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Things To Do In Oban, Scotland

Oban is a town in Argyll and Bute located around a pretty bay on the west coast of Scotland. It’s a popular place to visit and also has a ferry port from which it’s possible to travel to some of the western islands and as such is often considered the gateway to the Hebridean islands. But there are plenty of things to do in Oban itself and the surrounding area.

A Towering Folly

McCaig’s Tower is the town’s most prominent landmark, set on a hill looking over the bay. It was funded by John Stuart McCaig in 1897, a local banker who wanted to ensure employment for local builders and stonemasons as well as to leave a monument dedicated to his family. But he died before his plans fully came to fruition and, although he left a legacy for its completion, his family contested this and work stopped.

Things to do in Oban

McCaig had apparently wanted a grand design based on the Colosseum in Rome, which would have been impressive, but it was not to be. It is a folly, but is nice to climb the hill and walk around the tower to have a look at the design and also to get a panoramic view of Oban below.

Things to do in Oban

Oban view

Visit Oban Distillery

Oban has one of the smaller whisky distilleries in Scotland. In fact the town developed around the distillery which was established in 1794. Hence it’s very conveniently located right in the centre of Oban. Because of its location the distillery didn’t really have the opportunity to expand so it remains small but perfectly formed. Also, because it’s town-based, there are no issues with someone having to drive to the distillery if you want to indulge in a tasting and are staying locally.

Things to do in Oban Distillery

Of course they offer tasting tours. It’s definitely worth making a booking. You can tour the distillery itself or enjoy a tutored tasting. On arrival you are shown to a table and presented with some samples in little glasses and a tasting card.

Things to do in Oban

It was really useful to have some guidance as to how to taste whisky. The advice was to sip and don’t sniff the whisky on the first taste. Definitely don’t quaff the shot or you will just get a burn at the back of the throat. Sipping again, your mouth is now used to the whisky, so let the whisky lie on your tongue for 15-20 secs to let the saliva glands release saliva and savour the flavour. You don’t expect to get a peaty whisky in Oban, the water is sourced from a local loch, about three miles away.

When whisky is first distilled it is a clear liquid. Its colour and flavour derives from the barrels it is stored in and the length of time the whisky is aged. There are some interesting techniques – the whisky can be aged in bourbon or sherry barrels but the casks can only be used a certain number of times (around five). Some barrels are charred inside, then the burned timber is scraped away to expose new timber and this offers a new flavour. Some whiskies are tripled matured in three casks. We tried the 14 year old whisky, which had a light, citrusy flavour; the 14 year old (charred barrel); the Distiller’s Edition which had been aged in a bourbon and then a sherry cask, which had a sweeter, more caramel roundness; and the triple matured Little Bay, which had a great complexity of flavour.

Of course, there are lots of bottles of whisky available to buy. We were quite taken with their Game of Thrones special edition.

Things to Do Around Oban – Day Trips

We recommend using a car to get around Scotland if you can – the driving is generally easy, the routes are guaranteed to look beautiful and it gave us flexibility to explore the wider area. However, there are public transport options if that is preferable.

Easdale Slate Island

Easdale is a tiny island located around 25 km from Oban. It’s easy to reach but first you have to cross the Bridge Over The Atlantic – possibly the cutest bridge in Scotland. Clachan Bridge joins Seil Island to the Scottish mainland so it really does cross the Atlantic – sort of! It’s a darling humpbacked bridge, built in 1792. It’s on a single track road, so take care when crossing.

Bridge over the Atlantic

From there head to Ellenabeich, which has a large car park and the ferry port for the three minute journey across the sea to the island. It costs just a few pounds to make the crossing.

On arrival at Easdale you discover that there are no cars but it is the most delightful place to go walking. There is a café/reastaurant and a folk museum.

Easdale was once the focal point of the Scottish slate industry. As such it has a number of slate quarries, many of which are now flooded. Despite the industry, the island is really beautiful. Skimming Quarry holds a national stone skipping competition every September.

Easdale Slate island

Easdale Slate island

Easdale Slate island

It’s very easy to walk all the way around the island and sometimes you get lucky with perfect weather.

Kilmarten Glen and the Standing Stones

Driving further south towards Kilmarten it’s possible to explore some of Scotland’s prehistoric monuments, including cairns and standing stones.

