Have you ever been to The Edinburgh Dungeon? If you have then you will know that it is the ultimate experience for scary fun in the capital. If you haven't then I suggest you add it to your must do list for a funnily frightening time in the city.
I bet as you wandered around in the semi-darkness your adrenaline was pumping far too hard to think about the huge amount of work that goes in to running such a spookily busy attraction. To be honest I hadn't either until I received an invite to a fun blogger night to get an exclusive look behind the scenes and it was a real eye opener, well I might have closed my eyes once or twice!
First we were given a make-up demonstration and a lucky volunteer had the opportunity to have a less than glamorous make-under as we learned the tricks of the trade including the use of eyelash glue to create boils, nice!
I was surprised to learn the rigorous auditioning that a potential Dungeon actor has to go through and I didn't realise that they have to play a number of characters which means perfecting several parts and scripts. I have always been impressed at how convincing the actors are and even though we met a few of them out of character at the beginning, their creepy and humorous performances during the show previews had me believing every word.
Stumbling around in darkened rooms definitely helps create a spooky tension and as we found out also handily hides technical spoilers such as speakers and wires. We got the rare opportunity to explore with the lights on and find out more about the work, props and preparation that goes into designing each set.
Blogging and social media has connected me with amazing new friends all over the virtual world and I have been lucky enough to meet some of them in real life. Glen Moyer is one of those friends and despite living on opposite sides of the Atlantic we have kept in touch through our common interest of all things Scottish.
However, this is not the main reason that I regularly make the effort to touch base with him. Glen is one of those people that doesn't just talk about his dreams, he has been proactive and made personal sacrifices to follow them, a quality I hugely admire in anyone. His dream of moving to Scotland may not yet have come to fruition but that hasn't dampened his spirit of persistence and passion to reach that end goal.
Where will your dreams take you?
As he explains in this guest post, his passion needed a new outlet and that has come in the form of a podcast, talking all things Scottish. I hope his new venture is a success and I hope his dreams comes true, oh and listen out for a future Scottish travel blogging guest that you might have heard of...
Under The Tartan Sky: The podcast that is “all things Scottish, from bagpipes to whisky.” - A guest post by Glen Moyer
Scotland’s greatest poet, Robert Burns, once famously wrote,
My heart's in the Highlands, my heart is not here, My heart's in the Highlands a-chasing the deer - A-chasing the wild deer, and following the roe; My heart's in the Highlands, wherever I go.
While I am a writer, among other roles, I do not have Rabbie’s way with words, nor experience chasing the deer, but my heart too is in the Highlands. From its shimmering lochs, to its majestic glens, Scotland has stolen my heart.
I am not alone. There are an estimated 50 million Scot Diaspora spread around the world, and when combined with Scottish ex-pats, who can guess the exact number of those who long from afar to stand beneath a fluttering Saltire, or to stare into the mists and listen for the echo of the pipes, or to walk the bonnie, bonnie banks of Loch Lomond?
In 2014, The Year of Homecoming for Scotland, I followed the pull of my ancestors and visited, not once, but twice. My 8th great-grandfather, Robert Gabriel Barnhill, was born in Glasgow in 1627. A century later, Alexander Breckenridge, an Ulster-Scot, emigrated from Ireland to the American colonies, and two and a quarter centuries later I came along in Texas. Scotland is not just in my heart, but also in my blood. Now my dream is to retrace my ancestors’ journey, in reverse, and immigrate, to make Scotland my home. It is a feat easier dreamt than accomplished…
To mark my “homecoming” I began a travel blog, “A Glen in Scotland.” (Perhaps Rabbie would like that play on words?) I adopted a personal mantra, “Texan by birth, Scot by ancestry.” My blog was an outlet by which I could share my passion for Scotland with my friends and family. It was quickly populated with stories about my adventures from the banks of the Clyde to Kilt Rock on Skye. At other times I wrote of similarities found between Scotland and my native home of Texas. However, by its very design, with my return travel to Scotland being limited, my blog posts soon became all too sparse. My passion needed a new outlet.
I mentioned “other roles” beyond writing. I was a radio/television broadcaster for the first decade of my adult life. Having more recently done some “internet broadcasting” aka “podcasting” for two organizations, I thought, “why not a podcast about Scotland?”
Regular readers of my blog will know that I often recommend small group tours as an economical way to see some of the best sites in Scotland for those short on time. There are many companies that traverse the highways and byways of the country in their logo emblazoned minibuses on a daily basis.
When I was invited to experience a day tour with Invent Scottish Tours I wanted to know what makes them different?
