Category Archives: Scotland

What to do in Scotland; attractions in Scotland and the best places to visit in Scotland.

Review of Edinburgh First accommodation at University of Edinburgh Pollock Halls

I’ve stayed at Edinburgh First at Pollock Halls University of Edinburgh student residences quite a few times over the years but not since 2008.  I thought that the rooms were a good budget option especially for single travellers.  I stayed here again for one night over the weekend of 24-25 July 2010 and to attend the Taste of Spain event and the Edinburgh Travel Tweet Up . However on this occasion I stayed in the John Burnett house, a new hall of residence on the campus.  That’s because at £32.50 per night, including breakfast, it was £5 cheaper than a room with shared bathroom facilities in the other halls.  I wasn’t too keen on the idea of the communal female shower and toilet room,  preferring the four individual toilet/shower rooms per floor in the older buildings, as it offers more privacy. But as it was only for one night and I liked the sound of top floor room with a balcony in the John Burnett rooms (and paying £5 less), I booked up there.  Ensuite and double/twin rooms are available if you’re prepared to pay a higher price.

Review of Edinburgh First accommodation at University of Edinburgh Pollock Halls

Pollock Halls at Edinburgh 1st with Arthur’s Seat in background

I was very happy with my room.  John Burnett House opened in 2009, so all the furniture and fittings were in good condition.  The room was a good size with a sink behind a partition.   The single bed was very comfy.  My room even had a TV which I’d never had in my stays in the other halls. It was bit noisy at night and in the morning from all the banging bedroom doors, bathroom facilities doors and corridor fire doors.

It was very light in my room as there was glass along the exterior with a patio door out to the balcony. The views from the balcony were great down towards the Pentland Hills. However I think the views over Arthur’s Seat from rooms at the other side of the building are probably even better.

Review of Edinburgh First accommodation at University of Edinburgh Pollock Halls

View from 4th floor room at John Burnett House

The communal bathroom facilities were very clean.  As access to the facilities requires your keycard, it’d be easy to get locked out of your room if you forgot to take your keycard with you. Then you’d be stuck in the corridor, unable to get back into your room or into the bathroom facilities.

Each floor had a pantry with a large fridge, a microwave oven, a toaster, an iron and ironing board.  However there was no crockery or cutlery.

Review of Edinburgh First accommodation at University of Edinburgh Pollock Halls

Pantry at John Burnett House

The campus restaurant has been renovated recently and is more like a cafe now than the previous dining hall layout.  You can go for breakfast any time between 7-10am.  The food is as good as ever and it’s all self service. I had a vegetarian breakfast with haggis, sausage, egg, tomato and mushrooms. There’s a good selection of cereals, croissants, pancakes, rolls and fresh fruit.

Overall I’d rate Edinburgh 1st very highly; I love the location, free parking, the very good breakfast with long serving hours and the clean, comfy rooms.   I’m not a great fan of shared bathroom facilities but wasn’t prepared to pay more for an ensuite bathroom. There’s a charge for internet access, I’m not sure how much, as I was using my mobile internet dongle.

Review of Edinburgh First accommodation at University of Edinburgh Pollock HallsKeep It Real Travel Review – No Fluff

Click here for the lowest prices on Edinburgh hotels

1st Edinburgh Travel Tweet Up, Sunday 25 July 2010

I organised the first Edinburgh Travel Tweet Up which took place on Sunday 25 July 2010 at St Giles Cafe Bar.  It was timed to coincide with the free Taste of Spain event running in Edinburgh over the weekend 24 – 25 July.  It was great to meet some virtual friends in the flesh and meet some new UK travel tweeple.

1st Edinburgh Travel Tweet Up, Sunday 25 July 2010

1st Edinburgh Travel Tweet Up

Attendees

Unfortunately I forgot to ask someone to take my photo.  I’m Karen Bryan, founder and editor of the Europe a la Carte Blog, you can find me on Twitter as @karenbryan.

Steve Jack, tweeting as@JackTravel, of Inn Travel , tweeting as@InnTravel, was up in Edinburgh for the day from York.

1st Edinburgh Travel Tweet Up, Sunday 25 July 2010

Steve Jack of Inn Travel

Kash Bhattacharya, on Twitter as @BudgetTraveller, author of Europe Budget Guide.

