As the summer sun fades, we head to Scotland to see expanses of greenery transform into burnished coppers and flaming reds. Join us for a fall foray in and around Glasgow and St Andrews as we walk among artists, golfers and ghosts, visiting manor houses, castles, gardens, woodland theaters and the spectacular countryside.
St Andrews – Explore the Scottish Himalayas
Just past the hallowed Old Course of St Andrews near the second tee, even newbies can play golf on the beloved Scottish greens. The Himalayas Putting Course is owned by the St Andrews Ladies’ Putting Club, and is just shy of 150 years old (it opened in 1867). The club began as a place for female relatives of the all-male Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews to enjoy the game. Since the social norms of the Victorian era frowned upon women swinging a golf club past their shoulders, they took up putting.
Today, the two acres of putting greens are filled with mind-bending challenges set in small undulating hills, mounds, pockets and valleys backed with history, tradition and the ancient dwellings of St Andrews. In addition to golf luminaries like Tom Watson and Craig Stadler, everyone from senior citizens to college students to kids have tried their hand on this delightfully devilish course, where hair-raising pin positions (the holes on the greens) change daily. Even the most-seasoned golfers will find this an amusingly bumpy challenge.
While certain times are reserved for members of the ladies’ club, the general public can access the course from April through September. A bargain at just £2 for adults (approx. $2.78 U.S.) and £1 (approx. $1.39 U.S.) for seniors and kids, the 18-hole course takes approx. 45 minutes to play—even on a busy day (children under 6 may only play the 9-hole course). It’s best to go in the morning to beat the crowds.
St Andrews – Alternative Greens & A Corner Pub
In addition to lush golfing greens, Scotland has plenty of more-natural flora in less obvious places. Take the St Andrews Botanic Garden, for example, which is just a 15-minute stroll from the center of town. This little gem contains a bounty of gardens, trees, ferns and woodlands, as well as glass houses filled with tropical plants, orchids, cacti and rhododendrons. You can take 30-minute guided walking tours three days a week from April through October, and daily tours during the summer months.
South of St Andrews at the Cambo Estate Gardens, visitors step back in time to the Victorian era within an enormous 2 1/2-acre walled garden that once supplied the local shops and hotels with fruit, flowers and vegetables. Although the grand 19th-century country manor on the estate is not open to the public (unless you’ve booked one of the stellar rooms or apartments), you can amble along gravel paths past weeping willows, statues and perennials to the garden’s summerhouse and the ornamental potager (kitchen garden). Take a woodland walk along a sparkling Scottish burn (waterway) that heads out to the sea. You can also join weekly tours of the gardens on Tuesdays at 1:30 p.m. Many rare and unusual plants plus a courtyard tearoom with homemade baked goodies make Cambo Gardens a great place for an afternoon stop.
Once you’ve gotten your fill of nature, head back into town to visit The Dunvegan for dinner or a drink, both served with traditional Scottish charm. Golfing history decorates the walls of this corner pub, a popular stop for golfers located just 100 yards from the 18th hole of the Old Course of St Andrews. If you’d like to stay a while, book one of the rooms upstairs.
Glamis & Dundee – Ghostly Scottish Visions
Many of Scotland’s castles, buildings and residences are rumored to have occupants from yesteryear that roam the premises undaunted by their lack of physicality. To walk among spirits past, visit the fantastic towers, spires and turrets of Glamis Castle. Approx. 50 minutes north of St Andrews past a quaint village of 18th-century cottages, Scotland’s most haunted castle is the ancestral family home of the Earls of Strathmore and Kinghorne, the childhood home of the late Queen Mother (whose daughter Elizabeth II is currently in power) and the setting for Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Steeped in over 600 years of history, Glamis has hosted a long line of British and Scottish royals, and possesses plenty of secrets, legends and unearthly occurrences. Avenues of trees, baroque courts and sculptures along with Dutch and Italian gardens from the Victorian era help create a mystical setting. Take a guided tour to learn more about this castle’s history and wandering apparitions.