Stopping in Kilmarten itself there is a museum which gives a history of the area, and the church next door, which has a collection of early grave slabs.

Further down the road there is a car park and, after crossing the road into the field, it’s possible to see Nether Largie Stones. The stones, believed to have been erected 3200 years ago, align with the midwinter sunrise and the autumn and winter equinoxes.

Things to Do Oban Scotland

Temple Wood is a stone circle which has a cairn in its centre. It was originally a wood circle, dating from about 5000 years ago but the wood was later replaced with stones. Cremated remains, dating from around 3300 years ago, were found inside the centre of the circle.

Another short walk just down the lane takes you to the Nether Largie South cairn, a Neolithic chamber tomb. It is thought that it was constructed around 5600-5500 years ago. It’s believed that it was used for burials in the early Bronze Age as well.

Seafood and Eat It!

On our return to Oban we discovered plentiful restaurants, many of which offer seafood. Blessed with a long and beautiful coastline, Scotland’s seafood is fantastic! If you want the very best, which is also incredibly good value for money, there is only one place to go: Oban Seafood Shack, also known as The Green Shack, located by the harbour on the railway pier.

Things to Do Oban Scotland

It’s so good, there will almost certainly be a long queue, but it’s emphatically worth the wait as you can order a huge variety of fresh seafood. It is literally a shack – a tiny hut – where you place your order. There’s not much seating, just a small covered area next to the shack and some tables for standing. It’s not the place for an intimate dinner but who cares when the food is this good? We ordered the seafood platter which was just divine: lobster, crab claw, langoustine, mussels, prawns, scallop in butter sauce, hot smoked salmon, pickled herring, crab sticks, squid rings. It was served with simple bread and butter, Marie Rose and sweet chilli sauce.

seafood shack seafood platter

There was so much we needed a platter for the debris. We ate standing up, using our fingers (they have a wash station), although forks were provided to pick crab and lobster meat.

Things to Do Oban ScotlandThings to do in Oban

The seafood shack offered food as it should be – fresh ingredients, perfectly cooked, friendly service, no pretension whatsoever. Perfect. (It’s worth noting that at the time of our visit they only accepted cash as payment.)

The following day we skipped breakfast at the hotel in favour popping down to the shack to pick up some prawn and crab sandwiches. Absolutely delish! It set us up for the day to continue our journey through Scotland and onto the Isle of Skye.

Other Attractions in the Area

If you like castles, there are a couple close by: Dunollie Castle is located about 1.5km north of Oban. You can visit the castle, a museum and the grounds. There’s also Dunstaffnage Castle & Chapel, one of the oldest stone castles in Scotland which stands on an enormous rock overlooking the Firth of Lorn.

Oban is also gateway to some of Scotland’s marvellous Hebridean islands via the ferry port. It is possible to enjoy trips to Mull, Lismore, Coll, Kerrera and Barra, some either as day trips or to continue your journey through Scotland. Check the Calmac website for information and timetables.

The Isle of Skye
Visit the Isle of Skye
Traditional haggis
Faroes Nólsoy
Visit the Faroe Islands
Unusual UK Activity Breaks
Unusual UK Activity Breaks
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Unusual UK Activity Breaks – Just Take Five

There’s an old saying that ‘a change is as good as a rest,’ which we feel is very appropriate for us because we are absolutely terrible at relaxing when we’re on holiday. We can’t just sit around, we always want to be doing something. Fortunately there are all sorts of unusual UK activity breaks available, from learning a new craft to interacting with amazing animals. Here are five breaks that we’ve thoroughly enjoyed.

Build Your Own Canoe

“If you look for a happy person, you will find them building a boat,” said our host John, quoting Beran Wolfe. He’s right. Birchcanoes in rural Leicestershire offer a canoe building holiday where you can stay onsite and construct your very own vessel over the course of three days. John is on-hand to give as much help as you need and at the end of your stay you launch your vessel on the River Wreake and then take your canoe home with you so that you can explore your local waterways – and beyond.

John offers accommodation on-site, so we could stay while we were building our canoe. We slept in the River Cabin, a snug wooden building just a stone’s throw from the river and a 30 second walk from the workshop. It was self-catering and had all the facilities we could have wanted.

