Scotland Staycation. How to Make the Best of A Messed Up Year
Vacation Versus Staycation
A Scotland staycation was the easiest choice to make this summer to avoid all the mess that implied airports, location forms, booking and paying for a million tests to prove what: that one has the freedom to travel? Funny concept, freedom!
Staycation is a noun that enriched the English dictionary in the first year of the pandemic. Its meaning can be debatable since many insist it implies staying at home and not travelling anywhere.
To me, staycation means not travelling abroad. If I don’t cross an international border and I’m not drinking a cappuccino somewhere in Capri, let’s say, then I am at home, staycationing. There, I made it a verb in its gerund form, too!
It is not something completely new to me; I had staycationed many years ago in beautiful Pembrokeshire, Wales. Unfortunately, UK being the UK, the weather was appalling and ruined the entire stay, except for a single day. I swore that was the first and last UK vacation.
Then, pandemic and all that it brought upon us, plus a greedy government that took one stupid decision after another and ended up imposing tests to travel, deterred me from going to nicer, sunnier places. Not because I cannot afford it, but just because I hate greediness and entitlement. Or the politics. Same rubbish!
I booked Scotland without any expectations. I was not expecting nice weather, nice food, nice people; perhaps just nice places. In all honesty, I picked Peebles because an old friend of my partner owns an inn in the town. I thought if nothing else works, at least they got to meet after not seeing each other for ages since they worked together in Italy.
Véronique is a lovely Belgian lady who lived over forty years in Italy and ended up in Scotland, of all places. Such is life, she said when I asked her how on earth?
She follows her daughter, who is a bit of a wanderer. From what I gained, the daughter moved to many places excited by their sound but ended up bored quickly. “Mamma, non mi piace più qui!” So she moves on, expenses mainly supported by mamma.
Her daughter recently moved to Portugal, leaving Véronique in charge of the inn and pub she managed in Peebles. This worked just fine for us; we booked a place where at least one of us knew somebody. If everything else went to bits, at least we had someone to talk, laugh and drink with.
The Idyllic Scottish Borders
It is a five and a half-hour drive from southwest England to Peebles in The Scottish Borders, mainly on motorways, and it only gets interesting closer to the Lake District exit. But once I got off the boring route, the beauty of the mysterious land (as it says on the plaque at the source of Tweed river) opened up to my tired eyes and swallowed me whole!
After almost two years of motorway driving to and fro work, I was finally on a road that reminded me so much of home, Transylvania. A winding, barely circulated B road on top of a mountain, wild vegetation, limited wood cover (combated with extensive tree re-planting, as I would gladly notice almost everywhere around the Borders area).
I had to stop and get out of the car, not only for a snack break but to take in the beauty of the place, to breathe the fresh, fragrant air, to forage for wild blueberries right there, in one of the many little parking bays along the road, to hear the cows mooing (not Angus, though, unfortunately) and listen to the shrieks of pray birds.
Suddenly, my expectation lever goes from zero to ten. I already like the places, even if I had not seen much yet and even if this was the only anticipated and expected positive about this trip. Now I expect a lot more, and boy, do I get so much more than expected!
After all, John Buchan made this region famous in his brilliant spy mystery and adventure book The Thirty-Nine Steps, which has also seen a few famous ecranisations. I loved the book and highly recommended it. Retracing the main character’s steps feels incredible! It is amazing how our brain stores information that remains forgotten until a place or even brings it back to life, as fresh and clear as it was at the moment of storage.
How Peebles and Pizza Tartuffo Trully Made My Scottish Staycation!
Tweed River Valley is incredibly green and fragrant. The road is largely hidden by the lush vegetation, and I get the feeling that I am in a different country (well, except for a successful independence referendum, I kind of am!)
Peebles is a quaint border town with a beautiful historical heritage (it used to have an important role in the local woollen industry, for instance) with gorgeous parks, gardens, chic boutiques, home of the famously haunted Neidpath Castle, and so much more.
Every street you walk in the town takes you to a forest before you even notice. There is so much greenery here in the summer, and one can actually feel the pure quality of the clean air.
The inn is on the main street but only a short walk from the riverbank or the many parks offers the opportunity to immerse in nature in minutes and forget about bustling city life. After all, this is what vacation means.
Why Pizza Tartuffo? Because the inn offers food and pizza is on the menu, Tartuffo being one of them. But the best part of it is that Véronique actually imports all the ingredients from the Emilia Romagna region of north-eastern Italy. Hence, the pizza she makes has the real taste of a real Italian one: absolutely delicious!
The fact that at the weekend people would drive an hour and a half from Glasgow only to have pizza in Peebles says it all! I quickly became a fan and had repeat orders any chance I had!
