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Travels in whisky - recommendations please

Current thinking is to parallel holiday plans…just I case…so one route is to visit family in the Lakes and then keep heading further north and do the long promised Whisky tour.

I know there is little info on here already but its a little old so - does anyone have any recommendations for a 2 week holiday on the west coast and islands with regard to:

  • Distillery visits
  • Accommodation
  • restaurants
  • other actives (the 10yr old can only manage a coupe of tours a day before ‘I’m bored!’)

Thanks!

Where are you going on the West Coast - or is that still the bit you’re planning?

I haven’t visited any distilleries in Scotland: Islay is the best place in the west for that but is hard to get to. But I’ve had some amazing camping holidays with young kids in Mull and around Arisaig. The beaches and general scenery are incredible. There’s not a huge amount to do other than outdoors stuff but if your 10 year old likes rock pools, swimming, sand dunes, rope swings etc they’ll have a great time.

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Springbank… The holy grail for many whisky lovers… Family owned and still producing the way it was made decades ago… https://www.campbeltownbackpackers.co.uk/index.php
Oban… mull… skye… Arran all have distilleries…
Plenty of golden beaches and rocky coves to explore… As a kid camped on the beach on Iona

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I’d give a shout to Oban. One of the mainstream-ish Diageo ditilleries but the town itself is lovely with some great cafes, restaurants, twee shops etc and is one of the population centres in the area.

We stayed in a lovely airbnb up in the hills overlooking the town and had a beautiful coastal view every morning. We then went onto Mull - Tobermory is a very small place so I wouldn’t make it a destination. There is the opportunity to go to Iona, Staffa and Lunga to see Fingal’s cave, ‘Puffin Island’ and the most exquisite calm, quiet island of Iona.

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One of my absolute highlights of a driving holiday around Scotland was a trip to the Isle of Skye where we stopped for lunch at an unassuming seafood shop tucked up on the hill behind the Talisker distillery. There’s no loos, just somewhere to wash your hands, but the seafood on offer (langoustines, lobsters, oysters…) was fresh and delicious, with picnic style benches looking over a beautiful loch. I remember another patron going back for a third lobster! The prices were pretty good. Looks like they’re still in operation Isle of Skye Oysters

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still at the planning stage - will take all the suggestions here and ‘distill’ them down (did you see what I did there !?

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If you manage to get to Orkney, take a tour of Highland Park, but otherwise there’s lots to see, the Churchill barriers, St. Magnus cathedral, Scapa flow. The beaches are stunning too so make sure you bring wetsuts.

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I’d say if you can afford it then a combined whisky/wildlife tour is an idea. You often get to island-hop over 3-4 days and visit multiple distilleries, see some incredible wildlife with a guide and a bit more of the area than you would by yourself, chiefly as the local guide knows some excellent spots. We went to Mull with a guide and stayed with him and he took us round to see golden eagles, otters, rare birds etc. It can’t really be emphasised how close to nature you are - We woke up in the morning to get some coffee and saw a 7 foot stag at the kitchen looking in on us…really no more than a metre away separated by an inch of glass! Amazing! I’d definitely recommend going to Lunga and Staffa too. An island of about 4000 puffins who love humans as their predators don’t come and swoop for them when humans are about so they waddle right up to you and stand underneath you. Honestly, it’s like a Disney scene.

We went with this guy for a short 3 day stint and stayed on Oban first then Mull + excursions to the small islands. It’s purely wildlife, no whisky but there are conjoined tours, or those just focussing on Whisky.

He took us a the crack of dawn on Sunday to Iona before the tourist boats arrived. I can’t quite put into words the tranquility and peace you have sitting on a bench with a coffee on the island of a few 100 people, in the grounds of Britain’s first church, hearing some choir singing from within with the sun rising. Bliss.

The absolute highlight was seeing a fully spread Golden Eagle in full aerial combat with 2 massive hooded crows about 50m above us. I’m not especially a wildlife nut, but I think anyone would be blown away seeing the absolute majesty of those iconic animals so close.

Oh, and if you go in any other month outside July/August you will freeze to death.

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We hired a camper van and took across to Isla a couple of years ago (ferry from Oban) and enjoyed the hospitality of most of the distilleries there. Plenty of outdoor stuff for kids. Obviously you’d need to like peaty smoky whisky to start with, but great tours particularly Laphroaig’s. Just need to be aware of Midge high season and avoid that.

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when is midge season ?

All summer unfortunately. I’ve never experienced them bad on the west coast - the sea breeze keeps them at bay normally I’ve found. Inland (in the Highlands) they are torture.

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I think late May through August is the usual norm. But they are dispersed by wind, and they don’t bite, just get in your face and hair. We went over in early October and it was fine, the weather was nice too. You may want to either make sure you avoid, or plan to go during, the annual Feis (festival) which I think is usually in May.

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The summer is peak midge season. I’ve visited the Highlands in May or September to avoid it so not sure quite how bad it is, but some of the stories are pretty offputting.

Personally if I was going with family I’d probably not go to Islay, and combine sightseeing of the attractive parts of the W Coast with visiting Talisker plus maybe a couple of others such as Oban, Jura on the W Coast or Glenmorangie, Pulteney or Dalmore in the Highland area (so on the other coast, but not that far out of your way). I can really recommend the Torridon and Assynt areas, plus Skye.

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You could do worse than follow in the footsteps of Iain Banks:


Part travelogue, part autobiography, part single malt reviews it is both informative and very funny in places. It is heavily self-indulgent (but by this stage in his literary career that is moderately acceptable) and at times it does get quite political (Banks had quite strong left leaning political views and hated our sycophantic support of Bush in the second Iraq war) but I still found it a great exploration Scotland and malt whisky by a great author.
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Sorry, but I have to step in here. You might have been lucky (they don’t seem to like some people) but they absolutely do bite. I’ve lived up in the Highlands for 25 years and still get covered in their bites which both sting at the time and seriously itch afterwards. The bite doesn’t hurt so much individually but en masse they are renowned for driving holiday makers back south of the border. To be fair, responses to them varies from person to person they leave some alone whilst mobbing others and some are only mildly irritated whilst others will itch until blood is drawn!

Generally they’re not too bad before mid June. Get a midge net hood for when they are bad but so long as there’s a bit of wind they’re not a problem.

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Have a look on YouTube for how bad the dreaded midge can be… They say eating marmite and garlic help lol

I think you’re right there; they don’t seem to go for me for some reason, but my partner was nipped a few times when we did come across them earlier in the season; but that was inland in the Glens. Different kettle of fish those wretched sand flies in New Zealand…

I have kiwi friends who say they’d take the sand flies any day. It really does depend on luck and the individual. When they’re bad they can be horrific. I’ve gone out in the evening in a t-shirt in Skye and within minutes my arms were literally completely black with them. I’ve known people fall off rock climbs when they’ve been mobbed. That said some years they’re not so bad others they’re terrible. Last year was horrific. They tend to be worst after a really mild winter and/or, in particular, a mild spring. So hopefully after a good cold winter they’ll not be too bad this year.

The “North Coast 500” website is great for ideas for restaurants, hotels, distilleries and all the delights of the far North of Scotland, even if you don’t do the whole route. If you do, The Melvich Hotel in Portskerra was very comfortable, had an excellent restaurant and was good value. (It was not on the website when we went). We were introduced to Rock Rose Gin and Holy Grass Vodka there. Visited the Dunnet Bay distillery the next day on the way to The Castle of Mey andJohn O’Groats, jumping off point for the Orkney distilleries. Highlight was a visit to Glenmorangie at Tain on the way south.

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thanks - will have a look