On The Road in an Aston Martin

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.

Aston Martin Inside with treatment

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…

Words and images by Chris @ McKinlay Kidd

Mull: an island of memories

A bewildered shaggy highland cow standing in the garden, peering through the glorious Scottish rain that was battering the cottage window: that was one of my main memories from a number of family holidays as a child to the beautiful Isle of Mull, just a short ferry ride off the west coast of Scotland. I was eager to go back here after so long, I had no idea what to expect, but as soon as the ferry set sail knew I was in for a special trip. Not so different to my childhood memories, only this time the cows were at the car window!

Mull is famed for its diverse wildlife and this is proven instantly with regular sightings of porpoises on the crossing to the island. Eagles, deer and seals are also common (if you know where to look!) not to mention the countless sheep and highland cows. Many inhabit the hidden beaches, tucked away just waiting to be found.  A variety of boat trips available give people the chance to whale-watch or visit the famous puffins. Unfortunately the weather and the season prevented me from these trips this time, but luckily there is still plenty to see back on dry land. Whether you are in a tour or driving yourself, a trip around Mull will not disappoint. With its dramatic scenery from vertical cliffs plummeting into the choppy sea below or white sandy beaches with calm blue waters, there is something worth seeing at every corner.  And there are a lot of corners: Mull is not an island for the faint-hearted driver. The winding single track roads, especially in the north west of the island offer breathtaking views from all angles, looking out onto the wild Isle of Ulva, down across the cliff faces or back towards Ben More, Mull’s very own Munro that towers above you as you drive along the base of this forbidding mountain.

Just a ten minute ferry crossing from the west of Mull you will find the tiny yet blissfully peaceful and idyllic Isle of Iona. This world famous pilgrimage sight for Christians hosts the tranquil Iona Abbey, full of ancient history and artefacts from when Saint Columba landed here in 563 AD. As well as a wealth of history and culture, Iona also has spectacular scenery looking out over the rocky west coast of Mull or the untouched beaches on the west coast overlooking the wild Atlantic.

If you’ve had enough of magnificent landscapes and endless wildlife spotting, the main settlement on the island, Tobermory, offers plenty of options to eat, drink and shop.

The colourful bay offers delicious fresh seafood, lively bars and a number of independent and quirky boutiques giving you the chance to find that one-off souvenir!

Mull produces many of its own products from chocolate to cheese and beer to whisky. My personal favourite, that also goes down a treat in the McKinlay Kidd office, is the delicious lemon melt shortbread from Island Bakery.

Mull and Iona both make for a unique and unforgettable trip in the Inner Hebrides, full of wildlife, dramatic scenery and rich in history. I am already looking forward to my next trip and eager to see those lovable puffins!

By Rhona @ McKinlay Kidd

(Featured photo taken on Mull)

South by Southwest: Hamish’s home from home

Given that I was brought up in the South West of Scotland, it seemed apt that my first visit to Ireland with McKinlay Kidd was to the South West of the Island to discover the Wild Atlantic WayCork and Kerry. The similarities were uncanny; rolling hills, lush green forests, rugged coastlines and long sandy beaches. Not forgetting of course, the warm and friendly locals.

Flying from Glasgow to Cork, a journey of around an hour and fifteen minutes, you get a wonderful view of the whole of Ireland. My approach was augmented by some wonderful autumnal sunshine which bounced off the Celtic Sea.

The Dingle Peninsula, one of the Gaeltacht areas of Ireland (where Irish is widely spoken), was my first stop. What struck me instantly was the slowing in the pace of life, everyone from locals to the tourists seemed to be going about their business in an unhurried fashion. A must see stop is the Inch Strand, a long sand spit backed by a dune system reaching into Dingle Bay. Popular with surfers as illustrated on my visit, I was rather wishing that I had brought my own wetsuit to go for a swim!

Next was the famous Ring of Kerry. I drove round the entirety of the 120 mile circular route which is one of the country’s most popular tourist trails.  As a Star Wars fan, I was hoping to have had the opportunity to take one of the boat trips from Portmagee to view the dramatic island monastery at Skellig Michael, but alas the weather thought otherwise. However, there are plenty of other options to enjoy the open views of the mountains, coast and islands of the area.

