China was a country that challenged me as a traveler, there were food issues, language barriers and physical limitations because the country is huge. China is a seriously large country with lyrically pretty cityscapes and landscapes; from the wide multi-lane highways of impersonal Beijing to the sparkle of Shanghai, as is often the case, it’s the countryside that compelled me the most. Let’s take a photo-stroll through rural China, the China made up of weekly small-town markets and rural rice paddies rolling with flowing fields of rich yellow flowers and imposing karst rocks.
The pace of life in small rural towns slows down, it’s easier to look at the lines etched on the faces of each street vendor and fill in their life story…
A rose-red city half as old as time; though these words sound like the opening lyrics to a love song, they’re instead penned by a poet and speak of an ancient civilization that carved evidence of their history deep into the soft sandstone rocks jutting toward the soft blue Jordanian skies.
Wandering through the miles of sandy roads, the nubby domes of eroded mountains visible in every direction, I was overwhelmed the moment I stepped into this ancient civilization. How did they do it? Why did they carve such beautiful structures into the side of the towering rocks? And I wondered even more, since sandstone is so delicate, why is the evidence still here a full two thousand years later?
After a week of uncommon hospitality given to me in Scotland, I surly owe a debt of kindness to other travelers—one to be repaid at some point in the future.
On an icy-cold evening in Northern India, I met two sisters, fellow backpackers, who were nestled into a tiny restaurant in McLeod Ganj. We shared a table—there was not a seat to spare in the warm and cozy one-room restaurant—and backpacking stories during our hot meal. When we parted ways several hours later, they casually mentioned that if I headed to Scotland that I should stay at their mom’s house for a few days.
Now, although the offer was genuine, all parties admitted that they didn’t think I would actually take them up it. Four months later, I did. I wasn’t even sure why, except that the chance for a local perspective, and a warm, quiet place to crash, sounded great. So, I spent a lovely four days touring the Scottish highlands and glens with Jeannie, mom of two other RTW backpackers on year-long journeys. Jeannie graciously opened her home to me and made it her task to show me Eastern Scotland’s highlights.
We toured the highlands and glens around Dundee, Scotland, and these are my favorite photos and stories from my explorations!
We hiked to the top of the gently rounded mountains afforded views of the River Tay, the North Sea and all of the low-lying farmland.
Exploring Crail Harbour
The small fishing village of Crail is quiet and quaint and dates back to 800 AD, when it was first settled. This place was utterly charming. Small pottery shops hide in the small side-streets and the perfect cuppa tea awaited us overlooking the sea at Crail Harbour Gallery.
Big cities have a lot of interesting museums and a fast pace of life, but its villages that hold the heartbeat of culture and history, these hold the traditions of an older way of life. And even better, it’s just 10 miles from Crail Harbour to St. Andrews, which makes it very accessible as a quick stop. We parked in the village and then walked down to the Habour, had our tea, enjoyed the sunshine and perfect weather, before making the easy way back to where we had parked.
When we left Crail, which truly is the prettiest of these East Neuk of Fife, we took a quick drive by Glamis Castle, which is where the Queen Mother spent her childhood.
The Fortingall Yew
We enjoyed a warm fire and hot chocolate in Kenmore at a bright and roomy restaurant overlooking Loch Tay before heading to Fortingall to see an ancient Fortingall Yew Tree.
The tree is thought to be as much as 5,000 years old, which would make it the oldest living organism in Britain. Modern estimates put it closer to 3,000 years old, but really there is no telling. The base of the tree was once 56 feet wide—until souvenir hunters hacked at it! Natural erosion also took away other parts of the tree. Most of the space inside the wall of the tree was once tree trunk.
Discovering St. Andrews, Briefly
We hiked some in between the towns on our day trip to Crail and St. Andrews, and the Scottish hillside was abloom in gorgeous heather. I am a fan of folk music, and I couldn’t stop singing The Wild Mountain Thyme in my head while we hiked to vistas and viewpoints of the Scottish highlands and glens.
St. Andrews is beautiful and worth a visit. I would have loved to spend a day or two poking around. The small city is best known for golf and for Prince William attending college there, but it’s so much more than either of those two claims to fame. I have a fondness for small cities (like my days poking around Stirling, Scotland). St. Andrews is charming and I thoroughly enjoyed this pretty little town.
Driving through eastern Scotland, through the country’s famous Scottish glens and highlands, has been an absolute highlight from my round the world trip. I can only extend an enormous thank you to Jeannie, because of her gracious hospitality I was able to explore the nooks and crannies of this area of Scotland.
I owe one to the Universe now, and will repay it when I finally find a place to settle down. I have loved this insider’s take on the best hikes and towns, the stories of how Jeannie and her children enjoyed living this region as locals.
Quick Tips: Planning Your Trip to Scotland
Where to stay: Scotland is full of hostels and budget-friendly accommodations, as well as mid and high-range hotels. One of the best ways to find Scotland hotel deals is through Booking.com, and ALA readers receive a discount on their first booking!