When I go on a trip, I like to bring home souvenirs for my family (and, yes, for myself too). I usually like to purchase them at the end so I don’t have to bother carrying around and so that I feel like I’ve seen everything before I commit. Sometimes this works out, and sometimes it doesn’t. In Scotland, I almost had to return home empty-handed, but luckily the shops at Gretna Green, just a few miles from the border, saved me.
I began my Scotland trip in Edinburgh, where the streets are lined with shops selling plaid scarves in cashmere and lambswool. There must be a million plaid accessories along the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, just waiting for tourists to bring them home. But I wasn’t ready to buy any yet!
I then went on to St. Andrews, which has lots of terrific stores, but I was too busy with the St. Andrews castle, the ruined abbey, the beach and the Old Course. Next up was The Highlands, and there weren’t many shops there. My last stop was Glasgow, and I was expecting the same abundance of touristy shops as Edinburgh.
But I couldn’t have been more wrong: Edinburgh and Glasgow are very different cities. With its famous castle, Holyrood Palace and the Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh is more of a show piece and accordingly attracts more tourists. Glasgow, which has shed much of its gritty past, as a cosmopolitan vibe and more varied architecture. We didn’t spend much time in Glasgow, but we did walk around George Square, Exchange Square, Merchant City and Trongate. We saw High Street stores and cool boutiques, but not the kind of souvenir shops we were looking for (just real shops for real people).
The next morning, we drove to see University of Glasgow and take in some of the famous Mackintosh buildings and eat scones. Then we were on our way back to Manchester, as we had tickets to see Manchester United play West Ham at 5:30 pm. As usual on this trip, time was of the essence – but what about souvenirs?
As we drove down the M74, I poured through the guide book looking for a good place to stop and kept my eyes peeled for highway signs. Surely I couldn’t have been the first person who wanted to buy Scottish souvenirs before they returned to England (and then home to NYC). That’s when I read about Gretna Green, located just two minutes off the highway and a few miles before the border, it sounded like a place that would have shopping.
Gretna Green boasts the The World Famous Blacksmith Shop, which was a popular spot for English couples to get married in the 1700s and 1800s because Scotland had relaxed marriage laws. In fact, anyone was allowed to officiate these “handfasting ceremonies” so the blacksmith presided over the weddings. You can still get married there today, but you need all the legitimate documents you’d need anywhere else in the UK. I didn’t go inside the museum/wedding hall – I was there for the shops. Unless you’re unbelievably curious about weddings, I probably would recommend Gretna Green more for a rest stop/souvenir savior than a site of historical interest.
So as for the shops, there was a large Tartan Shop, a Lochcarron of Scotland and The Foodhall, which all suited our needs. As a bonus, there was a nice pasture of cows – including highland cattle! – on the other side of the sprawling parking lot. Gretna Green is the perfect roadside stop on your way back to England. And we arrived at the Manchester United game with plenty of time to spare.