A Flying Visit to the Outer Hebrides

The Outer Hebrides have been on my wish list for a long time so it was with excitement that I boarded the plane from Glasgow to Stornoway. Deciding to travel light, I made a last-minute decision to remove my sunglasses case from my bag. But alas, in an ironic turn of fate, the islands decided to provide bright (mostly sunny) weather which persisted for the majority of the trip. Typical!

Callanish Stones

We started the first day with a local expert guide on the Isle of Lewis. This was a fantastic way to tour the island and visit some of the distinctive sites such as blackhouses, the mystical Callanish stones, the Iolaire Monument memorialising the HMY Iolaire shipwreck in 1919, and several hidden sandy bays. I would certainly recommend going out with a local guide for a day as there is no better way to get really under the skin of a destination. You will gain insights and knowledge which you wouldn’t easily discover on your own, as well as being charmed by personal anecdotes and amusing stories, courtesy of your tour guide.

Blackhouses on the Isle of Lewis

The following morning, we ventured to the Museum nan Eilean (Stornoway) which offers interactive exhibits encompassing the history and culture of the Outer Hebrides. Here, you can see six of the famous Lewis Chessmen which have returned to the island long after their discovery on an Uig beach in 1831. Although the exact details of their origin is debated, they were amongst an estimated ninety-three different pieces within the buried hoard.

The museum is situated in the grounds of Lews Castle which you can wander through at your leisure. The castle boasts grand rooms decorated in a gothic revival style and ornate ceilings to marvel at.

Lewis Chessmen in the Stornoway museum

Next, it was time to set off for the Isle of Harris. Interestingly, Harris shares the same landmass as Lewis so there’s no need to catch a ferry or cross a causeway to get there. Driving across the island from Lewis was truly atmospheric – dramatic, contrasting landscapes waited to be uncovered at every turn. Large expanses of moorlands, machair and mountains demanded my continual attention, with glorious white sandy beaches peeking through at intervals along the coast.

Uig Sands, Isle of Lewis

There were so many places to stop off and take picture after picture. Along the way, I experienced the charm of the islands with quaint honesty boxes housing locally-made crafts and food, as well as witnessing the nonchalant sheep grazing or strutting across the roads at their leisure. Overall, this part of Outer Hebrides felt so much bigger than I expected when first looking at the map.

Luskentyre beach, Isle of Harris

Luskentyre beach was certainly a highlight on the Isle of Harris. Travelling down a single track road, the sand dunes and crystal waters of the beach-haven unveiled themselves. The sun glistened on the clear turquoise water, while white sands extended as an almost limitless expanse. It’s no wonder that it has been named one of the UK’s best beaches in the TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice Awards.

Although only a flying visit, I’m already looking forward to the day I can return to these beautiful islands. Photos don’t do it justice – you definitely need to experience this magical destination for yourself. If I were to give one piece of advice, it would be to pack for all types of weather – and don’t forget your sunglasses!

Words & Images by Keira @ McKinlay Kidd

McKinlay Kidd offer a number of holidays to the Outer Hebrides, including self-drive, fly-drive and public transport options. For more information – or for a tailor-made proposal – visit our website.

On Holiday with Paralympic Champions Lora & Neil Fachie

From experience, we’ve found that having something independent from our Paralympic Games performances to look forward to allows us to get the most out of ourselves in competition. Before, when the Tokyo Paralympics were still to be held in 2020, we booked a three week adventure to Canada. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. When Tokyo was finally confirmed for 2021, covid was still a risk and there were many travel restrictions in place. We still wanted an epic adventure, just one much closer to home.

We’d heard the Hebrides and Scottish Highlands were beautiful and seemed like the ideal place to go – cue me going into a planning frenzy where, for a couple of weeks, I engrossed myself in research. I became so obsessed that it was all I could talk about before deciding it would be far easier letting someone else do all the hard work for us. We could just sit back and enjoy the anticipation – thank you McKinlay Kidd!

Barra runway – AKA the beach!

The holiday lasted just over two weeks, spanning several islands and incorporating a small detour up Ben Nevis. Both of us are visually impaired and unable to drive so are completely reliant on public transport and taxis; fortunately, McKinlay Kidd specialise in car-free holiday itineraries. Our trip started with an epic flight from Glasgow to Barra, the furthest south-west Island of the Outer Hebrides, where the airport runway is the beach and the luggage reclaim is a bus shelter. We asked for unique experiences and this was certainly one!

