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Issue 13 - The pipes are calling's

Scotland Magazine Issue 13
March 2004


This article is 14 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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The pipes are calling's

Scotland called is anew company which aims to give tourists an alternative view of Scotland in total luxury. Dominic Roskrow spent three days exploring Scotland's west coast.

It’s an overwhelming experience standing at the top of Bealach Na Ba – Gaelic for cattle pass and a road which can lay claim to being both Britain’s highest road and one its most dramatic.

Even on wet and misty days like today the view is truly spectacular and a little disconcerting. Indeed the mists that shroud the furthest lochs add to the eeriness, and the light – or lack of it – hardly helps. It’s like nature started lighting the day then decided about lunchtime it couldn’t be bothered. So we’re in some sort of twilight zone waiting for night to come back in.

Looking down the 2000 feet plus to sea and loch level it’s easy to feel lost and isolated, even a little bit scared.

No matter that just metres away is a fully-equipped and modern luxury people carrier and that my companion Chris Gordan has stood in this spot countless times and knows the roads intimately.

“It’s at moments like this that I feel like getting the bagpipes out,” he says unexpectedly and incongruously. A quick glance suggests he’s deadly serious. And indeed, it transpires that he is.

“I call it my ‘get out of jail’ card,” he explains later. “If I’ve been with a group of holidaymakers all day and the weather’s not been kind and we’ve had to cancel a few of the day’s activities then I’ll get the pipes out.

“If we’re somewhere like Bealach Na Ba or at the Wallace monument then it makes an impression. People love it and it helps turn even the more depressing days around.”

Such moments turn great holidays into memories of a lifetime, of course, and not just for Chris’s guests, but for anyone in the vicinity at the time.

Chris is the founder, owner and full-time employee of Scotland Calling, an amazing company that has set out to bring even the wildest and most extreme parts of Scotland within the reach of a visitor.

The idea is simple; the customer tells him exactly what he or she wants from their holiday and Chris provides it. He will design an itinerary, and working to a set budget, build in activities, hotels, meals, and tours.

He has imported a specially-equipped people carrier called a Sherrod to provide transport. In effect this is a first class version of any vehicle you have ever travelled in, with large and comfortable individual bucket seats, a DVD and CD player on board, and drinking cooling facilities at hand.

Your driver will pick you up from railway station, airport and hotel, and drive you door to door for the length of your holiday. Capable of transporting up to six people, Scotland Calling can change your itinerary as you wish. And tailor your holiday in the finest detail.

Now in its third year, the company is building links with some of the finest hotels in Scotland, and through practical first-hand experience is able to offer visitors the very best information as to where to go, what to see and where to stay.

This immediately raises concerns. Do you really want to go on holiday accompanied by a driver who is with you constantly?

It quickly becomes clear that this is not an issue. Your driver will be exactly what you want him to be. He’ll shut up and drive should you wish him to, and he’ll fade out of sight whenever he’s not required.

Should you wish to pick his brains, though, he’ll be a mine of information.

It all sounded great in theory, but the only way to test it out was to put in all in to practice.

Chris Gordan is just 27 but hit upon the idea of Scotland Calling after working for various tourism companies and spotting the potential for a company prepared to take the hard work out of bringing the very best of Scotland to people who might not be prepared to hire a car and get off the beaten track themselves.

I was to spend three days with him, and by the end of it I felt like I’d been on holiday with a friend. Not bad considering that our itinerary was a full and testing one.

Chris has a love and passion for his homeland that is infectious, he seems to have a working knowledge of most places he is asked about, and he is disarmingly honest when he doesn’t. And that is a characteristic that reflects the way he runs his company.

“We are trying to provide the best holiday we can for our customers, but we are happy to work within an individual’s budgets, too,” he says. “If it won’t work we’ll tell the enquirer straightaway and point them to someone who can help. What we try and do at all times is make sure that the customer is getting exactly what they want and they come away from their holiday totally happy.”

For my trip I wanted to visit a couple of distilleries and to see a couple of top hotels. Our journey on the first day took us to Oban and the distillery there, and from there we set out in darkness on the lengthy journey to Skye. After crossing the bridge we travelled by moonlight to the Flodigarry Country House Hotel, a beautifully situated property in stunning country and the place where Scottish heroine Flora Macdonald lived after helping Bonnie Prince Charlie escape from the English.

As we approached we saw the Northern lights darting across the sky in front of us. Truly stunning, and a special end to the day.

