10 ways to find the true spirit of Scotland

Gavin Bell
Happy St Andrew's Day - (C)PDJPhoto | Peter de Jong 2017 ((C)PDJPhoto | Peter de Jong 2017 (Photographer) - [None]

Scotland is superb at any time of year, but Chris Leadbeater finds that there’s even more than usual to celebrate today

Scotland could not have picked a better patron saint than St Andrew. Never mind all the fishing in Lake Galilee, the turning up at the Last Supper, and all that other Bible stuff – here’s a man who is happy to have his day in the ecclesiastical calendar on Nov 30 (today!) when the rain is usually pouring down in Edinburgh and there are four hours (ish) of daylight in Aberdeen.

Still, that’s no reason not to raise a glass in this first-century fellow’s direction, nor to stay away from a country which, let’s face it, is the most beautiful in the UK. There are details aplenty of St Andrew’s Day goings-on at visitscotland.com – such as the Savour St Andrews food festival, which is on tonight (savourstandrews.com).

Cairn-do attitude

Enough noise, Ben Nevis. Everyone knows you’re the highest peak in Britain. Give some other slabs of Scottish rock a moment in the spotlight. Such as the Cairngorms – the setting for the eight-day bird-focused “Wildlife of the Scottish Highlands” guided break that Prestige has planned for May 16, from £1,599pp.

Wildlife in the Cairngorms Credit: GETTY

Hole hearted

Hang on a second. If you’re going to St Andrews for a weekend, it would be an act of sacrilege not to at least try to play some golf. Perhaps not in the next few weeks – the wind-shear off the tee will have your opening drive halfway to Denmark. But May sounds nice. Golfbreaks.com dispenses two-night getaways to St Andrews which include three rounds of golf and a half-board hotel stay. From £235pp.

2020 vision

You know that pang of regret you feel every New Year’s Eve at about 11.45pm, when you flick through the TV channels and think, “Why on earth didn’t I go to Edinburgh for Hogmanay?” Don’t make the same error this year. Tickets for the annual Street Party (on Princes Street) are still on sale – from £31.50pp via edinburghshogmanay.com.

Spend your first moments of 2020 in Edinburgh Credit: GETTY

Coastal vote

VisitScotland is pushing 2020 as a “Year of Coasts and Waters”. Fair enough, there is a lot of the former: 7,330 miles (11,800km) of it, by some measurements – enough for a feast of festivals (see visitscotland.com/about/themed-years/coasts-waters) over 12 months. Alternatively, the six-night escorted “Coast to Coast” cycling break sold by Wilderness Scotland will show off shoreline galore from £1,795pp. Next trip May 23.

Skye Credit: GETTY

Bonnie Clyde

Yes, yes, Edinburgh this, Hogmanay that. But why wait for New Year in the capital when you can crack on with the festive season in the second city from, well, now? Glasgow already has its Christmas markets installed in its George and St Enoch squares – and they will be there for most of December (see glasgowloveschristmas.com). 

Northern stars

Scotland offers opportunities to escape the mainland for far-flung archipelagos like no other segment of the UK – not least the Orkney and Shetland islands, sitting gloriously out there in the spray of the North Sea. The one-week “Shetland and Orkney Explorer” sold by Premier Holidays visits both – from £849pp.

Orkney Credit: GETTY

A fine Ness

Are you a credulous American who believes all manner of wild conspiracy theories and everything you read on the internet? Excellent. Then you should come and see the Loch Ness Monster. Which is definitely real. Please buy some tins of shortbread. We need the cash. The six-night self-guided “Loch Ness and the Caledonian Canal” walking tour sold by Headwater will take you to the waterside, from £945pp. 

Cross purposes

If you’re quick, you can catch the end of the Saltire Festival – a full week of St Andrew’s-related celebrations, which reaches its climax in East Lothian today and tomorrow (see visiteastlothian.org/the-saltire). Events include a “Nocturnal Ultra Marathon” in Dunbar today and medieval warfare demonstrations at Dirleton Castle tomorrow.

St Andrews, the home of golf Credit: GETTY

Fair play

Scotland does great clichés at this time of year: a dimly lit bar; a big glass of peat-heavy whisky; a roaring fire. These are all things you can find just outside the Fife town named after the saint, at the Fairmont St Andrews (fairmont.com/st-andrews-scotland). The hotel is selling two-night Christmas breaks (Dec 24-26), from £325pp including lunch.