Hidden down one of Bath’s quaint cobbled lanes is the oldest dwelling in the city, established in c.1482. This historical site has been the home to the original “Bath bun” since 1680, when Sally Lunn – the inventor of this regional speciality – was employed in a bakery on the premises.
Story has it that a young Huguenot refugee, Solange Luyon, came to Bath from France in 1680 to escape persecution. She found work in the bakery on what was known at the time as Lilliput Alley. In addition to selling the baker’s wares from a basket, Sally Lunn – as she came to be known, an anglicised version of her name – had a special talent for making a unique brioche bun in the French tradition, resembling French festival breads.
The bun quickly became popular in Georgian England, with customers soon coming to the bakery just to request the unusual delicacy that could be served with either sweet or savoury accompaniments. The bun became known as the “Sally Lunn bun” or “Bath bun” and today is legendary the world over.
A visit to the Sally Lunn tea house and eatery is essential to any visit to the historical city of Bath.
Recently my colleague, Caoimhe, and I enjoyed a picturesque and slightly Harry Potter-themed adventure to the west coast of Scotland.
Setting off on a lovely Thursday morning we drove up north from Glasgow and past the breath-taking views of Loch Lomond. The burnt orange coloured leaves falling from the trees made our journey all the more beautiful. Every now and then the sun would pop out of the clouds leaving a beautiful rainbow over the glistening water.
Our first stop was the Glenfinnan Viaduct visitor centre, where we parked up and made our way to the top of the hill for the best possible view. We really were amazed. The viaduct is not only a work of art but for me as a Harry Potter fan, it brings back magical childhood memories. Once we had soaked up the views we made our way to the waterfront where the Jacobite monument stands proud, overlooking Loch Shiel. Something about the clouds gave the hills an almost blue hue and the water quite a spooky look which added to the ambiance.
After plenty of photo opportunities, we were back on the road and heading towards Mallaig for a spot of lunch in a lovely location near the ferry port. The prawn roll was simply delicious. Our next stop was Spean Bridge for the night which gave us another excellent chance to enjoy the phenomenal Highland scenery and hospitality.
The following day, well-rested and eager for the next part of our adventure, we headed to Fort William train station for a tour of the Jacobite steam train. Having never seen a steam engine before I definitely felt like I was taken back in time. I can’t deny that I was also excited to be on the train that inspired the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter films. Walking along the platform surrounded in clouds of steam felt quite enchanting. It was lovely to see both kids and adults soaking up the experience in anticipation of the train’s departure.
The whole trip was very enjoyable. Driving through the Highlands was such a contrast to my normal journeys on motorways and around the city centre. The time seemed to fly by with so many wonderful sights to take in. I can’t wait to return to the west coast of Scotland again very soon!
My first trip through the western Highlands was a wonderful discovery of old and new. Coming from Ireland originally, I have strong beliefs that the Irish countryside will always be the most beautiful I’ll encounter but I was happy to find stiff competition on these magical islands of Mull and Iona.
I knew things were off to a good start when after collecting my ferry ticket at the harbour in cheerful Oban, I enjoyed some enormous ice-cold oysters opened in front of me at a fresh seafood stall right next to the ticket office. I held on to that marvellous flavour of the sea as we set off, setting the tone for my trip brilliantly. As the weather was crisp and dry, I wanted to take advantage of it so I wrapped up warmly and took in the view from the open air deck, enjoying the picturesque Eilean Musdile lighthouse bathed in the late afternoon light as we passed. On arrival on Mull we drove to Tobermory through the setting sun, catching the brightly painted harbour front just before darkness.
Mull is known for its wildlife as much as its beauty so the following day we went out with some local experts to see for ourselves. The day’s arc was perfect; birds including white tailed eagles in the morning, otters at lunchtime and red deer late afternoon. I was struck by Mull’s changing scenery as we went – volcanic pillow lava causing rocky terrain, soft rolling fields and woodland covered in soft green lichen – all confirming the pure air on the island. Another fun sight was the ubiquitous sheep nibbling seaweed at the water’s edge. I was kept going myself by a lovely spread provided by our guide: hot soup, sandwiches, coffee and cake. I enjoyed a rounded education of the island from nature to history, learning of islanders of times gone by suffering the effects of the Highland clearances and using seaweed to fertilise meagre potato crops by the rocky coast, and returned to Tobermory with insider knowledge of my surroundings.
