This post is part of a paid partnership with Ayrshire & Arran Destination Alliance as part of their 'Find Your Balance' campaign
A restorative break in Ayrshire & Arran
I should say right from the start that this article only covers a suggested itinerary for Ayrshire and Arran, there are countless other attractions and activities to choose from as this part of Scotland has so much to offer. I could write a whole blog post on things to do in Arran alone (and still not list everything) never mind the numerous blog posts I could write about places to visit in Ayrshire.
So bear in mind that this is only one suggested itinerary but I think it is quite special because not only does it include a great sample of the variety of activities available in the region, it is also allows time to slow down a bit and enjoy a more relaxing break. At the end you should be returning home feeling refreshed and restored rather than in need of another holiday to recover - I've been there many a time!
Finally, it also includes visits to many small and independent businesses, which means you are supporting the local community and economy which is something we should all be making an effort to do in an attempt to travel more sustainably.
This is an itinerary I completed myself so I know it is completely possible within the timeframe - use it as a step by step guide or use it is as inspiration for putting together your own trip. Either way, I'm sure you will have a fabulous time exploring this special part of Scotland.
Where is Ayrshire & Arran?
Ayrshire is a region on the west coast of Scotland just south of Glasgow. Think sandy beaches, seaside towns and clifftop castles that tower over the water and you might understand why this area has been a popular holiday resort for Glaswegians looking to escape the city for generations. However, Ayrshire is also bursting with history, has multiple country parks to explore, was the home of Robert Burns and witnessed the battle that concluded Viking rule in Scotland. It has multiple stories to tell and many reasons to visit.
The island of Arran lies off the Ayrshire coast, just an hour away by ferry, and is often dubbed 'Scotland in miniature' because of its obvious Highland and Lowland geological division. It is the largest and best known island in the Firth of Clyde, with its rugged peaks a constant companion across the water as you drive along the coastal roads of Ayrshire. Famed for its scenery, and local produce, significant historical sites like the standing stones at Machrie Moor are another big draw.
It is surprisingly easy to combine a chilled-out trip to both Ayrshire and Arran, and as I did, maybe even throw in another island for good measure because you can never visit too many Scottish islands! If this sounds appealing, here is how to put together a trip covering some of the highlights of the region.
Day 1 - Ayrshire
West Kilbride - Go shopping in Scotland's first accredited Craft Town
A short detour from the coastal road leads to the town centre of West Kilbride, a cornucopia of creativity. It is actually Scotland's first accredited Craft Town thanks to nine artist studios that are open to the public, and a range of independent shops and businesses selling local products.
The studios are generally open Thursday to Sunday but many of the makers have their work on sale at The Barony Centre which is open most days. I love picking up unique handmade souvenirs on my travels so that is where I headed first for a bit of shopping and came away with two beautiful glass candle holders in ocean colours, perfect for my coastal decor theme at home.
I spent the rest of the morning browsing around the independent shops in the high street and was drawn to the eclectic display of antiques and local goods at Modes Vintage. The owner Lisa was lovely and welcoming and I couldn't resist the smell of the Misty Isle Mercantile candle range made in West Kilbride and added a 'Scottish Highlands' scented candle to my purchases.
Before leaving I popped back to The Barony Centre for a coffee and managed to resist (just!) picking up a few more souvenirs as there were so many lovely pieces to choose from. West Kilbride is well worth the short deviation to watch artists at work and find a locally made memento of your trip or a unique gift.
Irvine - Tour the Scottish Maritime Museum
Just over 20 minutes south of West Kilbride is the coastal town of Irvine which is home to the Scottish Maritime Museum. I have passed this attraction by on so many occasions but not this time, I set aside the whole afternoon to fully appreciate everything this museum has to offer.
There are several different sites that make up the Irvine attraction and I started out at Puffers Café on the harbour front for lunch before joining a guided tour of a restored ship worker's tenement flat dating back to the early 20th century. It was fascinating to find out about the home life of local shipbuilders and their families, now part of a bygone era in the town. I should mention that these tours are currently on hold but are due to be back up and running again soon.
