Scotland: There are No Wrong Turns

“Of course I’m biased on the route I would take, as I’d always go West to the Highlands!”

The island of Great Britain is less than 8% the size of the contiguous United States, but it presented a very big question: Which way should we go? We began our trip through the United Kingdom in the city of Inverness, in the center of Scotland’s northern coast, and, for the first time in our trip, were facing a real dilemma. On the one hand, my friend Ruaraidh, a native Scot, was recommending we go west. On the other, Edinburgh and Dunnottar Castle lay to the southeast—and I really wanted to head in their direction.

Dunnottar Castle, modern-day fairy tale.
Dunnottar Castle, modern-day fairy tale.

A week later, sitting in Edinburgh, I became paralyzed by the fear of missing out. I no longer saw the line I plotted on my map; I only saw the unmarked area, the roadside sights, people, and experiences that we’d be ignoring. We can go anywhere we want on this trip—we have the ultimate freedom—but we can’t go everywhere. I sat at my computer, Google Maps, TripAdvisor, and the Sustrans map of British Cycling Routes open in separate windows, and was overcome with stress. I had barely touched my beer, my hands were too busy supporting the heft of my aching head.

We camped for the night behind this little chapel... and waged war against the midges.
We camped for the night behind this little chapel… and waged war against the midges.

It wasn’t supposed to be this hard. It was supposed to be more fun. Kristin asked what was wrong.

“We had six years to plan this trip and we intentionally didn’t over-plan. And now I’m drowning here. I don’t know where to go.”

A delightful descent that made us quickly forget the 20% grade we had to climb to reach it!!!
A delightful descent that made us quickly forget the 20% grade we had to climb to reach it!!!

The truth was that I did know where I wanted to go. I had spent some time perusing UK travel guides at a library and stuck a bunch of pins in a digital map. All I had to do was plot a route that would collect the most points, a trend line that omitted the outliers. But, as with my Scottish mountain biking friend, I’ve also collected acquaintances aboard the Queen Mary 2 who each didn’t hesitate to recommend their own personal favorite spots. I glanced back and forth between my map of points, the bike routes, and my own paper road map of Great Britain and broke out in a sweat. Nothing made sense. I wasn’t cut out for this. It was getting too hard, too fast.

Fields of heather forever.
Fields of heather forever.

I suffered a horrible night’s sleep but awoke before dawn with a clear head and a confident disposition. I took up the mouse, plotted a route from Edinburgh to Melrose to Carlisle and onward through the Lake District. Just as I originally intended before hearing the siren song of the Coast and Castles route. It was just like being back at work, waking up early and solving a difficult boss battle on my first try after spending the prior night staring at a steady stream of “Game Over” screens. Achievement unlocked.

I scrolled through the photos I had taken during our first week in Scotland and saw them with fresh eyes. It was time for a pep-talk. No, Doug, we didn’t go west to the Highlands, but look at what we did see! Look at the views, the roads we found ourselves on, the places we camped! Was this not the Scotland you dreamed of? It was, I told myself.

The Well of Lecht.
The Well of Lecht.

Negativity bias will always lead to our being asked about the places we’re not going. We humans can’t help ourselves. And more than a few of you have heard me say something along the lines: “You can draw a thousand lines on a world map and never see everything.” I always believed this to be true—the map hanging in my office the past six years provided a daily reminder—but now I know this to be true on the small scale as well.

Great Britain isn’t a big place, but it’s got a lot to offer. No matter how much we don’t see, we’re still seeing more than if we had never come at all.

Cruising past St. Bridgett's Kirk across the Firth of Forth from Edinburgh.
Cruising past St. Bridgett’s Kirk across the Firth of Forth from Edinburgh.
This could get baaaaad. See what I did there?
This could get baaaaad. See what I did there?


Cawdor Castle from the botanical gardens
Cawdor Castle from the botanical gardens
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Doug Walsh

Writer, Traveler

Doug Walsh is a writer, traveler, cyclist, and gamer who spent two years traveling from Seattle to Singapore, the long way around, by bicycle and sea. He's the author of the upcoming novel "Tailwinds Past Florence."

