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  • Writer's pictureChristine Dorman

A Summer Getaway to Scotland

Give Nessie the summer off!  There's so much more to do in Scotland than staring at a loch waiting for a glimpse of her.
Give Nessie the summer off! There's so much more to do in Scotland than staring at a loch waiting for a glimpse of her.

Summer is almost here! Well, actually, on the Celtic calendar, it’s nearly mid-summer, but the Gregorian calendar that most of us in the Western world live by lists June 20th—the Summer Solstice—as the first day of summer. No matter which calendar you choose to adhere to, consider spending some of your summer this year in Scotland. Why? Because there’s so much cool stuff to do and see there, and quite a lot of it is free! Now, at this point, your mind might be thinking about Loss Ness or important Harry Potter-related sights—and that’s fine—but, for today’s post, I’ve compiled a list of not-so-typical things to check out and, again, many of them are FREE!  But there are some not-necessarily-free events and some that are happening specifically during the summer of 2024. Here we go.


Summer Solstice Celebrations

    

The Summer Solstice is the longest day of the year. In ancient Celtic culture, it was considered both sacred and highly magical. Find out more about the summer solstice, the science, and the folklore behind it by reading my post “Basking in the Summer Solstice: Celtic Folklore Traditions” here.

    

There are a variety of ways to celebrate the solstice in Scotland. Here are just a few.

Visit standing stones and other neolithic sites. You don’t need to be into neopaganism to appreciate the wonder and beauty of experiencing sunrise within a circle of standing stones. It’s magical. It’s meditative. And it’s a way to connect with ancient Celtic culture. Consider watching the sun rise over the stones as you stand in the middle of the Standing Stones of Calanais on the Isle of Lewis or in the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Ring of Brodgar in Orkney.


Stand by Ukraine
Stand by Ukraine

If you’re more into music, celebrate at the Voxstock Summer Solstice Fayre 2024 in Edinburgh (June 22, 2024. This music event starts at noon and goes until 5:30 PM (leaving you plenty of time to do other solstice activities). Presented by VoxBox Music, the celebration features top musicians and it’s free! Click here to view the schedule and performers.

Take advantage of the longest day’s extra daylight by attending the Summer Solstice Soiree at the Royal Edinburgh Zoo. The focus is World Giraffe Day. It includes a talk about giraffes, a guided after-hours tour of the zoo, and drinks provided by the Glenmorangie Distillery (makers of a delicious single-malt whisky). The Soiree costs 20 euros and is for those 18 and older.


The Edinburgh Festivals 2024

    

Eight festivals that are available for your 2024 Scottish summer fun. Most of these celebrations of culture take place in August.

    

July 12-21: The Edinburgh Jazz and Blues Festival. Showcasing Scottish musicians while simultaneously promoting internationalism, this festival strives to include music from the ragtime music of the twenties, modern jazz, Chicago blues, and more. One of the largest jazz and blues festivals in Europe, it is respected for its blend of presenting top notch musicians and introducing new artists.

    

August 2-24: The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Taking place in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle, this festival celebrates traditional Scottish culture with performances featuring Pipe and Drum bands, fiddlers, and Highland dancers.

    

August 2-25: Edinburgh International Festival. Taking place across eleven different venues, this festival celebrates culture through the performance of dance, music—classical and contemporary, theater, and opera. The theme for the 2024 festival is “Rituals that Unite Us.” Click here to discover more and to see the schedule of performances.


The Edinburgh International Book Festival encourages great thinkers and open debate.
The Edinburgh International Book Festival encourages great thinkers and open debate.

August 2-26: Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Celebrating creative freedom and presenting shows in all genres of performance, this festival takes place in venues—both indoors and out--throughout the Scottish capital. Venues can be anything from theaters to parks, buses, and even shipping containers! The festival features well-known artists as well as up-and-coming performers and complete unknowns. Anyone can take part in this three-week explosion of art and creativity. The outdoor performances are free.

    

August 9-25. Edinburgh Art Festival. This year is the 20th anniversary of this two-week festival so it’s bound to be an exciting time! And this art festival is not a sedate affair for culture snobs. The organizers say on the event’s website (https://www.edinburghartfestival.com/) that they are “looking to artists, structures and figures who push back, and refuse.” They want to connect “to those who inspire change, who enable solidarity, and facilitate structures for working together and building collective futures.” To give you a feel for this festival, a sampling of events includes an “Opening Provocation,” “Rosie’s Disobedient Press,” and “Remnants in Conversation: How You Re-assemble a city.” Find out more by clicking on the link above.

    

August 10-25: Edinburgh International Book Festival. Started over forty years ago, this festival seeks to promote the engagement of its audience with emerging as well as renowned writers, great thinkers, and artists. It encourages open dialogue through workshops, masterclasses, onstage conversations, and more. These events take place both in Edinburgh and online.

    

August 15-21: Edinburgh International Film Festival. Since 1947, this festival has striven “to spotlight the most exciting and innovative new film talent, in a setting steeped in history” (https://www.edinburghfestivalcity.com/festivals/edinburgh-international-film-festival). With the goal of debating as well as celebrating changes in filmmaking and presenting new ideas, this festival includes the presentation of shorts, documentaries, and experimental films.

     You can find out more about these exciting festivals on their individual websites. Or make it easy on yourself. Links to all eight websites are available on https://www.visitscotland.com/things-to-do/events/edinburgh-festivals 

   

As you can see, you could spend your whole vacation in the capital city. But that would be sad. You’d miss out on a lot. And just to tempt you to get out and about in Scotland, below is a list of free places to explore.  


