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Hidden Gems of Scotland

20 March 2023


Author: Derek Middlemiss

After the success of hunting for and pinning down Yorkshire’s County Champions, we turned further North and set our sights on finding Scotland’s walking Wikipedia to share their knowledge on what makes the country so great.

That’s where we introduce Derek Middlemiss – a proud Scot with extensive countrywide knowledge, offering tourists suggestions for the bigger cities, right down to the lesser known hidden gems – advising on trips and adventures to suit all preferences.

I’ve lived in Scotland all my life, with spells working abroad in Holland and the Middle East, but I would return home four or five times a year. I was born on the Island of Bute and I’m now retired in East Kilbride.

I love my home country, and I am so proud to be Scottish. We have lots of history, beautiful scenery, and we are a friendly nation. There is so much to do beyond Edinburgh as most visitors seem to go there and then say they have seen Scotland.

Bute, Scotland

My favourite place is the Island of Bute because that is where I was born and brought up, and I still go back to see my family once or twice a year. That aside, it is quite a lovely island, and when I was young, it was the place for holidays – “Doon the Watter” as they say when all kinds of folk holidayed at home, there were no flights abroad in those days. 

Bute still has a lot to offer, the majority of the accommodation was built over 100 years ago and is mainly B&B’s, which is great for an authentic stay but don’t expect all mod cons like air-conditioning. It is well worth a visit with its three golf courses, lochs and a coast line to fish in. Bute is Beautiful was the slogan, and still is.

Don’t come to Scotland for the weather, although if dressed appropriately, the weather should not be a factor. We are quite a small population in a fairly large country meaning we have space which many visitors are looking for. In less than 30 minutes from Glasgow, you are at the start of the highlands or the lowland borders area. The countryside and the lochs are stunning, and some of the beaches are breathtaking, with some being quite deserted and looking unspoilt.

Whilst most would say that Scotland is famous for its whisky, I would mention the history, ancestral connections and how us Scots travelled the globe and settled in all corners of the world. Scotland is known for its friendship and good humour.

We also have a proud history in inventiveness – our forefathers gave the world a hand in developing the TV, telephone, macadamisation, pneumatic tyres, improving the bicycle, improving the steam engine, penicillin, the MRI scanner, the refrigerator and the list goes on.

Glasgow, Scotland

Visitors flood to Edinburgh, and rightly so, but Glasgow has a lot to offer – a great social life and lots of historic buildings. The city is good for the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and the House for an Art Lover.

If you only have a short weekend in Scotland, you would probably fly into either Glasgow or Edinburgh in Scotland’s central belt – I would suggest a tour of Edinburgh Castle, followed by a walk down the Royal Mile to Holyrood Palace, then a trip to visit the Kelpies and the Falkirk Wheel both on The Forth and Clyde Canal, 23 miles from the big cities.

Falkirk, Scotland

From Falkirk, you can visit Stirling Castle and the Wallace Monument (which can also be an alternative to Edinburgh Castle). Depending on what time of year you visit Edinburgh is famous for the Tattoo and the Edinburgh Festival. Also, take a whisky distillery tour!

West Coast, Scotland

If you wanted to see more of the country and were happy to travel, you should try and take in the west coast Oban, Fort William, Inverness and the Caledonian Canal, Aberdeen, Perth, Dundee, The Grampian Mountains, Aviemore and the Cairngorms Mountains and continue away up north through the villages to Wick, Thurso and on to Orkney and Shetland. 

Don’t forget the islands off the west coast too, and the border areas, so many little towns that are well worth a visit. There is a lot to take in that you might not fit in with one visit. It’s a country you can return to again and again and still find new places to visit every time.

Scotland is full of hidden gems; heading back to the Island of Bute and Mount Stuart House is one of the most beautiful gothic mansions ever, it claims to have been the first house in the world to have had a heated pool and it was also the first home in Scotland to be lit by electricity.

New Lanark is also impressive, a Robert Owen village built for the weaving industry and it was inscribed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site, tucked away outside of Lanark in the border region. For those into literature, Abbotsford is the home of Sir Walter Scott, Scottish novelist, poet and playwright.

Eastdale Island

Easdale Island is a wee gem, just south of Oban across the bridge over the Atlantic, famous for slate. Glasgow’s House for an Art Lover is a Charles Rennie Mackintosh design. Skara Brae and all the prehistoric and neolithic sites in Orkney, although I suppose they are no longer hidden as a lot of cruise ships call in now, and no doubt take a trip around there. There are also all the Robert Burns connections on the Ayrshire coast to explore too.

You could take a trip on the Falkirk Wheel, visit Neptune’s Staircase or the Fort Augustus flight of Locks on the Caledonian Canal. Walk up Ben Nevis (the UK’s highest mountain) or Cairngorm Mountain.

Holiday Breaks in Scotland

If you’re looking for a specific type of holiday in Scotland, then I may suggest the following:

Walking Holiday

The West Highland Way is a very popular walk with about 15,000 visitors a year. It stretches from Milngavie, a northern Glasgow suburb, to Fort William (96 miles/154 km) and it can take about 7 days to complete. There is accommodation along the way, but this needs to be booked well in advance before you go.

Accommodation can range from camping, glamping pods to B&B and hotels. Some people even wild camp on route. You can also walk along the Caledonian Canal from Fort William to Inverness, which is about 64 miles, but again advance booking of accommodation is recommended.

Historical Holiday

As mentioned previously, the most well known castles are Edinburgh and Stirling, but depending on your ancestry, you might want to travel further afield to Inveraray Castle (Clan Campbell) in Argyle or to Duart Castle on the Island of Mull (Clan McLean).

More modern history can be seen through the eyes of Charle Rennie Mackintosh in Glasgow and Helensburgh (Hill House). Or visit and follow in the footsteps of Robert Burns, widely regarded as the national poet of Scotland.

Coastal Escapes

East or West, both worth a trip. The East Neuk of Fife is very popular with lots of fishing villages- a hidden gem here is the secret World War II bunker, but hidden is the word. St Andrews is regarded as the “home of golf” –  lots to see and do here historically, including beach walks.

The west coast boasts some magnificent beaches on the inner and outer Hebrides right up to Harris and Lewis in the north. In Oban you can catch ferries to the inner Hebrides Islands for more tranquil coastal escapes. Some good surfing is available in the Islands of Islay and Tiree and beyond to Thurso in the north coast. Oban and Fort William are good locations to see the west coast. 

Family Friendly Escapes

St Andrews is good, it has a sea life centre, as does Fort William, which also boasts Neptune’s flight of locks, which is quite a sight to watch the boats go up and down, and the kids usually love seeing the process. There is also the Jacobite Train made famous by Harry Potter. A lot of accommodation, bars and restaurants welcome dogs now, too, to be able to bring your family companion with you.

Escapes For Bad Weather

The best places to visit in bad weather are the museums, access to most of them are free. In Glasgow there is the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum and a short drive away is the Riverside Museum of Transport on the Clyde. Edinburgh has the Royal Yacht Britannia next to the Ocean Terminal Shopping Centre.

And once you’ve explored all these great places, you will have built up an appetite. Scotland has a lot of really good private restaurants as well as the more established restaurant chains. Check where local produce is offered. When you head up the coastlines there are plenty of good fish restaurants that use the local fish. Check reviews and prices online to ensure you’re getting the best quality and value.

I always leave reviews and feedback wherever I go, so this was the perfect opportunity for me to share my views, and promote Scotland as best as I could!

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