A bit closer to St Andrews just outside Dundee, you’ll find Claypotts Castle (interior is not open to the public). Its two round towers topped with asymmetrical rectangular rooms provide a great example of 16th-century design and Z-plan architecture—two diagonally opposed towers attached by a central rectangular block. In the 17th century, Claypotts was owned by John Graham of Claverhouse (1648–1689). The king’s main suppressor of Presbyterian rebels, Graham was rumored to be ruthless. Some claimed he was invincible to lead bullets because of a pact he made with the devil. His death during a cavalry charge at the Battle of Killiecrankie was allegedly caused by a silver bullet or a silver button on his own coat. His ghost is said to haunt the area as well as Edinburgh Castle. A ghostly “White Lady” has also been spotted at the window of Claypotts.
Glasgow & Pitlochry – Theaters of Engineered & Natural Wonder
For a strangely wonderful outing in Glasgow, try a mechanical ballet. The Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre is a bastion of visual art, puppetry and machinery choreographed to fragmented music and synchronized light. Pieces of scrap metal, discarded furniture and bizarre carved figures form a quirky wonderland of sculptures powered by electrical motors. Rather than sit, you stroll through this engaging and thought-provoking drama that tells the story of the human spirit in both funny and foreboding ways. Choose from the short show (45 minutes) in the afternoon or the long show (70 minutes) in the evening.
To explore more natural wonders, venture into the countryside. Travel north to Pitlochry, the gateway to the Scottish Highlands set on the River Tummel. Walk along lovely river pathways and drop by Edradour, Scotland’s smallest traditional distillery, which makes single-malt whisky the old-fashioned way on the farm.
Find your way to Faskally Wood (a 10-minute ride from town), where you can experience The Enchanted Forest on October evenings. This otherworldly sound and light production uses the forest as a backdrop for visual light displays accompanied by original scores. Enjoy the luminous autumn weather as you listen to Scottish storytellers in yurts; sip mulled wine or hot chocolate; and stroll along forest pathways to magical light spectacles projected onto stones, trees and the loch (lake). Be sure to book in advance (approx. 4 weeks ahead) because productions sell out quickly. Special shuttles whisk viewers to the forest from local hotels and the Pitlochry rail station. The town is one hour away from Dundee and just under two hours from Glasgow.
Glasgow – The Scottish Mac
One of Glasgow’s most famous sons was the architect, designer and artist Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868–1928), the U.K.’s principal representative of art nouveau. Moving away from Victorian extravagance, Mackintosh blended Scottish elements, Japanese simplicity and modern minimalism into his designs. Like his contemporary Frank Lloyd Wright, he even included specifications for interiors and furnishings (much of the design and detail of his work came from his wife, artist Margaret Macdonald). Mackintosh won international notoriety with his Glasgow School of Art, which now offers guided tours led by current students and recent graduates.
Visit Mackintosh’s reassembled Glasgow home at The Hunterian and reserve a table for traditional food and drink at the Willow Tea Rooms. Ask for a seat in the Room De Luxe, where early 20th-century customers paid an extra 1 pence to sip tea from silver chairs and gaze at leaded glasswork conceived by the artist. In the House for an Art Lover, you can grab lunch at the Art Lover’s Café and enjoy al fresco dining on the terrace on sunny days. Use the Glasgow Mackintosh website to plan a day around more of this visionary’s marvels.
The Creative Mackintosh Festival takes place in October (aka Mackintosh Month). During this time, the designer’s major Glasgow buildings host performances, talks, exhibitions, walking tours and creative workshops that focus on architecture, design and visual arts and crafts. Workshops range from life-drawing classes and themed architectural talks to knitting, embroidery and more. In the evening, check out one of the social events to sample Glasgow’s food and drink, and meet some of the locals.
Glasgow – Artistic Flourishes in the Park
In southwest Glasgow’s Pollok Country Park, you’ll find one of the greatest art collections ever amassed by a single person. Named after its donor, shipping magnate Sir William Burrell, the Burrell Collection is housed in a light-endowed structure that contains over 8,000 stellar objects. These include medieval stained glass and Renaissance works, Chinese and Islamic art, and pieces by Rodin, Degas and Cézanne. Even better, you can see them all for free.
