Back on the Road Again

McKinlay Kidd founder and director, Heather McKinlay, recently wrote a blog about how we shouldn’t see a domestic holiday as something to settle for, but rather as a first-choice getaway that can more than rival international destinations.

I have been incredibly fortunate to see a lot of Scotland over the last couple of years, but I must admit that in ‘normal’ circumstances, my longer holidays each year tend to take me abroad – road trips through various countries including Germany, Austria, Italy – plus a week in Las Vegas!

Given the current circumstances, my partner and I decided still to take a road trip, but make it a little closer to home. The North Coast 500 seemed to fit the bill perfectly – but how would it compare to our further-flung trips in the past?

Put simply, it was our best holiday yet.

We drove the route anti-clockwise – or east to west – and the contrasting scenery is utterly breath-taking throughout. Leave yourself a lot of time to complete each section of the route – I can guarantee you will be stopping frequently, simply to marvel at the landscape unfolding around you.

The weather was fantastic – warm, with the occasional day of dazzling sunshine that lit up the land we were travelling through. Even the rainy spells were enjoyable, creating thundering waterfalls that provided welcome stopping points and opportunity to stretch the legs amidst the driving.

Clashnessie Falls, Lairg, North Coast 500
Clashnessie Falls, Lairg

The roads were quiet – certainly much quieter than they would normally be in August. Wildlife-watching opportunities were in abundance – white-tailed eagles swooped overhead in Torridon; a curious seal popped out at the water’s edge near John O’Groats, content to watch us going about our business; and we were just in time in the season to catch delightful clown-faced puffins (my personal favourites) waddling around the cliffs at Dunnet Head.  

Puffins, Dunnet Head, North Coast 500
Puffins, Dunnet Head

The true highlight however was a day we spent walking in Torridon and Shieldaig, basking in glorious sunshine with the paths to ourselves, towering peaks surrounding us at every angle. Unfortunately, there was one group that didn’t adhere to social distancing guidelines – a pesky cloud of midges, who set their sights on us the second we stepped out of the car!

An Aird Peninsula, Shieldaig, North Coast 500
Walking in the An Aird Peninsula, Shieldaig

Our experience throughout was that accommodation providers, restaurants and retailers are adhering closely to government guidelines to provide safety without infringing on the holiday experience, allowing you freedom to create unforgettable memories.

Wonderfully, it seems like McKinlay Kidd’s customers agree. We have had some intrepid explorers hit the road in Scotland and England in the last couple of weeks, and their experiences have been overwhelmingly positive.

Many of our business partners around the UK are delighted to be welcoming visitors into their area once more. One customer, Eleanor, who recently flew to the Outer Hebrides, said the following when asked about her favourite memories:

“Fantastic scenery…the friendliness of the residents on the islands. The beach at Vatersay Bay was amazing, with just the most beautiful sand.”

Private touring – although functioning slightly differently – is still thriving and certainly a worthwhile holiday experience, as discovered by our recent customer Donna in Northumberland:

“Hadrian’s Wall Tour was excellent. Kevin was brilliant and knew everything about the Romans and their time in Britain. Highly recommend.”

Perhaps what has delighted us most of all has been the feedback from customers about our team. We are so pleased to be planning and organising trips once more, and comments like this one from Alan are truly what make it worthwhile:

“Absolutely incredible trip to the Scottish Highlands… communication has been first class and I would have no hesitation recommending McKinlay Kidd and booking with them again in the future.”

The last few months have been a learning experience for us all, and for me, a key lesson is to continue to really appreciate the beauty on my doorstep. You most definitely can have an unforgettable holiday in your own land. Once you know where to look, there is beauty around every corner. Here at McKinlay Kidd, we would be delighted to help you discover it, in 2020 and beyond.

Don’t ‘just settle’ for a UK holiday

McKinlay Kidd Founder & Director Heather McKinlay recalls childhood jaunts to Scotland and reflects on the delights of holidaying closer to home.

The mainstream media has been full of coverage for domestic tourism recently, for obvious reasons. I can’t help noticing that all too often articles are accompanied by phrases such as “resign yourself” to UK holidaying or “settle for” a staycation. Forgive me if that jars a little.