We stayed at a warm and welcoming hotel and were given a fantastic tour of the island by a very friendly and knowledgeable guide – all organised for us by McKinlay Kidd. We enjoyed the place so much – the fact that it was so far away from the crowds but still had everything you could possibly need made us fantasize about living there (even going so far as to look up local house prices!)

After two nights, we caught our first ferry over to Eriskay. We were driven by taxi to North Uist and the family-run hotel here had a very friendly and relaxed atmosphere. Fishing is a main attraction here, but there are also some lovely walks to be found. We enjoyed the scenery and superb food, especially the vast array of cakes.

Enjoying fresh seafood with a view

Our third island was Harris, our favourite island of the trip. Mountains, beaches, rocks, sea and lochs – this island has the lot. It’s also home to one of the best gins I’ve sampled (and hopefully whisky soon as well). We could’ve stayed longer on beautiful Harris but we will definitely come back. Next stop was Skye where we had three nights in Portree, the biggest village on the Island. Our tour here was conducted by a thoroughly-entertaining local who regaled us with stories, facts, and taught us some Gaelic along the way. His catch phrase, “Living the dream”, will be used by us both to spark happy memories for a long time to come.

Waterfall on the Isle of Skye

After Skye, we caught the ferry back to the mainland at Mallaig and boarded the famous Jacobite/Harry Potter steam train across to Fort William. The next day, it was with some trepidation that we set off for Ben Nevis very early in the morning, laden with packed breakfast and lunch from the hotel. Our taxi driver certainly thought we were mad given the rain. However, something miraculous happened as we arrived at the visitor centre to meet our guide – the rain stopped falling. We managed to stay pretty much dry for the four-and-a-half hours it took us to reach the summit. The sense of achievement was immense.

Neil & Lora Fachie conquer Ben Nevis

Returning to the family-run hotel in Spean Bridge for the evening to rest up, dry out and refuel was perfect. This was our favourite hotel of the trip. It was so unassumingly welcoming and cozy, like staying in someone’s house, and the food was superb. Luckily, the following day of travel to Islay allowed us to rest our sore and tired legs. Arriving late meant that we didn’t really get to appreciate this island properly until the following morning but the wait was worth it. So was the whisky. I’m not a fan of whisky but Neil is, so we tasked our tour guide with finding me a whisky I’d like. Thankfully, he didn’t disappoint as he took us to Bunnahabhain Distillery for a warehouse tasting – a fun experience and, yes, we did find a dram I liked!

The rest of the day was spent touring the island, stopping in at a couple of other distilleries and visiting a few landmarks en-route. What we thought would be our final full day in Islay was spent strolling along the coast, enjoying the atmosphere and the sun. Due to the weather the following day, our flight home was cancelled. Thankfully though, we were well looked after so this wasn’t a big deal and gave us more time to sample a few extra whiskys!

Enjoying the whisky in Islay

All in all, this was a fantastic experience, leaving us with memories to treasure and a love for the Western Isles that will, no doubt, draw us back in the future. Everywhere we went the people were kind, generous and incredibly proud of their heritage. The food—especially the abundance of fresh seafood—was delicious and even the rain didn’t dampen our spirits or our love of the trip. We are already considering when our next visit might be.

Words & Images by Lora Fachie

If Lora and Neil’s trip has inspired you to visit Scotland or discover Scottish Island Hopping, do get in touch with us and we’d be happy to create a tailor-made proposal for you.

Into the Blue

McKinlay Kidd Founder & Director, Heather McKinlay, responds to the call of the sea in the West of Scotland.

I plot my way from one patch of sand to another, like an intricate game of hop-scotch among the millennia-old rocks, brushing past the tendrils of flapping seaweed, shimmering in the pure sun-dappled water. Ducking involuntarily at the shrill call of an oyster catcher, I wade on, drawing the briney air into my lungs, timing the spring onto tip-toe as each wave gently breaks white and frothy around my gradually submerging limbs.

Concentrating on the environment provides welcome distraction from the frisson of the Atlantic Ocean, here in the slightly more benign form of the Kilbrannan Sound. Kintyre offers a smidgen of peninsula shelter as I continue away from the shore. The sensations of wild swimming are nevertheless visceral.

