Pick of the Autumn
Bored? Not for long. Claire Ritchie chooses 14 of the best activities this autumn
1) Watch the Tunnocks Tour Of Mull Rally 10-12 Oct, Isle of Mull, www.2300club.org
Mull is one of Scotland’s most beautiful islands, with craggy castles, stunning beaches and mysterious standing stones to explore – but forgetting all that, why not spend two days this October watching rally cars tear around the streets of its capital, Tobermory, in the dead of night? The tranquil island makes for a restful getaway during the daylight hours of October, but come evening you can join the ranks of the petrol heads sitting in the heather with a flask of tea as the rally gets underway. Now nearing its fiftieth year, the Mull Rally attracts the top competitors from across the UK and beyond. Over 150 entrants will compete this year in the high-speed race over some gruelling island roads. Most races take place at night, although a daylight session is held on the Saturday afternoon for those who want to avoid the witching
2) Soak up the great outdoors in Fort William, www.outdoorcapital.co.uk
Scotland isn’t all about bagpipes, tartan and whisky. Its natural beauty, rivers and mountains make it the perfect location for adventure sports. ‘Outdoor capital’ of Scotland, Fort William and its surrounding area, is an adventure playground like no other. With gorgeous beaches, islands, glens,mountains, forests and lochs – not to mention Ben Nevis and Glencoe – there is something here to suit all tastes. Thrill-seekers converge on the small town of Fort William year-round to try out canyoning, white-water rafting, kayaking, ice climbing and, perhaps most famously, mountain biking. Home to the recent UCI Mountain Bike & Trials World Championships, the area is a magnet for bikers, with a mixture of exhilarating downhills and gentle forest routes to suit racers and novices alike.
3) Let the sparks fly on bonfire night, 5 Nov, various venues
As the rhyme goes, ‘remember, remember the fifth of November’, the day when towns across Scotland pay homage to the infamous gunpowder plotter, Guy Fawkes, by building bonfires and setting off fireworks - lighting up the night sky at an otherwise gloomy time of the year.
Large council-run firework displays are held in most of the country’s big towns - like those at Meadowbank Stadium in Edinburgh and on Glasgow Green - and are usually free, lasting about an hour in the early evening. Grab your sparklers and toffee apples, wrap up warm and be
ready to ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’.
4) Step back in history at New Lanark New Lanark Visitor Centre, 01555 661 345, www.newlanark.org, open daily 11am-5pm, £6.95 (£5.95).
Established during the forward-thinking Enlightenment era of Scotland’s history, the town of New Lanark is a glimpse into the country’s industrial past and a prime example of the famous Scottish goodwill at work. New Lanark was built in the eighteenth century by altruist and mill
owner Robert Owen as a settlement for his workers. Under Owen child labour and corporal punishment were abolished, villagers were provided with decent homes, free healthcare, and affordable food and Owen even opened the first infant school in Britain in the village in 1816.
Nowadays New Lanark is preserved as an important historical site with an award-winning visitor centre attached to its 300-year-old cotton mill. There are also several beautiful riverside walks through the reserve, following in the footsteps of the many poets and painters, Wordsworth and Turner included, who have been inspired by the place. A winter food and gift fair will be held in New Lanark on 8 & 9 November, showcasing local fresh farm produce and treats like handmade luxury chocolates and fudge; perfect indulgences for long autumn nights.
5) Get cooking at the Golden Spurtle Porridge Making Championships 12 Oct, Carrbridge, Inverness-shire, www.goldenspurtle.com
Pack up your rucksack, grab your spurtles and head for the Highlands to take part in this eccentric celebration of Scotland’s favourite breakfast ingredient, the humble porridge oat. Whether you’re a purist who believes water, oats and salt alone make the perfect porridge, or whether you prefer the tastier additions of sugar, honey and even cream, there is much to devour greedily at this event in the picturesque village of Carrbridge in Cairngorm National Park. As Robert Burns once said, porridge is ‘chief of Scotia’s food’ and numerous myths urround the making of the dish, the strangest perhaps being that it should only be stirred in a clockwise direction using a spurtle (wooden stirring stick), held in the right hand so as not to incite the Devil. This year is the fifteenth annual event, in which the World Porridge Making Championship title will be awarded based on the consistency, taste and colour of the porridge in question.
