October 10, 2013

Leprechauns and lochs: Visiting Ireland and Scotland Part 2

William Cook, owner of Sure African Imprint Travel in Pretoria, continues his UK adventure as he waves goodbye to the Irish leprechauns and heads to the lovely lochs of Scotland…

Scotland is truly a picturesque and beautiful part of the UK. The country is very similar to Ireland with the friendly people, but is very expensive with the Pound and Rand exchange rate. Diesel is about £1.42 per litre, fish and chips is about £8.40 per serving. I wasn’t “desperate” enough to try Haggis and pork belly though!

The roads are the same as in Ireland. From narrow country roads to double lane highways, they are all tarred and don’t have any potholes. The country is also spotlessly clean with no litter. We did, however, find litter bins but had to look closely for them.

Inverness is not really a tourist destination, but Edinburgh has much to offer. We went on a dungeons/ghost tour into the underground chambers that are pitch black and were used to imprison baddies or those who fell foul to the royalty of the day. Nobody lasted longer than 18 months there. We got the fright of our lives when a ghost/monster jumped out at us from a dark corner, only to disappear back into the darkness. The young girl behind my wife almost jumped onto her back!

Most restaurants in Inverness close their kitchens at about 9pm. The few still open past then had musicians playing and singing Scottish songs.

However, walking through Edinburgh at 10:30 pm, the town square and side streets were filled with people going to night clubs and restaurants. Many of the places had live music. Edinburgh has an active nightlife.

We went to the Isle of Skye, but personally I was a bit disappointed considering all that I had read about it. It’s pretty yes, but I expected more after all the hype of it being one of the most picturesque parts of the Scottish Highlands. I thought that many other parts were far prettier. We unfortunately didn't see Nessie swimming, but managed to get a photo of her glaring at us.

We also made our way up to John O'Groats, the most northern part of Scotland, before you take a ferry to the Orkney and Shetland Islands. The scenery was magnificent all the way to the north. As a matter of fact, so was all of the Scottish Highlands.

Castles are plentiful, but entrance fees are £10 per person. My suggestion is that you do your homework beforehand and choose two or three to visit, or buy a heritage pass for two or more days. This allows you to see quite a number of them for free. The one we went to was the holiday "house" of the late Queen Mum. I would have loved to be royalty!

What amazed us in both Ireland and Scotland was the number of hotels and B&Bs we came across. In every village, however small, and in the countryside there were country hotels and B&Bs.  I don’t believe it would be necessary to book in advance when travelling out of season. Most of the hotels we saw were graded and one can inspect B&Bs before taking a room. Many, if not all, had en-suite bathrooms.

Hotel overview:
We  stayed in 3* hotels (with the exception of the 4* Marriott in Edinburgh) throughout the trip and all were of an acceptable standard. A point to remember - whether you are at home or travelling abroad - is to always check that what the hotels charge on your card is correct.  At the Marriott, as with all hotels, you have to give your card as guarantee when you book in. They would have over-charged us by about R600 for drinks we had if we hadn’t checked.

The President Hotel we stayed at in London could probably be compared to a 2* in South Africa. Their continental breakfast was almost non-existent. Tables were not cleared and I had to go and ask for bread and orange juice. For one night it’s ok, but not ideal for longer stays. The advantage of the hotel is that it is only a 5 minutes’ walk from Russell Square tube station. Having said all that, the hotel was also fully booked for the two nights we stayed there.

At the Holiday Inn in Killarney we were upgraded to a suite - probably because the manager had visited South Africa on his honeymoon and enjoyed it tremendously!

At the Jurie's Inn in Cork we had lovely views over the river. The rooms were spacious and the bathrooms had a shower over the bath. Both Trafalgar and Insight Vacations tours used this hotel when we were there. Recommended for budget minded travellers.

The Jurie's Inn in Dublin seems to be very popular and busy. Parking is a distance away from the entrance so we double parked in front of the hotel to drop off our bags when we arrived and then went to park. Bathroom has a shower over the bath. Can also be recommended for budget minded travellers.

The Marriott is also used by Trafalgar and other tour operators. They offered the best breakfast of all the hotels. Shower over bath. Can be recommended.

Car rental:
In Ireland we upgraded to a Nissan Qashqai diesel. In Scotland were given a Peugeot 308 diesel and Citroen C4 diesel. The only problem was that neither of them would handle luggage for 4 passengers as the boots are too small. We had two cars so it wasn’t a problem for us though. Both cars were easy to drive with a lot of vooma.

Virgin Atlantic:
The service and food was good. The best part, however, was the extra leg room. For R380 extra one way, it made the journey that much easier. Definitely recommended.

Overall impressions:
I wouldn’t necessarily suggest a visit to both countries at the same time like we did. Both Ireland and the Scottish Highlands have more or less the same scenery, except for the lakes and lochs in Scotland.

Overlooking the exchange rate that makes both countries expensive, both Ireland and Scotland can be highly recommended for the tourist who wants scenic beauty, friendly people, excellent roads, safety and food.

Photo credits: William Cook

The travel bug first bit when William Cook road tripped through Zimbabwe & Zambia for a month before heading to university. A 22-year career working in Foreign Affairs allowed him to indulge his passion for travel and he once travelled almost 150 000 km by car throughout Europe with his wife and 2 sons. William Cook is the owner of Sure African Imprint Travel in Akasia, Pretoria.

Sure African Imprint Travel in Pretoria can be contacted on +27 12 542 1911 or at travelinfo@saitravel.co.za.
To find your nearest Sure Travel agency, click here


Photographs are looking amazing. You must have enjoyed a lot at all these places. Last time i also went to Ireland and had all these experiences. We stayed In Ireland at Ardnasidhe, it is amazing. You can have a look at this for further information http://www.ardnasidhe.com/manor-country-house-ireland

Post a Comment