As a tot I learnt to swim in this very sea on family holidays in the West of Scotland. In recent years I’ve re-discovered my love for a dip in the ocean. Last summer I was bang on trend and no wonder. As the pandemic came out of the blue to change our world and our plans in a matter of days, many have found freedom by throwing themselves into the blue instead – or at least slowly and gingerly stepping into the cold blue of wild water.

Jumping the waves



I’ll admit that I’m more of a wader than full-blown swimmer. Sometimes I never lift both feet from the ocean floor, never tip from vertical to horizontal. Striding against the resisting tide nevertheless feels like good exercise. The gently shelving sand makes it possible to wade a long way out – perhaps skirting past the jagged basalt and sandstone that separates one sandy cove from another or striking out towards looming Ailsa Craig rock on the horizon.

I also stick to the high season from May to September, unlike a few “loony dookers” to use the Scottish vernacular who plunge into the waves in midwinter. I do have a wetsuit but last summer I left it hanging in the wardrobe in the spare room, preferring instead a simple one-piece swimsuit. 2020 was the year to feel the cold ocean embrace my whole body – so much more satisfying than the tickle of liquid slithering like an ice-cube down my back, invading via the one weak spot of Velcro at the top of the wetsuit zip.

Moral support from Robert


On a warm and sunny day – and we had quite a lot of those last summer – my favourite trick is to wade out waist deep, return to shore, then head once more into the blue. By the second attempt, the water feels so much warmer – almost tepid though I doubt it is ever above 15C.

Senses enlivened, mind blanked, resilience restored, the comforts of the shore beckon. A quick dry with a rough old beach towel, a trot across the strand to our favourite corner, pull on a cosy fleece, and slump down onto the rug. I stretch out to feel my bare legs pleasantly embraced by the rays of the sun as I rub away the clinging grains of sand.

Post-swim reward



I’ve tried on many an occasion to entice Robert with me into the blue. But in this part of the world a brief paddle at the water’s edge is the limit of his seaside folly. This means my landlubber husband has got the picnic or barbeque prepared, perfect reward for my brief excursion into the elemental.

As we pack up, leave no trace behind and head away along the rough path, I glance back. The power of the sea beckons. Until the next time.

I’ll be back

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.

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.

A Hebridean Odyssey in Photos

Here at McKinlay Kidd, we love receving customer feedback. One of our regular customers, Sandro, was kind enough to share some incredible images from his recent holiday and we knew we wanted to hear more about his experience! Hailing from Switzerland, Sandro has previously embarked on a Scottish island-hopping holiday with us, and his latest trip took him to the breathtaking Outer Hebrides.

Below Sandro has selected a few of his favourite shots from his holiday, and has detailed the memories they invoke for him

Stac Dhòmnuill Chaim, Isle of Lewis

I have always had a penchant for landscape photography. It was a rainy afternoon and I got a little lost, but eventually made my way to the cliff edge. I ran as close as possible to the rocks, being careful not to slip and began to take some pictures. To me, this landscape seems unchanged since prehistoric times.

View of Skye from Lewis with Sheep

I then travelled further south, my holiday already peppered with beautiful memories. But What awaited me in Dunvegan was simply spectacular because of its simplicity and tranquillity. The surroundings were breathtaking – the thundering waves, the brisk wind and the bellowing sheep, not to mention the view of the Isle of Skye in the background … what a place. I miss this view and think about it daily.

Luskentyre Beach, Isle of Harris

What a landscape. I parked near the beach and ran across the dunes, unable to believe what I saw. The wind whistled around my ears, the clouds changed the scene all the time and the sea was bellowing so loud it was difficult to think. I breathed in the salty air and hoped so much that I could capture the mood for myself. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.

Old Cemetary, Berneray

My holiday continued to Uist and, as always, I looked up my travel documents and read “Roberts Recommendations”. I started to tour around Berneray, and the beach I found there was one of the wildest I have ever seen. Stone formations fought impressively against the wild sea and a multitude of seabirds were flying overhead. When I arrived at the graveyard, the sky was now threatening, much darker in color and contrast. By the time I arrived back at my hotel, I was exhausted, yet overjoyed and peaceful.

Prince’s Beach, Eriskay

I had no plans when I arrived in Eriskay, my car journey decided for me. As I went over a fairly steep hill and down the other side, I wondered if I had arrived on another planet! It was a really sunny day and the sea was a deep blue. I have been to many places around the world, but this was outstanding. The beach, the colors of the sea and the beautiful flowers on the rocks left me speechless. I spent a few hours at the beach, enjoying the view into the distance and the warm sunshine.

