Scotland: Take the high road

A home-spun take on Route 66, the scenic new North Coast 500 Highland route boasts everything from salmon rivers and soaring cliffs to sea caves and secluded, sandy bays


I remember a friend from Edinburgh laughing once when I enquired about Scottish weather in the spring. “You guys in London have the ice bucket challenge,” she explained, with a twinkle in her eye. “Up north, we just call it ‘going outside.’”
Waking up in the village of Gairloch, on the northwest coast of Scotland, I’m therefore mildly surprised by the view of golden sand and a cloudless sky from my bedroom window. Just below the hotel, a pair of seals frolic in the surf, while the horizon is edged by the distant mountains of Skye. So much for the dismal weather.
Perhaps because of Hollywood and Jack Kerouac, the phrase ‘road trip’ typically conjures up images of convertibles, flat-topped mesas and lonely desert highways. But today I’m continuing a road trip of a very different kind. The North Coast 500 — a new, home-spun take on Route 66 — is a journey as Scottish as Rabbie Burns or Nessie. No roadside diners or bumper stickers here.

After a hearty breakfast (“Would you like some white pudding with your black pudding, sir?”), it’s time to get behind the wheel. First stop: the Isle of Ewe Smokehouse, where I’m promised some of the finest smoked salmon in western Scotland.

Passing through a succession of gorgeous whitewashed villages, I skirt the shores of Loch Maree and Loch Ewe, their wind-ruffled waters overlooked by mountains with tongue-tangling Gaelic names. Highland cattle and tumbledown crofters’ cottages dot the iconic landscape.
Paula and Alistair Gordon, the husband-and-wife team who run the smokehouse, turn out to be utterly charming. Situated in Ormiscaig, on the northern shore of Loch Ewe, their home and garden boast magnificent views of the Torridon Hills, still dusted with snow in late March, and the more low-lying Outer Hebrides.
“Our products are imbued slowly with aromatic wood smoke and a west coast breeze,” explains Alistair in a lilting Scottish brogue, as he passes over a freshly smoked scallop for sampling. I make sure to pick up a gift box containing more of these divine creations on my way out.
Conceived by the North Highland Initiative — a project that aims to highlight the varied attractions of northern Scotland — the NC500 was launched in 2015, and has already won rave reviews. The 500-mile loop, which starts and finishes in Inverness, boasts everything from salmon rivers and soaring cliffs to sea caves and secluded, sandy bays. After a day-and-a-half’s driving, I’m already smitten.

Less than 15 minutes after leaving Ormiscaig, a short drive down a single-track road reveals one of the most idyllic stretches of British coastline I’ve ever seen. Lapped by a turquoise sea, the beach at Mellon Udrigle turns out to be a deserted arc of sand bisected by a meandering burn. To the north east, the mountains of Coigach provide a stunning backdrop, while a gentle breeze carries the plaintive cries of oystercatchers and curlews patrolling nearby Gruinard Bay.
Driving onward to Ullapool, I pass the sheer-sided spectacle that is Corrieshalloch Gorge, which, rather inappropriately, turns out to mean ‘ugly hollow’ in Gaelic. Then it’s on into an even wilder, more imposing landscape, as peaks such as the table-shaped Ben Mor Coigach and the colossal nunatak Suilven rear up from the rolling moorland.

I stop briefly beside Loch Assynt to admire the marvellously atmospheric Ardvreck Castle. Constructed in the late 15th century, this ruined fortress sits below the brooding bulk of Quinag, a reminder of man’s fleeting presence in this rugged, timeless environment.

The day ends in Lochinver, where I’m just in time to sample the wares of Lochinver Larder, northern Scotland’s most famous pie shop, before closing time. Gobbling down hunks of succulent venison, I look out over the local harbour as the engine cools. Geographically, I’m in the middle of nowhere. But if the next 300 miles are anywhere as good as the last 200, I’m in for a real treat.



Glasgow is named a ‘Best of The World’ destination

Glasgow’s reputation as an outstanding destination for discerning global travellers looks set to grow as the city has been named by the authoritative and inspirational National Geographic Traveler as one of its 20 ‘Best of the World’ destinations for 2016.


