Blog Scotland

Scotland, Stout and Steak with Highland Heather Lodges

After limiting myself to a mere £100 for a weekend in London, I had a bit more cash to spare for my following weekend.

Having rode the Megabus last weekend (for a rather gruelling 13 hours), I was eager to take my travels into my own hands once more for my trip up to Scotland.

Whereas my last trip to London had been full of fanciful visits to art galleries, hip restaurants and bars – I knew that a weekend in Scotland would be a little more down to earth. Whether you’re staying in rural Scotland, as I was, or making a trip out to one of it’s metropolitan centres; you’re almost guaranteed a refreshing change of pace whenever you visit. From the sleepy pubs, that progressively slide into drunken raucousness as the hours wear on, to the charming restaurants and cafes that litter the high streets of it’s towns and villages; Scotland’s tourism has been built off of it’s reputation for welcoming hospitality and homespun charm.

Although a vast network of rail lines and bus routes link together much of rural and urban Scotland, the country is arguably at it’s best when you’re driving yourself. Similar to tackling some of the great wide roads of America, you can only get a sense of scale of the country when you’re driving through it. Only when you’re cruising from one tiny to settlement to the next, on smooth roads winding through the dramatic landscape of the Highlands, do you get a sense of just how huge the country really is and how many people live in relative isolation from the rest of the world.

For around £100 per night you can get a glimpse into what this might be like, whilst living rather luxuriously at Highland Heather Lodge; my home for the weekend.

Before your mind drifts off to a Wham-style scene of log cabins and snow, remember that I stayed here by myself and in the middle of Summer. So, although there were no adorably awful 80s mullets or cringe-worthy snowball fights, there was glorious summer sun and idyllic peace and quiet.

There are times when the luxury of a bar and room service is outweighed by the hectic nature of modern hotels. Sometimes it’s simply better to go without these things and trade in the metropolitan standards for something a bit more homespun and infinitely more relaxing.

Set in the quiet village of Crieff, the small selection of cottages that Highland Heather Lodges have on offer are modern, practical and comfortable. Offering wonderful views out into the local area; each lodge comes complete with it’s own kitchen, bathroom, and hot tub. You might have to source and prepare all your food and drink yourself, but the sheer space and freedom that you’re given, for the price that you’re paying, simply cannot be argued with. Once you’ve made the drive up to Crieff, a meandering journey that took me around 6-hours on a Friday morning, what you get up to is very much up to you.

You could go hiking, in some of the most picturesque countryside that Great Britain has to offer, you could tee of at one of Scotland’s many gorgeous golf courses, or you could simply do what I did – kick back, eat some good, locally sourced food and find a quiet pub to read a book in.

The choice is really up to you, either way you’re unlikely to put a foot wrong. 

Blog Scotland Wales

The Shetland Isles with Airport Parking Market

I needed the whole week to recover from an exhausting weekend in Ireland.

Whilst I’d originally planned to enjoy the charm of Ireland’s capital and kick my feet back, in the end I found the infectious spirit of Dublin too rapacious to ignore.

I drank more Guinness than I ever thought was possible and stayed up the whole night talking nonsense with a gang of youths half my age. The hangover which accompanied me on the drive back home served as a constant reminder that I might still be able to put them away like I used to in my old networking days, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I should.

I had planned on taking my time, driving back up through Wales and perhaps stopping off for a piece in the midst of Snowdonia. Instead, with the weight of the world hanging on my eyelids and a lingering yeasty smell that I couldn’t quite shake off, I found myself a conveniently empty car park near Pembroke Castle and passed out – exhausted.

I awoke to a tapping on the window, my little Ka was absurdly steamy and the Parking Officer clearly suspected that there was something untoward going on inside. All he found was a dishevelled looking 40-something woman with a serious case of morning breath. I thanked him for waking me and promptly sped out from the car park before he had the chance  to consider what I was doing there in the first place.

With a sneaky McDonalds breakfast inside me, the world began to shift from greys and whites to the familiar blues and greens of the Welsh countryside. Snowdonia is one of my favourite places to drive through. The roads are as smooth as you like and some of the views that you’re treated to verge on the pornographic. By the time I returned to Conwy I was more than ready for another sleep which I gratefully dropped into as soon as I could.

Mum and Dad were rather amused when they found out about my indulgent weekend and suggested that I take it easier on my next trip, advice that I took to heart when I booked flights for the Shetland Isles.

Home to a population of less than 24,000, the Shetlands are comprised of a handful of islands that collectively amounts to around 1,400 square kilometres, around two thirds the space of my beloved Snowdonia National Park. The weekend I had planned would by no means set my world alight with excitement, but there comes a time (around when you hit 40) when you discover that the promise of unbroken fresh air and light exercise is more alluring than the idea of several pints down the pub. So I packed a pair of walking boots, small rucksack and took the Ka up to Edinburgh to catch my flight.

I get a little thrill whenever I’m on the way to the airport, regardless of the duration of the flight. The entire ritual of the experience, from booking my parking (I use Airport Parking Market to get the best deals) to check-in, is something that brings me straight back to my days working in business and causes me to unconsciously start going through non-existent presentations in my head and rack my brain for investment opportunities that were optioned years ago.

The hour and a half flight flew by in a flash, the dark indigo of the North Sea quickly surrendering the craggy coast lines of Shetland. There are few airports that I’ve landed in that are as dinky as Sumburgh’s. Just a few bare landing strips are accompanied by a couple of boxy buildings, greatly reducing the time in between landing and getting out into the open air.

When it comes to accommodation on this small crop of land, the bulk of the hotels and guest houses can be found in Lerwick, the Shetland’s biggest settlement.

However, I wanted to be as far away from this as possible. I was lucky then to get my first choice when it came to Airbnbs. Abby is a writer and journalist specialising in the Shetland Isles, so she makes for a perfect host. Her cottage is a gorgeous little retreat from reality. Surrounded on all sides by expansive moor land and lochs, cars pass by rarely, making this a truly idyllic spot to enjoy

After a 45 minute drive to the cottage (you can hire cars from the airport) I’d already seen half the island from the comfort of my rented vehicle. Abby’s cottage is situated pretty much bang in the middle of the main island, making it an excellent base of operations for rambles and walks out to the surrounding countryside. If I was worried about drinking too much during the weekend, I needn’t have, there are no pubs near walking distance from the cottage, only a quaint little village shop and cafe.

The Mainland of the Shetlands is a truly peaceful place, it doesn’t matter whether you’re in the centre of the island or in one of the many little inland settlements, the exposed nature of the island is forever in your mind with the sea breeze tossing a fine layer of sea salt over every blade of grass. After a weekend spent walking the hills and eating the fine food that these islands have to offer (I ate a cream cake in Lerwick, on the way back to the airport that made me want to die) I felt thoroughly refreshed…

…if not a little thirsty for a pint.