Today is Hogmanay, or New Year’s Eve if you’re a non-Scot. Where has 2019 gone? It seems to have flown by in the blink of an eye. For me it’s been a year filled with travel, adventure and memorable moments. Moments that will stay with me forever. So, what were my Scottish travel highlights of 2019?
My Scottish travel highlights of 2019
There have been so many that it’s hard to choose, but here goes in no particular order – my Scottish travel highlights of 2019 (or some of them at least):
Whale watching in the Hebrides
In August we visited the Isle of Rum – a ruggedly beautiful island, great for hiking, wildlife watching and getting away from it all.
During our stay we joined the Rum Ranger on a boat trip. The purpose of the trip was to deliver mail to the tiny island of Soay, but there would be wildlife spotting opportunities too. The sun was shining and after hiking all morning we were looking forward to relaxing as we bobbed about at sea. Wildlife would be a bonus, but our expectations were low.
As we approached Soay one of the islanders rowed out in a dinghy with her dog to collect the mail.
Only in Scotland.
Leaving Soay, we learned a pod of dolphins were heading our way. We stared intently at the sea, but sadly they eluded us.
I was sitting on the right hand side of the boat, scanning the water when I overheard the ranger chatting to the crew inside. I thought I heard the word whale. When the ranger rushed outside and confirmed the crew had spotted a whale on the left hand side of the boat, I felt my excitement levels rising.
So, why I remained on the “wrong” side of the boat is anyone’s guess. Yet, it was me who bellowed “WHALE” and caused a mini-stampede. Thankfully, there were only four other passengers aboard. I pointed to where I’d seen the whale and we watched as it breached again – a magnificent Minke. In fact, it turned out to be two magnificent Minkes. After fifteen magical minutes, they swam off towards the Isle of Skye and we lost sight of them. I only snapped a couple of photos using my phone, as I wanted to enjoy the experience through my eyes, not a lens.
We arrived back on Rum, euphoric. The trip had cost us £10 each, yet the experience had been priceless.
Staying in a Scottish castle
In October all of my Christmases came at once when I spent a weekend living in a Scottish castle with Mr G and The Wee White Dug.
The castle in question was Old Newton of Doune, a 16th century L-plan tower house located on the outskirts of Doune.
I’ve loved castles since I was in nursery school. One of my favourite toys back then was a medieval castle complete with knights and horses. So, to stay in a castle was a dream come true.
Old Newton of Doune wasn’t just any old castle either, as it’s been visited by Sir Walter Scott, David Hume and Bonnie Prince Charlie no less. It also has links to the popular TV series Outlander.
You can read all about my weekend in history geek heaven here.
Soaking in a hot tub under the stars
When I look back on 2019, many of my memorable moments involve my love of the great outdoors, remote spaces and being able to shake off the stresses of modern life.
In early September I treated us to a weekend break at the fabulous Ecocamp Glenshee. It’d been a hectic few months. I wanted to unwind, enjoy fresh country air and do a spot of stargazing. I booked a Swedish wood-fired hot tub for the second night of our stay so we could do all three. Mr G was dubious to say the least. Wallowing in a bathtub outdoors, didn’t sound like fun to him.
Let’s just say, once it had been fired up, he fully embraced the experience. We spent a lovely night outdoors, listening to the hoot of owls and gazing at the star filled sky.
We checked out of Ecocamp Glenshee the next day feeling refreshed and invigorated. Who knew wallowing in a bathtub outdoors could make you feel so good.
Our neighbours had been a delight too.
Going off grid in Moray
My next travel highlight took place in May, when we spent a weekend at Ace Adventures & Hideaways in the heart of rural Moray. I’d always been attracted to the romantic notion of staying in a shepherd’s hut, living a simple life without modern trappings.
And when the opportunity arose, it turned out to be everything I’d hoped it would be and more. As a Scottish travel blogger my life revolves around technology. Running a website and social media feeds on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, means I clock up hours of screen time every week. It felt fabulously, liberating to say “cheerio electricity, hello campfire”, for a couple of days.
Our shepherd’s hut in the woods was cute and cosy, but the best part was being surrounded by the great outdoors. We spent two amazing nights cooried by the campfire, toasting marshmallows, listening to music and chatting. I even managed to rustle us up a meal on it, much to Mr G’s amazement and delight.
And the boy? Well, he went into full on Bear Gyrlls mode and had the time of his life, foraging, nesting and going native.
You can read all about our off-grid weekend here.
Rambling around Scotland
Nothing gives me greater pleasure than rambling around Scotland with my two favourite boys. We’ve enjoyed some wonderful hikes in 2019.
The Bone Caves, Inchnadamph
In July we hiked to the incredible Bone Caves in Assynt. It’s a circular walk of under three miles, but what it lacks in distance it makes up for with dramatic scenery. It was blissfully quiet when we visited too which is always a bonus.
