So rich is the culture, people, and natural beauty of Scotland that it brings out a deep longing in people all around the world. Just think about the jaw-dropping scenery on screens big and small, from 007’s escapades in Skyfall and No Time To Die to Harry Potter’s Hogwarts Express to, more recently, the many gorgeous landscapes and regal interiors from The Crown and Outlander.
The lore of Scottish mythology (Loch Ness, for one) and the larger-than-life characters created here (Sherlock Holmes, for starters) loom large in the collective consciousness. And the works of the great Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott—considered the father of the historical novel, and one of its greatest practitioners—are believed to have influenced the likes of Dumas, Balzac, and Hugo; even Tolstoy’s War and Peace cribbed from Scott’s use of fiction to reveal shifting historical patterns. And Scott’s Ivanhoe is said to have served as the muse for Robin Hood.
The mere mention of the country conjures up all kinds of dramatic vistas and triggers the senses: vast green rolling hills, towering mountains, rugged windswept beaches, glittering lochs, tartan kilts, the smoky-peaty taste and slow-burn of Scotch on a cold night. The country itself is geographically small—about the size of South Carolina—but its cultural influence is massive. It all produces something that’s referred to as fernweh in German, which translates as “farsickness.” It means a longing or homesickness for a place you’ve never been before. Scotland’s Year of Stories, 2022, is the perfect time to indulge this longing and come home to Scotland, for a deeper dive into its many cultural charms.
Literary destinations to feed your imagination
You could craft an entire itinerary solely around locations related to Sir Walter Scott, author of such literary classics as Waverly and Rob Roy. Given his enduring influence on the world’s perception of Scotland, and England, a Scott-themed trip that will take you all over the country makes a magnificent way to explore the vast and varying terrain. After all, following the release of Waverly, the Scottish Highlands took on the attributes in people’s minds that they are still associated with today: wild, picturesque, and romantic, populated by industrious and inventive peoples.
A good starting point is Scott’s Abbotsford, which ranks as one of the world’s most famous country houses. Set on a 1,400-acre estate on the banks of the River Tweed, it contains art, curiosities, and books that give insight into the man who built it. Stoke your imagination at Smailholm Tower, a 15th-century laird’s residence on a dramatic crag in the Scottish Borders, that inspired Scott’s later works; he was sent here as a sickly child and the tales his grandmother and aunt regaled him with, including the “Border Ballads” and other stories of his ancestral homelands, left a lasting impression.
Many areas of natural splendor throughout Scotland captured Scott’s fancy, and all are worthy of a visit for lovers of nature and literature. Scott’s View, an expansive viewpoint of Borders country across Eildon Hills, was one of the author’s favorite places to reflect. The Cullins and Loch Coruisk on The Isle of Skye and Fingal’s Cave on the uninhabited island of Staffa spurred his poem The Lord of The Isles—the cave was also immortalized by Mendelssohn in his Hebrides Overture.
The magnificent Falls of Clyde in South Lanarkshire and the picturesque Loch Katrine, where Scott began his famous poem Lady of the Lake in 1810, also provided a wellspring of inspiration for the romantic poets Wordsworth and Coleridge. A steamship named after Scott will ferry you across the lake, as it’s done for passengers since it launched in 1899. From here, head into Rob Roy country, the countryside around Loch Katrine, including Balquhidder and Callander, to explore the stomping grounds of folkloric hero Rob Roy MacGregor, the Robin Hood of the North, who begat Scott’s novel Rob Roy.
A few days in Edinburgh will allow time to explore many other locations associated with Scott. A must-see, of course, is the iconic Edinburgh Castle, home of the Scottish Crown Jewels. It was Sir Walter Scott who lobbied the Prince Regent to search and find—in a sealed-up chamber of the castle—what are officially known as the Honours of Scotland. Then feast your eyes on the tallest monument to any writer in the world: the 200-foot tall Scott Monument, featuring 64 figures representing characters from Scott’s works. At the Writers’ Museum, Scott and two other greats of Scottish literature, Robert Burns (the poet who wrote Auld Lang Syne) and Robert Louis Stevenson, who bestowed upon the world Treasure Island and Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, are properly celebrated.
Destinations fit for royalty
From the real-life current Queen of England to the one portrayed in the hit series The Crown, there’s no shortage of incredible places to visit in Scotland that have a royal connection. For a spectacular stay worthy of a queen, the turreted 19th-century Ardverikie House in Kinloch Laggan (which stands in for Balmoral Castle on The Crown), offers a range of self-catering accommodations at the estate. Set among marvelous Highland scenery, the property also offers all manner of outdoor activities to take in the fresh Scottish air, from leisurely strolls to rock climbing, fishing, and bird and wildlife watching.
Or take part in some Highland Games, as seen on screen in The Crown, at the Rothiemurchus Highland estate in Cairngorms National Park. The traditional games, due to take place at several locations throughout the Highlands in 2022, include tug o’ war, hammer throw, and Highland dancing, along with crafts, games, and lots of family fun.
For a dose of the real royal experiences in Scotland, head to the actual Balmoral Castle in Aberdeenshire, which has been in the royal family since 1852. Queen Victoria called it her “dear paradise,” and it remains a favorite holiday destination for the current Queen Elizabeth. Take a guided tour, view the exhibitions in the ballroom, and enjoy the stunning grounds. Continue your royal-watching at the nearby Aberdeen Art Gallery, where you’ll find portraits of Victoria and Prince Albert.
There are an abundance of royal palaces throughout Scotland, each with its own special charms, from the Queen Mother’s favorite summertime residence, The Castle & Gardens of Mey, on the far northeast coast, to Scone Palace in Perthshire, which boasts royal history from the Jacobite era to Mary Queen of Scots. (Macbeth was crowned there, and you can see the desk at which Marie Antoinette once wrote letters.)
Up close and personal with the Scotland of the screen
Far beyond The Crown, the majestic scenery and iconography of Scotland has long been featured on screens big and small. Harry Potter fans will thrill to see the historic Jacobite Steam Train, known as the Hogwarts Express in the series, zip across the stone viaduct near the Glenfinnan Monument, which serves as a tribute to those who fought in the 1745 Jacobite Risings. Come for the train sighting and leave with a greater understanding of this fascinating moment in Scotland’s history.
Outlander fans will want to head to the picturesque village of Culross, which doubles as Cranesmuir on the series, for a taste of a classic 17th-century burgh—complete with cobble-stone streets, a hilltop abbey and ocher-colored palace. The show’s settings provide a fabulous roadmap to all kinds of incredible palaces, villages, and natural scenery throughout Scotland. For instance, the 14th century Doune Castle, 33 miles from Glasgow, plays Castle Leoch on the show—it’s also played home to Winterfell on Game of Thrones, and was the setting for much of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
And of course, one of the most iconic characters of Scottish origins in modern times is James Bond, made famous by the dashing Scottish actor Sean Connery. Follow in the footsteps of Britain’s supremely suave secret agent with a visit to some of the incredible Scottish film locations, whether that’s taking in the raw splendor of Glen Coe’s rugged peaks as you travel the same road agent 007 navigated in Skyfall or visiting Eilean Donan Castle, which played home to M16 headquarters in 1999’s The World is Not Enough.
No matter your taste in literature and movies or shows, these are all thrilling ways to experience Scotland’s immense culture, and cultural impact, and each stop of the way has stories behind the stories that will inspire you long after you return home.