Visiting Scotland? Where would you like to stay?

Scotland has some fanstastic accommodations to offer and can pretty much serve any budget.

I often conduct multiple day tours and not all of the accommodations my guests choose are within my own budget.

For example if my guests opt for the gorgeous and curiously remote The Torridon it is sadly not feasible for me to stay there. I opt for an equally enchanting visit to the Tigh An Eilean, which also offers the most amazing seafood.

For myself I am quite happy to stay in a youth hostel and trust me some are at the very best locations, besides you get to meet more interesting people than in your usual hotels.

View from my room in the hostel at Braodfort, Isle of Skye

I personally also love staying in cabins as they allow me to practice my morning yoga outside:

The Loft cabin’s in Moray
The Loft
The Gather near Kennacraig/ Tarbert
The Gather Clamping pod view

Other quirky options are always bothies or some private AirB&B’s, for example I really adored the Soroba Farm Cottage bothy. It was so cosy and the hosts were lovely. You really get to know the locals staying in places like this.

Some of the smaller and often less expensive hotels can be the most amazing fun, such as The Bandstand in Nairn which even hosted a music festival while I stayed. It was amazing:

These are only some examples I have stayed in very many places over the years and had the opportunity to validate some of the posher places my guests stayed in.

Very much acclaimed recently on televison (BBC) and rightously so is The Broch on Harris and there are also many castles which have been turned into hotels.

If people are asking me for recommendations I will always try to assemble quite a variety of different styles, because if you are coming to Scotland you do want to meet the locals- everywhere!

Fife Whisky Festival

It is never easy to get tickets for this. Last year I managed to get tickets for the main event which is showcasing distilleries, whisky bottlers and shops. I attended with three like-minded whisky friends, which was a lot of fun.

This year I “only” managed to get tickets for the Woodrow’s of Edinburgh Masterclass. Woodrow’s of Edinburgh is a relatively new indepent bottler/blender, founded by Woody Tan about a year and a half ago.

The first bottle of their tasting was a very drinkable blend, created from 10% GlenScotia, 50% Glenord & 40% Highland Park. It was not quite my personal taste, but certainly a very good blend.

The second dram on trial was a 30 year olf Girvan Grain whisky which was very smooth indeed and will be loved by any bourbon fan.

Dram number three was a delightful 13 year old Mannochmore which brought us perfectly into Scottish Single Malt territory.

The next was right down my line as a lover of Islay whisky, a Bunnahabhain 16 matured in an Oloroso cask. Woody was so kind to let me have the rest of the bottle. So my clients will have the opportunity to sample one this season.

The exitement was certainly not over! Next we were privileged to sample a Mortlach literally just siphoned from the cask two days previously. It was a delight too!

Last dram of the day was a Williamson of Laphroaig, named after the famous female distiller Bessie Williamson. Another very complex and lovable uisge beatha. I had to finish the last three tasting samples. They were so good.

I will now need to look out to purchase tickets for next years’ Fife Whisky Festival!

If you are interested in a bespoke whisky tour in any or all of the five whisky regions, get in touch:


Cruise ship excursions from South Queensferry/Newhaven

My last two blogs were providing some ideas on visiting St Andrews and/or Edinburgh.

Today’s blog will give you some other options, some of which would tie in with a visit either to Edinburgh or St Andrews.

If you are an Outlander fan you will spot a few filming locations, if you love modern Scotland there is something in it for you too.


If your cruise ship docks at Newhaven, you are about 35 mins away from the amazing Hopetoun Estate. If you are docked at Sout Queensferry you are only 10 mins away.

The Hope family, who own the estate for 300 years, opened a big part of Hopetoun House to the public as far back as 1970. They still have volunteers who started back then. That alone says something about this wonderful place. The house is situated in the most amazing grounds.

The house dates back to 1699 when Sir William Bruce created a comfortable country house, which was completed by 1707. Only 14 years later the house was renovated by William Adam who cleverly converted it into this Versailles-like palace. Its importance was highlighted in 1822 when King George IV visited.

Nowadays the house is often used as film or wedding location and international horse trials also take place on the grounds.


Next stop could be the nearby Midhope Castle, which was Lallybroch in Outlander (Hopetoun House was Sandringham). Midhope dates back to the 15th century and one could assume that it may have fallen into disrepair as the Hope family moved into Hopetoun House. In any case by 1923 it was a ruin.