Starting my day in Edinburgh I immediately spotted the first disparity to previous small group excursions I have sampled; the vehicles used by Scottish Invent Tours only seat a maximum of 8 passengers and provide much more space and comfort than the usual minibuses. This also means that the journey feels much more intimate and personal, in my opinion they seem to fill a gap between a private tour and a larger group tour.
Joined by some lovely lady travelling companions from the USA, our small group was assembled and we were ready to get underway, so far so good!
Having opted for their Holy Grail and Knights Templar tour we began our journey south from Edinburgh and it wasn't long before we reached our first scenic stop of the day at Scott's View which is always a pleasant welcome to the Scottish Borders. As some of you may know I had only been there a couple of weeks previously but like Sir Walter Scott I could happily stop here and admire the sweeping Borders vistas on a frequent basis. This time I was also delighted to see some impressive red kites swooping and gliding overhead.
Something else that made this tour very different to some other companies was the time we had to stop at each location. No quick photo stops on this tour, we were encouraged to take as much or as little time as we wished, ask questions and wander off to explore, it was a pleasant change to not feel in a regimented rush. Add to this the flexibility of our itinerary and I would say that Invent Scottish Tours genuinely brings something fresh to the Scottish small group tour market.
The flexibility in our day became apparent at our second stop at Smailholm Tower. Not in our official schedule, our guide recommended the short detour to this picturesque tower house and the area where Sir Walter Scott spent much time as a young boy at his grandparents' farm.
I have seen Smailholm Tower from a distance several times, however I was glad of the opportunity to finally explore it up close. Although sadly there has not been much effort put into the displays within this Historic Scotland property, the views from the top are impressive. If you are not a Historic Scotland member and have to pay the admission fee you might feel disappointed and to be honest a walk around the outside of the tower and the surrounding landscape is just as rewarding.
One of the tour highlights is a stop at the pretty and historic Borders town of Melrose. We had 90 mins to spend as we wished and for me it was an easy choice of a quick bite of lunch and a visit to Melrose Abbey. I absolutely love the Borders Abbeys and highly recommend visiting all four of them if you ever have the time as they are all very different and all very atmospheric.
Another Historic Scotland property, the admission price is not included in the tour but I feel it is worth it. I often recommend becoming a Historic Scotland and a National Trust of Scotland member if you are interested in visiting several of their properties as the cost quickly adds up.
Founded by King David 1 in 1136, it was substantially rebuilt in the 1380s. It continued as an abbey until 1560 and although it is mostly a ruin today, there are still plenty of impressive carved features. A climb to the top of the tower is a must, not only for the views but also for a close up of the famous bagpipe playing pig! Melrose Abbey is also the burial place of the heart of King Robert the Bruce who died in 1329, although his body was interred at Dunfermline Abbey.
On my recent trip to the Scottish Borders I was fortunate enough to have one of those spectacular and memorable experiences which occasionally come with being a travel blogger, which I assure you isn't normally as glamorous as you might think. Although staying at the Hope Scott Wing of Abbotsford House is every bit as glamorous as you might think!
An extension to the original private home of Sir Walter Scott and the former living area of his descendants, it has now been refurbished and opened as luxury accommodation. Available on a self catering basis for up to 15 people, it is possible to hire all or part of the wing for yourself. There is also a bed and breakfast option, subject to availability.
I stayed here along with my fellow Scotlanders as part of our Borders Railway campaign and it's fair to say we were all lost for words, which was definitely a first for our normally chatty group. On arrival we were taken on a tour of our accommodation by the fantastic and passionate House Manager, Marianne. We followed her around excitedly on a goggle eyed tour of our private wing, in amazement at the number of lavish rooms we had to ourselves.
Decorated with some of the family's belongings, furniture and artwork, the whole place has an authentic and historical feel which at times makes you wonder if you have actually stepped back in time or onto the set of a period drama.
Sympathetic grand design and modern convenience is how I would best describe the decor and facilities. The seven luxury en-suite bedrooms are individually designed with period style pieces and furniture while the HUGE bathrooms have modern roll-top baths and walk-in showers.
There is Wi-Fi throughout and although some might appreciate a TV within the bedrooms, I would have personally been happy to do away with mine as it felt too out of place in the stately surroundings!
My own bedroom was literally fit for a princess and named after one, the Queen's aunt, Princess Alice to be precise. One of many notable visitors and distinguished guests that also included Queen Victoria and Charles Dickens. Incidentally, Queen Victoria was so impressed that she chose to model her own home in Scotland, Balmoral Castle, on Abbotsford’s Scottish Baronial style.
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