The Isle of Iona was next on the itinerary, beginning with an early rise and drive to Fionnphort on the opposite side of the Island. We parked the car and could see Iona waiting for us as we boarded the ferry as foot passengers. I can’t quite put my finger on what it was as we alighted but something about Iona is instantly warming. I was lucky to enjoy a tour of a hotel garden by the resident gardener and was delighted to see seaweed feeding the soil as a nod to traditions of the past. Home grown produce is common on these islands to ensure freshness rather than rely on deliveries and I loved seeing beds full of fruit, vegetable and edible flower seedlings waiting for next season’s guests to enjoy.
Though I had planned on seeing it, the Abbey came as almost a surprise on this tiny island, such was its magnitude thrust into sharp relief by its diminutive surroundings. The remains of the nunnery was an interesting wander also, the nuns on Iona having enjoyed a thriving social life on Iona as active members of the community. It was easy to see why Iona had and has a deeply spiritual resonance for some; it feels somehow brighter than the rest of the world when you are there.
But all good things must come to an end and the drive back through Mull brought new discoveries as we went. I returned to Glasgow with warm memories of two magical islands.
There’s something incredibly liberating about going on holiday to Shetland. I felt a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life as soon as I started my descent on to the Sumburgh runway. No book or documentary could truly prepare me for the stunning scenery sprawling around me and, despite the October chill in the air, I was glowing with excitement for the duration of my stay.
Though I lost touch many years ago with a good friend from Shetland, I’ve never forgotten her great pride in calling this place home. Her stories and tales were the catalyst for me wanting to spend some time in what she had portrayed as a welcoming and community-spirited location. My expectations were exceeded hour after hour and I doubt I will ever find anywhere to rival the locals’ natural gift for hospitality. From my taxi driver to shop owners, I was welcomed with open arms. Shetlanders are fiercely proud of their history and heritage and it’s an absolute privilege to be invited in.
On arrival, my tour guide, David, took me to a local café to discuss our day ahead. A renowned place for wildlife spotting with windows facing out to the bay, I sat entranced by the waves crashing around us and very nearly forgot to order from a packed menu of homemade delights. A hearty bowl of soup on a cold day, a colourful salad on a hot day or just cake for cake’s sake, this place is a must on every itinerary.
After checking in to our accommodation for the night, I knew it would be a struggle to leave the history soaked hotel, roaring fire and comfortable bed behind. Staff, locals and visitors were all cheerful. The food was tasty, and there was a good choice of wines and an impressive whisky selection on offer too. For me, sincere hospitality needs complemented by enjoyable food and this location certainly has both.
Though I have many fond memories of Shetland, the trip had a distinct highlight. My taxi driver not only got me from A to B safely, he was a fount of knowledge. So much so that after telling him the tale of my long-lost friendship, he told me that he in fact knew my friend – a close-knit community indeed! He put us in touch within hours. Sitting by my hotel’s roaring fire the following day, I looked up to see my friend smile just as she had done all those years ago, and I knew this was only the first of many more holidays to Shetland.
By Zoe @ McKinlay Kidd / Photo by Ashleigh
If you would like to experience both Shetland and its neighbour Orkney together, take a look at our Shetland & Orkney Fly-drive itinerary.
Drive the North Coast 500, Scotland’s acclaimed 516-mile touring route around some of the country’s remotest parts, and chances are you’ll end up in conversation with a fellow traveller, who’ll tell you ‘Oh, we’re doing it in two days!’.
Now, this is entirely feasible, but, in my opinion, can’t be much fun. That’s why I set out in October to see how much I could eke out of the route across eight days, a much more leisurely pace.
Starting in Glasgow, I made my way to Inverness for the official start point at Inverness Castle, the red sandstone structure standing watch over the Highland Capital. A quick photo opportunity and off I went. It felt good to be having a go at the route without any thought of hurrying or of time pressures.
