Embarking On A Scottish Adventure

The Freedom to Roam, unburdened of fences and posted signs, angry landowners and angrier guard dogs, is a shared dream among adventurers. Scotland codified it in 2003. The Land Reform Act puts it pretty plainly: every person has the statutory right “to be… on land” — that is, all of it in the nation — and has “the right to cross” that land. Within guidelines for respectful use, recreational or educational, that means any Joe Scot can bring a backpack, a tent, and a friend and saunter cross-country, going where they please among the nation’s 30,000 square miles — many of them unpopulated, all of them free of any major predators besides the biting midges that emerge during the summer months. That is to say: pure adventure.

This sounded romanticized. So we set out to test it.

What we found was one of the most beautiful, alluring places on earth. Population density low, individual kindness high. Big country, history and culture. A food renaissance. And a national drink worth a flight halfway round the world all on its own.

And now we turn over our travel notes to you. Fifty stories — essays, videos, anecdotes, photo essays, travel guides, fibs, tall tales, recipes, folklore and history and poetry — from three men in Scotland, poised and bewildered, anxious and luxuriating, frustrated and joyful. But always curious, and always seeking that sweet spirit alive in the Right to Roam. Live it with us.

Producer: Jeremy Berger
Writers: Chris Wright, Jeremy Berger
Photographers: Sung Han, Jeremy Berger and Chris Wright
Film and Motion Photography: Sung Han
Designer: Eric Yang and Henry Phillips
Illustrations: J. Travis Smith

72 Hours In Glasgow

The Coat of Arms of Glasgow includes two salmon bearing rings, a tree, and Saint Mungo preaching atop his pulpit. The city is just as disparate: Glass-and-steel postmodern architecture accentuates red stone Victorian hulks; wide pedestrian walkways and retail strips abound, as do small and twisty streets, posh neighborhoods and wide swathes of foliage turning with the cool of fall. This makes Glasgow a quirky place balanced between simple pleasures and sophistication, where you can visit a 600-year-old university one moment and pound lagers at a blues bar the next.
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Postcard: Full Scottish Breakfast

I go to bed each night thinking: I’ve eaten plenty, and tomorrow I’ll have a light, healthy breakfast. Yet here I am, eating my third or fourth full Scottish in as many days.
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Landing in Glasgow

10:45am: Chris Wright, Assistant Editor

SCOTTISH MEN of a certain age definitely have a look about them. Leaving my seat and walking back to the head, seeing all their drawn sleeping faces, it was impossible to miss: They are impressively gray.


Their faces look like the craggy clouds blowing by a few thousand feet beneath our wings. It’s not gloominess, just a weathered quality, big impressive noses and puffy cumulous eyebrows and bulging eyeballs, all topographically laid out across faces that tend toward tall and thin. Sounds a bit monstrous on paper, but stare at a Scot and you’ll see what else I see: amid that rawness, a mirth that seems inherent to their homeliness. It’s impossible to miss.

The pilot’s called for seat belts and all are groggily preparing to land. The passengers know they’re flying over their homeland now, and when I look back again at their glassy eyes, it seems as if they’re welling up with pride.


The Rise of Scottish Craft Beer

Scottish craft beer is in its infancy. But its brewers are pushing new boundaries, using complex hops from around the world to launch a glut of creativity.
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Finding Nightlife In Glasgow

1:00am: Jeremy Berger, Special Projects Editor

BACK WHEN I lived in Berlin and had a mad aussie roommate, we’d shut down Cassiopeia or Antje Oeklesund and come back sometime during sunrise. There’d be Elvis impersonators, half-naked sphinxes and Sternburg Export. It was fun and weird. Granted: that was a long time ago, when I had a pierced lip. Maybe I’ve forgotten how to nose out that type of thing.