Free Scotland


If you’re a true lover of Celtic culture, how can you go to Scotland and not go to the Games? 
If you’re a true lover of Celtic culture, how can you go to Scotland and not go to the Games? 

Nairn Highland Games: Pipers, dancers in traditional highland dress, guys throwing the caber or tossing the Scots hammer…can you feel the excitement? This is tradition. It’s also competition and a display of incredible skill. Scottish or not, if you’re a true lover of Celtic culture, how can you go to Scotland and not go to the Games?  Especially when they’re free! To be completely accurate, they’re free for anyone outside the arena (and there’s a lot going on outside the arena). The cost of admission to the arena? 5 euros. (It’s free for children.)

    

This (2024) will be the 147th Nairn Games. They are the only Games in the Highlands that are still free and it’s one of the largest. So, grab a chair or a blanket (or just sit on the grass), and the music, the track and field events, and the Heavy Events (such as Putting the 16.5 lb. Nairn Stone).

    

Nairn is located 17 miles east of Inverness.


Highland Folk Museum: Speaking of Celtic culture, why not experience it at this living history museum? Restored buildings and costumed actors on this 80-acre site help you learn about what life was like for Highlanders from the 18th century up to today. In addition to exploring the buildings and the lifestyle, you can participate by taking a crafting workshop. There are picnic areas and a cafe onsite, so plan to spend a few hours immersed in this historic and cultural experience.

    

The museum is located in Newtownmore in Inverness-shire.


Calanais Standing Stones. Located on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, this ring of standing stones is over 5,000 years old. That means they pre-date Stonehenge. Built in the Neolithic Age, the main circle consists of 13 stones. There are several other circles and a chambered tomb nearby.

    

Whether you go for the history or the mystery, there's just something magical about standing stones.
Whether you go for the history or the mystery, there's just something magical about standing stones.

If you are into the ancient history and mystery of standing stones, be sure to click on the links below to my post on “Celtic Standing Stones” which takes a look at sites throughout Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, and my post on the ancient Scottish archaeological sites of Skara Brae and Maeshowe.


Gretna Green Famous Blacksmiths Shop. A more recent historical site, Gretna Green is famous as a destination for lovers who wanted—or needed—to elope. They turned to Scotland’s lenient marriage laws and hot-footed it to this Blacksmith Shop. There are immersive displays as well as authentic telegrams, letters, and marriage certificates. The shop is located at Headless Cross (I’m not kidding; that’s the actual address) Gretna Green, Dumfries & Galloway.


The Falkirk Wheel is the world’s first and only rotating boat lift. It helps transfer boats from the Forth & Clyde Canal to the Union Canal and vice-versa. Now, I realize you might question why on the face of the good earth I’m recommending you spend your limited vacation time to go see a boat lift. Well, here’s the answer: it’s really cool! Okay, more specifically, it’s an amazing bit of engineering and it lifts boats 115 feet into the air to move them from one canal to the other.  Even better: you can experience this for yourself! There is an hour-long boat ride during which your boat will be lifted by the wheel twice (the rest of the ride you get to enjoy the Falkirk scenery as you cruise along).

    

The boat ride is not free. It costs 17.50 euros (as of this publication), but there is a visitor center nearby that is free. You can sit there and watch the boats being lifted. If you don’t mind spending a little cash, there’s also a café featuring scones and a Guinness chocolate cake to enjoy while you view the wheel in action.

    

The wheel is located in Falkirk, just northwest of Edinburgh.


The Kelpie Sculptures in Helix Park. If you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know that I am all about Celtic folklore, so I had to include this site. Standing 100 feet tall, the Kelpie Sculptures are the largest equine sculptures in the world—and a massive feat of engineering to boot! They are located in Helix Park not far from the Falkirk Wheel. The park is free and features woodlands, wetlands, boardwalks, plus splash play water fountains, and an adventure park. You can freely walk around the Kelpie sculptures. There are also guided tours inside to explore the engineering. If you get hungry from all that walking, there is a café nearby.

    

The Kelpie Sculptures at Helix Park combine art, engineering, and Scottish Folklore.
The Kelpie Sculptures at Helix Park combine art, engineering, and Scottish Folklore.

The Kelpie Sculptures are a tribute to all the work draft horses did in the Falkirk area, but the name harkens back to Scottish folklore. Kelpies are faerie shapeshifters that often appear in the form of a horse. They are said to have the strength of 100 horses. They also are predatory and deadly. They like to eat humans. To learn about Kelpies in Scottish folklore, click here for my post on Scottish and Welsh faeries.


So Much More!

    

There’s so much to do in Scotland this post could go on for a few more pages. There are mountains and lochs, salmon fishing, golf, parks, whisky tastings, battlefields, castles, places to spot faeries, and spooky places. So, isn’t time for a summer getaway to Scotland? If you’re tempted, I highly recommend exploring https://www.visitscotland.com/ which is packed with information about places to go, things to do, accessibility, parking, transportation, and accommodations. The website also has links to the official websites for many of the places and events mentioned in this post.

    

Below, I have links to a few posts I’ve done on Scottish castles, ancient sites, and spooky places.

 

  

 

 


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Slán go fóill


     All artwork for this post (except for the Ukrainian flag and the GIF) by Christine Dorman via Bing Image Creator.



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