Unusual UK Activity Breaks

We had checked out John’s website to decide which type of canoe to build and after some discussion with him we landed on the Lakota design – the most popular type of build. However, a quick measurement of our garage (we have a small car) revealed that we would not be able to fit both the Lakota and the car inside. No problem, John modified the design to accommodate our maximum length and very first Lakota 4.4 (4m 40cm) began construction. Amazingly, we were going to build a canoe in three days!

Day One of the canoe building involved cutting marine ply panels using a template. We used a Japanese pull saw and a jigsaw to cut out each piece.

We then sewed the canoe together using cable ties and added the gunwhales. At the end of the day our canoe most definitely looked like a canoe.

The next day we made the seats. There was a lot of sawing, particularly at strange angles, using an ingenious contraption John had devised, and sanding. Then the seats were fitted inside the boat. We also applied resin to the inside of the canoe.

Unusual UK Activity Breaks

Day Three involved getting the canoe watertight and ship-shape. There was a lot of planing and sanding involved – all by hand – to get a really smooth finish.

Then we applied glass fibre tape and resin to the exterior of the canoe.

Unusual UK Activity Breaks

Unusual UK Activity Breaks

The resin needed to dry overnight so the fourth day was launch day. It was essential that we had a mini-bottle of Prosecco for pre-launch.

The lovely thing about this experience is that the whole family is welcome to join in.

We also needed to think of a name. After some deliberation we landed on Obi-Wan Canoe-bi. We had fitted a roof-rack to our little car a few weeks before our holiday and Obi-Wan sat snugly on top.

Unusual UK Activity Breaks

Since getting home we’ve thoroughly enjoyed paddling on our local canal and plan to go further afield this year. Several trips for the price of one!

While You’re In The Area

The workshop is in rural Leicestershire and there are some lovely walks in the area. It’s also very close to Melton Mowbray which is known as a bit of a foodie town and is famous for both its pork pies and Stilton cheese.

Unusual UK Activity Breaks – Meet and Fly Some Birds of Prey

At Icarus Falconry in Northamptonshire you can meet and fly their remarkable birds of prey. We flew several owls and a harris hawk and also got to hold a tawny eagle and a peregrine falcon.

We met four different owls. Their bodies are really small but are fluffed out by masses of feathers which enables them to fly virtually silently. Many of the feathers are serrated for additional hush. They eat rodents and swoop low, flying just above ground level, to pick up their prey mid-flight. For this reason when you are flying owls you don’t hold the meat lure in your glove otherwise they would just fly off with it; you reward them when they’ve landed on your hand. Apparently the “wise old owl” moniker is a myth. They’re not very clever and haven’t got very good eyesight either. But each one we met had a terrific personality. Tom the Burrowing Owl was tiny and cute and ran round and round the drainpipe system in his cage, clearly enjoying himself. He’d fly directly into your hand.

Unusual UK Activity Breaks

Spot the Spotted Owl (she’s over there!) was very beautiful and apparently could be a little bit naughty. She was happy to be petted. She flew well but got a touch tired towards the end of the session and decided that walking was much more fun.

Mia the Bengal Eagle Owl was just gorgeous, she had the most wonderful eyes. She was also very vocal.

Grace the Barn Owl (also known as Dis-grace) just loved flying. She couldn’t be bothered to wait for a reward, she’d just fly to anything that looked like somewhere to land. She was hand-reared and had spent her early months perched at the end of her owner’s bed.
Curiously, owls can take a dislike to certain people and will refuse to co-operate with them. However, all the owls we met were most definitely on their best behaviour and it was an absolute pleasure to meet and fly them.

Unusual UK Activity Breaks

Forge Your Own Birdfeeder at a Traditional Blacksmith’s Forge

At the National Waterways Museum at Ellesmere Port, Cheshire, is another opportunity to take part in an unusual UK activity break. You can join Alex the blacksmith for a day, and learn to use a traditional 19th century forge to create a bird feeder comprised of fishtail scrolls amongst other forged elements. Safety equipment was provided and we were given full instructions and supervision.

Unusual UK Activity Breaks

The fire had been started for us before we had arrived so the forge was ready. We visited in winter, which was a really good idea because the forge is hot! We used steel rods which we heated in the fire until they were white hot (about 1600 ⁰C) and we saw sparks – indicating that the steel was ready to be worked– then took the rod out and hammered a fishtail shape on the anvil.