Whether you walk or ride, be sure to make your way to the Pollok House, a grand country manor dubbed “Scotland’s Downton Abbey.” Explore the wonderful formal gardens, complete with a maze of hedges. A film begins the tour inside. The very informative staff—playing the roles of both occupants and servants—is on hand to teach you about the rooms and their furnishings. The elegant upper floors include a billiard room, a music room and a library. In addition to period furniture, the outstanding Spanish art collection contains pieces from El Greco, Murillo and Goya. In the basement, explore the vast quarters to see how an army of 48 servants ran a three-person household in the Edwardian age. Settle into the Edwardian Kitchen Restaurant —the house’s former kitchen—to enjoy homemade Scottish delights while ogling the original cast-iron stove. On sunny days, you can dine on the outdoor terrace.
Crieff – Get Out & Walk
Hikers and amblers will enjoy the Drovers’ Tryst Walking Festival (October 11–18), a weeklong program of guided walks in and around Crieff —49 miles northeast of Glasgow—in the Perthshire region. Mountains and hills, rivers and lochs, majestic glens, golf courses and ancient forests make up this area, which is also known as “Big Tree Country.” The festival celebrates the Crieff Tryst, the country’s largest cattle market, which dates back to the 16th century. The festival’s guided walks are an excellent way to see the stunning scenery and autumn colors with local experts. Choose from easier themed trails to challenging mountain routes. Other social events include a country market, film nights, special talks, traditional Gaelic music, cowboy campfire music, Scottish country dancing, pipe bands, plant and herb lore, drovers’ tales, geocaching (GPS treasure hunts) and exhibitions.
Glasgow – Sampling Scottish Whisky
Scotch whisky—known simply as Scotch in the U.S.—is something you must try in Scotland, whether you’re on a distillery tour, at a festival, in a pub or all three. Specially designated “Scotch Whisky Embassies” offer a great selection of whisky to sample, served by staff that has passed the Scotch Whisky Training School exam. The Bon Accord whisky bar serves as Glasgow’s “embassy,” with over 350 malt whiskies waiting to be poured, along with countless U.K. beers. The Bon Accord also has three annual beer festivals, including one in October, for those who love ale.
Visitors should also drop into The Lismore in the heart of Glasgow’s West End. Whisky tastings and live folk music make it easy to stay a while. Among the many pubs on Dumbarton Road, this one is known for its woodwork and stained-glass windows that depict the Highland Clearances (a forced expulsion of the residents of the Scottish Highlands in the 18th and 19th centuries).
Travel Tips: Scotland
What to Wear
The Scottish fascination with weather may be due to its notoriously changeable and unpredictable nature—it’s often possible to see all four seasons in one day. September is one of the driest months, but there’s always a chance of rain when you’re in Scotland. In September, expect brisk and cool weather. Glasgow and St Andrews average temperatures range from 46°F to 59°F (7°C to 15°C). However, it gets downright frigid by late October.
In general, the Scottish dress quite casually. Staying dry is the key to staying warm. Think in layers—fleece jackets and raincoats with removable liners work best. A couple of warm sweaters, a pair of walking shoes or boots and an umbrella will serve you well. Pack scarves to shield against the wind and brighten up basics. Pantsuits work well for dining out and other social events.
St Andrews Food & Drink Festival
It’s not all about golf in St Andrews. During the month of November, locals celebrate the Fife area’s produce and edible delicacies. Local businesses and tourist venues provide the stage for special tastings, cooking demonstrations, book signings, food exhibits, festive meals and an extended farmers market. Visitors can also enjoy locally crafted wine, whisky and beer. While you can roam some of the events freely, others require reservations. Visit the Food & Drink Festival website for schedules, venues and booking information.
Known as “Big Tree Country,” the densely wooded area of Perthshire (northwest of St Andrews) is a great place to see fantastic flames of fall foliage. From early October until mid-November, information on the fall color is available through the Autumn Colors Telephone Hotline—(01796) 472-215. You can also pick up a Big Tree Country brochure from a tourist information center in Perthshire or online for tips on where to see the trees. Here are some options to get you started:
- Blairgowrie: Drive along Meikleour Beech Hedge, the world’s tallest and longest hedge that bursts with fall color.
- Dollar: Above this small town, the Dollar Glen contains spectacular walking paths past deep gorges and plunging waterfalls to the medieval Castle Campbell.
- Crieff: Lady Mary’s Walk meanders gently along the River Earn.