Out of Inverness, skirting the Beauly Firth with Kessock Bridge in the distance, time to sort out lunch. The pretty town of Beauly seemed as good a place as any and I found a terrific little bistro serving good seafood chowder. I would have had a photo to illustrate this, but I dropped my iPhone in my soup, much to the amusement of my fellow diners.
On the road again and heading north on the A9, I took a detour off to the right to visit Nigg on the north shore of the entrance to the Cromarty Firth, met by a dramatic scene with darkening clouds overhead and looming oil rigs in the background.
Wending my way back towards the A9 through tiny hamlets like Balintore, Cadboll and Portmahomack, then the sizeable town of Tain, famous for whisky production, it was time to head for Dornoch, for my first night’s stop. Good to see a new artisan chocolate producer here since my last visit, so a hot chocolate was a must before a stroll around the cathedral and the steps that take you up to footpaths above this prettiest of Highland towns.
Unable to sit still for long, and with light ’til 8pm at this particular time of year, I took the car out again and followed my nose along the A949 that edges the Dornoch Firth, through Spinningdale and on to Bonar Bridge, turning right here to take the rising road to Loch Migdale – a new loch for me.
Next morning dawned bright, and after a quick jog on the ‘Royal’ golf course I got back on the road. First stop, Dunrobin Castle and Gardens – you can take a train here on the way to Thurso – for a quick look at the ramparts and the old cannons standing watch over the entrances.
There are few things I like more than a tiny harbour, and Helmsdale’s fits the bill. I was able to get the car right to the edge, next to bobbing sailboats and tiny fishing vessels. The ‘Emigrants Monument’ is here, too, a moving tribute to those who fled their homes in search of ‘freedom, hope and justice’.
I love this part of the A9, with its long straights, sweeping curves and tight, corkscrewing, rising hairpins all the way to Latheron, where I pick up the A99, the road to the ‘proper north’ of Wick and, eventually John o’ Groats – a ‘must-tick’ on any keen travellers list and the gateway to the majestic north coast.
More of that later…
Words and images by Chris at McKinlay Kidd, November 2017
Recently I was fortunate enough to visit a part of the country that although a little lesser known has a wealth of attractions to offer its visitors. The county of Caithness can be reached by train, car, or air, with regular direct flights to Wick airport from Edinburgh. After choosing the latter of these options, we hired a car and spent the next few days exploring this wonderful part of Scotland.
The coastline around this region offers stunning landscapes at every turn, from sandy beaches to staggering cliffs where wildlife watching is a must. At Duncansby Head you can admire views over the cliffs and sea stacks whilst listening to the echoes of thousands of seabirds on the rocky face below your feet calling as they confront the coastal winds against them. For me the stacks that hug the coastline here, emerging out from the waves below, are definitely the highlight and a well-deserved reward should you choose to walk by way of the coastal path from nearby John o’ Groats. The renowned John o’ Groats is a perfect spot for a bite to eat, to pick up a souvenir and take an obligatory photo by the iconic signpost before heading off to take in some of the rich local history that Caithness has to offer.
Historical and archaeological sites, including ancient cairns, brochs, standing stones and castles, can be found almost anywhere, with plenty still waiting to be explored. For something a bit more recent there is the Queen Mother’s Highland home, The Castle of Mey, that is a living time capsule, still visited regularly by Prince Charles and other members of the royal family.
Despite being somewhat of a history enthusiast, the most memorable moment of my trip was our visit to Dunnet Head. The most northerly point of mainland Britain, this isolated and striking peninsula offers breath-taking 360 degree views over to the Orkney Islands, and back over the mainland. Just a stone’s throw from here, along the clifftop away from the lighthouse and main viewpoint, we managed to see hundreds of puffins perched on the cliffs below. Anyone who knows me will be aware of my love of puffins, which I’ve had ever since my parents took me to Orkney as a child. After a few failed attempts to see them in the past (including on last year’s trip to Mull), to see so many somewhere I wouldn’t have previously have expected to was a real treat! We could have sat here for hours admiring these incredible birds whilst avoiding the crowds and bumpy boat journeys that some of the more well-known puffin hotspot tours require. As well as puffins, Dunnet Head’s dramatic cliffs are also home to thousands of other seabirds including guillemots and razorbills.