The main museum building is constructed from a salvaged former shipyard in Glasgow and is a work of art in itself. The sprawling space is filled with exhibits that tell the story of Scotland's maritime past, present and future. From boats to engines and even collections of tools, there is a lot to see and despite spending a couple of hours there, I still didn't have time to take it all in.
There are more boats and exhibits outside and a separate shed where you can see a working engine in action. I'm glad I finally made the time to visit but I may have to factor in a return trip for everything that I missed!
Seamill - Stroll along the beach
Just about every coastal town in Ayrshire has a beach worth visiting but I opted to spend my evening on the sand at Seamill because it was handily next to my accommodation at The Waterside Hotel. It is also only a short distance from West Kilbride town centre so you can easily combine a visit to both.
With a gentle sea breeze, stunning views to Arran, the rhythmic lap of waves and soundtrack of bird calls, it was everything I needed to help me feel restored and that is what this trip was about after all.
Day 2 - Cumbrae & Arran
Take the ferry to Cumbrae
Not all Scottish islands require a long ferry journey or stressful planning, Cumbrae, off the coast of Ayrshire, is one of the easiest to visit thanks to the frequent ferry service and 10 minute crossing time. The island is also compact and easy to travel around making it is an easy addition to any Ayrshire itinerary.
HOW TO GET TO CUMBRAE
Cumbrae - Cycle around the island then tour the local gin distillery
This post is part of a paid partnership with Destination Orkney as part of VisitScotland's Year of Stories
It is hard to know where to start when it comes to peeling back the layers of stories embedded in the Orkney Islands. You could begin around 6 millennia ago, when Neolithic people first arrived, erecting the unwieldy standing stones and atmospheric tombs that Orkney has become so famous for. Or you could fast forward to the 8th century when the Vikings settled in Orkney, leaving a strong Norse legacy that can still be found in everything from place names to 21st century jewellery designs. Any Orkney story would also have to include the rusting blockships, concrete defences and ornate Italian Chapel that witnessed wartime activity in Scapa Flow, or head back even further to the geological landscape formed hundreds of millions of years ago.
This is just a snapshot of the various people and events that have shaped the story of Orkney but the narrative of these islands doesn't end there. From renewables to artisans, and festivals to fishermen, Orkney's story is constantly evolving. If you are inspired to create your own island story, you will find lots of ideas and tips in this blog post.
The Orkney Islands are located off the north coast of Scotland and along with Shetland, form part of the Northern Isles. Often just shortened to Orkney (not the Orkneys!) ,the archipelago is made up of around 70 islands although most are uninhabited.
The islands are home to over 22,000 people with the majority of the population residing in the island of Mainland (not to be confused with the Scottish mainland), which is home to the main towns of Kirkwall and Stromness. There are a number of other populated islands including Burray, Eday, Egilsay, Flotta, Graemsay, Hoy, North Ronaldsay, Papa Westray, Rousay, Sanday, Shapinsay, South Ronaldsay, Stronsay, Westray and Wyre.
Island hopping is easy thanks to inter-island ferries and planes. You can even take the shortest scheduled flight in the world between the islands of Westray and Papa Westray which takes less than 2 minutes from take off to landing. I've done this myself and it is definitely a unique experience.
How to get to Orkney
There are two main ferry companies that travel to Orkney -
Pentland Ferries travels from Gill's Bay to St Margaret's Hope
NorthLink Ferries travels from Scrabster to Stromness and from Aberdeen to Kirkwall
In the summer there is also a foot passenger ferry from John O'Groats
Loganair runs regular scheduled flights to Kirkwall Airport from Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Inverness.
GETTING AROUND ORKNEY
Public transport is quite limited so a car will open up more options. If you prefer not to drive, Stagecoach runs a limited bus service on Mainland and to some attractions.
Both Orkney Ferries and Loganair provide island-hopping options within Orkney by plane and ferry.
Uncover thousands of years of stories - Things to do in Orkney
You could easily spend weeks or even months touring around the Orkney Islands but no matter how long you have to spare, you are probably wondering where to even start when there is so much to see and do. I recently spent three days unravelling some of the stories that have made Orkney one of the most unique and interesting places to visit in Scotland and I've listed everything I got up to below to give you some inspiration.
