I’ve been to Scotland several times and my visits have often coincided with the playing of golf’s oldest major event, The Open Championship. Amazingly, this tournament has been in existence since 1860. Scotland is actually known as the “home of golf,” but that is only one of its many attractions.
When in this spirited country I love taking in the many offerings provided by Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital and second-largest city. Edinburgh is rich in history and like any other major metropolis has an array of various attractions as well as a wide choice of shops and restaurants.
This city buzzes with young people attending the various universities within its midst. Incredibly, 43 percent of the population has a degree of one kind or another. And while Edinburgh embraces its past, the concentration of young people gives it a lively feel and a contemporary flavour.
No visit to Edinburgh is complete without a stop at Edinburgh Castle. Situated on Castle Rock, a volcanic plug in the middle of the city, the historic fortress dominates the skyline. It was built in the 12th century, with the earliest human settlement on the rock dating back to the 2nd century.
The castle is a hugely popular tourist destination and forms the backdrop to the Edinburgh Military Tattoo during the annual Edinburgh International Festival, which takes place over three weeks in August.
Located a short walk from the castle is the Hotel du Vin & Bistro, where I stayed. It is a roomy hotel with well-appointed accommodations and attentive service. Also nearby are the Old Town, the Scottish National Gallery, and Holyrood Palace. Another great centrally located hotel is the stately Balmoral on Princes Street, one of Edinburgh’s major thoroughfares and its main shopping street.
One of the most fascinating things about Edinburgh is the buzz you get from just walking the streets. You can stroll from one street into another and find an eclectic mix of shops and stores capable of satisfying the whims and impulses of any visitor. Exploring the city is even more enjoyable when the sun shines—which is never a guarantee given Scotland’s notoriously fickle weather.
As an antidote to the fast pace of Edinburgh, I headed for North Berwick in East Lothian, a rural area about 30 minutes east of Edinburgh. North Berwick is a charming harbour town that boasts great beaches as well as the North Berwick Golf Club, one of Scotland’s finest with its storied West Course.
I stayed at the superb Macdonald Marine Hotel & Spa, ideally located at the entrance to the golf club and also just a short walk from town.
From the beach at North Berwick you can see Bass Rock, an island in Firth of Forth that has the world’s largest northern gannet colony. Boat rides are available through the Scottish Seabird Centre to the rock to see the birds up close and truly appreciate this spectacle.
Other boat rides offered include the Seabird Catamaran Cruise, the Isle of May Landings, and the Three Islands Seabird Safari. I recommend the latter, which affords some of the best views of the surrounding area.
The centre itself provides a wealth of information on the local seabirds and mammals and is a great place for all ages to be educated and entertained.
One of the highlights of the summer season in New Berwick is the Fringe by the Sea Festival (August 8-14). The Festival features an array of musicians, comedians, walking tours, authors, theatre, and various kids’ programs. It’s a great way to fully embrace the local Scottish culture firsthand.
Worth visiting while in New Berwick is Dirleton Castle a few miles west of the town. Built around 1240 and set within extensive gardens, the castle is a medieval fortress that showcases what life was like back in the days when warfare was a constant matter for the Scottish.
Scotland has always been fiercely independent—although under the banner of the United Kingdom—and much of that manifests from a pride in having overcome so much over the course of centuries.
Now for those who wonder what the haggis was like when I visited—I have to confess I’ve made it a point to pass on this Scottish food delicacy. I know there are many who love it, but for me it’s the only thing about Scotland that I haven’t been able to wholeheartedly embrace!
New Jersey-based M. James Ward’s strong sense of wanderlust has lured him to all corners of the world. He has written about his travels for a range of publications. He is also a member of Golf Writers Association of America.