An ‘Aye’ for a Story and Sustainability
Scotland is filled with extraordinary landscapes, enchanting castles, intriguing history, enough whiskey experiences to ensure your travel memories are a little hazy in parts...and plenty of stories.
WORDS TIM McGLONE
Paddle boarders cruise by Kilchurn Castle.
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Scotland’s greatest gift to the rest of the world is one that you can’t put a value on: its people. Moreover, their ability to tell a good yarn.
Scots are gifted in the art of storytelling — whether fact or fiction or a blur between the both — it’s a quality that isn’t easily replicated by other nationalities.
Fortunately, these people are also committed to keeping and restoring the natural beauty that surrounds them - from the Highlands to the Hebrides, to the cobbled streets of Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Arrived spoke with just a few who are helping keep Scotland beautiful, and who had time to tell a quick tale or two as well.
Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye, a 13th century castle overlooking Loch Dunvegan.
Ewen Grant and Janice Cooney
Seaflower Skye, Isle of Skye
“You can’t beat a stubborn Scotsman, I can tell you.”
So says Ewen Grant, who runs boat tour operator Seaflower Skye with partner Janice Cooney, on the east coast of the Isle of Skye. Grant is a sixth generation from Portree , while Cooney is Irish, but was more than happy to relocate to the island famous for rugged landscapes, medieval castles, picturesque fishing villages and Outlander.
On the Seaflower of Skye, travelers eat seafood right where they are caught, in Portree Harbour, which was previously being exported to Spain..
I ask Ewen to elaborate, and like a typical Scot, he does so through a story.
“We visit two islands on our boat tours, one called Rona and one called Raasay. After the Second World War on Raasay, people gradually began to move down south. They all moved really except for one man and his family. That man’s name was Calum MacLeod.
“Calum’s daughter was going to school and he needed her to have access to the other end of the island. He spoke to the council and they said ‘look, we can’t justify building a road for such a small population. So, he decided to build his own.
“It took him just shy of 25 years, and he did it all with a pick, a shovel and a wheelbarrow.
“The road was at the stage where it was about 95% complete. Then one night, he didn’t come home for his dinner. Mrs McLeod went out looking for him and old Calum was in his wheelbarrow, where he’d had a heart attack.
“It’s still the road that’s used today for that part of the island… and at the start of the road there’s still his wheelbarrow, his pick and his shovel, which we pass every day.”
Calum MacLeod's wheelbarrow, which sits at the start of the road he spent 25 years building.
Lunch! Seaflower Skye is a family business, with Ewen's brother and Dad catching the shellfish the tours - and the area- are famous for.
Seaflower is well and truly a family affair: Ewen drives the boats, Janice cooks the guests fresh shellfish, and Grant’s Dad and brother are sustainable creel fishermen that provide the famously fresh shellfish which the area is known for.
“We decided we wanted to do something to keep it here, - we do have world class shellfish right here in the harbor,” says Cooney.
“We catch the seafood the day before, it’s kept alive overnight and then it’s cooked fresh the morning of the trip.
“Our customers actually eat it exactly where it’s caught, they can see the guys fishing while they eat their lunch sometimes. ”
Ballintean Lodge from above. The lodge is in Cairngorms National Park in the heart of the Scottish Highlands. The park, which covers 2,800 square miles, is the largest in the United Kingdom.
Scotland: The Big Picture and Ballintean Lodge, Cairngorms National Park.
Peter Cairns is a former freelance nature photographer, who has spent the last 28 years with wife Amanda Flanagan running Ballintean Lodge in the wildlife-filled Cairngorms National Park.
You would expect then, that he’d have a few stories about being up close and personal with ospreys, Scottish wildcats, golden eagles and the like, but his answer is not what you’d expect.
“I got a call from the cook to go up to the lodge one morning, probably about 6am,” Cairns says.
“I got there and in the dining room and the kitchen, there was stuff everywhere - all the cookery, the plates, everything was on the floor and all over the place. It looked like a typhoon had gone through there,
“And I just thought, what on earth has happened here? Has someone broken in? And then we spotted him; in the rafters was a red squirrel, only about nine inches, a cheeky little grin on his face.
