Adventurous Kate contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, I will earn a commission at no extra cost to you. Thanks!
After an amazing time at Up Helly Aa — from the parades and bar singalongs to the festival of fire to the epic all-night party, it was time to head back to mainland Scotland with our Haggis Adventures crew.
We finished our Up Helly Aa experience with a final hazy day in Shetland, exploring the northern part of the islands, images of which you can see here. I actually made it through all day following the all-night party without so much as a nap — I passed out on the ferry at around 9:00 PM and slept like a log until we docked at 7:00 AM.
With a full day left on our tour, we had time to check out the sites of Scotland’s east coast, from Aberdeen to Edinburgh.
Stop #1: Stonehaven
Stonehaven, at first glance, was a pretty but ordinary seaside town. It was nice. Nice is good.
And then we came to Dunnottar Castle.
Dunnottar Castle will take your breath away. It’s that spectacular. Even captioning it is an insult, as I can’t possibly bring words that will describe its beauty.
Just go. If you’re in Scotland and you want to get pictures that you will treasure for the rest of your life, go to Dunnottar Castle.
Stop #2: Arbroath
This was a new addition to the tour, Tony told us. Each year, he and Dougie try to do something new and different on the Up Helly Aa tour to jazz things up.
And so we stopped in the town of Arbroath for smokies — freshly smoked fish. We each bought our own, costing less than two pounds for a whole fish. It had been gutted, but we had to pull out the spine on our own.
Now, stopping for fish at 11:00 AM may not seem like the most appetizing idea, but DAMN. That may have been the best fish I’ve ever eaten — so fresh, so smokey, so succulent. I devoured mine in a flash, as did nearly everyone on the tour.
Very good stop, guys.
Stop #3: St. Andrews
St. Andrews is most famous for golf: it’s where the sport was invented, it’s a major stop on the European PGA golf circuit, and it’s filled with public golf courses along with the more famous private ones.
But for me, it’s famous for two things:
1) St. Andrews is the city where William and Kate fell in love while attending university.
2) St. Andrews is home to the CHARIOTS OF FIRE BEACH!
We ran across the beach, sometimes in slow-motion, while singing the iconic musical score at the top of our lungs. (And yes, Beth, Lisa and Alexa, I did fight in slow-motion as well! Yeah, they had no idea what I was doing.)
St. Andrews is a college town at heart. It’s small and very pretty — a lovely place to visit on a day trip from Edinburgh.
And strangely, I kept seeing buildings that reminded me of my own alma mater, Fairfield University!
I don’t think I ever mentioned in my posts that Tony and Tom aren’t usually rocking the full beards — they spent months growing them out for Up Helly Aa. (That’s dedication.) So, naturally, while we were in St. Andrews, they decided to ceremoniously shave them into 70s porn star moustaches.
We found them in front of the bus, dancing to YMCA.
I laughed until I was on the verge of collapse. God, I love these guys.
Back to Edinburgh
Our tour concluded emotionally in the city where it began — Edinburgh. We couldn’t bear to say goodbye to each other, so we vowed to have one special final night out together. And by special, I mean a pint and a pizza for five pounds. THAT special.
As always, a trip can be measured in the quality of the company. This trip was fantastic — a perfectly executed voyage to remote and gorgeous Shetland, the best (and strangest) festival I’ve had the privilege of attending, and so many fun activities in between. But the awesome people brought it to the next level.
I’ve raved like crazy about Haggis Adventures, and they deserve it — they’re a great company, and I can’t wait to travel with them again. I definitely want to go on one of Tony’s tours of the western isles, and I just might be on their Up Helly Aa trip next year as well!
In short — an amazing time, an amazing adventure, and five days I’ll never forget.