31 MAY 2012: The Scots will be the first to tell you, “Give it five minutes and the weather will turn to something else.” So having braved the elements recently on a phantasmagorical journey to the Orkney Islands I got a front seat chance to romp around the mysterious isle with Scotland’s jewellery sensation Sheila Fleet, an Orcadian, who left no stone unturned in this rocky playground. She opened my eyes to a whole new world.
“Just down the road, we come across the 29 steps of Minehowe, and by the Ness of Brodghar, archaeologists are baffled on the latest find they say is much older than Stonehenge,” she says matter-of-factly.
Creativity and ingenuity was always in abundance in this ancient land. Fleet takes her inspiration from the history and the rugged landscape that shapes all souls who land here. One of her collections focuses on Minehowe rediscovered in 1999 by Sheila’s neighbor.
“We kept seeing his mound. They are everywhere,” she says explaining the island that’s seen Vikings, Neolithic man, and claims one of the world’s most treacherous water passages. The locals there have a legend about the Swilkie whirlpool and a sea-king named Mysing.
Meanwhile Brodghar has fanned the flames of archaeology controversy. This site as of late has become the subject of a new BBC documentary chronicling this significant prehistoric settlement illustrating a creative and prosperous Neolithic community that once lived there. Insiders say it’s completely turned the archaeology world on its head. Ideally located between the Stones of Stennes and the Ring of Brodghar, busloads are expected this summer to spike the arrival figures along this razor thin peninsula.
To paraphrase a Weegee (aka Glaswegian) “The Scots invented everything.” If not everything, they get high marks for fortitude and prowess. The Scots have smartly honed in on 2012 as “The Year of Creative Scotland.” It’s bold branding for the Scots who are famous for not tooting their own horn.
At the recent annual Scotland Expo, which attracted 700 plus buyers and 250 suppliers the creativity theme was certainly front and center with most exhibitors showcasing their products in Edinburgh’s Royal Highland Centre.
“VisitScotland expo is always a memorable occasion and this year was no exception. We were delighted to welcome tour operators from 36 different countries, including Canada, to Edinburgh, and we look forward to seeing many more Scottish destinations appearing on their itineraries next year,” says Mike Cantlay, chairman of VisitScotland.
Last year, Scotland welcomed 103,000 visitors from Canada, a 4.8% increase from 2010 arrivals. To boot, in 2011 Canadian visitors boosted the Scottish economy by £103 ($164.2) million which was a significant increase of 27.5% from the previous year.
Here’s a sneak peek on what’s fab for clients craving culture and adventure.
The Horsey Helix Project
The route between Stirling Castle and Edinburgh will be changed dramatically come the summer of 2013. That’s when two giant-sized steel statue horses will loom over the historic Stirling Castle by the Falkirk Canal.
The reason? The British Waterways wanted a dramatic entrance to the canal and the Falkirk Council wanted an eco-farm, so this 300-hectared parkland fronted by a 43-million pound steel structure will be their new dramatic symbol. Clients will be able to venture to the eye of the horse for a fabulous lookout peering over the countryside and down on the castle battlements.
“These horses are actually kelpies and it comes from a Gaelic myth known for water horses that used to cross the canal,” says Ronnie Simpson from the Helix Project. “The world’s largest Clydesdale used to live in Falkirk and his name was Carnera. He stood 19 hands and 4 inches tall and was named after the world’s boxing champ at the time Primo Carnera.” Carnera used to tow the ‘iron brew’ Scotland’s other national brew. Entrance fees to the Helix will be £5. The project will include a park, cycling paths, and ‘fun for everyone.’ http://www.thehelix.co.uk/
Monsters and Lakes Oh My
Sure Loch Ness has got Nessie and fab lookout points but the area has also added something new to the roster so count the south end into your travel plans.
Graham Ambrose, executive director of Destination Loch Ness says so. “I would spend a half day on that side. First go and do your big attractions in the morning, finish your Nessie hunting then spend the afternoon exploring the south side.