It takes about forty minutes to drive from Peebles to Edinburgh, and it is the obvious thing to do. Scotland’s capital city for over half a millennium and a great university centre, Edinburgh has seen centuries of rich modern history that shows everywhere you turn.
In normal times, tourism is booming, and the city is swarming with visitors. I was there during pandemic restrictions and still heard lots of accents or different languages spoken by enchanted people who had a camera at hand.
It is difficult to capture the importance and the brilliant beauty of such an eclectic, cosmopolitan city in a few lines. It is way better to visit if the opportunity arises.
Of course, the obvious landmarks are a must-see – Edingburgh Castle, the gardens, the National Gallery of Scotland and many other museums or Holyrood Palace just opposite the Scottish Parliament.
To me, it is always more fascinating to wander the cobbled streets in the old town and look for unexpected corners such as the Chocolatarium (how could I ever miss something like this, haha!) or a hidden terrace that makes the best cappuccino you can have outside of Italy. Or take a hike to Arthur’s seat and contemplate the city from above.
The quaint suburb of Portobello, on the North Sea coast, will really make you feel like you’re in Italy! The food too, if you’re looking for Italian restaurants!
Edinburgh was always on my bucket list, and although I went back a few times during my stay in Peebles, I still feel that I need to return and enjoy more of it, preferably during the Fringe Festival!
Glasgow, Loch Lomond and The Kelpies
Although high on my list to visit, nature forces prevented me from even leaving the motorway and heading to the city centre.
On the allocated day to visit Glasgow, it was sunny or partly overcast everywhere in southern Scotland, but dark as dusk and pouring heavily over the city. The only thing left to do was to forget about it and continue driving north towards Loch Lomond instead.
I felt annoyed at first, but watching the heavily industrial scenery from the motorway appeased my annoyance. I doubt the city centre is not worth visiting, though, so it remains on the bucket list for the next occasion. I am sure I would find something to please my eye and incite my imagination. A story must be waiting for me in any place that I had not seen yet!
For now, nature and clear skies were more appealing than crossing industrial suburbs through heavy rain.
There were no monsters in the Loch, but I spent an enjoyable day at Lomond that ended with a detour down to River Forth, Stirling Castle and Falkirk, and more importantly, to The Helix: Home of The Kelpies.
In the rich Scottish folklore, kelpies are legendary water spirits that live in the lochs and shift form from horse to humans.
Falkirk’s Kelpies are giant metallic horseheads with a certain grace if you manage to see beyond the industrial connection. They must be more spectacular at night with the light spectacle, but to witness it, I need to visit The Helix in a different season, not in August when it is still daylight at 1 AM.
Go Ape at Glentress Forest
With age, I noticed that crazy city life gets me bored easily, and I have a more acute thirst for nature, fresh air, peace and bird song.
Of all the forests around River Tweed Valley and The Borders, Glentress is the best for hiking, mountain biking and the craziest treetop adventure you can wish for. If a 325-metre long zip wire from the top of the highest fir tree over the bike trails and a lake at the bottom of the vale is not enough for your adrenaline levels, I don’t know what else is!
I get dizzy if I have to climb a stepladder, so no adrenaline rush for me in Scotland or anywhere else. But it was fun to watch grown-ups hanging some two hundred metres up in the sky and shouting/swearing from the bottom of their lungs while the kids were laughing hysterically!
And it was fun to meet lovely Annie and her brave kids who went all the way to the end of the insane course. Annie, if you ever read this, I’m sending you greetings!
The only thing to keep in mind is that bookings must be made online and in advance, at least for the duration of pandemic restrictions.
While the rest of the tribe went monkeying up the trees and screaming over the valleys, I enjoyed foraging for wild strawberries and blueberries, dodged dozens of bikes on the paths, laughed at the courageous cursing their guts while hanging up in the sky attached with a harness on a thin wire and freaked out when I saw mine doing the same insane thing! But, still, what a great forest and what good it does to humans to spend a few hours surrounded by breathtaking views and nature!
A Scotland staycation makes for some sort of vacation if one has the right state of mind for it! But a proper vacation abroad is always the better option I’m looking forward to!
I woke up to the pitter-patter sound of rain on the day of the drive back home. Still, not bothered by the otherwise typical music of this entire island. The weather was more than generous for the duration of our stay.
Energised, relaxed and still in a holiday mode, it was time to say goodbye to lovely Véronique and the Scottish Borders and head down to York and eventually back home.
In a way, I felt like I had seen (almost) everything I wanted to see and have done everything I had planned to do, so, to paraphrase others, I could say, enough was enough and non mi piace più qui!
I wonder if Véronique would adopt me. I would love a year somewhere in Tuscany, all expenses paid for!