West Cork was my last destination, with the fishing village of Baltimore first on the list of places to see. En route to Baltimore, the section from Kenmare in Kerry to Glengarriff in Cork was one of the most spectacular I’ve ever had the pleasure of driving. Jaw dropping scenery is around every corner and the road scythes through the mountains via tunnels carved into the rock in the mid-nineteenth century during famine times.

Rock Tunnel Drive, Old Kenmare Road
Rock Tunnel Drive, Old Kenmare Road

Baltimore is the place to be if you want to see Wildlife in West Cork. Marine life is bountiful, with whales topping the bill, as well as seabirds which frequent the cliffs of Cape Clear Island, just a short boat journey from Baltimore.

Kinsale was my last stop in West Cork and Ireland. What a place to finish, despite my visit coinciding with the winding down of the tourist season, the town was buzzing. Unfortunately, I was a week late for the famous Kinsale Gourmet Festival, which celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2016. However, Kinsale is known as the “Gourmet Capital of Ireland”, meaning there is good food to be had all year round! My trip came to a wonderful end in a cosy bar, full of locals and visitors alike enjoying a pint of Guinness whilst listening to a local band playing traditional Irish Music.

The recurring theme of my visit to Ireland was the friendliness and generosity of the people I met. No matter where I went, I was greeted with a smile and an enquiry as to how I was enjoying my time in Ireland, with recommendations of what to do or see next. The genuine interest all my hosts had in my trip and their eagerness to show off their homeland was incredibly endearing. I can’t wait for my next visit!

Exploring ancient civilisations in Orkney

Last month I was in Orkney for the first time. I have never been that far north before. I flew from Glasgow to Kirkwall, the main town, instead of taking the ferry. The weather was gorgeous and we could see all the islands – turquoise water and empty lands…I was already loving it! As a non-driver, I want to share some recommendations of what to see and do. You don’t need a car to explore Orkney and see the main sites.

Kirkwall is a great base with very nice hotels in town, giving you the opportunity to walk everywhere. Go to the pub and try one the island’s famous whiskies – Highland Park or Scapa. Explore St. Magnus Cathedral, located on the main street. Known as the ‘Light of the North’, it is one of Orkney’s Viking splendours and definitely worth a visit. Staying in Kirkwall makes it also very easy to visit other islands. Did you know that Orkney has more than 70 of them? From Kirkwall ferry port you can go to all the northern isles, for example Shapinsay, Westray and Papa Westray.

If you have time, I advise going to the isle of Rousay for a day trip, taking the ferry from Tingwall. The visibility was so good that we could see all the other islands around us – even Westray! I discovered from the local guide that Rousay is called the Egypt of the North because of so many neolithic remains, such as Midhowe, with its broch and cairn.

No trip to Orkney is complete without at least a visit to Skara Brae and the Ring of Brodgar, both are listed as world heritage sites. At Skara Brae, you can imagine how ancient people were living… and also walk down to the nearby sandy beach. The Ring of Brodgar was for me a completely different experience. A circle of standing stones? I’ve never been interested in such sites, but as it’s one of the most famous and iconic symbols of Orkney’s prehistoric past, I thought it would be a shame not to see it. OK, I take back everything I said! It is a very impressive and spectacular structure!

A trip to Orkney is a truly remarkable experience, when you can feel the history and find something unique around every corner.

By Kim @ McKinlay Kidd

(Featured photo: St. Magnus Cathedral, Orkney)

On a nostalgia trip to the west of Ireland

As a child I spent a very memorable holiday in Connemara, in the west of Ireland. Although we had explored many parts of Ireland and Scotland before, I can still remember the first sight of the white sandy beaches near Roundstone, contrasting with the beautiful bleakness of the boglands, just a few miles inland.

It’s a part of Ireland I am always thrilled to return to. This year, for my birthday, we had the chance for another short visit. Just to add to the nostalgic theme, we drove there from Dublin in a car from the same year as my first visit- a 1974 MGB roadster.

The intervening period has of course seen enormous changes, both in the island of Ireland and in the cars we drive. The first challenge we met was trying to reach the motorway toll booth from the driver’s window – clearly cars are rather higher now than forty years ago. Mind you, there were no tolls in the seventies and certainly no roads worthy of charging for!

Once we reached Connemara, with its small roads sweeping over the dramatically beautiful flatlands between the lakes and mountains, our wee MG seemed right at home.

