By Paula Conway and John Conway
After seeing the new Pixar film “Brave,” you may wish to follow your own will-o’-the-wisp to Scotland and experience this Celtic kingdom first-hand. A great place to start your Scottish adventure is the capital city of Edinburgh. This vibrant and culture-rich metropolis will provide you with just the right quirky mix of medieval and modern.
As home to the Fringe Festival, the largest arts festival in the world, Edinburgh has helped launch such performers as Rowan Atkinson, Stephen Fry, Emma Thompson, Hugh Laurie and Steve Coogan, and it is still the place to catch up-and-coming acts from all over the world. In 2011, more than 41,689 performances of 2,542 different shows in 258 venues were staged over 25 days. This year’s Fringe runs Aug. 3-27. edfringe.com.
As the capital, Edinburgh Castle served as the royal seat of the kingdom until the Union of England and Scotland in 1707. Today, the castle is almost completely restored and open to visitors, and it still serves as a military administrative center. Besides the Scottish crown jewels on display here, there are the Great Hall and Royal Apartments, as well as numerous Scottish regiments that are celebrated in the National War Museum of Scotland. edinburghcastle.gov.uk
Only 20 miles southeast of Edinburgh is a site that would bring a smile to the face of Merida’s dad, King Fergus. The Glenkinchie distillery offers tours of the old malt floor and Scotch whisky tastings throughout the day. discovering-distilleries.com/glenkinchie/
Two hours up the coast from Edinburgh is Dunnottar Castle, the inspiration for Dunbroch Castle in “Brave.” Dunnottar Castle’s key strategic location and breathtaking setting have attracted many visitors over the years, including Mary Queen of Scots, Kings James I and Charles II of England. The site was also used as a fortification from the late 7th to the early 18th century. Movie fans should also note that “Brave” was not the first major motion picture to use Dunnottar as an inspiration; Mel Gibson shot scenes for his 1990 version of “Hamlet” here. Dunnottar Castle is also said to be the most haunted castle in Scotland. If you’re brave enough to walk the grounds at dusk, you just might meet one of the several apparitions reported, including a Norseman, young deer hound, or a girl dressed in a dull plaid dress. dunnottarcastle.co.uk
En route to Merida’s Dunnottar Castle, why not visit the home of another literary resident, the title character of William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” Glamis Castle is an hour and 20 minutes north of Edinburgh, on the way to Dunnottar, making it an easy stop. Talk about royal connections: Glamis Castle was birthplace to Queen Elizabeth’s mother, home to a host of horrifyingly haunted traditions, and the site for much of the action in Shakespeare’s play. The real medieval Scottish King Macbeth had no actual connection to the castle, but the Bard of Avon did not let that minor fact get in the way of a good story. glamis-castle.co.uk
If you really hope to experience the mystery of the standing stones of the movie, you may have to exhibit some bravery yourself. The Callanish Standing Stones are a 5,000-year-old megalithic monument on the western coast of the Isle of Lewis, near the small town of Callanish. That’s approximately eight hours from Edinburgh (including a ferry ride to the Outer Hebrides on the Stornoway/Ullapool ferry), but the long trip has its rewards: Most of it is through the stunning scenery of the Scottish Highlands. callanishvisitorcentre.co.uk
IF YOU GO
Experience the land where legends come to life by going to visitscotland.com. Customized “Brave”-inspired itineraries include: castles, fortresses and tower houses along the countryside; myths and legends following the trail of ghosts, monsters, wizards and mysterious creatures; inspiration landscapes with lochs, forests and glens; ancient Scotland, where you can explore prehistoric stones, dwellings and other landmarks left by Scotland’s early inhabitants; and clans and Scottish culture to find out why the proud who claim their clan culture exclaim, “I am a Scot!”