Now that lockdown has lifted, Scotland is ready and waiting with five new tourism routes for your self-driving, hiking or cycling pleasure.
Focused mainly on the Clyde Coast and islands in the western part of Scotland, The Coig (which is Gaelic for five) is the ideal sustainable staycation when you’re ready to break free.
Here are the highlights of each.
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This 138-mile loop takes in the best of Ayrshire in around five hours by car. Starting in Irvine (pronounced “Ur-vin”), the Coig’s route skims down the coast via the seaside town of Ayr before heading inland through New Cumnock, then back up to the village of Kilmaurs. This is Robert Burns’ land as well as home to the historical legacy of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce: a must for lovers of history and culture.
If you’re a fan of single malts, head straight to independent whisky company AD Rattray in Kirkoswald for the Whisky Tasting Experience.
Self-caterers will love Donnini serviced apartments with locations in Ayr, Troon and Prestwick. Or you could try one of the eight refurbished cottages in the grounds of Conclaird Castle in Kirkmichael. Campers, head for the Walled Garden Touring Park in Maybole.
This 55-mile loop incorporates the West Coast’s quaint seaside towns in around one hour 30 minutes by car. It centres around North Ayrshire, Inverclyde and Renfrewshire, as well as Scotland’s largest regional park: Clyde Murshiel. These are wild and romantic landscapes, with plenty of off-road biking, heritage trails for walkers, castles to spot and pretty promenades to stroll down.
Food-wise it’s all about the ice cream in Largs: Geraldo’s has queues in summer for its handmade, extra creamy, generous scoops. You could also treat yourself to Braidwoods in rural Dalry: Scotland’s longest-running (and Ayrshire’s only) Michelin-starred restaurant.
If you don’t have a car or want some expert guidance, enlist the help of Primal Adventures; they offer 4x4 adventures around The Coig, such as a 10-stop itinerary of The Shiel, taking in Blair Estate; Kilwinning Abbey; Ardrossan Castle; Saltcoats Beach; Portencross; Kelburn Castle; the Viking Monument, Yacht Haven and Viewpoint of Largs, as well as local restaurant stops.
The Waterside Hotel in West Kilbride has a choice of 23 rooms, most offering views directly across the Clyde to the Isle of Arran. The Woodhouse Hotel in Largs is handy for the island ferries to Cumbrae and has nine cosy rooms (opt for the four-poster bed, with private balcony and sea views).
Circumnavigating the largest of the islands in the Firth of Clyde brings much dramatic scenery, backdropped by Goatfell, Arran’s highest mountain (874m), which is popular with hikers. By car, the recommended Coig route is a 70-mile loop (taking just under 3 hours) from the main village of Brodick (where you’ll alight from the vehicle ferry) via castle ruins and beautiful bays to the curved beach of Sannox.
Head to the Pierhead Tavern at Lamlash for typical pub food (as well as a haggis and black pudding tower with peppercorn sauce) and live music on the terrace with views across the bay to the Holy Isle. The Parlour in Brodick is your go-to for award-winning Arran Ice Cream, where, as well as the classics, you can try such quintessential flavours as Scottish Tablet and Cranachan.
There are two distilleries on Arran – Lochranza has been going strong since 1995, and newcomer Lagg opened in 2019 – but you need to seek out the recently opened Isle of Arran Gin beach house in Cladach for tastings and dinosaurs.
Auchrannie Resort is a bit like its own world within Arran: two separate hotels offering a total of 85 rooms, and 30 self-catering lodges dotted across 52 acres of gardens in Brodick. It’s family and pet-friendly too. If you want more alone time, in addition to B&Bs, there are plenty of companies offering self-catering properties around the island: Cottages on Arran, Mill Rink Arran, The Arran Team and Arran Holiday Retreats.
Pronounced “beaut”, which is an apt descriptor, the isle of Bute takes about an hour to circle by car (22 miles) following the Coig route, but you’ll want to linger over its charm, especially the preservation of its 19th-century architecture and the Victorian promenade in the main town of Rothesay (pronounced “Rossy”). Walkers will also rejoice in the 45km West Island Way: Scotland’s first long-distance footpath.
Don’t miss Mount Stuart; the 19th-century Gothic mansion set amid 300 acres of landscaped gardens really is better than Downton Abbey. To further enhance your visit, take a guided tour to learn the extraordinary history of its architecture and design.
Head to Ritchie’s of Rothesay for something local to eat. It dubs itself as home to the finest smoked fish in all of Scotland and it’s not far wrong. It’s takeaway-only but you can fashion a fine picnic of fish, cheeses, smoked haddock eggs and other pantry staples. The Kingarth Hotel has very generously portioned pub meals to enjoy with views of Kilchattan Bay.
The smallest of The Coig route options (just four miles long and two miles wide), the mostly flat Isle of Cumbrae is perfect for cyclists who fancy a peaceful 10km 90-minute loop of the island, or families keen for a calm beachside holiday with the chance to spot seal colonies and porpoises, among other wildlife.
Fans of black pudding, homemade bread and artisan chocolate should head straight for Brewbaker Cafe on the main promenade of Millport, open since 2019. The Garrison House Cafe is also a reliable choice set within the stately impressiveness of Garrison House, built in 1745.
Fly direct to Glasgow Airport, or arrive via train to Glasgow Central Station, which has frequent connections to many of the transport hubs for each route. Cars can be hired at Glasgow airport via a variety of operators, and ferry tickets to the islands pre-purchased via Caledonian MacBrayne.
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