cultural activity and festivals by running the renowned Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the largest arts festival in the world. There will be a number of activities to choose from revolving around music, books, art, traditional storytelling, comedy shows and much more.  The annual festival is truly the peak of this artistic gathering and outpouring, and the sweet dish at the end this feast of performing arts will be a spectacular fireworks display at the iconic Edinburgh Castle. The Fringe Festival runs between 01 – 25 August 2014.

Of course there is more to Edinburgh than all the arty stuff.  Not far away from the city are the fabulous Highlands of Glencoe and the legendary Loch Ness – if you are the sporty type, you might even consider taking part in the popular Loch Ness marathon.

Whisky

Homecoming Scotland 2014 will be big on celebrating and imbibing the uisge beatha (water of life).  World Whisky Day will no doubt be a very spirited affair while there will be month-long celebration at the Spirit of Speyside Festival (1 – 5 May 2014), and also at The Islay Music and Malt Festival (23 May – 1 Jun 2014).  There will be eating aplenty too at farmers’ markets and food festivals, all inevitably washed down with a wee dram of good Scottish whisky or draft beer. If you want to combine the beauty of the highlands with a tipple or two, you could take a day tour exploring the best of both worlds. 

Nature

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Beyond Scotland’s cultural and gastronomical fame, are its natural and scenic wonders made famous in song, verse and painting throughout centuries. The Scottish landscape is one of the most dramatic in the world with rugged mountain peaks, thousands of miles of coastline, fairy-tale forests and glens populated by thriving wildlife and plants.  Majestic deer and vast colonies of seabirds have made Scotland their home, and a trip up the spectacular highlands is an unforgettable experience.

Scotland is a place of ancient legends, grand scenery, amazing people, a unique and rich culture and producer of great minds that will be well represented in all the events of Homecoming Scotland 2014. If you’re still hungry for more Scottish wonders in 2014, take a look at our offering, from sightseeing tours to ghostly walks in the eerie Edinburgh vaults to touring the wonderful highlands.

For more information on Homecoming Scotland 2014, go to Visit Scotland.

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A Bibliophile’s Guide to Britain & Ireland

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1.    Oxfordshire, England

Oxford University

Explore the rich heritage of the city that has long been a haven for authors, poets as well as dozens of note-worthy journalists, writers, politicians, and artists. As is typical of a university town, Oxford is packed full of great pubs, however unlike most university towns, Oxford’s pubs are famous. The Bear is one of England’s oldest pubs, Tolkien and C. S. Lewis regularly drank at The Eagle and Child, and The Lamb and Flag was frequented by the likes of Thomas Hardy and Graham Greene. Go on a hop on hop off tour to get a genuine flavour of Oxford’s glorious literary past and vibrant present. Visit the hallowed portals of the University which inspired Lewis Carol’s Alice in Wonderland and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy among others. In the University the historic Bodlein Library is one of the oldest and largest libraries in England. 

2.    Bath, England  

Roman thermal spril at Bath

Bath’s most famous resident, Jane Austen set two of her books Northanger Abbey and Persuasion in the city and lived there in the 1800s. Bath has year round events and activities for Austen fans to enjoy. Every summer people dress-up in Regency finery and attend the annual Netherfield Ball to dance like Darcy, Lizzy, Bingley and Jane. In the Fall, Bath holds a nine-day festival celebrating all things Austen. This includes a world famous Grand Regency Costume parade where 600 Austen fans from all over the world descend on Bath in Regency era costumes to open the festival. If you can’t make it for the festival, the Jane Austen Centre is open all year with exhibitions on Austen’s time in this city and a Regency themed Tea Room. While in Bath, be sure to take a dip in its ancient open-air thermal springs like they did in the 18th century. 

3.    Dublin, Ireland

Oscar Wilde statue in Dublin

Dubliners love words and Dublin has given the world such towering literary figures as Joyce, Yeats, Beckett, Shaw and Wilde to name but a few. Designated UNESCO City of Literature in 2010, Dublin’s written tradition stretches back to 800 A.D. with the Book of Kells, one of the most beautifully illuminated manuscripts in the world on display at Trinity College Dublin. One Merrion Sqaure is the home of Oscar Wilde, a beautiful example of Georgian architecture restored to an approximate version of their appearance in Oscar’s day and can only be visited on a guided tour. Across the road, is a flamboyant statue of the man himself, reclining on a huge granite stone seemingly without a care in the world! Prose and pints go together in this city which has produced four Nobel Prize laureates in Literature. Participate in the popular Literary Pub Crawl on the cobbled streets of Dublin which promises to give you “the pleasant notion of simultaneously replacing brain cells as you drown them…” 

