Travel review: Starry-eyed scenery, cities and islands of Scotland

Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. PIC: Ian Day
Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park. PIC: Ian Day
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Jane Day and family go back to nature on a starry-eyed trip across the border to southern and central Scotland.

We couldn’t have had a better start to our Scottish holiday than standing in the middle of a field, surrounded by sheep at midnight. No, we hadn’t got lost, or broken down – we were taking advantage of the unpolluted dark skies to watch the Perseid meteor shower and were rewarded with a fantastic show of shooting stars in pitch black skies.

After this brilliant introduction to our holiday, we were looking forward to discovering what else southern and central Scotland had to offer.

Not wanting too arduous a journey from Yorkshire, we based ourselves in Lanarkshire, in a tiny, isolated village outnumbered by livestock, but still handy enough for the M74 to explore further north. And explore we did, yet only scratching the surface of Scotland’s culture, heritage and breathtaking scenery.

Even if you’re not a fan of canal boats or an engineering nerd, the Falkirk Wheel is well worth a visit. This mechanical marvel is the world’s first, and only, rotating boat lift designed to connect the Forth & Clyde Canal with the Union Canal. Replacing the 19th century lock gates, it has revitalised the canal infrastructure and tourism industry. It was never intended to be a tourist attraction but over 5.5 million people have visited since it opened in 2002.

We took a 50-minute trip on a boat in the 35-metre high structure, which amazingly is very efficient to run – using only the same amount of energy as it would take to boil 18 household kettles. Play areas, cafe, water activities and cycle hire help to make it a good family day out.

Standing almost as tall as the Falkirk Wheel and just five miles away are The Kelpies, the largest equine sculptures in the world. Easily seen from the M9 motorway, they are worth getting up close to. Visitors can enjoy a walk round The Helix parkland or even take a tour inside the impressive statues to learn about the construction and what inspired artist Andy Scott.

The seventh largest Scottish island, Arran, was easily accessible for us. The 55-minute ferry crossing from Ardrossan was smooth and efficient, and taking the car meant we could make the most of our day there. After landing at Brodick we took the 50-mile “ring road” clockwise round the island, stopping off at the characterful villages on our journey. We explored deserted rocky beaches, discovered waterfalls and enjoyed a tasty tub of Isle of Arran ice cream while we marvelled at the island’s ever changing landscape. Arran is often called “Scotland in Miniature” as a fault line divides the island into two sections – the rocky north and the lush, greener south. The combination of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf Stream creates an oceanic climate. We ate our picnic in glorious sunshine overlooking Mull, only to abandon proceedings because of a sudden downpour of torrential rain. Arran is a wonderful island and there was so much more to do; we were sad to be leaving on the last ferry of the day and promised ourselves a return visit.

Golf is part of the scenery in Scotland, with the Ayrshire coastline south of Ardrossan boasting a wealth of top- quality courses. Troon, host to The Open Championship, is in a glorious setting and the pretty town, with harbour, beach and esplanade, is an ideal holiday destination. For those wanting a bit of shopping, culture or entertainment, the country’s two major cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow cannot be beaten. Needing little introduction, or explanation, we usually love our city breaks but we found ourselves looking forward to getting back to the countryside, fresh air and our cottage to watch the hares in the fields and the birds of prey as they soared overhead.

No trip to Scotland would be complete without visiting one of the many beautiful lochs, so we travelled a few miles north of Glasgow to Loch Lomond. Our plan to make the day more appealing to our teenage boys failed when strong winds meant the speedboat rides were cancelled, but we all embraced a long walk along the shores before settling down for haggis, neeps and tatties at a nearby restaurant.

Our week in Scotland was over far too quickly. We left planning to travel further north next time to continue our exploration of this beautiful and inspiring country.

GETTING THERE

The Day family stayed at Oak Cottage, Crawfordjohn, Douglas, 0345 268 0801, scottish-country-cottages.co.uk

For ferries to the Isle of Arran, contact Caledonian MacBrayne, 0800 066 5000, calmac.co.uk