Afternoon outings, day trips and week-long holidays in Scotland
Visit Mull, Lindisfarne, Anstruther and Loch Lomond
This article is from 2012.
As thousands head to T in the Park, The List selects a more tranquil collection of getaways, from unforgettable day trips and weekend city breaks to week-long island retreats
There comes a fleeting, blissful moment, travelling south down the A1, when a fresh vista sweeps into view and the daily grind of city life fades away. The clear blue sea rushes against the cliffs below and a vast, open sky makes promise of the possibility to come – and all just a couple of hours from your front door.
Leave Edinburgh or Glasgow in the morning and by lunchtime you could be sitting down to a sandwich of freshly caught crab followed by a beach walk at one of Northumberland’s many coastal pit-stops. The more active could, if they liked, devour the lot over a few days, courtesy of the North Sea Trail, a 64-mile walk between Cresswell in the south and Berwick-upon-Tweed in the north, but decent ground can be covered by simply cherry-picking some of the highlights.
Journey half an hour beyond Berwick-upon-Tweed to the ‘jewel’ of the Northumberland coastline: the Holy Island of Lindisfarne. It is accessible only by causeway at low tide, twice daily, so be sure to check the crossing times before you head off, or end up stuck in a no-man’s land, being snapped by highly amused tourists and head-shaking, ‘can’t-they-read-the-signs’-lamenting locals. The List speaks from experience.
Film fanatics may recognise the island’s somewhat mystical castle from Roman Polanski’s 1960s psycho-thriller Cul-de-sac or, in more recent years, as the holiday backdrop for the angst-ridden thirtysomethings of Cold Feet – certainly, it’s easy to see why the camera loves this island. Delightfully unspoilt and with a population of just over 150 people, it attracts over half a million visitors each year for its rich history (the ruins of the Benedictine priory and the romantic, 16th-century castle) and the serene beaches that surround it.
Back on the mainland, head on 15 miles south to Bamburgh, where the village’s castle provides a Junoesque starting point for a picnic-inspiring, sandcastle-building three-mile beach walk to the bustling coastal hub of Seahouses. On a summer’s weekend anticipate tourists a-plenty, all stopping in to enjoy the local fish and chips, friendly beer gardens and a truly impressive array of boat trips to one of the surrounding 28 Farne islands. As well as hosting one of the most famous sea bird sanctuaries in the British Isles, the islands will leave seal lovers suitably awed by the large colony of Atlantic seals on and around them. The summer home of four of the five species of British tern, the islands also boast puffins (locally referred to as ‘Tommy Noddy’), guillemots and kittiwakes; boat trips starting at just £8 per person come highly recommended. Round off your day trip at the Pinnacles Famous Fish Restaurant, praised by the Hairy Bikers as the country’s finest fish and chips.
Those looking to add a little cultural gravitas to their trip should check out the Seahouses Festival (23–24 Jun, noon–6pm). While not Olympian in scale, it does the village proud, with a free two-day programme of music and family events. This year’s line-up includes My Darling Clementine, Rob Clements and Rob Heron & The Tea Pad Orchestra to name but a few. For a post-beach/festival/castle alfresco libation, look no farther than the Bamburgh Castle Inn, which also has overnight deals starting as low as £44.50 per person for dinner, bed and breakfast during the low season. Alternative accommodation – should you fancy making a night of it – can be found around five miles away at the Budle Bay Campsite, which boasts eco tents, bunkhouses and stands for campervans.
Aside from the fantastic ease in which you can train, bus or drive it north to get the Calmac ferry over to Mull, the island helps you drop down a gear, if not switch onto automatic pilot, with its single-track roads and laidback pace of living. Book in advance and your train and ferry tickets can be picked up for as little as £50, while accommodation on the island varies from campsites and small B&Bs to larger hotels depending on your budget.
