Rediscovering My Roots in Aberdeenshire

Our Operations Assistant Lisa recently spent some time retracing her childhood in Aberdeenshire – making some brand new memories along the way.

Having spent some of my childhood years growing up a few miles south of the city of Aberdeen it was great to visit the area older and wiser, fresh eyes combining with old recollections. My clearest memories involve being on the beach promenade, dipping my toes in the freezing North Sea, spotting jelly fish and running around at the fun fair.

The opportunity to visit the city and surrounding areas, 15 years later, was a trip down memory lane in so many ways.  Walking through the granite streets as an adult, I pass St. Mark’s Church where nine-year-old me attended Girls Brigade. I can’t help but fondly reminisce as I stare at the grand building, sandwiched between His Majesty’s Theatre and Aberdeen Central Library in the heart of the city.

My trip to the city and shire was not just one down memory lane. Myself and my colleague Chris enjoyed a jam-packed three days discovering sights both old and new, driving along the spiralled back roads that connect the remote towns and villages.

One town I enjoyed in particular was Portsoy, 50 miles north-west of Aberdeen, tucked away along the Moray Firth coastline. It’s famous for marble, jewellery, fishing and whisky – some combination! We took a slow drive down the empty streets until we reached the town’s waterfront. The eeriness of the quiet streets filled me with a feeling of warm contentment. Although my visit took place in mid-November, I could only imagine how busy the place must be during the “warmer months”. However as a woman who has lived on the edge of the North East coast, I find being next to the sea in winter a heart-warming – if slightly chilling – experience!

Our visit to Portsoy was short but very sweet! A brisk stomp on top of the harbour wall was all I could muster before having to sprint for shelter and warmth. The harbour was deserted, with only the noise of squawking sea birds and the waves crashing, which made this experience even more special for me. The sight of the little colourful fishing boats, set against the back drop of the grey village made for a lovely moment.  Definitely just one of Aberdeenshire’s charming places to visit.

As we drove away from Portsoy, I was already making plans to return to the Moray Coast – perhaps in slightly warmer weather… Having visited the area for the first time in so many years, I am filled with so much inspiration for how to create the perfect holiday to this beautiful and fascinating part of Scotland.

McKinlay Kidd are now offering a number of small group guided rail tours. 

Our Edinburgh & Speyside Whisky Guided Rail Tour’ includes the chance to visit the charming coastal village of Portsoy. Get in touch for more information!

North Wales – Travelling Through Space and Time?

It is a bright November day, the sky is blue, and the air is crisp – the perfect weather for my first trip to North Wales! We were spellbound by the drive through Snowdonia National Park, amazed by the green hills and deep valleys that seemed never-ending.  Now though, we have just parked in Betws-y-Coed, and are walking towards the river.

We are pleased to stretch our legs in this small village nestled deep in the mountains. Betws-y-Coed: the name itself makes me eager to learn more about Wales, its language and its culture. As we stroll along, we can hear water burbling – our destination is within reach. Picking up the pace, we reach a bridge. Below us, the white water of the river cascades under our feet, while in front of us charming stone houses host welcoming cafes, B&Bs and shops…what a stunning view!

As we continue through the countryside on our way to our next destination, the everchanging landscape brings back memories of my previous Irish road-trip, of weekends in the Highlands of Scotland and of my childhood holidays in the south of England. I am stunned: how can this small place pack in so much contrasting scenery?

At dusk we reach Portmeirion, where we will spend the night. I had seen pictures of this extraordinary place but experiencing it for myself is something else. We are walking down the colourful streets of what looks and feels like a coastal Italian village – even the air is warmer, although perhaps this is a coincidence! As the night falls and the bright colours start to fade, we look forward to the morning when we will see the sun rising over Portmeirion…

By contrast, the clouds are low in the sky when we reach Conwy. We enter the town walking through an opening in the massive stone walls of the fortress and, just like that, we have been transported back to medieval times.

The imposing Conwy Castle

We meander the paved streets filled with local shops and reach the sea front to have a look at the smallest house in Great Britain – a direct contrast to the imposing castle. We can’t help but take some time to appreciate the spectacular panorama of the countryside, Snowdonia, the river Conwy, and, in the distance, our next stop: Llandudno.

