I love visiting the autumnal Big Tree Country of Perthshire to witness the vibrant tapestry of foliage as it goes out in a final blaze of yellow, orange and red glory. It really is one of the prettiest places to visit in Scotland at this time of year and on my latest venture to the region I discovered Killiecrankie Hotel is the perfect place to hibernate with a whisky by the fire when the darkness encroaches into the afternoon and wet woodland explorations have to be cut short.
I picked a pretty poor day to travel north as Britain's first named storm is on its way. Storm Abigail is predicted to bring battering wind and torrential rain as it traverses Scotland. As I head past Perth the sky turns an ominous black and the heavens open, roads are quickly flooded and driving conditions become more and more challenging. Relieved to reach my destination, I make a dash from the car to the entrance in an attempt to avoid presenting myself at reception like a drowned rat which I just about manage to achieve.
On arrival I am eagerly welcomed by Beanie, the resident spaniel who expectantly presents me with a squeaky toy before following me to the reception where I'm welcomed again, this time by Henrietta, the hotel's owner and manager.
My bags are transported to my room by an assistant in unique patchwork tartan trews, coffee and cake is arranged and I'm already getting the impression that despite the decor, this is not a conventional country house hotel. Henrietta confirms this when she explains that she doesn't want the place to feel stuffy, instead she treats people as if they are guests in her house and technically they are although her background working in some of the country's most luxurious hotels is reflected in the high standards throughout. The result is a quality hotel with an informal feel and some quirky touches!
My large deluxe bedroom had a Scottish country house feel with just enough tartan to be tasteful without being tacky. The fresh decor made the room feel very homely and any thoughts of the storm outside were long gone as I settled in for the evening.
With all the usual inclusions and extras you would expect from a luxury room, I couldn't think of anything else I would have needed. Real coffee, a cafetiere and current copies of several Scottish magazines were a welcome touch and if I was being picky, then a desk rather than a set of drawers would have been preferred. A stool was provided but it really wasn't a comfortable way to sit and use the dressing mirror or my laptop.
The bathroom was spacious and spotlessly clean, with a separate bath and powerful shower and the quirky duck sponge was a nice bit of fun. Although the toiletries smelled lovely it would have been nice to carry through the Scottish theme with some local products.
After a really comfortable sleep, I woke up to discover that the room also had a pretty view to the garden and the hills beyond, a pleasant surprise.
My latest #SYHAdventure may only have involved a journey of less than 55 miles but I assure you that it is a road-trip that should be on every Scotland travel bucket list and is up there with any adventure!
The SYHA in Torridon stands nestled between the water of Upper Loch Torridon and the foot of the mighty Liathach, rated by many climbers and hill-walkers as Scotland's finest mountain. As this was my third #SYHAdventure I was getting used to the fact that Scottish Youth Hostels are inevitably situated in some of the most dramatic and awe-inspiring locations in Scotland and Torridon didn't fail to live up to my new high expectations.
With an outdoor paradise on the doorstep it was tempting to lace up my boots and venture off on my usual walking expeditions but I had an even bigger temptation on this excursion and it involved jumping behind the wheel and heading off on a road-trip.
Despite only being officially launched 2 months ago, the North Coast 500 has been creating a huge buzz in the global travelsphere and has already been listed as one of the top coastal road-trips in the world by Travel Now magazine and has been dubbed Scotland's own Route 66.
Split into 6 route sections, Torridon SYHA very handily sits midway along the Wester Ross segment and makes an ideal base for those undertaking this breathtaking and adrenaline pumping section, as this part of the route encompasses the notorious Bealach Na Ba (pronounced Bay-Lach-Na-Ba and means Pass of the Cattle).
WHAT TO DO IN TORRIDON
I started my adventure in the pretty little village of Torridon which is dwarfed by some spectacularly huge mountains and sits on the edge of Loch Torridon. It would be easy to drive through thinking that such a small place might not have much to offer but looks can be deceiving and delve a little deeper and you will find plenty to keep you occupied.
The modern community centre has a surprisingly large display of local arts and crafts for sale, in fact it is one of the best ranges of handmade Scottish products that I have found anywhere outside of a craft market and an ideal place to pick up an authentic souvenir of your trip while supporting the local economy.
Torridon sea tours offer a range of excursions from the nearby village of Sheildaig which take you wildlife spotting on half-day trips around the loch or full-day adventures to some of the remote isles.
The nearby Torridon Inn not only serves delicious local produce but offers bike hire and an assortment of outdoor activities including canoeing, archery, rock climbing and gorge scrambling. If that's not enough to keep you busy then the walking options, wildlife watching and dramatic scenery will!
