Dive into Scotland's Coasts and Waters

Scotland’s varied coastline and inland waters in both urban and rural settings provide a wealth of exciting leisure and adventure opportunities all year round. In 2020, the country’s coasts and waters will be celebrated with a year-long programme of events that showcase the amazing array of aquatic things to see and do across Scotland.

Special events for 2020

A set of exciting events will put Scotland’s Coasts and Waters in the spotlight throughout 2020, including regular gems such as Crail Food Festival and the Scottish Traditional Boat Festival at Portsoy, as well as an expanded Clydebuilt Festival and The Fife Regatta. The Edinburgh International Film Festival will also run a special set of screenings called Scotland’s Shores, showcasing the nation’s spectacular coastal charms in addition to a special outdoor coastal experience.

Aberdeen’s position as a place to spot dolphins will be celebrated by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds at DolphinFest 2020, while National Theatre of Scotland is developing a production called Ferry Tales to celebrate Scotland’s waters and the journeys made across them. Scotland’s Boat Show and Kip Marina will also showcase ‘River of Light’, a special event featuring numerous illuminated boats in October 2020.

The country’s lochs, rivers and canals have helped to shape the nation’s history and the provide visitors with a wealth of experiences from boat trips and adventure sports to wildlife watching and diving with large marine creatures. In addition to the many events planned to celebrate the year of Scotland’s Coasts and Waters, visitors can navigate around Scotland’s many isles and waterways, dive in to the country’s maritime heritage and embrace its waterways as part of a range of seasonal activities to be enjoyed at different points throughout the year.

The Loch Ness 360 Trail

Connecting the Great Glen Way with the South Loch Ness Trail, the Loch Ness 360° Trail is a new long-distance walking and cycling route around the striking Loch Ness landscape. Covering a distance of circa 80 miles, it will take walkers around six days to complete the trail, although the route can be split up into sections for more manageable experiences. Taking in the city of Inverness, as well as Drumnadrochit, Invermoriston, Fort Augustus, Foyers and Dores, there are numerous spectacular sights and stopping points along the way. For those wanting to discover more about the history of the loch and the surrounding highlands, guided tours and bike hire are available. Look out for the splendour of Urquhart Castle and the Telford Bridge on-route, alongside the Falls of Foyers, where the water cascades 165ft down over the clifftop.

Water sports

With its unique mix of calm lochs, crashing waves and fast moving rapids in addition to more than 6,000 miles of coastline, Scotland’s waters are well-suited to an array of different water sports. Outdoor activity centres across the country offer everything from gentle introductory lessons to the toughest challenges, meaning there is something to suit all ages and abilities.

Diving and snorkelling

Scotland’s Coasts and Waters are home to wonderfully diverse marine life and numerous ship wrecks that are incredibly popular with divers. Nestled in the heart of the Orkney Islands, Scapa Flow is one of the largest sheltered anchorages in the world and is a graveyard of sunken ships. Explore the Sound of Mull with Lochaline or dive into the history of the Firth of Clyde on a Wreckspedition Dive Charter. Whether visitors are looking for day trips or even on-board accommodation on specialist dive boats, Scotland has a range of options to suit. The Puffin Dive Centre in Oban provides opportunities for beginners to discover the delights of scuba diving, while selected parts of the coasts of Berwickshire and the North West Highlands are designated snorkel trails, where visitors can catch a glimpse of everything from sea squirts and anemones to dolphins and whales.

Kayaking and canoeing

As a paradise for paddlers, both the inland and sea waters of Scotland are packed full of opportunities to try out kayaking and canoeing. The River Tay has conditions to suit both beginners and advanced kayakers, with both tandem and single craft available from Outdoors Explore. Alternatively, visitors can get to grips with a paddle on Britain’s largest body of fresh water at Loch Lomond, ably supported by Wild By Nature. Scotland’s eclectic coastline boasts an abundance of caves, cliffs, tunnels and secluded beaches to explore as part of a sea kayak adventure too. A range of day trips and multi-day expeditions allow visitors to uncover new sights, paddle alongside local wildlife and take in the region’s spectacular geography. The Orkney Sea Kayaking Association can help visitors to discover Orkney’s famous Old Man of Hoy while the Scottish Sea Kayaking Trail is a challenging 500km voyage around the most scenic parts of the Highlands and Isles.

White water rafting

The rivers of Scotland offer some of Britain’s most thrilling natural white water rafting experiences which can be enjoyed all year round by both first time rafters and adrenaline junkies. Calmer waters in the summer months are ideal for beginners, while challenging Grade 4 or 5 rafting follows the snow melts in early spring or periods of heavy rainfall. The River Findhorn in the Cairngorms National Park offers exceptional thrills and beautiful scenery, as the river drops 500ft over 18 miles. As one of Scotland’s last wild rivers, weather conditions often regulate which sections of the river can be used! The fast-flowing rapids of the River Tay are popular with thrill-seekers, while scheduled dam releases on the River Garry near Fort William provide highly graded waters from April to October.