I grew up on the outskirts of London, but my Dad hailed originally from the west coast of Scotland. Every year during my childhood we’d make the long – and in those days quite tortuous – journey north for our summer break. I’d usually mark the start of the trip – as well as my white blouse – by throwing up in the back of the car before we’d even reached the start of the M1. Somehow that got it out of my system. The next fortnight would then glide by without repeat incident, despite roads twisting and turning their way past Loch Lomond, over the Rest and Be Thankful Pass into Argyll then down, around and back up the Kintyre peninsula.

The greatest road drama came from humpback bridges, remnants of Victorian days and old drove routes. Dad took delight in accelerating towards and over them so that my stomach somersaulted as all four wheels on our gold Cortina momentarily lost contact with the tarmac. Usually it was a jolly jape, accompanied by my shrieking laughter and chiding from Mum. Once it nearly went badly awry – Dad not taking into account that he had extra passengers onboard, flinging us kids sat-in-the-back-on-adult-laps with a bang and loud yelps into the vinyl roof. Regulations were much more lax back then.

I have vivid and fond memories of long summer days on the beach, building sandcastles, collecting shells and star-jumping the waves in my little red swimsuit, its white overskirt flapping up in the air, as if pulled on invisible strings by my outstretched arms. I usually had to be dragged away in time for high tea and bed, desperate to eke longer from my fun in the sun. I don’t recall rain putting a dampener on things, though I still have images in my mind of waterfalls thundering down hillsides, so I can’t pretend it was always warm and dry.

I’d return to school full of stories: the day out by boat to the Isle of Gigha with its exotic gardens and the most flavoursome strawberries or the expedition to Davaar Island on foot at low-tide to see the mysterious painting of the crucifixion in a cave. That day I learnt that adults don’t always know best – bemused at Mum struggling to clamber along the rocky shoreline in highly inappropriate court shoes.

On occasion Dad felt the need to justify that our trip back to Scotland cost just as much as my school friends’ package holidays to the likes of Majorca. Yet the thought that I was hard-done-by never entered my head.

Sunny Sanda, Kintyre, Scotland

Now we have our own home on the Kintyre peninsula. Over the last few weeks I’ve felt very close to the drama of the coast, and the ever-changing scene. One evening the waves lap gently on the shore, a soothing calm broken only by the flapping wings of ascending cormorants and the shrill cries of terns and oyster-catchers.

By the next, a different wind direction and heavy skies mean crashing waves, foaming at our feet, seaweed ripped out and piled high, gannets and gulls blown inland, struggling not to veer too far from their ocean course.

Stormy Sanda, Kintyre, Scotland

In the 17 years since Robert and I started McKinlay Kidd, we’ve enjoyed experiences “at home” to rival anything on “exotic” foreign trips. We didn’t “resign ourselves to” a hot tub under the stars one chill February evening, nor spotting killer whales from a boat off the shores of the Isle of Mull.

We certainly didn’t “settle for” a rail journey into the wilderness of Rannoch Moor or driving classic cars along twisty single track roads with only sheep and boggy verges to avoid.

Eating lobster fresh from the creel by the seashore and clambering over ruined castles weren’t “fallback options”. Here we’ve gazed in wonder at standing stones as ancient as the pyramids and strolled empty beaches of white sand and turquoise waters rivalling anything the Caribbean has to offer.

Luskentyre Beach, Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides

A trip around the UK also invites you to delve deeper into history way beyond those long-forgotten classroom talks; to uncover all the varied facets of our culture, the melting-pot legacy of Gaels, Celts, Vikings, Picts, Romans, Normans, Anglo-Saxons brought into the modern era by influences from around the globe –European, Asian, African, Indian, American and more.

Roman legacy of Hadrian’s Wall

Many of our customers at McKinlay Kidd make holidaying in the UK and Ireland their first choice; for others, it is normally a core part of their repertoire alongside long haul journeys and jaunts to the sun.

