I've been sharing my love of Dundee for years, long before it became all cool and started gracing the pages of glossy magazines which makes me feel like a bit of a Scottish travel trendsetter. I've visited the city quite a few times since i started blogging and don't need much of an excuse to pack my bags and jump on the train back to Scotland's sunniest city. When Apex City Quay Hotel got in touch to invite me along to their V&A Dundee event, with an opportunity to take an exclusive walk around the exterior of the new £80m museum of design, I promptly donned my shades and headed east.
On arriving at Dundee I was totally disorientated as the train station has undergone a face-lift along with the rest of the waterfront and the entrance and exit had been moved since I had last visited. However, despite the confusing major transformations confronting me, I was glad to see that the 'Sunny Dundee' weather was unchanged.
After an easy 10 minute stroll I arrived at the Apex City Quay which is situated next to the former Victoria Quay. This area has been redeveloped in to a retail and leisure complex, with the 200 year old HMS Unicorn taking centre stage.
This was my first visit to Apex in Dundee and I was immediately impressed with the efficient and friendly check-in. I was lucky enough to have a corner room which had double the light and panoramic views over the quay and surrounding historic buildings. I definitely recommend going for this choice if it's available.
My bedroom was spacious and had everything I needed for a comfortable stay with a few fun extras including one of the famous Apex rubber ducks, chocolate duck shaped lollies and a relaxing pillow mist just to make sure I got a good night's sleep, although my bed was so comfy a deep slumber was pretty much guaranteed.
The en-suite had both a bath and walk-in shower which is always a nice dilemma to have, although I was pretty busy during my trip so didn't have time for a relaxing soak in the tub with my new duck friend. If I was staying more than 1 night it would definitely have been at the top of my 'time out' list!
As you might have guessed from the amount of time I spend there, I have quite a soft spot for Dumfries and Galloway in the south west of Scotland. Despite having covered much of the region there are still a few pockets that have eluded me and the stretch of the A76 from Sanquhar to Dumfries is one of those spots that I've yet to fully explore. Recently I was invited to experience a stay at Trigony House Hotel which is handily located just off the main road, in the heart of this very area. With a reputation as being genuinely dog friendly, National Pet Day seemed the perfect excuse to take our lurcher Willow away for a night at this multi-award winning country hotel.
Trigony House Hotel was the former shooting lodge for nearby Closeburn Castle which is one of the oldest continuously inhabited tower houses in Scotland. Today it is run as a country house hotel set in over 4 acres of woodland and gardens.
As we drove up the front drive, I couldn't help but think how romantic it looked with it's ivy exterior and characterful lanterns. The interior is a mix of period features and rustic country homeliness. I definitely felt more like I had arrived at a friend's home than a hotel as there is a really relaxed vibe, with guests chatting away to each other like long lost acquaintances and dogs lounging around the public rooms.
Dogs are great conversation ice-breakers and I'm sure their presence helps the conversation flow between fellow owners. During our stay there were 5 other furry companions being treated to a night away, with the resident Retriever Roxy also making a regular appearance to welcome canine guests. Having a dog is not compulsory to stay at Trigony House but I would think you would have to at least like them to stay here as they are permitted in all public rooms other than the dining room.
There are only 10 bedrooms at Trigony House and it's small size adds to the intimate atmosphere. On arrival we were warmly welcomed and shown to our bedroom which was in keeping with the homely country feel. It was light and spacious with a big comfy bed, sofa and plenty of storage space. Willow was pretty excited to find a welcome bowl on the bed with doggy biscuits, the canines definitely get looked after at this hotel. There was also a little map of the grounds showing the enclosed dog exercise areas which were perfect for letting Willow have a good run around.
Our room had a lovely view over the gardens to the hills beyond and we could hear plenty of bird song from the surrounding trees which I found very therapeutic. After a long day travelling, our room was a nice calming space to sit with a cup of tea and muse over the different leaflets and local walking suggestions.
Check out my Dumfries and Galloway blogs for more local inspiration
I'll be the first to admit that Royal Deeside is a part of Scotland that I don't know very well. Famous as a favourite stomping ground of Queen Victoria, the current Royal Family continue to enjoy their summer break at Balmoral Castle, one of many fine castles that dot the area.
The River Dee flows through the heart of the region which also encompasses nature reserves and part of the Cairngorms National Park, making it a favourite destination for lovers of the outdoors. All of this makes me wonder why, other than a visit to the Braemar Gathering, I've not spent more time getting to know this part of the country.
Recently, I was invited to stay at Mill of Dess Lodge on the Lower Dess Estate, and decided this would be the perfect opportunity to make a proper acquaintance with Royal Deeside.
