8 Notable Quirks about Scotland
1. Driving the One Lane "Tracks" (roads) - it's kinda like a game of chicken
What you need to know:
Drive on the left. First and foremost, this is the one thing you have to remember. Not just because it's the law in the United Kingdom but it's a safety thing as well. Pass other vehicles on the right.
One lane "tracks". Throughout the Highlands, most of the roads are a single lane but in both directions. You might think it's a game of chicken as to who gets off the road, but it's quite organized. Look for the marked "passing place" signs. See photo above. This is where the road briefly widens so two cars can easily pass. They're placed conveniently enough every few hundred meters or so. The unwritten rule is that the last car to reach a passing place stops and pulls over to the left - if the road widens to the left - and waits for the approaching car to pass. If the road only widens on the right side, just stop on the left side of the road and let the approaching car pass you on your right. Please don't pull over to the right all you right-sided drivers of the world. It just confuses everyone.
Be aware of the sheep. The sheep are allowed to move from one pasture to the next by crossing or walking down roads when convenient for them. Simply stop and let them pass. It's fun to see and they can be quite cute.
Be aware of your fuel levels. Gas / Petrol stations are not exactly sparse but not very prevalent either. There's enough stations but only one or two in the larger towns. Just remember to fill up before your tank gets too low.
2. Haggis bon bons - You say haggis, we say what?
What you need to know:
Haggis. What exactly is this mystery meat? Haggis is a savory pudding containing the sheep's heart, liver and lungs minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and cooked while traditionally encased in the animal's stomach though now an artificial casing is often used instead. It's often served at breakfast. Bubbly Tourist is divided on its taste. One of us will eat it gladly, the other not so much.
Haggis bon bon. Say what? Given the above description of haggis, it's safe to say that a haggis bon bon is not sweet nor is it a bon bon! We saw this dinner item on the menu at the Copper Dog restaurant at the Craigellachie hotel. Although we both ate it, again only one of us came away enjoying it. However, according to the local staff, people love it.
3. What's with the warm beer?
Cask beer, mostly found in the United Kingdom, is served at “cellar temperature,” or a little cooler than room temperature, roughly 50–55°F. Beers with broader flavor spectrums, such as imperial, barrel-aged or flavored stouts, are also better served at slightly higher temperatures to allow the drinker to experience those flavors.
What is cask beer? It's unfiltered beer (usually ale), that is transferred into casks, carbonated, sealed and then undergoes a slight final fermentation in the cask. The traditional method for dispensing cask beer is through a beer engine (hand pump). These are usually a shorter, more squat tap.
Want a cold beer? Look for the traditional, taller beer taps or just ask the barkeep.
4. Whisky for Breakfast - um, okay?
It's not as unusual as you might think. In fact for the Scots, it can be quite traditional. We spoke to a number of Scots, both men and women, who would drink it first thing in the morning. While in the Highland hotels, it was not uncommon for us to see this on the breakfast menu served with porridge as shown in the above photo. We certainly don't advise it if you'll be driving but as the co-pilot, go for it!
5. Loons or Quines - confused about which restroom to use?
What should you do when you see these two signs on the restroom doors and no one is around to ask? Just read below and avoid the risk of barging in on some unsuspecting customer...
Quines - women's restroom
Loons - men's restroom
FYI, Quine goes back to Old English cwen, meaning a woman, wife or, as in modern English, a queen Though loon is now used to mean boy, it dates back to at least the 1400s, where it was recorded as "loun" meaning "a worthless person"
6. Become a Lord or Lady - It's a real thing... and for a good cause
Care to own a small piece of this wondrous country and become a Lord and/or Lady at the same time? It's a very simple and legal process that you can follow through various sites in Scotland. Bubbly Tourist worked directly via the Highland Titles website in advance of our travels to Scotland to acquire two adjacent 10 square foot properties for a little over $100. A couple weeks later our gift pack arrived that contained our lord and ladyship certificates as well as the geo-coordinates for the exact location of our plots.
We were then able to visit Highland Titles Nature Reserve and see our plots about 15 minutes south of Glencoe. It's organized quite nicely with a trailer just off the road where the friendly staff provide a map that will help guide you across the conservation area to your exact plot location. The land is quite natural and beautiful with walking and bike paths.
The conservation area is intended to reintroduce native Scottish habitats, protect Scottish wildlife and reintroduce native Scottish species. From the photo above, you can clearly see the reforestation process at work where they are cutting down non-native pines that were too densely planted so that no vegetation could grow below them. The plan is to reintroduce native Scottish Birch in its place and allow the land to become what it once was that eventually support and protect Scottish wildlife and species.
7. Ah, the peat - beware the bog
That beautiful peat that brings smokiness to the whiskies of Western Scotland sits beneath the land and is not always visible. While walking about you might think the land looks safe enough to walk on in your dry shoes but beware that it can be deceiving. All that rain just soaks into the land and creates these bogs. What may be mistaken for dry grass may in fact be very wet. See the photo above that looks back on Isle of Skye from the Applecross Pass and you'll get an idea of the bogs you'll inevitably see in many parts of Scotland.
Bring your waterproof shoes or your wellies to be safe while hiking. But if you're like The Bubbly Tourist and like to pack lightly with only your carryon then this may not be an option. In which case, just stick to the paths if you can. Otherwise, traverse at your own risk. At the Quairing Walk while on Isle of Skye, we thought we could off-road the trail to shortcut back to the carpark and were unpleasantly surprised to get stuck in the bogs. We had to backtrack to the path which quickly became a learning experience.
8. The National Animal - The Unicorn?
The picture above is of the Stirling Castle royal coat of arms which hangs in the Throne Room. Surprised by the unicorn? It is Scotland's national animal. You'll see it everywhere you go. We think it helps explain the magic of Scotland.