“We’ll avoid the midges,” the husband said. Of course we will, because it’s too cold for anything to survive.
“We’ll see beautiful beaches,” he said. True, he had shown me photographs of stunning stretches of empty white sand. Empty because it’s too cold to get out of the car, let alone take a leisurely stroll. It’s nature’s way of mocking us. You can look, but you can’t touch.
We’d been living aboard in hot countries for seven years, and so the UK was a completely new and exciting destination for us all. My husband is from Northern Ireland, I was born in Wales and the children were born in England, so it was fitting that we start our British exploration in the place we know least – Scotland.
It’s known for its remoteness, and coming from the hustle and bustle of Singapore we decided to explore how remote it could be by starting our two-week jaunt in the Orkneys, following an overnight train to Inverness.
Rolling, barren fields, save for a crumbling crofter’s cottage or a megalith of stone piercing the skyline. The pace of life is relaxed. The lifestyle is an acquired taste, with us constantly asking questions like: “Where do the locals shop if we can’t find any shops?” and “Where do the children go to school if they live on the remotest of islands?” and “What do Orkadians think of our stressed out, intense city lives?”
It’s the Norse heritage and Neolithic history that binds people together, and is the greatest reason for a trip to the islands. There aren't many places where you can stand inside a tomb filled with 5,000 years of spirits and ghosts.
Nature plays a huge role in any holiday to Scotland. The northern coastline is stunning, with mountains erupting through the skyline, and dark lochs appearing through the mist, when you least expect them.
Skye is a metropolis by Orkadian standards. Portree, the main conurbation, might only be home to 2,500 but the fact that the island is now connected by a bridge, rather than a ferry fighting five metre waves, means it’s practically part of the mainland.
With great dining options, the picturesquely raw Cuillin hills and a typical Scottish climate of alternating sun and rain every ten minutes, the days are filled with robust and healthy pursuits, such as walking, which add a ruddy glow, even if your fingers are a little frozen.
Moving a little further south to Fort William, the Road to the Isles is one of the highlights of the trip, with every bend in the road offering a new unexpected vista. Glenfinnan is home to the famous curved, arched railway bridge, which is larger than expected and a wonder of contemporary engineering. The children were more interested in the fact that it carried the Hogworts Express in the Harry Potter films.
Fort William didn't offer all the dining delights we had hoped for, although there is always a place for beige, fried food. We did treat ourselves to a meal at The Lime Tree, which was super, and a cut above every other option.
The town is, however, a great launch pad if slogging up Ben Nevis is your aim – which is exactly what we did, grasping the temporary break in the weather. It’s a relatively easy path, but be prepared to walk uphill for four hours. Our progress was slightly impeded by snow, but this delighted the children, who turned into little mountain goats. Just make sure you’re properly prepared with the right gear, maps and provisions for a full day in all weathers. It’s amazing how quickly a sunny spring day can turn into a wintery blizzard.
You don't have to go much further south for the craggy, rocky mountains to turn into rolling hills with pretty valleys and waterfalls.
Secreting yourself away at the Monachyle Mohr hotel, on the edge of Loch Voil, is a super way to spend a couple of days, relaxing in a high quality oasis, with stunning views. Starting life as an old farmhouse, this hotel now has modern rooms, with quirky twists in its décor. It’s sister property, Mhor 84, a few miles down the road, is a chilled out establishment with great food, and local brews.
We ended out trip in Edinburgh, with a flying visit to Stirling Castle en route. Where you want shopping and city life, historical and political insight along the Royal Mile, or a stroll through the Grassmarket, an old site of public hangings, there is something for everyone.