I’ve just come back from a 1-week holiday in Scotland with Keith and his lovely mum Ruth. We started in Aberdeenshire, where Keith’s dad grew up and now rests (we went to the place where his ashes were scattered and checked to see how the spring bulbs that marked the spot were doing – we found one daffodil bud), and travelled the Northeast through Cairngorms and Perthshire before reaching Edinburgh. These are parts of Scotland neither Keith nor I was familiar with, and we made some great discoveries along the way. Here are some highlights:
Coynachie Guest House, Gartly near Huntly
This is a gem of a B&B, certainly the best I’ve ever stayed at. It’s a period house with lots of character in a wonderfully secluded spot in the countryside a short drive away from Huntly. We messed up our booking and turned up on the wrong date, but luckily Fiona, the landlady, had rooms available and we were welcomed without a fuss. Our rooms and en-suites were incredibly spacious and beautifully appointed. The attic suite consists of a spacious twin bedroom, a separate bathroom with a roll-top bath and the landing connecting them serving as a sitting area. The first-floor triple room (double+single) came with the largest shower en-suite you are likely to see in a B&B. The breakfast, which you pre-order the night before, was very good too – I loved the nutty home-made granola served with yoghurt and fruits in particular.
Dean’s Shortbread Visitor Centre, Huntly
Everyone knows Walkers shortbread, which you can buy pretty much anywhere in the world these days, which is a good thing as far as I’m concerned – but Walkers are not the only producer of the great Scottish shortbread, and Dean’s offerings are just as yummy. They have their factory in Huntly, and the visitor centre attached to it is well worth a visit. The well-stocked gift shop is a great place for souvenir hunting, and the cafe serves absolutely delicious scones.
The Potting Shed Tearoom, Inshriach Nursery, Aviemore
You wouldn’t expect a plant nursery to have a really special tearoom, but here we are – a tearoom voted top-10 in the UK at a small nursery in the Cairngorms area specialising in alpine plants. The cakes were so wonderful we went back and had some more. Another unusual feature of this tearoom is the viewing area, a counter from which you can watch the magnificent bird-feeding station. Red squirrels also make regular appearances here alongside numerous birds.
Creag Bheag, Kingussie
One of the walks you can do from Kingussie, the capital town of Badenoch. We didn’t go all the way to the summit as the paths get a bit trickier for casual walkers, but still high enough to capture this beautiful 360-degree view of the surrounding hills. It must be a great walk to do in the heather season.
We didn’t stop at this little Perthshire village on the road to Aberfeldy, but you’ve got to love the sense of humour.
The Watermill, Aberfeldy
This converted former watermill is now a bookshop, music shop, home interior shop, art gallery and a cafe rolled into one, making it the sort of lovely hub you wish you had in your own town.
Thistly Cross Cider
I never liked beer until I moved to the Netherlands and used to drink cider instead. Ruth spotted this Scottish cider on the menu at Fishers in the City, Edinburgh, and we decided to try it. Now it’s my no. 1 favourite cider. Scotland is not known as a big cider-producing country, but this one, brewed at a farm near Dunbar, is absolutely wonderful – refreshing with a subtle sweetness of the fruit.
Alasdair Fraser and Natalie Haas (as part of the Edinburgh Tradfest)
We found out about this gig by chance. Alasdair Fraser is a big name in Scottish folk music, but I thought a fiddle and cello duo sounded like an odd combination – until now. I never realised how versatile cello could be in the hands of a talented musician. The programme was a mix of traditional and new, and I particularly liked the tune titled “The Referendum” – it would make a nice upbeat soundtrack to the Yes campaign.
Restaurant Mark Greenaway, Edinburgh
We watched Mark Greenaway cook in the Scottish heat of the BBC’s Great British Menu does Comic Relief and decided that we had to try his new restaurant. We are very happy that we did. With inventive dishes that feast your eyes as well as palate, I’m sure he will be joining Edinburgh’s list of Michelin-starred chefs soon.
Fiesta Latina, Teviot Debating Hall, University of Edinburgh
Okay, this is not a new discovery – Fiesta Latina has been around for years – but still a find for me in the sense that it’s much better than I remember. It’s an impressive venue (in a gothic “castle” at the heart of the university campus) with a good floor, the music (now courtesy of my old salsa friend Brian) has hugely improved, and I enjoyed the night much more than I expected.