Activities to get up to in Scotland 2018
It’s that time of year again. When those best laid plans and resolutions seem more ominous by the day and the first shifts back at work trigger soul searching and an alarming amount of time spent on Google. But, unlike the overly optimistic gym membership, those fanciful cookbooks you intended to delve into or that bizarre amount of quinoa that’s optimistically taken over the cupboard, making travel plans is much more straightforward. And much less painful. With a new year comes new objectives and, whether you’re coming from near or far, here are my top nods for things to do in Scotland in 2018.
Go on a road trip
I’ve come to the conclusion that Scotland is the best road tripping country in the world. A bold statement. But here’s why. Obviously the scenery is spectacular but, so what, the planet’s full of spectacular scenery. There’s no doubt it’s easy to lose yourself in the vastness of the Highlands – but you can do that in loads of countries. Clearly we’re a hospitable bunch and there’s going to be plenty of memorable watering holes full of good chat along your route but, again, that’s not enough in itself for such a lofty opinion. No, I feel I’ve got the neck to make such a claim because of Scotland’s diversity. It’s the diversity that seals it. Never have I come across such a wee place that can change its face completely from region to region. Beaches, mountains, lochs, glens, cliffs and waterfalls all come together to constantly keep you guessing. Net result – no two road trips are ever the same.
The North Coast 500 has stormed to success in the last couple of years to be the most obvious long-distance road trip candidate, but others exist. The new North East 250 is looking to extend the epic Sutherland and Caithness route by snaking along the Moray Firth coast, down past Aberdeen and inland to the depths of the Cairngorms. I’ll hopefully be having a crack at it myself this year and will report back. But it’s highly likely I’ll end that marathon with a full camera, a head full of newly tucked-away historical nuggets that’ll come in handy down the pub one day…..and a boot full of Speyside whisky. Awful, just awful.
Climb a mountain
I realise that I will currently be preaching to some experienced outdoor enthusiasts that have racked up countless peaks over years of sterling outdoorsmanship. Cue lots of folding of arms and self-chuffed smiles from the hikers in the readership. You guys can skip ahead. But, for those that have never been up a mountain in Scotland, let this be your year. I speak to people all the time that have never made it up a Munro, or even a Corbett, for a variety of reasons. Trepidation seems to be the biggest obstacle. Uncertainty about physical fitness; fear of getting lost; inexperience with things like weather, gear and accessibility. Yip, understand all that but I’d encourage you to take on your hesitation and ask yourself why not. Need help? Ask me. Tell me it’s your first time and the big softy in me will happily create you your own digital map for a peak (assuming the tech exists I’ll find it) so you’ll not get lost and, if I’ve climbed it before, I’ll give you the necessary tips to manage.
My Munro count stands at a couple of dozen or so….I’m by no means a pro yet. But each year I’ll challenge myself further and take things up a level. A Cairngorms peak is on my wish list this year and I’ll be doing plenty of walks in the relatively unexplored Angus Glens as well. With a bit of luck, and favourable conditions, an island mountain or two will be wrestled with too. If this really is your first foray, consider the likes of Ben Lomond or even little Ben A’an in the Trossachs to break you in – they come with surprising rewards and very low risks. Need more ideas for beginners? Read on here.
Walk in famous footsteps
With the still astonishing reaction to our Scotlanders’ Outlander campaign last year still in my mind, there’s no doubting the appeal of hitting up Scotland’s TV friendly spots on your own terms. The Outlander crew have been just about everywhere and Season 3 has added more spots in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Ayrshire and more to their prestigious and photogenic list. There is something to be said for seeing these places first-hand and before you know it the selfies will be happening outwith your control. As someone who’s gleefully skipped around Craigh na dun more than once, you’ll get no judgement from me.
The Outlaw King, starring Chris Pine, will also be out soon and promises to rival even Braveheart in the popularity stakes as the story of King Robert the Bruce unfolds before us once again. The Da Vinci Code’s impact on Rosslyn Chapel; Skyfall to Glen Coe; Macbeth for Skye and Shetland for, eh, Shetland show that ‘film tourism’ is here to stay. Even the less-glam Netflix hit Lovesick, set in my own ‘hood of the west end of Glasgow is at it. That was a Hogmanay hangover, choke on the Cheerios moment when I realised that this daft yet oddly enjoyable show I’d been binge-watching was filmed within view of my living room window. Aye, all the cameras are coming to Scotland.
Visit a new island
The tourism bodies and others can’t say this directly but I can get away with it – give Skye a break this year if you can. Its most popular spots have become dangerously overrun and the damage in terms of traffic, road rage, erosion, litter and worse could end up causing irreparable damage. First time visitors, I get it. Your trip wouldn’t be complete without it and don’t let me stop you. But for repeat visitors, consider your other options. Mull, Arran, the Outer Hebrides, Orkney, Shetland, Islay, the Uists and countless other smaller beauties await you. Skye is uniquely dramatic and truly breath-taking but many have been in touch to say that recent trips have been at times stressful, expensive and hideously congested – which is not what Skye should be. It needs a recovery period while infrastructure changes are implemented and here’s a further breakdown of the best alternatives for you to consider.
Check out Dundee
My final word for 2018 goes to Dundee. A fabulous wee place that’s full of characters and a big heart, recent years have seen an unprecedented cultural injection. Scotland’s long-established cartoon capital, the streets have a similar feel to my own home city of Glasgow. Like Glasgow, Dundee was a major trading hub and a specialist in shipbuilding, whaling and textiles. This included being a world leader in jute (making a visit to Verdant Works essential). The fabulous McManus Galleries, the inspirational Discovery Point and the views from Dundee Law are all further incentives. If you make your way out to the suburb of Broughty Ferry, you can even risk it all with a splash at Dundee’s very own beach.
The new V&A Museum, broadcasting the best of Scottish art and design magnificence, is likely to be the icing on the cake and will open its doors this year. A stunning-looking exterior has had me curious for ages and I’m likely to be amongst the first in line on opening day. There’s never been a better time than 2018 to put Dundee on your map.
There you have it! My top picks for the year that will hopefully have set your mind to work and help you through the darkness of Back to Work Syndrome. Whether you’re still juggling hopeful ideas or have your plans firmly set in stone, I’d love to know where Scotland will take you this year…..