From ot­ter spotting to get­ting an aerial view of the is­lands, we present 12 ideas for 2018

The Herald Magazine - - TRAVEL - ROBERT KIDD

VISIT A GIN DISTILLERY

Move over whisky, gin is fast be­com­ing a ma­jor draw. At Tor­ris­dale Es­tate on the east coast of Kin­tyre, with spec­tac­u­lar views to Ar­ran, a for­mer pig­gery has been turned into the Beinn an Turc mi­cro-distillery. The first batches of Kin­tyre Gin – with a pic­ture of a boar on the bot­tle – were re­leased last year and have met with crit­i­cal ac­claim, car­ry­ing off the Clas­sic Gin of the Year prize at the Lon­don Craft Dis­till­ing Expo. The vis­i­tor cen­tre is due to open in the first half of 2018. I’ll be there near the head of the queue.

IS­LAND-HOP BY PLANE

Clam­ber­ing aboard a Twin Ot­ter plane and tak­ing off for a Scot­tish is­land is a mil­lion miles away from your nor­mal air­line ex­pe­ri­ence. This is fly­ing in minia­ture – duck your head as you en­ter the cabin, en­joy the safety brief­ing from the flight crew and per­haps even de­bate your choice of route with them. Then have cam­era ready as you weave in and out of the clouds, spotting shapely moun­tains and sparkling lochs way be­low. It’s my favourite way to ar­rive in the Outer He­brides, es­pe­cially land­ing on Barra’s cockle beach – the only place in the world where the sched­uled timetable is “sub­ject to tides”.

WAIT FOR THE BUS ON UNST

Buses tend to be few and far be­tween on Unst, Scot­land’s most northerly pop­u­lated out­post and Shet­land’s self-pro­claimed is­land above all oth­ers. But you are very wel­come to stay awhile – in fact, Bobby’s bus shel­ter at Bal­ta­sound pos­i­tively en­cour­ages this, with a com­fort­able chair, books and a tele­vi­sion. The decor changes ev­ery year or two – usu­ally fol­low­ing a theme which could be any­thing from puffins to foot­ball. Who knows what 2018 will bring? Do sign the vis­i­tors’ book if you make it all this way.

EAT LOB­STER AL FRESCO

We have a fab­u­lous nat­u­ral larder in Scot­land, es­pe­cially the sur­round­ing wa­ters. On a sunny day it is a lux­u­ri­ous treat to sit out­side and tuck in to the fresh­est lob­ster. One of my favourite places to do this is at the Boathouse on the low-ly­ing isle of Gigha in Ar­gyll. The lo­cal topol­ogy and Gulf Stream mean clear, warm days are rea­son­ably fre­quent – no prom­ises, mind. Ad­vance book­ing is highly rec­om­mended but don’t nec­es­sar­ily be­lieve all you read on the black­board: it prob­a­bly shows only a hand­ful of lob­sters left … which I think is a clever ploy to spur you on.

TOUR IN A TESLA ELEC­TRIC CAR

Many New Year pre­dic­tions have pro­claimed 2018 as the year of the elec­tric car. McKin­lay Kidd has just launched a cou­ple of tour­ing hol­i­days in a hired Tesla. I tried the car out my­self on a trip to Strath­spey re­cently – it de­liv­ers a fab­u­lous driv­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, with su­perb ac­cel­er­a­tion and a raft of help­ful gad­gets. EV driv­ing does re­quire a dif­fer­ent ap­proach to route plan­ning and a shift in mind­set to fo­cus on the range. For­tu­nately, the charg­ing net­work is ex­pand­ing all the time. DRINK HOT CHOCO­LATE ON THE NORTH COAST Ex­plore Scot­land’s an­swer to Route 66, the North Coast 500, a cir­cu­lar route from In­ver­ness tak­ing in Dornoch, John O’Groats, Tongue, Kylesku, Ul­lapool and Tor­ri­don. The best part of a week gives plenty of op­por­tu­nity to me­an­der off the 513-mile track and seek out the best lo­cal ex­pe­ri­ences, in­clud­ing a twisty de­tour over the Bealach na Ba to Ap­ple­cross. Head up in spring or au­tumn to avoid the busy sea­son. If it’s a bit chilly, pop into Co­coa Moun­tain in Dur­ness for an over­flow­ing mug of the sweet­est hot choco­late – the human way to recharge your bat­ter­ies.

