Here are some Scotland FAQs, the answers to which are intended to set your mind at rest. Overall, remember that Scotland is survivable, even if you do visit Glasgow on the same day that Rangers play Celtic.
Will I understand the Scots?
In the sense of will you understand us if we speak to you (which we will) then, yes. Listen in to some conversations between locals, say in the North-East or even in darkest Glasgow, and you may struggle a bit, but, by and large, you won’t have any difficulty.
Will you understand the Scots in general is another question though.
For instance: why is it only now dawning on them that their small country, with great natural resources and a famous brand, could have taken its place amongst other small independent and successful European nations years ago? Ah, now, that’s another matter entirely…
Right, let’s start with a couple vital FAQs asked by visitors in anticipation of their Scotland excursion…
Will I see Highland cows?
Oh yes. There are a lot of them about. Tough and hardy on poor pasture, as well as decorative in a ginger kind of way, Highland cattle are found in both Highland and Lowland.
They are also found in commercial art galleries a lot, being de rigeur subject matter in just about every possible artistic medium in Scotland. Predictable but profitable. Where to see Highland cows.
Will I see the Loch Ness Monster?
No, but you will see a whole range of things that you might like to think is the monster: floating sticks, diving cormorants, seals, mirages, swimming stags and so on.
Harmless fun for the gullible. Also Scotland’s most successful tourism promotion ever. More information on monsters in Loch Ness here.
Should I visit Balmoral or other royal properties?
Oh, don’t start me off…the Palace of Holyroodhouse is po-faced and gloomy; the Royal Yacht Britannia just floating sycophancy; Balmoral Castle just a rip-off.
So, yes, probably. You can’t resist them, can you?
The queen is personally worth £350 million, according to the Sunday Times Rich List. However, if you want a tour of the exhibitions, grounds and Ballroom of Balmoral Castle you have to hand her fifteen quid (2020 prices).
As if she needed the money…she owns the place.
Should I drive North Coast 500?
No, but, as in Balmoral above, you probably will. Just don’t park in the insanitary laybys.
And if you’re in a campervan, give Durness a break, will you?
Do I need to visit Glasgow?
Phrasing the question is as difficult as writing an answer. Should you visit Glasgow? Is Glasgow worth your time?
Yes, Scotland’s largest city has plenty of interest. Great art galleries, fascinating architecture, café society, thriving cultural life and so on. Also tons of shops.
It all depends if you like cities. And it isn’t as handsome as Edinburgh.
Are there any parts of Scotland that are undiscovered?
No. It’s a small nation with a fairly well developed tourism infrastructure, so you’re not going to find Brigadoon or a secret glen.
There are places that are less crowded than the tourism honeypots like Edinburgh, Loch Lomond, Loch Ness or Skye. But if you found a beach or a road-end and you realised that you had the place to yourself, I would advise not telling anyone.
I know I wouldn’t. Not even on this website. But here are a few slightly off the beaten track places in Scotland.
Will I get a sun tan?
Yes. It has happened in the past in Scotland. It’s not beyond the bounds of possibility. But your Scottish experience is more likely to involve the sheer variety of climate conditions, often localised.
In summary, if it’s raining, either wait an hour or go up to the other end of the glen. More on Scotland’s weather here.
Can I put Coca Cola in my whisky?
Only under two conditions. Firstly, if you’re buying it then you can put anything you like in it.
Secondly, if you know your (pouring) host very well and it’s a blended whisky of the everyday sort. What we call ‘cooking whisky’ in our house.
If it’s an expensive looking single malt, then putting anything other than a little water in it is possibly disrespectful to your host and also a waste of the taste sensation of a good malt.
I’m not being too strict here, am I? More about drinking whisky here.
Should I tip in Scotland and are Scottish banknotes legal tender?
Tipping in Scotland
Yes, we have a dedicated page on tipping – but in general it isn’t a very big deal. Taxi drivers, hairdressers, waiting staff etc – the usual suspects.
It’s not a big cultural obligation really but it is an aspect of Scotland that concerns visitors from the USA especially.
No. A very common Scotland FAQ. Apparently no banknotes in the UK are technically speaking ‘legal tender’. However they are ‘legal currency’. Who knew? This page about Scottish banks attempts to clarify the status of Scottish banknotes.
Anyway, why are you handling banknotes these days? Nasty unhygienic things…
Should I a) try haggis and b) will I like haggis?
Answer a) Yes. b) No. It has to be stressed that coming anywhere near haggis in Scotland is not inevitable. It’s not some kind of test.
Actually, here’s the secret if you’re not sure about haggis – assuming your not a veggie in the first place. Simply sprinkle it with Lea & Perrins sauce.
Haggis, neeps and tatties with Lee & Perrins. Yum. We have this once or twice a month, and we’re normal. Kind of…
If invited to a Burns Supper – basically a haggis confrontation scenario fo the uninitiated, then smuggle your own bottle in. If you’ve decided to come in camouflage, then perhaps in your sporran, though a bit bulgy, or in your handbag.
Is the tapwater safe to drink?
Yes, it’s safe everywhere and in some places definitely to be preferred to environmentally irresponsible bottled water.
Where? Well this is just an opinion but we thought the water in the Perthshire town of Crieff was lovely.
It’s straight out of the Glenturret reservoir above the town – pure, soft water running off the Highland edge.
Oh, wait, and there’s Glasgow’s water supply. It runs out of Loch Katrine in the Trossachs and we (personally) drink it regularly just below the main reservoirs in Milngavie when we visit family there. Lovely stuff.
Then there’s Ballater on Deeside, west of Aberdeen. The water that flows from a spring at Pannanich Wells near the town is commercially bottled and promoted for its apparent curative properties.
Now, not saying that’s the stuff that comes out of the town’s taps – but it’s lovely water all the same….
There will be other places with nice water – but with copious rainfall and a lot of peat and acid rocks, Scotland’s water is in general soft and tasty.
Will I be able to plug in my hairdryer?
What kind of a question is that? Just use an adaptor.
By the way, I’m surprised Scotland doesn’t claim it invented electricity, as it usually claims to have invented everything else – from lime juice to bicycles. I think I read that on a souvenir tea-towel somewhere.
Well, that’s all you need to know, right? But here are some more Scottish facts just for fun.