After an evening enjoying the craic in Clifden, we headed off to re-visit another place which made a big impression on me in 1974 – the memorial marking the landing site of Alcock & Brown’s first transatlantic flight. Years ago this was just a white beacon with some sketchy notices in the middle of a Connemara bog. This year, as part of the Wild Atlantic Way project, an impressive visitor experience has been developed. With boardwalks so you can explore the bogland, and a range of interpretation areas, the fascinating history of “Derrygimlagh” has been brought to life. Not only was this the site of the famous, though somewhat unscheduled landing, but it also marks the spot where Gugliemo Marconi established the first ever commercial transatlantic wireless station. This was an extensive complex, with massive condenser house, staff accommodation, even a social club.

Alcock and Brown certainly picked the right spot to touch down, meaning news of their tremendous feat could be rapidly broadcast. It is still hard to grasp that this one, pretty remote part of Ireland played a key role in two of the last century’s most important innovations – flight and communications.

It seemed a very appropriate place to visit in a classic car. A true nostalgia trip.

And, to round off the day, it was time to enjoy some open top motoring and find those sandy beaches again.

By Robert @ McKinlay Kidd

(Featured photo taken in Connemara)

Been there, done that, where to get the T-shirt?

During my time at McKinlay Kidd, I’ve been lucky enough to travel to some amazing places in Scotland, and indulge my love of empty beaches, wildlife (particularly Shetland ponies) and seafood. One thing for sure is that I also really, really love a good gift shop – I can’t resist bringing back trinkets from my travels for my friends and family, as well as the obligatory sweet treats for the McKinlay Kidd team of course!

Scotland still proudly promotes traditional crafting methods and celebrates original artwork and textiles. So, think beyond the cliché idea of Scottish souvenirs such as shortbread tins and bagpipe fridge magnets and take a look at my top gift shop recommendations.

Bonhoga Gallery, Shetland

This former barley mill at Weisdale has been converted to a gallery featuring contemporary visual arts and crafts. It boasts an extensive range of locally produced prints, textiles and cards in the gift shop. The mill also houses a café serving light lunches, so is well worth a visit. If you do find yourself in the area, stop off at Shetland Jewellery en route!

Ragamuffin, Isle of Skye

Situated on Armadale Pier in an idyllic location, Ragamuffin is home to the very best knitwear and original clothes. Beware though…this place is an Aladdin’s cave of treasures, so you may find yourself in here for a while. Don’t miss your ferry!

Rarebird, Isle of Lewis

If you journey to the Outer Hebrides, you’re sure to be spoilt for choice when it comes to buying Harris Tweed products. My top pick is Rarebird studio in Stornoway which combines a skilful blend of reassuring tradition and modern flair into each handmade Harris Tweed creation. To ensure its provenance each item carries the Rarebird Corncrake logo and Harris Tweed Orb label.

Iain Burnett Highland Chocolatier, Perthshire

For chocolate lovers, The Scottish Chocolate Centre is a must. The centre is located in Grandtully, just five miles from Aberfeldy, and is Home to the Highland Chocolatier, Iain Burnett himself, who is dedicated to chocolate and its origins. The centre also houses an enchanting, vintage style gift shop. Perfect for those last-minute purchases for family and don’t forget to but yourself a few of the centre’s award-winning dark velvet truffles to take home.

Isle of Mull Soap Co. Isle of Mull

Situated on colourful Tobermory’s Main Street, the Isle of Mull Soap Co. produces its natural soaps by hand using the traditional cold process method using the finest quality essential oils & botanicals. Psst….we hear their ‘Buzz Off’ soap is great for fighting off our wee midgie friends!

By Zoë @ McKinlay Kidd

(Featured photo taken outside Ragamuffin, Isle of Skye)

Dingle, Co Kerry – A music-lovers’ treat

While it’s true that the hotbed of Irish traditional music arguably lies further North in Co Clare, with its myriad week-long festivals and whole villages steeped in ‘trad’, Dingle in Co Kerry does a great job of providing visitors with an authentic music experience in some of the country’s finest pubs.

The entire spectrum of Irish trad is available here, from the gentle lilt and misty-eyed nostalgia of classic Irish balladry, to frenetic, virtuoso playing by some outstanding Co Kerry talent. Often on the same evening, in the same place.

