AS a travel writer, the questions I get asked most often are “Where are your favourite places?” and “Where should I go on my holidays?” Well, I’m here in this new weekly travel section for the Sunday National to answer those questions as I share a suitcase stuffed full of brilliant places with you and seek to inspire your holiday choices, whether home or abroad, blowout trip or budget break.
This week, I’m here to introduce myself rather than just plough straight into the first destination. We’re going to be travelling companions after all. I’ve been a travel writer since 1997, and I’ve seen a lot of changes; my fair share of ups and downs in travel too. But what has stayed consistent is my own love of travel and the enduring passion of the people I write for to explore and enjoy. Economic tough times may hit – and that is happening now – but people still love to get away.
Over the years, I’ve been incredibly lucky to experience life in over 100 countries, from Albania to Zambia. On the way, I’ve written thousands of articles for magazines and newspapers across five continents, as well as over 30 travel books. I’ve talked travel on the radio and TV too. There is nothing I enjoy more than sharing my myriad experiences with friends and my family – when they can join me – and then my readers.
I was first inspired to explore by my parents. They didn’t take us on glitzy trips abroad, but they made sure we enjoyed adventurous times in Scotland on holidays to the likes of Bute, Arran and the Borders. My dad built his own yacht, Sisu, and burned with a deep love of the mountains. He is sadly no longer with us, and neither is my mum, but they stay with me on my travels. Hiking up a mountain in Spain once, I asked the eldest of my two daughters, Tara, if I’d passed on to her my dad’s love of the mountains. She said: “No, but you’ve given me a love of travel”. If I can inspire you with the same joy, I’ll be a happy writer.
You don’t need to go far to travel. I’ve had brilliant times staying at hotels for a family weekend in my native Edinburgh with my wife and kids, and I’d count this as travelling. As Robert Louis Stevenson once said: “I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake.” There is something special, rejuvenating about even the shortest break, and I’ll be covering short trips around Scotland with you.
When asked what my favourite country is in the world, I answer Scotland and get teased that I might be a little biased. But hand on tartan heart, we really have something special. Are you aware we’ve got over 800 islands, and even without those, our coastline is longer than England’s? Or Spain and France’s coastlines, for that matter? To be honest, I didn’t until I worked on a Scotland book for National Geographic a few years ago.
Within Scotland, we have a remarkable diversity. So as well as covering our – now eight, after Dunfermline recently joined the fold – cities I’ll be heading off to explore the wilder parts of the Hebrides. I’ll be telling you about some of those Scottish bucket list adventures, including setting off across the deep North Atlantic to the Holy Grail of St Kilda. I’ll sweep you off too to the northern extremities of Shetland. But we’ll also delve down deep into the lesser explored parts of the Borders, plus Dumfries and Galloway. Scotland has real strength in depth.
I won’t ignore the rest of the UK either, so I’ll be dipping into the surrounding nations. And then, of course, overseas too to some of my favourite countries. Looking at what I’ve got coming up this year, I’ll be spiriting you off around Lanzarote in a campervan (yes, it’s possible!) and on an out-of-season cruise that reveals some of Europe’s most famous cities without the crowds.
Travel can be a broad church, and my writings will be. You’ll hear all the reasons you should visit a destination and about great places to eat, from wee tapas bars to Michelin fine dining temples. In short, I’ll give you as much colour and insider information about destinations so you can make an informed choice about visiting.
Look out, too, for my Hotel Of The Week. This box will be my pick of a great place to stay, distinct from my main piece. So if you don’t fancy heading to the main destination that week, I might entice you with a short break at the hotel.
The focus will be on splash-out places to treat yourself, but I’ll also include budget options in these straitened times.
If you’re passionate about travel, feel free to share your own ideas of places to visit. The team at the Sunday National are always happy to hear from readers.
I’m off to pack my suitcase now as I have a trip to Portugal to pack for.
Did you know Scotland had a big hand in setting up the port wine industry, and our folk cultures share a similar sense of saudade? Or that it has some of the best family hotels on the planet? Read on next week, and I’ll share more with you.