Staying a little with the Outlander trail we will visit “the ship which never sailed” Blackness Castle. This one has little interior since it was used as a prison but sits in the most beautiful spot. If you have grown hungry by this time you may want to have a wee bite at the Lobster Pot.

Mary Queen of Scots resided often at Linlithgow Palace, which again nowadays is a ruin, but the Outlander film crew was here too:

From here we turn to a much more modern Scotland with the Kelpies. The entire area was heavily involved in caol mining with union canal being the main means of transportation. Horses were used to pull the boats and in 2013 Andy Scott created these gigantic horse sculptures in honour of all the horses serving here.

Not too far away the Scottish government invested in reconnecting the Union and Caledionian canal. Instead of utilising the old 13 locks (some of which were built over) the Falkirk Wheel was constructed.

From here we travel on to the other side of the Forth to view one of the oldest coal mining areas: Culross. Due to a flood caol mining came to a halt here and in the 1950ties the palace and surrounding houses were all pretty derelict. The National Trust renovated and amd today you are presented with the cutes old town.

From here we will head back to the cruis ship. There are quite number of other attractions in this area. Depending on your travel habbits you might opt to select only a few of these locations to delve in deeply or you might go totally the other way.

To find out more get in touch:


Touring Edinburgh while your cruise ship docks at South Queensferry or Newhaven

In my last post I described some options to visit the Home of Golf, St Andrews and other parts of Fife, more precisely East Neuk’s fishing villages.

Today I would like to invite you to explore options in and around Edinburgh.

I often begin at Calton Hill, especially if it is a sunny day. From here you get a manificient overview of the old town, which was built on a vulcanic ridge. The castle on top and the Royal Mile leading all the way down to Holyrood Palace and the new Parliament. To your left you will see the other vulcabic ridge called King Arthur’s which in opposition to the Royal Mile only contains one building, a ruin of a chapel.

Alledgedly , King James V’s wife, Mary De Guise, loved to hunt he grounds of Holyrood Palace so building on the area behind the Palace and King Arthur’s Seat was prohibited.

My next stop would be the castle, which can be visited and displays the Scottish Crown Jewels. Close to it you haave the Whisky Experience, which does tours, stock a good variety of Scotch and offer a nice lunch at the Amber Restaurant . If you like some fine dining in stunning surroundings try the Witchery.

Across the street you will find Camera Obscura for a laugh. A little further down the Royal Mile you are invited to visit Gladstones Land, which depicts the exact living conditions of medieval people in the town.

Meandering down you have various options of nice pubs, such as the Duncan Brodies Tavern or the Jolly Judge. Close by is also the Writer’s Museum, which a fabulous stop too.

You could also side track to Victoria Street and Grassmarket.

In the courtyard of the city chambers you can enjoy famous people’s finger prints, such a J.K. Rowlings.

J.K. Rowlings finger prints at the city chamber

Not much further and you come across St Giles Cathedral, which is well worth a visit and you should take a look at the Thistle Chapel which, in its current form, was commissioned by James VII (of Scotland and II of England). It is the greatest honour to be part of the order of the Thistle. Scottish as it may evne the angels play the bagpipes here.

The Museum of Edinburgh and of the childhood are great places to learn more about this fantastic city and you will also get to see the Toll House and John Knox’ House.

If you love the American Series Outlander you can turn briefly right to view Jamie’s printer shop.

Before reaching Holyrood Palace you will bypass the New Parliament. Edinburgh has three of those, one built in 1936 at the bottom of Calton Hill, close to it and old school which was converted in 1975 for a referendum in the same year.

Holyrood Palace is rich in history especially surrounding Mary Queen of Scots, who spent some time here and had to endure her Italian secretary being murderd while being pregnant with James the VI (and I of England). The boodstains can still be viewed or so they say.

Form here you could decide to take a hike up King Arthur’s Seat or alternatively make your way over to New Town, which was built to relive the overcrowding of the old town. In 1766 a competition was held 26 year James Craigs’ proposals won. A loch was drained bridges were built and the New Town honoured the two kingdoms, Scotland with the Thistle Street and England with the Rose Street. Rose Street is full of lovely restaurant ans a pedestrian zone. If you enjoy Ian Rainkin’s Inspector Rebus novells you might want to frequent the Oxford Bar and see if you could meet the author there.

