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 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