I love travelling in Britain – and I especially love a road trip. So I was delighted to be asked to offer some of my best itineraries and tips to the Guardian, for their Open Road project, in associated with Enterprise.
I gave my thoughts on everything from the best picnic spots and the quirkiest places to stay to the ideal road trips for golfers and the best way to explore the Scottish Highlands.
I normally hate chain hotels. The homogenous décor, the basic rooms, the textbook service – it can all just feel a bit, well, uncaring.
But then there is Hotel du Vin, the hotel chain that somehow manages not to feel like a chain at all. Individual décor, opulent rooms, five-star service, everything about this brand screams luxury – and the newest addition to the family, in St Andrews, is no exception.
As soon as I checked in I was instantly at home, my luggage spirited away, the front desk staff like old friends asking about the journey. And then came the room – where I discovered one of the best views in Scotland. Four separate windows, each with a view of the world-famous golf course, each one looking out to sea. I could have gazed out at it for hours, watching the tide fill and empty the saltwater swimming pool, assessing the swing of every golfer on the 18th hole, but there was dinner to be had – and that turned out to be even more special.
We sat in a bay window, looking out over the water, watching the sun set, and ordering cote de boeuf from the josper grill and Anstruther lobster, baked in garlic butter. We washed it down with Marlborough sauvignon blanc and a bottle of Malbec, tough choices made from the slimmed down but tightly edited wine shortlist. We could have stayed for hours, but our bedroom was calling, with its huge bathtub and vast bed. We slept like golfers having played a full 36 and woke to find the sun rising over the water and into our room.
From the hotel it is a short walk to the castle, the cathedral and the university – a trio of historic sights that are not to be missed – and a worthwhile stroll to Janetta’s ice cream parlour where the 20-plus flavours almost flummoxed me and the 2014 Golden Cone Award was proven well deserved.
Every time we returned to the hotel we were glad to be back, sinking into the sofas and plunging into the bath, and each time I had to remind myself that there are more of these – a chain of hotels that doesn’t feel like one, and to which I am always happy to arrive.
In June, I sailed out from Oban on Scotland’s west coast, to St Kilda, the furthest outpost of the United Kingdom.
It was an adventure – the biggest one I’ve been on in the UK – and I will never forget the sheer excitement of arriving in Village Bay, the jagged rocky landscape rearing above me, the puffins wheeling above my head.
I wrote about the experience for About Travel. You can read about my voyage to the islands with Hebrides Cruises as well as my thoughts on walking on the main island of Hirta.
Location, location, location. What more could you ask for from a hotel? Well, how about an indoor swimming pool? And an on-site restaurant? Perhaps sweeping views over an ancient city?
The Best Western Queens hotel in Perth has all these things – plus an enviable location right next door to the bus station and across the road from the train station.
It is also just a short walk from the city itself, and I spent my days strolling through the parks that hem in this stately ancient city and sitting outside cafes enjoying the sun and the excellent
local produce – soft fruits from Perthshire, seafood from the Scottish isles.
Each time I returned to the hotel my room seemed to expand. I had what amounted to a dressing room, with just the wardrobe and suitcase stand to occupy the floor space, plus a large desk, a separate table and chairs and an armchair, all arranged around the bed.
And then there was that view. Out over the rooftops of Perth towards the hills, seen from three different aspects from my multiple windows.
It tempted me out again and again, but each time I was glad to return, making full use of the swimming pool and the comfortable lounge bar with free wifi.
Yes, location is important, but so too are facilities – and so the Best Western Queens has plenty to offer, whether you’re catching that bus or train or not.
I’ve arrived in Glasgow many times but never before to waving, cheering crowds. The Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games have brought people out in their thousands to watch events both ticketed and free – and to launch it all, on Saturday July 26th 250 boats sailed up the Clyde from Greenock to the Glasgow Science Centre.
I was lucky enough to be one of the guests onboard CalMac‘s MV Lochinvar, which led this flotilla – the largest ever seen on the Clyde – up the water from Greenock. The MV Lochinvar is CalMac’s newest vessel and was built at Ferguson’s Shipyard in Port Glasgow – which we would sail past on our voyage. It is also one of the ferry company’s two hybrid ferries, which use innovative technology, including battery banks that supply a minimum of 20% of the energy consumed on board.
We set out from Gourock to join the flotilla, departing from this scenic town at the mouth of the Clyde and making our way up the river that was once the heart of Scotland’s shipbuilding industry. I was expecting heavy industry but instead saw geological anomalies, such as Dumbarton Rock, a fortress that has a longer recorded history than any other in Britain, the grand neoclassical Custom House at Greenock quayside, and thousands of flag-waving locals lining the river’s banks.
Here are just some of the many pictures I took along the way.