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Celebrating Scotland! The pick of what to see and do

Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo. LA(Phot) Sally Stimson. It’s not at all because there is a new Scottish Doctor that we’ve decided on this blog this week, och no. (Although we will forever love Steven Moffat and Peter Capaldi for not having this twelfth incarnation say ‘Timey-wimey’.)

Scotland in 2014 has hosted the Commonwealth Games and will host the Ryder Cup in September, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo have  just finished, the Edinburgh International Festival is still going strong, Flavour Fortnight starts this weekend – and the touristy teams in charge of such matters have dozens more events lined up for the rest of the year as part of Homecoming Scotland. 

If you haven’t been yet, here are our picks for what to see and do in Scotland:

Mountain biking

As our mountain biking friends tell us, it can be done anywhere there’s a mountain and you have a bike (we challenge them to prove this on Everest). But they get especially misty-eyed about mountain biking in Scotland, particularly the famed 7stanes trails.

Said by the helmet-clad to be among the best in the world, the 7stanes cover seven locations in Dumfries and Galloway and the Scottish Borders, and all levels from scaredy cat to reckless endangerment.

Not at all surprisingly, Scotland is also a hub for mountain bike events: the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup and the Tweed Love Bike Festival have been held so far this year; and still to come is the World Solo 24 Hours MTB Championships.

Lest you think this is a mere one-day festival, we point out in awe of those taking part that it’s 24 hours of biking in one tyring go. No pressure then.

Best bike centres in Scotland

Info on mountain biking in Scotland from the Forestry Commission

Mountain biking at Drumlanrig. Pic by Simon Brooke. The 7stanes mountain bike trails

Bike events Scotland

Campsites in Dumfries and Galloway

Campsites in the Scottish Borders

Campsites in the Scottish Highlands

Watersports and fishing

Pack your waders, your fishing rod, your surfboard and your sails (we hope you’re bringing a tourer, motorhome or a car with a very large boot): there’s a depth of watersports available in Scotland.

Along calm lines, fishing is easily tackled all over: our UK fishing blog has info on salmon and trout fishing in Scotland, sea fishing, coarse fishing and the legal lowdown (if you didn’t know it’s strictly forbidden to fish for salmon and trout in Scotland on Sundays, you do now).

Along less calm lines, Scotland has 6200 miles of coastline to launch a surfboard, boat or your own good self at – plunge the depths to shipwreck dive at Scapa Flow in Orkney or scuba dive around Berwickshire and Barra. Surfers don’t get board around the Hebrides and Thurso, whitewater rafting works well inland on the Tay, and windsurfers will find things a breeze around Islay, Kintyre and Ayrshire’s Isle of Cumbrae.

Fishing in Scotland

Campsites in the Hebrides

Campsites in Ayrshire

Fishing on the River Tweed. Pic by Walter Baxter. Campsites in Berwickshire

Campsites in Scotland with fishing on site

Campsites in Scotland with fishing nearby

Campsites in Scotland with watersports on site

Campsites in Scotland with watersports nearby

Campsites in Scotland with canoeing/kayaking nearby

Campsites in Scotland with sailing nearby

Food, glorious drink

If you’ve been thinking ‘Throwing myself down a mountain on a bike or along a foaming river in a tiny rubber raft ARE YOU MAD,’ this is the Scottish section for you.

Any foodie worth their salt will know Scotland’s flavoursome exports such as Aberdeen Angus beef and malt whisky, but we always recommend tasting delicacies in their natural setting.

So, hop around the 11 Argyll coast stops of the Scottish seafood trail, go along the whey of Scotland’s cheese trail, have haggis on Burns Night, trail chocolate around the Highlands and smokie in Arbroath, and ensure no thirst afterwards (seafood can be salty) by a beforehand trip to the real ale and malt whisky trails.

