Richard Jones takes a break in Scotland and finds its a country for all seasons and tastes whether you are a golfer, angler or just want some peace.
It has been a great year for tourism in Scotland.
Before the 40th Ryder Cup arrived in Perthshire, Glasgow hosted the ‘best-ever’ Commonwealth Games, there were a record-breaking number of visitors at the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe, and the referendum in September had everyone considering Scotland’s role both as part of the UK and on a global level.
Visit Scotland’s advertising campaign promises that ‘One moment you’ll be watching the stars, the next you’ll be looking up at them’.
Indeed, The Year of Homecoming will go down in history as a landmark one for Scots, as the eyes of the world turned to the country and prompted visitor numbers to go through the roof.
Europe retained the Ryder Cup and Gleneagles did itself proud hosting golf’s premier team event, as players were cheered on by a passionate 40,000-plus crowd each day, against the stunning backdrop of the Ochil Hills.
And yet Scotland has so much more to offer than high end golf, as I was to discover.
A couple of days before Paul McGinley’s men were splashing out of bunkers and sinking putts to win their third straight Ryder Cup, my friend and I were doing some splashing and sinking of our own just down the road on the shores of Kenmore.
Stand-up paddling is one of the fastest growing leisure activities in the UK and we were fortunate enough to have a lesson with Barry Wallace from Wilderness SUP on the stunningly beautiful Loch Tay.
Aside from SUP and golf, there is plenty of adventure to be had in Perthshire or ‘Big Tree Country’, with its tranquil glens, dramatic waterfalls and lush forests providing a perfect setting for outdoor activities such as hiking and pony trekking.
The area is also home to an abundance of wildlife including red deer, red squirrels and, of course, rare golden eagles - making it a haven for nature lovers all year round.
After a long day watching or playing golf, or enjoying the great Scottish outdoors, Perthshire’s superb restaurants, bars and pubs are ideal places to kick back and relax.
Dine at the 16th-century Ardeonaig Hotel & Restaurant (www.ardeonaighotel.co.uk), which makes the most of the area’s extraordinary natural larder on the southern shore of Loch Tay.
The same can be said of Fonab Castle (www.fonabcastlehotel.com). Nestled on the banks of Loch Faskally amid breathtaking highland scenery, the castle’s glass-fronted restaurant offers stunning loch views, along with delicious, locally and internationally inspired dishes.
For those with a sweet tooth, just down the road between Aberfeldy and Pitlochry is The Highland Chocolatier (www.highlandchocolatier.com), which hosts special tours and tasting sessions at their shop,
Legends of Grandtully. Iain Burnett is the aforementioned chocolatier - an award-winning artisan who produces gourmet truffles unique to anywhere else in the western hemisphere, supplying Michelin-starred chefs, as well as members of the British Royal Family.
After the drama at Gleneagles, we returned to our accommodation at the five-star Mains of Taymouth in Kenmore (see www.taymouth.co.uk).
Set in more than 160 private acres of forests, river walks and scenic views over Loch Tay, this stunning self-catering estate, which is home to the Menzies family, is the perfect base from which to explore Perthshire.
Mains of Taymouth also has its own golf course, which is widely considered one of central Scotland’s finest nine-hole course.
Although it is unlikely that Gleneagles will be hosting the Ryder Cup again in my lifetime, this trip to Scotland ensured that I will heed the advice of the Big Tree Country locals and ‘Haste Ye Back’.
For more information on holidays in Scotland go to www.visitscotland.com