Once obtained, youth/student ID cards soon pay for themselves in savings. Full-time students are eligible for the International Student Identity Card or ISIC (isiccard.com), which costs around £10 and entitles the bearer to special air, rail and bus fares, and discounts at museums, theatres and other attractions. If you’re not a student, but you’re 25 or younger, you can get an International Youth Travel Card or IYTC, which costs the same as the ISIC and carries the same benefits.
Note that visa regulations are subject to frequent changes, so it’s always wise to contact the nearest British embassy or high commission before you travel. If you visit ukvisas.gov.uk, you can download the full range of application forms and informa-tion leaflets and find out the contact details of your nearest embassy or consulate. In addition, an independent charity, the Immigration Advisory Service or IAS (iasuk.org), offers free and confidential advice to anyone applying for entry clearance into the UK. If you want to extend your visa, you should contact the UK Border Agency (ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk), a month before the expiry date given in your passport.
If your condition is serious enough, you can turn up at the Accident and Emergency (A&E) department of local hospitals for complaints that require immediate attention. Obviously, if it’s an absolute emergency, ring for an ambulance (999). These services are free to all. You can also get free medical advice from NHS Direct, the health service’s 24-hour helpline (0845/4647, nhsdirect.nhs.uk).
For general postal enquiries visit the website royalmail.com. Main post offices are open Monday to Friday 9am–5.30pm, Saturday 9am–noon. However, in small communities you’ll find post office counters operating out of a shop, shed or even a private house and these will often keep extremely restricted hours.
Virtually every service station in Scotland stocks at least one large-format road atlas, covering all of Britain at around three miles to one inch, and generally including larger-scale plans of major towns. For an overview of the whole of Scotland on one map, Estate Publications’ Scotland (1:500,000) is produced in cooperation with various local tourist boards and is designed to highlight places of interest. They also produce regional maps that mark all the major tourist sights as well as youth hostels and campsites, perfect if you’re driving or cycling round one particular region. These are available from just about every tourist office in Scotland.
The provincial daily press in Scotland is more widely read than its English counterpart, with the two biggest-selling regional titles being Aberdeen’s famously parochial Press and Journal, read in the northeast, Orkney and Shetland, and the right-wing Dundee Courier, mostly sold in Perth, Angus, Tayside and Fife. The weekly Oban Times gives an insight into life in the Highlands and Islands, but is staid compared with the radical, campaigning weekly West Highland Free Press, printed on Skye; both carry articles in Gaelic as well as English. Further north, the lively Shetland Times and sedate Orcadian are essential weekly reads.
Many national Sunday newspapers have a Scottish edition, although Scotland has its own offerings – Scotland on Sunday, from the Scotsman stable, and the Sunday Herald, complementing its eponymous daily. Far more fun and widely read is the anachronistic Sunday Post, published by Dundee’s D.C. Thomson publishing group. It’s a wholesome paper, uniquely Scottish, and has changed little since the 1950s, since which time its two long-running cartoon strips, Oor Wullie and The Broons, have acquired cult status.
Scottish monthlies include the glossy Scottish Field, a parochial version of England’s Tatler, covering countryside interests along with local travel and fashion, and the widely read Scots Magazine, an old-fashioned middle-of-the-road publication which promotes family values and lots of good fresh air.
The BBC radio network broadcasts six main channels in Scotland, five of which are national stations originating largely from London: Radio 1 (pop and dance music), Radio 2 (mainstream pop, rock and light music), Radio 3 (classical music), Radio 4 (current affairs, arts and drama) and Radio 5 Live (sports, news and live discussions and phone-ins). Only the award-winning BBC Radio Scotland offers a Scottish perspective on news, politics, arts, music, travel and sport, as well as providing a Gaelic network in the Highlands with local programmes in Shetland, Orkney and the Borders.
A web of local commercial radio stations covers the country, mostly mixing rock and pop music with news bulletins, but a few tiny community-based stations such as Lochbroom FM in Ullapool – a place famed for its daily midge count – transmit documentaries and discussions on local issues. The most populated areas of Scotland also receive UK-wide commercial stations such as Classic FM, Virgin Radio and TalkSport. With a DAB digital radio, you can get all the main stations crackle-free along with special interest and smaller-scale stations.
Credit/debit cards are by far the most convenient way to carry your money, and most hotels, shops and restaurants in Scotland accept the major brand cards. In every sizeable town in Scot-land, and in some surprisingly small places too, you’ll find a branch of at least one of the big Scottish high-street banks, usually with an ATM attached. However, on some islands, and in remoter parts, you may find there is only a mobile bank that runs to a timetable (usually available from the local post office). General banking hours are Monday to Friday from 9 or 9.30am to 4 or 5pm, though some branches are open until slightly later on Thursdays. Post offices charge no commission, have longer opening hours, and are therefore often a good place to change money and cheques.
If you’re taking your mobile/cellphone with you to Scotland, check with your service pro-vider whether your phone will work abroad and what the call charges will be. Unless you have a tri-band phone, it’s unlikely that a mobile bought for use in the US will work outside the States and vice versa. Mobiles in Australia and New Zealand generally use the same system as the UK so should work fine. All the main UK networks cover the Highlands and Islands, though you’ll still find many places in among the hills or out on the islands where there’s no signal at all. If you’re in a rural area and having trouble with reception, simply ask a local where the strongest signals are found nearby.
As well as being stacked full of souvenirs and other gifts, most TICs have a decent selection of leaflets, displays, maps and books relating to the local area. The staff are usually helpful and will do their best to help with enquiries about accommodation, local transport, attractions and restaurants, although it’s worth being aware that they’re sometimes reluctant to divulge information about local attractions or accommodation which are not paid-up members of the Tourist Board – and a number of perfectly decent guesthouses and the like choose not to pay the fees.