Leaving the 13th century behind us, we approach Llandudno. The clouds have lifted and the seaside resort welcomes us instantly with its wide streets, long seafront promenade and large white Victorian buildings. Unfortunately, we don’t have enough time to take the famous Great Orme tram – that will need to wait until next time!

On the drive back to Scotland, we try to recollect all the places we visited, everything we did and saw in North Wales, and then it hits me: Did I really witness so many different landscapes, architectural styles and historic periods in just 48 hours? This must be what time travel feels like!

We are now back in Scotland, but the sparkle has not left my eyes as I nibble the last of the Welsh cakes I brought back from the trip. I am already itching to go back to Wales, but even more than that, I can’t wait to help organise holidays for others to take the time to discover and enjoy this wonderful part of Britain.

McKinlay Kidd are offering a brand new selection of holidays to Wales in 2019, including castles, steam trains and garden visits. To book your holiday, just get in  touch with our award-winning team, who will be delighted to tailor-make your perfect trip!

A Slice of Paradise in Shetland

Having spent the majority of my adult life living in a city I found Shetland to be one of the most spectacular places I have ever visited. The shockingly beautiful and dramatic scenery really caught me by surprise and I must say that one of the highlights of my trip was St. Ninian’s Isle. I loved the contrast of a golden sandy tombolo beach followed by high jagged cliffs leading into the ocean.

After a day of exploring the north of the Shetland mainland we decided to make our way south while the weather and daylight were still on our side. As we were driving through the tiny roads of Bigton we turned a corner and all of a sudden saw this stunning view appear out of nowhere in front of us. We parked the car and made our way down to the beach. As we walked across it was amazing not only how green the water was but also how on either side of the tombolo the colours looked completely different. We continued across the beach and up the little the hill to reveal a sheer drop on the far side. One minute we could have been on a tropical beach and the next we were watching the waves crash against the jagged cliffs: it felt like we were at the edge of the world. We spent a while exploring the area whilst soaking up the fresh, salty air and enjoying the peace and quiet of our remote surroundings.

St. Ninians Isle, Shetland

Shetland in general seems to have an amazing relaxing quality about it. For my entire time there I was able to unwind and let the stresses of day to day life simply melt away. It’s a wonderful feeling to have brought home from this trip.

Words and Images from Daniela @ McKinlay Kidd.

Daniela explore Orkney and Shetland on a recent trip to get to know the island – our brand-new Complete Orkney & Shetland holiday can help you do the same thing. Get in touch and we will be delighted to arrange your Scottish island holiday. 

A Journey along Scotland’s North Coast

On a chilly April morning, I woke up bright and early to explore a small slice of Scotland’s north coast. I must admit that I approached my trip to Easter Ross and Wester Ross with excitement but also some trepidation. Spring was running extremely late in Scotland with the recent snow and heavy rain, and I was hoping I wouldn’t miss any of the dramatic landscape as a result!

Our first stop was the village of Cromarty, just 40 minutes from Inverness, but en route we decided to stop at Chanonry Point between Fortrose and Rosemarkie on the Black Isle, as the weather was in our favour. This is widely regarded as one of the best and most reliable places to see bottlenose dolphins and seals playing in the Moray Firth. Sadly I wasn’t lucky enough to spot them this time but the small secluded beach and picturesque lighthouse made for a lovely stopping point.

Our arrival in Cromarty was captivating; I hadn’t expected the sight of the ‘oil rig graveyard’ across the Cromarty Firth. Rigs that were active in the 70s – when off shore oil drilling was at its most profitable – now lie dormant, waiting patiently for the industry to take a lucrative turn again. The result is a haunting yet beautiful view. Cromarty too was full of surprises – what I originally saw as a sleepy, friendly village in fact has a vibrant underbelly, with dozens of cultural events each year including a film festival.

Cromarty Oil Rigs

We moved on to our next stop on the west coast, enjoying the change in scenery from flat yellow meadows to the renowned dramatic and rugged terrain of Scotland’s western highlands. Coinciding with the first real sunshine of Scotland’s spring, we were blessed with clear blue skies and the sight of glittering granite cliffs and snow-capped mountains on the horizon.

We headed for Ullapool, a cheerful seaside town with a lot of character and activity despite its remote location. Ullapool’s hardworking residents have transformed it into a hub of culture – the town hosts a number of music and book festivals annually alongside frequent art exhibitions. Seeing the snowy isle of Lewis in the distance from the harbour was a highlight of the day for me, and there is good walking to be had nearby for those wishing to stretch their legs. We had a little spare time before dinner and so visited the Corrieshalloch Gorge on the River-Droma – a truly impressive sight, despite my fear of heights!

