A Scottish Staycation: Off the tourist trail

Now that lockdown rules have been relaxed across the UK, I’m not alone in plotting the perfect summer getaway, though with the potential threat of post holiday quarantine looming over trips abroad, the option of a UK staycation has become more and more appealing (check out Fiona’s road trip recommendations for the Peak District here).

As a confirmed sun worshipper, it’s rare to find me in my native Scotland in the summertime, but after 5 months cooped up in a small London flat, the lure of wide open spaces, lush green hills and windy coastal walks is calling me back home, even if it does rain! 

For anyone looking to plan your own staycation to Scotland, here are my tips on the local places I love, hidden away from the main tourist trail.

Bishops Hill in Kinnesswood from the authors family's back gardenView of Bishop’s Hill from my back garden

I’m from a small village just outside of Fife called Kinnesswood, a 30 mile/ 45minute drive from Edinburgh. Not necessarily well known amongst tourists, it’s a gorgeous spot to visit after you’ve whizzed around the nearby city.* 

The last rays of sun as golden clouds above KinnesswoodGolden hour in Kinnesswood

With lots of opportunities for outdoor exploring, Kinnesswood sits at the bottom of Bishop’s Hill, part of the picturesque Lomond hills. A favourite for gliders and hill walkers (check out the Scottish Gliding Centre for if you're interested in gliding), it’s a gentle climb that hosts faerie stones, small waterfalls and plenty of sheep, lending amazing views over the village and across to nearby Loch Leven.

Bishops Hill across the fields, a walking route into KinnesswoodKinnesswood and Bishop’s Hill seen from different walking routes into the village

Road into Kinnesswood at sunset, a great walking routeKinnesswood and Bishop’s Hill seen from different walking routes into the village

With Scotland’s ‘right to roam’ making most parts of the countryside accessible, there are many pretty routes in and around the area, some of which are also accessible by bike, though I prefer to walk down to the loch so I can easily nip into Loch Leven’s Larder - their excellent cake selection always gives me extra motivation en route!

Loch Leven in the misty sunshineLoch Leven in the misty sunshine

The loch features a group of small islands hosting the ruins of Loch Leven Castle, that can still be visited by tiny boat (via the Kinross side). Famously the site of Mary Queen of Scots imprisonment and failed escape attempt, it also hosted Robert the Bruce back in the day, so it’s a great spot for any Scottish history buffs, or big kids like me and my friends who have been known to run around the ruins playing hide and seek.

Loch Leven ScotlandThe islands on Loch Leven

Loch Leven islands at sunset, ScotlandThe islands on Loch Leven

When back on dry land and in need of a more challenging walk, I recommend heading to John Knox’s Pulpit. Named after the Protestant reformation leader (and supposed archenemy of Mary Queen of Scots), this natural amphitheatre style outcrop with waterfall and concealed cave can be reached after traversing some pretty tricky terrain, bringing you to the rumoured secret meeting spot for supporters of Knox’s cause. It has brilliant acoustics thanks to its natural ‘pulpit’ style shape, perfect for anyone who wants to try some outdoor karaoke with curious sheep for an audience!

If you prefer something a little more sedate, or are tight on time, there is a short Tetley trail connecting the villages of Kinnesswood and Scotlandwell via Bishop’s Hill, which has a fun /terrifying homemade tree swing to try along the route, and brings you down to the village’s namesake- a small wishing well whose ‘healing’ water is said to have cured Robert the Bruce’s leprosy, so definitely toss a coin and make a wish whilst you’re there. 

Falkland Palace and green garden

Falkland Palace

Less than twenty minutes drive from Kinnesswood takes you to the village of Falkland which, if you’re a fan of the tv series Outlander like Clare and me, you’ll recognise as the quaint setting for ‘Inverness’. The village is host to Falkland Palace- the favoured holiday spot for Mary Queen of Scots (her again!), and home to Britain’s oldest tennis court. It’s well worth a visit to have a quick game and tour the gorgeous gardens, and if your trip comes post lockdown restrictions you might even spot my mum telling tall tales as one of the palace’s volunteer guides.

Roses at Falkland Palace, Scotland

A garden at Falkland Palace, Scotland

Once you’ve checked out the local history and location spotted, there are loads of lovely walks to try nearby, including Maspie Den to stand behind the gushing waterfalls there.