The caves sit high up on a rocky crag (Creag nan Uahm or Crag of the Caves). The path up to them is a wee bit hair raising if you don’t like heights (like me), but they’re definitely worth the effort.
The caves were excavated in the late 19th century by the renown Edinburgh geologists Ben Peach and John Horne. Inside they discovered polar bear, Arctic fox, lynx and lemming bones.
The Cairnwell Munros
Another memorable ramble of 2019 came in September when we spent a gloriously sunny day bagging the Cairnwell Munros (mountains over 3,000ft). The eight mile hike took us six hours to complete, once photo/rest stops to admire the view had been factored in.
Our efforts had left us ravenous, so we visited the dog friendly Tea @ The Shee ski centre cafe at the foot of The Cairnwell when we reached ground level. There we wolfed down soup, sandwiches, yoghurt and cake with more relish than Slimer from Ghostbusters.
We’d last bagged a Munro in 2015, but after climbing Carn Aosda, Carn a’Gheoidh and The Cairnwell we were buzzing and delighted to have three more summits in the bag.
There will definitely be more summits bagged in 2020, as Mr G and I are currently sitting at a tally of nine and The Wee White Dug four. Ten and five feel like more respectable numbers.
Sron a Chlachain, Killin
In November we climbed Sron a Chlachain on a day trip to Killin. The walk is only 2.5 miles long and the ascent 400 metres, but it’s insanely steep in parts and nearly burst my lungs.
Once my happy, hiking endorphins began to kick in though, I forgot about the pain. Plus, the higher I climbed the more spectacular the view got. I love a bit of quiet contemplation on a hillside, so en route up I perched myself on a large boulder with the boy and we gazed out over Loch Tay below – wow.
Coire an t-Sneachda, Cairngorms National Park
Our final memorable ramble of 2019 took place in the Cairngorms National Park a few days before the bells tolled midnight on Hogmanay. We’d day tripped north to escape the hustle and bustle of Edinburgh.
Our plan was to do a bit of wildlife spotting, but true to form we got distracted.
We’d popped into the Cairngorm Ski Centre to grab some coffees and use the loo, then the next thing we knew we’d hiked into a mountain corrie (Coire an t-Sneachda or corrie of the snow). The wind was blowing a hoolie, but it was unseasonably mild for the time of year.
By the time we reached the corrie all three of us were hyper. The boy because he’d been rolling in snow patches and Mr G and I because we were high on the great outdoors.
Inside the corrie we watched in awe as two groups of ice climbers scaled the frozen corrie wall.
If you look closely at the photo below, you might just make out three ant like people on the left.
Food, food, glorious Scottish food
As we’ve rambled our way round Scotland this year, we’ve also eaten our way round it too. The Scots are perceived as a nation with a passion for deep-frying food, but we live in a country with a bountiful natural larder. It’s not hard to find fabulous food, lovingly prepared in this bonnie wee land. Be it take-away food van, cafe, tea room, bistro or fine dining restaurant – Scotland is paradise for foodies.
2019 has been the year of tasty, homemade soups to warm the cockles on cold winter days.
Ice cream every bit as delicious (nay better) than that served in any Italian gelateria.
The world’s finest seafood.
Creative vegetarian dishes without a soggy courgette or aubergine in sight.
Desserts that are truly a work of art.
And the most incredible food stuff on this planet – the humble Stornoway White Pudding.
And let’s hear it for Scotch whisky,
And craft beer made in Scotland.
2019 has been a gastronomic delight, washed down with a wee dram.
Indulging my not so inner history geek
And last but definitely not least – history. History was always going to feature in my Scottish travel highlights of 2019. The year has been jam packed with visits to fascinating historic sites the length and breadth of Scotland.
There have been lonely castle ruins in Speyside.
Pictish stones in Aberdeenshire.
Magnificent abbeys in the Scottish Borders.
Neolithic standing stones in Fife.
Iron Age brochs in Sutherland.
Early Christian crosses in Dumfries & Galloway.
Medieval grave slabs and ancient rock carvings (that are slippery when wet – ouch) in Argyll.
A huge cup marked stone on Tiree known as the ‘ringing stone’ – dragged from Rum during the last Ice Age. The stone makes a ringing sound when struck, but beware, it fights back.
And the Ayrshire home of Scotland’s national bard, Robert Burns. The man who gave us the song sung the world over at this time of year.
And there’s a hand, my trusty fiere and gie’s a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll tak’ a right gude-willie waught, for auld lang syne.
2019 has been an absolute dream for this history geek.
Happy New Year
And there you have it – a whistle-stop look back at some of my Scottish travel highlights of 2019. There have been many more.
Here’s to 2020 and new adventures to come.
Happy New Year and Lang may yer lum reek.
Until next time …