This is the second installation of a riveting two-part series chronicling two weeks in the highlands and islands of Scotland. Read part 1 first. My wife and I spent the first week of the trip bouncing around the west coast, including a camping trip on Skye, a luxurious stay at Eriska, some town time in Oban and Fort William, and a big “hillwalk” up Ben Nevis. For our second week,we put down our roots at the Killiehuntly farmstead estate in the Cairngorms National Park, between Edinburgh and Inverness.
My wife gets all the credit for finding Killiehuntly, which had been on her radar for years. Killiehuntly is owned and managed by Wildland, “an organization dedicated to a 200 year vision of ecological rehabilitation in the Scottish Highlands.” I’m going to borrow some more statements from Wildland’s website: As one of Scotland’s largest landowners, Wildland focuses on regenerating native landscapes, including Caledonian pine forests and peatlands. It has planted over 4,000,000 trees and has thousands of additional acres of naturally regenerating woodland. Of course, Wildland’s holdings are scattered across the country, and Killiehuntly was but a small part. Well, small isn’t the right word. I don’t recall the numbers, but I think Wildland manages several thousand acres in the Cairngorms around Killiehuntly and even more around the nearby Glenfeshie estate. I have a hard time imagining another organization—much less an organization offering accommodations—that better aligns with my (and my wife’s) ethos.
Speaking of the accommodations, they were top-notch. We stayed in Killiehuntly’s “hayloft”—a refurbished stone hayloft not too far from the main farmhouse. It was the perfect size for two, with a roomy upstairs living area and an efficient downstairs kitchen and bath. The Scandinavian minimalist styling was right up our alley.
Killiehuntly was also centrally located between basically anything you might want to do (other than big-city stuff, which I don’t want to do). The immediate vicinity included a small town (Kingussie); a few even smaller villages; a marshy river valley featuring some of the highlands’ most important breeding bird habitats (the strath of Spey and the Insh marshes); several smaller river glens (Glen Tromie, Glen Feshie, etc.); countless lochs and lochans; heath-covered hills; old growth Caledonian pine forests; managed pine plantations; birch forests; and the high-elevation peaks and plateaus of the Cairngorms. Although we covered a lot of ground on this part of the trip, nothing was more than 20 or 30 minutes away. This allowed for a truly immersive experience. I left feeling like I had really known this place.
OK, prelude over; here’s the day-to-day summary:
As you may recall from part 1 of this blog, we headed to Killiehuntly immediately after summiting Ben Nevis, Scotland’s highest peak. We arrived in the afternoon and took our time settling in. Settling in basically meant that we ate breakfast, lunch, and dinner here for the next week, and generally spent all of our non-adventure time relaxing in the hayloft or the wood-fired yurt sauna. But this blog focuses on the adventures.
Our big hike, road trip, and settling in didn’t leave much time for exploring on Saturday, but I did manage a short walk around 9 PM to acquaint myself with the farmstead. It was chilly (in the 50s), cloudy, and breezy, but a double-ended double-rainbow lured me out. My short walk took me through a bunch of different habitats. I passed through fields with a bunch of Whinchats (lifer). I then crossed some young pine forests en route to a 5-acre lochan, where I flushed a Brown Hare (another lifer). These large rabbits were brought to the British Isles by the Romans about 2,000 years ago. The concept of native and exotic species gets blurry when you consider how long humans have been traveling to these islands. On the lochan itself, I briefly saw and heard a Little Grebe (yet another lifer). On the way back, I stopped at my first mossy heath-covered moorland, a preview of more to come.
