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Loch Lomond

Where to go – Breaks and things to do in 2021

Travel restrictions have reduced our options but the desire to get away for weekends and enjoy dining out is strong. We explore the best places to experience the glories of the Scotland during the pandemic. The accommodation, restaurants and cafés who go the extra mile to be COVID safe and still make their guests feel relaxed.

Up-to-date information on COVID-19 in Scotland is available at the Scottish Government website. (Updated 19th February 2021)

Beautiful places and safe spaces – featuring the pick of Scotland’s best places to stay, restaurants and cafés that go above and beyond to keep guests safe.

Places to Stay

Easterhoull Chalets, Shetland

easterhoull chalets, shetland

Have you ever been to the Shetland Islands? If not then perhaps 2021/2022 will be the ideal time to explore this beautiful part of the country. We’ve suggested Easterhoull Chalets as an accommodation option within this guide because they’re wonderful – perched on the edge of the sea are 9 self-catering chalets, each with a 3-star award from Visit Scotland. Enjoy the view of the harbour and Scalloway Castle in the distance, as well as the occasional boat lazily passing by your window. These chalets aren’t just gorgeous though, they’re also very comfortable and homely. Each chalet comes complete with a very good wi-fi connection, as well as kitchen and laundry facilities. The only issue you’ll have is that you’ll find it hard to leave!

The Fife Arms, Braemar, Highlands

the fife arms braemar

Already legendary in the few short years since opening. A stay at this reimagined hunting lodge on the edge of the Cairngorms is the ultimate antidote to the lockdown blues. Dressing up for dinner is a must in such a glamorous setting, the perfect opportunity to dust down the glad rags. A magnificent staging post for a host of Highland outdoor adventures. As you would imagine every effort is made to offer guests total reassurance, including temperature checks for guests and staff.

Assynt House, Ross-shire

assynt house ross shire

Assynt House is a stunning 7-bed country house situated in the Scottish Highlands. As a 5-star rated Exclusive Use Venue, the building is unsurprisingly spectacular – a grade II-listed Georgian mansion surrounded by jaw-dropping Highlands scenery that once housed President Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor, during their honeymoon tour of Scotland. Choose from either a self-catering stay or in-house catering (including either formal dinners or one-pot meals). Be sure to visit the website to see images of the building and the surrounding area, as well as to read the testimonials of very satisfied guests who have stayed at Assynt House since the business was established in 2006. Once we’re able to travel safely, Assynt House would be a fantastic place to visit for a domestic holiday trip.

Alladale Wilderness Reserve, Sutherland

alladale wilderness reserve

It’s great to visit hotels and indoor venues, but after the year we’ve had there is nothing like getting outdoors. Where better to explore the beauty of Scotland than Alladale Wilderness Reserve, a 23,000-acre estate nestled in the Scottish Highlands. It might seem like a remote paradise, but believe it or not the reserve is only an hour’s drive north of Inverness – practically a stone’s throw. There are 4 different lodges on the reserve that you can stay at, and although they’re all stunning, our pick of the bunch would have to be Deanich Lodge. It’s one of the most remote lodges in Scotland, and is probably the ideal location for any city dwellers who have had a bit too much noise recently.

Windlestraw, Walkerburn, Scottish Borders

windlestraw walkerburn scottish borders

Windlestraw is an independently-owned small luxury hotel overlooking the picturesque Tweed Valley in the stunning Scottish Borders. Set within two acres of private, landscaped grounds, Windlestraw was originally built in 1906, as a wedding gift for the future wife of the Scottish cashmere mill owner, John King Ballantyne. Award-winning Windlestraw offers 5 star gold accommodation and an intimate three AA rosette dining experience. Guest numbers are strictly limited during the pandemic, and those lucky enough to bag a room will receive a highly personal, yet sensitively-distanced stay.

Restaurants and Cafés

Archerfield Walled Garden, Archerfield, East Lothian

Forming part of the Archerfield Estate, the 18th century Walled Garden boasts an inviting garden café serving simple family friendly food with an emphasis on seasonality, as well as a gift shop and well-stocked food market. Visitors are encouraged to explore the restored kitchen gardens, the extensive estate grounds and to follow the Magical Fairy Trail through the woods.

Born in the Borders, Lanton Mill

As the name would suggest, there’s a distinctly Scottish feel and lot of warmth and humour to everything produced under the Born in the Borders banner. The menu at the Lanton Mill restaurant is pure no-nonsense scran, the wall murals are a brilliant pop art mash-up of Scottish icons, and the beers from the brewery, simply lip-smackingly good. A great lunch spot for families with plenty of space for kids to run around safely.