Amped Up With the Arts

If Edinburgh is the blue-blooded aunt at Scotland’s tea party, then Glasgow, just 45 miles to the west, is the T-shirt-clad cousin kicking over the kettle on the way out.

A wealthy shipbuilding and trade hub on the River Clyde since the 15th century, Scotland’s largest city fell into dereliction, earning a rough-and-tumble reputation that stuck to soot-covered buildings well into the 1980s. Now scrubbed up and gleaming, Glasgow flexes cultural muscle, artfully burnishing its industrial cityscape.

Scotland’s self-proclaimed Year of Innovation, Architecture, and Design kicks off in January, with Glaswegians proudly puffing their chests. The Turner Prize, Britain’s most esteemed contemporary art exhibition and award, is in Scotland for the first time, culminating on January 17 at Tramway, Glasgow’s former streetcar terminus.

But it is music that really pumps Glasgow’s cultural heart. From the bagpiper busking top-20 tunes along Buchanan Street to the crooner wooing crowds at storied clubs like King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut, Glasgow’s sound track is unrivaled.

“To describe a typical Glasgow musician is quite difficult to do,” says Stirling Gorman, who performs with his brother, Cha, in their band, King of Birds. “It’s really a Glasgow swagger that ties us together like twine.” —Kimberley Lovato

Travel Tips

When to Go: March through May for the spring flowers; June to August for outdoor festivals and up to 17 hours of daylight; the New Year brings the Hogmanay and Burns Night festivals.

How to Get Around: From Glasgow Airport, take the First 500 Glasgow Shuttle to the city center. Walk and ride the subway to get around downtown and the West End. Use buses and trains to connect to outlying areas.

Where to Stay: Two buzzy, boutique options close to Glasgow Central train station are the 72-room Malmaison Glasgow and the 30-room Grasshoppers Hotel Glasgow. Malmaison, housed in a converted Greek Orthodox church (with a modern wing attached), is home to Scottish superchef Martin Wishart’s new brasserie, The Honours. At Grasshoppers, rates include sweet amenities like complimentary cupcakes and ice cream.

What to Eat or Drink: At Cail Bruich in the West End, the six-course tasting menu is worth the splurge. Selections are seasonally fresh, local, and homemade and could include savory smoked cheese gougères (pastry puffs) and mackerel prepared with plum, cucumber, elderflower, and buttermilk.

What to Buy: Get interior design inspiration at Timorous Beasties, the internationally acclaimed studio founded in 1990 by Glasgow School of Art alumni. Browse the collections of edgy textiles (such as iguana fabric, surreal Chic Blotch wallpaper, and Union Jackass lampshades). Smaller gift items include ceramic mugs and pillows.

What to Watch Before You Go: Glasgow native Peter Mullan won the Cannes best actor award for his title role in My Name Is Joe (Lionsgate, 1998), a gritty drama set and filmed in one of Glasgow’s poorest neighborhoods.

Fun Fact: One theory about the derivation of the name “Glasgow” is that it’s an anglicized version of the Gaelic descriptor glas cu (translated as “dear green place”). The city has 90 gardens and parks, including Victoria Park, where you can see remnants of an ancient swamp forest. The site, called Fossil Grove, protects 11 fossilized tree stumps estimated to be about 330 million years old.




National Geographic

Dublin First of the Top 10 Nightlife Cities…

…according to National Geographic.

Temple Bar

Wedged between Trinity College and the old city, the Temple Bar area is a decadent neighborhood of watering holes and nightclubs. The beer flows in torrents at the Brazen Head, reputedly Ireland’s oldest pub (established 1198) and a fixture in James Joyce’s opus Ulysses.



Things to Do in Ireland and Northern Ireland

Things to Do in Ireland and Northern Ireland this autumn

Festivals and events highlight the fall season in Ireland. Get out and enjoy harvest fairs, sports championships, traditional music and arts, guided weekend walks, creepy ghost tours, and much more.

