Scotland stirs the imagination
Date Posted: 29/01/2011
Sweeping landscapes of misty mountains, glens and lochs, coupled with magnificent castles and ruins tell vivid stories of the past. It can only be Scotland.
Surrounded by the sea, aside from the 60-mile stretch along the Cheviot Hills that forms the border with England, Scotland has a strong, proud identity. In addition to the dramatic rural scenery, the main cities of Edinburgh, Glasgow, Dundee, Aberdeen, Inverness and Stirling all possess a rich heritage and culture.
Food and drink is another highlight and your group members will enjoy tasting regional delicacies such as Arbroath smokies, Lochfyne kippers, Scottish cheeses, Dundee cake and, of course, a wee dram or two of whisky.
Take the high road
Scotland has a modern and efficient road, rail and ferry network which allows good access to almost all parts of the country and surrounding islands, so you’ll have no trouble getting around.
VisitScotland can suggest a range of themed itineraries, such as castles, coast and countryside, or magical isles and peninsulas. You can even follow dedicated food and whisky trails. Another option is to take in sections or the whole length of one of Scotland’s 12 National Tourist Routes. Varying in distance, and as diverse as the Scottish landscape itself, these routes are high on scenic appeal and things to see and do along the way.
For example, from Aberdeen your group can follow the Highland route to Inverness. On the way you can visit the Grampian Transport Museum at Alford, continue through the lovely valley of Upper Donside and up the heather-clad slopes of the Lecht to Tomintoul in the fringes of the Cairngorms. Here you are in the heart of whisky country, where many distilleries offer group tours. Afterwards your group can continue to Inverness, the capital of the Highlands.
Another option is the Deeside route from the ‘fair city’ of Perth, all the way north to Aberdeen, the so-called granite city. Highlights include spectacular mountain views as you pass through Glen Shee, before descending to Braemar. As you drive through Royal Deeside, your group will pass Balmoral Castle, the beloved summer residence of the royal family.
The official opening of the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, celebrating the legacy of Scotland’s best-loved son, takes place this month in Ayrshire. The National Trust for Scotland attraction in Alloway comprises the famous Burns Cottage where the poet was born, historic landmarks that inspired his writing, the elegant monument and gardens created in his honour, and the new museum housing the world’s most important Burns collection. There is discounted entry for groups.
In Glasgow, the new Riverside Museum, which will replace the existing Museum of Transport at Kelvin Hall, is due to open this summer. The museum will highlight Glasgow’s important maritime history and house collections that are not on display at the current museum.
Moving to Edinburgh, the £46 million transformation of the magnificent Victorian section of the National Museum of Scotland, formerly the Royal Museum, is also due for completion this summer. The improved visitor facilities include a new welcoming arrivals hall at street level, cafe and shop. The museum is in the middle of Edinburgh’s old town, just minutes from the Royal Mile and castle, and admission is free. Special guided tours can be arranged for groups of ten or more.
The National Museum of Flight, 20 minutes east of Edinburgh, tells the story of flight from the Wright Brothers to Concorde, which is one of the star exhibits. Groups can relive the heady days of the 1960s ‘jet set’ in a newly restored Boeing 707 where interviews with passengers and crew recall the glamorous days of travel. Also new is the interactive Fantastic Flight section. The high-flying museum offers discounted admission for groups of ten or more and the Aviator Cafe serves snacks and light lunches.
Top of the Scots
For a winning group visit, take a look at some of the attractions honoured in the recent awards for excellence presented by the Association of Scotland’s Visitor Attractions.
The Highland Folk Museum, an enthralling 80-acre living history site in Newtonmore, won the Best Visitor Experience award. Reopening for the season at Easter, the domestic, working and social life of early Highlanders is brought to life by costumed staff. Admission is free and pre-booked groups are welcome.