Dingle Main Street is lined with really terrific pubs, many of which feature live music on any given evening, with chalkboards on the street displaying attractions forthcoming. Apart from the music, many of the pubs are worth a visit to catch a glimpse of the past; Foxy John’s is one of the most famous, and continues to operate as a hardware store and a pub. So, if you find yourself needing a new bradawl or some sharp sand, pop in here and enjoy a pint of Guinness at the same time.

Another famed pub is Dick Mack’s, a leather goods workshop on the one hand, and a place to enjoy some Irish hospitality and great craic on the other, while Curran’s Bar is the place to go if you fancy a new pair of Wellington boots, or to choose one of their range of porcelain figurines or from an array of flat caps.

O’Sullivan’s Courthouse on the Mall is renowned for presenting great Irish trad every night of the week, often in ‘open session’ form, where musicians are encouraged to turn up and join in. You’ll find everything here, from bodhrán to flute, fiddle to tin whistle and all points in-between.

One of the most popular spots is John Benny Moriarty’s on the seafront, a larger pub with plenty of space, though you might struggle to find a seat on busier evenings. Music here is just about as important as the craic, Guinness and whiskey, the proprietors being musicians themselves. Some of the finest talent around is to be found here every night, playing a wide repertoire to an appreciative crowd.

Kerry really does have it all: superb, secluded beaches, breath-taking scenery, magical driving routes, brilliant pubs and an array of musical talent to delight even the most discerning audience. Even those strict listeners from Co Clare!

By Chris @ McKinlay Kidd

(Featured photo taken in Dingle)

Nearby discoveries

As the ferry set off from Cairnryan in Scotland I felt a certain sense of trepidation and excitement about this venture. My destination was Belfast, a city only around 100 miles as the crow flies from my home in Glasgow, yet I had somehow managed to visit far-flung destinations such as Darwin in Australia’s Northern Territory, Ushuaia in Argentine Patagonia, Sapa in Northern Vietnam and Cape Maclear on Lake Malawi in Southern Africa before making the short voyage across the Irish Sea.

On disembarking I enjoyed an incredible week walking beautiful windswept coastal pathways, being blown away (literally!) by the myths and legends of the Giant’s Causeway, standing in awe of the country’s industrial past as symbolised by the new Titanic Centre in Belfast and, of course, sampling the food and drink that has made this part of the world so famous. We sampled incredible seafood on Carlingford Lough, steak and Guinness pie in Dublin and a particular favourite of mine was the classic Eggs Benedict with an Irish twist – soda bread instead of an English muffin!

What really stood out for me (apart from the delicious food!) was the friendliness of the people in Ireland, both north and south of the border, and their eagerness to show off all their beautiful island has to offer. I learnt about its culture, way of life and often turbulent history by staying at small, family-run places and getting a chance to really engage and interact with local people rather than being whisked from one bland chain hotel to another. I sampled the local cuisine and Irish whiskey by visiting the places where it is made and speaking to people who share the same passion for locally sourced, sustainable produce. I discovered a land changing quickly, which is keen to celebrate its past but also looking forward to new industries – be it tourism or film production.

This was an unforgettable trip and I am really looking forward to helping our clients see Ireland differently.

By Tom @ McKinlay Kidd

(Featured photo: The Antrim Coast)

Hamish uncovers some home truths in York

Before my recent weekend trip to York, I am ashamed to say that the only thing I thought I knew about it was that William Wallace sacked the city during his rampage into the North of England, as depicted in the film Braveheart (a film not known for its historical accuracy, but on this part, I was willing to trust it).

I soon discovered that I should have known better. Five minutes into a walking tour of the city with the Association of Volunteer Guides of York, our guide was describing the history of St Mary’s Abbey and happened to mention something about pesky Scots. “Aha”, I thought, here’s my chance to impress the group with my historical knowledge and proceeded to ask, “William Wallace being the peskiest of the lot I presume?” Inevitably, the answer came back that William Wallace came nowhere near the city and that it is pure Hollywood fiction. Curse you Mel Gibson!

Fortunately, this embarrassing faux pas did nothing to diminish my enjoyment of the rest of the excellent walking tour in which I learnt so much about the history of this fascinating city. Taking in 4th Century Roman fortifications, a medieval Abbey from which King Henry VIII stole stone to build his Kings Manor, the ancient city walls and the city’s oldest street “The Shambles”, amongst several other highlights.

