As a new year stretches ahead, what better time to start filling your diary with exciting holiday plans? There is no need to look too far afield, because there’s plenty happening right on our doorstep.
As part of its Year of Coasts and Waters, VisitScotland is shining a light on the country’s stunning lochs, rivers, canals and coastal landscapes.
So get that forward planner out and pencil in a few holidays at home…
1. SPLASHING FUN
Aberdeen harbour is one of the best places in Europe to watch bottlenose dolphins. April marks DolphinFest in the Granite City.
Organisers promise games, pop-up activities, conservation talks and science projects.
The festival aims to promote sustainability and inspire guests to sign up for beach cleans while reducing their carbon footprint.
Later in the year, the Edinburgh International Film Festival, as part of its 74th edition, hosts Scotland Shores, an eclectic programme of classic films celebrating Scotland’s coasts and waterways.
Film lovers can dip their toes into the Fest on the Forth, with outdoor cinema screenings featuring movies showcasing some of our most-loved coastal landmarks.
2. NEW BE-GINNINGS
Most foreign visitors already know that Scotland makes a fantastic bottle of whisky. However, they may not be aware that the country accounts for 70% of the UK’s overall gin production and three of the world’s best-selling gins (Hendrick’s, Gordon’s and Tanqueray).
Peebles Hydro, a stunning hotel in the heart of Tweed Valley, has launched its own gin, with four different flavours (London Dry, Pavilion Pink, Navy Strength and Subtly Smoked), four different tonics and a gin school.
Its 1881 gin was named after the year the hotel was opened and uses waters from the rolling Border hills behind the hotel.
Elsewhere, Orkney Distillery was recently awarded a five-star quality assurance award by VisitScotland, just over a year after being opened to visitors.
Two of its gins – Aurora and Kirkjuvagr – were awarded great taste badges last year.
Visitors to the distillery can craft their own gin recipe using more than 30 different botanicals.
3. HEART STOPPER
Launched last July, Heart 200 is a touring route stretching 200 miles around Perth, Stirling, The Trossachs and Highland Perthshire. This stunning road trip links the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs and the Cairngorms National Parks.
The Coig is an exciting set of tourist routes covering Ayrshire, the Firth of Clyde and Clyde Islands.
There are five routes to explore – the Shire, the Shiel, the Arran, the Bute and the Cumbrae. Gaelic for “five”, the Coig covers Ayrshire, Arran, Bute, Cumbrae, Renfrewshire and Inverclyde.
4. WHALE TALES
Launched in June 2019, the Hebridean Whale Trail showcases Scotland’s west coast as a world-class destination for spotting whales, dolphins and porpoises, and champions conservation of the Hebrides’ globally-important marine wildlife and environment.
It’s the first trail of its kind in the UK, connecting more than 30 sighting hotspots.
If you’d love to see charming grey seals or puffins, sign up for one of many Wild Orkney Walks.
Or how about swimming with Britain’s largest fish – the basking shark? They can be glimpsed in the Firth of Clyde, off the coast of Oban and around the Isles of Coll, Tiree and Canna. Book a basking shark tour any time from April to October.
Back on dry land, get up close with your favourite farm animals with Kitchen Coos & Ewes in Dumfries and Galloway.
Guests get the chance to meet Scotland’s beloved Highland Coo. Or join a Forest Safari on the Isle of Arran with Mogabout Tours to see red squirrels, deer and birds of prey.
5. FLAMIN’ HOT
Throughout 2020, visitors have a plethora of fire festivals to choose from, including Samhuinn, which celebrates the Celtic New Year in Edinburgh.
Also in the capital, the Beltane Fire Festival celebrates the start of summer on April 30.
Fend off evil spirits at the Comrie Flambeaux in Perthshire.
Up Helly Aa celebrates Shetland’s Viking heritage on Tuesday, January 28.
Meanwhile, the Burning of the Clavie, a fire festival unique to Burghead in Moray and dating back to the 1750s, marks the New Year this Saturday, January 11, the date the Julian calendar was reformed in Britain.
For more holiday, activity and day trip ideas, and information about the Year of Coasts and Waters 2020, go to visit scotland.com
Best of the rest
From Viking treasure to a Mackintosh masterpiece, 2020’s other must-see events and attractions
MacGregor’s Bar, home of Inverness Whisky and Gin Festival, hosts a series of events dubbed Island Fling celebrating the food, drink and art of Harris, Tiree, Shetland, Orkney, Lewis and Skye.
The events will feature music and workshops inspired by the islands.
Five years ago a metal detectorist discovered the Galloway Hoard. Thought to have been buried in the 10th Century, it contains more than 100 objects of silver jewellery, rare gold ingot and a range of precious metals, brooches, amulets and more.
An exhibition spotlighting the richest collection of rare and unique Viking-era objects ever found in Britain or Ireland will run from May 29-October 18 and will tour Edinburgh, Kirkcudbright, Dundee and Aberdeen before the Galloway Hoard goes on long-term display at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.
MACK IN A BOX
Owned by the National Trust since 1982, the Hill House Box in Helensburgh is considered to be the finest example of domestic architecture by Charles Rennie Mackintosh.
The building, which had been soaking up water like a sponge for more than 115 years, has now been encased in a protective steel box. There’s a visitor centre where guests can learn more about Mackintosh and the Blackie family, whom the house was built for.
A new tree-top course has been created at beautiful Craufurdland Estate in Fenwick, Ayrshire, called the Tree Top Trial. It adds to the estate’s existing range of challenges which include mountain bike trails, crate climbing, mud runs and archery.
Elsewhere, The Hermitage in Perthshire is a beautiful walk covering 33 acres and created in the 18th Century by the 3rd Duke of Atholl. The forest features both conifer and deciduous trees. Rumour has it the duke used a canon to scatter the tree seeds.
IN SEARCH OF NESSIE
The Loch Ness 360° Trail is an epic new walking, cycling, running and outdoor activity route.
As the title suggests, the trail loops around Loch Ness, starting and finishing in Inverness.
This trail connects the Great Glen Way and the South Loch Ness Trail into one circuit, covering 80 miles.