6) Take a whisky tour of Speyside
If the lifeblood of Scotland is uisge-beatha, or whisky, then Speyside is the heart from which it flows. The Spey is one of the finest salmon rivers in Scotland, flowing 100 miles from the Monadhliath Mountains in the west to the fertile coastal plain of the Moray Firth, and famous whisky distilleries are to be found along its entire length. Almost half of all Scotland’s whisky distilleries are in Speyside, and malt whiskies distilled here are considered to be among the very finest in the world. The two essential raw materials for making the best quality single malts exist in abundance in Speyside: locally grown barley from the Moray Firth and abundant water from springs throughout the area - many of which are rich in minerals which contribute to the flavours of the finished product. Most distilleries hold guided tours and tastings of the whiskies, with, of course, the opportunity to avail yourself of a bottle or two to take home.
7) Get ready for the slopes at Xscape Sno Zone, Braehead, Glasgow, 0871 222 5672, www.snozoneuk.com, open daily 9am-11pm.
The Scottish ski season doesn’t kick off until December, if it happens at all, but you can get in some early practise at Scotland’s only indoor ski slope. Real snow falls on the terrain and, less realistically, music thumps through the inbuilt complex speakers. If you need it, equipment hire is included in the session price, and lessons are available for all levels and ages. The 200m main slope is covered with over 1700 tonnes of fresh snow, and there is also a dedicated lesson slope for beginners and novices to build their skills and confidence. Daily tobogganing and ice-slide sessions are available for the young at heart. Lessons last one hour or half a day, and, for quick learners, or the impatient, there is the opportunity to ‘learn in a day’ at a cost of £150. If all that isn’t enough, Sno!Zone is located within the massive Xscape centre, a temple to entertainment, with everything from cinemas, rock climbing, mini golf and bowling to multiple restaurants and bars; plenty to occupy the skiers and boarders once the muscles are too sore to continue on the slopes.
8) Indulge your eclectic musical tastes at the sound music festival, 1 Oct-17 Nov, various venues, Aberdeen, www.soundscotland.co.uk, prices vary.
Sound is the North East of Scotland’s annual festival of new music. It presents an eclectic range of styles - classical, traditional, popular, jazz and experimental - across many events including concerts, talks, electro-acoustic installations and workshops. Aside from the main programme, Sound also operates as an umbrella for a range of concerts, master classes and performances programmed by other educational and musical organisations in the North East. This year over 70 events will take place in Aberdeen and the surrounding area and will
feature two themed weekends, one dedicated to the saxophone and the second to classical and electro-acoustic music. For those who don’t like to pigeon hole their music tastes, this is a golden opportunity to brush up on your eclectic sensibilities.
9) Listen at the International Storytelling Festival, 24 Oct-2 Nov, Scottish Storytelling Centre, 43-45 High Street, Edinburgh, 0131 556 9579, www.scottishstorytellingcentre.co.uk, £49 (£35) for a festival pass.
All Scottish people have a yarn to spin, some lurid, some sad, some hilarious, and the Storytelling Centre on Edinburgh’s historic Royal Mile makes a perfect venue for their telling. Scotland’s annual celebration of traditional and contemporary storytelling brings together artists and audiences from across the world to tell and listen to stories and take part in workshops and discussions. Taking place on Halloween (31 October) this year, the annual Tell-A-Story Day is an exercise in do-it-yourself story making, with community groups, schools and individuals creating their own magical storytelling moments in gardens, pubs, playgrounds and homes across Scotland. Whether you’re a storyteller yourself, curious about storytelling traditions, or you’re just looking for a refreshing night out, this festival will both inspire and
10) Spend a wild evening with Ray Mears 14 Oct, 7.30pm, Music Hall, Union Street, Aberdeen, 01224 641 122, www.boxofficeaberdeen.com, £20.
