10 Things I Learned in Visiting Scotland: Unique Scottish Culture

My week in Scotland flew by and I am now back home in sunny Chiang Mai, which means it’s time to share with you some of the things I learned during my visit.

1. It’s pronounced Edinbra

Edin-burg, Edin-bro, Edin-bo-rough… How do you even pronounce the city’s name?! After a bit of eavesdropping, it seemed like all the locals were saying Edinbra. I’ll admit at first I felt like a bit of a phony trying to pronounce it with a Scottish accent, but the locals wouldn’t have it any other way. Whenever I slipped back to my default Canadian pronunciation, they would correct me right away, “No, it’s Edinbra!”

2. The Scots know how to throw one crazy party

While in some cities the New Year’s celebrations are a one night affair, in Edinburgh the festivities went on for days. The Torchlight Procession lead by the Up Helly Aa vikings got the celebrations underway on the 30th, and that was followed by a massive street party on New Year’s Eve. Multiple stages were set up along Princes Street with everything from Scottish bands to international artists like the Pet Shop Boys gracing the stage. My personal favourites were Treachorous Orchestra which played their accordions and fiddles on the Scottish stage (so much fun even though I walked away with bruises from all the kicking and dancing!), and the Rewinder Stage where DJs kept the crowd going to the likes of The Fratellis, Franz Ferdinand, and The Killers long after the party had ended. And if that wasn’t enough, the following morning it was time for the Loony Dook!

3. The best place to see the fireworks is beneath the castle

About half an hour before the clock stroke midnight, I broke away from the main stage where the Pet Shop Boys were playing in the Princes Street Gardens, and made my way west so that I was standing just below Edinburgh Castle. There was hardly anyone there and it was a nice spot to enjoy the fireworks as they painted the dark sky with a sparkling shower of golds and blues.

4. Edinburgh has a spooky history

It’s easy to see why Edinburgh is home to so many ghost tours and how it inspired J.K. Rowling while she was writing the Harry Potter series. Edinburgh lends itself well to the dark side…at least from certain angles. On my first day out in the city I randomly ended up at the Saint Cuthbert’s Burial Ground which sits directly beneath Edinburgh Castle. I would later learn that the watchtower on Saint Cuthbert’s Church was built in the early 1800s in order to protect bodies from being snatched by Edinburgh’s grave robbers. This was a big business at the time considering the leading medical faculty was in need of corpses for its anatomy lessons. Another look at Edinburgh’s spooky history came in the form of a visit to Mary King’s Close – a tour down a narrow alley and a series of houses that now lie underground feared haunted due to their connection with murders and death by the plague.

5. There is a tartan for every clan

It’s kind of cool visiting Scotland if you’re of Scottish descent because you can easily find your clan’s tartan. While kilts are a popular choice, there is also the option of picking out a tie or a scarf with the same pattern. And if like me you’re not Scottish, fret not because you can still pick up a tartan. The Isle of Skye, for example, has a special pattern based on the region as opposed to a clan name, which means you can pick up a little souvenir even if you’re not a MacLeod or a MacDonald.

6. The Scots have their own way of spelling things

Let’s start with the national beverage of choice: whiskey. The rest of the English speaking world may spell it with an ‘ey’ ending, however, in Scotland it’s whisky without the ‘e. Make no mistake of that or the Scots will stare at you in horror. Next up another variation I noticed at the supermarket: ‘porage’ instead or porridge… I guess it looks the way it is pronounced, but I still found it strange!

7. You can eat more than greasy food

While Scotland may have a reputation for deep-frying a lot of its food (I’m talking about pizza slices and chocolate bars!), Edinburgh introduced to lots of great eats. With its healthy fruit smoothies, fresh salads, and toasted bagels, Hula Juice Bar made me feel like I was back home in Chiang Mai. Oink would tempt me through the window with its pulled pork sandwiches every time I walked down the West Bow. And One Square made me like venison with its tender Venison Wellington. Of course, I ate plenty of fish and chips while I was there, but I just wanted to show you that there are other options in Scotland!

8. It takes some serious guts to do the Loony Dook

If you’ve ever done the Loony Dook or any kind of event that involves running into a freezing body of water in the middle of winter, then my hat goes off to you! I was shivering in my winter jacket and boots as I watched from the shore – I didn’t even dip a toe! I can’t imagine how the Loony Dookers felt as they leapt into the Firth of Forth in full costume!

9. Scotland is a great destination anytime of year

Even if you missed Hogmanay there are still plenty of reasons to visit Scotland. This year Scotland is going to be hosting a number of events hence dubbing 2014 “Homecoming Scotland”. This will include a number of annual events like the Edinburgh International Book Festival (where J.K. Rowling and Sean Connery have been known to make appearances!), the Fringe Festival, and the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, as well as special events like the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup. Plus if the above photo shows you what winter is like, you can be sure the landscapes are only better in summer when the hills are purple with heather. For more information on events happening throughout the year, you can click here.

10. You can’t come to Scotland and not visit the Highlands

Scotland’s landscapes are nothing short of dramatic. I wasn’t sure this part of the country would be very scenic in the middle of winter, but I was wrong. The dark skies and occasional fog only added to the mysterious feel of the place; especially once we reached the Isle of Skye and our guide began to regale us with folkloric tales of fairies, water spirits, and dark creatures said to live in the lochs.

And that was Scotland!

Have you been to Scotland?
Do you have any strange or interesting facts to share?

* * *

#blogmanay is brought to you by Edinburgh’s Hogmanay and is supported by ETAG, EventScotland,
Homecoming Scotland, VisitScotland, Edinburgh Festivals, Marketing Edinburgh, Historic Scotland and
co-creators Haggis Adventures. Created and produced by Unique Events.