Our third night in Glasgow we hit the Curlers Rest, Hillhead Bookclub, Booly Mardy’s across the street, a pair of places on Ashton Lane. Just getting started, just rubbing our hands together. There were decent quality drinks — not sure I’d call them cocktails, but there were definitely some things mixed together — and everyone was basically just hanging out sipping and bullshitting. By the time we were ready for music at King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, it was closed. At 1:00 a.m.! Well, that’s what Chris said, anyway. I was back at the hotel ironing my pants and getting settled into bed. Maybe it’s a good thing we didn’t find Glasgow’s debauched party side, if indeed it exists. I got my rest and no night out would be worth missing the adventure awaiting us the following morning in the Highlands.

The Best Microbrews from Scotland’s Rising Craft Scene

Finding the best craft brews in Scotland with the help of Glasgow’s DryGate Brewery.
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Postcard: Glasgow’s Barras Market


The Glasgow Barrowland Market, aka Barras Market, was meant to be a destination, a must-see stop our tour of Glasgow, the gem of the East End. We found something slightly different.
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No Compromises at the Blythswood Square Hotel

Typically there’s a trade-off when you want to stay in the center of a major city: you sacrifice a bit of tranquility for some convenience. Blythswood Square requires no such bargain.
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Postcard: Escape to the Highlands

Sung Han

2:10 p.m. GMT | Outside Glasgow, Scotland — The highway flowed away from the concrete and into the bucking green hills north of Glasgow. The sheep seemed to be posing; my forehead no longer throbbed.
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Soundtrack For A Road Trip Through Scotland

This content is imported from Spotify. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.

Getting the Best of the Highlands at Monachyle Mhor

We were sitting in the dining room eating a breakfast of black pudding when Tom Lewis, owner, manager and head chef of Monachyle Mhor, burst in waving an enormous mushroom. Lewis is Welsh and moved to Scotland as a teen; I couldn’t understand a damn word he said.
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The Power of Aye

Chris Wright, Assistant Editor

“Aye” is a Scotsman’s yes. You won’t hear it much in Glasgow or Edinburgh, but drive north and it’ll creep into your days, embedding itself just like the Highland’s perpetual blanket of fog and mist. A Scotsman says “Aye” with simple feeling in this region, and he does so quite often.


There are also words between the ayes that aren’t just accented. The Scots have a bit of their own language, called Scotticisms. These include “A dinnae ken” (I don’t know), “Caw canny” (go easy), and “He’s gaun his dinger ower it”, (he’s in a rage over it). There are far, far more, but you’d have to look them up to find out, because it’s impossible to pick them up just by listening. Aye is the best, though, because it is intelligible and easy to do yourself.

It wasn’t until late in the trip that I learned “Aye” was even better than I thought — that it was more than just an interjection. We were talking to the barman at the oldest bar on the Isle of Skye. The fat old man wasn’t ill at ease — he was quite jovial, in a quiet, country sort of way — but when our native guide Ross spoke up with his low, thick Highland brogue, the man opened up; I realized he’d been suspicious of us Americans. Suddenly the barman was saying things to Ross that we couldn’t quite grab. Ayes were flowing like the River Spey. I stared in admiration as the secret conversation went on, in code, the two standing now with the body language of brothers.

The barman smiled. Ross smiled and said something; the barman responded, “aye”. They shook hands and we left. Ross was quite happy.

I asked Ross whether the barman seemed a nice guy, something of which I genuinely wasn’t sure. “Aye”, he said.

Quick Spin: Mercedes-Benz G350 BlueTEC

On a road trip your car becomes your home. As we discovered over 1,000 miles in Scotland, the Mercedes Benz G350 BlueTEC is a damn good home.
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In Failed Independence, Scottish Unity


The people of Scotland had a chance to gain independence from the United Kingdom in 2014: all it would take was a majority popular vote. They voted against it. The reasons why, and what the declined offer means for the country, are different for every Scot.
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The Hunter-Gatherer Chef of the Scottish Highlands

Foraging, butchering, and cooking a meal with chef Tom Lewis of Monachyle Mhor in the Scottish Highlands.
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Behind the Scenes: Field Dressing a Red Deer