Drift, North Berwick, East Lothian

Operating in the current conditions is especially challenging for a small gem like Drift that plies its café trade from an up-cycled shipping container perched on the cliffs facing the Bass Rock. Hats off to the whole team for making it work, and keeping everyone safe in a way that retains all that makes this place so special. In addition to the new adapted layout inside, there’s the #DRIFTaway trailer for those who prefer their brunch, coffee and cake al fresco.

Loch Fyne, Cairndow, Argyll

Let there be no pretenders. This is the place to indulge a fancy for seafood, Loch Fyne’s original oyster bar is home to great heaps of sweet briny oysters, langoustines and Tarbert lobster. An old Scottish institution with a loyal following that will always welcome new faces – entirely trustworthy and steadfast in uncertain times. Somewhere that the new normal can almost feel like the old normal.

Restoration Yard, Dalkeith Country Park, Midlothian

Set in the glorious grounds of Dalkeith Country Park, near Edinburgh, Restoration Yard is the perfect place to meet outdoors to enjoy a crisp winter walk followed by a restorative visit to the Kitchen to enjoy brunch or lunch in the beautifully restored 18thcentury stables. The Larder is also open for takeaways, just enough of a nibble to refuel before visiting the eclectic selection of clothes, homewares and gifts in the fabulous Store. Younger visitors will be delighted to know that the adjacent Fort Douglas adventure park is open for fun and frolics.

 

Places to visit

 

Coldstream Museum

olympus digital camera
© Copyright Kevin Rae and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

 

The Coldstream Museum is situated right in the centre of Coldstream, in the Market Square (pictured above). The town is well-known for being the home of the Coldstream Guards regiment in the British Army, and the history of the area is well explained within the museum. However what we love about this museum is that it doesn’t just detail the history of the local region, it also includes an exhibition programme that offers a variety of historical artifacts and stories. The museum itself is great to visit, but there is also a indoor children’s play area and a courtyard that you can sit within. Once this museum reopens it’ll be a great place to visit for a history lesson!

There is little information about when the museum will reopen currently, but we will update this page as soon as we have more information.

 

Hawick Museum

fountain in wilton lodge park geograph.org.uk 754819
fountain in wilton lodge park geograph.org.uk 754819

Hawick Museum is the oldest museum in the Scottish Borders and a 4-star attraction baaed in Wilton Lodge Park. This 18th century mansion was converted into a museum in the early 20th century, and many of the exhibits and artifacts outline the fascinating history of the local area. However this is not just a museum about Hawick – the museum has a global history section too that is well worth a look. The museum is especially popular with motorcyclist enthusiasts as it has exhibitions about Jimmie Guthrie and Steve Hislop, 2 motorcycle champions from the local area.

There is little information about when the museum will reopen currently, but we will update this page as soon as we have more information.

 

 

Old Gala House

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© Copyright James Denham (geograph.org.uk)

The Old Gala House is a 16th century building based in Galashiels. Once home to the Lairds of Galashiels, the building is now used as a museum and gallery packed with information about the local area and the people that lived there. The history of the town is explored via interesting exhibits and artifacts, and helps to shed light on the textile heritage of Galashiels. It’s all presented beautifully and within a building that has really stood the test of time.

While you’re there you can enjoy art from varied sources including local and international artists.

There is little information about when the museum will reopen currently, but we will update this page as soon as we have more information.

 

Callander Kirk

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© Copyright David Dixon and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Callander Kirk is a church based in the lovely town of Callander near Stirling. First opened for worship in 1844, the church is a staple of the town and a beautiful piece of architecture. Church services are held on Sunday mornings and evenings every week, and even during the pandemic they’ve been running online services. Hopefully, we’ll all be able to visit again soon to enjoy the beautiful interior and the uplifting services.

Only a stone’s throw away is Trossachs Church, situated on the shores of Loch Achray, a small freshwater loch located just below Ben A’an. The views across the water are stunning and it is a popular wedding venue for this reason. This church opened 5 years after Callander Kirk and has a similar design and interior.

We’re not sure when we’ll be able to visit these great churches again but we will update this page as soon as we have information.

 

 

Balgonie Castle

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Wikimedia Commons

 

Situated on the south bank of the River Leven sits Balgonie Castle, a 14th century castle that Rob Roy MacGregor once captured in the 18th century. At less than 4km away from Glenrothes, the castle is in a bit of strange location – it doesn’t seem like there is much to Glenrothes when you visit, but Balgonie Castle is a great example of what you can find within touching distance of the surrounding area. The castle itself is semi-ruinous doesn’t draw hundreds of visitors every day, but the castle is beautiful and has quite a bit to see, including the occasional reenactment. Plus the area surrounding the castle is great for walks and simply enjoying.