Our Lady, Star of the Sea, Isle of Barra

Barra is one of my great loves, and not just because of the world-famous airport. When I arrived and I saw that the weather was radiantly beautiful, I immediately wanted to climb to the famous ‘Our Lady, Star of the Sea’ statue. The walk up was steep but the view uniquely beautiful. I was alone, gazing at the view of Castlebay below. What a magical place of power. Barra is a real gem – full of beautiful beaches, ruins, warm people and fantastic scenery.

Traigh Mhor Beach, Isle of Barra

This picture was taken very spontaneously. On the way from Barra airport to my hotel on a Sunday afternoon I saw shell seekers digging in the mud on Cockle Strand. I went down to the beach with the car and chatted to the people. This little dog was very curious and interested in my equipment. So I knelt down to him and took this picture in the process.

Gallery of Modern Art, Glasgow

After a quick flight from Barra I was back in Glasgow, one of my favourite cities – but sad I couldn’t stay longer! After settling in my hotel, I grabbed my camera to visit all the places I had not seen before. Glasgow is a great city and there is so much to discover. I took this photo as it was getting dark, unaware that it was 1.30am as I was enjoying the mild climate.

Now that I’m back home, there are two bottles of Harris Gin in the closet and alongside my pictures, I have countless memories of a wonderful time. The simplicity and peace that I find in my travels in Scotland is unique. It is for this reason that I will continue to come back, as there is still so much to see.

McKinlay Kidd offer a variety of holidays in the Outer Hebrides, including fly-drive, self-drive and public transport options. Get in touch with our team today to arrange your tailor-made proposal.

The Paths of Fort Augustus

Waking up with a different view each morning is one of the best parts of tour guiding – and I like to use the dawn light to find new walks to share with the guests. In Fort Augustus, I borrowed my host’s dog, Bobby, a young black Labrador, who seemed intent on dislocating my shoulder. We set off as the sun rose over Beinn a’Bhacaidh; Loch Ness shimmered in the cool light.

We crossed the bascule bridge over the Caledonian Canal. A staircase of water locks stretched away to our right – boats waited at the top and bottom for the locks to open. Bobby’s ears perked up, his nose started sniffing like a chef sensing the soufflés were singeing. He hurtled along the canal path dragging me with him. 

We ran to the top of the locks where Bobby stopped. Beside us was the morning traffic. Put put pleasure boats jostled with grand tall yachts for pole position. Something was moving on an orange and green Dutch long-boat. Bobby whined as a furry face poked out from the hold. The scruffy terrier panted a couple of times, eyed Bobby, then disappeared below deck. Once the lock man woke up, these boats would travel on to Inverness and then out to the North Sea.

We headed back onto the pavement and walked past the monastery. Bobby span round my legs as a touring motorbike hummed by, then barked when it had turned the corner. An old stone bridge arched over river Tarff in front of us, to our left a path left the pavement. Bobby looked to me for confirmation, then headed down.  

A forest of mature oaks stood over a carpet of bluebells. The sun was up now; it evaporated the forest floor dew, warmed the wild garlic and white flowers. I could hear the baaing of waking sheep. We walked on till a meadow opened out before us – dozens of ewes and lambs lay in the grass. A farmer in his pick-up truck drove around the field checking his flock. Music was playing in the truck, and it floated over the air, slightly too quiet to recognise.

Bobby and I headed back into town. I dropped him off then went to meet the guests. The meadow path had certainly made it onto my recommendations for clients – Bobby had been a good companion. That being said, my shoulder was a bit raw.   

McKinlay Kidd offer a number of small group guided rail tours, including ‘Loch Ness, The Jacobite & Skye’, with departure dates in both 2019 or 2020. Reserve your place today, or call our team on 0141 260 9260 for more information.

Shades of Blue on the Isle of Harris

As the sun breaks through the cloud and hits the Atlantic Ocean, the water lights up in iridescent shades from pale green through to deep, deep blue, with a broad expanse of turquoise in between. The pale shell sand which extends far out from the shore, the clarity of the shallow sea and the reflections of a blue sky combine to create these remarkable colours.

It’s an impressive enough sight at the many beaches strung along the west coast of the Outer Hebrides. But nowhere is more spectacular than the Isle of Harris and particularly the junction of Seilebost and Luskentyre (below).