The last stop on our particular run of the North Coast 500 was Shieldaig and Loch Torridon. A warm bowl of seafood chowder in the Shieldaig’s acclaimed fish restaurant warmed my bones on this chilly afternoon as the sun continued to shine. Our passing Poolewe and the Applecross Peninsula provided a first for me– a sighting of a wild mountain goat! He and his mates considered us carefully before trotting off – a friendly encounter that concluded my trip off very nicely before the drive back to Glasgow. As ever always with touring trips, I was left wanting more – next time I will definitely allow time in Skye or Glen Coe before returning home.

I came away from my trip in awe of the beauty of Scotland’s North Coast. We may only have visited one part of this iconic road trip, but I’m very lucky because at McKinlay Kidd, I have the opportunity to help our customers fall in love with it every day! One thing is for sure; I will be back to experience the rest very soon.

Words and Images from Caoimhe @ McKinlay Kidd 

Why not take a road trip like Caoimhe’s and discover Scotland’s North Coast? We have a number of different holiday options, or we can tailor-make  your perfect Scottish driving holiday. 

Smile. You’re at Portmeirion.

“You’ll either love it or hate it.”

That was the advice of a relative when I told him we were heading to Portmeirion for an overnight stay and a bit of McKinlay Kidd exploration of this corner of Wales. My main knowledge of the name related to the pottery. A large bowl delicately painted with primroses, a wedding gift from many years ago, sits collecting sea glass and wine corks on our window ledge. It’s too striking and pretty to give away but not quite enough to my taste to spark a larger collection. With this in mind, I imagined its place of origin to be rather quintessentially British – or more precisely Welsh, conjuring up images of bustling women in frilly pinnies serving cream teas. “It’s like Sorrento only in Wales,” continued the relative, “so it’s a bit odd.”

Portmeirion is also famous as the location for the 1960s drama The Prisoner. This was before my time, so did not add much to my expectations, other than making me think it would be a rather remote and cut-off location, perhaps even a bit spooky. Other friends who live not far away in Chester had urged us to visit. “It’s a classic McKinlay Kidd place,” they said, “We know how much you love quirky. Just be prepared to be a little forgiving – it’s not five star luxury all the way – there are a few rough edges.” After so many mixed messages, there was only one thing for it – we had to visit and experience it first-hand.

William Clough-Ellis dedicated most of his life to the design and build of Portmeirion from 1925 to 1976. Born in 1883, he had a dream from an early age to create a lasting legacy: a model village in a gorgeous location, to prove that architecture could enhance rather than destroy natural beauty. A man after my own heart, he firmly believed in the importance of tourism. After years of searching for the ideal spot, he finally acquired this corner of a Snowdonian peninsula. His first move was to bestow the present-day name and convert the existing dilapidated mansion into a hotel to provide ongoing income for further development. The Amalfi Coast genuinely was his inspiration, though more specifically Portofino.

We arrived in early afternoon, turning off the main road and up a long and leafy lane. It was late August, but a rather overcast and drizzly day. The village is a mecca for day-trippers by the coachload, and it did indeed have a veneer of overt tourism. We were staying overnight at the hotel, so were allowed to bring our car inside the entrance arch, navigating carefully through the ambling hordes of visitors. Unsure of our bearings, we parked up at the first opportunity – later needing to move the car to its rightful reserved spot down by the shorefront at the hotel.

The pastel colours of the Portmeirion hotel

We headed off down the cobbled street. Already I was feeling a little overwhelmed and not sure which way to turn – there was so much to take in. Even in dreary weather, the pastel colours lifted our spirits. Every building had an interesting shape and elaborate decoration. In between, careful planting of poplars, geraniums and other bright specimens did create a Mediterranean feel, further enhanced by ornamental ponds, niches, mosaics and decorative stonework. Even in mid-afternoon, the place absorbed its many visitors well – shops, cafes, restaurants and the little train that leads you up the woodland path accounted for a fair share, creating space to roam between the buildings and around the hillside to the coast. The situation on a tidal estuary is captivating, the wide expanse of sands and water inlets further adding to the feeling of space and openness, reflecting even the haziest of light to brighten a dreary day.