Our first full day in the Cairngorms began with another walk around Killiehuntly under cloudy skies and cool temps. My wife and I first went up to the lochan, then checked out the farmhouse and gardens, then took a road paralleling fields and the River Tromie. We saw lots of tiny European Toads (lifer), a huge Black Slug, and an unidentified mole or vole. We then split up; I ended up exploring some trails (and not-trails) along the riverfront birch forest, and my wife headed back along the high road. I saw another hare and a couple dozen species of birds, including 2 lifers (Great Spotted Woodpecker and Eurasian Treecreeper) and some other good ones (Sedge Warbler, Whinchat, Stonechat, Lesser Redpoll, etc.). Returning back to the hayloft, we found a nest of Common House-Martins in the eave of the adjacent utility building.
I took a short drive into town to grab groceries, stopping at the Insh Marshes RSPB Preserve along the way. One of the hides overlooking the marsh was closed, and I didn’t see much.
After an early dinner and another double-ended double-rainbow at the hayloft, the sun finally emerged. My wife and I hopped in the car out for a walk by the River Spey. On the way, we were treated to one of the most exciting birds of the trip: a juvenile Black Grouse in a roadside meadow!
We checked out the Ruthven Barracks at the start of our walk. The barracks were built in the early 1700s atop a hill that was the site of various castles dating back to the 13th century. The hill offered an impressive view of the valley and marshes.
We walked a couple miles around the perimeter of the Insh Marshes and alongside the River Spey. We saw rabbits, a hare, and a Roe Deer, plus tons of good birds. Lifers included Reed Bunting and (not-so-) Common Redshank. Other marsh breeders included Eurasian Oystercatchers, Northern Lapwing, Eurasian Curlew, and Common Snipe. On our way out, we saw a Ring-necked Pheasant. These colorful gamebirds are native to Asia but were introduced long ago across Europe; they’re certainly more naturalized in Scotland than in America.
Monday was cool, cloudy, breezy, and a little drizzly. Nevertheless, by 4:30 AM, I was off biking gravel roads on a hilly 13-mile quest for Capercaillie. I rode through mature Scots pine plantations where capers are known to breed, but I didn’t have any luck with this iconic grouse. Apparently July isn’t a great time to look for grouse in general, as most are hunkered down raising young. The songbirds of the pine forest weren’t so shy; I managed to see 6 lifers (Mistle Thrush, Crested Tit, Spotted Flycatcher, Tree Pipit, Gray Wagtail, Common Redstart) plus a bunch of Red Crossbills.
The two pine forests I visited are interrupted by Glen Chomraig, a scenic valley featuring a two small streams and an old bothy (a simple, sort-of-abandoned stone shelter). I saw a bunch of grassland species here, including some displaying Whinchat and dozens of Meadow Pipits. I also saw some Common Goldeneye ducklings on the lochan close to Killiehuntly.
After a nap (my 4th morning nap of the trip) and breakfast, my wife and I went on a nice 6.5-mile hillwalk to Croidh-la. The first part of the walk took us along gravel roads by the lochan, through a bit of pine plantation, and then out into the open expanses of Glen Chomraig (upstream from my morning bike ride). As we peered down into the glen, I caught a glimpse of an extremely distant male Hen Harrier (lifer). We also saw some Field Voles, Black Slugs, and a European Toad along the road.
After a mile or so, we left the road and headed up a tight single-track stalker’s (that’s British for “hunter’s”) path cut into the heath-covered moor. This was our first foray into a famous Scottish highland moor, traditionally managed to support Red Grouse (or the hunting of Red Grouse, at least). Alas, we did not see or hear any grouse, likely due to the windy conditions, time of year, and perhaps the fact that this moorland is not managed for grouse at all. Quite the opposite, in fact. Wildland has replanted a variety of native tree species—still saplings here—and culled the deer population to allow vegetation to regrow. The lower elevation moor we walked will gradually fill in with mixed forests, re-establishing a natural treeline. There is, of course, a limit to where trees will grow, leaving plenty of space for the heather. This was apparent as we worked our way up the hill. As we gained about 1,000 feet of elevation, the foot-tall heather gradually shrank to a thin layer of heather and moss, just inches off the ground. I can understand why. The wind on the peak was unbelievable—stronger than either of us have ever experienced on a hike. But the scenery was worth it. Croidh-la offers a panorama of the Strathspey to the west, Killiehuntly to the North, and Glen Chomraig and the peaks of the Cairngorms (mostly obscured by clouds) to the east.
