There’s nowhere quite like Scotland. This epic land of mighty mountains, plunging glens and surging rivers offers a sweep of experiences that you just cannot find anywhere else.
If you’ve ever wanted to have your own kilt fitted, canoe down a river fuelled by a wee dram or hop on Europe’s only scheduled flight to land on an Atlantic beach, then read on…
1. Get your kilt on
Forget the wafer-thin tartan tat that tourist shops churn out in Edinburgh’s Old Town. These are indeed just patterned skirts. If you want a proper kilt you’ll need to pay for it – but it should last a lifetime.
Edinburgh tailors like Geoffrey Tailor offer the full service. Ideally, you want an eight-yard kilt made in full weight, 16/17oz worsted. They will measure you up, talk you through the tartans and let you know about all the add ons like a sporran or a sgian dhu (basically a lethal knife you stuff down your socks).
2. Take Europe’s most surreal flight
That is right. Hop on Flybe’s propeller plane (operated by Scottish island specialist airline Loganair) and about an hour later – after one of the most scenic flights of your life – you bash down right on to the sands of Traigh Mhor on the remote Hebridean isle of Barra.
Once you’re down, you can even enjoy garlic cockles freshly picked from the runway. Surreal does not cover it.
3. Soak in a hot tub in the heather
Forget bubbling away with bubbly in a hot tub. In Scotland it’s all about relaxing with a cosy wee dram. Its best savoured on a freezing cold night, when your hair turns to ice and stars explode above like you have never seen them before.
4. Bag a munro
Up for a hillwalking challenge? This bizarre craze sees devotees “bag” Munros, or mountains over 3000ft-high, by hiking their way up to the top.
Sir Hugh Munro is the man to blame for first putting together the list of peaks, which currently stands at 284. The record for completing them all is an improbable 40 days – good luck!
5. Paddle through whisky country
Scotland is serious whisky country and you can’t leave without sampling the nation’s famous spirit. But for a real experience to remember – take to the water.
Dave Craig of Spirit of the Spey offers a unique Canadian canoe trip down a stretch of Scotland’s fastest flowing river, the Spey, where distilleries dot the banks.
This is thirsty work, but luckily Dave is on hand to offer a wee dram midstream and then a private tasting by a roaring fire in his home afterwards.
6. Spot the “Big Five”
Stick with us here, but you don’t have to go on safari to spot the Big Five – Scotland has its very own: red deer (the UK’s largest land mammal), golden eagles, otters, red squirrels and common seals.
To tick off sightings of all five, check out new small cruise operator Argyll Cruising, who offer wildlife cruises on their seven-berth ship, Splendour.
Image by Alamy: Colin Leslie
7. Celebrate Hogmanay
The Scots don’t do New Year: they celebrate Hogmanay. This gloriously nefarious extravaganza has its roots deep in the country’s mysterious pagan past. It’s such a party that the entire country takes January 2nd off as well as New Year’s Day.
The epicentre of the action is Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, which goes on for days before and after the big night.
Elsewhere look out for the Comrie Flambeaux fire festival in Perthshire and the Stonehaven Fireballs Festival, both spectacular events that kick off the new year with a serious and uniquely Scottish bang.