As you can see Edinburgh has millions things to offer. A little further away I would mention the Britannia (the Royal’s mode of transport), Leith Distillery, Roslyn Chapel and if you are into Outlander Gosford House, Craigmillar Castle, Glencorse Auld Kirk and Midhope Castle (Lallybroch).

Cruise shiop arriving at Newhaven

If you like my suggestions why get a tour curated exactly to your wishes:


What to see if your cruise ship is at South Queensferry

St Andrews is in vincity of South Queensferry (just over an hour’s drive away) and if you have an interest in golf for many it is a must-see location as St Andrews is -after all- the home of golf.

St Andrews R& A Clubhouse litterally the HOME OF GOLF

Your are also close to Edinburgh and in my opinion Edinburgh is one of the nicest towns in the world combining a vibrant old town with everything a modern city needs, even if it happens to be a posh, modern hotel which the locals nick named “the turd”

The “turd”

It is possible to combine a vist to St Andrews and Edinburgh. Edinburgh is about 30 min drive from South Queensferry depending on traffic and you are likely to experiences a little rush hour traffic. You gain the number of attractions you can visit during your excursion but you loose the leisurely feel of exploring without too much of a time pressure. However, it can be done and I have had numerous guests who absolutely loved this option.

Alternatively you can do something else completely, whether this may be based on the popular TV series of Outlander or perhabs a feel of modern, innovative Scotland or in the reverse just some World Heritage (though I would argue to add Edinburgh back in to this option).

Let me start with St Andrews:

If you are mad about Golf St Andrews itself has six golf courses (Old, New, Eden, Balgove, Jubilee, Castle & the Duke’s) and the wider area, the Kingdom of Fife, has roughly 50, some of which you can visit on your way to or from St Andrews (Elie & Earlsferry, Dumbarnie Links, Crail Golfing Society, Kingsbarns etc.). One special one to point out is located at Hill of Tarvit mansion house and it is still a Hickory course, called Kingarrock.

Some of these golf courses bring you into the cute fishing villages of the so called East Neuk (a Neuk being a corner and if you look at a map you will know why).

You could start with Elie & Earlsferry, which has a stunning beach and harbour, some cute shops and you can certainly have a cup of coffee too (or a pint if you are so inclined).

St Monans has one of Fife’s best restaurants, Craig Miller’s, , a smoke house and a famous old church next to a small but impressive harbour.

PIttenweem is famous for its cave, chocolate factory, its annual art festival (in August) and the nearby Kellie Castle, which is small but impreses as no buildings have been added since 1600.

Anstruther is must bigger, and like Pittenweem, sports yet another golf course, beside a famous fish & chip shop, a fishing museum, as well as the Reeper which featured in Outlander.

Crail has one of Fife’s oldest golf course, a famous pottery and a shell fish shack in its very cute harbour.

Next up is Kingsbarns with a famous golf course, a whisky distillery, Cambo House, an amazing and a gorgeous Inn.

On the way to St Andrews you will also pass the golf courses of the Fairmont Hotel and the Castle Course.

In St Andrews itself you will be spoilt for choice as well, even if golf is really not on your agenda. St Andrews is a university town with a buzzing feel to it, even in summer when the students are mostly away. It has a gorgeous medieval town centre which is easy to walk and you can enjoy the local shops and restaurants while learning about its long history. The university was founded in 1413 though the settlement of St Andrews dates back much further. Both cathedral and castle tell the story of religion and reformation, on the grounds of the cathedral you can also inspect Tom Morris junior & senior graves. There is a harbour with East Sands alongside it and on the other side of town there is the big “Chariot of Fire” beach, West Sands. Prince William studied at St Andrews and met Kate Middleton here. You will not be bored.

If you like what see and would like a bespoke tour curated especially for your needs get in touch:


Tomorrow I will post the Edinburgh option so stay tuned in!

Visiting Abhainn Dearg Distillery, Isle of Lewis

I love travelling Scotland in the winter months. Mostly the climate is mild, though it can snow and you may get stuck! It is also a time where most attractions are closed and if you come to the Hebrides all places -except for the ones the locals need- are closed.

This enables you to explore the true remoteness of these places with all the wonderful romanticism but also with a real insight to what it takes to live on the Outer Hebrides.

