These pockets of Scotland have huge amounts to offer and several of them have exciting things to shout about in 2022.
A stay in the Lothians countryside is perfect for a combination of city, coast and countryside. With a coastal outlook and train connections to Edinburgh, you can enjoy the East Lothian countryside and hop on the train to our capital city for a day trip. It’s an exciting time for whisky fans in this part of Scotland. The Glenkinchie Distillery has recently opened its doors after a large redevelopment to create the ‘lowland hub for Johnnie Walker’. In Edinburgh, make sure to visit the new Johnnie Walker Princes Street for a dram in the rooftop bar overlooking Edinburgh Castle. The East Lothian coastline is gorgeous for exploring, with the John Muir Way walking trail passing through lots of coastal beauty spots. Kite surfers love Longniddry Beach while surfers flock to Belhaven Bay to catch waves. Take the chance to step onboard Concorde at the National Museum of Flight at East Fortune. Book a spot at the very Instagrammable cliff-edge café Drift with floor-to-ceiling windows and views of the Bass Rock.
ISLE OF RAASAY, NORTHWEST HIGHLANDS
A wee island, sitting just off the Isle of Skye’s eastern coast, is about to steal your heart. Raasay (say it with your best Scottish accent!) is the isle on everyone’s wish list at the moment with its recent award from Conde Nast Traveller as one of the ‘Best Islands to Visit’. It can be reached by a short 25-minute ferry ride (running regularly every day) from Sconser on the Isle of Skye. You’ll quickly find yourself on one of the most beautiful small islands of Scotland. Admire Skye’s Cuillin mountain range and beyond to the Outer Hebrides on clear days. Make a visit to the Isle of Raasay Distillery or climb the isle’s peak, Dun Caan.
Tay Country includes the regions of Fife, Perthshire, Dundee and Angus. An easy part of Scotland to reach, it has many stories to tell. Glamis Castle, Angus – it will be a big year for Angus, as we celebrate the 650th anniversary of Glamis Castle. Spend time immersing yourself in the history of the castle, exploring the gardens and enjoying walks in the grounds. While you’re in Tay Country, a visit to the Angus town of Arbroath is a must – to try the Arbroath Smokie, which was first created in the village of Auchmithie. Its line-caught haddock, smoke-cured over smouldering oak chips, and still made here in several family-run smokehouses tucked in around the harbour. The beautiful surrounding countryside is a lovely place to spend a few days, with 10 Munros to conquer and the Angus Glens all yours to explore. The Cateran Trail is a circular route which encompasses the Angus countryside as well as Perthshire and starts and ends in the Perthshire town of Blairgowrie. It takes its name from cheeky cattle thieves known as Caterans who caused mayhem and mischief in times gone by. You’ll wander through fascinating geology, hidden history and prehistoric marvels over this 103 km route. It will take you across magical Glenshee to the small villages of Kirkmichael and Glenisla, with huge landscapes sculpted by glaciation and traversed by old drove roads and ancient rights of way. Don’t miss a chance to see the Cateran Eco Museum, an outdoor museum celebrating years of human history inside this ancient pocket of Scotland. It is situated on the 500-million-year-old Highland Boundary Fault – the great geological feature that divides the Scottish Highlands from the Lowlands.
INVERCLYDE, AYRSHIRE & FIRTH OF CLYDE ISLANDS
The blissful isles of Cumbrae and Bute are both within an hour of Glasgow each with regular, short ferry crossings. Culzean Castle – this part of the west coast is bursting with great things to see and do. Enjoy accessible islands reachable by public transport from Glasgow, fascinating maritime and cultural history, pretty beaches and even a clifftop castle. Ayrshire is home to some truly scenic coastal towns which are lovely to visit and get to know. The new driving route, The Coig, is made up of five unique routes stretching from Ayrshire, Arran and Cumbrae to Inverclyde, Renfrewshire and Bute. The blissful isles of Cumbrae and Bute are both within an hour of Glasgow each with regular, short ferry crossings.
For fiery sunrises, colourful skies and remote beauty, look no further than Caithness. Peedie Sands, Caithness – this eastern tip of north Scotland, part of the famous North Coast 500 driving route, is an untouched and beautiful part of Scotland, just waiting to be discovered. Did you know it has the highest concentration of brochs and ancient monuments in Scotland? There are some incredible geological features here too such as the Whaligoe Steps, sea caves and castles on cliff edges, including Castle Sinclair Girnigoe and Keiss Castle.
The smallest county in Scotland, this is a little countryside haven within close distance of Scotland’s most key historic moments. Sandwiched between the Trossachs, Stirling and Perthshire, Clackmannanshire is full of little surprises and scenic spots. The Ochil Hills are a quiet paradise with far-stretching views, whilst the Alva and Dollar Glens lying at the foot of the hills are ideal for leafy, forest walks with waterfalls around every corner. Spend time wandering around the pretty loch at Gartmorn Dam, and enjoy a cup of tea at Dam Good Coffee. Take in the historical highlights that include the 700-year old Alloa Tower or Castle Campbell, the Lowland stronghold of the powerful Clan Campbell in Dollar.