So instead of pining to travel the earth, let’s pause a while and soak-up the riches of the world on our doorstep, celebrating the UK as our number one destination.

Just remember to slow down for those occasional humpback bridges – a few of them still exist if you only know where to look.

A message from Robert Kidd

20th March 2020

I wanted to share the photo above of the beautiful spot on the West Coast of Scotland where my wife Heather and I wrote our first business plan for what would become McKinlay Kidd. It was Good Friday in April 2003 and gloriously sunny – sometimes Scottish weather can surprise and delight! The beach is about a 15-minute walk from our Kintyre home and requires a bit of clambering to get there – as usual, we had it all to ourselves. We sat on the sand and juggled exciting ideas for a Scotland-focussed, tailor-made travel business, scribbling on a notepad. I wish I could find that notepad now, but it has long-disappeared! The day stretched into a lazy afternoon – we’d brought picnic supplies including wine to see us through. In fact, it was so sunny that I ended up with a mild degree of sunburn!  

We took a walk back there last weekend and I snapped this shot on my iPhone – something that didn’t even exist in 2003. It was a far-less connected world back then – indeed our first promotion of the business was through classified advertising in the back of The Times and The Sunday Times, with the phone number as the call to action. Gradually websites and the internet took over, assisting us with business growth and enabling international, as well as UK, customers to find us. We remained true to our ethos of authentic tailor-made holidays designed with creativity and delivered with the utmost care. We expanded by adding Ireland, England and Wales to the destination mix, partnering as far as possible with locally-owned and community-based businesses like ourselves, whether accommodation, local transport or guides. We built up a dedicated and knowledgeable team to help us – while continuing to be a small and personal family business.  

The world changes quickly – never more so than in the past couple of weeks. This is an extremely challenging time for all of us, and the travel and hospitality industry is at the sharp end of the economic impact. Our team is now adapting to working from home. We have a cloud-based operating system. We are dealing with cancellations rather than new bookings, which has a devastating effect not only on ourselves but on our many business partners, yet of course we fully sympathise with customers who are missing out on long-planned trips or much-needed getaways.  

If you have an upcoming trip booked with us and haven’t heard specifically from us about it yet, please bear with us as we are dealing with changes in departure date order while official advice continues to emerge – we will contact you in due course. And particular thanks to those of you who have sent supportive and understanding messages in the meantime.   

We fully intend to be here on the other side of Covid-19, just none of us know when that will be nor quite what the world will look like. We hope as things improve – and surely they will – that we can once again be of assistance to you in planning your future trip to and around the UK and Ireland. In the meantime, we will continue to take our exercise and clear our minds on regular walks to that beautiful beach where McKinlay Kidd began.   

I sincerely wish you and your loved ones every strength – physical and emotional – to get through the coming weeks. You are in our thoughts, as are all health, emergency, social care and essential service workers whom we rely on to look after us.  

We’ll keep in touch. Stay safe.

Words & Image by Robert @McKinlayKidd

The Magic of the Sleeper

There is something magical about going to sleep in one place and waking up in another – especially if your destination is entirely different to your origin. I have always loved the romance of sleeper train travel, which takes you back to the golden age of travel; when the journey was just as important as the destination. Having experienced memorable overnight trains in Europe, Asia and South America, I was excited to sample the offering closer to home – this time from Glasgow to London via the brand-new Caledonian Sleeper trains introduced in 2019.

The late departure of the Lowlander service meant I was able to enjoy Friday night dinner and drinks with friends in Glasgow’s trendy Finnieston district before a bracing evening walk to the railway cathedral of Central Station. It felt odd to be arriving for a train to London when everyone else was starting to head home after a night on the town! I was greeted on the platform by my friendly Caledonian Sleeper host, who showed me to my Club Cabin. I was immediately struck by how great a job the designers did with such a small space. In each Club Cabin, you not only have your bed, but also luggage storage space and, crucially, an en-suite WC and shower – a game changer as it means you can avoid the awkward scuttle down the corridor to the communal loo in the middle of the night!