Spring has finally sprung in the UK and I was treated to glorious sunshine over the course of the whole May weekend. This enhanced the total experience and revealed one particularly beautiful aspect.

Described as York’s jewel in the crown, the Minster really is an amazing sight. The first version was the size of a small house and built of wood, the current “modern” version is made of limestone and its central tower is large enough to fit the leaning tower of Pisa comfortably inside. However, as impressive as it is from the outside, the real treat is when you walk inside. Stained glass windows three storeys high glistened with the sun pouring through them and when combined with the resident organist practicing for that evening’s service, it made for quite a spiritual experience.

The great thing I found about York is that so many of its sights are within short walking distance of each other. It reminded me of Scotland’s capital city of Edinburgh in that way. On my last morning, with a 2.30pm cross country train back to Glasgow to catch, I climbed up Clifford’s Tower, which is an absolute must if you want the best 360° view of the city, followed by a couple of hours in the National Railway Museum, without even breaking a sweat.

On the food front, I have to say, the city mightily impressed me. Yorkshire is famous for its love of tea and this meant there is an abundance of excellent tearooms… which, of course, also means plenty of cake! When the sun goes down, the bustling Walmgate area has a number of excellent restaurants. I’d advise booking well in advance.

With my first recce trip to Northern England done, I am looking forward to helping McKinlay Kidd clients see this unique city differently in the months ahead.

By Hamish @ McKinlay Kidd

(Featured photo taken at York Minster)

Harris and Lewis – from south to north

In glorious early spring sunshine, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to drive the length of Harris and Lewis. An early morning, silk-smooth crossing from Lochmaddy on one of CalMac’s finest (where the on-board map shows just how circuitous a route the ferry is forced to take to avoid what seems like hundreds of islets and skerries in the Sound of Harris) got me to Leverburgh before breakfast, where the local sheep did their best to enforce their own brand of traffic-calming.

What traffic? As is often the case here, I had the road to myself for long stretches as it climbed and wound its way towards Tarbert, home of the newish Harris Distillery. This impressive facility is well worth a visit and is unusual in that the tasting is done before the tour. Make sure you have a designated driver! There’s also a fine café, where you can enjoy a bite in the company of the distillery staff.

Heading out of Tarbert, the road quickly steepens and climbs towards the almost imperceptible ‘border’ between Harris and Lewis (made up of one landmass, not two separate islands). I say ‘almost’ as the true border is represented by Loch Shiphoirt, fabulous views of which are presented from the highest point of the A859.

On Harris and Lewis you’re never too far away from a loch; some vast, others not much bigger than the average paddling-pool. The calm weather and sunshine today emphasises their beauty and integration within the landscape, as hillsides, clouds and blue skies reflect on the lochs’ ink-black surfaces, creating a disconcerting effect as the lines between water, land and sky become blurred and difficult to pick out.

The contrast between Harris and Lewis is stark; Harris seemingly more dramatic with its mountains, Lewis on the barren side with its sometimes lunar-like landscape.

Incidentally, the roads here are beautifully surfaced – and put the quality of the mainland’s routes to shame -dry and deserted, a real keen-driver’s delight. Roads I’d driven earlier in the year through snow and frost now had a prairie feel about them in places; golden scrub reflecting the sun’s rays as the black ribbon of Tarmac bucked and pitched across it.

Reaching Stornoway, I heard much chatter about the previous evening’s show of the Northern Lights and resolved to see them for myself. With sunset due at about 7.30pm, I made my way up to the island’s northernmost point at the Butt of Lewis. I was optimistic, too, as the sky began to take on a scarlet glow to the West.

The Butt of Lewis Lighthouse is a dramatic and intimidating presence, especially as I found myself alone at its base, just the whirr of the light, the crash of the Atlantic and the screech of countless seabirds for company. Peering over the edge, getting as close as I dare, the violence of the ocean is all too near, the screeching birds seeming to scoff at my apprehension. The sky continued to redden, sunset lasting for what seemed like an age, but the aurora had obviously decided to have the night off. This was really no disappointment, as seeing the Butt and the lighthouse in such amazing conditions was a real treat in itself.

By Chris @ McKinlay Kidd

(Featured photo: Lighthouse at the Butt of Lewis)