OVER the last 12 months I’ve travelled the length and breadth of Scotland, visiting villages, towns and neighbourhoods for our Insider Guides.

But instead of only venturing to the prettier, perhaps more obviously locations, I made a point this year of rediscovering places – Falkirk, Kirkcaldy and Dumbarton spring to mind - that remain overlooked by visitors, yet have much in the way of history and culture to offer.

I also branched out into urban neighbourhoods, which was a revelation; even while exploring places I thought I knew well, the surprises I encountered made me see our cities through different eyes.

Overall, I’ve been absolutely bowled over by our country this year, not only in terms of the landscapes, but the community projects, developments and regeneration I’ve seen taking shape everywhere from the remotest island villages to our city centres.

And I’ve scoffed scones, brunches and fish suppers and enjoyed great craic in countless cafes and restaurants, filling me with confidence that Scotland is getting tastier and more ambitious all the time.

With this in mind, I’ve brought together my highlights of the year, the walks, views, activities and eats that really stood out. These aren’t the “best” as such, just the ones I enjoyed most. And I’d love to hear yours, so please do get in touch by emailing marianne.taylor@heraldandtimes.co.uk.

Meantime, see you in 2020!


The Birnam Riverside Path, Perthshire

If you want to see some remarkable trees, this the walk for you. Starting on Dunkeld Bridge, this lovely path along the River Tay first takes you past a 300-year-old sycamore that’s a mere infant in comparison to the nearby Birnam Oak, part of the wood which covered this entire area a 1000 years ago and features prominently in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

Culross, Fife

One of the best-preserved and most picturesque villages in Scotland, Culross takes you back in time to the 16th century. A walk from the ancient pier, past the Palace and up through the steep cobbled wynds of cottages to Culross Abbey brings history to life.

Conic Hill to Balmaha, Loch Lomond

Starting in Milton of Buchanan, take the longer, less steep route up Conic Hill and you will be rewarded with wonderful views across Loch Lomond to Ben Lomond, the Arrochar Alps and beyond. It’s a steep path down, but Balmaha, with its lovely shoreline and cosy pub, awaits at the bottom. Don’t forget to doff your bobble hat to the statue of Tom Weir when you get there.

Sanna Bay, Ardnamurchan

Fifteen minutes north of the village of Kilchoan are the white sands of Sanna Bay. Reader Mary Edwards put it wonderfully: “Sanna is my favourite place in the world. You can lose yourself for hours walking across the sands, paddling in the – freezing! - turquoise waters and admiring the stunning views to Rum, Eigg and Muck. A very special place that brings you a sense of peace, regardless of the weather.”

Calendar Park and House, Falkirk

South east of the town centre, Callendar Park and house merits a whole day of your attention. Covering more than 170 acres, and complete with its own wee loch, there are a multitude of beautiful trails and walks amid the grounds, which boast ornamental gardens and an Arboretum. There’s also a section of the Antonine Wall, dating back to 140 AD.

Caves, East Wemyss, Fife

At the east end of this beautifully restored former mining village is the path that takes you to the ancient caves used by people in these parts for at least 4000 years. Although sadly vandalised and still at risk of coastal erosion, they contain around 50 Pictish carvings, the largest concentrated number anywhere in the UK. You can take a cave tour with local volunteers during summer – see wemysscaves.org for details – but you can visit independently just about anytime. Just be careful.

Portobello Beach, Edinburgh

A walk along Portobello beach with a cone on a summer’s evening, followed by a pint in the Espy, remains one of the loveliest things to do in Edinburgh.

Laurieston, Glasgow

Nowhere in Glasgow are the past and the future being integrated and repurposed with such care than in Laurieston, on the south bank of the Clyde, just a short hop from the city centre. From elegant Georgian townhouses and an Alexander Greek Thomson church to cutting edge social housing built with real people in mind, it offers a positive vision of an urban future.