After the busy day, our afternoon and evening involved a lot of relaxing.
Tuesday followed Monday’s formula: cool and mostly cloudy weather (in the 40s and 50s), with early morning solo exploring followed by a couples adventure.
After “sleeping in” until 6 AM, I jumped back on the bike and enjoyed a smooth ride down paved roads towards the Insh Marshes. One of the greatest wildlife moments on the trip came on the road. After passing through fields loaded with Brown Hares, I came to a dense stand of Scots pine at the Old Milton estate. Sitting on the stone wall was a Eurasian Pine Martin, who dashed back into the forest as I rolled closer.
After a bit more biking, I parked along a roadside gate, hopped the fence, and headed downhill towards the marsh. Scottish law provides a “right to roam,” which allows people to responsibly recreate (walking, biking, even camping) almost anywhere in the country, including on private property. There are common-sense prohibitions related to buildings, hunting, fishing, driving, and other irresponsible or disruptive uses. Overall, it’s an awesome law for people like me.
I followed a path to the dikes around the Insh Marshes and headed northeast along the River Spey towards Loch Insh. The path was really wet. My shoes, socks, pants, and skin were soaked after half an hour of walking through calf-, knee-, and thigh-high wet grass.
As with many uncomfortable adventures, it was worth it. In addition to the scenery (and zero people), I saw or heard 40 species of birds, one of my highest counts of the trip. Two were lifers. First, I heard a Garden Warbler singing like crazy; I may (or may not) have actually seen the drab bird flitting through the leaves. Second, I saw about a dozen Barnacle Geese amid a flock of nearly a thousand Graylag Geese. Although these barnacles belong to a year-round local feral population (their wilder cousins are winter visitors to the area), I think they still “count” as wild birds. I also saw a bunch of waterfowl, including Mute Swan, Eurasian Wigeon, Mallard, Common Teal (aka Eurasian Green-winged Teal), and Common Goldeneye (with lots of ducklings). The shorebirds were few but diverse, including oystercatcher, lapwing, curlew, snipe, and redshank. Interesting passerines included Eurasian Blackcap, Eurasian Treecpreeper, Spotted Flycatcher, and at least 8 Reed Buntings.
I also came across a large group of Red Deer (including some jueveniles), a few Roe Deer, and hundreds of Chimney Sweeper Moths flitting around the wet grass.
After I dried out, my wife and I headed into Kingussie for lunch and supplies, followed by more relaxing at the hayloft. We then drove about 20 minutes to the Rothiemurchus estate to visit Loch an Eilein. This is a popular destination, featuring more people than any of our other nature walks outside of Edinburgh. There was good reason for the crowds: well-maintained trails weave around two stunning lochs surrounded by old-growth Caledonian pine forest and mature pine plantations. In the open-canopy old-growth sections, the Scots pines took on fantastic, sprawling shapes—quite unlike the vertical trunks of plantation-born Scots pine. In the middle of the loch resides a small island with the ruins of an iconic 14th century castle. Overall, it was an extremely scenic place for a walk.
The wildlife was nice, too. Although most birds were enjoying a mid-afternoon siesta, we saw a handsome Black-headed Gull, a wide variety of tits, and a huge flock of jackdaws. The invertebrate action also picked up a bit when the sun peeked out. I saw three new odonate species, including lots of Azure Damselflys, several Common Spreadwings, and a Common Darter. At the end of our walk, we ran into an older couple from England that pointed out some new butterflies for me, including a rare Northern Brown Argus, some Dark Green Fritillaries, and a Small Heath (plus some Ringlets, which I’d previously seen).
After a nice dinner in, we called it an early night.
