With a little planning, Scotland has far more to offer than just shooting, fishing and stalking.
Negotiations with friends and family over the all-important family holiday are always tricky. Bridging the gap between a sporting holiday and one less likely to offer the ability to deploy rod or gun, must be a sticking point in many sporting households each year. We sportsmen and women often come to Scotland with sporting tunnel vision. Our non-sporting friends and loved ones snooze on the riverbank, and walk and crawl loyally up glen and hill when they really only have a passing interest in the sport. As an agent, I believe catering for these guests is just as important to the success of a Scottish sporting holiday as catering for the sportsmen and women. They are, after all, the people who we need to encourage to come back in the future.
Scotland’s history is long, violent, adventurous, poetic, artistic, creative, fashionable, industrial and social, which continues (barring the violent part) today. Even if you cannot boast Scottish ancestry, every step stirs the imagination as you realise you are standing in historic places, many of which remain untouched since historic events occurred there which are now immortalised in paintings, poetry and song. With careful research and planning, there is no reason why your Scottish sporting holiday should not appeal to every member of the party.
There are many places to find information before and during your holiday. Your first port of call should be the agent, factor or owner of the property you have booked. They will have excellent knowledge of both the sporting and non-sporting activities in the area. It is worth remembering that sporting lodges can be very remote. Whilst this is part of the charm, it may mean travelling to enjoy some of the wonderful sights Scotland has to offer.
There are several useful government and charity websites you can also check. The VisitScotland website provides worthwhile information on things to see and do across the whole country. Historic Scotland also has an excellent website showing the wide range of interesting sites they look after as well as the events being held throughout the year. The Scottish National Trust is worth a look, too.
There are also companies who specialise in utilising everything Scotland has to offer, putting bespoke packages together for guests. Our friends at Sand Grouse Travel offer guests a unique and knowledgeable take on all aspects of enjoying their stay. They can organise fully-guided day trips or packages for the duration of a holiday, or simply provide a pre-booked itinerary which can be enjoyed unaccompanied.
Companies like Sand Grouse Travel are revolutionising the way guests are looking at their classic sporting holidays in Scotland by drawing together the multitude of exciting and interesting activities available, thus providing alternative experiences for those in the party who neither want to shoot, stalk nor fish. Everything from providing kayak instructors and whisky tours to finding those hidden gems like antique shops down little-known streets, allows visitors to experience a tailored adventure of Scotland. With demand increasing and Scotland’s reputation for offering guests such a huge array of activities, it’s an exciting time in the industry and for our guests.
Whether you use Google Earth or the good old Ordnance Survey, using a map to find beaches, ruins, lochs and walking routes can be the very best way to explore. Doing the map-work prior to your holiday will not only improve your enjoyment of the holiday but also increase the anticipation, and there is the added benefit that you will not waste time on your trip heading in the wrong direction. Sharing the map-work will also include your whole party and bring everyone into the adventure.
Scotland is not just of natural and historical interest but has a flourishing outdoor activity industry, too, enhancing the way guests can explore and enjoy the country. Research, recommendation and flexibility are key to getting this right. And so is due consideration to the time of year. For example, I have many friends who combine their hind stalking with a few days of skiing, which in January and February can make for a highly entertaining sojourn.
Activities are aplenty for those looking for something a little more extreme, with rock-climbing centres across Scotland, mountain biking areas like Glentress in the Borders or sea-kayaking around Scotland’s varied and stunning coastline. There are also exciting experiences offered by companies like Land Rover Experience Scotland in Dunkeld who offer day, half-day and hourly off-road driving adventures. Using one of their Land Rovers or your own 4x4, and guided by an instructor, you will have fun driving through some of Highland Perthshire’s most spectacular and rugged off-road terrain whilst learning some of the principles of off-road driving.
Horse racing is not the first thing that comes to mind when on a shooting or fishing holiday, but horse racing in Scotland is a big deal. After all, this is the home of this year’s Grand National winner, One For Arthur. With both National Hunt (at Ayr, Kelso, Musselburgh and Perth) and flat racing (at Ayr, Hamilton Park and Musselburgh) on offer, racing in Scotland is a year-round sporting attraction. Ayr Racecourse was voted the 2016 Scottish Sporting Venue of the Year and, along with Musselburgh Racecourse, is a VisitScotland five-star attraction. With over 100 fixtures every year across the country, you’re bound to find some thrilling entertainment and first-class hospitality. A quick look at Scottish Racing’s website will provide you with race cards and fixture dates across the five racecourses.
There are obvious weather issues when planning any outdoor activities in Scotland but most will involve you getting wet anyway. With forethought to clothing, the weather is not an issue – sun cream and waterproofs can both be needed in a 20-minute window! I remember when I first set up as a sporting agent accompanying a group of my American clients to Culloden battlefield in the rain, thinking ‘what a shame they are not going to enjoy this as much as they should’. We arrived and our guide had us all spellbound from start to finish – not one person stayed in the visitor centre sheltering from what was definitely far from a drizzle. This is when I realised that, given a little planning, Scotland has far more to offer than just shooting and fishing.
How to entertain young children when in the wilds is certainly worthy of consideration. Most of the ghillies, stalkers and keepers of my acquaintance love nothing more than taking the young under their charge and teaching them about the flora and fauna they manage. It’s a great way for young minds to learn about our wild places.
Estates like South Chesthill in Glen Lyon offer wildlife tours for their guests on the hill and river when the stalkers and ghillies are not otherwise engaged. But of course these men and women are also there to guide the sporting guests to success, so are not wild nannies to be relied on 12 hours of the day. Alternatively, children love nothing more than to let their imagination run free in castles and ruins or build sand castles on pristine beaches.
I started my journey to becoming a sporting agent by being a sporting ‘mannie’. The Troughton family from Angus took me to the stunning Scaliscro Estate on the Isle of Lewis for two weeks to look after the team of boys and girls. My roles were simply to make sure everyone had the right cartridges and keep an eye on safety in the walked-up line for grouse and snipe. My other job was to keep the youngest, Archie, and his friend Angus entertained – a job that got off to a flying start when I took them to the loch in the boat after breakfast, only to return 30 minutes later with Angus’s fly firmly lodged in Archie’s cheek...
Those two weeks were incredible and included trips to the lochs and beaches, mackerel fishing, and kayaking in the sea alongside a bit of loch fishing and walked-up shooting. On that note, a sporting entertainment and safety person is a great idea and a brilliant way to let the younger crowd get out and about, allowing you, the parents, to enjoy your time peacefully.
Scotland can be everything you want it to be.
Sand Grouse Travel: www.sandgrousetravel.com
Scottish Racing: www.scottishracing.co.uk
Land Rover Experience Scotland: www.scotland.landroverexperience.co.uk
National Trust for Scotland: www.nts.org.uk
Historic Scotland: www.members.historic-scotland.gov.uk
South Chesthill Estate: www.southchesthill.com
Scaliscro Estate: www.scaliscro.co.uk
Charles Brownlow Ltd: www.charlesbrownlow.com