Alex also demonstrated how to bend the metal around a jig creating the lovely curvy design of the birdfeeder  – you had to heat the metal, get it to the jig quickly and bend it before it cooled. It required quite a lot of dexterity to pick up the metal using tongs (with gloved hands) and transfer it to the jig while it was still white hot. It took a couple of attempts but eventually we managed to produce some very satisfying curves.

When the constituent parts had been constructed Alex welded them to a support pole and turn them into the finished piece. Alex was very accommodating – as mentioned with the canoe building, our car isn’t very large, so transporting two long constructions down the M6 motorway wasn’t going to happen (we did this course before we invested in the roof racks). However, Alex managed to adjust the overall length of the birdfeeders so that they would fit into the car. As we own a cat we decided it wasn’t fair to the birds to use them as birdfeeders but instead we added hanging baskets in order to grow tomatoes. They make a lovely addition to our garden.

While You’re In The Area

We stayed overnight and visited the National Waterways Museum which offers a fascinating history of British canals and waterways. It’s also close to historic Chester where there are loads of places to visit, and lots of activities including a Roman tour led by a centurion, running tours, cycling tours and, of course, foodie tours.

Unusual UK activity breaks -Become a Big Cat Zookeeper for a Day

Dartmoor Zoo in Devon is famous for being the zoo from the film We Bought A Zoo. The story of the zoo is very interesting, it was bought by a family when it was a wildlife park on the verge of financial collapse with the lives of the animals at risk. The zoo is now a charity with a focus on conservation and research and participates in breeding programmes. We discovered that they offered zookeeper experiences.

Our day was due to start really early, so we had driven down to Devon the night before and stayed at a local hotel. After we arrived we were given a safety briefing and advised not to be too squeamish. Good advice – you come into contact with raw meat that was most definitely formerly part of an animal as well as copious amounts of poo.

We met our keeper, Holly, and volunteer George, who we would be shadowing throughout the day. They had prepared and portioned the meat for all the animals we were to encounter. We were impressed to learn that local farmers donate carcasses of farm animals that have died or been killed which are used to feed the carnivores, which strikes us as being a very sensible approach. Similarly, local supermarkets donate unsold food, some of which can be used to feed the animals. As soon as we were wearing appropriate clothing (old clothes with wellies and gloves), we set about doing the morning rounds to make sure that all the animals were still in their cages and in good health. We had a wheelbarrow full of meat and an empty bucket and shovel for cleaning the enclosures.

Our first stop was the lions. We met two lions, an enormous male, Jasiri, who weighs about 200kg and Josie, a female. They were being kept inside for the day of our visit because the zoo was constructing an enclosure that would allow them to interact with each other. The lions were none too chuffed about being inside but the zoo had left a couple of Christmas trees inside Jasiri’s pen to keep him occupied.

We visited Josie to feed her. She snarled a little, unsurprisingly, and a grumpy lion is a pretty scary thing. But she soon settled after her protest and was happy to wolf down the food presented to her. Sadly Josie passed away some time after our visit due to a medical condition.

Next stop was the jaguar, a four year old male called Chincha who is very curious. He was in gorgeous condition and had the most amazing fur coat. Jaguars have the perfect combination of cat skills – they excel at climbing, jumping, swimming and running.

Unusual UK Activity Breaks

We followed the same feeding/cleaning routine for all the animals we attended. They were lured inside their indoor enclosures using a piece of tasty meat, then locked in using a counter-weighted metal gate system. We were then free to enter the main enclosure. We had to search for stools and discarded bones, which we removed, and then provided some food for each animal. The idea was to present a challenge for them, hiding the meat in various locations so that each animal would have to search for it – something that provided them with a good deal of stimulation.

Unusual Uk Activity Breaks

Then it was on to the tigers. Vladimir and Stripe are brother and sister, about 20 years old. They were born at the zoo, hand reared, and the previous owners apparently used to allow them to be petted when they were cubs. They are utterly gorgeous creatures and very sociable. Stripe willingly comes inside and was happy to pose for us. She also rolls around like a kitten.

Dartmoor zoo lion

We were struck by how many mannerisms we see with domestic cats can be seen with the big cats. It was marvellous to be able to get so close to them.