Canyoning and coasteering

Whether leaping from rock ledges into natural pools or exploring shorelines without a boat, Scotland’s Coast and Waters offer plenty of exhilarating canyoning, gorge-walking and coasteering experiences. The country’s glens, forests and rivers provide a natural playground for an adventure trip that can be enjoyed by all the family. With support from qualified instructors and high-quality kit, it’s an opportunity to see the coastline from a new perspective.

St Ninian’s Isle on Shetland

Venture across a spectacular natural sand pathway to discover St Ninian’s Isle. The vast tombolo – a bar of sand and shingle – is the largest active feature of this type in Britain, and it provides a walking route to discover the historic remains of St Ninian’s Chapel, once the home of a Pictish treasure hoard that is now housed in museums across Scotland. Glance out over the rocky islets of Coar Holm and Inns Holm and see nature in all its glory.

Dolphin spotting - Banffshire Coast and Moray Firth

Known as the ‘Dolphin Coast’, the Banffshire Coast and Moray coast are renowned as being waters where visitors can see bottlenose dolphins in their natural environment. The colony of dolphins in the Moray Forth is the most northerly on earth and are among the biggest too, averaging nearly 4 metres in length. Chanonry Point near Fortrose and the imposing military fortification at Fort George are popular spots to spy on the dolphins from land, while chartered boat trips and wildlife cruises can take visitors on a memorable ride closer to the action.

Swim with basking sharks

Visitors can swim with the second largest fish on the planet during the summer months, as basking sharks are regularly spotted in waters off the west coast of Scotland. The huge species, growing up to 10 metres long, are placid, toothless creatures, meaning it’s possible to swim with them and a wide variety of other wildlife including dolphins and seals. Tours run from April to October, coinciding with the migration of the sharks to Scottish waters, and swimming, kayaking and snorkelling around the creatures is incredibly popular. Hotspots include around the coast of Oban, the Firth of Clyde and near the Isles of Coll, Canna and Tiree.

Isle of Jura

Explore the wild Isle of Jura, home to an award-winning distillery, incredible mountains, a swirling whirlpool and a thriving population of around 6000 wild deer. Tours of the Jura Distillery reveal how the island’s natural elements have influenced the production process while the Corryvreckan Whirlpool is among the largest permanent whirlpools on earth. Boat trips to the surrounding waters run regularly, allowing visitors to hear the incredible roar of the water.

Dip in the Firth of Forth

An annual custom since 1986, hundreds of people dive into the waters of the Firth of Forth in South Queensferry as part of Loony Dook. Often wearing fancy dress and all in the name of charity, the tradition to mark Hogmanay is viewed as a fresh way to start the new year. The name is an amalgamation of ‘Loony’ – short for lunatic – and ‘Dook’, a Scottish term for ‘dip’ or ‘bathe’. Visitors are welcome to take part in the custom or to cheer on the Dookers as they make their way down to the beach.

Surf the Atlantic

Scotland’s west coast features stunning scenery, rich cultural heritage and incredible surfing conditions as a result of strong prevailing south westerly winds. Thurso, on the northerly tip of the Scottish mainland, is renowned for its waves, while the Isle of Tiree provides abundant surfing conditions and is home to the Tiree Wave Classic in October, one of Britain’s premier windsurfing competitions.

Fingal’s Cave on the Isle of Staffa

Created some 60 million years ago by the same lava flows that were responsible for the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland, Fingal’s Cave is home to an incredible set of volcanic basalt columns. Found on the uninhabited island of Staffa in the Inner Hebrides, the 69-metre-high cave has astonishing acoustics and can be viewed from cruise vessels in the summer months. The island is dominated by seabirds including guillemots, razorbills, gannets and great skuas, while puffins use it as a breeding site between May and August.

Up Helly Aa

Celebrated on the last Tuesday of January every year, Up Helly Aa involves a set of marches that culminates in a torch-lit procession and the burning of a galley. Held in the bustling seaport of Lerwick on the picturesque Shetland Isles, the celebration of the region’s Viking heritage is a superb spectacle as the fire festival lights up the night sky.

48 Hours in Inverness and Loch Ness

The ‘capital of the Highlands’, Inverness in north Scotland is a vibrant city that has recently welcomed new attractions and restaurants, but which also sits in an enviable location close to some of Scotland’s most beguiling scenery and tranquil countryside. A trip here allows you to enjoy all the attractive elements of city life while simultaneously experiencing the best nature has to offer.