Arguably, there’s no better time than summer to make a trip when the Mendelssohn on Mull Festival (1–7 Jul) is in full force. Tucked away in village halls, remote castles and tiny churches, the festival, inspired by the young Mendelssohn’s visit to Mull in 1829, has long offered a unique experience to performers who are more or less the same age as he was when he wrote his famous Hebrides Overture, a direct result of his visit to the area and, in particular, Fingal’s Cave on the rugged isle of Staffa. It is a classical festival refreshingly light on pomp and what is remarkable is how the locals embrace it and how many visitors come to the island simply to experience it, so prized is the opportunity to hear such beautiful music in such a remote, atmospheric setting.
Based on the second largest of the Inner Hebridean islands, the festival creates a welcome diversion at the end of a day’s sight-seeing around Iona, Staffa or the white sands of Calgary Bay. Doing nothing to diminish the island’s tranquil setting, this is a festival that moulds itself perfectly to become part of the landscape rather than imposing itself on it.
Those looking for a festival-free zone will still find plenty to entertain, from woodland walks and cycle trails to visitor centres, pottery farms and boat trips. Not forgetting the local food and drink, which is a must for any visitor to the colourful waterfront of Tobermory, whether trying the locally produced chocolate and cheese or paying a visit to the distillery. The Western Isles Hotel, looking out towards the Sound of Mull, is a good place to rest your head, so too the ever-lively Mishnish, where you can indulge in a pint of home-brewed Mishnish ale. Tobermory’s Café Fish serves its catch fresh off the boat, while the nearby Mull Cheddar Farm offers great picnic sandwich filling and self-catering accommodation to boot.
We could lie and say it’s not about Anstruther’s mighty fish and chips but we won’t. It is part of it, but really that’s just a taste of what East Neuk has to offer for an afternoon’s escape from Edinburgh. Whether St Monans, Anstruther or St Andrews, the Kingdom of Fife has plenty of life, from small-scale festivals to secret bunkers, aquariums, caves, markets, and museums – all just an hour out of town. Grab a train over the Forth rail bridge and hop on a local bus between villages. This month and next, look out for Littoral, East Neuk Festival’s (27 Jun–1 Jul) new literary strand, and Pilgrimage, a specially commissioned sand sculpture in Crail.
If east coasters have Fife on their doorstep, out west, Loch Lomond is just a short trip away from Glasgow. Sure, you could walk some of the West Highland Way, but why not settle down inside (or outside, weather allowing) for some great food at List favourite The Oak Tree Inn in Balmaha? Not only does it have some mighty fine ales and drams, it also boasts its own smokehouse. That means the seafood platter is well worth the wait. Conic Hill is a short walk away, so too a waterbus to take you around the loch. Alternatively, from Glasgow hop on the train to Largs, home of beautiful marina walks, great cafés and famous ice-cream parlour Nardini’s.
There is, of course, life beyond Scotland. And great plane and train fares as well as hotel deals can be found if you keep your eye on websites such as expedia.co.uk, travelzoo.com and laterooms.com. For a city break complete with great gigs, theatre, food and drink, Manchester seldom disappoints. As with all big cities, knowledge is everything. The city’s music scene is, of course, legendary and a great place to start any weekend. Laidback haunts such as folk and electronic hangout Band on the Wall (Swan Street), jazz den Matt and Phreds (Tib Street), spit-and-sawdust-but-we-love-it-anyway Briton’s Protection (Great Bridgewater Street) which also runs poetry nights, and Saki Bar (Wilmslow Road) are all worth a visit. Art lovers should make a beeline for the recently developed People’s Museum, dedicated to 200 years of British democracy, which comes complete with a sunny riverside café to people-watch from. Lowry fans too should be suitably replete after a trip to the Lowry Arts Centre on Salford Quays, a space that, beyond its vast collection of art, also showcases some great live performances of dance, opera, comedy and more. For food, the Grill on the Alley (5 Ridgefield) does a mighty fine steak; elsewhere, Isinglass (Flixton Road) and high-end Aumbry (Church Lane) are making culinary waves. For drinks with a great view, look no farther than Cloud 23 (Deansgate), so named for its site on the 23rd floor of Beetham Tower. Head up at dusk for some stunning views of the city. The Northern Quarter too, once best known for its independent shops, has in recent years built up something of a go-to reputation for a good night out, and indeed is home to many of the live music venues mentioned above.