The Walk Highlands website has excellent information for this, and loads of other walking routes all over Scotland, with brilliant step by step photo guides, maps and a grading system so you can gauge difficulty levels- super useful if you’re short on time and just fancy a gentle stroll, or have a full day free to take on a more challenging trek. The Welcome to Fife website also has useful info on distances, access, parking and estimated times for planning your route.

If you’re feeling peckish post Maspie Den walk, the local organic farm shop and cafe Pillars of Hercules is a short drive away and does huge sandwiches and salads, with a great selection of homegrown fresh produce you can buy from their farm shop.

If you’re already visiting Fife you can’t leave without driving up the Fife Coastal path, stopping to check out the views across the North Sea from little fishing villages like Anstruther, Pittenweem and Crail, before arriving in the more famous St Andrews. 

With their distinctive higgledy piggledy old houses, strong local arts heritage (Pittenweem has a long established annual arts festival which will hopefully be back in 2021), and outstanding fresh fish and chips they are all great stop off points for beautiful beach walks and long lunches. Anstruther will always be my favourite amongst them, as it’s home to ‘the best fish and chips in Scotland’- found at Anstruther Fish Bar (prepare to queue in the high season, it’s very popular!)- which always taste better when eaten on a long beach walk. Once you’re done you can take a pleasure cruise from the harbour across to the Isle of May, to spend the day spotting puffins and sunbathing seals on the nature reserve (and if you’re really lucky a whale or two) while hearing all about the local legends of it’s smuggler history.

Keep going up the coast to St Andrews to round off your trip visiting the renowned university town- not complete without a visit to local institution Janetta’s to sample the Irn Bru flavoured sorbet or Scottish tablet ice cream while you explore the old town, beaches and golf course.

St Andrews Ruins and coastlineSt Andrews Castle ruins and coastline

Where to stay in Kinnesswood:

Pretend to be the local laird of the manor staying at Park House B&B- The ‘big hoose’ of the village, it has beautiful rooms, often a field full of ponies out front and even a mini orchard amongst it’s grounds, with lovely friendly hosts: 

Otherwise I recommend nearby Kinross for more hotel and B&B options. Asmuss Oversized Boat Neck Sweat and Panelled Trousers worn by woman sitting in long dry grass

What to pack: 

Scotland’s weather is famously changeable, so clothes that can help you deal with ‘all seasons in a day’ are a must. The Panelled Trousers from Asmuss are great for damp days, with their inbuilt thermal regulation, water repellent finish and rapid drying that will keep you cosy in the wind and rain, while the natural stretch means you can easily move around. Pair them with the Oversized Boat Neck Sweat and Beanie on chillier days, or style with the Panelled T-shirt and Bucket Hat when the sun is shining, keeping the Pleated Zip Through Sweat handy to layer up if the weather suddenly turns. 

Asmuss Panelled T-shirt in Pine GreenAsmuss Bucket Hat with Geometric Rose EmbroideryWhat to read:

No holiday is complete for  me without some holiday reads, and I always like to read books set in the area I’m travelling to. As I mentioned the Outlander tv series, the books it’s based on (by Diana Gabaldon) will definitely get you in the mood to explore Scotland, as will Peter Beresford Ellis’ collection of ‘Celtic Myths and Legends’ that feature brilliant folklore stories of kelpies, silkies and faeries. If you like something a little more factual however you should try ‘I never knew that about Scotland’ by Christopher Winn-  it provides plenty of random facts to amuse/annoy your fellow car passengers with on your travels!

Note:

* I recommend visiting all of Edinburgh’s famous sites, making sure to include the stunning Palace of Holyroodhouse nestled at the bottom of the Royal Mile- I worked there as a student and I can vouch for the amazing visiting collection of artworks and extremely spooky haunted hallways! Afterwards climb the heights of Arthur’s Seat just behind the palace for stunning views across the city and out towards the Borders, before ending the day sampling the delicious vegetarian delights at David Bann

 

Photo credits: John Hamilton

 

1 comment

Wow..what a write up! I live here and feel a mixture of pride and honour to live in such a beautiful part of the world . On returning to Kinnesswood after a trip away, I never cease to feel utterly mesmerized by the stunning scenery. As for the weather, well…it is Scotland! The recommendations from Charlotte are spot on and Asmuss clothing would be perfect for any walking adventures in this picture postcard location. Go on..give Scotland a try!

Susan Hamilton September 25, 2020

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