We spent all day Wednesday hiking—sorry, hillwalking—around the high elevation peaks and plateaus of the western Cairngorms. From 8 AM to 4 PM, we made a 15.5-mile circuit with 3200 feet of elevation gain. This was my wife’s longest hike, and my longest day hike. The trail was well-maintained and far less rocky than Ben Nevis. The weather was cool (40s-50s) with a few glorious bouts of sun and, most importantly, not much wind. Overall, conditions were excellent for a full day outdoors.
The trailhead was only 4 miles from Killiehuntly as the rook flies, but it took us 30 minutes by car to get to the other side of the River Feshie. After a short and relatively flat walk up the road, we began our ascent through a dense pine forest, greeted by a Red Squirrel. There seemed to be a few gnarly older-growth trees, but this part of the forest was mostly pine plantation.
As we gained elevation, the trees slowly thinned and shrunk until we eventually emerged into a seemingly endless expanse of heather. Despite the great habitat, Red Grouse were nowhere to be seen (or heard). The higher we went, the shorter the heather became. By the time we neared the top of the plateau, the heather gave way to moss, grass, rocks, and fog.
Amid this somewhat barren landscape, I spotted three Rock Ptarmigan, an extremely exciting lifer. After reaching the plateau, we came across two adorable ptarmigan chicks, wandering around unsupervised.
The first “peak” we encountered was Carn Ban Mor. It used to be considered its own munro (3000+ foot mountain) but was downgraded due to its proximity to other peaks. And it’s really more of a rolling hill than a peak. As we headed towards the real munro—Sgor Gaoith (pronounced something like “skor go-ey”)—the sun peeked through the clouds and burned off the fog.
The sunlit plateau was beautiful. However, the peak of Sgor Gaoith may be the most scenic place my wife and I have ever been. Its rocky cliffs tower 2,000 feet above Loch Einich, offering (literally) breathtaking views of the loch and surrounding mountains. You should definitely click these photos to enlarge.
As we headed back down the plateau, we came across a Eurasian Dotterel (lifer) close to the path. We also got distant views of Eurasian Golden-Plovers (lifer) and Dunlins. These three species of “shorebirds” breed in these high elevation mountains.
When we got back to Carn Ban Mor, we had a decision point: return the way we came for a 10-mile round trip, or continue for a longer loop. After some hard bargaining, my wife agreed to the big loop. This afforded us a more immersive plateau experience. We passed near several small ponds, high-elevation wetlands, and large sections of curiously upturned bare ground. I presume the disturbed soil is caused by trapped moisture and freeze/thaw cycles, but I’m not sure.
We encountered a surprising variety of life forms atop the plateau, including dozens of tadpoles of the European Common Frog (lifer), a Rough Violet Ground Beetle (lifer), a Sedge Darner dragonfly laying eggs (lifer), and an unidentified water strider. It’s impressive that these small creatures can survive such harsh environments.
We began our descent just before reaching Mullach Clach a’Bhlair. Here, the rocky gorge of Coire Garblach to the north provided a dramatic contrast to the rolling heath moors to the south.
As we approached Glen Feshie, we eventually crossed the treeline, where old-growth Caledonian pine forest covers the steep slopes. This was the second most impressive forest of the trip. The open-canopy forest eventually transitioned into mature pine plantations, which ended as we neared the Allt Garblach. Crossing this stream was a bit of a challenge, as flooding had carved the opposite bank into an inaccessible 20-foot cliff! After a short detour, we began the long trek along the open glen paralleling the River Feshie before (finally) making it back to our car.
Back at Killiehuntly, we enjoyed watching a Field Vole before heading indoors for some well-deserved R&R.