Dartmoor zoo lion

It was our day to feed the tigers as one of the zoo’s attractions. Holly managed to lure both inside, then we went into the enclosure, performed poo duty and set up some food for both tigers. Holly’s plan was to ensure that Vladimir was occupied with the meat that we had located in an obvious place which would enable Stripe to find her meal without her brother dominating her. Vladimir would be released first and hopefully spot the easy pickings then Stripe would find the meat that we had hung on a chain for her to enjoy. The plan worked perfectly.

And finally it was the turn of Sita the Cheetah. Sita is a grand old lady, over 20 years, an incredible age for her species. She clearly looks her age, but we were impressed at how the staff monitor her health. However, despite her advanced years she is… a cat. And a princess at that. We followed the usual routine of enticing her indoors and Holly called her into her indoor enclosure. Despite knowing the drill, she wasn’t ready to eat and certainly wasn’t going to do anything she didn’t want to.
Any cat owner will recognise this look:

Holly said that feeding usually happens on ‘Sita time’ and she adjusts her schedule to accommodate the cheetah. Eventually Sita made her way into the indoor room, was given meat and medicine (she takes it straight from a syringe) and, once locked in, we went inside the enclosure to do final cleaning duty. We didn’t hide the food for Sita, but simply left it right outside the door for her.

We were so impressed by the zoo – particularly by the animals’ good condition. Apart from Sita, who is very old, their fur is amazingly glossy, they are clearly in good health and also seemed to be happy. We drove back home to be greeted by our little cat… and a litter tray that needed to be emptied.

It’s actually quite hard work and there’s a lot of poo involved but getting up close and personal with the magnificent cats at Dartmoor Zoo was a wonderful experience. Bear in mind that the zoo often has 2 for 1 offers, so keep an eye out on the website.

While You’re In The Area

The zoo is located in beautiful Devon, close to Plymouth, where there are loads of attractions – from a National Aquarium to The Box, a cultural centre. The coastlines of Devon and Cornwall are renowned for their beauty and the zoo is right on the doorstep of the Dartmoor National Park – so it’s definitely worth extending your trip if possible.

Learn to Play the Japanese Taiko Drum

Japanese Taiko are traditional drums often used at festivals in Japan. There are a number of taiko ensemble groups, notably in Japan, which engage in exciting and energetic performances using a variety of drums. Mugen Kyo – the name means ‘limitless reverberation’ – are a UK based drumming troupe that have been established for over 25 years. The founders trained in Japan and set up a dojo not far from Glasgow. They run courses and workshops and also perform, touring the UK regularly. They have even toured in Japan and were invited to participate in a Taiko festival there – the first Europeans ever to participate.

The group happened to be touring a couple of weeks before our course, so we went along to see them perform. They were terrific – energetic, dynamic, exciting. You can check out their Video Gallery – Mugen Taiko.

One of our unusual UK activity breaks was to undertake a course with Mugen Kyo. It began on a Saturday morning. The instructors introduced themselves – we were to be taught by the founders as well as two additional professional members of the group. The dojo had nine drums so we paired up and took it in turns to play. This was a really good system – the course was very intense so it was great to have a break from actual drumming to rest legs (not arms) and learn the pieces while the other group practised.

We found many similarities with martial arts: getting into a strong stance, letting gravity do most of the work hitting the drum but maintaining control as the bachi (stick) hits the hara (centre of the drumskin). We learned breathing techniques and the principles of channelling ‘ki’ (energy). And lots of random shouting to encourage your team rather than scare your opponent. We were taught to play as a group. You learn the rhythms by chanting, then chant whilst practicing the hand movements with your bachi in the air. We counted in using: “One, two, so, re” – on ‘re’ raise your hands dramatically to begin drumming.

unusual Uk activity breaks

We learned about the Ji-uchi or base rhythms: Gobu-Gobu (doko doko): 5 – 5, Mitsu-uchi (don doko); three hits and Shichi-san (donko donko): 7 –3. These were played for us by the pros so that we could keep time.

We played three pieces: Kamitsuki Kiyari Daiko (Miyake) and Chichibu Yatai Bayashi, which is traditionally played at matsuri (festivals) in Japan, where the drummers are located inside huge floats and these are carried through the streets. The drum is positioned at a 45 degree angle, you sit with it between your legs, lean back and drum away.

