Confessions of a Former Tick-Box Traveller
By this point, you will all be well aware of the Scotland Time mantra: travel less, see more. But I have to admit that I have not always been of that mindset.
I first came to the UK as an au pair in 2002. Having fallen in love with the country from a distance while reading the works of the Brontes, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson… and, well, you get the picture – I was desperate to see EVERYTHING.
And I had a good go at it. By the end of 2004, I had spent about six weeks in Scotland, with numerous other short trips around England and Wales. In the days before social media and picture sharing platforms had taken off as they have now, I had decided on everything and planned each aspect in meticulous detail, using only my Lonely Planet for a guide.
See if this sounds familiar. My first trip to Scotland was for a week.
We drove up to Glasgow. Spent the night. Saw the Cathedral, when to St Mungo’s museum. Then it was up to Fort William. Spent another night there. Went to the wee church in town and had a yummy dinner at a pub. Next day, on to Skye – stopping in at the visitor centre in Glen Coe and Eilean Donan Castle on the way. One night there, then a quick jaunt up to Inverness. Saw the castle. Walked by the river. Another nice pub. Then back south to Edinburgh (stopping at Blair Atholl – and a few other sites that I can’t even remember now – on the way), where we spent two nights and ‘saw the city’ in two days: the castle, Holyrood Palace, Arthur’s Seat, the Writer’s Museum, the Royal Mile, the World’s End pub.
And that was it.
Now, you might be sitting there thinking: but that sounds GREAT! That is JUST what I want to see/would like to do. But guess what? While I was completely enthralled, I felt even more desperate than I had before the trip started. I could not quite understand how zipping around and ticking off so many ‘must sees’ from my list didn’t make me feel… satisfied. Like I had really ‘seen’ Scotland.
After repeatedly making the same type of trips and making the same mistakes, I finally figured out what it was that was bothering me. I did not feel like I was really experiencing the places I was visiting. I was seeing the sites as a tourist. But I was not really lingering long enough to let them soak into me. To let them get under my skin. To get to know them with anything even approaching familiarity.
I was not allowing myself any leeway in my over-planned schedule to go wandering… to follow the brown road signs pointing towards – what, exactly? Somewhere I hadn’t seen on social media (these were the days before Instagram even existed… yep, I’m old!) Somewhere not promoted on the Visit Scotland website. Somewhere not mentioned in my trusty Lonely Planet guide. But – as I have come to learn – sometimes it is those very places that are the most special. The most worth seeing. And the most wonderful thing? So often you have them completely to yourself. Because everyone else is still caught up in the tourist version of the rat race. The sense of wonder and discovery is better than any tick of a castle that is on everyone’s fb wall after a trip to Scotland. Trust me.
And now? Well, there are still places on my ‘must see’ list that remain unseen. And you know what? I’m okay with it. Not because I live here and ‘have forever’, but because I know that the special places are the ones that I might not have heard of from everyone, but that I discover for myself.
That is why Scotland Time exists. To point you in the direction of those places. To try to encourage you to take the road/track/path/lane less travelled.
It will make all the difference.
*for a comprehensive list of brown sign ‘types’, check out: http://www.followthebrownsigns.com/brown-signs/
**featured image is Cairnholy II… one of two chambered tombs in the hills of Dumfries and Galloway that are found by following one of those ubiquitous brown signs. 😉