Thursday was yet again cool and cloudy, with intermittent sprinkles. While my wife slept in, I took the car over to Uath Lochans. The scenery here was comparable to Loch an Eilein—basically a series of small lochs surrounded by lush pine forests. Uath Lochans lacks a castle, but it also lacks the crowds of Eilein; I ran into only one other person on my walk. Uath Lochans also features 75-foot-tall cliffs that offer a birds-eye view of the treetops. I saw a fair assortment of birds here, but nothing new. I paid close attention to the vocalizations of Red Crossbills, hoping without success to pick out a Scottish Crossbill (Scotland’s only endemic bird species). Maybe next time! Although I didn’t see any avian lifers, I did manage one new odonate, aptly named the “Large Red Damselfly.”
My next stop was the massive Loch Insh and its lakeside deciduous forest. The most interesting animals included Eurasian Bullfinches (feeding young), Mute Swans (with young), Common Goldeneys, a Red-throated Loon, and a pair of Red Squirrels.
My wife and I spent the afternoon at the Highland Wildlife Park, run by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland. We generally prefer to see wildlife in the wild, so we don’t often visit zoos. However, this visit reminded us how awesome it is to see large animals up-close, and also of the great conservation work underlying many zoo exhibits. Highland Wildlife park hosts a variety of mostly high-latitude species with circumpolar distribution, including some interesting Scottish animals. Our favorite species was unquestionably the Scottish Wildcat. Only dozens of these adorable (but fierce!) felines remain in the wild, with about 100 more in captivity. Highlands Wildlife Park, along with a variety of other zoos and organizations, participated in the first reintroduction of wildcats into the Cairngorms about a month before we visited. This was a small step towards restoring natural predators to the Scottish landscape. Most of Scotland’s apex predators—Grey Wolves, Lynx, and Brown Bears—were extirpated from the island over the last two millennia.
The park was also home to a variety of free-flying (not captive) birds. As with many of the captive species, many of the birds had fledglings young in tow, including Graylag Goose, Barnacle Goose, Eurasian Moorhen, and Barn Swallow.
We capped off our comparatively low-key (but interesting) day with a sauna and, as usual, an early night.
I went for a rather long solo adventure on Friday morning. I biked a rough road up the Glen Tromie to Loch an t-Seilich and back, about 18 miles in total. Although it was warmer (in the mid-60s), it was mostly cloudy and very windy, and I got caught in a downpour that soaked me to the bones. Of course, this was the one day I forgot to wear my rain jacket. You should always wear a rain jacket anytime you go anywhere in Scotland; lesson learned. Notwithstanding the rain, the ride was very scenic, with a nice mix of rocky river, meadows, pine forest, mixed forest, moorland, lochans, and a large loch.
The wildlife was wonderful. I saw a Hen Harrier and flushed a Eurasian Jay from the riverside meadows. Two boggy lochans held Common Teal, Common Goldeneye, and Little Grebes (with chicks). The best bird of the day was a Common Greenshank that flew over a lochan as I was pelted with horizontal rain. The lochans also held hundreds of Common Bluets, a Large Red Damsel, and a Golden-ringed Dragonfly. Along the road, I saw several large European Toads, a dead Adder, a Smooth Ground Beetle (lifer), and some Black Slugs.
After a low-key afternoon, I ventured into Kingussie for one final hillwalk up Creag Bheag, accessible from downtown. While walking up the road, I got great looks at a White-throated Dipper (lifer) foraging in the Gynack Burn. It’s always fun to see dippers—a unique family of aquatic songbirds—foraging underwater. It was also nice to see my second Gray Wagtail of the trip.
The path up Creag Bheag progressed from a birch woodland into a rocky, heath-covered hilltop situated about 850 feet above Kingussie and the Strathspey. Although I once again struck out on Red Grouse, a variety of other wildlife inhabited the hill, including Black Slugs, a Woodland Dor Beetle (lifer), and a Roe Deer. The descent took me through a pine forest with a couple Red Squirrels, followed by a neighborhood with European Rabbits.
On the way back home, I made a quick stop at the mouth of Loch Insh to see Osprey on their nest. This is a bigger deal than it would be in America, as Ospreys were extirpated from Great Britain in the early 20th century due largely to direct human persecution. Sound familiar? As noted in my earlier blog post, British people have historically killed a lot of raptors. Luckily, this species naturally recolonized Scotland later in the 20th century and are now doing okay.
