Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Big city or small town?

Having talked about Edinburgh and Glasgow yesterday I wanted to talk about the small places today. Although I love being in the city I am enthralled with small towns and countryside. I love places with pedestrianized main streets where you only need to dodge foot traffic and not have to worry about cars. I especially like main streets with unique small shops, cute bed and breakfasts and local tearooms. You have to have at least one fish and chip shop, one ice cream and candy store, one woollen shop and one souvenir shop.
Places that immediately come to mind are Pitlochry, Callander Portree and Peebles although unfortunately the main street is quite busy with cars. Pitlochry is in the north central area of Scotland and one of my favorites. You have your choice of tearooms and I love to have afternoon tea at the Atholl Palace Hotel. Pitlochry has a lovely theatre and a place called Heathergems where they actually make jewelry from the stems of the heather plant! Pitlochry has plenty of woolen shops, ice cream and fish and chips. You are absolutely spoilt with accommodation choices.
Callander is in the Trossachs region of Scotland and is quite central. Callander is a perfect base for visiting Stirling and Doune Castles and Dunblane Cathedral. It has several woollen shops, tearooms and ice cream shops and just a short hop away from the 400 year old Lion and Unicorn Pub. Callander also has a wonderful Toy Museum and the Rob Roy Macgregor Visitors Centre.
Portree is the main town on Isle of Skye in the Hebridian Islands. Portree has a good selection of accommodation choices, great fish and chips and a wonderful harbour. It is in need of a good tearoom however. Most of the shops of Portree lie above and behind the harbour where you find Somerled Square, home to the mercat cross and war memorial. Much of the shopping is to be found in the roads leading from Somerled Square towards the harbour.
Peebles is in the Borders region of Scotland about 22 miles south of Edinburgh. Peebles was established almost 2,000 years ago by the Romans and so is quite historic. I love the 350 year old Cross Keys Hotel and the 800 year old tower of St. Andrews Church. There is a woolen mill, tearooms and a museum. Nearby is Neidpath Castle and Traquair House, one of the oldest continuously lived in castles in Scotland with its own brewery.
I also love the wee fishing villages of the Kingdom of Fife. I especially love Anstruther where they lay claim to the best fish and chips in Scotland. They also have a 500 year old pub called the Dreel Tavern and a lovely waterfront with a maritime museum. Pittenweem is just up the road and if you are an early riser you will see the boats bringing in their early morning catch. Also worth exploring are Crail, Elie, St. Monans, Upper Largo and Lower Largo.
Places that do qualify for pedestrianized main streets are Lerwick in the Shetland Islands. Although quite remote I love this wee village where everyone is happy to see you and more than willing to help you in any way. For such a small place it is quite bustling with more than enough to see and do. I also love Kirkwall in the Orkneys. The main street is quite lovely and dominated by St. Magnus Cathedral, founded in 1137 by Norse Earl Rognvald Kolson in memory of his uncle Saint Magnus. The Cathedral contains their remains, marvellous medieval grave markers and noted stained glass. There is many quirky craft shops and cafes and tearooms to choose from.
I also love Dumfries in the south and Kirkcudbright just south of there. Fort William at the start of "the Road to the Isles" and Mallaig at the end. I very much like Crieff in central Scotland, most well known for producing Ewen McGregor! I quite like Falkland, Auchtermuchty, Kirriemuir and Aberfeldy for their tearooms. I love Dufftown, Edradour, Fettercairn, Buckie, Macduff, Rothes and Elgin for the whisky. I love the seaside towns of Rothesay, Tobermory, Portnockie, Lossiemouth and Findochty for their harbours.
I know that I have left many out but they will have to wait for another day. I just thought of several more while I was writing this but they will keep. My main point is that no matter where you go in Scotland, you will find a lovely little spot just waiting to be explored. I am sometimes accused on our tours of taking people only to the good places but truth be told, they are all over Scotland!
Shannon McDonald Tate

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