“There’s a new 28 mile trail created to really open the area so people could appreciate it.”
Another new find: The Great Glen Canoe Trail. “You can canoe the entire Loch Ness. There are wee places you can stop off and spend the night. There’s lots of things bubbling away there.” For more discoveries visit VisitLochNess.com.
Scotland’s oil capital has a plethora of diversions. Think 300 castles, nearly 60 golf courses, ample whisky distilleries, and a shopping hub that is literally a 10 minute walk to the beach. For creative-penchant clients the art gallery houses one of the biggest art collections outside Edinburgh.
Jack The Singing Butler is a favourite painting. “We got this collection thanks to the Aberdeen citizens who have donated countless items resulting in an extraordinary collection,” says Paula Fullerton from the Aberdeen City Council.
John o’Groats has long been hailed as the most northerly point in the UK mainland. The old line “from Land’s end to John o'Groat's” might be familiar. So what do you see when you get there? The coastal beauty and the sea laden with whales and dolphins will encourage clients to stay a while and linger. This northerly town by the sea has rooms ideal for long stays, along with more restaurants and shop openings. But the other fun discovery is Ebenezer Place. It’s the world’s shortest street according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
Tobermory and Calgary sound familiar? These two Canadian places have roots going back to a tiny island in the Inner Hebrides known as Mull. Unlike our landlocked Calgary, this Scottish Calgary boasts a beautiful beach.
“It’s idyllic you’d think you were in the Caribbean,” says Richard Nealon, co-owner of the Western Isles Hotel on the Isle of Mull. Meanwhile Tobermory nestled around a sleepy harbour boasts a massive Spanish Galleon from the Spanish Armada. It’s a scuba divers dream. These remote places are ideal for soul seekers and those on a quest for the ultimate getaway.
With the recent press coverage on Canada’s Panda win, you’d think our pair was one of a kind. Not so. Meet Tian Tian and Yang Guang the UK’s only Pandas now on display at the Edinburgh Zoo. Ever since the two new residents arrived in December, visitor numbers have surged. To get in on the action, it’s best to show up before 11am for walk-in tickets otherwise book online for the 20-minute group tour with up to 50 people per group.
“You only pay for the price of admission, so it’s free to see the bears,” says a happy Indira Kemp. The pair is a crowd favourite and they have a fun routine at the exhibit called the Panda Handstand. The pandas will be at the zoo for 10 years.
Only a 30-minute drive from Edinburgh resides this area once big on kings, castles and the first steel bridge in the world called the Forth Bridge. The bridge is so beautiful you will want to park and marvel at it.
The ancient ruins littering Fife’s countryside have in a weird way become huge tourist attractions. Gander at the ruins of St. Andrews, see castles like Falkland Palace once lived in by Kings and Queens (King James IV, V and Mary Queen of Scots), and visit East Neuk, home to quaint wee fishing villages. One of the newest projects currently in development are pyramid shaped structures which once completed in 2014 are sure to draw the crowds. Called the Scottish Project internationally renowned designer Charles Jencks is revamping the old coal mines into sci-fi looking mounds and pyramids.
In an OMG moment, I couldn’t believe my ears talking to Neil Colquhoun, head of the Skye and Lochalsh Hospitality Association, at the Isle of Skye. (He also is the proprietor of Greshornish House).
Discerning foodies will know one of the world’s top restaurants is nestled there. Helmed by acclaimed executive chef Michael Smith, the Three Chimneys Restaurant is synonymous with uber excellence and has ranked among the world’s top 20 best restaurant charts for years. As for Mr. Colquhoun, his historic country house has been lauded as ‘one of Isle of Skye’s best kept secrets.’ Indeed. The quaint manor home has won a Good for the Soul award.
Scottish National Tourism Board VisitScotland http://www.visitscotland.com/
More on Creative Scotland http://www.creativescotland.com/
Banner Image: Ian Rankin (yes, that Ian Rankin) and Ilona Kauremszky
Images by Stephen Smith