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.

The Charming Streets of Kinsale

Nestled on the edge of the south coast of Ireland and surrounded by the natural beauty of the glorious Irish countryside, the picturesque town of Kinsale offers a warm welcome to travellers from all over the globe.

At first glance, one may wonder why this small town attracts so many visitors, but after being lucky enough to spend a few days exploring on my recent trip to Ireland, it was quickly clear to me just what was so appealing about it.

Kinsale is full of colour and characterand every time you turn a corner on the countless skinny, winding roads, you are met with brightly painted houses, charming shops and cafes and, of course, an abundance of traditional pubs. Each locale is packed full of character and provides visitors with the chance to mingle with the friendly locals in front of a roaring fire. From my own experience, this was the perfect way to warm up on a damp windy night – Kinsale is perched on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, after all!

When in Ireland…it would be rude not to!

The seaside location means there are countless restaurants offering freshly caught seafood, but I found I was also spoiled for choice with other local goodies such as cheese and whisky – there is definitely a reason why Kinsale has the most restaurants per head in Ireland . There is even a Willy Wonka-esque chocolate shop where all sorts of wacky creations are created on site! I was also able to sample culinary delights in the food markets set up along cobbled streets that are not much wider than a car.

My time in Kinsale was brief, but I am already planning a return visit on my next trip to Ireland. As it lies on the famous Wild Atlantic Way driving route, it is an excellent base where drivers can explore the surrounding area of County Cork and follow the twisting winding roads that scale the coastline of this breath-taking part of the country. I can only imagine the other quaint villages and beautiful beaches in this area, and I am itching to discover them.

The delicious food, postcard-perfect buildings, and shops full of quirky trinkets – many of which I happily lost an afternoon browsing through – meant Kinsale ticked all of the boxes on my holiday wish list!

McKinlay Kidd offer a number of holidays along the illustrious Wild Atlantic Way, many of which include a trip to Kinsale. Browse our Ireland holidays on our website, or alternatively give us a call on 0141 260 9260 to arrange a tailor-made Ireland holiday that suits your exact requirements.

Words and images by Rhona @ McKinlay Kidd

Rediscovering My Roots in Aberdeenshire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Words & images by Lisa @ McKinlay Kidd.

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

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

North Wales – Travelling Through Space and Time?

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

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

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

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

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

The imposing Conwy Castle

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

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

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

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

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

Words & images by Helene @ McKinlay Kidd

Smile. You’re at Portmeirion.

“You’ll either love it or hate it.”

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

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

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

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

The pastel colours of the Portmeirion hotel

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

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

Portmeririon's Mediterranean-style buildings

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

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

Words and images by [email protected] McKinlay Kidd.

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

 

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.