Attend a Sports Championship
Gaelic football and hurling are some of the top spectator sports in Ireland and Northern Ireland, culminating in the All-Ireland Senior Championship Finals played in Dublin’s Croke Park in September. Attending an All-Ireland is the experience of a lifetime, but plan ahead as all 82,300 tickets usually sell out. You can visit the Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) Museum at Croke Park year-round to learn about the history, see game highlights, and test your sports skills. Get a feel for game day on a stadium tour—visit team dressing rooms, run through the players tunnel onto the field pitchside, and catch views of the field from the sidelines and VIP seats.

For bird’s-eye views of the stadium and Dublin’s skyline, take the guided Etihad Skyline Tour on the 17-story-high rooftop, where you will be hooked by harness to a railing.

Tour the Tombs at Glasnevin Cemetery
Ireland’s necropolis is Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin where 1.5 million people have been buried since 1832, including famous patriots, poets, writers, and musicians. A guided tour tells fascinating stories of slain revolutionary leader Michael Collins, writer Brendan Behan, and Daniel O’Connell, the Liberator, buried in an ornate crypt beneath a round tower. Touch his inner wooden casket for luck. The museum chronicles burial practices, highlights the noted and notorious resting here, and offers a genealogy research center.

A stop at John Kavanagh, also known as The Gravediggers, is a must after your cemetery tour. Established in 1833 and still run by the same family, the pub shares a back wall with the cemetery. Pub workers used to pass pints to the gravediggers through the cemetary railings during the workday. This is an authentic, old-style pub with a reputation for an excellent pint of Guinness.

Celebrate the Man Behind DraculaBram Stoker Festival
Bram Stoker, author of the 1897 horror novel Dracula, was born in north Dublin, educated at Trinity College, and got his start writing theater reviews for a Dublin newspaper. Although his horror novels and short stories were written in London, Dublin hosts an extensive four-day festival at the end of October to honor his life, work, and legacy. Events are held across the city, which is illuminated with red lights.

Sink your teeth into the Bram Stoker Festival with literary events, concerts of Gothic-inspired music, theatrical events, pop-up performances, and ghost walking tours. There’s also a Gothic Ball this year, plus a zip line through central Dublin—but only for those in costume.

Join A Walking Festival
Walking festivals offer many different guided treks, often hosted by rambling clubs, over a few days in a region. They provide access to hidden landscapes and overlooks, accompanied by local walkers happy to share stories. In the autumn, the colorful foliage is a bonus.

A highlight of the Fermanagh Walking Festival in Northern Ireland in October is the ascent of 2,182-foot Cuilcagh Mountain, offering 360-degree views over the scenic lakelands region. The Gortmacconnell walk passes through forests and a rare blanket bog in the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark, the only UNESCO geopark in Northern Ireland.

The four-day Footfalls Wicklow Walking Festival at the end of October offers eight hikes on three levels of difficulty. Hikes might take in Glendalough’s sixth-century monastic settlement, Wicklow Gap, or St. Kevin’s Way. Be sure to book a sports massage for the evening.

Enjoy Traditional Irish Music
Nothing can compare with the foot-tapping brilliance of a traditional Irish music session, which might include fiddle, flute, uilleann pipes (also known as Irish bagpipes), button accordion, banjo, guitar, bodhran, concertina, harp, drums, and tin whistle. At a festival, there are musical concerts, informal pub sessions, and workshops for students along with singing and Irish dancing.

The Mountshannon Traditional Festival in Clare at the end of September mixes boat trips to Holy Island on Lough Derg with music workshops, pub sessions, and a song competition. The John Dwyer Trad Weekend runs for three days in mid-October as part of Waterford’s larger Imagine Arts Festival.

The William Kennedy Piping Festival in Armagh, Northern Ireland, in mid-November focuses on the uilleann pipes with a piping academy, concerts, sessions, reedmaking and pipe maintenance workshops, and a “Music on Canvas” art exhibition. It’s named for an 18th-century blind piper and pipemaker.

Go Ghost Hunting at Belfast’s Crumlin Road GaolCrumbling Road Gaol
Crumlin Road Gaol was the prison for Belfast’s hardcore prisoners from 1845 to 1996. This Victorian jail held many death row convicts, and 17 of them were executed here by hanging, the last one in 1961. Year-round daily tours take in the tunnel connecting the courthouse to the gaol, the condemned man’s cell, the execution chamber, and the graveyard. Included are the tales of political prisoners, those executed, suicides, hunger strikes, riots, and escapes.

