Top five: Scottish beach walks
We’ve all been merry in the season to be jolly, embraced the sentiments of the season of goodwill to all. That leaves the New Year, the season for …fresh air.
As the dust settles on the hubbub of Christmas and New Year, where better to blow the festive cobwebs away than the bright and breezy Scottish seaside?
As winter turns to spring, we’ll be pulling on our wellies and revisiting some of our favourite beach walks.
Every now and again a place reaches out, grabs you and won’t let go. Elie, tucked neatly on the craggy coastline of the East Neuk of Fife, is one of those for us. We first visited almost a decade ago and return every year without fail, whether for a day trip or longer break. One of the most memorable was spent in the Elie Granary Loft – one of the most stunning holiday lets around, and well worth a peek. Wherever you stay, the charm of this coastal village is all around. From sandy walks along the beach, time spent watching the boats bobbing on the quayside, the beauty of neighbouring Ruby Bay or time to relax at the renowned Ship Inn (host of the very un-Scottish summer pursuit of beach cricket) it is difficult to imagine Elie being nudged from the top of our list.
For us, the Aberdeenshire coastal trail at Stonehaven is our local. Yes, there are beaches closer to home but the half-hour drive is worth it for the wonderful contrast of town and country. In the town itself there’s a leisurely walk from one end of the bay to the other, starting at the unique art deco outdoor swimming baths and winding its way to the quaint harbour with its pubs and obligatory ice cream stops. Speaking of which, if you time it right you’ll beat the queues and be able to join the Stonehaven ritual of fish and chips at The Bay or ice cream at Aunt Betty’s. Just a hop and a skip around the headland, either on foot, by car or by the increasingly popular land train, is the simply stunning Dunnottar Castle. Clinging to north-east coast, not surprisingly it has provided the inspiration for a million photographs – not to mention the Pixar hit Brave. It isn’t just the walk to the castle that will take your breath away!
3: Loch Lomond
The first of two cheats in the list, for two reasons. Firstly clearly Loch Lomond isn’t the seaside, but we’ll forgive ourselves that. Cameron House is our favourite base on the bonny, bonny banks but we’ve also enjoyed the Lodges at Loch Lochmond and stayed in the town of Balloch itself. Wherever you pitch up there are walks aplenty, all with stunning views and within easy reach. The second reason Loch Lomond is a cheat on our New Year list is it isn’t really the walking or the outdoor pursuits that tempt us to look again for 2017 – more the good, no fuss food and laid-back vibe of the Boathouse Restaurant in the grounds of Cameron House. As a National Park, there’s no shortage of places to walk off any culinary excesses and walkhighlands is a good source of ideas – with everything from family strolls to more challenging treks featured.
It’s often said Findhorn is blessed with its own microclimate and who are we to argue? Mind you, whether you visit when the warm winds are blowing in or on a fresh and blustery winter’s morning it doesn’t really matter – it’s the beauty of Moray’s coastal jewel in the crown that draws visitors in. Once a fishing village, today Findhorn’s something of an artist’s paradise and well and truly on the international map. Dolphin spotting is another big draw, with the Scottish Dolphin Centre at nearby Spey Bay well worth taking the time to visit. Not surprisingly the centre brings tourists by the carload, but Findhorn retains its quiet and unassuming feel – perfect for peaceful strolls and whiling away the hours in one of Scotland’s most naturally beautiful coastal spots. If you have a spare £25,000 burning a hole in your pocket, you could look to join the new beach hut community at Findhorn. On the other hand, the walks are free!
Last but not least is the second of the cheats – Dores, at the head of Loch Ness. Again, not the seaside but given the vast expanses of Loch Ness it may as well be. Like Loch Lomond there are plenty of trails and tracks around Loch Ness, but proudly at the top is Dores – ideal for skimming stones and a bit of monster spotting. Of course there’s also the Dores Inn, with its log fire and cosy feel, to provide some respite and shelter – but it’s the stunning scenery that provides the real drama. If the loch side walks aren’t for you, the Caledonian Canal, leading into Inverness, is a lovely alternative, leading on to the River Ness … particularly pretty at night-time with the bridges lit up and the city lights reflecting on the water. Again, the Walk Highlands website is a good place to turn for route ideas.