The only time we travel specifically for wonderful weather is to visit Noosa in September. Sunshine is almost guaranteed on Australia’s Sunshine Coast at that time of the year. For other holidays, we’ve learned that the goal of travel has to be something apart from sunny days. This way, less-than-perfect weather doesn’t put a damper on holiday plans.
Take Scotland, for example. While it makes sense to visit when the country isn’t in the grip of snow, sleet and sub-arctic temperatures, many of the things you can do here are not really weather-dependent. As they say, there’s no such thing as bad weather, just inappropriate clothing.
Scotland, like New Zealand, is very good at delivering four seasons in one day. If you set out prepared for anything, you’ll have an excellent time.
A drizzly evening at the Brig o’ Turk tearoom
On our clockwise, self-drive tour of Scotland we had a couple of nights at a gorgeous Airbnb studio in the tiny village of Brig ‘o Turk, which is tucked away in the Trossachs National Park. The idea here was to do some hiking in the heather, however it turned out to be quite a gourmet experience. Totally unexpected and proof that the best travel experiences are those you don’t plan for.
After we’d checked in, our accom host suggested we have dinner at the local tearoom. Thinking that would mean a rendition of ‘soup with a toastie’, a Scottish national dish, we emotionally prepared ourselves for an unmemorable meal and armed our umbrellas for a drizzly walk to the village.
Two confit of duck legs later, we were mightly surprised and impressed. Run by a Hungarian family, who also operate Poppies in the nearby town of Callandar, this little restaurant blew our wee Kiwi socks off. The duck was chased down by a superb apple tart served with vanilla custard. If you’re ever travelling between Glasgow and Oban, put Brig ‘o Turk on the agenda and remember to pack your brolly.
A showery hike through the heather
Once the hunting ground for royalty, Brig o’ Turk is located in Glen Finglas, a wide valley in the Trossachs National Park. It was popularised by Sir Walter Scott, who wrote about the area in a couple of his poems. Seems he was responsible for the birth of the Scottish tourism industry. After reading his works, people of the Georgian era felt compelled to go hiking in the highlands.
“So wondrous wild, the whole might seem the scenery of a fairy dream…” Sir Walter Scott, The Lady of the Lake, c. 1810
While we didn’t see any fairies, we did encounter heather in every shade of purple, wild chanterelles, waterfalls and splendiferous views of the local mountains. The occasional shower whisking along the valley kept the scenery fresh and clean. We timed our hike to end at the tearoom. More amazing food.
A windy day in the Gulf of Corryvrecken
Between the islands of Jura and Scarba, just south of Oban, is the infamous Gulf of Corryvrecken. There’s a mountain summit beneath the water here that causes extraordinary tidal currents. When conditions are right ‘the hag’ appears – a massive whirlpool that can be heard 10 kilometres away. Scottish mythology says this whirlpool happens when the goddess of winter, Cailleach Bheur, uses the gulf to clean her clothes, i.e. it’s a giant washing machine. Legends also say its swallowed quite a few boats and people.
It was blowing a brisk 20 knots when Murray and I ventured into the gulf with local operator Craignish Cruises to see this wicked piece of water magic. We’d read enough to know that the hag probably wouldn’t make an appearance, and she didn’t. However we did see some smaller whirlpools, which were large by our standards, as well as massive standing waves. As yachties we’ve seen plenty of scary waves and water, but nothing quite as forbidding as Corryvrecken.
“A depe horlepoole quhairin if schippis do enter, thair is no refuge but death onlie.” Alexander Lindsay, A Rutter of the Scottish Seas, c. 1540
A sunny walk to Glyven Castle on Kerrera Island
While we were staying in Oban, the Scottish weather fairy blessed us with a gorgeous blue-sky day. What to do with this rare gift? When we checked with the local visitor centre, they trotted out a standard spiel about local walks. But they missed the blindingly obvious – a walk on Kerrera Island, the chunk of land directly opposite Oban. I suspect this is because the locals don’t want the place overrun with tourists. They want to keep the best for themselves.
Our own research revealed the two things we needed to know about Kerrera: it’s accessible by ferry, and it has a great walking trail that includes both a castle and a tearoom. Serendipity!
This island hike in the sunshine was the highlight of our four days in Oban. We met a lot of Scottish sheep and loved the fact that lambs are allowed to stay with their mothers way beyond the NZ practice of three weeks. Many of these lambs were nearly as big as their mums. Gylen Castle was another highlight. Not huge, but ridiculously picturesque. The long-drop loo directly opposite the kitchen fire on the 2nd floor is particularly intriguing. As for the tearoom, it was a real smile-maker. After hiking for 90 minutes on an almost uninhabited island, there’s no friendlier site than a refreshment stop that welcomes you with open arms and a tasty menu.