An early start the next day took us to Talisker, across Skye by Bealach Ba Na to Apple Cross then down to Torridon before travelling beside Loch Maree to Gairloch.

Finally we reached Pool House, at Poolewe. Run by Peter and Margaret Harrison and their daughters Elizabeth and Mhairi, there can be few better hotels in the British isles.

My room, called the Campania Room, is actually comprised of three major rooms including a bathroom the size of the average apartment. It’s an effort to go to dinner.

But the hotel’s food is exquisite, our hosts a delight, and by breakfast, eating homemade marmalade on toast while watching seals catching salmon at the point where the river meets the sea, it is a struggle to depart.

On our trip back to Edinburgh, Chris says that there are scores of other destinations just waiting to be discovered.

“We can come up with any number of variations of this theme,” he says. “If we were to be asked to do an entire holiday around golf, that wouldn’t be a problem. We can build in a tour that visits a number of battlefields, or drop guests off at the start of a walking trail and pick them up at the end of it.

“We’re providing a luxury way of seeing the very best of Scotland.

“We’re taking people to places they would not probably not see otherwise.”

Indeed they wouldn’t. And there can be few better ways of doing so. With or without the bagpipe recital.

Day One: Arrive at Glasgow/Edinburgh Airport where you will be met by your concierge. Travel north out of Glasgow, to the shores of Loch Lomond and further to Inveraray, stopping at the Loch Fyne Oyster Bar to sample fresh seafood. Continue North West, to reach the hotel by early afternoon. After check in, either relax at the hotel or travel into the picturesque town of Oban where there are numerous shops and visitor
attractions. (First Class tourists will take the ferry over to the Isle of Mull to reach accommodation. Overnight: Finest – Isle of Eriska Hotel First Class – Highland Cottage, Tobermory

Day Two: After breakfast take the ferry to Mull and drive across Mull to the famous Isle of Iona where St Columba landed in 563AD. After lunch take the boat trip to Staffa, where the volcanic basalt rock columns join together. Staffa is also famous for Fingal’s cave, which inspired Mendelssohn to write his Hebridean overture. Returning to Mull catch an evening ferry back to Oban and back the hotel. Overnight: Finest – Isle of Eriska Hotel First Class – Highland Cottage

Day Three: Travel north passing the towns of Ballachulish and Fort William before turning west and taking the ‘Road to the Isles’. Reach Glenfinnan, a location famous for two reasons: In 1745, Bonnie Prince Charlie landed here to begin his Jacobite Rebellion and a monument
stands in this wonderful setting; and more recently it featured as the location of the ‘Hogwarts Express’ train ride in the Harry Potter films! The scenic road continues to Mallaig. Board the ferry for Skye. Cross to Armadale to spend the afternoon at the Armadale Castle and Gardens and the Museum of the Isles. Overnight: Finest – The Duisdale, Sound of Sleat First Class – Cuillin Hills Hotel

Day Four: After breakfast journey to Elgol to board the ‘Bella Jane’ for a trip into the heart of the Cuillin hills via Loch Coruisk. Explore the habitat and wildlife. Back on land, visit Portree and take the scenic road over the Quirang. Continue to explore Skye reaching the Three Chimneys, for evening dinner. Eddie and Shirley Spear’s restaurant is consistently ranked among the top 50 in the world. Overnight: Finest – The Duisdale, Sound of Sleat First Class – Cuillin Hills Hotel

Day Five: After breakfast take the bridge over to the mainland. Visit Eilean Donan Castle, following in the footsteps of many a warrior as well as Hollywood stars, as the castle was featured in Highlander and as the MI5 headquarters in the James Bond films! Visit the village of Plockton the setting for the BBC series Hamish MacBeth. Continue north into Wester Ross. After Loch Carron head to Applecross, the highest road in Britain. Overnight: Finest – Pool House Hotel, Poolewe First Class – Inverlodge Hotel. Lochinver.

Day Six: Visit the famous Inverewe Gardens, then go north to the town of Ullapool and further to Lochinver. (There is an option today to play golf on the scenic course at nearby Gairloch, left) Overnight: Finest – Pool House Hotel, Poolewe First Class – Inverlodge Hotel.

Day Seven: After breakfast you will depart Scotland from Inverness airport.

Prices per person– based on 4 guests
• Finest 7 Day $2895
• First Class 7 Day $1995