Caithness truly is a region of hidden gems waiting to be fully explored. Whether you’re an adventurer ready to brave the elements and visit forgotten brochs or you prefer taking in breath-taking scenery from the comfort of your car, you better get adding to that travel list!
I have known the Giant’s Causeway since I was a wee boy. We visited every summer during the school holidays and, like many, I was entranced by the stories of the warring Irish and Scottish Giants who created and destroyed it respectively.
My memory may be misleading but I seem to remember we would finish our trip with an ice cream down by the harbour at nearby Ballintoy or maybe a trip to the beach at White Park Bay – miles of sand with the occasional herd of cows for company.
When I was older we would attempt the crossing of Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, though I was never keen on such a precarious place.
In fact the whole of the “Causeway Coast” was the focus of many family holidays for us and I absolutely loved it.
Roll on some forty plus years and I found myself back there last week. Of course, there has been change. The Giant’s Causeway is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and draws thousands of visitors from all over the world. Some squeeze in a visit on day trips from Dublin – far too rushed to be anything I would ever advise! There are audio guides, a shuttle bus for the less able, toilets, park and ride etc. The focal point is the very impressive National Trust visitor centre, opened five years ago now, complete with shop, cafe and interpretation centre. The latter pleasingly gives equal emphasis to the two alternative stories of the creation of the Causeway: the geological version describing volcanoes and lava versus the mythological yet colourful tales of mighty beings. The centre is a clever design, single storey with a grass roof and pretty much hidden from the coastline itself – apparently aided by a complete lack of ninety-degree angles to draw the eye.
I admit I was worried that all this change would take away the magic of the place, the magic which captivated a small boy all those years ago. Instead I felt rather proud of my home country: people of all different nationalities were now discovering the magic for themselves. We continued our walk beyond the stones, away from many of the visitors, and onto the clifftops. From here I couldn’t help thinking that nature – or the Giants’ handiwork – hadn’t changed that much after all.
At McKinlay Kidd we love to get off the beaten track. We encourage our customers to do likewise by providing them with “Robert’s Recommendations” – our tips for things worth seeking out in an area. A couple of weeks ago, Robert and I spent the weekend in Perthshire, not far from the shores of Loch Tay. We decided to revisit an old favourite: the 25-mile drive along the single-track road into Glen Lyon. In our recommendations we proudly proclaim, “The further you go, the more rural solitude you’ll find.”
It was a bright and beautiful Saturday morning, the spring sun coaxing the last of the leaf buds into unfurling on the branches overhead. We anticipated meeting the occasional local vehicle running errands. We were not surprised to encounter – every now and then – energetic cyclists, adventurous motor-bikers, determined Munro-baggers and other visitors on exploratory missions like ourselves. Nevertheless, we’d been encouraged to read the description adorning the hotel information of Glen Lyon as Scotland’s “longest, loneliest, loveliest glen”.
It wouldn’t be difficult to find complete solitude, we envisaged, as we kept a keen eye out for red squirrels and listened to twittering birdsong, punctuated every now and then by the squawk and clapping wingbeats of a pheasant, startled by our presence on the virtually-empty road.
Just over halfway into the glen, we passed the tearoom, shop and post office at Bridge of Balgie, slowly awakening for the day ahead. Refreshment stop noted for our return. Here, a side road branches off towards Ben Lawers and the north side of Loch Tay, taking much of the touring traffic with it. We continued further into Glen Lyon, feeling the cares of the modern world slip away as we left most signs of civilisation behind us.
The view opened out, ringed with jagged mountain peaks, their looming presence beckoning us to continue. We caught a glimpse of Meggernie Castle, painted a brilliant white in blunt contrast to its dark past – this was once the home of Robert Campbell who led the Glencoe massacre. Here and there we spotted a fisherman, wading thigh-deep in the meandering River Lyon.
The twentieth century intruded in the curvaceous shape of the hydro-electric dam and power station at Cashlie. In the distance the brutal concrete slopes of 1950’s-built Lubreoch Dam loomed into view, stoutly holding back Loch Lyon. We’d get to the far dam, we thought, then park up and go for a stroll, just the two of us, soaking up the much-anticipated rural solitude.
