Och aye, it’s a sight to behold

Haggis, neeps and tatties is a traditional Scottish dish.

As a huge fan of Scottish comedian Billy Connolly, I was delighted to find an eight-foot high portrait of him in all his 1970s splendour at The People’s Museum in Glasgow.

It got even better last year, with three murals of the now Sir William unveiled in the city centre to mark his 75th birthday.

With so many New Zealanders having Scottish ancestry – in 1901 there were 47,858 people in New Zealand born in Scotland – it is a common port of call for Kiwis travelling in the United Kingdom.

My husband and I lived there for a short time after taking a live-in summer job at a hotel in the small village of Roybridge in the Scottish Highlands.

Despite being just minutes away by road from the Clan Cameron (of which I am descended) Museum, I never visited, which I kick myself about now.

Scotland is a country of beautiful landscapes (think fields of purple heather) and rich history (think Mel Gibson as William Wallace in Braveheart, the story of the late 13th-century Scottish warrior who led the Scots in the First War of Scottish Independence against King Edward I of England).

My first taste of Scotland was a few days staying with friends from New Zealand who were living and working in the capital city, Edinburgh. Looming over the city is Edinburgh Castle, which dominates the skyline from its position on the Castle Rock.

Wandering around the Old Town is a real treat, with small medieval streets lined with wool shops, pubs and historical monuments. I took an underground walking tour by night, travelling back in time to the 18th century vaults where crime and disease ruled the city.

I timed my visit to Edinburgh to coincide with Hogmanay – the Scottish celebration of the New Year – where it is celebrated with one of the world’s biggest street parties.

As well as bands and entertainment, it features one of the most spectacular firework displays I’ve ever seen. You don’t want to be shy because, come midnight, you are swept up in a sea of 150,000 people grabbing each other in a warm embrace.

While not really hikers, my husband and I had been keen to do some of the great walks in the Scottish Highlands, but it was just so wet that summer that we had to settle for the odd day or overnight trip to nearby places of interest.

Among those was a boat trip on Loch Ness in search of the mythical monster Nessie, a visit to the ruins of the medieval Urquhart Castle and trips to Inveraray, Glasgow and Inverness.

We also ventured to the Isle of Skye, the largest and northernmost of the major islands in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland, which can be reached by bridge or ferry. Great walks and wildlife watching are on offer here, but again, it was wet when we visited so we went on a tour of the Talisker Scotch Whiskey distillery instead.

Along with the sightseeing we got a taste of Scottish life, with the hotel we worked in hosting several weddings and several nights spent enjoying the weekly ceilidh at the village pub.

Scottish weddings are a real treat, with the men wearing the traditional Scottish kilts and a bagpiper usually in attendance.

The ceilidh (pronounced kay-lee) is a traditional Scottish social gathering that involves folk music, singing and dancing. There was many a night I left the festivities in the early hours of the morning having had my ear chewed off by a local with a thick Scottish accent – they really do say ‘och aye’ by the way!

Now, I’m not one for eating offal normally but when in Scotland…

Haggis is the national dish, made of sheep’s pluck (liver, lungs and heart) minced with spices, salt, oatmeal, suet and onion inside a lining of the animal’s stomach. Yes, it sounds disgusting, but teamed up with ‘neeps and tatties’ (mashed turnip and potato) and a dram of Scotch whiskey it’s certainly a meal to remember.

The best time to visit Scotland is during the spring (late March to May) or autumn (September to November), but if you’re keen to join the Hogmanay festivities make sure to invest in some good winter woollies – it has been known to snow!