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Now some time has passed, the bags are completely unpacked and back on the attic, and I’ve reverted to a slightly healthier lifestyle again, I’m taking some time to look back on my epic Flying Scotsman Trip. In general, it went remarkably well!
Trains & Buses
All the trains I booked well in advance—notably Eurostar, the Caledonian Sleeper to Inverness, and the LNER back to London—were on time, and fully functional. Only the catering side was still a bit sub-par, due to COVID measures, or other reasons: no full menu on the sleeper—which I only know about because of a text message sent to my Belgian phone number, since I only had charcuterie and whisky—and they ran out of bacon rolls on the LNER way too soon!
Most of my ScotRail train tickets were flexible, although most of the time, I took the train I planned on taking anyway. I used the offer to upgrade to first class for £3 a couple of times, mainly because I really prefer solo seats, especially when travelling in a kilt. On one train, the train conductor refused to sell me the upgrade, but let me sit in first class for free, because I was ‘not getting anything in return anyway’… It was nice being able to buy and save all my tickets in-app, an option that wasn’t available yet when I first started planning this trip.
To get to Culloden Battlefield, to Peterhead and Ellon, and to St Andrews, I used Stagecoach buses, usually with digital DayRider tickets. They were never scanned, by the way, I just had to show them to the driver. It’s really convenient to have USB charging ports available on those buses.
In Glasgow and Edinburgh I only used digital tickets as well for the local buses, and for the Glasgow Subway the smartcard I still had from years before. I didn’t buy a single paper transport ticket the whole trip!
In northeastern Scotland (Aberdeen, Dundee, and Perth) I stayed in Travelodge hotels. It’s remarkable how different they can be! The first one had two extra single beds in the room, the second one just one, and the third one —just when you’re getting used to having an extra bed to put your stuff on—only had the double bed I actually booked. The last one, in Perth, still used actual keys, instead of keycards!
In Glasgow I stayed at easyHotel, as I had oft before. No surprised there, but I do think I’ve started to outgrow them, or at least their smallest rooms: when travelling for over a week—with a rather large bag and a kilt to air out every night—a bit of extra space is not just a luxury anymore.
In Edinburg and London I stayed at a hub by Premier Inn hotel, in virtually indistinguishable rooms. Even though they discontinued the room control app they used to have, the ease with which you can still control everything—light, temperature, DND sign…—and plethora of USB and power outlets, both UK and EU, to keep everything charged, make these my favourite rooms of the trip. A really nice bathroom helped too… To my surprise the London hub even had a breakfast buffet, which was really convenient on my last day.
Beers & Bars
This was a very beer-centric trip, to say the least… Apart from the BrewDog bars—discussed separately below—I also visited quite a few other bars and taprooms in the towns and cities I visited. Scotland sure has a lot to offer in that department! Unfortunately I missed out on a few, due to their often (still) limited opening hours, especially on Sundays and the first couple of days of the week. I’ll just have to go back another time!
I actually had about a third of my beers in London, and almost half of the bars I visited were there! Considering the only noteworthy hangovers I had this trip were after a day or evening in London, next time I might avoid cramming so many London bars in my schedule…
BrewDog Bars, Stamps & Badges
So the BrewDog bars I visited in Scotland were BrewDog Inverurie, BrewDog Castlegate, BrewDog Aberdeen, BrewDog Peterhead, Dogtap Ellon, BrewDog Union Square, BrewDog St Andrews, BrewDog Dundee, BrewDog Perth, BrewDog Stirling, BrewDog Merchant City, BrewDog Kelvingrove, BrewDog Cowgate, and BrewDog Lothian Road.
When people hear I visited all of them, they tend to ask “Which was your favourite?” Now that’s a very hard question to answer! Some of them will always remain special to me: Cowgate was my first BrewDog bar ever, and where I drank my first BrewDog beers. In Kelvingrove I spent many hours—and had over a hundred beers, according to Untappd—and it still feels like home there… To fully appreciate the other bars, I should really revisit them a couple of times. A hungover afternoon visit, or being the first customer in for lunch, or the last customer on a Monday night, it just doesn’t compare to a visit on a buzzing Saturday night, or when meeting a friend during quiz night…
That being said, I had a great time in all of them. I didn’t catch anyone on a ‘bad day’, and felt very welcome in every single BrewDog bar. And even though I already tried most of the BrewDog beers on tap—and it didn’t take long to try the remaining ones—the guest beers were sufficiently different and interesting to keep me occupied for quite a while, and without having to drink the same beer twice.
To keep myself from forgetting to get my Beer Visa stamp, I usually put the booklet in front of me on the table. More than once, a crew member would come to my table with the stamp when they noticed it. It was really nice to see how much pride some took in making sure the stamp was the nicely centred and the right way up, and rather funny to get warnings about other bars, because ‘they always put the stamp upside down’…
I tried to get a pin badge in all bars as well, but some didn’t have any: I seem to be missing the ones for Inverurie, Ellon, St Andrews, and Merchant City. Another reason to go back soon?
Even though they swiped my EFP card in about half the bars, none of the digital stamps appeared automatically. After reporting them online however, they soon showed up, and even the Homedog and coveted Flying Scotsman challenge now appear as completed!
Kilts & Compliments
From the moment I alighted the Caledonian Sleeper, until the day I went back to London, I was wearing my eight yard MacLaren kilt, and I loved every minute of it. Some of the time I wore it with brogues—not ghillies!—and with proper garter ties, especially in more formal settings, like museums and memorials. Most of the time though, I wore it more informally, with a T-shirt, hiking boots, and the hose scrunched down, showing off my calf tattoos… Since I hardly ever wear shorts, I don’t get to do that very often!
As I’ve experienced before, even when a kilt isn’t an everyday occurrence, even in Scotland, no-one blinks an eye. If there is any reaction at all, it usually is a smile. On a couple of occasions, I even got a “Nice kilt”, or “Love your kilt” shoutout—thank you Glaswegian girls! When in one museum I suddenly noticed being followed by a guard, it turned out he had recognised my tartan, because he used to be in the Clan MacLaren Society council.
Only once this time, I was asked “Is Scotland playing tonight?” Apparently for some, that, and getting married, are the only reasons to kilt up! I don’t really need a reason though, and next time when I’m going to Scotland, I will definitely do it kilted again!