Don Ka Ki Daiko was played as a group with a line-up of five drums at the front and four at the back. The first brave soul did a solo of the first two lines, then on “Ha!” jumped to the next drum and the next in line jumped in. This was repeated until all nine drummers had completed their line. Two drummers were on the O-daiko (the really big drum) and joined in for the next part of the piece. Playing the O-daiko was a brilliant experience – it has such a deep, resonant sound. It’s hard work though.

Taiko drumming

The Mugenkyo dojo is open for bookings, you can check the dates here.

While You’re In The Area

We actually did a road trip travelling up to the dojo over several days, travelling along the northeast coast of England, before hopping across to Scotland. This included visiting Whitby…

Whitby abbey


…Bamburgh Castle..

Bamburgh Castle

…and Berwick upon Tweed.

We attended all these experiences at our own expense and can wholeheartedly recommend them all.

Holy Trinity Spire Coventry
Visit Coventry
Afternoon tea in the Cotswolds
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The Isle of Skye – The Skye’s The Limit

The Isle of Skye is a popular destination in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. It’s the largest island of the Inner Hebrides, located around 200 miles from Glasgow and it takes around 5-6 hours to drive there. There are some fantastic places to stop off along the way, though, either to stay for a night or two, or just to break up the drive for an hour or so.

If you are travelling from the mainland you can take a ferry ‘over the sea’ to Skye from Maillaig or drive to the Kyle of Lochalsh and cross the beautiful bridge.

Just before arriving at the Kyle of Lochalsh you can visit the 13th Century Eilean Donan castle located on a small islet just off the coast and accessible via a bridge.

The Isle of Skye is much, much larger than you think it is. You really need a car to be able to explore it. The scenery is spectacular so take it slowly and enjoy a leisurely drive.

It’s worth noting that a lot of the villages marked on the map are very tiny, usually comprising just a few houses. Portree is the largest town on the island and would be a good central location to stay for a few days especially if you are exploring the northern attractions.

We stayed in Broadford which had some nice hotels and restaurants and was closer to the Skye bridge but further from some of the attractions. It meant quite a lot of driving each day, especially as roads on Skye can be slow. But then if the view from your bed looks like this, you really can’t complain.

The Isle of Skye

Oh yes, our hotel had a Cornetto hotline – free ice-cream on demand – which is a policy that should be implemented in hotels across the world.

Cornetto Hotline!

The Northern Part of the Isle of Skye

The Isle of Skye has some fantastic scenery although it can get crowded as it is a popular destination. A lot of the roads near the main geographical attractions are single track and it’s worth knowing the convention for driving on these sort of roads: Single Track road advice – Skye Guides  Look ahead to see traffic that may be approaching and locate the next passing place. Only use the passing place to the left. If there is one on the right, wait on the correct side of the road and let the approaching car use the passing place.

If you have just passed a passing place but you can see that it would be difficult for oncoming traffic to have to reverse their car in order to allow you to pass (for example, if they have to reverse up a hill or around a corner) do the decent thing and reverse up. Also, if you are driving more slowly than other traffic, it’s polite to move into a passing place and stop briefly so that other drivers can overtake you. Take your time. The scenery around you is guaranteed to be gorgeous so relax and enjoy the drive.

There are also loads of walking opportunities across the whole island. The car park for the Old Man of Storr was absolutely chocka so we skipped that.

The Isle of Skye

There are car parks scattered along the road for much of the northern part of the island and they are mostly free but you have to pay to park at some of the more popular attractions. They are usually not very far from a fantastic view.

The Isle of Skye

The Quiraing offers an amazing walk. Located right at the north of the island via a single track road the car park is located at the top of the hill. You can do a circular walk or just trek along the path and back. It’s absolutely manageable for the average walker but there are some sections where you may need to scramble. And the views are splendid.

The Isle of Skye

Carrying on over the top of the hill from the Quairang takes you to Uig, which has a pleasant harbour and also the Skye Brewery which makes cracking beers. The beers on offer are broad in range but because it was a cold and windy day we opted for two of their darker varieties. (Which, of course, we imbibed later that evening as it was a long-ish drive back to the hotel.)

Skye Tarasgeir beer has a wonderfully complex flavour and you can really taste the peat on the malts. It’s light on the palate initially but the flavour develops and lingers on the finish. A fine quaffable beer.

Skye Tarasgeir beer

As expected, Skye Black is a very dark. On first taste it feels like a porter. Roasted malts give bitterness but this is tempered by the addition of local heather honey which comes through subtly. It also has rolled oats and hops which add to the flavour to the beer. 