Earlier in the day, I learned from two locals that Barn Owls nest in the stone maintenance building adjacent to our hayloft. So, on our last night at Killiehuntly, I staked out their entrance and waited patiently. After listening to them moving around and screeching for about half an hour, I finally saw both owls peek out of the entrance. I quietly departed to let them exit at their leisure.
The wind and clouds dissipated as the evening wore on, so I made a quick trip down to the marshes to enjoy the sunset. I didn’t see or hear many birds, but I did see a Brown Hare and both Roe and Red Deer.
My wife and I stayed up past sunset for only the second time this trip. This allowed us to hear the Barn Owls, which we must have slept through on previous nights. We opened the hayloft door to see them circling the parking lot and adjacent fields, occasionally illuminated by floodlights only 20 or 30 yards away! It was a special experience, and one that would be hard to replicate on our side of the pond.
We awoke on Saturday to a beautifully sunny morning. After packing, I made a final tour of the property, including a stop at the lochan to look for odonates. I saw dozens of Common Bluets and Common Spreadwings, plus a Common Darter and a Four-spotted Skimmer (lifer). The morning sun also brought out some butterflies; I saw a dozen Ringlets, a Small Heath, and a Small Tortoiseshell (lifer). As I got back to the parking lot, I remarked that the juvenile House-Martins looked ready to fledge. Sure enough, after a parent delivered one last mouthful of food, one of the juvies took its first flight out of the nest. What an experience to witness! With that send-off, we hopped in the car and hit the road.
We stopped for lunch at the charming riverfront town of Dunkeld, just north of Edinburgh. By the time we got into town, the skies were once again blanketed in clouds. I dropped my wife off at some downtown destinations, then made my way through the heart of the city towards my destination of choice. This was the most miserable driving experience I’ve ever had. After an hour of excruciating traffic, I finally made it to Levenhall Links (aka the Musselburgh lagoons), arguably the top birding destination near Edinburgh.
Although I was a bit hurried, I managed to see a whopping 50 species of birds—including 6 more lifers—scattered between constructed wetlands, woods, fields, sea, and mudflats. The wetlands were covered in ducks and shorebirds, including a dozen Common Shelducks (lifer), a Ruddy Shelduck (lifer, but possibly an escapee), 8 Black-tailed Godwits (lifer), about 75 Northern Lapwings, a dozen Common Redshanks, and a Common Snipe. The woods and fields held lots of passerines, including a handful of Greater Whitethroats (lifer) and another handful of Stock Doves (lifer). The property is hemmed in by a tall seawall. From it I saw enormous rafts of Common Eiders. After reviewing my photos, I discovered a Velvet Scoter (lifer) mixed in with hundreds of eiders. The mudflats at the mouth of the River Esk were loaded with a variety of gulls, nearly a hundred Mute Swans, a couple hundred Eurasian Oystercatchers, and good numbers of Eurasian Curlews and other shorebirds. Overall, it was a terrific location that I’d love to return to.
I took the long way back to our inn (no traffic) and rejoined my wife for a relaxing dinner and early night. We departed early Sunday morning for a long and uneventful day of traveling. The Toronto airport easily won the prize for nicest airport of the trip.
Summary By the Numbers
This trip included a lot of traveling by a lot of different means. We covered 7,570 miles by airplane. We covered an order of magnitude less by car: 884 miles. Continuing the pattern, our total distance on foot was another order of magnitude lower: a respectable 97 miles. (As noted earlier, this included our personal latest, highest, and longest day hikes.) We also covered about 35 miles by boat and 34 miles by bike.
I saw 116 species of birds on the trip. A whopping 80 of these were lifers, plus 4 species that I saw for the first time in their native habitat. It’s hard to pick favorites, but if forced to choose, I’d split the honors between Rock Ptarmigan, Black Grouse, Eurasian Dotterel, and Northern Lapwing.