“He’s the son of a butcher, working the deer like an extension of his own body, identifying the parts and where he likes to use them. The neck is braised and served in a sort of gravy; the venison loin, which I ate the night before, gets served on the same gravy; lean meat goes into mince or in a burger for staff lunch. We’ve got our hands on the meat. Lewis compels me to smell the deer and I do. The deer smells good and fresh.” – Jeremy Berger, Special Projects Editor

Lessons in Whisky, the Muse of Scotland

Robert Burns once wrote: “Oh thou, my Muse! guid auld Scotch drink; / Inspire me till I lisp and wink / To sing thy name!” Judging from our drinking experiences in Scotland, he was probably lit as hell when he penned it.
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Photo Essay: North Through the Highlands

We drove north toward our next destination, the Isle of Skye. Everything had thinned out but the country, which was opening up wider and wider, the mountains taller and the glens deeper, the colors around us shifting from warm greens to striking shades of brown, yellow and grey.
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Postcard: Aboard the Ferry to Skye


The bridge between the mainland and Scotland’s largest island had just been closed due to inclement weather — 70 mph winds and a rising sea. That sea roiled us now, the stout ferry rocking and weaving like a bantamweight prizefighter in the ring
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Photo Essay: Hiking The Storr

As we drove toward the Storr we could see the cliffs and the jagged rock pinnacles rising in the distance, partially obscured by clouds.
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Remembering Travelers Lost

Among all the wonderful people I met on our Scotland trip, the most memorable wasn’t someone new, and it wasn’t a re-acquaintance. It was someone I’d already lost.
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Behind the Scenes: Hailstorm on The Storr

“Aye, they were laying down on the ground holding onto rocks, a few tourists. Their ponchos were whipping in the wind. They bargained for an easier day. On paper the Storr is just a leisurely hike, but add wind and rain and you could get lofted off any one of the hills and go for a righteous tumble. That’s no lie.” – Jeremy Berger, Special Projects Editor

The Dangerous Futility of Sheep-Chasing

The average Scottish sheep weighs between 100 to 300 pounds, lives ten to twelve years, breeds seasonally and, somewhere inside its stupid, thick skull, thinks it’s an absolutely magnificent creature, even though its noise is called a bleat and it shits its little miniature droppings all over the place. This is because, in Scotland, it has no natural predators. Except for us sheep chasers.
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72 Hours On The Isle of Skye

The Isle of Skye is not your average island getaway. But if it’s adventure you seek, board a ferry at once.
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Behind the Scenes: Cycling in Skye

“It was a damn cold day to go for a bike ride.” – Jeremy Berger, Special Projects Editor

Scallops In The Raw

The two fishermen who delivered the scallop shells walked right through the back kitchen door of the restaurant like they were barging into their own home, big and fishy-looking.
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In The Kitchen At The Three Chimneys

Eating at the kitchen table of The Three Chimneys, a Michelin star restaurant on the Isle of Skye.
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Tasting Five Great Scottish Cheeses

You can have your camembert, langres and morbier, friend. It’s about time we ate some Scottish cheeses.
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Fish, Beer Cheese

The Essential Scottish Provisions


It might be easy to dismiss the combination of salty, hardy smoked mackerel, sharp and spicy Scottish blue cheese and Scottish-brewed smoked porter as weird and uninviting. But not after a full day’s battering from cycling and hiking during a nasty Isle of Skye storm. Being beat to hell transforms odd and clashing flavors into delicious ones. We came to call this chaotic feast “the essential provisions”; we needed the calories and healthy fats, but really we needed the madcap flourish at the end of a tough day – Chris Wright, Assistant Editor

10 Great Outdoor Adventures in Scotland

From hiking the Speyside Way to mountain biking in Torridon, Scotland is the land of outdoor adventure.
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Tasting The Balvenie 15 Year Single Barrel Sherry Cask

If you’re in the market for something a bit different, their newly released 15 Year Single Barrel Sherry Cask is richly rewarding aesthetically and on the palate.
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The 5 Best Indie Distilleries In Scotland

