Typically one does not praise a reference book for what it omits, but in the case of Rick Steves’Snapshot Scotland, brevity is one of its chief virtues. This up-to-date extract from his lengthier Rick Steves’ Great Britain 2010 focuses entirely on the best places to visit in Scotland. Further, he limits the verbiage by honing in on his most highly recommended attractions, accommodations, and events. He also uses symbols to convey ratings and other key data-not original with him, but used very effectively by him.
The result is an admirably slim and portable paperback volume-about the size of a 4 by 6 card and ½ inch deep. Not only do I plan to take it with me on my upcoming trip to Scotland, but I find myself tucking it into my bag and reading it wherever I am. Steves’ many suggestions are helping me refine the plans for our trip.
Steves is an eminently popular purveyor of travel information about Europe based on his own extensive and continuing travels into every nook and cranny of the continent since 1973. He relates just enough first-person experience to lend credibility to his observations and recommendations, but he also includes the necessary factual information-dates, prices, contact information-to make his recommendations actionable, if you will pardon the bureaucratese.
Insider Advice from Rick Steves
For example, Steves says clearly and honestly that it is very difficult to appreciate the natural charms of the Isle of Skye without a car. It is too large to survey entirely on foot, does not lend itself to bicycles, and public transportation is limited and unreliable. Helpfully, he notes that it is possible to rent a car by the day on Skye and provides full details. I would never have guessed this was possible. This is the kind of information that endears this travel author to his readers.
In another quite helpful section, Steves provides full details on the complexity and expense of actually playing a round of golf on the hallowed Old Course at The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of Saint Andrews-the cradle of golf. Realizing how off-putting it is to pay 130 GBPs per person and to have to provide documentary evidence of your golf handicap, he provides another option:
“For less than the cost of a Coke, you can pretend you are Tiger Woods stuck in a sand trap on the Old Course with the British Open title on the line. Technically the ‘Ladies Putting Green,’ this cute little patch of undulating grass presents the perfect opportunity for non-golfers to say they’ve played the links at St. Andrews….”(p. 79)
This is a typical insider gem from Rick Steves.
Riding on the Hogwarts Express
There is at least one point on which I disagree with him, and that has to do with the steam train that runs from Fort William to the ferry port of Mallaig-popular jumping off point for the Isle of Skye. When it is not portraying the Hogwarts Express for Harry Potter fims, the train is actually the Jacobite Steam Train on the West Highland Railway Line. This 42-mile scenic stretch includes the Glenfinnan Viaduct, with its 12 arches familiar to the fans of the Harry Potter films. Steves recommends against making the round trip via the steam train because it all takes too long (two hours each way) and involves seeing the same scenery twice! How about looking out the left side on the way over and the right side on the way back? If you drive the route, as he suggests, the driver will not be able to fully appreciate this wonderful scenery. So Steves and I will have to agree to disagree on that one.
Edinburgh and Glasgow
Steves appropriately devotes a large number of pages to the sights of Edinburgh, with a handy two-page Edinburgh-at-a-Glance that lists 18 features, from visiting the Edinburgh Castle (absolute must-see) to climbing on the ornate Victorian Walter Scott monument (fun if you have time). Even though I have visited Edinburgh twice, I have not yet toured one of Steves’ “must sees”-The Scottish National Museum-so it is right at the top of the list for this summer’s trip.
Glasgow is given adequate coverage, although I did a double take when Steves said that most people can sample Glasgow in a couple of hours! In fact, I have sampled Glasgow in a couple of hours and that just whetted my appetite to return and see more on the upcoming trip. And by the way, if you do attempt to get the flavor of Glasgow in two hours, I highly recommend the City Sightseeing tour with the open-topped bus. It gives an excellent overview with colorful commentary.
Steves Omits Northernmost Scotland
The only category of travel reader who might find Steves’ Scotland Snapshot somewhat frustrating would be the serious outdoor enthusiast who wants a lot of information about overnight hiking, skiing, boating, fishing, and such. Also, while Steves gives excellent coverage to Skye, Iona, and Mull Islands, and to the sights in the vicinity of Inverness, such as Loch Ness, he does not venture further north. Anyone interested in making the loop all the way to John O’Groats at the northernmost tip of Britain will need to consult a different source for guidance.
Although it is not a heavily illustrated book, there are useful schematic maps and a number of black and white photographs throughout. There is even an unexpected photo of Rick Steves himself wearing a kilt, knee socks, and ghillie shoes while hiking to Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh. It is not captioned, so look sharp to find it.
Rick Steves’ Snapshot Scotland is published by Avalon Travel, a member of the Perseus Books Group, Berkeley, California and is available from amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and other sources. Copyright 2010; ISBN 978-1-59880-495-9. For additional information, see www.avalontravelbooks.com.