  1. “This could get baaaad”! YES!! Amazing photos, as always. I just love the green and I’m so excited to see photos from this particular leg of your journey.

    Mike and I couldn’t even manage to see all of the Magic Kingdom in Disney World and I lamented what we missed, rather than focus on what we didn’t. Like you said, it’s human nature. But the more you resist that, the happier you’ll be. You’re seeing sights most people will never get to see at all; it’s an enviable problem not worth the headache.

    1. Thanks Jessica! Kind of like you and Disney, instead of worrying about what we’re missing, we’re looking at as “This is great, we got the obvious attractions and highlights out of the way so *WHEN WE RETURN* we can focus on the more obscure things we missed this time around.”

  2. Scotland looks amazing, we are watching a TV series called Outlander filmed in Inverness, it looks beautiful from your pictures and the film.
    It was great meeting you and I will continue to follow you on your grat adventure. I had a great time in England and Paris, walked, took buses and trains all over, I feel like I know those cities very well, made some good friends. Carol does not like crowds so she stuck by the hotel and went on long walks in parks nearby. I came home by plane a few days ago, she is currently on QM2….I envy her.

    Friends of friends who just completed a bike trip ‘around the world’ she British, he is German would like to get in touch with you, is this the best medium or e-mail?.


  3. Your photos bring back wonderful memories. It is an amazing country and the wonderful friendly people inhabit it. I have a feeling that can be said of all the countries you will be visiting. Travel blessing on you and your journey.

  4. These pictures don’t even look real! Incredible!
    Also, the picture of Kristen outside of the chapel looks like there is a quarter keg next to the tent. Now, that could really shake things up!

    Remember, if it isn’t Scottish………. It’s crap!

    I wonder if they even know about Mike Myers there.

    1. Ha, that quarter keg is our stove. LOL! But now that you mention it…

      I really try not to over-develop my photos and you can be sure that I never fake things. Sometimes they need a little bump in saturation or contrast but that’s more just me trying to correct the camera’s deficiencies. 😉

      Thanks for the comments!

  5. Amazing photos. Only thing missing is that travel flyrod a certain friend made for you. Scotland and the UK has some of the world’s best trout fishing!! Take some stream pics for me!! Thanks for taking us along.

    1. We were camped near the River Tweed last night. Chatted with a couple of guys from England who came up to salmon fish with their 10-foot fly rods. They caught a “sea trout” that was remarkably far inland and took an hour to land.

  6. Also I had a little chuckle at the photo of you guys sheltering in the caravans drying room, preparing you meal, That must of been the equivalent of dining in The Britannia as opposed to the Princess’s grill !!!! 🙂

  7. WOW! Congrats on making it to Scotland! I’ve been following your journey. We’re friends with Alan and Katrina and met you and Kristin on the one-night reposition cruise to Vancouver a few years back. I remember you guys telling us about this trip, and here you are! What an amazing adventure. Try not to worry about missing out–you are seeing and experiencing PLENTY! I really enjoy checking on where you are in the world on this blog. Thanks for sharing your adventures with us!

  8. I wish I faced your dilemma! I agree with Barbara and Ed, you are seeing some wonderful places, and sharing it with amazing photos. Stay well, and enjoy!

    1. Thanks!It is a wonderful dilemma to have as far as these things go. But therein lies the problem. It’s the fact that I’m so aware of how rare this moment in our lives are, that I have to really work to ignore the fear of not screwing it up.

  9. What a dilemma. But you are seeing some wonderful places that most Britons have not in all the time they have
    Lived on this tiny isle xx keep safe and loving the updates 🙂

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About Us

We're Doug & Kristin Walsh, a couple of Washingtonians who love to travel, both abroad and in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest. We set off to travel the world in 2014, primarily by bicycle. We're back home now, but the travel bug continues to be fed every chance we get.

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