Lower Dess Estate is situated next to the pretty village of Aboyne between the town of Banchory and the village of Ballater which means it is centrally located for exploring the region. Lower Dess is a relatively small estate on the north side of the River Dee which offers peaceful river walks and fishing on the doorstep.
Nearby Glen Tanar Estate has numerous walking and biking trails through Caledonian pine forests and acres of wilderness. If you prefer something different the estate also runs Land Rover safaris which from my experience in other parts of the country, can be a really fun way to get off the beaten track.
If castles are your thing, you will be spoiled for choice with so many just a short drive away. Some of the best local castle choices are Craigievar, Crathes, Drum, Kildrummy, Corgaff, Braemar and of course Balmoral, although check the opening hours and days for each castle as they do vary depending on the time of the year. For the complete Scottish experience, you can combine a castle tour with some local whisky from the Royal Lochnagar Distillery which runs tours and tastings.
Of course, you could just spend time exploring the pretty towns and villages that dot the river or follow the Victorian Heritage Trail which takes in many regal castles, estates and landmarks.
I've listed the things I got up to during my visit at the bottom of the page if you need any more ideas.
You might also like to read my recommended things to do in Aberdeenshire this weekend
On arrival we were welcomed by Anna, the Lodge Manager, who gave us a quick tour before showing us to our bedroom. By luck Mr Adventures Around Scotland and I had the entire place to ourselves which made our stay even more special.
The lodge has 10 bedrooms, a sitting area and a dining room. You can stay on a bed and breakfast basis (as I did) or book the entire lodge and even organise private catering if you prefer to eat in.
As you can see from my photos, the decor has a light and contemporary feel with some bright touches and a rustic nod to the local wildlife. The lodge is furnished to a high standard and was spotlessly clean, it really did feel quite luxurious.
I have fond memories of my previous stay at the Lodge on Loch Lomond Hotel although up until last week it had admittedly been years since my last visit. When I worked out just how many years it kind of scared me as I was convinced it wasn't that long ago that myself and Mr Adventures Around Scotland had slept in the same bed as Bill Clinton in the Carter Suite (not at the same time I hasten to add!). It sometimes panics me how quickly time seems to be speeding up as my life passes by in a blur of birthdays.
When I was recently invited to review the hotel after a refurbishment, I couldn't wait to see if it was as good as I remembered. Despite the passing years, stepping through the front door of Lodge on Loch Lomond was reassuringly familiar and I immediately felt at home.
The hotel has a relaxing and intimate feel which helps you to switch off from the moment you arrive. Our welcome was efficient and professional, meaning myself and Mr Adventures Around Scotland could quickly get to our room, unpack and unwind.
The hotel is situated about a 30 minute drive from Glasgow on the west shore of Loch Lomond next to the pretty conservation village of Luss. It has beautiful views across the loch from most areas of the hotel and it even has its own beachfront if you prefer to immerse yourself in the Highland scenery, which I highly recommend!
The hotel is ideally located for exploring the Loch Lomond and Trossachs area with numerous walks, mountains, boat rides and cute villages on the doorstep. A short stroll along the beach will take you in to Luss which has to be one of Scotland's prettiest villages, with quaint cottages and colourful gardens. There are also options to take a boat ride from the pier if you would prefer to explore Loch Lomond from the water or even take a little ferry to the historic island of Inchcailloch.
Further south is the village of Balloch with a lovely country park, outdoor activities and shopping at Loch Lomond Shores. Further north and you enter a picturesque Highland landscape, with the breathtaking Glen Coe just over an hours drive away.
During this trip I headed to the east side of the loch and climbed Duncryne Hill, which is said to have one of the best views in Scotland of all the wee hills. I then headed to Balmaha, another pretty village, to enjoy a relaxed lunch by the loch before making my way to the opposite shore for my overnight stay at the hotel.
After asking for feedback from you lovely folk last year about what you would like to see more of on my blog, I discovered quality accommodation recommendations were high on your list. This is definitely something I plan to do more of and I'm delighted to share my first hotel review of the year with you.
Earlier this month I was invited to check out the recently refurbished Murrayshall House Hotel in Perthshire. I must emphasise that I get quite a few offers to review accommodation and carry out lots of prior research before deciding if a place sounds like somewhere I could potentially recommend - I always decline invitations if I suspect the accommodation isn't up to scratch. I feel it is important to share this with so you can be assured that only the best places to stay in Scotland, based on my personal research and experience, make it to my blog.
After reading glowing public reviews about Murrayshall House, I was keen to find out what all the fuss was about and I'm glad to say it easily surpassed my high standards.
Murrayshall House Hotel is situated in Scone which is in the Perth and Kinross region of Scotland. It has a peaceful feel as it is surrounded by 365 acres of countryside which also incorporates two 18 hole golf courses and a driving range.