In typical fashion, taxa other than birds were represented by far fewer species. I saw 8 species of mammals (7 of which were lifers). Eurasian Pine-Martin won the prize. I saw 2 species of amphibians and 1 reptile (all lifers). The Adder eating a fledgling was unforgettable. I only saw 7 species of butterflies (all lifers). This was attributable to poor weather conditions and a lack of effort. I also saw only 7 species of dragonflies and damselflies (all lifers). I blame those results entirely on the weather, as I tried my best to search out and identify odes. I also saw a handful of other invertebrates that I won’t quantify.
If you’ve read this far, you can probably guess that I took an extraordinary number of photos. I took about 2000 images of wildlife with my camera and another 1300 landscape shots with my phone. About 10% of those are featured in this two-part blog. I hope you enjoyed them!
Given that this was my first trip overseas, I wanted to jot down a few thoughts about the similarities and differences between Scotland and America.
From where I stand, there were two particularly important differences: (1) In Scotland, everyone has the right to responsibly roam almost anywhere in the country—a huge improvement from America’s system of “owning” land and excluding access by others. As a traveler, I’m obviously biased; I might feel differently if I owned land in Scotland. (2) In Scotland, everyone drives on the wrong side of the road. This is just terrible. The world police needs to impose a standardized system. This would save thousands of human and sheep lives.
Beyond those two things, the differences were subtle. Obviously, everyone speaks English, which made things easy. Gaelic words sounded funny and were hard to pronounce, but we only encountered a few people with accents thick enough to confuse. It was amusing to learn the different English words they used, and we did our best to assimilate.
Cities and small towns in Scotland are all nicer than comparable cities and towns in America. I probably wouldn’t dislike cities so much if I lived in Scotland. Everything is charming. The people are nice. Financial transactions are so much better—taxes are included in advertised prices, no tips are expected, and you often pay before eating (even at some nice sit-down restaurants).
Scotland also seems somewhat more ecologically responsible than America, at least in recent times. Of course, Brits used to habitually kill raptors and have managed lands for the exclusive benefit of certain species (Red Grouse, Red Deer, human hunters), to the detriment of others. But that seems to be turning around. And although most of Scotland’s native landscape (e.g., Caledonian forest in the highlands) is gone, multiple entities are attempting to re-wild large expanses of it. And even the not-quite-natural landscapes in the Scottish highlands are wild and pristine in their own right. This is probably because there just aren’t many people in the highlands. Scotland also seems greener at the consumer level; I’m not sure if this is due to government intervention or a generally more conscientious populace. We saw basically zero paper towels or plastic bags; high-efficiency toilets everywhere; almost no air conditioning, etc. Animal welfare, organic produce, and similar ideas seemed to be universally available and recognized everywhere we went. In general, the enjoyment of nature also seems to have a higher priority—or at least is more normalized—in Scotland than America. Exploratory hobbies (like birding) seem a bit more mainstream. Dogs on trails were significantly better behaved than what you’d find here. Perhaps most importantly, we didn’t hear any obnoxious music from other hikers/hillwalkers.
There were some other funny differences. Bike brakes (front/rear) are on opposite sides of the handlebars; I guess this is related to the wrong-side-of-the-road dynamic. Electric switches are flipped down (not up) to turn on. The “first floor” is really the second floor. Beds include only a bottom sheet and a duvet (this is actually amazing). It was hard to find normal drip coffee, but cappuccinos were ubiquitous (always served on a saucer). Alcoholic drink “units” were laughably small, and “pint” glasses came in a variety of different sizes. The UK has a weird hybrid of imperial and metric measurement systems. They use miles (for distance and speeds), which was nice, but I never got used to Celsius or volume measurements in mL. I guess that makes me just another ignorant American!
OK, that’s all, folks. If this took you a long time to read, just imagine how long it took me to write it!