Time to check in

Whether you stay in heart of Inverness or on the shores of Loch Ness, it’s easy to reach the other within 20 minutes to an hour, depending on which area around the Loch you are visiting/staying in. It also means a lovely choice of accommodation, whether that’s cosy B&Bs, elegant hotels or luxurious lodges. In Inverness itself, set on the tree-lined banks of the River Ness, are the four-star, boutique Glenmoriston Town House Hotel and the three-star Inverness Palace Hotel & Spa. Ten minutes from town is the Kingsmills Hotel & Spa, a four-star contemporary hotel built within stunning 18th-century architecture. A little further out is the luxurious Achnagairn Castle, with its own spa and restaurant, while close to the southern tip of Loch Ness, The Lovat Loch Ness is a 30-bedroom independent hotel combining an eco-ethos with elegant interiors and 3 AA rosette fine dining.

DAY ONE

09:00 DELVE INTO THE CITY’S PAST

A great place to gain an in-depth insight and understanding of the history, heritage and art of the Highlands is at the Inverness Museum & Art Gallery. An ever-changing programme of temporary exhibitions feature all year-round at the art gallery, while the museum includes a number of fascinating collections, including Highland weapons and costumes.

11:00 STEP INTO A TROPICAL PARADISE

A beautiful gem in the heart of a city, the Inverness Botanic Gardens are wonderful to explore any time of year, with a broad variety of plants blooming every new season. Explore the glasshouses for plants from deserts and tropical rainforests, as well as hundreds of species of cacti and a waterfall surrounded by orchids and bougainvillea.

13:00 DINE WHERE MUSIC HISTORY WAS MADE

Stop for a bite to eat at the Rendezvous Café, a quirky vintage cinema café that is also the site where The Beatles – known then as the Silver Beetles – played on their first-ever tour as a support act in 1960. Feast on warming homemade soups, tasty baguettes and generous wedges of sticky toffee pudding or chocolate fudge cake.

15:00 TAKE IN A BIRD’S EYE VIEW OF THE CITY

Close to the café is one of the city’s must-visits; its newest attraction, Castle Viewpoint. Not only will you learn about Inverness’ fascinating past, you’ll also be rewarded at the top of the viewing platform with magnificent panoramic views.

17:00 ENJOY PRE-DINNER COCKTAILS

City centre bar The White House produces its own innovative in-house creations – check out its Breakfast Martini, made with Rock Rose gin, Cointreau, with elderflower liqueur, orange marmalade and homemade rosemary syrup – as well as the classics, all made with fresh ingredients.

20:00 FEAST ON HIGHLAND CLASSICS

Make sure you bring an appetite to Inverness newcomer, Prime, which serves up juicy, locally sourced steaks and succulent seafood at its riverside location. Try its large, shared dishes of meat cooked over charcoal or individual dishes such as wild Highland rabbit, and finish with a Scottish classic – Clootie dumpling (warm, steamed fruit cake) served with cranachan ice cream and Scottish honey.

 

DAY TWO

07:00 PADDLE AT SUNRISE

Head 30 minutes outside of Inverness for on an early morning canoe safari with activities company In Your Element. This is as close to nature as you can be; as the sun comes up look out for roe deer, badgers and otters as you paddle along the River Beauly and through the Aigas Gorge.

OR

07:00 WALK AROUND A WORLD-FAMOUS LOCH

You can now walk the entire way around Loch Ness on an uninterrupted trail – the Loch Ness 360°. This new complete pathway, which opened in summer 2018, loops around the entire circumference of this famous loch. While you won’t have time to do all of it in one day, you can walk through a good chunk of over six to seven hours in that time frame, or book to stay on longer than 48 hours and spend a few days completing the walk.

12:00 PICNIC ON LOCAL PRODUCE

If you opt for early morning canoeing, you’ll have built up an appetite; pick up fresh, local fare for a picnic lunch at Corner on the Square, a cute, award-winning delicatessen and café in the historic village of Beauly.

13:00 CRUISE AROUND LOCH NESS

Sail out onto the deep waters of Loch Ness on a Jacobite Cruises boat and take in the glorious surrounding forests and glens (and conduct a little Nessie-spotting of course), before stopping off to explore Urquhart Castle, which overlooks the mysterious loch. One thousand years of history await you as you explore its ruins and discover priceless artefacts and interactive displays at the visitor centre’s exhibition.  

16:00 HEAD OUT DOLPHIN SPOTTING

While you may not have found Nessie earlier in the day, you have the chance to spot magnificent bottlenose dolphins! Climb aboard one of the boats run by Dolphin Spirit, which will take you out into the Inner Moray Firth for potential sightings.