I spent the rest of the afternoon just wandering around the village in child-like wonder, trying in vain to capture the feeling in snaps on my phone – today’s cutting-edge tech fails to do justice to either the intricate details or the overall frisson of Portmeirion.  Gradually the bustle subsided, handing the village back to those lucky enough to be staying overnight – either at the hotel or in one of the many cottages and villas dotted throughout. As night fell, so did tranquillity. Lights softly sparkled, subduing the pastel tones further. The tide rushed in, devouring the sand, leaving one feeling cut-off, but in a cosy rather than scary way.

Portmeririon's Mediterranean-style buildings

It’s true that some may find Portmeirion a touch artificial and out-of-place. It’s true that not everything is perfect – it is run by a charitable trust and ongoing upkeep is never-ending. But for me, it had a very genuine atmosphere. I found the many local people who work there to be nothing but passionate about the place. I feel I only scratched the surface when exploring – there is an intriguing story at every turn. Clough-Ellis was a magpie collector, gathering up antiques and artefacts, transporting them to Portmeirion and installing them – from cannons along the battlements and rows of lucky cats above the hotel fireplace to a whole 17th-century barrel-vaulted ceiling, now the roof of the Town Hall building. But it’s more than the history, more than the realisation of a creative vision. It impacted me within moments of arriving, even on a grey day and I couldn’t stop throughout our stay.

If anyone in future asks me what Portmeirion is really like, and whether they should visit, my answer is simple: “Just go. It will make you smile.”

Words and images by Heather@ McKinlay Kidd.

McKinlay Kidd offer a stay in Portmeirion as part of our Best of Britain and Ireland’ holiday – a 15-night odyssey covering the best of the UK and Ireland. As always, a stay in Portmeirion can also be included in a tailor-made trip – just get in touch and we will be delighted to help.

 

Wild Encounters in the Cairngorms National Park

Being brought up in a small village in the heart of the Northern Irish countryside means I have many fond memories from my childhood that feature local wildlife. Walks at dusk along the country lanes to spot bats with my dad were common, while foxes and grey squirrels were frequent visitors to my grandparents’ garden.

For these reasons and more, I was delighted recently to have the chance to spend a weekend getting up close to the wildlife of the Cairngorms National Park – the largest national park in the UK. Spanning over 4500km, there are enough activities to last a lifetime – unfortunately, we had just one weekend to do as much as possible! I felt a sense of excitement building as I found myself surrounded by towering peaks and emerald forestry on our drive into the Highlands. Although I love living in a vibrant city like Glasgow, it is true what they say – you can take the girl out of the countryside, but you can’t take the countryside out of the girl!

Our wildlife sightings began early into the trip, as we scaled the mighty Cairn Gorm Mountain on the railway funicular. As I was gazing out of the window with the landscape opening up around me, I noticed a flash of movement from the corner of my eye. A young deer was scampering down the slope! I always find it so thrilling to see deer in the wild – little did I know that this was just the beginning of my day’s sightings.

After a quick bite to eat and a wander around the village of Carrbridge, we were ready to explore a small section of the national park on foot. Our choice for the day was Loch an Eilein. One of the quieter lochs in the Cairngorms, Loch an Eilein is unique due to the small island sitting off the shore, featuring the ruins of a crumbling castle. Before our walk even began, I was greeted with an unforgettable sight– a trio of red squirrels in their natural habitat. Each was happily munching on some nuts and completely unbothered by our presence as we furiously snapped some photos – unsurprising really as this encounter took place in the car park! This was the first time I had ever seen a red squirrel, aside from a fleeting glimpse while driving on the Isle of Arran. We didn’t see any more during our walk, but as we strolled through dense forestry on the loch-side in bright sunshine, I was sure they were around somewhere.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

That evening was undoubtedly the highlight of our trip; we had booked in to spend a few hours in a purpose-built wildlife hide, nestled deep in the Speyside area. Once greeted by our informative and friendly guide, we got comfortable in the cosy room but remained alert, keeping a keen eye out for any signs of life. Luckily, we didn’t need to wait long. A tiny field mouse scrambled up the rocks, nibbling on the various treats that were left out by our guide.

But this was only the beginning. Around twenty minutes into the experience, a young badger cub sniffed his way into the clearing, and began feasting on the seeds directly in front of the windows. Slowly, he was followed by not one, but three other young cubs from the same sett! We sat in silence, watching in awe as they interacted and came into what seemed to be touching distance.

