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 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.

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.

Been there, done that, where to get the T-shirt?

During my time at McKinlay Kidd, I’ve been lucky enough to travel to some amazing places in Scotland, and indulge my love of empty beaches, wildlife (particularly Shetland ponies) and seafood. One thing for sure is that I also really, really love a good gift shop – I can’t resist bringing back trinkets from my travels for my friends and family, as well as the obligatory sweet treats for the McKinlay Kidd team of course!

Scotland still proudly promotes traditional crafting methods and celebrates original artwork and textiles. So, think beyond the cliché idea of Scottish souvenirs such as shortbread tins and bagpipe fridge magnets and take a look at my top gift shop recommendations.

Bonhoga Gallery, Shetland

This former barley mill at Weisdale has been converted to a gallery featuring contemporary visual arts and crafts. It boasts an extensive range of locally produced prints, textiles and cards in the gift shop. The mill also houses a café serving light lunches, so is well worth a visit. If you do find yourself in the area, stop off at Shetland Jewellery en route!

Ragamuffin, Isle of Skye

Situated on Armadale Pier in an idyllic location, Ragamuffin is home to the very best knitwear and original clothes. Beware though…this place is an Aladdin’s cave of treasures, so you may find yourself in here for a while. Don’t miss your ferry!

Rarebird, Isle of Lewis

If you journey to the Outer Hebrides, you’re sure to be spoilt for choice when it comes to buying Harris Tweed products. My top pick is Rarebird studio in Stornoway which combines a skilful blend of reassuring tradition and modern flair into each handmade Harris Tweed creation. To ensure its provenance each item carries the Rarebird Corncrake logo and Harris Tweed Orb label.

Iain Burnett Highland Chocolatier, Perthshire

For chocolate lovers, The Scottish Chocolate Centre is a must. The centre is located in Grandtully, just five miles from Aberfeldy, and is Home to the Highland Chocolatier, Iain Burnett himself, who is dedicated to chocolate and its origins. The centre also houses an enchanting, vintage style gift shop. Perfect for those last-minute purchases for family and don’t forget to but yourself a few of the centre’s award-winning dark velvet truffles to take home.

Isle of Mull Soap Co. Isle of Mull

Situated on colourful Tobermory’s Main Street, the Isle of Mull Soap Co. produces its natural soaps by hand using the traditional cold process method using the finest quality essential oils & botanicals. Psst….we hear their ‘Buzz Off’ soap is great for fighting off our wee midgie friends!

By Zoë @ McKinlay Kidd

(Featured photo taken outside Ragamuffin, Isle of Skye)

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)

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)