It’s not hard to enjoy Scotland – there are castles everywhere, and of course those adorable sheep prancing on rolling green hills. But sometimes the best memories are made without direction from any guidebook, or even offering up that picturesque scenery so many of us long to capture. Here are three unexpectedly, surprisingly fun things to do in Scotland:
1. Watch Border Collies herd sheep
Leault Farm in Kincraig is a working sheep farm that offers a herding demonstration a couple times per day. Neil, the man in charge (with a Scottish accent so thick I had to squint to understand even half of what he said) introduces his team of Border Collies, allows his herd of sheep to disperse across a large field, and then issues a series of whistled commands to the dogs to strategically herd them all back to us. Each dog has its own whistle call so Neil can direct them one at a time to run, crouch, crawl, and pop back up at the right moment to move the herd.
We were lucky to visit when he had 3 puppies just beginning to learn to integrate with the working pack, and we saw how the herding instinct is so powerful that even without any training, the puppies knew how to crouch down and crawl toward the sheep so as not to scare them into running off.
When a dog was not working at that point in the demo, they would come sit on the rocks with us in the audience, but they never took their eyes off the action. At one point, when the dogs seemed to be losing control over the herd, two of the experienced dogs bolted from their places next to us out to the field to assist their rookie brothers, even without being directed by Neil.
The demonstration is just for our viewing pleasure, but the place is actually a working farm where the sheep live and graze in peace for most of the year, except at shearing time, when the dogs are used to herd them in for their “haircuts.” After the demo, you get to bottle feed sheep and lambs. If you’re an animal lover like me, this place is heaven on Scottish soil.
- The farm is hard to find so leave plenty of time to let GPS take you miles past the turn-off, then back again.
- Catch the first demonstration and Neil will let you stay to watch the second immediately after for no extra charge.
2. Sit in a pub, order treacle and date pudding, and listen to the Scottish accent
A big part of traveling to a different country for me is to sit and absorb my surroundings – the sounds, the gestures, the accents. It helps me to feel grounded when I start to feel dizzy from all of the newness. One of my favorite memories of Scotland was sitting in a pub in the town of Inverness after a long day of chasing castles, listening to the especially thick Scottish accent in this area from a few groups of people nearby. That’s when I fell in love with that accent. And treacle and date pudding? Just the most intense explosion of flavor in dessert form.
Mums in Edinburgh has the best treacle and date pudding
3. Walk underneath the Royal Mile in Edinburgh
The Real Mary King’s Close is a subterranean alley located directly under the Royal Mile that was the hub of Edinburgh between the 17th and 19th centuries. Eventually, the area was paved over to effectively “start fresh” with wider streets for better circulation and better quality of life, but much of the alleys and homes exist in their original conditions. Today you can explore these tenement alleys frozen in time on tours led by costumed guides who take on the character of a person who lived in the close centuries ago. You get a genuine feel of the claustrophobic conditions people lived in that also led to the spread of plagues and other desperate conditions. [Photo above is of the Royal Mile, as photos are not allowed on the tour]
There are other underground / ghost tours heavily marketed in the area, but if you only have time for one, this one is the best because it has a richer story with more intact living spaces.
Have you gone to a place that was unexpectedly fun or memorable? I’d love to hear about it!