4.   London, England

London at dusk

London has cemented its reputation as the culture capital of the world and for good reason. A bibliophile or an aspiring writer can spend a lifetime in London and still not see everything! For Londoners and tourists there are all kinds of walks to trace the literary legacy of some of English language’s greatest writers from Chaucer to Dickens, Shakespeare to Virginia Woolf, J.K. Rowling to Arthur Conan Doyle who have lived in London or been inspired by the city at some point in their life. Though an obvious choice to include, The British Library cannot be denied by bookworms. It houses one-of-a-kind manuscripts including hand-written excerpts from Beowulf, King Henry IV and many more. A highlight is Jane Austen’s personal notebook as well as her writing desk. The mix of the old and the new is what captivates thousands of visitors. No literary buff's educational adventure would be complete without taking a tour of the fashionable Bloomsbury area in the London Borough of Camden. It's a great way to learn the literary history of the neighbourhood. The Lamb bar and pub in the heart of Bloomsbury district has long been frequented by Charles Dickens, Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. Another landmark is the Charles Dickens Museum, where the permanent exhibition is a representation of what the house looked like while Dickens resided there and is home to an extensive collection of surviving possessions. 

5.   Edinburgh, Scotland 

Edinburgh Old Town

Edinburgh has been the home of many well respected and popular writers such as Robert Louis Stevenson, Walter Scott, Robert Burns and Arthur Conan Doyle; along with contemporary authors J.K. Rowling, Ian Rankin, Irvine Welsh and Alexander McCall Smith. Edinburgh's streets are steeped in literary history and there is never a dearth of inspiration in this awe-inspiring Scottish capital. In the centre of Edinburgh is St Andrew Square, Edinburgh's Poetry Garden where you can float poetry written on paper lotus across the square's pond and make it part of the garden permanently. A must see for Pottermaniacs is The Elephant House, a gourmet tea and coffee shop, where J.K. Rowling wrote much of her early novels in the back room overlooking the Edinburgh Castle. Walk down the West Port street in Edinburgh’s Old Town which features taverns that have opened their doors to William Wordsworth, Robert Burns and Walter Scott. An essential part of Scottish culture are these pubs and taverns where famous literary figures would go and mix with the common people over Scottish ales and whiskies.

6.    Stratford-Upon-Avon, England

Anne Hathaway childhood home

This delightful little town is famous as the birthplace of England’s greatest poet and playwright, William Shakespeare. Home to the Royal Shakespeare Company, five historic houses linked to the Bard and a wealth of other tourist attractions, there is a lot to see in this Heritage city. Visit the house where the world’s most famous playwright was born and grew up. Tour Mary Arden's House, the childhood home of Shakespeare's mother and learn about Tudor life on Palmer’s Farm, an experience that transports visitor’s back to the 1570’s. Also visit the picturesque family home of Anne Hathaway where young Shakespeare courted his future bride Anne. Watch a play at the historic Royal Shakespeare Theatre situated on the western bank of river Avon. The best time to visit Stratford is between April and July when there are plenty of festivals, parades, concerts, and workshops for young and old to take part in.

7.    Wales, England

Medieval castle ruins in Wales countryside

2014 marks the centenary of the Welsh poet, author and legend Dylan Thomas. Explore the vast seascapes, village tracks, dusky moorlands, brimming meadows and lush parklands that have inspired his works. At the Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea, see the permanent exhibition, ‘Man and Myth’ which includes Dylan Thomas' worksheets, recordings, artwork and even the suit Dylan wore in New York in 1953, the year he died. They also conduct the annual Dylan Thomas Festival that takes place each year from 27th October to 9th of November. Social historian Raymond Williams often embedded his work in Wales and Welsh cultural themes. Malcome Pryces noir novels set in Aberystwyth, Eve Green by Susan Fletcher and The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle have all used Wales as a setting. 

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Ghost Tours in Edinburgh

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Edinburgh has more to offer other than the imposing Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile.  The City is a bewildering mix of history, classic buildings, world-renowned educational institutions and a rowdy, nightlife.  While on the subject of nightlife it also has a remarkable variety and number of dark and ghoulish goings on.

Ghosts, stories of ghost and other paranormal activities – both old and some relatively new – abound in this city. It must have something to do with the city’s narrow twisty streets, the grey dark stone of the buildings and the long misty nights. The ideal material and setting for creepy and bone-chilling meetings.

There are several tour operators and individuals who run these tours so you have a choice as to who will take you on a scary walk. We have mentioned and highlighted just four of these tours – the major ones. However, tour operators mix and match portions and parts that sometimes overlap each other – giving different names for them.

So put on your woollies and comfortable walking shoes, dress up warmly and come along with us on some of Edinburgh’s Ghost Tours.  