The Club Lounge, Caledonian Sleeper
The Club Car onboard the train

As the train slid out of Glasgow Central, I settled onto a bar stool in the Club Car to sample a ‘wee dram’ of Scotch whisky and a selection of Scottish cheeses – what a civilised way to start a journey. The menu offers a varied selection of the best of Scottish produce and is very reasonably priced when compared to other trains in the UK. As we began to chug through the Scottish Lowlands, I decided to retire for the night and sunk into my Glencraft mattress, the gentle ‘clickety-clack’ of the train soothing me to sleep.

I woke up shortly before arrival into London’s Euston Station, making sure I had time to enjoy the slightly odd feeling of showering on a moving train! After getting dressed, I made my way to the Club Car once more, this time for a tremendous breakfast of Eggs Royale with Scottish smoked salmon.  On arrival at Euston, I waved goodbye to my host and decided to take advantage of the early arrival into London. As it was a crisp Saturday morning in winter, the streets were deserted and so I ventured south walking from Euston all the way to Embankment. As I gazed at the London Eye and Houses of Parliament, I reflected on a unique travel experience I’d had – one which offers an efficient, convenient and sustainable way to travel between Scotland and the heart of London. 

Words by Tom @ McKinlay Kidd, Images by Chris @ McKinlay Kidd

If you would like to experience the Caledonian Sleeper for yourself, McKinlay Kidd’s Luxury Skye and Highlands by Sleeper holiday includes a return sleeper journey from London to Rannoch, plus four nights in small four and five-star hotels and private guided tours of Perthshire, Skye & Inverness. For more information – or for a tailor-made holiday proposal – please visit our website.

The Centre of Britain Makes Its Mark

Earlier in the year, on an exceptionally sunny July day, I left the city of Glasgow behind and ventured south across the border to the small English town of Haltwhistle.

Haltwhistle – known as the “Centre of Britain” – is located in Northumberland, a county renowned for its sweeping moorlands, ancient castles, beautiful beaches, friendly pubs and, of course, Hadrian’s Wall. On arrival at my accommodation I was greeted not only by my lovely hosts, but with Eton mess and chilled prosecco! Very welcome treats that only set the tone for my delightful stay.

On the advice of my hosts, I decided to make the most of the afternoon sunshine and explore the local area. Haltwhistle really offers nature lovers a treat! Situated between the North Pennines and Northumberland National Park, the town has over 20 easily accessible country walks. I took myself on a short two-mile walk from my B&B through the town centre. I made a brief pit stop in a local inn and enjoyed a refreshing pint of English cider and a hearty game stew. It would have been rude not to!

Enjoying a refreshing English cider

Later, I ventured onwards to one of Britain’s most famous landmarks – Hadrian’s Wall, the northern frontier of the Holy Roman Empire. The once 80-mile coast to coast structure was erected by 15,000 men in just six years – truly some extraordinary work! Although not so vast nowadays, many large parts of the wall have been beautifully conserved. Milecastle 42 is considered one of the most well-preserved areas and it is an impressive sight to see. The once heavily guarded wall, now an unguarded world heritage site, transports you back two millennia in a matter of moments. I can easily imagine the soldiers and their enemies on the other side, bustling about their days entirely unaware that many years later, their lives would be mused over by tourists from all over the world. I made myself a promise to return again to visit the Roman army fort and the Vindolanda to learn more about this fascinating time in history.

Strolling back through the village later in the evening I was distracted by the smell of deep-fried deliciousness wafting from the local chip shop. It didn’t take much to tempt me inside! There is something wonderfully British and nostalgic about sitting on a bench on a cool summer’s night, a ‘poke’ of fresh chips in hand. A lovely end to an enjoyable day in the “Centre of Britain”.

Some fresh chips in Haltwhistle

McKinlay Kidd offer a variety of holidays to Northumberland, from self-drives across Northern England to dark sky experiences and journeys through beautiful scenery by train. For more information, simply get in touch with our award-winning team, who will be delighted to help.

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!

Words & images by Helene @ McKinlay Kidd

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 explored 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. 

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.