- Dunkeld: Walkers and cyclists can explore an extensive network of paths through the Craigvinean Forest, where the “Planting Dukes” (Dukes of Atholl) seeded millions of conifers in the 18th and 19th centuries (with help from a cannon, according to legend).
- Killiecrankie: Known for its autumn scenery, the spectacular Pass of Killiecrankie features a visitor center, trails and the Garry Bridge, which spans the wooded gorge.
- Pitlochry: Wander through an evening sound and light show set in a forest.
- Scone: Stroll the vast grounds of the magnificent Scone Palace.
Vintage Shopping in Glasgow
Glasgow has great vintage shopping options, especially in the West End. Two special vintage markets are also worth visiting:
- On the second Saturday of each month, the Little Birds Market is held at Sloans, Glasgow’s oldest bar and restaurant. Between noon and 4 p.m., you’ll find vintage crafts and designs, along with afternoon tea served in Mrs. Sloans Tearoom and Scottish meals served in the restaurant.
- The hip, kitsch Your Granny Would Be Proud Market is staged two Sundays a month in the quirky Hillhead Bookclub pub and restaurant. Find unique souvenirs in the selection of handmade items, baked goods, retro and vintage fashion, used jewelry and household odds and ends.
Buying a Kilt
Kilts are serious business in Scotland and a key piece of the country’s heritage. Until the 18th century, tartans (the plaid-patterned cloth or sett) were associated with a specific district or region. Later, they were officially registered and linked to Scottish clans. You can buy kilts ready-to-wear or custom-made, but prepare to pay the price for the real McCoy. The cost of high-quality kilts depends on the tartan as well as the weight and volume of the fabric. On average, they run from £350 to £400 (approx. $587 to $671 U.S.) and take from 5–6 weeks to make. Machine-made polyester kilts—often manufactured in China—cost from £20 to £50 ($34 to $84 U.S.) at tartan souvenir shops. To find quality kilts at cheaper prices (approx. £100/$170), check vintage shops or find a company that sells “ex-hire” (previously rented) kilts.
Currency & Tipping
Like the rest of the U.K., Scotland uses the GBP Pound (£) rather than the euro. It also uses three varieties of Scottish banknotes along with English notes. Since you can’t use them outside the U.K. (and some places in England will not accept Scottish bills), try to “shed the extra pounds” before you leave.
If you shop at stores that offer tax-free shopping, you can reclaim the 20% sales tax (VAT – Value Added Tax) on certain goods, but you can’t reclaim it for services and hotel tabs. The Scots don’t have a culture of tipping, but some locals round up the tab slightly. You can tip 10% at restaurants if a service charge isn’t included on the bill.
Rent a Lodge at Loch Lomond
Just 30 miles from Glasgow, Great Britain’s largest inland lake is romanticized in Scottish song and lore. It’s also a place where the mail is still delivered by boat. Part of Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park, the area offers plenty of outdoor activities. In addition to exploring the Loch Lomond Golf Club and surrounding courses, visitors can enjoy boating, watersports, loch cruises, cycling and hiking on a number of walking routes, ranging from easy to strenuous. Book a room for a night or two to get the full benefit of this pristine setting. From lodges, cottages and coach houses to priories and castles, it’s easy to find a place to stay. For an authentic experience, rent one of the area’s many self-catered (provide your own meals) accommodations.
One of the pleasures of driving in Scotland is experiencing the tranquility and scenery of the rural roads. The 12 National Tourist Routes (NTRs) are a great way to see the diverse countryside, [http://www.visitscotland.com/en-us/travel/around-scotland/national-tourist-route] villages and towns located off the main highways. In many rural Highland areas, the roads are only wide enough for one car. It is a firm rule of the road to pull over for oncoming cars or drivers who want to pass when you come across a turnout. Give way to vehicles traveling uphill when possible and when in doubt, pull over. Some other tips for driving in Scotland:
- Drive on the left side of the road.
- It’s illegal to hold a cellphone while driving in Scotland.
- Do not turn right or left against a red light.
- Turn left when entering roundabouts and yield to cars coming from your right.
- Watch your gas levels in rural areas, where station hours may be shorter (not 24-hour) and distances between them greater.
- Speed limit signs and distances are indicated in miles.