The star of the night however, had not yet emerged. We were told in advance that the pine marten had not been spotted in around a week, so we would be lucky if we caught a glimpse of one that night. Fortunately, the odds were in our favour and a young male appeared while the four badgers were still sniffing around! We were spellbound as we watched him climb and jump around a tree, in particular enjoying the peanut butter. At one point there was a strong wind which scattered all of the animals, which we thought had ended our encounter, but we were still delighted with what we had seen.

Pine Marten

But luck was to strike once more – not only did each badger cub come back, but so did the young pine marten. The wildlife hide seared itself on my memory as an evening I would never forget. One of the only creatures I didn’t spot in the Cairngorms is the incredibly rare wildcat – perhaps next time!

Words and images by Emma @ McKinlay Kidd. 

The Cairngorms National Park is undoubtedly a haven for those who love nature and wildlife. Fortunately, McKinlay Kidd offer a specific wildlife holiday to allow you to have these experiences for yourself – or you can tailor-make any of our other holidays to include some wildlife watching activities.

The Cotswolds – Quintessentially English

Although I was born and raised in Northern Scotland, my mum is from the south of England and this has always been a very important part of my family heritage. When I think of England, it is the small towns and villages of the south that are immediately conjured up in my imagination– an idyllic scene of sitting outside a 15th century pub on a long summer evening, enjoying a jug of fruity Pimms as a cricket match plays out in the background on a village green.

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to revisit the Cotswolds, well known worldwide for its rolling countryside and pretty chocolate-box villages. The Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty covers almost 800 square miles across five English counties and stretches between the historic cities of Oxford, Cheltenham and Bath – all of which are certainly worth a visit in their own right. I was based in beautiful Bath staying in a newly renovated Georgian guest house in the centre of town and spent my first day exploring the city with extreme fascination, taking in the Roman Baths, the Abbey and a walking tour that focused on one of my favourite English authors -Jane Austen – and her connections to the city. Following a delicious dinner in a fantastic bistro on the historic Pulteney Bridge, I returned to my guest house with a smile and sank into the comfortable bed waiting in my room.

The following morning, I was collected by a private driver guide and within minutes I was out of the city and heading deep into the tranquil Cotswolds. Of course, as one of England’s best-known regions, there is no doubt that some areas of the Cotswolds are very busy with tourists. Plus, proximity to London does mean it attracts numerous coach tourists and day-trippers.

For this reason, I would always recommend going out for the day with a local guide as I did, to help you really get under the skin of the destination and provide local knowledge and tips you could never discover alone. My guide Jules explained the patchwork history of the Cotswolds – how the region was key to the foundation of England itself, the story of the development of its distinct culture and even the rise of the wool industry, which was so important for the people of the area. Combined with the backdrop of a beautiful drive through the countryside, this really was a day to remember. We passed villages constructed from that traditional honey-coloured Cotswold stone and enjoyed a visit to an ancient abbey, tea at the oldest hotel in England and a traditional ploughmans lunch in an atmospheric pub. The English pub, especially in rural areas, is so much more than just a place to eat and drink. It also acts as a social hub and focal point for the community. So if you would like to meet the locals and really get a good understanding of the destination, just head to the local hostelry! I have to say that after this trip, I think the English ‘do’ pubs better than anyone else in the world (sorry, Ireland!).

As we drove back to Bath, I reflected on my fascinating and enjoyable day learning more about where my family came from. I decided I would return as often as possible to keep exploring this most beautiful and interesting of regions, so fundamentally English in its character, culture and charm.

Words and images from Tom @ McKinlay Kidd 

If you would like to experience the charms of the Cotswolds for yourself, our team would be delighted to tailor-make your perfect holiday. 

Falling in Love with the Isle of Skye

Somewhere along the Scottish coast

An emerald island lies

So I will steer my sailing boat

Unto the Isle of Skye”

[Andrew Peterson]

I take a glance in the rear view mirror, and can see Glasgow slowly disappearing as we drive north. The weather may have been dreich (dreary) when we left the city, but I can already see the clouds lifting as we inch closer to our destination. I turn the music up, and smile – I am on my way to the Isle of Skye for the very first time.

