Travel

Scotland: Beyond the Borders

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Scotland. Paint a picture in your mind’s eye of everything you can imagine about Scotland and most likely you’d be spot on. We spent three weeks exploring Scotland and the Lake District in northern England, and we were in constant awe. The list of adjectives we used was endless when trying to describe the splendor that is Scotland. This post is the first in our Scotland series.

Walk, Bus or Train

When we travel in Europe, we make it a practice not to drive. We don’t want to deal with the expense of renting a car and the cost of insurance. Nor do we want to figure out the rules of the road and parking situations, especially in a country where they drive on the “wrong” side of the road. We just don’t drive. We walk, bus, or train our way around Europe.

With that being said, when making plans to explore Scotland for the first time, we wanted to see and experience as much as possible, including places we’d probably never heard of. We knew we couldn’t do it without a car, so there seemed to be only one logical answer. Take a tour, something we’d never done. We’re very independent travelers and multi-day group tours with a guide setting the time frame and itinerary was way out of our wheelhouse. That is, until we found Scotland Folk Tours.

Scotland Folk Tours

It turned out having someone set the pace, time and itinerary of a multi-day tour is not such a bad thing. As a matter of fact having a set schedule can be a benefit when trying to take in as much as possible. Without said schedule, it would be easy to while away one’s time at a point of interest, and miss out on the next.

This is exactly what Scotland Folk Tours provides for their guests, but what sets them apart from other tours is the music, which I’ll share in a bit. Nearly every aspect of our 10-day tour was mapped out and booked for us, including accommodations, breakfast every morning and several dinners, as well as entry to all destination experiences.

Musical Hosts & Guides

As mentioned, what sets Scotland Folk Tours apart is the music. We know next to nothing about music, other than what we like to listen to, so again, we pushed ourselves to try something new. Each tour group travels with a musical host(s) and a guide. I started this post by asking you to paint a picture of Scotland in your mind’s eye. Did your mind’s eye include folk music, storytelling, culture, history… or, tell the truth were you just thinking about Jamie Fraser and Outlander? (wink-wink)

Our musical hosts were Sims and Maggie. Together they are Harmonious Wail. Gypsy Jazz is their genre. They kept us tapping our toes at our hotels, sites we visited, and on our bus while driving the backroads of Scotland. Not only with their musical styles, but also with Scottish folk songs. They seem to sing it all.

Sims & Maggie

Sims plays a mean mandolin and Maggie sings beautifully while strumming a box. Yes, she makes a cardboard box come alive. Not only were they exceedingly talented, they were genuinely fun and engaging people.

Sims & Maggie of Harmonious Wail
Beyond the Borders

By now, you’re probably asking yourself… so, where did we go? Remember, I mentioned we wanted to see places we’d never heard of. We took the Beyond the Borders tour and it did not disappoint. Not one bit. Here’s a map of where we went and what we experienced.

Photo credit: Scotland Folk Tours
Our 10-day Itinerary

As this is the first of our Scotland series, in this post we’ll share the highlights of our tour. In posts to come we’ll describe in more detail many of the places we visited. After our tour, we traveled on our own to Glasgow and Edinburgh. We’ll write about those cities in future posts as well.

Stirling

We knew nothing of Stirling and/or Stirling Castle, but it is where we began our tour and where we ended. Our guide, Fiona, took us on an extraordinary walking tour of Stirling and Stirling Castle. Her knowledge of Scottish history blew our minds. Along with her knowledge and exuberant personality, she brought that history to life. I will always remember standing on the spot where Mary Queen of Scotts was coronated as an infant.

Peebles

Upon leaving Stirling, we were joined by Gail. Gail traveled with us for the next eight days/nights. Not only was she our guide, she drove our tour bus like a pro, navigating the twisty hill roads with ease. Along with her endless knowledge of Scottish history, she could spin stories to the point of having me believe in fairies. And, she could sing! I can still hear her lovely accent. Everyone in our group of 14 adored Gail.

We were based in Peebles for three nights. Each day we traveled to a new site including Rosslyn Chapel founded in the 1400’s. In Jedburgh we visited an historic jail and a 1,000-year-old Abbey. Also, we walked through an historic house where Mary Queen of Scotts stayed. At the home of Sir Walter Scott, which was beautiful, we enjoyed a docent led tour. While in Peebles we had a free day and we spent the day hiking along the Tweed River.

Penrith, England

Based in Penrith, England (just over the Scotland/England border) for four nights we explored the area known as the Lake District. Not only were we often at a loss for new adjectives to describe the incredible landscapes, the music and storytelling continued to flow.

The 4-day itinerary included the Gray Mare’s Waterfall and the home of Robert Burns (Auld Lang Syne). We took a boat ride across Lake Ullswater and a jaunt into the hills took us to see Castlerigg Stone Circle. A visit to Hadrian’s Wall, (built in 122 AD) and a Roman Fort, Vindolando, both of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, captured our imagination. Hill Top, the home of Beatrix Potter, beautifully capped off our stay in The Lake District.

Striding Edge – Carolyn Francis and the Lakeland Fiddlers
Back to the Beginning

I should also mention that we stopped to see The Kelpies on our way to Peebles, and the Falkirk Wheel on our return trip to Stirling. More on those two wonderous sites to come.

Honestly, our tour with Scotland Folk Tours exceeded any expectations we may have had. What we didn’t expect was the camaraderie with the other group members, and the graciousness of the guides and administration of the company. I’d say our first foray into group tours was braw!

As, I mentioned, this is the first post in our Scotland series. We have hundreds of photos to sort through, videos to edit and stories to share. Stay with us as we relive Scotland and the Lake District.

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