I once went in the second January week to the Isle of Islay and most distilleries had just re-opened after their Christmas break. You walk in and feel like a Royal as you happen to be the one and only visitor. You can chat to people at length, learn about the place and get a true feeling.

This time it took me to Harris & Lewis and one of the places I was really looking forward to visit was the Abhainn Dearg Distillery. I was lucky enough to get my hands on two Abhainn Dearg whiskies prior to visiting:

Abhainn Dearg X single malt, 10 year old, bourbon cask at 46%,

Abhainn Dearg single malt, 10 year old, Pedro Ximenz cask, cask strength 63

I adored the X with its cloudiness, hint of seasweed, salt, a touch of smokiness and such complexity. I usually do not like sweet drinks, nevermind alcoholic sweet drinks, but the PX (Pedro Ximenez) litterally blew my head off. It is strong, it is sweet, but divinely so with sugar cane, caramel hints, some seaweed, saltiness and a hint of peat. I loved it so much that that alone was a reason to travel all the way to Lewis.

I pre-booked a tour and we were warmly greeted by Marko Tayburn himself. He took great pride in showing us around this small and truely unique distillery. You could immediatly feel that he has his whole heart in the venture.

The barley is grown near Stornoway, the water is taken from the river Caslabhat, which the locals named red river (Abhainn Dearg in Gaelic) near the distillery, the peat is harvested near by using a peat cutter (Taisgeir in Gaelic). The only none local ingredient is the live yeast.

The distills were created based on the old illicit distilling process of the Isle of Lewis and they are very unique.

Unique Abhainn Dearg Distills

Pretty much everything is done in-house including malting on a wee table:

Abhainn Dearg Distillery malting table

The distillery keeps cows who are fed on the barley once the sugar has been extracted for distilling. So the distilliery utilises the concept of taking from the ground and returning back to it and even has plans to switch to hydrogen as a powersource!

We eventually got to taste the cask strangth Pedro Ximenez 60% which is one of the best whiskies I have ever tasted. We also tried the cask strength Madeira. Both amazing drams so we bought both bottles.

Tasting the good stuff

You can listen to Marko Tayburn’s vision here:

If this article has inspired you to visit you can certainly utilise Starfish Travel to do so; click here for a sample tour.

Beach opposite of Abhainn Dearg Distillery
Most important employee of Abhainn Dearg!

Bliss, rain & storm in the Outer Hebrides

Unlike my usual touring mode this time we hired a camper van since we are way out of season, which implies nothing is open in areas as remote as Harris and Lewis.

We did a tour around South Harris, ventured around North Harris into Lewis stopping at standing stones, breathtakingly beautiful beaches, black houses and some very unique moonlike landscapes.

Dail Mor Beach
Callanish Standing Stones
Gearrannan Black Houses

Yesterday, Sunday, we managed to have a pint in a pub before moving on to yet another chin dropping gorgeous beach east of Vatisker.

Sitting laptop on my knees, coffee in my hand starring at that beach with the rain making a soothing noise on the roof of the van. It is 8.45 am and barely daylight. A February day in Lewis! It is total bliss.

The weather has not been kind, but added to the wildness of this place and to created the background for some amazing photos. Let me share:

Dun Carloway Broch
Drive away from Butt of Lewis
Butt of Lewis lighthouse
Sheep sheltering walls near Butt of Lewis

Haggis, neeps and tatties, whisky and Burn’s Night

Every year Scotland celebrates her favourite poet’s birthday Robbie Burns on the 25th of January. He lived a rather short life in poverty even though he had some success publishing his poems during his life time. He lived for love which he explored in a wedlock with Jane Armour who bore him 9 children in ten years of which three survived. He was also well known for his various affairs; the first one with his mother’s servant which resulted in another child. He had 12 in total. He grew up as a farm worker, but was well eductated by his father and some formal education. The farming could not sustain the family so eventually he became tax & excise officers which took him around Scotland collecting taxes from whisky distilleries.

Besides his romantic poems and the fact that he found his voice in Scots he also had a very humurous side to him when he addressed the Haggis

Image from Christina Cucina

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great Chieftain o’ the Puddin-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy of a grace
As lang ‘s my arm

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o’ need,
While thro’ your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see Rustic-labour dight,
An’ cut ye up wi’ ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an’ strive:
Deil tak the hindmost, on they drive,
Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
Bethankit hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi’ perfect sconner,
Looks down wi’ sneering, scornfu’ view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as a wither’d rash,
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro’ bluidy flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He’ll make it whissle;
An’ legs, an’ arms, an’ heads will sned,
Like taps o’ thrissle.