DUMFRIES, DUMFRIES & GALLOWAY
Robert Burns’ old stomping ground is a great base for exploring the glorious region of Dumfries & Galloway. Loch Trool, Galloway Forest Park – from the town, you are just moments away from making memories. The Annandale Distillery is a short drive away and makes one of the newest whiskies in Scotland, with a state-of-the-art visitor centre and delicious café. The Victorian town of Moffat is a great place to head for a lunch, a trip to the woollen mill and a chance to try the local specialty, Moffat Toffee! Further south, travel to Gretna Green, just a short train journey from Dumfries to discover the romantic spot where young couples have travelled for centuries to tie the knot. There’s also great retail therapy at the Gretna Gateway outlet shopping centre. To the west, head to the Galloway Forest Park for walks, wildlife and adventure. The Solway Coast is also on your doorstep for bright sunny days, with brilliant beaches and coastal walks with views for miles around – on clear days, you can even see out to Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man.
MELROSE, SCOTTISH BORDERS
Discover the home of writer Sir Walter Scott, just an hour or so from Edinburgh. Abbotsford House, Scottish Borders – you’ll quickly fall for Melrose, a pretty town nestled beneath the triple peaks of the Eildon Hills. The Borders countryside is amongst our most beautiful rural landscapes. There’s plenty to keep you busy too – the town is the home of the Rugby Sevens, with its annual exciting tournament, the Melrose Sevens taking place every spring. This part of Scotland has been inhabited for generations. The Roman army arrived in AD 79 or 80 and built a major fort nearby named Trimontium, or ‘Place of the Three Hills’. Sir Walter Scott’s romantic mansion Abbotsford House is a few miles to the west of Melrose. See the beautiful house with its carefully landscaped gardens, designed for quiet contemplation. You can cycle the short route from Melrose to Abbotsford, and why not take your sketchbook and draw the impressive Abbotsford House?
THE KINTYRE PENINSULA, ARGYLL
The long slither of land that stretches down the west coast is one of Scotland’s best kept secrets. Explore it along the area’s new driving route, the Kintyre 66. Westport Beach from Machrihanish Dunes – the Kintyre Peninsula is home to a long stretch of deserted coastline, perfect for an escape from reality. The dunes of Machrihanish Bay are a stunning sight and nearby Westport Beach is a haven for surfers thanks to the Atlantic swells. And, have you really been to Kintyre without seeing the Mull of Kintyre from the lighthouse?! There’s a handful of golf courses here too, all with incredible coastal views. Take the wee ferry to the Isle of Gigha from Tayinloan, which takes just 20 minutes and spend a day wandering across the tiny island. Visit Campbeltown for a journey back in time. Try to imagine a once bustling whisky hub with over 30 distilleries making iconic single malts. Now, it’s a peaceful place with three working distilleries, Glen Scotia, Glengyle and Springbank, all of which offer incredible tours telling the story of the region. You can also try a local gin too, the Beinn an Tuirc Distillery produced at Kintyre Gin.
ISLE OF HOY, ORKNEY
Orkney’s second largest isle is a truly distinctive part of Orkney. Rackwick Bay, Orkney. Hoy is a unique part of the archipelago. It might remind you more of the north Highlands than the other Orkney isles, with tall cliffs, sandy bays and heathery hills all around. It’s most famous for the iconic sea stack, the Old Man of Hoy which stands at 137 m. You can see it along a three-hour round trip walk from the spectacular Rackwick Bay. There’s lots more to discover on the island too. Berriedale Wood can be found in amongst the towering hills of Hoy, a unique and special place to visit at all times of the year. Head into this hidden gully to find various species including downy birch, rowan, aspen and willow, and all kinds of wildlife too. The dramatic summits of Ward Hill and the Cuilags stand in stark contrast to the rest of Orkney and can be seen from almost anywhere on the Orcadian mainland. The Dwarfie Stane is a huge boulder, left behind by a glacier, found in a deep valley and dating back to the last Ice Age. Remember to look upwards – a pair of white-tailed eagles have nested in the area in recent summers.
The most far-flung destination on this list, Unst is our most northerly inhabited island. Unst, Shetland – away from it all, Unst offers an island escape like no other. Unst is rich with Viking history and folklore. It is thought to be the first island where the Vikings landed when they sailed west, with tales of battles with the local Pictish folk before settlement began. There are over 60 Viking longhouses across the island, making it one of the richest Viking sites in Europe. Today, you’ll see giant cliffs, sea stacks and sheltered bays which create a great home for a range of seabirds. Gannets, guillemots and kittiwakes can all be seen here in the summer months, which is a lovely time to visit, with extra-long hours of day light. Out at sea, you might see seals, porpoises and even whales. Take a coastal walk along the cliffs of the National Nature Reserve of Hermaness, one of the best places to see puffins up close. Don’t miss the most famous bus stop in the world, carefully decorated inside. You’ll find the most northerly distillery on Unst. Visit the Saxa Vord Distillery and try some Shetland whisky or the Shetland Reel Simmer Dim Gin, which is flavoured with orange peel, orris root, liquorice root, caraway and juniper.