“Living so close to wildlife is a big part of our story and ethos, but we’re probably not wanting to live that close.”
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“The rewilding narrative has gone from being pretty niche, to being quite mainstream. There’s a way to go, but it’s becoming a part of the Scottish story, which is great.”
Cairns has balanced the running of the lodge, where he lives just down the road, with starting up Scotland: The Big Picture in 2016, which is an organization dedicated to rewilding the country. Rewilding is a term used to describe the rehabilitation of land and water so that wildlife and nature can return to an area and thrive.
“Storytelling through wildlife and the environment and more recently rewilding has been my stock in trade for as long as I can remember,” Cairns tells Arrived.
“More broadly in Scotland and in Britain, the rewilding narrative has gone from being pretty niche, to being quite mainstream. There’s a way to go, but it’s becoming a part of the Scottish story, which is great.”
Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls. Kilt Rock gets its name for its resemblance to that most Scottish of things - a kilt.
Travelers to Scotland are there to find anything from their family history to the Loch Ness monster, according to Brendan Vacations’ Nick Landy.
But despite the country’s obvious man-made and natural beauty, Nick says it’s often the human aspect that is the highlight of travelers looking to reconnect with their roots.
“We offer a private chauffeur service and it’s something I’d urge everyone to consider trying as a mode of travel at least once,” says Landy.
There are an estimated 3,000 castles and castle ruins in Scotland.
“One of our chauffeurs, William, a Scotsman, was traveling with three generations of one family from the U.S. The family were traveling to reconnect with their ancestry so they were going around to castles that related to their family, some of which were in a state of ruin.
“One family member was in a wheelchair. William really felt it was important to share the entire experience with this woman, and so he organized for a drone to record the inside of each of the castles they visited. He downloaded and shared this footage with this woman each night after he was done with driving, so she was able to immerse herself in her ancestry to the same extent that the rest of her group was.
“All footage was digitized and played to the entire extended family in the U.S., who were so touched by the lengths that William went to, that they invited him over to the U.S. to join them for the viewing.
“This woman has since passed away, but William was able to give her the depth of connection with her ancestry that she might not have had without him.”
The famous Binns Clock on the corner of Princes Street and Hope Street, Edinburgh. The clock became a popular meeting point for dates in the 1960s, and has been recently been restored.
Mary Jane Brett
Johnnie Walker Princes Street, Edinburgh
Scotland is a destination steeped in history. But to contrast a place filled with memories of battles, castles and highland cows, the new experience at the Johnnie Walker Princes Street in Edinburgh is a nod to the future. Customer Development Manager Mary Jane Brett says the staff at the brand new, interactive experience across eight levels speak 23 different languages, which Arrived is fairly sure wouldn’t have been the case in the 1820s when the original John Walker started his grocery store business in Kilmarnock (‘Killy’, to locals).
“Our story, like all good stories, is brought to life by the people, our exceptional guides, and using technology and performance art,” says Brett, whose first role with her parent company was as a guide at the Lowland Home of Johnnie Walker, Glenkinchie Distillery.
A whiskey lover's dream: the Explorer's Bothy at Johnnie Walker, Princes Street.
“We have bird habitats, bicycle parking and terrace planting to encourage butterflies at the center. And by 2025 Johnnie Walker will plant a million trees across Scotland – native deciduous trees with a focus on biodiversity and all community access.”
Fortunately, enjoying a wee dram of whisky, long one of the great Scottish traditions, is likely to be a part of Scotland’s story long into the future.
The rooftop bar, with exceptional views of Edinburgh from both inside and outside.
The whiskey tasting experiences are a nod to both stories from the past, and stories from the future.
The Explorers’ Bothy Bar at Johnny Walker Princes Street has the most sought-after drops from around Scotland, with over 150 special bottles and one-of-a-kind cask editions. There’s also a rooftop bar overlooking Edinburgh Castle, and a state-of-the-art experiential whisky emporium.
True to city history, Johnnie Walker restored the famous Binns Clock on the corner of the building, a famous meeting place for Edinburgh residents as a romantic rendezvous point, and a landmark no doubt with a few stories of its own.