Close to Uig is the Fairy Glen, a delightful landscape.

Neist Point is a remote lighthouse located on a peninsular and again offers spectacular and dramatic views. It is possible to walk to the lighthouse (just park with all the other cars along the roadside).

Further south on the western coast, the Talisker Distillery offers tours but can get very busy. It’s the oldest and probably the best known whisky distillery on the island. It’s well worth booking a tour in advance if you’d like to visit. Even the shop had a half hour queue when we turned up.

Leaving the Isle of Skye

On leaving the Isle of Skye and heading back into the Scottish mainland there are some other interesting stop-off points.

We were generally blessed with uncharacteristically good weather for much of our trip to Scotland. Unfortunately on our way back from Skye the rain swept in and, while we went to the Five Sisters of Kintail viewpoint, reputed to be one of the finest views in Scotland, we didn’t experience it at its finest.

The Glenelg Brochs, Dun Telve and Dun Troddan, are amazing dry stone constructions over 10m tall with a concentric design that provides an outer and an inner wall. They date back to the late Iron Age and are around 2000 years old.

They are something of a cross between and fort and a mightily impressive house. You are free to wander around them.

Incidentally, the little village of Glenelg has probably the coolest twinning on the planet.

A Walk Around Alderney
A walk around Alderney in the Channel Islands
Visit the Faroe Islands
Visit the Faroe Islands
Enjoying haggis in Scotland

Iceland Hofn
Visiting Iceland
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Haggis with Neeps and Tatties

Scotland’s National Dish

There are many reasons to visit Scotland. The landscape is nothing short of spectacular whether you are visiting the highlands, the lowlands or the coast.

The country has a long and fascinating history and the towns and cities, particularly Glasgow and Edinburgh, have an enormously rich cultural heritage. It even boasts a famously elusive monster that apparently dwells in its biggest lake, Loch Ness.

Food-wise, Scotland has so much to offer. With a long, beautiful and often dramatic coastline, the seafood is top quality. With plenty of grazing land Scottish meats are also fantastic – notably the beef, pork and lamb. And then, of course, there’s the whisky (always spelt whisky, not whiskey) – with distilleries scattered all over the country.

Haggis with Neeps and Tatties

Scotland’s national dish is haggis.

The first rule of haggis is: do not think about haggis.

The second rule of haggis is: do not think about haggis.

Haggis is comprised of the heart, lungs and liver of a sheep, all ground up together, mixed with oats and spices, and then boiled inside the stomach of a sheep.  Yes, it is basically boiled offal. And anyone who has ever tasted nasty grey liver which had been boiled until it could bounce for their school dinners are likely to have been put off offal for life. Offal does have a strong flavour and, when cooked badly, a horrible texture. Haggis is great because it uses all parts of the animal to the full – nothing is wasted – which is as it should be.  And having tasted it (while trying very hard not to think about it)… it is genuinely delicious. Maybe it has an additional ingredient of magic because those components shouldn’t work and yet they really do.

Vegetarian haggis is also available for vegetarians/vegans or those who really can’t stomach the idea of stomach-boiled-offal. Vegetarian haggis uses the same oats and spices combination but replaces the meat with nuts and seeds. It tastes the same as conventional haggis but has a different texture that is really nutty and also absolutely delicious.

Haggis is traditionally served with neeps and tatties. Neeps are turnips (to the Scots but actually swede to the English and the Welsh – probably) and tatties are potatoes (for which there is very little possible ambiguity).

Both vegetables are boiled and either diced or mashed before serving. The whole meal is hearty and filling.

Haggis with neeps and tatties

Poet Robert Burns wrote one of his best known poems ‘Address to a Haggis‘ in 1787, in which he proclaims his admiration for the “great chieftain o’ the puddin’ race.” It is traditional to eat haggis on Burns Night, the 25th January (the poet’s birthday), where the Burns Supper comprising haggis is consumed along with some good whisky. Burns’ poems are also recited. The tradition started a few years after Burns’ death when his friends set up a meeting to commemorate his life and works. There is a conventional order to proceedings including a ceremonial slicing of the haggis.

If you fancy making haggis, neeps and tatties, there is a recipe here.

It’s essential to enjoy the dish with a wee dram.

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