We parked up by Luskentyre and walked and walked along the shimmering sand, taking photo after photo, entranced by the light, the colours, the specks of other people in the distance, the blending of sea and sky. It’s hard to do justice to such a panorama whether on a camera phone or even a state of the art SLR. I used my little beach shoes in the best attempt to give some indication of scale.

The next day we meandered for miles along a single track road all the way to the wonderfully-named Hushinish beach. The wind certainly whistles but whether that translates into an onomatopoeic name, I’m not so sure. It’s wilder here, and even blustery preparations for a marquee-wedding could not detract from the elemental nature of this outpost. No parking on the beach, though!

We headed off across the machair, the coarse grass, sometimes strewn with wildflowers, usually pockmarked with sheep, for views over to the island of Scarp, made famous by the failed attempts to use mini rockets for mail delivery. In the distance we spied another glorious beach, whorls of sand flowing into the ocean blue.

Somewhere out to the west lay St Kilda. Although the sun shone brightly from a clear sky, the ferocity of the wind left no doubt as to why our intended boat trip there had been unable to take place. That will have to wait for the next visit.

The magical colours and ethereal landscape of Harris leave their mark, from the swirls of the Harris Gin bottle through to inspiration for the eponymous tweed and creativity in many guises. We left with a weighty souvenir by ceramicist Nikolai Globe. Every time I glance into it, I recall those myriad shades of blue and green and understand how easily they draw you back time and again.

Words & Images by Heather @ McKinlay Kidd

McKinlay Kidd offer a variety of holidays throughout the Outer Hebrides, including self-drive, fly-drive and public transport options. For more information – or for a tailor-made holiday proposal – please visit our website.

Close Encounters of the Puffin Kind

“We’ve decided to turn back. The path disappeared into the fog so we decided to stop before we went too far. Have fun though!”

I have to admit, this news was a little disheartening. My colleague Rhona and I had just arrived on Unst – Britain’s most northerly island, accessible via ferry from mainland Shetland. After a successful morning spotting some of archipelago’s extensive birdlife the day before at Sumburgh Head – the southern tip of the mainland – we had decided to head to Unst with one goal in mind: to spot some elusive puffins. With over 50,000 breeding pairs calling Hermaness Nature Reserve (situated in the north-west of Unst) home in the summer months, we thought this could be our perfect opportunity.

Admittedly, it was a little colder and foggier on Unst than we had been used to over the last few days – unsurprising given its geographical location. In spite of the advice of our fellow explorers, we decided to forge ahead and continue along the path, determined to achieve our goal.

The landscape on the Shetland islands was quite unlike any I had experienced before. Centuries of erosion and changing climate has created a complex terrain – peaty bogland melts into heathery hills, and blinding white sandy beaches can appear before your eyes at any moment. Unst certainly fitted into the first of these three, and shortly into our walk, the fog cleared and our vast surroundings were revealed.  

After a leisurely walk, it seemed as if by magic we were at the end of the well-maintained path. A short walk further, and slowly but surely jagged seacliffs unfolded before us. The panorama was staggering –looking out, there was nothing ahead but the vast, endless ocean. Wave battered crags stood in clusters beneath us, and it was clear from a brief look down that there were countless little areas of seclusion – perfect for a variety of birds to build their nests.

Cautious due to the height of the cliffs, we took a few reserved peeks over the side – no sign of puffins. We walked a little further, but still nothing aside from a few gulls. I was slightly dismayed – surely we would see at least one?

Then, as if responding to our wishes, our sought-after little birds began to appear. We spent the next hour observing around a dozen puffins, snapping photo after photo of them continuing on with their daily routine, entirely unbothered by our presence. We saw puffins dipping in and out of their burrows with freshly collected supplies for their nests, swooping off into the unknown to catch their latest meal and, rather sweetly, a young couple tapping beaks on the cliff’s edge.

We eventually managed to tear ourselves away from our front-row seat, heading back along the path and straight to Britain’s most northerly tearoom for some lunch and hot drinks, taking some time to warm up and reflect on our experience. Equally as enjoyable as the wildlife watching was the fact that we had the experience entirely to ourselves – both the path, and the cliffs themselves were entirely devoid of any other people the whole time. It was a truly special day – I am very glad we didn’t turn back!

Words & Images by Emma @ McKinlay Kidd

McKinlay Kidd offer a number of holidays to Shetland, including self-drive and fly-drive options, and the chance to visit Orkney at the same time. For more information, please give our team a call on 0141 260 9260 or visit our website.