We taste whiskies from the five best independent distilleries in Scotland.
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Fishing With Old Chums in Scotland

Meeting a fishy relative in beautiful Cairngorms National Park.
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Drinking At Skye’s Oldest Inn


What do we mean when we say a bar has a good Scotch list? The answer is at the Stein Inn.
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72 Hours in Edinburgh

A quick travel guide to Scotland’s wonderful capital city.
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Edinburgh’s Best Beer Bar


A changing of the guard: taps change quickly at The Hanging Bat, one of Edinburgh’s best beer bars. – Chris Wright, Assistant Editor

An Expat Abroad

11 a.m., Edinburgh, Grassmarket Street

“Hey, Goruck!”

I turned around and there standing in the cobblestone street was a big bearded man in a rumpled white V-neck undershirt.

“Are you GRT?” he asked. I felt accepted in some secret society I hadn’t signed up for. I’d heard that to wear a Goruck backpack, which looks vaguely American Special Forces, in a third-world country was inviting attention from the wrong kind of locals. But this was Scotland, and the big man was being overtly friendly, and I quickly realized he wasn’t a local.

No, this was Tom, from Houston, Texas. He had flown to Edinburgh, gotten in at 9 a.m., met his brother, and immediately gone to ground drinking in the nearest pub they could find. He was also a Goruck owner, and had completed a Goruck Challenge. Hence his excited sprint to the street after me when he saw the forest-green pack on my back.


After I explained that I was borrowing the Goruck (and that I loved it), we set to excitedly exchanging travel ideas, plans, tips and the like. He asked about pubs and I pointed him to our website’s extensive 72 Hours in Edinburgh guide; I told him about the nasty weather on the west coast and, when he said they were visiting distilleries, I told him about the one we’d been to, which had been atrocious. He’d make sure they avoided that one.

We were both madly excited to see another traveling American. It was a brotherhood, first of a piece of gear, then of nationality. I thought of our guide on Skye, Ross. We’d converse with the people of Skye, a smiling, warm bunch, and then Ross would jump in and the thick muddy brogue would return to both parties. A kinship absent from our own interactions would blossom, as would knowing “ayes”.

Here I was doing the same. Tom drawled and I hee-hawed with him when he told me they’d started early on the Scotch. I was tempted to invite myself to a drink with him and his brother, but Edinburgh was calling, and I’d see my fair share of Americans soon enough. For that moment, it was nice to think about the Red White and Blue from afar; the colors looked a little crisper from there. – Chris Wright, Assistant Editor

The Oldest Barber Shop in Edinburgh

That’s what the guy in the shop selling scarves told us, anyway: that James Wood & Sons, Wood’s for short, was the oldest place to get a cut in Scotland’s capital city.
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Your Scotland Reading List


The Complete Poems and Songs of Robert Burns
Burns is widely recognized as the national poet of Scotland and was incredibly prolific. In the late 18th century he was one of the pioneers of the Romantic movement, and he continues to influence Scottish literature today. His dialect is fun and not too difficult to understand; his poems are direct, finding beauty in everyday life. $20

Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh
You know of the movie, but the novel is just as vicious and vibrant. It’s Welsh’s first and most famous novel, presented in a collection of short stories about heroin, boredom, and amorality. $13

Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson
Yes, it’s a children’s story. But it’s one of the best. And you haven’t read a Scotsman’s tale about pirates and adventure on the high seas in a while, have you? $4

The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Arthur Conan Doyle wrote four novels and 56 short stories featuring Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Doyle, a physician, managed to write with great acclaim in the realms of science fiction, romance, poetry, and non-fiction — but his mysteries are easily the greatest, and are still vibrantly alive in our popular culture today. $8

The Wasp Factory, Iain Banks
Banks is considered a sci-fi and fiction great, and The Wasp Factory was his first hit. It’s a twisted coming of age story involving a 16-year-old boy who commits ritualistic violence.$11

Goodbye, Scotland


It’s been quite a romp, but our in-depth travel guide to Scotland has come to an end. Well, not quite. Read More »