I stayed in one of the dog friendly private rooms at the Youth Hostel and although not en-suite it did have it's own sink and was clean and comfortable. After travelling for more than a week it was great to make use of the washing and drying facilities and to finally have a choice of fresh, clean clothes.
A large well equipped self catering kitchen allows easy cooking and a choice of heat your own meals are available to purchase in case you didn't realise that rather surprisingly there are no supermarkets in the remote Highlands!
The social interaction is one thing I have really enjoyed on my SYHA trips and finding out what has brought my fellow hostelers to the area. In Torridon I was surprised at the mix of nationalities and found out most of them were also there on a scenic Highland road-trip or cycling adventure.
As Torridon SYHA has an alcohol licence and two panoramic lounges where you can relax and watch the wildlife and landscape, there is every reason to spend your evening chilling out there. However, for those wanting to eat out or venture to the pub, I highly recommend the nearby Torridon Inn which is also dog friendly.
I drove anti-clockwise along the coastal road from Torridon following the breathtaking route to Applecross before negotiating the steep and sharp narrow curves of Bealach Na Ba, an unmissable driving experience although not for the faint-hearted!
My first stop was at the village of Shieldaig which dates back to 1800 and and is mainly comprised of a row of pretty whitewashed cottages sitting on the shore of Loch Shieldaig. A short distance out in the loch rises the distinctive Sheildaig Island, clad in Scots pine trees and home to a pair of nesting sea eagles. A birders paradise, look out for a thoughtful set of binoculars fixed on the shore allowing you to zoom in for a close up.
The best views of the village, island and loch are definitely from further along the road as it rises up the hillside and the little cottages shrink to toy size!
As you travel further along the route look out for the well photographed cottage with the red roof and try not to be too envious of their view!
There's nothing like going on a Scottish road-trip, cruising over hills, along coasts and through glens. However, if you are one of the growing number of electric vehicle owners wanting to take off on a journey along the highways and byways of Scotland you might have to plan a bit more carefully. particularly when it comes to finding accommodation as few overnight stops currently provide the facility to charge your vehicle.
For those wanting to seek out the delights of Edinburgh and the surrounding area you will be pleased to know that you can now make use of new free twin charging points at The Edinburgh Marriott, handily situated near the city airport.
Having no experience of the logistics of taking an electric vehicle on such a road-trip, I was intrigued to take up an invite to stay at the hotel with the use of an electric car to explore the area during my stay and find out just how far I could go on battery power.
Here is how my 2 days went...
The Edinburgh Marriot is a large and functional hotel mainly used for business travel, coach tours, corporate events and airport stopovers. As you would expect from this size and type of hotel it has facilities such as a leisure club with swimming pool, business suites, beauty salon and hairdresser.
The rooms are more functional than luxury although they provide all the extras you would need. A couple of nice touches I appreciated were the sculpted swan towels on the bed (a dying art in my opinion!) and rather nice L'Occitane toiletries. Unfortunately WiFi is only free in public areas with a charge applied to access it from the bedroom, not ideal for someone like me who needs frequent online access.
I stayed in one of the deluxe bedrooms which had a huge and comfy bed and after a good nights sleep I enjoyed a tasty breakfast from a large buffet selection. I can also highly recommend the bar snacks as the pork belly bites were totally delicious!
My Nissan Leaf vehicle was provided by eCorporate Travel, who offer a professional and discreet 'green' chauffeur service, based in Edinburgh Their concept is to provide environmentally sustainable travel at competitive prices and after chatting to them I was impressed at how passionate they are about their business and their vision to provide a more environmentally friendly travel service, something we should all be embracing.
After some quick tuition in driving and charging the vehicle I was ready to set off on my first electric adventure in my silent, green machine!
Where did I go?
The Edinburgh Marriott is situated on the outskirts of Scotland's historic capital and this is a bonus if you are driving and don't relish the thought of navigating the one way streets or rush hour traffic going in and out of the city centre, not to mention finding an affordable parking space! With plenty of free parking and sitting next to the city bypass, this is ideal accommodation for those wanting to explore the gems that surround Edinburgh.
With over 100 miles of charge and the sun shining I was firstly drawn towards Edinburgh's own coastal suburb and a proper Scottish road-trip to visit the seaside delights of Portobello Beach. A 32 mile round trip wasn't too much of a drain on the battery, however I found it easy and convenient to top it up in the hotel car park whilst I checked in to my room and planned my next adventure.
On the second day I again opted to avoid the hustle and bustle of the city and made my way to Castlelaw Iron Age Hillfort in the Pentland Hills near Penicuik. At just over 10 miles from the hotel this makes an interesting alternative to the historic city centre attractions. There are also walking routes for those wanting to explore more of the outdoors and I highly recommend heading a few miles along the road to visit the famous Rosslyn Chapel while you are in the area.