However, it is also only just over 4 miles from Scone Palace, the crowning place of Scottish kings, and just over 3 miles from the city of Perth, making it an ideal base for exploring this part of the country although you would really need a car if you were staying here as it is a bit off the main road.
Check out my Perthshire travel blogs for more local inspiration
Murrayshall House has an interesting history, dating back to 1664 when it was initially owned by Sir Andrew Murray whose descendants, the Earls of Mansfield, still occupy nearby Scone Palace. It remained in the same family for 260 years, with modernisation carried out in the 18th and 19th century. In 1927 it left the family and was bought by local businessman Francis Norrie-Millar, the founder of General Accident. In 1973 it was sold again and developed into a hotel. The hotel has recently undergone a major refurbishment, combining tasteful contemporary Scottish decor with retained historical features.
If golf is your thing you might be interested to know that the golf course was designed by Hamilton J. Stutt who was involved with the building or improvement of many famous courses including Turnberry and St Mellion Old Course.
There are 40 bedrooms and suites offering a choice of accommodation and from checking the website rates, the prices are pretty standard for this level of four star quality, ranging from £170 to £250 per night at the time of writing. It is worth noting that these are the maximum rates and the hotel does seem to offer much better deals on their website which are really good value so be sure to check them out.
I stayed in room 2 which I believe is going to be renamed The Millar Suite and it was amazing! On entering I was super excited to see the carved four poster bed and immediately felt like a proper pampered princess. The suite itself was huge with a comfy sitting area, a separate dressing room and an extra big bathroom. I did a little tour of my suite on my Instagram stories and got quite a few 'Ooohs' and 'Aaahs' and admiring comments which is always a good sign.
The decor had just the right hint of traditional Scottish with a contemporary twist and I loved the giant period feature windows with views towards the Strathmore Valley and Grampian Mountains. Of course having been recently refurbished it also had the modern extras you might expect like a giant TV and plenty of sockets. The only extra I would add is some fluffy dressing gowns and slippers to complete the luxury experience.
Camping and glamping in Kintyre
The Kintyre Peninsula is a bit off the usual tourist trail in Scotland, yet as I discovered, it has so much to offer. Its compact size makes it ideal for exploring over a long weekend which is exactly what I did.
There are quite a few accommodation choices in Kintyre, however I opted to stay on the campsite at Machrihanish Holiday Park. This was partly due it's location, partly due to the reasonable cost and more importantly the fact that it is dog friendly. I also decided to leave the tent at home and upgrade from camping to glamping in one of their cosy wigwams. All the wigwams have lovely open views across the fields to the water in the distance. The views from the wigwams are probably some of the best in the holiday park as they don't face onto anything.
The holiday park has several different options including camping, glamping (wigwams and bell tents), lodges and static caravans. There are also touring facilities for motorhomes, caravans and campervans.
Machrihanish Holiday Park Location
Machrihanish is on the southwest coast of the Kintyre Peninsula and makes a great half way point to stop off if you are spending a couple of days exploring the area.
If you plan on eating out, The Old Clubhouse Bar and Restaurant is a short walk from the holiday park or Campbeltown is approx 4 1/2 miles away with a choice of places to eat. If you plan on self-catering then Campbeltown also has numerous local shops and 2 supermarkets.
There is a regular bus service between Campbeltown and the holiday park if you don't want to drive.
The holiday park itself is next to the golf course and a short walk from the beach and as you can imagine it is a pretty and peaceful location. As the west coast of Scotland is famous for its sunsets, in the evening I headed a little further south along the coast from the campsite and found the perfect viewpoint just past the sea bird observatory (approx 5 mins in the car).
Get more ideas for your trip in my guide to Kintyre
The choice of unique accommodation in Scotland has exploded over the last few years, with an ever-growing number of people (myself included) looking to spend the night somewhere more memorable than a bland hotel room.
I've stayed in a few unique places recently including a fishing boat, railway signal box, yurt and converted train carriage and I've become a bit addicted to taking staycations in quirky residences around Scotland!
Airbnb is fast becoming my go-to website for affordable or unusual accommodation and this summer I stumbled on an absolute gem in Glenwhan Gardens when I was searching for a little getaway.
The Shepherd's Hut at Glenwhan Gardens in Dumfries and Galloway ticked all my boxes -
Needless to say, I booked it immediately and a few weeks later myself, Mr Adventures Around Scotland and Willow the dog set off for our four night break in the stunning Rhins of Galloway, one of the most underrated parts of Scotland in my opinion.
Despite regularly visiting this area of Scotland, I'd never actually visited Glenwhan Gardens before and although it is only a short detour off the main road, you do need a car to get around if you stay here.