Well known and loved for his bushcraft courses and television exploits in outback Australia, Ray Mears touches down in Aberdeen as part of his first Scottish tour. In a two-hour show the legendary survivalist will give a talk on his wild world view followed by a question and answer session. This will be the perfect opportunity to grill the unlikely celebrity about his passion for survival training and wilderness bushcraft, which he sees as the detailed knowledge required for us to experience nature in a more perceptive and indigenous way. For anyone who wants to know how to hunt, stay warm and survive out in the wild with only a stone and perhaps a knife for company, this is an essential night out.
11) Get a grip on Shinty, until end Oct, www.shinty.com
For a truly Scottish sporting event,there can be few things more exhilarating than witnessing a live shinty match. A cross between hockey and lacrosse, and related to the Irish sport of hurling, shinty is a game played with two teams of 12 players, each carrying a stick – or caman – with which to hit the ball. The play is fast and fierce, with the ever-present danger that someone will be knocked out by a wayward caman swing. Shinty is predominantly played in the Highlands where clubs compete in various competitions, both cup and league and on a national and also north/south basis. Kingussie has long been the dominant force in league shinty, winning 20 consecutive league championships and going four years without losing a single fixture in the early 1990s. So for anyone with an interest in this curious and potentially dangerous sport, head to Kingussie for one of their last games this season.
12 Celebrate Samhain, 31 Oct, Scottish Crannog Centre, Kenmore, Loch Tay, Perthshire, 01887 830 583, www.crannog.co.uk, £6, child £3.50.
A crannog is a type of ancient lochdwelling that could be found throughout Scotland and Ireland around 5000 years ago. Many crannogs were built out in the water as defensive homesteads and represented the power and wealth of the owner. The Scottish Crannog Centre pened five years ago as a ‘living experiment’ and now showcases items found as part of the centre’s underwater research as well as hosting events linked to or inspired by ancient traditions, such as ballad performances and workshops in ancient crafts. The Crannog is the ideal location to celebrate the festival of Samhain, the Celtic equivalent of Halloween, which is held on 31 October and effectively ends the centre’s summer season. Ceremonial bonfires, impressive fire shows and a torchlit procession will light up the night as the revellers usher the souls of the dead into the afterlife. The Samhain festivities are for people of all ages, so dress up in your ghoulish finery, grab a turnip to keep evil at bay and join in with the latern-carving, storytelling and apple-ducking.
13) Spend a peaceful afternoon at Linlithgow Palace, Linlithgow, West Lothian, 01506 842 896, www.historicscotland.gov.uk, open daily 9.30am-4.30pm, £5.20 (£4.20), child £2.60.
Autumn is the perfect time to take a stroll by tranquil Linlithgow Loch and admire the view across to Linlithgow Palace. This was the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots, one of the great tragic figures of Scotland’s history, and the palace ruins are amongst the most atmospheric tourist attractions in the country. The palace, a former royal home of the Stewart dynasty, today lies empty and roofless, but there is still a sense of awe surrounding the place. The palace that can be seen today was built over a century from 1425, under the reign of several generations of Stewart kings. Erected on the site of an older grand residence that had been destroyed by fire, the new Linlithgow was designed as an elegant ‘pleasure palace’ for the Stewarts and provided a welcome stopover point for the royal family along the busy
road linking Edinburgh and Stirling. The area’s tranquility and fresh air can still be enjoyed today, despite the palace’s proximity to the metropolitan central belt. The path around the loch makes for a peaceful stroll and there are numerous cafes and pubs on Linlithgow high street to warm the cockles afterwards.
14) Sample the best of Scotland on the Isle of Skye
The Isle of Skye, off the west coast of Scotland, is the largest and best known of the Inner Hebrides. Often referred to as the Misty Isle, Skye is famous for its natural beauty, history and wildlife. There’s no shortage of hills to climb or craggy coastline to explore, and with luck you’ll get the chance to spot some elusive creatures. Look out for otters, salmon, red deer and even golden eagles. Music is a key feature of most nights out on the island and the lively pubs crackle with the sound of traditional Gaelic songs. As with all the best Scottish getaways, we should mention the likelihood of whisky being invovled.Talisker, the island’s only distillery, is open to the public for tours and samples of the famous peaty liquid.