If you want a real 'Taste of Scotland' then avoid the fast food joints, restaurant chains and deep fried Mars Bars*.
Instead head to one of the superb eateries up and down the country that focus on simple Scottish cooking using local produce. If you make the effort to visit a real Scottish restaurant you may be surprised at the choice of quality and tasty courses on offer.
What will you find on a Scottish menu?
There are common dishes that you will find in most Scottish restaurants, although they all have their unique way of cooking and presenting them.
Haggis is almost guaranteed on any Scottish menu and for those that haven't tried it I would highly recommend it! Seafood including mussels and salmon are pretty standard along with other fish choices. Our seafood is famous as some of the best and freshest in the world. Meats tend to include a choice of chicken, Scotch beef and lamb. For dessert expect sweet and savoury choices such as a Scottish cheese board with oatcakes, cranachan and sticky toffee pudding.
As Scotch lamb is a common ingredient featured in Scottish restaurants and usually one of my first choices on the menu, I couldn't miss a street food festival celebrating my meat of choice. With a butchery lesson, cooking demonstrations and the chance to try Scotch lamb cooked four different ways, the day was certainly educational.
I learned that Scotch lamb and beef labels can only be used for animals born, raised and processed in Scotland to a quality assured welfare standard. If the meat is only labelled 'Scottish' then they are not necessarily quality assured. I also learned that the Scottish red meat industry employs more than 50,000 people which makes you realise how important using local produce is in supporting the economy and providing jobs.
A butchery lesson and handily positioned posters helped everyone understand exactly where on the animal each cut of meat comes from.
As we weave our way through the Glasgow city centre traffic towards the motorway, Graham, our driver/guide has managed to point out historic buildings of note, cover Glasgow's history from medieval times to shipbuilding in the 70s and even managed a few laughs. This is quite a feat and the sign of an experienced guide, a promising start to my first Scottish tour bus trip.
I had chosen to join a Rabbie's small group day tour exploring Stirling Castle, Loch Lomond National Park & Glengoyne Whisky Distillery. Tales of romantic Scottish figures including Rob Roy, Robert the Bruce and William Wallace while travelling through some stunning scenery sounded amazing enough, the promise of a wee dram at the end was all the convincing I needed that this was the tour for me! I was not alone as eight other sightseers of various ages and nationalities from countries as diverse as Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada and Sweden had joined me for this mini Scottish adventure.
Our first stop of the day was Stirling Castle and as we arrived the cloudy sky opened up and the rain began to fall. I felt a bit disappointed as the views from the Castle are some of my favourite and it was hard to make out the landscape beyond the drizzle. Graham reminded us that Scotland needs rain to keep it looking so lush and beautiful and while this is true I was still secretly hoping the sun would suddenly appear along with the views.
The Cowal Highland Gathering is billed as one of the biggest and most spectacular Highland Games in the world. Staged in the west coast Scottish town of Dunoon, flanked by elevated green hillsides and the busy waters of the Firth of Clyde, the setting is certainly a picturesque one.
As I joined the meandering crowd heading to the stadium we were met with 'greeters' high fiving people with giant foam hands. This reminded me of my time at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games when I was welcomed by cheery volunteers at every venue and was certainly a first for any Highland Games I've attended. Once in the stadium I made my way around the various stands selling food, gifts and clothing although I was a little disappointed that there wasn't a wider choice of Scottish products available.
Being a Highland Games pro I whisked out my trusty picnic blanket and joined the many spectators on the hillside overlooking the main arena. Thankfully the weather was kind and this was a perfectly pleasant place to enjoy the action. Many people even more prepared than me (or maybe just more pessimistic than me!) had brought tents to keep sheltered from any rain which thankfully never materialised.
Highland dancers, pipe bands, heavy athletics and wrestling were the main activities taking place in the arena below. Personally heavy athletics is my favourite element of any Highland Games and there were some impressive competitors taking part.
For fans of Highland dancing the world championships with the best competitors from around the globe was a real highlight and the Cowal Hill Race is another draw with runners taking part in one of the toughest 5k races in the country.
Follow me as I search for the best and most original travel experiences in Scotland.