19:00 DRINK AT A CITY FAVOURITE

Head back into Inverness to try out one of MacGregors Bar’s set beer menus. Each order is set so that each drink compliments the next in its flavour profile, and all have been handpicked to represent the bar’s featured Scottish breweries.

20:00 DINE IN A FORMER CHURCH

Located within a converted church The Mustard Seed has retained many of the church’s original period features and boasts a double-height ceiling and a beautiful open log fire. Its top-floor terrace is perfect for picturesque views of the River Ness. As well as a la carte, Chef also produces daily specials, which may include treats such as seared eye fillet of Highland beef served with a malt whisky cream sauce.

22:00 PARTY THE NIGHT AWAY

The city is packed with brilliant live music options if you wish to continue your night out after dinner. Johnny Foxes & The Den is a traditional Scottish pub with live music every night and its wine bar and nightclub, The Den, offers live music alongside DJs and dancing until 3am. Award-winning Hootananny is a great place to go for a traditional Scottish folk music programme and weekly ceilidh parties (upstairs is its sister venue Mad Hatters, which specialises in live rock music). Elsewhere The Market Bar also hosts live folk music and Gellions Bar is home to one of longest-established Saturday Ceilidhs in Inverness city centre.

Getting there: Inverness has its own international airport; direct flights are daily from Heathrow and there are flights available year-round from London Gatwick, London Luton, Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol and Belfast. Inverness Station receives direct, fast services from Glasgow Queen St, Edinburgh Waverley (both three-and-a-half hours) and London Euston (11.5 hours on the overnight Caledonian Sleeper service, which you can book up to 12 months in advance).

Surprising spots to tie the knot

The world will be watching when Meghan Markle marries Prince Harry this spring at Windsor Castle. But while Windsor’s historic St George’s Chapel is reserved for the nuptials of a very select few, the UK has many unusual options for adventurous brides and grooms-to-be.

 

Going underground

How deep is your love? About 300 metres deep if you get married in the Wookey Hole Caves, in Somerset. These subterranean limestone caves were carved out over millennia by the River Axe. Choose from three caverns where you can tie the knot, surrounded by flickering candles and crystal-clear pools.

 

Reach for the stars

If you want your wedding day to be out of this world, marry at Flamsteed House, the historic house of the Astronomers Royal in the Royal Borough of Greenwich, London. Take your wedding photos either side of the Prime Meridian, then dance the night away under the digital stars inside the famous Peter Harrison Planetarium (where they can also arrange private wedding proposals).

 

Under the sea

Your marriage could be in deep water, in the best possible way, if you hold your ceremony at the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth, Devon. Exchange your vows against a glowing blue aquatic backdrop as fish, stingrays and tiger sharks glide gracefully past.

 

Woodland wonderful

Shout your love from the treetops – literally – by marrying in the wooden wonderland of The Treehouse at The Alnwick Garden, Northumberland. Tie the knot under a canopy of lime trees, before having your photos taken on the rustic walkways and rope bridges. Continue the woodland theme in the treetop restaurant, where furniture has been crafted from chunky logs and fallen branches.

 

High society

Embrace your inner ‘Lady of the Manor’ with a Downton Abbey-inspired wedding.

Highclere Castle in Newbury, Berkshire, was the real-life setting for the award-winning period drama. Follow in Lady Edith’s footsteps by descending the same great oak staircase she walked down en route to her wedding, before exchanging your own vows in the castle’s majestic saloon.

 

Islands in the stream

Originally built in the 1860s to guard against a French naval invasion, the Solent Forts off the coast of Portsmouth in Hampshire eventually became an important line of defence during the Second World War. After laying unused for several decades, Spitbank and No Man’s Forts were transformed into luxury boutique hotels where weddings can be booked. The third – Horse Sand Fort – is a museum. Arrive by speedboat on this man-made island and enjoy endless views across The Solent and the English Channel.

 

Training day

You can make sure your marriage is going places, when you exchange vows at the historic Llangollen Railway Station in Denbighshire, North Wales. Then travel by steam train through the lush, green Dee Valley, a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.

 

Scandi-Chic

Create your own Sami-style celebration with PapaKåta Teepees. These spacious, traditional tents come with lots of magical add-ons, including wood-burning fires, giant mirror balls and even a handcrafted circular oak bar. Pitch your teepee at lakeside venue Aldourie Castle, near Inverness, Scotland, and you can also squeeze in some monster spotting at the world-famous Loch Ness. Based in Henley-on-Thames, York and Scotland, they can set up tents across the UK.

 

Fit for a princess

Why stop at a castle when you can get married on your own island? Belle Isle is a 17th-century castle that sits on its own private island in Lough Erne Lake among 470 acres of countryside in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland. After celebrating your nuptials, you can go fishing, shooting or explore the eight islands that make up this impressive estate.