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)

Walking in the steps of greatness

Last weekend I spent a wonderful day in St. Andrews, the town referred to the world over as ‘the home of golf’.

St. Andrews to me is a magical place, where the greats of the game have walked the famous links for generations.

My family name is Morris, and I have always believed – though so far have no evidence to support it – that Old Tom Morris, one of the forefathers of The Open Championship is my ancestor.

The magnificent golf museum, across the road from the clubhouse is a must for anyone interested in the history of the game. We had afternoon tea in the rooftop cafe which looks out over the Old Course and the links beyond. We watched groups of golfers having their picture taken on the famous Swilcan Bridge, before ‘hearing the roar of the crowd’ as they walked up the 18th fairway.

My late father was an enthusiastic golfer. What he lacked in talent he made up for in perseverance and spirit. The Open was a TV highlight in our household. He watched in awe every year as the swashbuckling, glamorous American players took the game to new heights. Jack Nicklaus was his hero. By the time I started to understand what it was all about Tom Watson was the man of the moment. You can’t share the same hero as your dad, so Tom Watson was mine.

Over the years we went to all the Open Championships that were hosted in Scotland. Carnoustie in Angus; Muirfield, in East Lothian, near Edinburgh; Turnberry and Troon on the Ayrshire Coast (where I was born and raised) and of course St. Andrews. Tom Watson won at all of them, apart from, sadly, St. Andrews. I kept cuttings of all his victories in a scrapbook which later ended up in a suitcase in my parent’s attic.

Many years later in 2009, my sister and I were selling the family home and I found the scrapbook in the suitcase, slightly dusty but still intact. Tom had made something of a miraculous comeback that year, nearly winning The Open again at Turnberry 26 years after his last victory, but in the end it was not to be. Prompted by my find, I decided to send an email to his management company passing on my commiserations and mentioned that I had just found the old scrapbook. To my amazement I received an email back thanking me for my kind words and asking if I would like to meet Tom at St. Andrews the following July, as he was keen to see my ‘work’

We met at the clubhouse on the eve of the tournament – in fact he called himself in the morning to confirm a time – We chatted about his career, his Scottish ancestry, my imagined connection to old Tom Morris, and what a wonderful place he thought Scotland and its people were. I gave him the scrapbook which he seemed touched by.

They say you should never meet your heroes, as they always disappoint. Not if your hero is Tom Watson and not if the meeting place is the ‘home of golf ‘.

By Julie @ McKinlay Kidd

(Featured photo: St Andrews Golf Course)

Lewis and Harris Food Trail

Last week I ventured to the isles of Harris and Lewis for the first time. I had a fab time exploring all the sites. I also bought my first piece of Harris Tweed and even managed to sunbathe on Luskentyre Beach! I have to say that the best part of my trip was discovering all the quirky eateries on both islands – from croft shops to street food and much more. Here are my top places to check out!

1. Croft 36 – Based in the middle of Northton village, just three miles from the Leverburgh ferry on Harris, this cute croft shop sells local seafood, fresh fish, home baking and organic bread. A great place to stock up before heading to Luskentyre Beach for the day. The shop is self-service with an honesty box. Go early to avoid missing out!

2. Digby Chick – A firm favourite of McKinlay Kidd, I was eager to try this Stornoway restaurant out for myself. The décor itself is inspired by the islands with dramatic seascapes adorning the walls. As for the food – lemon and garlic monkfish and fresh fillet of hake were amongst the highlights – not forgetting raspberry cranachan shortbread to finish!

3. 40 North Foods – Your “go-to” place for delicious cured and home smoked meats as well as fresh pastries, breads and cakes made fresh every day. Situated at North Bragar on the Isle of Lewis, this is a great stop off on route to the Butt of Lewis – the most northerly point of the island!

4. Gourmet Street Food – Blink and you’ll miss it! This quirky food trailer takes up residence in Perceval Square in the town centre of Stornoway every Thu, Fri and Sat for a few hours. Favourite bites include their roll and scallop with chorizo and lemon dressing. They also serve scrumptious home bakes and ‘bean to cup’ coffee. Be warned – you may have to queue, but it is well worth the wait!

5. The Butty Bus – Situated at Leverburgh Harbour, this is a great stop off for a quick snack if heading down to North Uist. Delicious homemade soups as well as fish and chips are served in this unlikely looking establishment. With seating available for just 5 people, it’s pretty cosy. I’d suggest sitting outside (weather dependent!) and admiring the sea views.

Have you been inspired to see the Outer Hebrides differently?

By Zoë @ McKinlay Kidd

(Featured photo taken at Croft 36 on Harris)

Seeing Shetland Differently

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to visit Shetland for the first time for my familiarisation trip. Having never travelled as far north before, and being used to living in the bustling city centre of Glasgow, I was unsure of what to expect to say the least. Much to my surprise I absolutely loved my time on the islands and could even picture myself living there one day…..ok well maybe not just yet. Anyway, here are my top tips and interesting facts to help you
see Shetland differently…

1. Lighthouses – If you’re into lighthouses you’ll love Shetland which has no less than seven. My personal fav is Sumburgh Head which has a brand new visitor centre.

2. Scones! – Whether sweet or savoury – you’ll soon discover that folk here love this delicious treat. Just saying.

3. The White Wife – If you go that far north, do pay a visit to this white-washed figure, poised on the rugged coastline of Yell.

4. Shetland ponies – Enough said really. No matter where you drive here, you’ll be sure to spot some galloping around. Have your camera at the ready.

5. The ‘Reel’ deal – The Isle of Unst is now home to Shetland’s newest gin distillery – Shetland Reel Gin. Do sample some if you get the chance.

6. Be a local – If you want to get a feel for a place, check out the local newspaper. The Shetland Times comes out weekly and is full of info on what’s happening and where.

7. Prepare for all weathers – The Shetland Isles have their own micro climate, so expect to experience all four seasons in a day. Layers are your friend.

8. Embrace it! – Shetland is like no other place you will have ever experienced, and I can’t wait to return!

#SeeShetlandDifferently

By Zoë @ McKinlay Kidd

(Featured photo taken at Sumburgh Beach)