The Scottish Seabird Centre in north Berwick won a top prize for its ‘Watch out for the Puffins!’ marketing campaign. Located just 25 miles from Edinburgh, the area is home to an amazing variety of seabirds, including gannets, kittiwakes, guillemots and - always a favourite - the puffins. Some of the biggest puffin colonies in Scotland are on the islands close to the centre. There is also a large grey seal colony and your group may be lucky enough to spot dolphins, porpoises and whales. The centre can accommodate groups of up to 50 and offers discounted entry, guided tours and a choice of refreshments.
Winner of the new Heart of the Experience Award was the Scotch Whisky Experience on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. Your group members can take a swirling, bubbling barrel ride through a replica distillery and become part of the whisky making process, and expert tour guides will be on hand every sip of the way. A choice of three different group tours are available and evening visits can also be arranged.
Barra, the most southerly inhabited island in the Outer Hebrides, hit new heights after its airport was named as having one of the most stunning and inspirational approaches in the world. Accessible from the mainland via Glasgow, it is one of the only airports where scheduled services take off and land on the beach.
The pretty island is famous as being the stronghold of the MacNeil clan, who defended the land from Kisimul Castle which sits on a rocky islet in the bay, and is the final resting place of author Compton Mackenzie who wrote the famous novel Whisky Galore.
Five great group attractions
• Culloden: The emotive site of the bloody 1746 conflict between Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Royal Troops of George II, the last hand-to-hand battle fought on British soil, takes on a whole new meaning with the new visitor centre and interactive exhibition. The battlefield has also been restored to closely resemble how it looked on that fateful day.
• The Jacobite: Described as one of the great railway journeys of the world, the Jacobite steam train is famous for appearing in the Harry Potter films and the scene where the Hogwarts Express travels across the 21-arch Glenfinnan viaduct. The 84-mile round trip starts near Ben Nevis and takes passengers past spectacular scenery.
• Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum: Scotland’s most visited attraction is housed in a grand Glasgow building and boasts 22 themed state-of-the-art galleries displaying an astonishing 8,000 objects. Entry is free and special tours are available for groups.
• Old Blacksmith’s Shop: The gateway to Scotland is famous for marrying eloping young couples. Today groups can discover the Gretna Green story and enjoy a host of exclusive benefits and attractions, including wedding re-enactments and meal-inclusive tours.
• Royal Yacht Britannia: This beautiful ship, only 15 minutes from Edinburgh city centre, has played host to some of the most famous people in the world but, above all, she was a floating home to the Queen and her family. New attractions include the chance to see elegant 1930s racing yacht Bloodhound and the Royal Sailing Exhibition which tells the story behind the royal family’s passion for sailing.
Five captivating castles
• Edinburgh: Overlooking the city, the landmark fortress dating back to the 12th century is home to the Honours - the Scottish crown jewels - National War Museum of Scotland and the mighty medieval siege gun Mons Meg.
• Eilean Donan (pictured): Considered by many as the archetypal Scottish castle, it is certainly one of the most photogenic and photographed. The castle’s most spectacular feature is its magnificent setting on an island at the meeting point of three sea lochs on Scotland’s west coast.
• Glamis: The ancient seat of the Earls of Strathmore, childhood home of the Queen Mother, birthplace of Princess Margaret and the legendary setting for Shakespeare’s Macbeth, this magnificent Angus castle lives and breathes more than 600 years of history.
• Stirling: Perched high on volcanic rock, the castle provides spectacular views over two of Scotland’s most historic battlefields, Stirling Bridge and Bannockburn. A £12 million project to restore the kings’ and queens’ apartments in Stirling Castle’s Renaissance palace to how they may have looked in the mid-16th century, is due to be completed by Easter.
• Urquhart: Nicknamed the Guardian of the Glen, the ruins of this picturesque castle stand on a rocky crag on the banks of Loch Ness. The visitor centre has a shop, cafe and excellent audio-visual displays - and who knows what your group members might spot as they look out over the famous loch.