Ye Pow’rs wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o’ fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu’ prayer,
Gie her a Haggis!

First printed 1786 Robert Burns

Another one of his peoms made it almost to the national athem:

Scots wha hae (poem by Robert Burns)

The address to the Haggis can be enjoyed annually during the worldwide celebrations of Burn’s Night on the 25th of January usually alongside some good old Haggis, neeps (turnips) and tatties (potatoes). Other ingredients to a successful Burn’s Nights are good Scottish whisky (blended or single malt if your prefer) and a good bit of ceilidh:

Robert Burns died in 1796 only 37 years old and over 250 years later here we are still celebrating his birthday.

How to plan your Scotland trip

I create bespoke, tailor-made tours throughout Scotland for a living and I abslutely love doing it. Each and every single one of my clients adds something new and exiting to my own expirience of this fabulous country.

My own approach is client-led, usually my customers have some ideas, I take them on board, curate a tour and utilise my experience to make further suggestions, we discuss and eventually develop a tour “made for you”.

This is all done fairly old fashioned. I use google maps to create an itinerary and provide weblinks of other attractions. It is my responsibility to turn your dreams in tours which are fun and manageable without rushing or sitting for hours on end in the vehicle.

Times have moved on of course. For once there are chatbots. I tend to converse with ChatGPT, who is a patient listener but not always helpful. I ask him (I selected a male voice no offence) if he could tell me which Islay whisky distilleries are closed on Sunday:

ChatGPT was correct in informing that Ardbeg is closed on Sundays, but neither Bunnahabhain nor Lagavulin are closed on Sundays. ChatGPT also correctly confirmed Bowmore to be closed on Sundays but also Laphroaig is closed on Sundays.

Bottomline is -as helpful as ChatGPT appears- you end up researching opening times yourself. and while I am thinking of it let me ask how many whisky ditiileries there are no Islay. From ten whisky distilleries ChatGPT got eight and knew about Port Ellen, which is a pretty decent answer:

Let’s turn back to real people: another source of very useful information can be obtained from travel bloggers such as the Wayfairing Kiwi or The Chaotic Scot. They are both lovely personalities and very knowlegable. I personally enjoy reading their blogs and posts. I have not, yet, recruited either of them for itineraries as I feel I would be cheating.

The other very famous one is -of course- Rick Steves, who produces sounds and highly entertaining content.

Staying to the social media there are various groups which are fun and provide good advice. I am showing my age here just naming the FB group “Travel to Scotland” you can engage with fellow travellers and Scots, ask questions and get some decent recommendations.

Then there are a number of specialities, such cruise ship pages, or if you are interested in outdoor activities; Wild Scotland, or wellbeing; Heal Scotland or remote locations with Hidden Scotland or WalktheHighlands. This is only a selection of course if you want more do get in touch.

Lastly back to technology: apps. I have recently downloaded “Discover Scotland”, “Holiday Scotland Mapps”, “traveline Scotland”, “AllTrails”, “NorthCoast500” and “Highland Discovery”. They all provided some good information but were mostly lacking in linking into different areas. If you wish to plan a trip in a certain region that works you can even add music or postcasts to your driving experience, but if you go out of the region or switch to a different mood of transport it gets tricky. Local tourist associations have also engaged in apps. such as “The Coig” or “Inthefootstepsofthekings”. I am not yet convinced about any of them but am very happy to be proven wrong.

Winter in Scotland

We are on day number three of 2024. It is winter and we have a mere 7 hrs and (wait for it!) 5 mins of daylight. That in combination with constant rain, fog and sometimes sleet can place the most sturdiest of persons easily into a deep depression. Beside our dear uisge beatha (whisky) there are also glimpses of hope. the first day of 2024 in the east of Scotland presented itself with the most glorious day.

I took the opportunity to visit Lunan Bay beach in Angus:

Lunan Bay beach and Red Castle, Angus, Scotland

On the way we briefly stopped at Hosptialfield House, which was closed on the first of January but still presents you with some lovely walks:

Since that day we have seen hardly any sun or daylight for that matter….

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