Editor’s note: This article was published before the coronavirus pandemic, and may not reflect the current situation on the ground.

What makes Scotland so special? After multiple trips north of the border, that’s the question travel writer Helen Ochyra decided to answer when she embarked on her first book, Scotland Beyond the Bagpipes. And this is what she uncovered.

It was back in 2005 that I first discovered Scotland. At least, I thought I did.

Like so many people who live south of the border in England, I had decided that I knew Scotland. It was part of Britain after all, a place that was more the same than it was different. I had pictures in my mind of bagpipes and tartan and shortbread, a vague notion that it was more mountainous, and wilder, than England. It was somewhere that could always wait until next year. It would, after all, always be there. On my doorstep.
[Chapter 1, Scotland Beyond the Bagpipes]

But when travel writer Helen Ochyra first visited, she found a country significantly different to her own and immediately craved more, returning numerous times for travel assignments over the years. But it was in 2017—after the sudden loss of her mother—that she embarked on a three-month journey to find out why Scotland had cast its spell.