City of the Dead Tours
This one takes you through the City of the Dead, involving a trip through Edinburgh’s underground streets. Damnation Alley has an ancient curse upon it while Greyfriars Kirkyard is said to be haunted, in particular the gloomy section called Covenanters Prison. The most famous of the ghosts is Mackenzie Poltergeist who seems to concentrate his spiritual attacks around the Black Mausoleum.

The guides seem to have a great patter in the humorous telling of awful events. Despite that the walk can still be unnerving.

Auld Reekie Tour
In Victorian times, when the Edinburgh air was thick with smoke and smog, cloaking buildings and turning streets into veritable haunts, the locals referred to the city as ‘Auld Reekie.’

The tour, which takes you through the Wynds and Closes of the Royal Mile and the Haunted Underground, is reputed to be the scariest! Travel under the South Bridge and the damp, dim, haunted vaulted chambers of Blair Street. Each one has its own bloody horror story and maybe you will have a chilling encounter of your own, to add to the long list. Then there is the visit to the Torture Museum.

Maybe you will meet the ‘Southbridge Poltegeist,’ a violent, scratching entity! To soothe your frayed nerves you could then quaff a drink or two in the Banshee Labyrinth – one of the most haunted pubs in the land.

Murder and Mystery Walking Tour
This is a slightly (very slightly) different tour. You get to experience and visit the scenes of tortures and murders; tales of witches and ghostly and ghastly events while walking down dank, dim alleys and spine-shivering parts of Edinburgh’s Old Town. Once again, the guides dole out chunks of humour that somehow emphasise the creepy, horrific nature of the tales they recount rather than alleviate them. They also throw in plenty of local history and facts.

Mary King’s Close
The ancient streets of Mary King’s Close are located under the present day buildings of Edinburgh’s Old Town. This spooky area is entered from Warriston’s Close and Writer’s Court. There have been reports of hauntings at the Close (Scots for alleyways) since the 17th century. The perfectly preserved homes and shops are touted as the most haunted site in all Scotland. Among the many shadowy apparitions is that of Annie, a young girl, whose family died in the plague. Visitors, over the years, have built a shrine to her, composed of dolls.
 

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The Best Things to do in the Isle of Skye

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Scotland is one of the most peaceful countries in the world. Its vast landscape seems to roll on forever. Its hills, cliffs, seashores and many islands which dot the coast creates scenery so serene than not than many other places compare. The Isle of Skye is one of the pleasant islands which line the coast. Situated on the West Coast of Northern Scotland, it is the second largest Scottish island, with a population of around 9,232.

This island, whilst relatively small, has so much going on, with so much to see and discover which is why Isle of Skye tours are great for anyone wanting to discover the best of this picturesque place.

The largest town on the Isle of Skye is Portree. This is a great area for visitors to stay in as it enables them to easily explore the island whilst having amenities close by. The town has the islands only secondary school, the Aros centre of Gaelic heritage, and has been used in some films including Harry Potter and Made of Honor.

Points of interest on the island include Neist Point, a viewpoint where visitors can look out to sea and see dolphins, whales, porpoises and basking sharks. There is also a lighthouse here which was built in 1909. The Dunvegan Castle is also a great place to visit. This castle is the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Scotland, and was opened to visitors in 1933. The castle towers over Loch Dunvegan which is home to many seal colonies. The island also has the Talisker Distillery, which produces the islands Single Malt Scotch whisky. The Cuillin Hills are a main tourist attraction also. These rocky hills are famous to hikers and mountaineers due to the rough rock which makes it easy to climb.

Be sure to explore all the wonders on this stunning island with Isle of Skye tours.

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Things to do in Edinburgh

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The Homecoming 2009 and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

This is the year to travel to Scotland!  This year Scotland is hosting its first Homecoming.  The Homecoming is taking place to honor the 250th anniversary of Robert Burns’ birth.  Don’t know you Robert Burns is?  That’s okay because before my trip to Edinburgh I was not aware of who he was either.  Robert Burns is claimed to be the national poet of Scotland.  Still don’t know what he is famous for?  He is most well known for writing ‘Auld Lang Syne,’ the song that is sung to celebrate the end of the year on New Years Eve.  During the Homecoming there are over 200 events taking place to celebrate: Robert Burns, whisky, golf, great Scottish innovations/minds, as well as Scottish ancestry.

Bagpipes being played (Flickr by Tyla'75)

Bagpipes being played (Flickr by Tyla'75)

Edinburgh is also known as a festival hub.  Throughout the year Edinburgh is home to 12 fantastic festivals.  This coming month from August 7- August 31 the Edinburgh Fringe Festival will be taking place.  The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is the largest arts festival in the world!  It will have 2,000 different shows ranging from dance, theater, children’s exhibits, musicals, comedy, and various other genres.  These performances will range from professional acts  all the way down to street performances. continue reading

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