Hamish uncovers some home truths in York

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Hamish @ McKinlay Kidd

(Featured photo taken at York Minster)

Harris and Lewis – from south to north

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Chris @ McKinlay Kidd

(Featured photo: Lighthouse at the Butt of Lewis)

Walking in the steps of greatness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Julie @ McKinlay Kidd

(Featured photo: St Andrews Golf Course)

A lengthy journey

Today sees the official launch of our new website, mckinlaykidd.com, which brings together our holidays in Scotland and Ireland under one “roof” and also sees the launch of our new programme in the North of England.

Thirteen years ago, over a warm and sunny Scottish Easter weekend, Heather and I sat on a Kintyre beach and scribbled our initial plans for a travel business. Thousands of miles of recce visits, uncovering many a hidden gem, meeting hundreds of other small business owners and employing some great team members later, this website is the culmination and by far the most ambitious project we’ve undertaken. We are proud of the new look and hope it’s even more informative and inspirational that the last one.

We also decided it was about time we gave our branding a refresh. The keen-eyed among you will notice a new look for our logo, including our revamped symbol, the swallow.

“Why that logo?” I get asked every so often. Simple really: our good friend who initially designed it said, “Well, swallows are famous for heading south each winter but they always come back to Scotland every spring – indeed to the exact same location.” A very appropriate choice, therefore, for a Scottish-based company which hopes its customers will become loyal and return year after year. And since that spring day in 2003, we are delighted that so many have indeed done so.

Our own business “journey” so far may not have been quite as mind-blowing as the thousands of miles covered by a small bird every spring, but it’s a very personal adventure for us and the team at McKinlay Kidd, and one we hope will continue for many years to come.

Exploring Northumberland – hills and castles!

I may be a little biased as I have lived in Northern England all my life, but I have truly enjoyed researching holidays for McKinlay Kidd on my own stomping ground. I thought I knew my home area fairly well but have made some amazing discoveries and continue to be very impressed with the quality of accommodation and experiences on offer. The overriding feeling from all of my encounters in Northumberland has been the friendliness of the people I have met, who are all so passionate about their surroundings and all they have to offer.

Being Northumbrian by birth, I have always adored the dramatic countryside, the stark contrasts, the often wild weather and the endless opportunities for a good walk, safe in the knowledge that you won’t bump into many people! Whatever the time of year you will find a spot you can call your own, perhaps to enjoy a peaceful picnic with a superb view, interrupted only by birdsong.

In the north-west, the Cheviot Hills offer an inviting wilderness of hidden valleys, waterfalls, endless heather moorland and copious remains of Bronze Age activity, with hill forts, standing stones and cup and ring marked carvings scattered throughout the area. You really can get away from it all in the most sparsely populated of all the English counties. Pack waterproofs and sunglasses and prepare to enjoy four seasons in one day. If you prefer to enjoy the great outdoors from the comfort of your car then North Northumberland’s roads offer fantastic drives, criss-crossing the county with superb views in all directions. The roads are incredibly quiet and a joy to explore. I discovered some routes I had never been on before and loved seeing the new views of the hills from different directions. There are plenty of great pubs for lunch, too.

Northumberland has more castles than any other county with over 70 sites; I must have visited nearly all of them. Being the most northerly county of England the area was continually fought over by the ruling powers of England and Scotland, resulting in grand fortifications as Bamburgh and Alnwick, which remain intact and still lived in today. My favourite castle is the ruin of Dunstanburgh, dramatically perched on a headland overlooking Embleton Bay. There’s an easy walk from Craster village along the foreshore (and back to enjoy a crab sandwich in the pub for lunch) or continue to Embleton and Newton further north for a proper hike. The views are incredible from both directions. A close second favourite of mine is Warkworth, a solid structure towering above the delightful village of the same name, on a bend in the River Coquet, one mile inland from the sea.  It’s a ruin but a substantial one, accessed by a drawbridge and surrounded by a moat.

As well as the royal castles, the locals certainly added to the battle-torn countryside of Northumberland with many fortified houses and peel towers to guard against raids from each other. The Border Reivers from both England and Scotland scraped a living from the land from the 13th to 17th centuries: there was a certain amount of lawlessness and basically it was survival of the fittest. There are numerous ruins and dozens of stories from this era. One saying I remember on reading about a quarrel over sheep rustling which resulted in a murder was “his heid span alang the heather like an inion”. Fortunately, such tough times are well behind us!

by Anna Skelton, who has been helping us plan and prepare our new programme of holidays to the North of England.