Scotland’s Seafood Trail

Scottish Cheese Trail

Arbroath Smokie Trail

Scotland's Real Ale Trail

The Malt Whisky Trail – a dramping guide

The Malt Whisky Trail. Pic by Kkonstan. Scotland food guide

Traditional Scottish recipes

Burns Night recipes and haggis, neeps and tatties

Campsites in Argyll

Twitching and wildlife watching

Deerstalkers (not the hat), endangered animal spotters, birdwatchers and those nuts about red squirrels, come to Scotland.

It has three-quarters of the UK’s red squirrel population, over 160 nature reserves, wildlife trails in the Hebrides, Shetland, Argyll and the Highlands, and world-famous deer ruts in autumn which remind us of Certain Types squaring up outside pubs after kicking out time.

The Orkney Islands and the Hebrides are frequently populated by birdbrains who come from all over the world to see the thousands of puffins and other seabirds nesting on the islands’ cliffs – we can confirm this is a sight for sore eyes, but we recommend earplugs.

While you’re island hopping, take a sealife sightseeing tour to spy many marine mammals: around 70% of Europe’s grey seal population basks around Scottish waters and you should also be able to see orcas, dolphins and whales around Shetland and the Moray Firth – see our marine mammals blog for more info.

The Galloway Red Kite Trail

Scottish Wildlife Trust

Puffins on the Isle of May. Pic by James McMullan. Whale and Dolphin Conservation Scottish Dolphin Centre

Campsites in Scotland in a wildlife haven

Campsites in Scotland with birdwatching within 15 miles

These boots are made for walking

Scotland’s 26 Great Trails cover over 1700 miles of waymarked paths, themed by landscape (o’er coast, mountain, glen and river), history and travel and transport. Each trail is at least 25 miles long, so bring plenty of supplies if you’re plotting to do one in a day (tips in ‘Food, glorious drink’ above).

Historical hikes can be had by sneaking along part of the 77 miles of the Rob Roy Way from Drymen to Pitlochry or, more piously, in the footsteps of St Cuthbert on the St Cuthbert’s Way.

We would also very much like to do the 117 miles of the Fife Coastal Path, and we very much like the thought of hiking – and canoeing – in the Highlands along the Great Glen Way. We’ll see you in a few months.

The Rob Roy Way

St Cuthbert’s Way

Fife Coastal Path near St Andrews. Pic by Stuart Westwater. Great Glen Way

Scotland’s Great Trails

Campsites in Scotland in a walkers’ paradise

More things to do in Scotland

Seek a Scottish castle

Aberdeenshire has the only Castle Trail in the UK and there are countless more to see in the country, including the Queen’s gaff at Balmoral and itinerary-packed Edinburgh Castle. Start off here for a top five.

Go to a festival

Wahey, Wigtown Book Festival starts next month! We’re also very fond of the Edinburgh festivals, including book, magic and film as well as the main international fest and the festival fringe, the Drambusters Whisky Festival on 29 November at Dumfries, and the healthy hikes starting this weekend at the Scottish Borders Walking Festival.

Enter the name of any Scottish festival in the search box on the homepage, or check any campsite or holiday park listing to see festivals nearby.

Caper at the Highland Games

Caber chucking and more around the Highlands and elsewhere, all winding down at the season’s final shindig, the Invercharron Highland Games.

Go golfing

Scotland has more than 550 golf courses including the illustrious St Andrews, the biggest public golf complex in Europe. Have a top tee-off trip by picking a Scottish campsite with golfing nearby.

Or stick a pin into a map of Scotland... Hail the new year at Hogmanay

At least one Hogmanay in anyone’s life should be spent in Scotland. Scottish New Year celebrations are held all over the country from village to capital city – and in some cases go on until January 2. Result.

Homecoming Scotland – what’s coming up

Over 230 events are still left for the year and we think we will go to a goodly few. So far we’re eyeing up:

Hebtember, 1 – 30 September, Isle of Lewis and others, Hebrides.

Kilts up Ben Macdui, 6 September, Aviemore, Highlands.

World Stone Skimming Championships, 28 September, Easdale, near Oban.

Dundee Science Festival, 1 – 16 November, Dundee, Angus.

St Andrews Food and Drink Festival, 21 November – 6 December (ish; dates tbc), Fife.