Driving down the West Coast of Scotland – Glencoe, Oban, Skye and the Harry Potter Bridge

The west coast of Scotland is stunning – right up there with the likes of the fjords of Patagonian, Alaska, New Zealand and Norway . . . and with the added advantage of castles and whiskey.  As an Englishman, I’d travelled far and wide to see great sites around the world and didn’t realise that one of the most impressive was, comparatively, on my doorstep.  Stunning and one of the highlights of the UK


There are various routes to take, but I suggest the driving route from Oban and up to the Isle of Skye.  Plenty of highlights to keep you busy for 3-4 days


Top tip #1 – you must drive.  Whilst you could I suppose make your way by public transport, you would miss out on the real highlight which is being able to stop for 5mins in the various stops along the coast to gorp at the magnificent views, and it would take you overall just a lot longer as public transport in these parts is quite limited.  The driving is very much part of this experience

Top tip #2 – even if you don’t like whiskey, the learning about how it is made, the history and the different tastes to look out for in each dram is a very Scottish, and very much fun experience.  The distilleries of Talisker and Oban are some of the most famous is Scotland and give you that great taste of the art that is whiskey making

Top tip #3 – you can do this trip all year round.  I’ve visited 3 times in winter and found the atmosphere at this time or year, with the far fewer tourists, magical.  Of course, summer is also great as the hikes are more enjoyable

A week in Japan from Tokyo, to Mount Fuji and Kyoto

Japan is my favourite country to travel through.  A big call I know.  Whilst it may get pipped by some of the bigger countries when it comes to natural vistas and cultural pursuits, there are three things that cement it as number one:

  1. The people and surrounding culture is one of respect, politeness and calm – just travelling through Japan you find your blood pressure dropping, being more considerate and the pleasures that come with this
  2. Stuff works in Japan – it’s not just the trains being on time to within the second, it’s everything!  I know there is something wonderfully memorable about travelling with a few hiccups as part of the adventure., but there is also something rather pleasant about having a country like Japan to explore knowing it’ll be super easy (and safe)
  3. The food!  I know the French think they are the best in the world.  They are not
There’s a lot to see, but if you have a week, I’d recommend this itinerary which lets you see 3 highlights of Japan and with a bit of adventure thrown in

Cycling around Kyoto and sampling whiskies in the Suntory Distillery

Kyoto has been Japan’s Imperial capital for a thousand years and has . . . a thousand temples.  If, like me, you can get a bit templed out, its quite easy to get tired walking from one temple to the next and, honestly, whilst I enjoyed the trip to Kyoto, I don’t remember any of the specific temples.  So, my tips for a visit:

  • Rent a bike to cycle around the temples, and generally around Kyoto.  It adds a different angle to the day as you can see areas outside of the standard temples, including the large gardens, are not restricted by a driver, and Kyoto city centre is very safe to cycle, including being able to cycle along the canals
  • Unless you are a Japanese history geek, one day is more than enough for the temples
  • The Arashiyama Bamboo Grove in the west of the city is definitely worth checking out as it’s super dense green bamboo forrest makes you think you’re in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon
  • I’d highly recommend taking a half day trip to the Suntory Whiskey Distillery just outside Kyoto.  Even if you are not a whiskey fan, it’s a nice experience as they show you how the whiskey is made, tell the history and give you some free samplings at the end.  Considering the standard of these whiskies and their recognition internationally (they won many of the world’s best awards), this is very generous.   It’s only a 25min train ride (which is fun on its own) from Kyoto Station and has very pleasant surroundings nestled in a glen
  • As with all things Japan, try and stay somewhere with an Onsen – coming back and relaxing in them at the end of the day really adds to the overall Japanese experience.  You’ll find your blood pressure dropping quickly and even catch yourself dropping in a small bow to people in the lifts
  • We stayed near the station, which was a perfect location
  • For more details on how Kyoto can fit into a week itinerary for the highlights of central Japan, see the individual travel entry for – A week in Japan from Tokyo, to Mount Fuji and Kyoto

Sampling whiskies and hiking around Speyside

Speyside sits in the northern part of the Cairngorm Mountains.  The wildest, highest part of the UK and, with its mountain landscapes, crisp fresh air and sub-Arctic climate, quickly detaches you from any feeling of being in the rest of the UK.  Firmly in the highlands of Scotland, you can enjoy the surrounding hikes to the lochs and sample the most famous single malt whiskies in the world.  The old cliché is so true – the taste and enjoyment of the alcohol completely depends on the location and context that you’re experiencing it in – sipping Champagne in the rural vineyards of the Champagne region, drinking the menu of wheat beers in an abbey in Belgium, learning about Rum on an island in the Caribbean –  being in a Speyside lodge sampling whiskies with the mountains in the background and a fire nearby is right up there and about as good an alcohol experience as you can get


Top tip #1 – Stay in a lodge ideally just outside of Aviemore and one that offers whisky tasting.  The town of Aviemore itself is nice, but a little touristy.  If you stay outside, you will avoid the (small) crowds and be able to enjoy that mountain view around you that little bit more.  In particular, find one that offers a whisky tasting session (most do) – doing so will allow you to really learn about the different types rather than only those shared by the individual distilleries.  Plus, it allows you to ask a heap of increasingly slurry questions into the evening

Top tip #2 – visit either the Glenfiddich or Macallan distilleries.  They’re much larger than the others, but they run the experience very well and  have a great sample at the end to try.  Glenfiddich you can just rock up without a booking, Macallan you need to book ahead

Top tip #3 – you can visit all year round, but need summer for the hiking.  I’ve visited in winter and, although it is bloody freezing and very very dark, its quite atmospheric to be there.  Summer is busier with fellow tourists, but the long days and warmer weather allows you to head off for a day hike up to one of the many lochs that surround Aviemore