If you only have a few days to spare then you might want to follow in my footsteps. If you have longer to explore you can use my itinerary as a starting point and add in some of my other suggested things to do.
From local food and drink to Neolithic treasures and outdoor adventures, I've tried to include something for everyone.
Join a walking tour of Kirkwall
Joining a local guide on a walking tour is a great starting point when you want to get to know a place on a deeper level. I opted to do exactly that and met up with Brian Alexander from Kirkwall Walking Tours to learn some of the stories associated with Orkney's main town.
Brian is an Orcadian with a wealth of knowledge, not just about the history of Orkney but also about present day life in the islands. We met up at Kirkwall harbour where he shared some maritime history and the workings of the current fishing fleet before setting off for a meander around the historic town centre.
We stopped at various points of interest where Brian regaled me with tales of pirates, press gangs, saints, merchants, Vikings and even a famous tree. He also gave me a guided tour of the inside of St Magnus Cathedral, explaining its Norse origins and the background to some of the memorials within the building.
This was a really informative start to my 3 day trip and I left with a whole new appreciation of the significant history of Kirkwall and the Orkney Islands.
Sample some drams at Scapa Distillery
After a walk around town in the chilly winter wind, a whisky tasting session at Scapa Distillery seemed like the perfect way to warm up and as it was now officially afternoon, I felt it was a perfectly acceptable time to sample a few drams (or four to be precise!).
All whisky has its own story to tell, from the local ingredients that provide the unique flavour to the local artisans who oversee every part of the process, these Orcadian elements are encapsulated in every bottle of Scapa whisky.
Our host Maria put us to work nosing and tasting four very different bottlings, helping us to work out the tasting notes of each dram. With a bit of practice and guidance from Maria, picking up on the subtle notes became easier and of course the tasting part was pretty enjoyable! Don't worry if you are driving, you can still nose each glass and take the samples away to drink later.
I do enjoy my whisky and the tasting session really made me think more about the complexities of every dram and how to enhance my whisky drinking experience.
If this is an aspect of Orkney you would like to explore further, here is a list of other local distilleries and breweries that currently offer tours -
Discover local history at Orkney Museum
Orkney Museum in Kirkwall is one of those places you could visit multiple times and learn something new each visit as it is packed with artefacts and exhibits. I always recommend popping by the local museum when visiting a place as so many interesting stories are revealed that you would never discover otherwise.
Orkney Museum is a Tardis of floors and rooms filled with objects and relics dating back 5000 years, including finds from many of the famous archaeological sites, to collections from modern social history. One of my personal favourite exhibits is the display of items recovered from a Viking boat burial.
Discovered on the island of Sanday, the site was excavated in 1991 and the Viking burial that was revealed there has left many questions. Three bodies had been laid in a boat along with a number of significant and ornate artefacts which are on display in the museum, including a gilded brooch, a sword, gaming pieces and an eye-catching whalebone plaque that has been beautifully carved with dragon heads.
Be sure to give yourself enough time to explore the numerous floors as the building is bigger than you might think, although it is free to visit so you can easily return again if you missed anything on your first visit.
Go tomb-raiding on Rousay
This post is part of a paid partnership with West Coast Waters to promote the many ways you can immerse your senses around the Scottish west coast
Back in August I was sat in the ferry queue in Uig in Skye bursting with excitement and anticipation at the prospect of another west coast adventure. The last time I waited in this queue was on a trip to Harris and Lewis, this time I was sailing to North Uist. My excitement levels were ramped up to the max because not only was this my first trip to Uist, it was also a proper holiday which meant I could truly immerse myself in the real-time beauty of the Hebrides without any online distractions or work commitments.
I deleted my social media apps from my phone, ensured my e-mail out of office was switched on and took some deep breaths before fully embracing vacation mode. Before long I was stood out on the deck of the CalMac ferry with the wind whipping my hair and the sea breeze reenergising my soul. On the horizon, Uist and new adventures awaited.