On my recent trip to the Scottish Borders I was fortunate enough to have one of those spectacular and memorable experiences which occasionally come with being a travel blogger, which I assure you isn't normally as glamorous as you might think. Although staying at the Hope Scott Wing of Abbotsford House is every bit as glamorous as you might think!
An extension to the original private home of Sir Walter Scott and the former living area of his descendants, it has now been refurbished and opened as luxury accommodation. Available on a self catering basis for up to 15 people, it is possible to hire all or part of the wing for yourself. There is also a bed and breakfast option, subject to availability.
I stayed here along with my fellow Scotlanders as part of our Borders Railway campaign and it's fair to say we were all lost for words, which was definitely a first for our normally chatty group. On arrival we were taken on a tour of our accommodation by the fantastic and passionate House Manager, Marianne. We followed her around excitedly on a goggle eyed tour of our private wing, in amazement at the number of lavish rooms we had to ourselves.
Decorated with some of the family's belongings, furniture and artwork, the whole place has an authentic and historical feel which at times makes you wonder if you have actually stepped back in time or onto the set of a period drama.
Sympathetic grand design and modern convenience is how I would best describe the decor and facilities. The seven luxury en-suite bedrooms are individually designed with period style pieces and furniture while the HUGE bathrooms have modern roll-top baths and walk-in showers.
There is Wi-Fi throughout and although some might appreciate a TV within the bedrooms, I would have personally been happy to do away with mine as it felt too out of place in the stately surroundings!
My own bedroom was literally fit for a princess and named after one, the Queen's aunt, Princess Alice to be precise. One of many notable visitors and distinguished guests that also included Queen Victoria and Charles Dickens. Incidentally, Queen Victoria was so impressed that she chose to model her own home in Scotland, Balmoral Castle, on Abbotsford’s Scottish Baronial style.
Last year I wrote a blog post on '10 quirky places you can spend the night in Scotland' and although I hadn't yet stayed in any of the places listed, it inspired me to think outside the box when it comes to booking my own accommodation.
There are times when you just want to escape the comfort of generic hotel rooms and embark on an easy adventure for a night in a place that lets your imagination run wild. I know I'm not alone in searching out the weird and wonderful as most of the quirky accommodation I've come across is booked months in advance and the prices often reflect the demand.
One of the places featured on my list was thankfully affordable and available on my most recent trip to Glasgow and I enjoyed viewing the city I grew up in from a whole new perspective, mainly from the deck of a decommissioned fishing boat moored on the River Clyde.
The MV Reliant is run as a bed and breakfast by owners Dave and Rosie, who welcomed me with tea and biscuits on arrival. They were very friendly hosts and nothing seemed too much trouble for them.
The Scottish cooked breakfast in the morning was fantastic and huuuuge and Rosie can provide evening meals based on recipes from her home in Thailand if you wish.
When you are looking for a home from home with the added benefit of some of the amenities provided on a hotel stay, a serviced apartment ticks all the boxes. On my recent visit to Edinburgh I was invited to stay at the Princes Street Suites, award winning serviced apartments in the centre of the city. When I recommend accommodation on my blog it is because I think it offers something special or unique, and for me these apartments provided the best views of the city out of all the places I have stayed at in Edinburgh previously and are reason enough to book.
Although I was lucky enough to stay in the Penthouse which has the most amazing vistas, you don't have to book the top floor to enjoy the 360 degree perfect panoramas of Edinburgh as all guests have access to the roof terrace which provides stunning views from Arthur's Seat to the Castle and Calton Hill in the other direction.
On my recent Whisky Tour of Islay with Scottish Routes, I was lucky enough to stay at The Bowmore House on Islay, one of their regular accommodation providers for the tour.
I must that initially I had no plans to do a whole review about my stay here as I was going to include a short bit in the review of the tour itself, however I was so impressed I left wanting to share this gem with anyone thinking about a trip to the island. Not planning a proper review meant that I didn't do my usual photography tour of the rooms prior to messing up the beds and dumping my bags. It meant I didn't take images of my food and every little detail that made my stay here so special, a lesson learned on my part. Although I may not have the photos to back up my review on this occasion I hope that you will realise that the very fact I am telling you about this great place despite not setting out to do a review will convince you even more of how much I rate it!
I did fortunately take a few snaps on my phone and although not the best quality they still allow me to share a few images from my stay.
From the first moment our group wearily walked through the door we were warmly welcomed by our hosts, Andrew and Alison who couldn't be more helpful through out our stay. The main house has a relaxed, homely feel with five en-suite bedrooms. I stayed in the refurbished Fisherman's Cottage which is less than a 30 second walk away and is tucked around the corner off the main street.
The cottage has three bedrooms, 2 en-suite and 1 with a private bathroom. The bonus of staying here is the self catering facilities, including a large sitting room and well equipped, spacious kitchen which really felt like a home from home.