IM­MERSE YOUR­SELF IN MACK­IN­TOSH

This year is the 150th an­niver­sary of the birth of Charles Ren­nie Mack­in­tosh. The oc­ca­sion will be marked by an ex­hi­bi­tion of the Glas­gow de­signer, ar­chi­tect and artist’s life and work at the Kelv­in­grove Art Gallery, run­ning from March 31 to Au­gust 14. Com­ple­ment this with vis­its to some of his legacy build­ings in and around the city cen­tre – per­haps on a guided walk with a stu­dent from the Glas­gow School of Art. In

ad­di­tion, take a trip a lit­tle fur­ther afield to the Hill House in He­lens­burgh, a fine ex­am­ple of his lead­ing-edge cre­ative work in a grand do­mes­tic set­ting.

GET CLOSE TO NA­TURE

We’re lucky to have so much amaz­ing wildlife on our doorstep – red squir­rels, white-tailed ea­gles, dol­phins, ot­ters, stags, seals. What’s more, minke whales and bask­ing sharks fre­quent the wa­ters off the west coast. If you know where to look, it’s easy to stum­ble across com­i­cal puffins dur­ing the nest­ing sea­son be­tween April and late July. To find them in abun­dance, head for the Tresh­nish Isles, off Mull. A week on and around Mull will give you a good chance of see­ing just about all of the mag­nif­i­cent spec­i­mens men­tioned above.

CON­NECT WITH THE PAST

Ge­nealog­i­cal tourism is in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar, not lim­ited to trav­ellers in kilts and tam­mies lay­ing claim to a ru­ined clan cas­tle. Make it per­sonal – per­haps start with on­line re­search at www.scot­lands­peo­ple.gov.uk then head off to your an­ces­tral lands and visit the dwelling and burial sites of your fore­bears. Think of the chal­lenges they faced com­pared to how we live our lives to­day. Maybe it’s also an op­por­tu­nity to look up those far-flung cur­rent rel­a­tives, fol­low­ing up on that quick sentence in the Christ­mas greet­ing, promis­ing you re­ally will try to visit in the New Year.

TRAVEL BY TRAIN

This year should see re­sults from re­cent in­vest­ment in our rail­ways. The launch of new elec­tric trains on the Glas­gowEd­in­burgh routes will have a knock-on ef­fect, with the present rolling stock re­plac­ing the rather worn-out car­riages on sev­eral ru­ral routes, in­clud­ing the West High­land Line. Com­fort­able seats and cleaner win­dows will make a leisure trip a more en­joy­able ex­pe­ri­ence: ditch the car so ev­ery­one can re­lax and watch the scenery fly by. For an ex­tra treat, add in a jour­ney on the Ja­co­bite Ex­press steam train – per­fect for cel­e­brat­ing a land­mark oc­ca­sion.

STAY SOME­WHERE SPE­CIAL

En­ter­ing my 15th year as an en­tre­pre­neur in Scot­tish tourism, I’m de­lighted to say that hos­pi­tal­ity stan­dards have im­proved sig­nif­i­cantly in that time: it’s now the ex­cep­tion rather than the rule to be turned away at 1.55pm with “the kitchen’s closed” ring­ing in your ears. Monachyle Mhor, a farm­house con­verted into a warm and wel­com­ing place to stay, six miles along a wind­ing sin­gle­track road in the heart of the Trossachs, typ­i­fies the new ap­proach. It’s an in­di­vid­ual, dis­tinc­tive place, far from the world of chain ho­tels, and proudly boasts that soup, sand­wiches and freshly baked scones are served all day, ev­ery day.

JOUR­NEY TO ST KILDA

In Au­gust, it will be 88 years since the last 36 is­lan­ders were evac­u­ated from the St Kilda ar­chi­pel­ago to the main­land. This des­ti­na­tion re­mains high on my per­sonal wish­list, though a col­league has made the trip. Even in to­day’s fast rigid in­flat­able boats, it still takes around three hours from Har­ris, with boat pas­sage very much de­pen­dent on con­di­tions. Ev­ery year I prom­ise my­self I’ll go but then strug­gle to find the time. I gaze at the mag­nif­i­cent pic­tures of the land­scape, a jagged ridge in the wilds of the At­lantic. Maybe I need to heed my own ad­vice and make 2018 the year to do it.

This is fly­ing in minia­ture – duck your head as you en­ter, en­joy the safety brief­ing from the flight crew and per­haps even de­bate your choice of route with them

PHO­TO­GRAPH: JAMIE SIMP­SON

Eschew­ing nau­ti­cal travel in favour of avi­a­tion when vis­it­ing is­lands such as Barra pro­vides a new per­spec­tive with none of the off­putting as­pects of main­stream fly­ing

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