Madison is in 5th year at Mary Erskine's in Edinburgh and is hoping to be a journalist. Here is her review of our West Highlands tour...
How You Can Discover a Scotland to Fall in Love With
Sir Walter Scott portrayed his homeland as a desperately romantic and beautiful country, an image that has transcended his own lifetime and remains the view tourists visiting Scotland wish to see.
However, many twenty-first century Scots will claim that this is not the ‘authentic’ Scotland, which, they believe, is more than just the whisky-fuelled, hill and glen, haggis haven that travellers to the country expect. Nonetheless, a trip around Scotland on Rabbie’s Tours will have anyone, from international visitors to Glaswegian or Edinburgher city slickers, falling in love with such a traditional Scotland- and it feels, surprisingly and thankfully, genuine.
Rabbie’s Tours have run throughout the U.K since 1993 and during their two decades of operation have accumulated awards for innovation, entrepreneurship and development. However, their main aim, and success, has been creating unforgettable memories for the thousands of people who travel with them each year for, as summarised by our guide Shelby Mahon - who has worked with the company for nine years- the tours are, principally, “memory-makers”.
Shelby says that the most incredible moments on the tours are neither planned nor manufactured, rather they create themselves with the help of the people on board. And with stories of close-harmony Norwegians singers, Canadians locating family roots and Australians discovering Scottish backgrounds, it is clear that such events reflect the entire tour experience itself: people from every circumstance possible joining together and forming cherished experiences, against the stunning backdrop of the Scottish countryside.
Indeed, our one-day tour, through the Western Highlands and its castles and lochs, in early June, contained an eclectic group of nationalities ranging from the United States to Taiwan, many of whom were newbies to Scotland and the Rabbie’s Tours Experience. Certainly, the tour is tailored to those without extensive knowledge of Scotland’s culture, history and people, but the enthusiastic and passionate storytelling from your guide will equally inspire deep pride and patriotism within any Scots on the tour. As we made our way to Kilchurn Castle- that sits on the immense Loch Awe- the old castle ruins; the vast, lush forestry and a glimmer of the warmth of a Scottish summer, led to a moment so Caledonian, you could just hear the faint whisper of Mel Gibson crying “Freedom!” from the hilltops.
Such an atmosphere continued throughout the tour and was aided by a careful selection of Scottish music (from bands such as Wolfstone and Capercaillie) and tales of the likes of William Wallace and Mary, Queen of Scots. Such stories often contained colourful characters and dramatic deaths, the Glencoe Massacre provoking particular pathos, and were brought to life with such gusto that even a professor of Scottish history would struggle to not be intrigued by such a retelling of Scotland’s past. These tales also allow the tours to retain the unique quality of being interesting for all, from children to retirees. The stops that complemented the commentary included Doune Castle (the backdrop to Monty Python and The Holy Grail and, more recently, was seen as the fictional castle ‘Winterfell’ in popular television series Game of Thrones); the small town of Inveraray, which looks out onto the lovely Loch Fyne, and Loch Lomond, where a stirring rendition of ‘The Bonnie Banks o’ Loch Lomond’ welcomed us, along with a truly authentic drizzle of Scottish rain (or Scottish sunshine, as Shelby called it).
Our tour presented a spectacular snapshot of Scotland in just one day- in a fully air conditioned, sixteen seat minibus- but Rabbie’s offer packages that can last from two to seventeen days that also reveal the beautiful landscapes of the Scottish Isles, Ireland, England and Wales. Within Scotland, trips include three day excursions to Skye, whisky tasting tours and outings to Orkney and the Outer Hebrides. Prices are reasonable and, although the longer tours can cost up to £1158 (the seventeen day combined tour through Scotland), small day tours are usually around £40 per person and offer great value for those who seek to experience a flavour of Scotland and its dynamic past in a day. Not included in the price is admission to some of the sights the tour takes you to, allowing a degree of flexibility and ensuring the trip is tailor-made to your needs and desires- and pocket. Although Scottish sunshine can never be guaranteed, the hospitality of your guide and, hopefully, the camaraderie of travellers who embark on the voyage with you, will more than make up for a trickle of rain or cloudy skies.
Yet, what Rabbie’s ultimately represents transcends small details such as weather and costs. The best part of the job, according to Shelby, is watching people fall in love with Scotland. With Rabbie’s Tours, Scott’s romantic picture of Scotland is fully realised and we see a country that is remarkably rich in history; a country of striking, yet unpredictably rugged, landscapes; a country to endlessly discover and rediscover - a country to fall in love with!