A Wild Day in the West of Scotland

Otters are supposedly secretive creatures but not this one! Last weekend we were sitting on our rug on the rocks enjoying peace and quiet and warm sunshine on a deserted Kintyre beach. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement, a glimpse of brown. Ah, that would be a dog, no doubt closely followed by its two-legged owner. Wrong, I realised, that’s actually a rather large dog otter padding its way across the sand! I resisted the temptation to let out a squeal from my wide-open mouth. Instead I turned to Robert beside me, nudging him and gesturing to draw his attention.

We both watched in awe as the rather ungainly creature wobbled his way to the water’s edge, then slipped sveltely into the brine, transformed into a darting swimmer. Arching his back, he dipped under, his long tail flicking behind. We rummaged for the i-phone and binoculars as silently as we could. He emerged amid the lapping seaweed, hungrily devouring a small, silver fish. Then he dipped back under, reappearing with a large crab. He was close enough for us to observe with naked eyes, hearing the crunch-crunch as his sharp teeth cracked their way into the shell. The scene repeated itself for several more minutes as we did our best to take a few snaps and short videos on the phone, albeit needing to zoom.

While our new furry friend was swimming around, we stealthily moved a little nearer. At this point we saw criss-crossing footprints all over the wet sand behind us – the creature had clearly been wandering around unbeknown to us for quite some time earlier. As good fortune would have it, the otter next popped up further to our left and hauled itself out into a barnacled rock, its shiny brown coat perfectly contrasting with the grey-white stone. Robert started filming.

Earlier the same day I had been strolling on a neighbouring beach as a pod of a dozen or so dolphins splashed their way past – just the third time in fifteen years I’d watched such a sight from these strands.

And our wildlife adventure had yet another twist to come. After the excitement of our close encounter with the otter, we settled down to enjoy the more regular birdlife: diving gannets, screeching oystercatchers, swooping gulls, darting sand martins, elegant terns and the occasional pair of adult ducks followed by a stream of cute ducklings. A grebe, with its distinctive head-dress, swam quietly past.

The tide had recently but imperceptibly turned, the sea still flat calm, a shimmering steel-blue colour. We spotted a black shape purposefully heading out to sea towards the Isle of Sanda. Our first instinct was to think it was the otter, but the swimming style was all wrong. The binoculars revealed a clear triangular fin scything through the water. Cue Jaws theme music.

However, in the West of Scotland, the only sharks are of the more benign basking kind. They prey on plankton, hoovering it up through a gaping jaw. We’ve seen them before off the Isle of Mull on one of McKinlay Kidd’s wildlife trips, but this was a first (and shortly after, a second) for us in Kintyre. Local knowledge suggests these huge mammals used to be much more numerous but have been very scarce in recent years. The sea conditions aided our chances of spotting them and perhaps the recent lengthy spell of warm and settled weather had led to an abundance of food, attracting them back to the area.

In any case, it was the perfect end to a very wild day!

Words by [email protected] McKinlayKidd. Video by Robert @McKinlayKidd

Bath’s Brilliant Buns

Hidden down one of Bath’s quaint cobbled lanes is the oldest dwelling in the city, established in c.1482. This historical site has been the home to the original “Bath bun” since 1680, when Sally Lunn – the inventor of this regional speciality – was employed in a bakery on the premises.

VB-Sally Lunn's plaque
Commemorative plaque

Story has it that a young Huguenot refugee, Solange Luyon, came to Bath from France in 1680 to escape persecution. She found work in the bakery on what was known at the time as Lilliput Alley. In addition to selling the baker’s wares from a basket, Sally Lunn – as she came to be known, an anglicised version of her name – had a special talent for making a unique brioche bun in the French tradition, resembling French festival breads.

The bun quickly became popular in Georgian England, with customers soon coming to the bakery just to request the unusual delicacy that could be served with either sweet or savoury accompaniments. The bun became known as the “Sally Lunn bun” or “Bath bun” and today is legendary the world over.

A visit to the Sally Lunn tea house and eatery is essential to any visit to the historical city of Bath.

McKinlay Kidd now offers two new itineraries to Bath in 2018. Take a look at Explore Britain by Train and Classic England by Train.