As we approached the Shepherd's Hut I was delighted that it was even cuter in real life than in the photos, however it is the setting in the gardens that makes this such a special place to stay.
One place in Scotland I get asked to write about more than anywhere else is the Isle of Skye. Despite visiting numerous times, there are many reasons why I have never got round to publishing a blog post about Scotland's most popular island until now! I thought it was time to share my top recommendations for things to do on the Sleat Peninsula which is at the lesser visited southern end of the island.
There are a zillion articles out there already that list the top attractions on the Isle of Skye and the last thing the world needs is yet another blog about the Quiraing, Fairy Pools or Old Man of Storr, although I'm sure there will be many more to come! However, despite what numerous other travel blogs might lead you to believe, there is way more to see in Skye than the cliched list posts of must see attractions that swamp the internet. If you follow my Scotland travel blog, it is hopefully because you want to explore beyond the typical Scottish tourist attractions.
On my last two trips I have based myself in the Sleat Peninsula in South Skye which is known as 'The Garden of Skye' due to its relative greenness. There is no shortage of ruined castles, picturesque villages and stunning scenery to keep you occupied and a new whisky distillery is bound to make the Sleat Peninsula a more tempting destination, although there is not yet the same hectic crowds that you will find further north
Despite The Isle of Skye bursting at the seams with visitors at certain times of year, it is still possible to find quiet corners away from the crowds. My two biggest pieces of advice if you want to have the attractions and wild beauty of Skye all to yourself, is to visit off-season (April and October are good times as many attractions are open for the season although check individual listings for exact dates) and secondly, to explore the lesser visited parts of the island.
If you want to visit the Isle of Skye but don't want to be caught up in traffic queues and tour buses or just want to experience a different side of the island, you definitely need to check out my list of top things to do on the Isle of Skye's Sleat Peninsula!
Take the ferry to Armadale
Armadale Bay is home to the ferry terminal which connects the Isle of Skye with Mallaig on the mainland. Although you could drive across the Skye Bridge, following the stunning 'Road to the Isles' from Fort William and boarding a ferry feels like you are going on a proper island adventure. This is my preferred way to travel to Skye, although another unique way to travel to South Skye is via the world's last manually operated turntable ferry from Glenelg.
Armadale Bay has a few pretty shops and Rhuba Phoil has a short circular woodland walk which is a fairly easy leg stretcher. Look out for the viewpoints as you follow the winding path through the trees and take some time to enjoy the coastal panorama surrounding this permaculture community.
Another one of my favourite things to do is grab a coffee from The Shed and enjoy the views to Knoydart.
Visit - Armadale Castle and Museum of the Isles
On my most recent trip to the Isle of Skye I rented a Clan Donald Holiday Lodge within the estate at Armadale Castle on the Sleat Peninsula. The 20,000 acre estate in the South of Skye was once the traditional lands of Clan Donald and was purchased by the Clan Donald Lands Trust in 1971.
The estate is home to a range of walking trails, historic gardens and the stately remains of Armadale Castle, however the highlight of my visit was a tour of the Museum of the Isles. I highly recommend setting 1 - 2 hours aside to follow the audio guide through the 7 galleries full of fascinating objects, spanning 1500 years of history. This is definitely one of my top things to do on the Sleat Peninsula.
For those looking to research their ancestry, there are also genealogical resources in the library and after all that exploring I also recommend stopping by their ornate coffee shop for tea and a fresh baked scone.
Unfortunately there is not much left of Armadale Castle itself, a stately mansion house that was largely destroyed by a fire in 1855. The house was abandoned in 1925 and it is pretty much just the facade that is left today, although it is still an imposing sight.
If, like me, you stay at one of the lodges on the estate, entry to the castle grounds, museum and gardens is free.
This is one attraction on the Sleat Peninsula which can definitely get very busy, however when I visited in April I pretty much had it all to myself!
Visit - Dunscaith Castle
When it comes to Scottish castles I quite often find that less is more and Dunscaith Castle on the Sleat Peninsula is the perfect example of this.
To reach Dunscaith, park in the layby on the main road at Tokavaig and walk along the track towards the single white cottage before following the shore towards the obvious castle remains.
The ruins of what once must have been an impressive coastal structure are perched dramatically on a big lump of rock on the shores of Loch Eishort. Dunscaith Castle is thought to date back to the 13th or 14th century and once served as the MacDonald Clan's principle seat on the Isle of Skye. It was abandoned in the 17th century and has been at the mercy of the elements since.
The stone bridge which links the castle to the mainland can still be seen, although it is missing some vital pieces and I definitely wouldn't recommend trying to cross it! It is best to visit when the tide is out so you can walk under the bridge and around the rock base. Head up to the cliff top to take in some pretty breathtaking vistas towards the Cuillin Hills.
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