If you want a local guide to make sure you hit the right spots at the right times without worrying if you have the right shoes, MAD Goat Tours is the ticket. We wanted to spend a day in the Scottish countryside while staying in Edinburgh, which put a premium on speed, efficiency, and flexibility from someone who knew the prime locations and had an opinion about the value of each. Owner/operator Rafael Fonseca checked all of those boxes. And when yours truly reserved the wrong date, he was able to accommodate me with his friend and fellow docent Mauricio, who was equally knowledgeable about the terrain and the history of Scotland.
To be sure, most visitors want the Harry Potter scenery, the Game of Thrones scenery, or the Highlander scenery. But you can also get your fill of William Wallace (Mel Gibson in Braveheart) or Robert the Bruce (Chris Pine in Outlaw King or Angus Macfadyen in Robert the Bruce). Based on the crowds, I’d say the Harry Potter fans ruled the highlands. Mauricio got us to each of the well-traveled spots (e.g., Hogwarts Express crossing the trestle outside Glencoe), but also to Eilean na Moine (the island where Albus Dumbledore was interred). We skipped Loch Ness, saving roughly eight hours of driving time (there’s no monster, and there are more scenic lochs), but made The Hermitage (beautiful waterfalls). We had layers of clothes in the boot of our private car, because temperatures and winds changed by the hour. When we were ready to leave an area, we left. We chose our dining and rest stops from multiple locations, sometimes mingling with local folk, sometimes playing our role as tourists with cameras and strange shirts.
We learned both Scottish national history (e.g., the Battle of Stirling Bridge, 1297) and local review board customs (building owners in Edinburgh’s historic districts aren’t allowed to clean the soot off the stone walls; property taxes are assessed by the number of windows on the outside of your city building leading some owners to board up perfectly good windows). We had marvelous photo and scotch-tasting opportunities (not saying we partook, but we had the opportunities). Most importantly, we got to know a genuinely positive and earnest young man who went above and beyond to make us feel comfortable, all in about 12 hours across Scottish countryside.