You can visit the castle now but a few of the areas have been closed for the moment, we’ll update this guide when we learn more.

 

Bradford National Science and Media Museum

science and media museum bradford 24 april 2017 02
Wikimedia Commons

This is an underrated museum based in Bradford, with plenty to see and do. We’re big fans of Bradford as it was once known as the ‘wool capital of the world‘, but nowadays the city is better known for attractions like the national science and media museum. Keep an eye out for the Wonderlab, an interactive gallery that explores light and sound.

 

 

 

 

Isle of Purbeck Walking Festival

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© Copyright Phil Champion and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

 

Once we’re able to travel safely, Dorset is one of the best places in the UK to visit. Last year we saw thousands of people flock to Dover during the summer, and if you’ve been there yourself then it’s no surprise to learn that.

One of the best areas of Dorset is The Isle of Purbeck, a small peninsula that is bordered by water on three sides. Hopefully in September 2021 you’ll be able to enjoy the Isle of Purbeck Walking Festival, a 3 day walking festival that includes a variety of walks led by local experts.

This unassuming peninsula is a walker’s paradise. You’ll have to book your own accommodation for the 3 day event, but most of your time will be taken up with walking and getting to enjoy the beautiful area. The festival crosses a range of territories, from the beach in Victorian Swanage to the Jurassic Coast (which is a UNESCO World Heritage site). It helps to have some walking experience if you plan to do all 3 days of the festival, however you can pick and choose what walks you want to participate in.

All walks cost a fixed fee of £3.50 per person and are limited to 15 places, so it’s best to book early if possible. We’ll update this page as soon as we learn more about the walking festival plans for late 2021.

 

Glenbarr Abbey

glenbarr abbey
Wikimedia Commons

 

Glenbarr Abbey is an 18th-century residence based on the Kintyre Peninsular. The historic house was built by Col. Matthew Macalister, 1st Laird of Glenbarr, and was then gifted to Clan MacAlister in 1986 by the 5th Laird, Angus C. Macalister. The house now operates as the Glenbarr Abbey Visitor Centre, as well as the MacAlister Clan Centre. This includes a museum and a gift shop, as well as lots of outdoor space to explore.

Glenbarr Abbey is constructed of locally quarried old red sandstone, and retains a fantastic and quirky medieval look. It really is a very photogenic building both from the outside and once you enter. Extensions added to the house in the early 19th century gave the house a Gothic Revival style in certain parts.

It’s important to remember that this is a real house where the family still live, so being respectful of the space is important. Luckily the MacAlister family are very friendly and have created a tourist-friendly experience for anyone who wants to see genuine Scottish history.

The building is currently closed due to maintenance and remodeling work, but we hope to see it open sometime soon in the near future. Before the closure, entry costs were free for anyone under the age of 16 and £5 for anyone over. We’ll update this page as soon as we hear more about Glenbarr Abbey reopening.

 

Castle of Park, Banff

geograph 5388 stephen bowden castle of park (12th century)
geograph stephen bowden

The Castle of Park in Banff is described as a rambling mansion that incorporates a 16th-century tower house. The site of the castle has been built on since the 13th century, but most of the existing building was built in the 16th century. The Castle house has since been extended and repaired significantly up to as recently as the 19th century. The building was originally owned by the Gordons, but the property was eventually forfeited and acquired by the Duffs. It has a pinkish hue which is very attractive and is based in a luscious green estate around 4 miles northwest of Aberchirder and only a short drive from MacDuff.

The exterior is gorgeous, but the interior really is something special. It is furnished with an eclectic variety of art and antiques. Visitors have access to all the reception rooms which including the great hall and the library.

We’ll update this page once we have more information about visiting Castle of Park later in 2021.

 

Ackergill Tower

Ackergill Tower is a 16th-century castle located on the coast of Sinclair’s Bay, about 17 miles away from John O’Groats. It was once available to hire as a wedding venue (during which time it had a 5-star rating) but is now privately owned and no longer able to visit, however you can still admire the building from a distance.

ackergill tower exterior
Wikimedia Commons, Sian Abrahams

The building is category A listed and really attractive. A walk along the Reiss Beach (at the south of Sinclairs Bay) is the perfect spot to walk down if you want to see the tower. It’s a beautiful white sand beach, and you might spot some surfers. Some people have reported that the ghost of a young woman called Helen Gunn, who was kept there against her will back in the 14th century and apparently jumped from the tower to escape her captors, can still be seen. Keep an eye out!

