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Issue 84 - 10 Best Holiday Activities

Scotland Magazine Issue 84
December 2015


This article is 3 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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10 Best Holiday Activities

Keith Fergus selects his favourite family destinations

1 Visit a Castle 
Scotland has numerous castles, both big and small, across the length and breadth of the country and many provide a window into the development of Scotland over the past millennia. Magnificent examples such as Stirling, Edinburgh, Culzean, Inveraray and Urquhart remain perpetually popular, and rightly so, but there are also several more that are less well known but equally worthy of our attention. Crookston Castle, on the outskirts of Glasgow, has close links to King James IV and Mary, Queen of Scots while Blackness Castle, which stands on the Firth of Forth near Edinburgh, was a key artillery stronghold during the 16th Century. Inverlochy Castle, sitting in the shadow of mighty Ben Nevis, was the site of two major battles in 1431 and again in 1645, while Caerlaverock Castle in Galloway, was besieged many times due to its location near the Scottish/English border. A number of castles helped defend Scotland’s rugged coastline, including Duart Castle on Mull and the remains of little Gylen Castle at the southern tip of Kerrera.

2 Visit a Museum 
At this time of year one of the best ways to keep out of the rain is to visit a museum, something Scotland has a plethora of. Our big cities are a good place to start with Glasgow home to the likes of Kelvingrove, The Riverside Museum and the magnificent Burrell Collection, which displays Chinese and Islamic artworks and masterpieces by artists such as Rodin, Degas and Cézanne. Edinburgh plays host to the Scottish National Gallery where some of the world’s finest art, including works by Titian, Raphael and Rembrandt, are on show while many hours can be wiled away in the National Museum of Scotland. Dundee’s Discovery Point and the McManus Galleries, the Tolbooth Museum and Fisheries Museum in Aberdeen and Inverness Museum are all superb. Away from the big conurbations and Anstruther’s Scottish Fisheries Museum, the Highland Folk Museum in Newtonmore and the Museum of Scottish Lighthouses in Fraserburgh all provide a fascinating insight into Scotland’s remarkable history.

3 Visit a Historic Monument
If you want to look even further back in time then why not visit one of Scotland’s historic monuments. These range from the 5,000 year old Calanias or Machrie Moor Standing Stones (on the islands of Lewis and Arran respectively) to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Edinburgh’s Old and New Town – this accolade was recently bestowed on the Forth Rail Bridge between Queensferry and North Queensferry. Another World Heritage Site is New Lanark, which was built during the 18th Century and was pioneering in the socialist ideals that provided the workers, particularly women and children, with proper working and welfare conditions. Stirling has several monuments in and around its confines including its castle, Stirling Bridge and the Wallace Monument while nearby stands Bannockburn. The Antonine Wall runs for 60km between Old Kilpatrick and Bo’ness while to the north Culloden Battlefield grants a fascinating day out. But perhaps the place with the greatest proliferation of historic sites is Kilmartin Glen near Lochgilphead.

4 Climb a Mountain 
Although there is no universal definition of what a mountain is, in Britain it is generally regarded as a landform higher than 600 metres above sea level. On that basis Scotland has well over 700 mountains. The Munro’s (Scottish mountains over 3,000 feet in height) are the main focus of many a hill walker with the geographical spread ranging from Ben Lomond in the south to Ben Hope in the far north. Ben Nevis, at 4,409 feet, is Scotland’s highest mountain and offers a demanding but rewarding walk while the breathtaking outline of Buachaille Etive Mor is probably Scotland’s most recognisable peak. The Cairngorms is home to five of the six highest mountains in Britain as well as a sense of space unparalleled anywhere on these shores. However the Black Cuillin on Skye offer the toughest challenge of all. Away from the Munros, the islands of Rum, Jura and Arran have a number of magnificent mountains to climb and the rolling topography of the Southern Uplands, with The Merrick being the highest point, grant a surprising sense of wildness.

5 Climb a Wee Hill 
If big, muscular mountains are not quite your thing then Scotland has plenty of wee hills that grant a superb walk and some spectacular views. Perhaps the best known is Arthur’s Seat, which dominates the Edinburgh skyline and bestows a panorama that takes in the city, the Lothian and East Lothian coastlines and a good portion of the Southern Highlands. Nearby Blackford Hill offers a similarly magnificent view. The Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park has many a wonderful wee hills including Conic Hill, Ben A’an and Duncryne Hill, which, although only 142 metres in height, has a truly breathtaking vista from its rounded top. Even the Cairngorm National Park has some exemplary lower vantage points, such as Creag Bheag above Kingussie and Craigellachie, which stands proud over Aviemore. Kinnoull Hill near Perth, Scolty Hill by Banchory, Tinto Hill near Lanark and Dumgoyne, the volcanic plug at the edge of the Campsie Fells, all provide superb walking and sumptuous views.