During the second half of October, take the Paranormal Tour that runs at night in low light for an extra creepy experience. This tour visits the flogging room and takes you to the hot spots of paranormal activity, as verified by paranormal investigators with detection equipment.

Appreciate the Arts in Northern Ireland
The vibrant arts scene in Northern Ireland is showcased in many popular fall festivals in Belfast. Culture Night Belfast is one intense night of free events held on a Friday in mid-September each year. Choose from around 240 different performances, workshops, gallery openings, concerts, tours, and dancing on the streets around the renowned Cathedral Quarter that night.

The Belfast Festival at Queen’s runs for two weeks in October with an extensive lineup. There are premieres, edgy productions, and international performers. Launched more than 50 years ago, the festival has featured artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Dizzy Gillespie, Van Morrison, and the Chieftains. The 2014 event features Elvis Costello, a world-renowned flamenco dancer, and The Gloaming, an Irish-American folk supergroup led by fiddler Martin Hayes.

Enjoy the Fall Harvest
Since pagan times, harvest festivals have been held to give thanks for the bounty of the season—and to share it with family and neighbors. The Waterford Harvest Festival in mid-September is all about food from farm to fork around the region. Take advantage of cooking demonstrations by noted chefs, workshops, food displays, grow-it-yourself seminars, and foodie films. Sample artisanal food, buy from farmers in the market, and stop by the oyster festival and craft beer fest. Setting the scene are live music, farm animals on display, and art installations.

The three-day National Ploughing Championships toward the end of September has become one of the biggest outdoor farming events in Europe, covering 700 acres. Established in 1931, it features international ploughing—or plowing, as it’s known in the U.S.—competitions, livestock shows, sheepdog trials, the All-Ireland Lamb Shearing contest, and the National Brown Bread Baking Competition. There’s vintage machinery, the latest farm equipment, and technological innovations too.

Root for Favorites at a Horse Racing Festival
Horse racing is keenly followed in Ireland and Northern Ireland, and race days are as much about the social aspects as they are about placing wagers. Some of the most popular racing is National Hunt or jump racing with horses running on grass tracks two miles long or more. Multiday race festivals offer a full-immersion experience; ladies, be sure to wear a hat on Ladies Day.

The Listowel Harvest Festival the third week of September has long enticed farmers to wager some of their harvest proceeds. The Guinness Kerry National Chase is the highlight of National Hunt and Flat racing events here. The Northern Ireland Festival of Racing is held the first weekend in November at Lisburn’s Down Royal Racecourse, which was granted a Royal Charter in 1685. The Champion Chase race is part of the festival and is for many who follow the sport the most prestigious National Hunt event of the year in the north.

Delight in Autumn Gardens
Two high-concept gardens enhance the region’s colorful fall foliage with unusual elements and unique events. At the Samhain Winter Garden at Brigit’s Garden in Rosscahill, Galway, a massive earthworks depiction of a sleeping woman represents the Earth at rest, cradling a reflection pool that symbolizes life. In the Bealtaine Summer Garden, tie a wish to the fairy tree. And in early October, join in the seasonal feast of foraged and harvested ingredients from the garden.

Named one of the top ten gardens in the world by the Daily Telegraph, Mount Stewart Gardens in Newtownards, Northern Ireland, features formal themed gardens, plus lake and woodland walks. There are still flowers blooming through the winter thanks to the mild climate, says head gardener Neil Porteous. He leads a special behind-the-scenes tour in early November. There’s an Autumn Fair in early October, and the Festival of Lights (the first three weekends in November), which transforms the grounds with colorful lights in the trees and ethereal fairy music.


Powerscourt Voted no. 3 in the World’s Top 10 Gardens by National Geographic

Powerscourt Gardens has been voted No. 3 in the World’s Top 10 Gardens by the National Geographic!
This news comes just days after being awarded a 2014 Certificate of Excellence by Tripadvisor, an award for businesses that consistently achieve outstanding traveller reviews on the site.

These fantastic reviews will give both Powerscourt and the travel trade more reasons for travellers to visit Ireland.

Powerscourt House
Powerscourt House