As of 2021 it is still privately owned, but as a 5 storey building, you can appreciate the beauty of the building from a distance. Definitely check it out.

 

Knockan Crag

640px sculpture on knockan crag
Wikimedia Commons

Knockan Crag is a nature reserve based in the North West Highlands Geopark, approximately 20km north of Ullapool. The formation is stunning to look at and is a great location to visit, but actually Knockan Crag is perhaps best known for being at the centre of a controversy in the 19th century over confusion regarding how some of the rocks ended up there and how old they were. Geologists debated this for decades, and at the time it was known as the ‘Highland Controversy’. It was eventually declared that some of the older rocks in the reserve moved around 70km to the west over the top of the younger rocks due to tectonic action. Much of this story is outlined at the nature reserve via information points which make for an interesting read.

The rocks are impressive and represent the shape-shifting landscape of Scotland, but the reserve is more than just rocks. Keep an eye out for the wildlife and fauna at the location, which includes rarer growth like Mountain Avens and Rock Sedge. The lime-rich soil supports richer vegetation which allows for some interesting growth. The reserve is open at the moment and can be visited, there is a car park and interpretation centre which hosts the information points we mentioned previously.

 

Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve

beinn eighe national nature reserve geograph.org.uk 248991
Wikimedia Commons

Spanning almost 5000 hectares, the Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve is an amazing mix of mountains, moorland, woodland and bogs. What we love about the reserve is the variety of ways you can interact with the landscape – the trail networks are well marked and can lead you across varied terrains, or if you simply want to sit and appreciate the beauty of the area then picnic areas and viewpoints are also well placed and ubiquitous. The visitor centre is open from April to October and is based just outside Kinlochewe. There are 3 trails which start from the visitor centre that are open all year and this is a good place to start your walk from.

To really explore the reserve, you’ll need to set aside a day and be well prepared. At the centre of the reserve is the Beinn Eighe ridge which is worth a visit if you’re willing to make the journey – the ridge consists of rugged peaks and slopes that sit between Loch Maree and Glen Torridon. The nature reserve has taken Covid precautions and can be visited safely.

 

Flanders Moss

bridge on the flanders moss panoramio
Neil Aitkenhead, Wikimedia Commons

Continuing with the theme of nature reserves, we wanted to give Flanders Moss a mention. It is an area of raised bog lying in the Carse of Forth in West Stirlingshire. A bog might not sound like a great day out, but there is plenty to see and appreciate here. The area was formed over 8000 years ago, and it is regarded as an internationally important habitat that is considered to be the largest raised natural bog in Europe.

 

One of the main joys of the reserve is seeing the variety of flora that the moss supports the growth of. Keep an eye out for round-leaved sundew, cranberry, bog asphodel, white beak-sedge, and the very rare bog rosemary. If you’re more interested in wildlife then you’re also in for a treat. Birds like tree pipit, cuckoos and wood warblers can be spotted near the wooded areas, whereas short-eared owls and ospreys can be found in various locations across the reserve. Adders have also been spotted at the reserve, a good reason to stick to the paths!

The conditions of the bog have also allowed for the preservation of some pretty interesting historical objects – for example, a Bronze Age cauldron made of beaten bronze was found there in surprisingly well-kept condition.

If you want to visit the reserve then there is a great viewing tower that provides you with a panoramic view of the bog.

 

 

Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve

muir of dinnet nnr geograph.org.uk 588382
Stanley Howe, geograph, Wikimedia Commons

Another nature reserve, the Muir of Dinnet is a nature reserve near the village of Dinnet up in Aberdeenshire. It actually lies within the Cairngorms National Park, another excellent reason to visit. Like many of the reserves we’ve included in this list, the Muir of Dinnet is a real mix of terrain – wetlands, woods and moors can be found there, leading to a wonderful variety of wildlife and flora. Keep an eye out for Scots pine and Aspen (one of the rarest of Scotland’s native trees).

Although the flora and fauna are a real treat, perhaps the most breathtaking (and fascinating) aspect of the reserve is the historical markings left behind by glaciers over 10,000 years ago. These have taken the form of vast gorges, the most interesting of which might be the Vat Gorge (where the Burn O’Vat flows).  There is a visitor centre here that outlines the history of the reserve, and you can easily head from the centre on a woodland walk around Loch Kinord.