6 Take a Lochside Stroll 
You don’t have to climb a hill or mountain to enjoy a fabulous walk and many of the lochs puncturing the Scottish landscape offer just that. Again our two National Parks are a good place to start. Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park offer a myriad of walking opportunities with Loch Ard, Loch Lomond, Loch Venachar and Loch Katrine particularly beautiful. Within the Cairngorm National Park, Loch Morlich and Loch an Eilean are surrounded by a gorgeous landscape, while a route around Loch Muick is especially dramatic. Highland Perthshire also has some gorgeous lochs with Loch Tay and Loch of the Lowes granting superb scenery and exceptional wildlife – osprey, sandmartin, buzzard, great crested grebe, teals, widgeon, tufted ducks, goldeneye and otter just a small selection. Loch Leven in Perth and Kinross is another fabulous wildlife haven. Heading into Lochaber why not try the tough but satisfying ten mile circuit of Loch Oich or a simple saunter around beautiful Glenoce Lochan.

7 Walk Along the Coast 
Scotland has a vast and breathtaking coastline. The mainland has 6,160 miles of coast and over 10,000 miles when you add all its islands – consequently there are almost endless walking opportunities. For instance you can circumnavigate your way around Arran’s 65 miles of coastline or enjoy a one mile stroll around the small but perfectly formed island of Easdale. Other islands, such as Iona, Skye, Eigg or the Northern Isles all offer superb coastal routes. For some big, rugged cliffs and exceptional wildlife why not walk across the spectacular St Abbs Nature Reserve in the Scottish Borders or head down to the Mull of Galloway, Scotland’s southernmost point. For soft, golden sands then the beaches of East Lothian or the west coast idyll of Arisaig are simply beautiful, as is the Moray Coast in Scotland’s northeast where the likes of Nairn and Findhorn have extensive and impressive stretches of beach. Sticking to the northeast, Aberdeen provides lovely coastal walking on the fringes of an urban environment.

8 Part of the National Cycle Network
There has perhaps never been a better time to be cycling in Scotland. The superb National Cycle Network, which is looked after by the charity Sustrans, and celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2015, has over 1,800 miles of quiet roads and traffic-free paths, from the Mull of Galloway to John o’ Groats. The routes take in the urban delights of all our cities, much of our spectacular coastline and great tracts of forest, glen and moorland. Popular sections include the ten miles between Paisley and Lochwinnoch (from where Loch Lomond or the Inverclyde coast are easily reached) or the 13 miles between Aberfoyle and Callander. Stunning architecture and beautiful coastline are on show between Edinburgh and Queensferry or Dundee and Arbroath and the scenery is incredible during the 11 miles separating Aviemore and Carrbridge. Whether you are wanting a short family cycle or big multi day ride the National Cycle Network presents a myriad of rewarding cycling opportunities that is almost endless.

9 Visit a Whisky Distillery
A visit to a Scotch whisky distillery is a wonderful way of discovering the process behind the water of life. Several of Scotland’s distilleries offer tours and some may even provide the chance to blend your own bespoke whisky. Maybe the best place to start is by following the Malt Whisky Trail that visits nine distilleries in Speyside and Moray including Benromach, Glen Moray, Glenlivet and Glenfiddich, the best selling whisky in the world. Next stop has to be Islay where a trip around this magnificent island visits its eight distilleries, where you can experience the unique and distinctive flavours of all the island’s whisky. When here why not take a short ferry trip onto Jura to visit its distillery. To the south is Arran, where the distillery at Lochranza has gained a reputation for superb malt whisky. Similarly Auchentoshan and Glengoyne, both on the outskirts of Glasgow, have a burgeoning status. In fact in almost every corner of Scotland there is a distillery to visit.

10 Go Wildlife Watching 
Perhaps surprisingly the winter months present a visual and aural feast for a spot of wildlife watching. As well as there being a number of National Nature Reserves there are also over 70 local nature reserves, from the most northerly in Orkney all the way to Galloway, taking in woodlands, wetlands, meadows or coastal sand dunes. Therefore you don’t have to step too far from your front door to enjoy some wonderful wildlife. The bulk of the local nature reserves run across Scotland’s central belt with the majority of these surrounding Glasgow, including Cathkin Braes, Cardowan Moss and Dams to Darnley. Edinburgh too has several, including Corstorphine Hill and Easter Craiglockhart Hill. One of the best winter wildlife sites is Caerlaverock Nature Reserve near Dumfries. Here the entire population of Svalbard Barnacle Geese, fly in every year from the Arctic Circle. In fact it is thought that around 140,000 birds, including Dunlin, Knot and Oystercatcher spend their winters here.

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