Ardnamurchan Natural History Visitor Centre

A “living building” on the banks of Loch Sunart attracting an array of wild animals including pine martens, bats, voles and swallows that choose to make their home there, you never know quite what you’re going to see. There’s also a smashing permanent exhibition about the history of the peninsula, plus a good café and gift shop. A winner with visitors of every age.

Kirkcaldy Museum and Art Gallery

Great exhibition on the history of the town and a notable collection of work by the Scottish Colourists

The Tenement House, Garnethill, Glasgow

One of Glasgow’s quirkiest and best-loved museums, the flat was lived in by typist Miss Agnes Toward for more than 50 years and offers a unique and authentic insight into middle-class tenement life in the early 20th century.

Falkland Palace and Garden

The palace, a favourite home of Mary Queen of Scots is always wonderful to visit, but it’s the garden I love most. Late spring afternoons are simply buzzing with life.

Denny Ship Model Experiment Tank, Dumbarton

This tremendous attraction on Castle Street run by the Scottish Maritime Museum offers a hugely enjoyable glimpse of the historic and innovative shipbuilding operation run by Denny Brothers from 1800 to 1963.

Museum of the Cumbraes, Millport

Housed within Garrison House, this excellent exhibition takes in 4000 years of island life.

Harris Distillery, Tarbert

Opened in 2015, this “social” distillery is very much a community venture, employing local folk (who happen to come from all over Europe) in every aspect of the business, from the distilling to the tour-guiding and catering. The Hearach whisky needs a bit more time in the barrel before it can be sold as a single malt, but the Harris Gin produced here, flavoured with local sugar kelp, deserves the plaudits it has received from around the world. With a fantastic café, great shop and chatty staff, you can easily spend a day here.


Queensferry, Fife

Three magnificent bridges, one historic Scottish town.

The Necropolis, Dennistoun, Glasgow

One of Europe’s most beautiful and architecturally notable cemeteries – Charles Rennie Mackintosh did some of his earliest work here – it is also a haven for urban wildlife.

Queens Park flagpole, Glasgow

Stunning 360 vistas of the city and beyond in one of Glasgow’s most beautiful Victorian parks.

Tower Hill, Gourock

I’m with reader Rose MacDonald when she says no trip to Inverclyde is complete without climbing Tower Hill. “My favourite spot in all the world,” says Rose MacDonald, who has been visiting Gourock for more than 50 years. “Other people say Lyle Hill is better, but they’re wrong!”

East Lomond, Leslie, Fife

The walk from Leslie up this extinct volcano – known locally as Falkland Hill - takes a good couple of hours. But the views across Fife and Perthshire from the summit are wonderful. Still something of a hidden gem.


Gnom, Strathbungo

This South Side neighbourhood is arguably Glasgow’s brunch capital, though you’ll need to be up early to get a table at Gnom. The kippers with soft boiled eggs are a pure delight, but with crab thermidor and Turkish eggs also on offer, you’ll struggle to choose.

Aran Bakery, Birnam

Run by great British Bake-Off contestant Flora Shedden, the bread, sandwiches, sweets and cakes here are made with real love and attention.

Round Island Café, Millport

This eaterie in Stuart Street is a great addition to Millport’s food scene, and has a growing legion of fans. Hannah Macdonald says: “What an absolute gem of a café. I’m vegan and they had a fantastic range of options, all very reasonably priced.” Ray Long adds: “Fantastic fudge cake and delicious homemade scones.”

Fish and chips

The two best fish suppers I ate on my travels were both in Fife. Vilente’s in Kirkcaldy brought back childhood memories of walks in Ravenscraig Park, while the Pittenweem Fish and Chip Bar is simply sensational. Jackie Simpson says: “It’s small, retro and doesn’t have a website but the fish suppers are just as good as you get in Anstruther. For people of an Edinburgh persuasion, it offers proper chippy sauce as well as vinegar.”