 

The Spirit of Scotland

Yesterday I attended the launch of VisitScotland’s new marketing campaign – the Spirit of Scotland.  The national tourist board have produced a series of impressive short films designed to bring this rather intangible concept to life, with portraits of real people, who encapsulate the values of #ScotSpirit: warmth, guts, humour, determination, soul, spark, fun.

It’s a major challenge to create a campaign which can appeal to every market across the world, but I think they have made a great attempt, trying to go beyond the cliché.

At McKinlay Kidd, we strive to achieve this too  – helping our customers to explore beyond the obvious and to uncover the true essence  – the spirit, if you like – of the places they visit.

Many of our visitors to Scotland include a trip on the Jacobite steam train, so I particularly enjoyed the film made about one of the engine drivers.

Do let us know what you think. And if it puts you in the mood for a trip to Scotland, please just get in touch!

Going back to my roots

Heather McKinlay in search of family roots and food on the Hebridean island of Tiree.

It’s a strange feeling when you have never been somewhere before, but you know a part of you is “from” there: my great, great grandfather was born on Tiree in 1810.

The plane from Glasgow was delayed somewhat – low cloud over the island meant it was after three when we first set foot.  So the search was on for a late lunch.  We suspected this might be challenging here on this most westerly of windswept outposts.

The hotel in Scarinish had stopped serving at 2.30pm.  The enticing Sam’s Seafood Van across the road claimed to offer all day fare, but the shutters were resolutely pulled down.  We headed back out of town, following signs to “Chocolate and Charms”.  We arrived at a very quaint shop, crammed with colourful crafts and shiny silver jewellery plus copious chocolate.  Coffee and cakes were on offer too, but I have a rather savoury tooth, so the hunt continued. A little further on, the Farmhouse Café promised Mon to Sat opening.  It was just 4pm as we pulled alongside, only to see the “closed” sign flapping on the door, while the last, lucky customers hastened out of the side entrance.

The hunger pangs were worsening, so I tore into the recently purchased bar of chocolate to ease my mood while we meandered along the single track roads back to the main town.  Nothing for it but to settle for the lunch of last resort – a savoury pastry, bottle of water and some raspberries straight out of the Scarinish Co-Op.

Tiree is famed as the windiest corner of the UK, attracting surfers of all persuasions.  It also has an enviable sunshine record: often the rain and clouds simply blow-in off the Atlantic and straight over the top of this low-lying land mass.  Today, however, the clouds were hanging about.  Even through the grey and the spray, the place had an alluring aura, and a strong sense of community.  Maybe my Tirisdeach (“from Tiree”) roots were influencing me somewhat?  Or perhaps I was just happier now I had eaten!

I’d made an appointment to meet Duncan, the volunteer genealogist at An Iodhlann, the historical centre.  Here I heard fascinating stories of how Tiree people had spread far and wide, though many just to Glasgow.  We browsed island records both on and offline in search of McFarlanes and MacArthurs (my paternal grandmother’s line), while learning about the island’s social history.

It is unfathomable to compare my upbringing and comfortable modern-day lifestyle with that of my Scottish family going back just a generation or two.  My great, great grandfather left Tiree at some point in the first half of the 19th century – perhaps because of the potato famine, perhaps on the promise of work elsewhere within the Duke of Argyll’s lands, perhaps because he met and fell in love with a visitor – now I’m almost certainly over-romanticising. The census of 1851 shows him in Campbeltown, Kintyre, working as a “drainer” laying clay pipes.

McFarlanes and MacArthurs are still found on Tiree, so I may have been brushing shoulders with distant cousins.  Just as we were leaving the historical centre, I spotted a picture of D&A MacArthur’s Stores – once the main general store in Scarinish.  I read that it burnt down several decades ago, to be replaced on the same site by, you’ve guessed it, the Co-Op.

Maybe my lunch venue of last resort was just meant to be.

by Heather McKinlay

Lewis and Harris Food Trail

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have you been inspired to see the Outer Hebrides differently?

By Zoë @ McKinlay Kidd

(Featured photo taken at Croft 36 on Harris)

Two Red Men

Antony Gormley is well known for his large scale public art – the Angel of the North being the most famous. It’s therefore a real privilege to be able to view one his newest works on a tucked away corner of the Kintyre peninsula. This chap is here as part of “Land”, an installation of five figures right across the UK. You can visit him at Saddell bay, but he’s only going to be there until May 2016, so I highly recommend seeking him out soon.

You don’t have to mimic the pose of course.

Seeing Shetland Differently

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#SeeShetlandDifferently

By Zoë @ McKinlay Kidd

(Featured photo taken at Sumburgh Beach)