The cottage is available for B&B stays or as a self catering option and I highly recommend either. Tastefully decorated with great attention to detail and every convenience you could need, I really wish I had more time to enjoy relaxing here!
Now there are 2 crucial things to rating a bed and breakfast, the bed and the breakfast, obviously! I can confirm the bed was HUGE and super comfy and the breakfast was also HUGE and super tasty. Andrew and Alison are not only excellent hosts but also excellent cooks. Local produce, great variety and a warm welcome would be good enough for me to recommend a place, however Andrew and Alison go above and beyond in every area of their business, from their own branded mugs to a breakfast dram, they really do think of everything.
If Arran is Scotland in miniature then Lochranza must be one of the prettiest Highland villages you could ever visit and the Scottish Youth Hostel is located in a prime setting to take advantage of the breathtaking surroundings.
I was staying for my second #SYHAdventure and if I thought the view from my previous room at Glen Nevis Youth Hostel, which looked on to Ben Nevis itself, would take some beating then I was happily proved wrong!
If I had a check list for my perfect Highland view then a tidal sea loch, mountains, ruined castle, wildlife and pretty little white cottages would be definite inclusions and to my delight they had all been tantalisingly arranged outside my window. It took me a while to draw myself away from observing the roaming red deer, fishing heron and the incoming flow of the tide below.
If you have preconceptions about staying at a youth hostel you really need to leave them here, with private en-suite rooms and modern shared facilities on offer alongside traditional budget dormitory options, this recently renovated accommodation is great value and a bonus for me was being able to take my dog as Lochranza is one of several dog friendly SYHA escapes.
I have explored all the villages on Arran and although all picturesque, Lochranza is without doubt the one I would choose to stay in. Other than lacking a shop which is a bit inconvenient (you can buy basics at the SYHA) it has everything a lover of the outdoors and picturesque scenery could want and I was not the only one there to take advantage of this natural playground judging by the bikes and kayaks lining the outside of the building.
With a 13th Century ruined castle, whisky distillery and abundance of wildlife on the doorstep there is plenty to keep you entertained even if you don't want to stray far.
The SYHA theme for May is wildlife and their Lochranza Youth Hostel is the perfect wildlife watching location, you only have to look out the window to spot red deer, seals, and a wide variety of bird life, venture a little further from the doorstep and you could be rewarded with a plethora of creatures including red squirrels, golden eagles and otters.
Low level hillwalking is the most popular activity on the island and provides plenty opportunity to seek out some of the island's more elusive inhabitants. There are lots of signposted trails from Lochranza so I decided that it was time to turn to social media and ask the locals for their recommendations. No surprise that I had lots of suggestions but I opted firstly to follow the route to Laggan as I was promised spectacular views across the water to my home island of Bute.
LAGGAN COTTAGE ROUTE (approx 8 miles return, moderate walking)
From the Youth Hostel turn right and follow the signpost for Laggan (4 miles) a little further along the road. The route starts just after the golf course, look out for the sheep and red deer keeping the fairways trim or sunbathing in the bunkers, I can imagine playing here has a few challenges!
The path then begins a gentle but steady climb to the summit as the views on the ascent open up to reveal the surrounding stunningly rugged glen with the miniature sized whisky distillery and cottages in the valley below.
I spotted lots of wildlife along the route with red deer, sheep and birds of prey keeping a watchful eye as I wound my way over the stony track, past waterfalls and streams.
A large rock jutting out from the side of the path about two thirds of the way up made a perfect place to pause and absorb the encompassing sights and sounds from the winding road and lush farmland far below to the jagged mountain tops brushing the clouds in the distance.
With a final push to the summit I watched the deep blue of the Firth of Clyde unfold before me and what a reward for my efforts! As promised I had dazzling views across to Bute with the mainland beyond and deciding that this was a perfect lunch spot, I sat for a while watching the toy sized fishing boats traverse the peaceful sparkling water.
As the path winds down sharply towards the whitewashed Laggan Cottage look out for the ruins of Cock Farm far below, this desolate area was once home to over 100 inhabitants before the Clearances. It was this community that built the once vital historic pathway between here and Lochranza that is now only trodden for leisure purposes.
It is possible to make this a circular walk by returning via the Cock of Arran, however I was happy retrace my route and end my walk with sweeping views across Lochranza. This is a really rewarding route with extensive vistas, varied scenery and plentiful wildlife.
With a whisky distillery on the doorstep it would have been rude not to visit and after a long walk I felt I deserved a taste of the local dram. Apparently this is the third most visited distillery in the country and I joined a mix of nationalities on one of their basic Oak tours. With a well stocked whisky shop and a cafe onsite this is a good visiting option.
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