For many of us, this year has put a stop to even the smallest of travel plans for the foreseeable future. But as we look ahead to what travel might be possible, perhaps we should consider something that only a nationwide lockdown could have helped us realise: what if we don’t travel abroad at all?
In recent years, I’ve become more obsessed with the natural marvels that our island has to offer and these days we hardly need to fly one hundred miles to find holiday heat. If lockdown has given humanity a chance to renegotiate its relationship with the modern world, I think the way that we travel is certainly a point of contemplation. I’m not at all suggesting that we abandon an industry that pumps millions into worldwide economies. Merely that, at least for the near future, we opt for something of a ‘staycation’.
One thing I flaunt proudly when the topic comes up is my Scottish heritage, to the point that you wouldn’t know I’ve only been there once. Nevertheless, Scotland is home to a goldmine of natural beauty, and in an effort to scratch the surface, I’d like to point out my top three domestic travel destinations.
Arisaig / Mallaig
To give you an idea of how secluded and precious this area is, Mallaig’s train station is a dead end. I mean that it is literally the end of the line. It has one railway line and one platform for both arrivals and departures. There’s something quite endearing about that. My family and I stayed in a cottage in a small village called Arisaig. It was a stone’s throw away from the shore. While the water was unspeakably cold, the shores looked tropical with turquoise waters against sandy, white beaches.
Spending a week in the area involved enough excitement that I could go for hours, but focusing on the highlights: we were close enough to visit Glenfinnan, which is home to the viaduct featured in Harry Potter. A Hogwarts Express style steam train still runs from Fort William to Mallaig on a regular timetable. This area, and much of the North of Scotland, is a hotbed for cinematic locations, particularly Harry Potter. There are plenty of walks and routes in the area with several breath-taking views as you go. You’d be forgiven for thinking you’re overlooking a tropical rainforest. There are lochs with cycling routes around them, and even converted railway carriage cafes by the station.
Fairy tale castles, white sand beaches, and historic ruins
We went kayaking in the shallow waters near Arisaig, spotting seals along the way, with the Isle of Eigg sitting coolly in the distance. Knocking around Traigh Golf course with my grandad and uncle actually re-inspired my love of golf, and I look back realising it was the coolest course I’ve played on. I wish I had been a much better player at the time. We also visited the nearby ‘Silver Sands’ beaches – on horseback no less. Needless to say, there’s plenty to do up there.
I’ve visited a number of cities in my short life, but a select few have felt strikingly welcoming and homely. Berlin was one, Vienna another, and then Edinburgh. It’s a humble place. But it’s warm, friendly, aged and modern. I’m a sucker for cobbled streets as well. Things that show character. We grabbed breakfast from a bakery in the morning and walked up to Arthur’s Seat, overlooking the city. Everything was within walking distance. We wandered from place to place with our cameras poised, just letting the city take us where it wanted to. Of course, Edinburgh hosts the famous Fringe Festival each year, but you’ll find accommodation hard to come by at that time. For now, I recommend visiting when it’s not in show mode – it’ll be more honest.
North Coast 500
This one is perhaps a bit sneaky- I haven’t actually been! It’s just at the top of my wish-list.
I plan to go this summer. It’s Scotland’s Route 66: a coastal road that follows the edge of Scotland and cuts through some of its most beautiful landscapes, the dream for any car lover. But rather than visit by car, (which I’d love to do one day), I’m hoping to do it by bike. Regardless, this trail is bound to be one of the most memorable travels I will have. It offers visitors “fairy tale castles, white sand beaches, and historic ruins”, as described on the website. The island of Orkney comes into view, (the earliest recorded site of stone circles), and many areas of the Highlands feature remarkable Neolithic structures. Staying at least three nights is widely recommended for anyone doing the trail, which starts and finishes in Inverness.
These are just some points of note in the array of wonders in Scotland. There are incredible things to see across Scotland, Wales, England, and Northern Ireland that we rarely appreciate as inhabitants of the UK. Covid-19 is compromising air travel, so perhaps we should take the chance to explore the many wonders here on home soil. We may find it surprisingly rewarding.