Scotland

A country of rich history and warm people. Photo: Ben Groundwater

The red beard is a giveaway; that, and my pale complexion. I might as well be wearing a kilt. I might as well have half my face painted blue and be running around screaming, "Freedom!".

I have Scottish blood. Pints of the stuff. More than enough to fool your average tourist on the streets of Edinburgh or Glasgow who frequently stops me in those fine but unfortunately unfamiliar cities to ask for directions: "S'cuse me mate, djoo know where Princess Street is?"

I may not always know my way around but I do feel like I belong in Scotland. I understand the accents - I know what a "braw, bricht, moonlicht nicht" is. I like the beer. I like the haggis. And no one makes fun of my pale skin ("I'd love to be pale," a Scottish mate once lamented, "but I have to go out in the sun to even get pale. Normally I'm blue.").

Three Chimneys Restaurant and Hotel, Isle of Skye, Scotland.

The Isle of Skye, Scotland.

As I jump in the hire car today and pull onto the road north from Edinburgh, I feel comfortable, I feel at home. This is the beginning of a journey of rediscovery, a large loop from Edinburgh up to Aberdeen, across to the Isle of Skye and down past Fort William, ending up in Glasgow. It's all about getting back in touch with old friends, revisiting favourite places, getting reacquainted with the family home.

I'm not usually one for nostalgia but this provides travel with a difference. I can't view these mist-shrouded hills, these shimmering lochs, these warm pubs and friendly, red-bearded people as a normal tourist would. I'm not gazing in on someone else's culture here but rather coming to appreciate my own.

There's an odd sense of pride as I drive along Edinburgh's cobbled streets, as if I had some sort of hand in erecting the big stone buildings, or in sectioning off the nice little parks, or in planning the iconic castle. Pretty soon I'm into the countryside, marvelling instead at my ability to create rolling green hills.

Scotland

Scotland's rivers and heather-covered hills. Photo: Ben Groundwater

Even if I didn't have Scottish blood, there would still be a lot to love about this funny wee country. There's the landscape, the whisky, the pubs, the dry, sarcastic sense of humour, the fact people can both pronounce and spell the surname "Groundwater", and there's the Scots themselves, fiercely loyal people who love a pint and a chat, and then another pint and another chat.

Scottish friends, I've found, will always be Scottish friends. Once a Scot decides you're a mate, that's that. They're a mate for life. In Edinburgh I'd been staying with a friend I hadn't seen or even heard from in about eight years. After finding out I was in town he'd insisted I stay at his already overcrowded house. "For as long as you like," he'd assured me.

Now, however, I'm heading for the familial land. The Groundwaters are from the Orkney Islands - according to my dad, one of the few places in the world where saying our name isn't immediately followed by the question, "What?" - but even more of my family are from the mainland's north, around Aberdeen and Morayshire.

There's history both ancient and recent to catch up on up here: I meet another old friend in Aberdeen; I drive to Lossiemouth to stay on the farm where, as a 17-year-old, I worked for just long enough to realise I didn't want to be a farmer; I stand atop the ruins of Duffus Castle, a place I've been going since I was a child, to survey the territory I'm convinced is mine.

I drive past Loch Ness, keeping an eye out for Nessie. I follow the rivers to the west, winding between heather-covered hills before arriving on the coast at Kyle of Lochalsh and then crossing over the bridge to Kyleakin, eating fish and chips at the local pub, listening to Scots' tales of laughter and woe.

And all this time I'm thinking: this is mine. This is not beauty and culture I have to be jealous of, or struggle to make sense of. It's part of me. This land and these people are part of what makes me this red-bearded, pale-skinned, Austro-Anglo-Scotsman. That's not a travel experience you can often have.

The next day I'm back in the car, back on the A-road heading south, down past Fort William and inland to Loch Lomond, stopping for a break on a lonely stretch of road high in the hills, where a guy in a caravan is selling hot tea and bacon sandwiches by the side of the highway.

He does a bit of a double take as I wander up to the caravan and place my order.

"Och, you're Australian," he laughs, handing over a warm sandwich.

"I thought yee were one of us. Mustae been the beard."

The writer funded his own travel.