Hi everyone! If you enjoy nothing more than heading off on holiday, or just enjoy an occasional night or two away, we are going to get on well, writes Robin McKelvie.
Whether you are looking to ease off for a weekend in the Trossachs or one of Scotland’s cities, or maybe savour a week in the Algarve sun, or even a long haul adventure to somewhere like Hong Kong or Australia, I’m here to help. And hopefully inspire you too. Strap in now and make yourself comfortable, as I introduce myself and my new travel column for The Courier.
I’ve been travelling for most of my life. As a wee boy my dad used to take me ‘doon the watter’ in the Easter and Autumn holidays to Ardmaleish Boatyard on the Isle of Bute to paint his yacht Sisu. Every summer also brought the sheer joy of family holidays on Arran. I’m with Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson on travelling – ‘I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move’. I felt this on those CalMac ferries, and on our regular trips to Princes Street Gardens in Edinburgh where I could have watched the trains heading to distant places I could only imagine, like London and Plymouth, for hours.
I didn’t finally fly until I was 20, but have since made up for it, having now been to over 100 counties. I make 30-40 trips a year these days, over half around Scotland, but to all other parts of the world too. Over the years the writing I’ve always done since my childhood travel diaries has morphed into a career that has seen my work published in newspapers and magazines all across the UK and on another four continents. I’ve written guidebooks too, over thirty on the likes of Scotland, Croatia, Slovenia and Bermuda, and regularly talk travel on BBC Radio.
Despite all my global adventures the question I get asked most often – ‘What is your favourite country?’ – has always remained easy to answer. The top destination for me is Scotland. Seriously! When Rough Guides named it the world’s second top destination to visit this year I was invited on to BBC radio to defend this lofty award against a London based travel writer who insisted Scotland didn’t deserve to snare second place. I started off by agreeing with her that it was ridiculous that Scotland was number two, when I knew from my own experience it firmly deserved to be number one!
Scotland for me is one of the least known countries in Europe, certainly by many people even who live here. Until I researched my National Geographic Guide to Scotland I admit I didn’t realise we had over 800 islands and our coastline – even without these islands – is three times larger than England’s and twice the size of both the French and Spanish littorals. Scotland’s coastline in fact makes up more than 10% of Europe’s total.
I sometimes tease friends by telling them about a travel experience I’ve had, such as savouring the Northern Lights from a kayak, swooping off on the world’s shortest scheduled flight and its only scheduled beach landing, or sailing alongside a killer whale. When I tell them I did all these things in one country they are intrigued. When I reveal I did all these amazing things right here in Scotland, I enjoy watching their faces ripple with surprise. You can do savour all these epic experiences and far, far more in this impressively diverse country.
Travel writing can be a funny business. Some writers just want to tell you all about themselves, which I’ve admittedly had to do here to introduce the column! I do want to share my travels and my family’s experiences on the road with you, but I also want to provide you with genuinely useful information so that you can plan and book your own trips. I’d like to help inspire you too to dream of visiting exotic places (that you might have to save up for visiting), whilst you enjoy wee local breaks away too.
My family will very much be part of the columns. There is Jenny, my well-travelled wife, who is also a travel writer and the co-author of many of my travel guidebooks, including the National Geographic guide to Scotland. Then there is 9-year-old Tara who has stayed at over 300 hotels across 12 countries and last, but certainly not least, wee Emma, who at six has stayed at over two hundred hotels across seven countries.
I like to keep in touch with my readers, so would love to hear your feedback on the columns. You will find I’m all ears too on places you think I should check out for the column, so feel free to get in touch with the Courier. You can also keep up with my travels live if you have access to Twitter or Instagram. On the former my handle is just @robinmckelvie and on the latter @robinmckelvietravels, while my website is www.robinmckelvie.com.
My columns will be coming out every fortnight and every one will be different. The next one for example will see me returning to that beguiling southern charmer, Dumfries and Galloway, with my young family. I’m actually on the way there as I write this, the Southern Uplands starting to rise temptingly in the distance, as we ease south towards this epic land of ruined abbeys sweeping beaches and trim towns and villages, an escape alive with the ghosts of both Rabbie Burns and Robert the Bruce.
In the coming weeks and months I will be taking you around further parts of Scotland to help you plan your own trips. I won’t just be travelling to single destinations, but doing a few handy ‘round-ups’ too. The first of these will be on my favourite islands in Scotland. This won’t just be a dry list of islands, but the piece will share with you why I rate each island so highly from my own experiences and then will also include some practical information on things to see and do there.
I will also be heading much further afield with a couple of articles about Australia in May. One will take in the delights of the east coast, including the Gold Coast, as it gears up to accept the baton from Glasgow and host the 2018 Commonwealth Games. The second Australia story I plan to send ‘live’ from out there, as I take the Indian Pacific all the way across the country from Sydney to Perth and then check out the other Perth and the winelands of Margaret River.
As well as the main travel article every fortnight there will be two more wee break out boxes. The first is ‘Hotel of the Fortnight’, which will feature a hotel I’ve recently stayed at that I really like. I say hotel, but it won’t always be an expensive city grand dame – it could be a wee B&B, a family friendly self-catering escape or something really unusual, like a gypsy caravan or a glamping (posh camping) hideaway. The second box with will be a ‘Travel Tip’, which could be any wee nugget that I think you will find useful, from new airline routes, through to festivals you might not have heard of before.
Whatever your own tastes are, whether you prefer comfortable hotels and fancy restaurants, or something more low key, whether you like to get active in the great outdoors or just explore the shops or museums, there will be plenty of practical information and ideas for you. I’m really looking forward to having you along as a companion on my travels and to sharing them with you. See you in a fortnight. Until then, bon voyage!
Hotel of the Fortnight – Village Hotel Glasgow – It’s great to see the massive SSE Hydro in Glasgow staging so many successful concerts these days. If you’re through for a gig why not avoid the hassles of finding parking and driving home late by staying over? The new Village Hotel is handily located for the Hydro, just across the Clyde with views back towards it if you book a river view room. I love that they have a full 20m swimming pool with hot tub, sauna and steam room. There is also a bar/restaurant and a Starbucks to refuel in before the concert or show. Doubles from £85. www.village-hotels.co.uk/hotels/glasgow.
Mercifully long gone are the days when Scottish travellers flying east long haul had to transit London’s airports. Emirates led the way launching a Glasgow-Dubai service back in 2004. More recently I’ve been impressed with Etihad’s Edinburgh-Abu Dhabi route, which started in. 2015. I’m using it again in May to get to Brisbane and come back from Perth. The fare is not bad either, coming in at under £600 for all four legs including all taxes, which was cheaper than flying via London. If you’re planning a trip anywhere east beyond Turkey I’d look seriously at avoiding London if you can. www.etihad.com.