Scotland is a land of many contrasts. From the cultured streets of Edinburgh and the great shops in Glasgow’s wonderful Buchanan Street to the wild mountains of the highlands and the incredible sandy beaches and wonderful islands of the magical west coast. My most memorable holiday since becoming a parent is a week spent on the Isle of Mull. On the first day I was awake early, breastfeeding a baby with no sense that 5am was unsociable for an alarm call. I glanced up from my guzzling little boy and saw a majestic stag staring at me through the kitchen window, just a few feet away from the house. Later that day, on the beach below our isolated cottage, to the delight of our girls we saw seals and otters. That evening we built a campfire and fried sausages whilst sea eagles circled overhead. I don’t believe we could have had a day with more magic and memories anywhere in the world.
I feel I have to declare myself here and own up to being a desperate romantic where Scotland is concerned. There’s something about Skye appearing over the sea, or the waters of Loch Ness, with their monster and mystery, that sets my heart beating faster. I love the tartan and tweed, am partial to haggis with a wee bit o’ whisky jus, and enjoy a dram by the fire. I’ve fallen under Scotland’s spell hook line and sinker and I’m evangelical about trying to get everyone else to love it too!
Here’s my round up of where to go:
The Lowlands and Borders
These are the parts of Scotland that people tend to zip through on their way to Edinburgh, Glasgow and then to the Highlands and Islands, yet I’d really recommend halting here and maybe even going no further. Not many miles north of the English Lake District or Northumbria, the Borderlands are wild and beautiful. My particular favourite places here are on the coast of Dumfries and Galloway, the gorgeous artists’ town of Kirkudbright, the booktown of Wigtown and many other little known towns. The lovely empty beaches and fantastic hill walking that you’ll find here are one of Britain’s best-kept secrets. Unlike our island’s better known beauty spots, you can walk in the hills here without seeing another soul, have miles and miles of golden sands to yourselves and stay in wonderful cottages for a fraction of the price of Galloway’s Lakeland English neighbours!
The Central Belt
Scotland’s two main cities straddle the centre of the country like the giants they are. Edinburgh is a capital city that wears its history on its sleeve. The cliff top castle towers above the city and every street and alleyway you go down seems to end in a rockface with the castle looming overhead. You’ll also find some of Britain’s finest Georgian architecture here and the striking modern new parliament building which sits alongside the medieval palace at Holyrood. Glasgow is only an hour by train but a world away from restrained and gentile Edinburgh. With some of the finest museums in the country (the Kelvingrove is wonderful) as well as fantastic shopping and Rennie Mackintosh buildings galore, it was the inspiration for some of Britain’s great artists and architects in the 19th and 20th centuries.
The Highlands and Islands
When you leave Glasgow and head north over the Erskine Bridge you enter the Highlands in what seems like minutes, city streets become jagged mountains (proper mountains, no wee hills here!) and you’re at Loch Lomond before you know it. The roads in the highlands are often empty and you’re main cause for constant stops is having to get out of the car to take photos, my husband can’t help himself, a glimpse of sunlight on heather in a glen gets him every time. The highland road through the Great Glen from Fort William to Inverness on a bright day will, I guarantee, take your breath away. And then there’s the islands. Skye with its romance and brooding mountains, Islay for isolation and whisky; Mull for majesty. Every island has beautiful beaches with wildlife your children will never forget, you can explore rockpools and spot seals undisturbed by anyone . You can buy a roving ticket from Caledonian Macbrayne and explore several islands or just choose one and settle down to fall in love and dream of life away from the rat race, even for a little while.
The air is clean and clear, the langoustine fresh from the boat, the whisky waiting by a roaring peat fire. Leave the bustle and the traffic and go to Scotland for a wee bit of magic and I think you’ll fall in love with it.