Our car crested a small hill and revealed the full vista around the huge dam. The sun glinted off a hundred or so vehicles of all shapes and sizes. Colourful tents adorned the grassy slopes, while bony runners in numbered vests straggled along the trail. Cobalt-blue banners fluttered in the gentle breeze. Welcome to the Glen Lyon Ultra Marathon!
We hastily retreated to the by-now bustling Bridge of Balgie tearoom. Homemade soup and locally roasted coffee would fortify us to continue our search for rural solitude. On this particular morning, even in Scotland’s loneliest glen, it had proven to be as elusive as those pesky red squirrels…
When I’m exploring a new part of the world car hire is usually one of the first things I book so I know how I’m getting from A to B, especially outside main cities. So it was with some trepidation that I set off for Ireland last week on a car-free trip taking in Dublin, Galway and the wonderful Aran Islands. On arrival at Dublin Airport I was met by my friendly driver and whisked into the city centre via the impressive and rejuvenated Docklands area – the sheer number of cranes on the horizon and the number of high-tech firms who have moved in was a sign of a city on the move. I used Robert’s Recommendations, which are personally researched by our Founder and Director Robert Kidd and supplied to all McKinlay Kidd clients, to navigate my way around the Irish capital and made use of taxis, buses, trams and my favourite method of transport in a new city – walking. From St. Stephen’s Green to Trinity College to Dublin Castle I managed to get a real flavour of the city, discovered some quirky off-the-beaten-track attractions and sampled amazing food and great craic in the pubs of the city.
After far too short a visit it was time to move on to the west of Ireland and the excellent service from Iarnrod Eireann (Irish Rail) really let the train take the strain as it whisked me across the country from east to west in less than three hours with great views of the countryside of the Irish Midlands. The train comes in to the heart of Galway City at Eyre Square in the heart of the Latin Quarter, a fantastic warren of narrow cobblestone streets bursting with pubs that host trad music throughout the week as well as some of the best seafood restaurants I have ever eaten at. The hotel was located just a few minutes’ walk from the station and I spent the afternoon walking the path that runs along the fast-flowing River Corrib before sampling some local oysters, which luckily go very well with a pint of Guinness!
The highlight of the trip was the crossing to Inis Mór, the largest of the Aran Islands, accessed by bus from Galway City to the ferry port an hour to the west in the Connemara region then by a 45 minute ferry crossing. The landscape of this incredible island is marked by the distinctive limestone pavements that are also found in The Burren region on the mainland as well as the remoteness of the island’s location on the very edge of Europe – we took a ride in a jeep to the very western tip of the island with nothing out ahead of us but the Atlantic Ocean all the way to Newfoundland, an amazing thought! I would recommend staying at least a couple of nights to experience the island’s amazing Irish speaking culture and rugged scenery but unfortunately my trip was only for the day. I still managed to have a browse in the Aran Sweaters shop and enjoy a pint of Guinness before taking the evening ferry back to the mainland!
The following day it was a seamless journey back to Dublin on a spacious, brand new train to connect with my short flight back home to Scotland and without realising it I had become a car-free holiday convert! So next time you travel why not consider leaving the car and travelling by public transport as the locals do – you see your destination from a whole new perspective.
There are few more evocative British brands than Aston Martin, particularly ever since Sean Connery’s James Bond 007 was introduced to his gadget-laden DB5 in 1964’s Goldfinger. Modern Aston Martins carry on that tradition of handcrafted muscularity and unmistakable Britishness, and I was lucky enough recently to experience it first-hand on a spin in a gorgeous DB9 Volante, the very same car McKinlay Kidd clients are able to enjoy on our popular Aston Martin 007 Weekend holiday.
We were fortunate to have a bright, sunny day, so wrapped up warm, dropped the top and headed south for some quieter backroads around Glasgow. Nothing can prepare you for the awe-inspiring power of the 5.9-litre V12, and oh, that sound! Real hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck stuff. But the car was equally happy just pootling around, whispering through villages, the low-slung leather seats easily comfortable enough for a whole day on the road.
Now, if I only I could find the keys lying around somewhere…