Scotland, UK • June 2017 • Length of Read: 7 Minutes
There are numerous ‘seven wonders of the world’ lists kicking about online, from the ‘seven wonders of nature’; to the ‘seven wonders of the industrial world’; of the ancient world; of the solar system; of the underwater world; to the ‘seven wonders of the modern world’, which we have pretty much agreed upon as being, Machu Picchu; Petra; Chichen Itza; Pyramid of Giza; Great Wall of China; Christ the Redeemer, and the Taj Mahal. I’ve visited the South American pair so far, but still have another five to go before I can tick off bucket list item #57.
Albeit quite novel, these lists are pretty interesting, so I was therefore disappointed when finding out that nobody has ever come up with a set ‘Seven Wonders of Scotland’. The Scotsman newspaper did once run a public vote to find out what Scots thought some of the most wonderful things that their homeland had to offer were, with the impressive Forth Rail Bridge taking first place accolades, but I still feel that a definitive list needs to be compiled.
Now, caveat time. I am neither a historian nor a geographer, and I struggle to follow Lego instructions never mind architectural blueprints, so for the purposes of this list I have excluded all wonders of nature and engineering. Scotland is one of the most beautiful countries in the world and I could never separate what if feels like to drive through Glencoe; climb Ben Nevis; traverse Skye’s Cullin Ridge, or witness the wildlife of the Outer Hebrides. If you are looking for this then Visit Scotland have put together a list of the best walking trips throughout Alba. And with this in mind, here are Crobs Abroad’s alternative Seven Wonders of Scotland.
Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Having rambled around a large part of the globe, the most common response by far from the locals of foreign lands when finding out where I’m from is to simply exclaim, ‘whisky’. No other word can define Scotland in a nutshell other than the name of the country itself, regardless of where you seem to go. I’ve had Cambodian taxi drivers, Peruvian mayors, and Kiwi hoteliers all express their love for the amber bead, and each also was under the impression that we have been raised on the stuff from birth as if it’s a replacement for breast milk.
Now, as most whisky connoisseurs will tell you, to be a single malt scotch the whisky must have been distilled at a single distillery in Scotland using barley and then matured in oak casks for at least three years and one day. What many people get confused over, however, is how to spell the word. Is it ‘whisky’ or is it ‘whiskey’? Quite simple, really. In almost all cases, if the whisky is made in countries with no ‘e’ in their names, such as Canada, Japan, or Scotland, then it’s spelt as so. If it comes from countries with an ‘e’ in their names, such as Ireland or the good ole’ U.S of A, then it's spelt ‘whiskey’.
The first written record of golf is when James II banned the game in 1457 because it was becoming an unwelcome distraction to learning archery. Even the King couldn’t resist the allure of the stick and ball game, however, and lifted the ban in 1502 when taking up the sport himself. The Old Course at St. Andrews in the Eastern Kingdom of Fife has been labelled ‘The Home of Golf’, and has its place on The Open Championship rota every five years, the oldest and most prestigious golf tournament in the world.
My favourite story about the sportsmanship and camaraderie in golf comes from what was labelled the ‘Duel in the Sun’ at the 1977 Open Championship at the Turnberry course, also in Scotland and now owned by President Donald Trump. Two of the all-time greats of the game, Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus, found themselves streaks ahead of the rest of the field and in a tense battle all weekend, with Watson eventually pipping Nicklaus to the Claret Jug on the final hole by one stroke. That night, the pair were reportedly sitting in the clubhouse knocking back drinks and talking about the epic display they had put on for the crowd. ‘You got lucky,’ joked Nicklaus. ‘I had you all day,’ laughed Watson. A few hours later, a security guard, noticing some unusual activities on one of the greens, ran out onto the pitch black course to apprehend what he thought were a couple of hooligans. Instead, he found Nicklaus and Watson drunkenly staggering about, Watson with the trophy in hand and Nicklaus holding their sole club. They had decided to settle their argument like men, with a three-holes, one-club, midnight shootout. I have no way of verifying this story, but I so hope that it is true.
