This Is Our Country, This Is Our Year
Photo: Luskentyre by Mo Thompson
When the Rough Guide, one of the most trusted travel publications in the world released its annual list of the best places to visit in the coming year it came as no surprise to anyone here to see Scotland at number two. With so much to see and do we have narrowed it down to just 10 things you must do when you visit.
How many islands can you visit? Well, how long have you got? Island hopping is the new Munro Bagging and with hundreds to choose from, each with their own distinct character and attractions then you can easily find one that is just right for you. Transport has improved remarkably over the past few years making many more of the islands accessible to holidaymakers. Golden sands, turquoise waters and a unique culture await you. Ardlarach Lodge on the Isle of Luing is luxurious and secluded but still only a few hours journey from the central belt.
The home of golf is also home to the best courses in the world. Royal Dornoch, Gleneagles, Royal Troon and The Old Course at St Andrews are all among the most revered. The position these enjoy in the history of golf and the challenges the traditional links courses pose to any visitor make Scotland the No.1 destination in the world for any player. For the casual enthusiast there is also an abundance of scenic and accessible courses for players of all levels of experience. Balfour House is close enough to The Old Course for you to walk down with your clubs.
The sensational success of the North Coast 500 has taken the tourist world by storm with record visitor numbers in the north of the country. The scheme is however just beginning and will only get better in 2017 as more and more businesses develop this once remote corner of Scotland. Cruise the route rather than race it to take full advantage of the jaw dropping scenery and myriad attractions on the way. Culkein Lodge sits right on the most scenic part of the route, its luxury enough to tempt you to tarry a while.
The open access laws which give everyone enviable freedom to access the countryside coupled with the ongoing promotion of long distance walking routes such as the West Highland Way make Scotland a hiker’s utopia. There are hundreds of hills to walk up and everything from scenic rambles to epic ridge traverses. Part of the attraction here is the wilderness, there are no cable car short cuts to the summits but this does mean you have the serenity of finding perfect solitude should you desire. Inver Lodge in the Eastern Cairngorms is a convenient gateway to some of the biggest mountains and is ideal for large mountaineering groups and extended families.
There is so much more to contemporary Scottish cuisine than haggis, neeps and tatties. The Highlands alone have 4 Michelin starred restaurants (more than many major European cities) and a host of other renowned culinary talent. Fresh seafood, organic produce and the finest venison are the raw ingredients for some of the finest dining you will experience. Beach House on Skye is a short drive to The Three Chimneys, Kinloch Lodge and Scorrybreac in Portree. You could have culinary excellence on the island every night of the week.
When it comes to whisky, Scotland is undoubtedly the global leader. With a tradition stretching back centuries, dozens of distilleries to visit and malts to suit all palettes, a pilgrimage to one of the whisky heartlands is a must. Slowly over the last few years the country has also been forging a reputation for its Gin. With an industry re invigorated by an explosion of craft distillers and a seismic shift in fashion, what was once considered an old persons tipple is now is the hipster’s drink of choice. Welcome to the new taste of Scotland. Shenval Farmhouse sits right in the heart of whisky country, and has a wood burning stove to relax in front of with a dram.
Scotland has a proud literary tradition but it is contemporary writers who have been drawing the crowds here of late. 2017 is the 20th anniversary of the first publication of Harry Potter and with the release of a new spin off film and rumours of new stories in the pipeline there has never been a better time to visit. Check out some of the famous locations from the films and even take a ride on the Hogwart’s Express which passes right by The School House in Glenfinnan.
Building sandcastles on a sandy beach is one of life’s greatest simple pleasures. With acres of dunes and miles of unspoilt coastline you can have your choice of pristine beaches to indulge. It’s possible to find remoteness and solitude to take in the awe inspiring landscape and with azure waters you will wild swimming opportunities to rival the Caribbean. Oran na Mara overlooks the vast sandy expanse of Scarista, inviting at any time of year.
2017 is officially Scotland’s year of History, Heritage and Archaeology. From World Heritage Sites to ancient monuments, listed buildings to important battlefields, cultural traditions to captivating myths, stories and legends, this will be a year to enjoy the best historic places, icons and hidden gems. One of the most atmospheric has to be Callanish standing stones, easily accessible from the traditional comforts of Tigh Bhisa Blackhouse just a few miles away.
Festivals, celebrations and Hogmanay mean you are never far from a party in Scotland. This could be a traditional pagan affair like Beltane, the biggest arts festival in the world in Edinburgh, a Hogmanay street party like nowhere else in the world or a traditional music get together like Hebcelt. Peninsula Cottage is just outside of Stornoway, the biggest hub for traditional music in Scotland and a fantastic place for seeing live music in the evenings.