In case you didn't know, Uist is a chain of islands linked by causeways, stretching from Eriskay in the south to Berneray in the north with South Uist, Benbecula, Grimsay and North Uist between them. There are also other smaller islands linked by causeways off of the main islands so if ticking off Scottish islands is your thing this is a good place to start, I managed 9 on this trip!
The following week saw a new chapter of wondrous west coast memories added to my Scotland travel journal and I'm sharing some of my favourite island highlights from Uist in this blog which might be just the inspiration you need for planning your next Scottish adventure.
Immerse yourself in the beaches
If there is a beach nearby, you can be sure I'll visit it! I love being by the sea, padding barefoot through the sand and dipping my toes in the water. In Uist I had countless beaches to choose from and although I couldn't possible visit them all, I did discover a few crackers including -
Immerse yourself in the history
This post is part of a paid partnership with West Coast Waters to promote the many ways you can immerse your senses around the Scottish west coast
A couple of months ago I was sitting on a bench in the pretty hamlet of Strathcarron, scooping up small mounds of cooling ice-cream dispensed in a tub at the local shop. The Scottish summer was doing what it was supposed to for once. It was warm enough to ditch my jacket (a rare occurrence!) and the azure blue sky was dotted with enough white cotton ball fluffs to stop my pale skin from burning. Gazing across the echo of crumpled brown hills on the still waters of Loch Carron, I mindfully celebrated my first west coast trip of 2021.
This was the start of my summer holidays and my next stop was the Isle of Skye. The last time I had followed this route was back in 2019, before the world was gripped by a pandemic and the freedom to travel was something I took for granted.
In the two years since I last wound my way along Scotland's west coast and over the sea to Skye, much has changed, but as I sat quietly inhaling the salty tang from the loch I also realised how much has remained the same. The timeless landscape of Wester Ross was exactly as I remembered and the feelings it inevitably stirs up in me hadn't disappeared. It all felt familiarly reassuring.
On my last trip here I made a detour to Plockton for an overnight stay before crossing the Skye Bridge. My relationship with Plockton goes way back to the mid-90s, to a time when a Highland policeman named Hamish Macbeth was a regular fixture on tellies around Scotland. The quaint TV village with a breathtaking backdrop was quickly added to my travel list.
Even though I've visited many times since, on my West Coast Waters Campaign in 2019, I got to experience the village and coastal scenery from a whole new perspective. Guided by Alison from Sea Kayak Plockton I absolutely loved every minute of my first sea kayaking adventure, despite being more than a bit apprehensive at the beginning. Rounded off with a seal spotting cruise with legendary local Calum Mackenzie and a locally landed seafood dinner at The Plockton Inn, I don't think my day could have been any better.
OVER THE BRIDGE TO SKYE
However, on this trip I was heading straight to Skye for a unique overnight stay in Boris the Military Pod, a converted army radio repair workshop in Kylerhea on the south east coast of the island. Located within walking distance of the shoreline, I spent the evening sat on the rocks watching bobbing seals in the Kyle Rhea strait, the narrowest point between Skye and the mainland. Sitting by the calming waters of the west coast was quickly becoming a theme for this holiday.
I could also spot the characterful Glenelg Ferry - the short journey from the mainland on the last manually operated turntable ferry in the world is my favourite way to travel to Skye.
All too often, visitors make a beeline for the same cliched sites that seem to appear on every 'must do' Skye list and consider the island ticked off their bucket-list, often within a day!
As someone who has visited Skye many times and stayed in a different area each time, I can tell you there is much more to see and do, I'd even go as far as saying there are some better things to do.
On my last trip I stayed in Waternish and joined Divers Eye Boat Trips on one of their short cruises to the now uninhabited Islay Island. Wandering around the ruins of a long row of waterfront cottages and the laird's house which has a murderous past was a real highlight. I was the only visitor that day and despite being a stone's throw from the rugged and bustling Skye coast, it felt a world away as I stood alone among the remnants of past lives.
From a trip around the Sleat Peninsula to a boat trip to reach the remote Loch Coruisk, there are countless unique and memorable experiences to be had in Skye if you are willing to let go of your FOMO and break away from the crowds.
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