The Original 007
‘The name’s Bond, James Bond’. A famous catchphrase that Sean Connery almost never got to say. The anecdote goes that, when initially casting the titular character for this now world-famous spy and lady killer, creator Ian Fleming and the picture house production team didn’t want an already famous face to portray Bond. They, therefore, held an open call to which Sean Connery attended and absolutely bombed. In a stroke of luck, however, when discussing who they wanted at the end of the casting, Fleming happened to look out of the window of their offices and see Connery walking across the car park. ‘He walks like a panther,' said Fleming, commenting on Connery's stride. 'Bring him back in for another audition’. The rest, as they say, is history. He nailed his second attempt and was given his license to kill.
“Is it true that you don’t wear anything underneath your kilt?” is one of the most frequently asked questions that a Scotsman gets from foreigners who are intrigued about our strange culture. Worn nowadays as a replacement for a tuxedo or a dinner suit at a black-tie event, no Scottish man is likely to ever look better than when donning the tartan skirt of his clan. I personally own one for formal use and have a second, more cheaply-made kilt, for partying and travelling. The looks that I receive when marching down the street in a foreign country with my pleats billowing in the breeze never get old, although most of them are unfortunately from people simply not familiar with what a kilt is as opposed to groups of girls getting hot under the collar. It is true, though, ladies. I don’t wear any underwear beneath my kilt.
On 25th March 1925, Scottish inventor John Logie Baird gave the first public demonstration of televised silhouette images in motion. Cue the birth of the television. Within a year of this, he was demonstrating the transmission of the image of a face in motion and its popularity grew to a level that households around the world are now more likely to have televisions in them than hot running water. American’s spend on average five hours per day watching mind-numbing programming on the box, with hundreds of terrestrial and digital channels to choose from. Baird didn’t have this luxury, however. Rumour has it that he was pissed off after inventing it because there was nothing good on to watch.
Edinburgh Fringe Festival
For the entire month of August each year, the streets, pubs, clubs, and theatres of Edinburgh turn into a city-wide party when the world’s largest arts festival comes into town. The Fringe started in 1947 and there is no threshold as to whom can get involved and participate. All you have to do is rent out a performance space, come up with a ludicrous act, and the flyer like mental for people to pop their head around the door and watch your act. Categories of shows span across theatre; poetry; dance; circus; music, you name it.
What it’s most famous for, however, is the Edinburgh Comedy Awards, which has launched the careers of dozens of household comedy names. Previous recipients of the prestigious main prize include Stephen Fry; Hugh Lawrie; Al Murray; Steve Coogan; Dylan Moran; and Rich Hall but to name a few. There’s also acknowledgement for the funniest joke of The Fringe. Last year’s winner: “My dad has suggested that I register for a donor card. He’s a man after my own heart.”
As much as we like to mess with far-too-enthusiastic Americans by telling them that a haggis is a three-legged creature that runs around the Scottish hills and Highlands, it’s actually just a savoury pudding made from the pluck of a sheep. That is, it’s the heart, liver, and lungs of the sheep minced with some spices and stuffed into the lining of its stomach. Sounds delicious, I know. When served with a side portion of neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes), however, it is absolutely delicious, and nothing takes me back to my childhood faster. It is the tradition for a haggis to be bagpiped in and addressed during a Burns Supper; evening events which take place on the 25th January each year to celebrate the birthday of Scotland’s most famous poet, Robert Burns.
So, in conclusion, what I’m really saying is that, if under some bizarre circumstances you happen to turn on your TV and see a kilt-donned Sean Connery driving a golf cart through the streets of Edinburgh on his way home from finishing an improv sketch show at the Fringe Festival, whilst washing down a mouthful of haggis with a bottle of Glenmorangie, then that’s pretty fucking Scottish.
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