The road bends along the shore of the magnificent Loch Lomond and through the spectacular valley of Glencoe. I like this drive – it feels like the narrower the road gets, the more spectacular the views become; I feel rewarded for driving there. What I don’t know yet is that this feeling of wonder won’t leave me for the next three days.

One of our first destinations is the Old Man of Storr. I had seen pictures of this iconic location in guide books and all over the Internet for years. I was worried of being disappointed with the reality of the landscape, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. The beauty and unique atmosphere of the place make it a must-see attraction and gives you infinite photo opportunities.

Old Man of Storr, Isle of Skye
My view of the Old Man of Storr

Back on the road again, I cannot remember the last time I was so astounded by a drive. The scenery surprises me at every corner, ever-changing from flat and grassy land to rocky jagged mountains, secluded inlets to expansive sea views, bustling towns to tranquil glens. On each narrow winding road, we are constantly on the lookout for parking places to stop and take pictures. I soon discover that photos can’t quite do the beauty justice, so, I decide to stop looking through the lens of my camera and focus on the moment – once again, I cannot stop smiling. A few more “wows” and we hop back into the car – until we next cannot resist stopping again, of course.

In the evening on our way back from the famous Fairy Pools, the midges have come out but the sky is still too bright to call it a day, so we walk to a local pub. When we open the door, we are welcomed by delightful live music – a local Cèilidh band is playing! The crowd is so energetic that we can barely see the musicians- tables have been pushed to the side and everyone is dancing.

The sun rises so early in this season that the sky is already bright as we wake up the next day. Today, we decide to hike up Blà Bheinn, one of Skye’s twelve Munros. Here again, the landscape constantly changes as we hike up. Slowly but surely, the dense vegetation gives way to a rockier scramble, and the view reveals itself as we reach higher ground.

It is nearly lunch time when we reach the summit. Our legs feel heavy after the strenuous ascent, but somehow we cannot stop walking – the view in every direction is spectacular. We want to see as much as we can, so we continue walking along a narrow ridge to reach a second summit.  Eventually we decide to drop our bags, choosing some rocks to be our lofty thrones, victorious after a fierce hike. We sit in silence, contemplating the horizon. The Cuillin Mountains are visible below the clouds and in one direction we can see the Isle of Rum. This is a hike that I will not forget in a hurry.

Bla Bheinn, Isle of Skye
The panorama from the the ascent of Bla Bheinn

Sadly, the time eventually comes for us to say goodbye to this remarkable island. As we drive away, I look in the rear view mirror one more time. However, I know that I am not really leaving the Isle of Skye today, because every day at McKinlay Kidd we travel back there – virtually – as our customers travel to ensure that your experience on this island is incredible, and that like me, a smile does not leave your face for the duration of your stay.

Words and images from Helene @ McKinlay Kidd.

If you would like to experience the spectacular Isle of Skye – perhaps with a little less walking! – then our West Highland Line to Skye, West Coast Whisky Islands or Skye & Hebrides Fly-Drive holidays may fit the bill. Alternatively, we would be delighted to tailor-make your unforgettable trip.

 

Discovering Mackintosh: An Exploration of Glasgow

As someone who has lived in Glasgow for less than a year, there are so many activities and places that I am still exploring every day. If there is one thing I have noticed time and time again, it is the influence of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, one of Glasgow’s – and indeed Scotland’s – most daring, innovative and influential creative figures.

Recently there has been another tragic fire in Mackintosh’s School of Art, meaning this particular site will not be accessible for some time. However, as 2018 marks the 150th anniversary of his birth, there are spaces all over Glasgow dedicated to Mackintosh and his life’s work. I decided that this – combined with an opportune visit from my art-loving parents – created the perfect occasion to begin my journey discovering the legacy of this fascinating man.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh: Making the Glasgow Style (29th March – 14th August 2018)

One of the many exhibits in Kelvingrove Museum

This temporary exhibition offered the perfect first step in my Mackintosh education. I found myself in the spectacular surroundings of Kelvingrove Museum, marvelling at over 250 items – some never before seen in public–from both Mackintosh and other influential designers of the time.

The exhibition is surprisingly interactive – one of my personal highlights is the 7-minute video that explores Glasgow with cameras and drones, covering both the exterior and interior design of many of Mackintosh’s most famous works and those he inspired. Included in this footage was – to my delight – the famous Hatrack building – also known as McKinlay Kidd’s new office!

 

Mackintosh at the Willow

Mackintosh at the Willow
The interior of Mackintosh at the Willow

A long beloved Glasgow institution, 217 Sauchiehall Street is the site of Mackintosh’s original tearooms, unique in the fact that Mackintosh not only designed the interior, but the exterior of the building.

Willow china
The pretty blue china is perfectly placed on each table

The refurbished tearooms have only been open for a few weeks and are not entirely complete, but the experience of dining there is already superb. I took my parents for a mid-afternoon snack and we were impressed with the attention to detail. The devotion to Mackintosh’s original work is clear, from the style of the chairs to the light fixtures, the stained glass balcony to the blue Willow china. There is also a fabulous gift shop that enables you to bring some of the tearoom’s design into your own home. Not to mention the delicious scones – an absolute must after a long day shopping or sightseeing in Glasgow city centre!

 

House for an Art Lover

The Dining Room at House for an Art Lover
The Dining Room at House for an Art Lover

It is actually due to McKinlay Kidd that I was fortunate enough to attend House for An Art Lover after hours, as we recently celebrated our 15th birthday as a company in the lavish dining and music rooms.

Although not constructed until 1989, the plans for House for An Art Lover were created by Mackintosh in 1901 and the building really is a testament to his enigmatic artistic vision.  The décor and the surroundings of Bellahouston Park foster a special ambiance.

 

Mackintosh House

The Exterior of Mackintosh House

One of the most unique art installations in the city, Mackintosh House is a full-scale replica of the house where Charles and his wife Margaret lived, adjacent to the Hunterian Museum in Glasgow’s West End.

By the time I visited the house, I was aware of the signs of a tell-tale Mackintosh masterpiece, meaning I could appreciate the intricate detail of each room. His use of light, for example– his designs always managed to make a room as bright and light as possible. From the coat rack to the fireplaces and writing bureaus, the Mackintosh belief that every element of the interior had to work in perfect harmony is clear.

 

No matter where I went, one fundamental fact remained – the sheer detail involved in Mackintosh’s work is extraordinary. Down to even the letterheads for the Glasgow School of Art, Mackintosh would clearly eat, sleep and breathe his work, unable to rest as he was designing another masterpiece.

Interestingly, something that really spoke to me as I explored the city was the profound impact that Mackintosh’s wife, Margaret, had not only on the Glasgow style, but on the design so synonymous with the Mackintosh name. She designed the menus for Miss Cranston’s tearooms, the decorative panels for the music room in House for An Art Lover and indeed was responsible for much of the interior of Mackintosh House. While the focus this year is on her husband, it is clear that Margaret is worthy of equal accolade.

One thing is certain; I am now walking the streets of Glasgow with a greater appreciation for the man who left an indelible mark on the city with his creative vision.

Words and images by Emma @ McKinlay Kidd 

If you would like to discover more about Mackintosh’s legacy in Scotland, we would be delighted to tailor-make your perfect holiday.

15 Years of McKinlay Kidd: Anniversary Interview

Recently McKinlay Kidd celebrated a very significant milestone – our 15th anniversary of seeking out locations, activities and accommodation that allow our customers to see Britain and Ireland differently. Our founders, Robert Kidd and Heather McKinlay, sat down to reflect on the journey so far.

Why did you decide to start McKinlay Kidd?

Robert – I’ve been asked this question a lot, and I give a different answer every time! It all traces back to when Heather and I first met, working for a large tour operator. By that point we had both been bitten by the travel bug – it really is the most exciting industry to be part of because you are selling unforgettable experiences to people. We always knew we wanted to run our own hospitality business and we had a really in-depth understanding of good tour operating practise. A redundancy package in 2003 gave us the opportunity to really go for it.

Heather – We always loved travelling and suggesting hidden gems and quirky places to go to our friends. The original idea was to help people experience Scotland differently, the way we have always loved to ourselves.

 

What have been your personal highlights of the last 15 years?

Heather – (Laughs) There have been far too many to mention! For me, the feeling when you discover somewhere great to stay is special. I’ll always remember a trip one February. First, we went to an incredibly remote part of Scotland called the Knoydart Peninsula, cut off from the main UK road network. We took a boat over with a walking guide and ended up scrambling 500m up in snow and ice before heading back to our cottage for the evening – only to find that it was freezing inside as well as outside! We ended up having a fantastic night around the fire and impromptu ceilidh with some other visitors but later I could hardly sleep at all as it was so bitter cold. Then – as a total contrast – we spent the next night at the luxurious Isle of Eriska, a five star hotel on a private island.  I’ll never forget unwinding – and thawing out – in a hot tub under the stars.

Robert – I love sending people to places we feel passionately about, empty beaches and little corners you’ve never heard of. We’ve also met some wonderful people over the years, both customers and business partners, who we now count as friends. But I suppose my personal highlight is the fact I am sending so many customers on holiday to Northern Ireland. As a child of the Troubles, having the opportunity to send people to my favourite parts of my beautiful home country is an amazing feeling – I still get a thrill every time we get a Northern Ireland booking.

 

How do you choose where to offer to customers?

Heather – We want people to get to places they may never have thought of before. When Robert suggested creating holidays to Shetland, I wasn’t at all convinced. Thank goodness he changed my mind – it has become one of our most beloved and popular destinations! So we always try to look at things a little differently.

Robert – When we first sent people to the Isle of Skye without cars, I was told we were crazy. But the reality was that people wanted to go! A huge part of choosing our destinations relies on finding people in the area who share our outlook and vision – a taxi driver who can become a private tour guide, for example. As a result, we have built very strong relationships with local business partners over the years.

 

What is your favourite destination that McKinlay Kidd offer?

Heather – It changes all the time!

Robert – Aside from my home country, I really love the West of Ireland. In general through, stick me on an island or an empty beach and I’ll be happy. Shetland is a personal favourite, the Scottish borders are also beautiful, Wales has a lot to offer…

Heather – You’ve just said everywhere is your favourite!

Robert –The list never ends! I suppose the best way to show our favourite destinations is actually through our new 15th anniversary holiday. Heather and I sat down with our Product Manager Chris for a few hours one day and brainstormed all of our favourite destinations and activities. We then drew these highlights together in a way that would make the trip the most enjoyable for our customers, and I have to say that I think we have succeeded.

Heather – I love places that are a bit out of the way. The Isle of Gigha in particular – my Dad is from that area and I remember writing a school project years ago about a trip to the island after a family holiday in Kintyre. Now we make a point of trying to go there once a year to sample their delicious seafood – Chris (one of McKinlay Kidd’s sales advisors) went recently and it has made us long to re-visit soon! Equally, though, I love going back to London. I grew up on the outskirts so I always get a thrill walking those familiar streets, no matter how busy.

 

What is the most important lesson you have learned in these 15 years of McKinlay Kidd?

Robert – The most important thing to us will always be our relationship with our customers. People on holiday want to have a great time, so we make sure we are with them every step of the way to offer help if it is needed. There will always be challenges – particularly from the weather in this part of the world – but we can always learn from the experience and change things for the future.

Heather – For me it is definitely to never stop trying new things. This is the foundation of the company – we weren’t following anyone else’s model when we started the business. The first time we really had to adapt was a few years in, when the economy was in a downturn. We made the decision to purchase a Jaguar E-Type to help promote our classic car trips – we had been renting until that point – and this was really successful for us the following year. We only kept the car for a couple of years, but it opened up possibilities for us. Now we offer holidays touring in a Tesla, for example.

Robert – We were the first company to do a lot of things; to offer classic car touring packages, whale-watching holidays to the Isle of Mull, to send people to three different islands on one holiday, to offer independent train touring in Scotland…the list goes on.

 

Finally, what are your plans for the next 15 years of McKinlay Kidd?

Heather – (Laughs) That’s a difficult question! The world is constantly changing – smartphones didn’t exist 15 years ago for example. I want to make sure we stay true to our values. We want to grow, but we never want to lose sight of our vision as a small company that offers real personalised service to every single customer. The more technology evolves, the more personal contact will leave other businesses – so this is more important to us than ever, as it sets us apart from the crowd.

Robert – I would say that I hope we aren’t that different in 15 years. We will offer different products, experiences and potentially some destinations outside the UK & Ireland, I don’t know. But like Heather, I want our values to remain the same, in terms of team dynamic and the services we offer. McKinlay Kidd is built on personal contact with our staff, so while technology will be helpful, people to people interaction will still be our main focus. I’m very happy with how things are, so in a way I don’t want things to change too much…though, of course, they probably will.