1st Edinburgh Travel Tweet Up, Sunday 25 July 2010

Kash Bhattacharya of Europe Budget Guide

Julian Stone, tweeting as @jools_octavius, author of  He thought of trains

1st Edinburgh Travel Tweet Up, Sunday 25 July 2010.

Jools Stone of He thought of trains

Karma Choden, tweeting as @SimplyBhutan, of Simply Bhutan and her husband Dorji Wangchuk, tweeting as @DorjiWangchuk.

1st Edinburgh Travel Tweet Up, Sunday 25 July 2010

Karma Choden of Simply Bhutan

I hope that this was the first of many more Edinburgh Travel Tweet Ups.

Review of Edinburgh Cameron Toll Travelodge

I stayed at the Edinburgh Cameron Toll Travelodge, a recent addition to Travelodge’s Edinburgh hotels, for one night in July 2010. I booked a double room at the Saver rate of £19 in April 2010.   The hotel is located opposite the Cameron Toll shopping centre, next to a busy junction.  I took the photo below late on a Sunday evening, that’s why there are no cars.  There’s a fair sized car park at the rear but I reckon it could fill up on a busy night but there are side streets nearby where you can park free of charge.  The hotel is in a bit of a no man’s land location wise.  It’s a bit far out to walk to the city centre, although there are frequent buses, and the surrounding area is mainly residential.

Review of Edinburgh Cameron Toll Travelodge

Edinburgh Cameron Toll Travelodge exterior

We were allocated room 08 which although it was on the ground floor, felt a bit like a basement with small window which faced a wall.   Although we were at the roadside of the building the double glazing cut out most of the exterior noise.  The room was a reasonable size, although I always try to book a family room for the extra space and the sofa bed to sit on rather than having to sit on the bed.   The bathroom only had a shower with a shower curtain which did create quite a lot of drips on the floor unless you were ultra careful.  The wash basin was  small, with a large mixer tap in the centre, meaning it was virtually impossible to wash your face or even fill the small kettle.  This type of sink is only suitable for hand washing in a small cloakroom.

The main issue I had with the room was the plastic mattress cover which felt so uncomfortable and sticky.  Travelodge are publicising their comfortable beds but that’s not the case once that protective cover is on.

Review of Edinburgh Cameron Toll Travelodge

Overall I wouldn’t choose to stay at the Edinburgh Cameron Toll Travelodge again despite the fact that it’s excellent value for money, if you can find a cheap Saver rate.  This is due to its location next to busy roads, the fact that, apart from shopping, there’s not much going on in the area, its distance (2 miles) from the city centre and the uncomfortable mattress covers.  My tip is to stay at Edinburgh Travelodge West End in a quiet location just opposite the Dean Gallery and the Museum of Modern Art, next to the Water of Leith walkway and a 20 minute walk to Princes Street. However you do have to pay £3 for 24 hours to park at Edinburgh Traveldoge West End (correct at 8 December 2010).

Click here for the lowest prices on Edinburgh hotels

Review of Edinburgh Cameron Toll TravelodgeKeep It Real Travel Review – No Fluff

My Trip to the Shetland Islands, Scotland

I was hosted by McKinlay Kidd, who specialise in self-drive short breaks and holidays in Scotland, on a Shetland flydrive holiday for 4 nights 26 – 30 May 2010.  McKinlay Kidd arranged my flights from Edinburgh to Sumburgh (in the south of the Shetland Mainland), a taxi transfer from the airport to the Bressay ferry terminal in Lerwick on arrival, car hire for 3 days, two centre accommodation on a dinner, bed and breakfast basis, a spa treatment and a boat trip to Noss Island.

My Trip to the Shetland Islands, Scotland
Weisdale Voe, Mainland, Shetland Islands

I was sent a pack around one week before departure with my full itinerary containing the flight times and booking reference number, a map, contact phone numbers (including a 24 hour emergency contact number), ferry information, hire car and boat trip vouchers and some suggestions on things to do on the Shetland Islands.

My first 2 nights were spent on the island of Bressay, which lies east of Lerwick, the islands’ capital.  My flight arrived a few minutes early so I was able to catch the 20.00 ferry to Bressay.   I stayed at the Northern Lights Spa Guest House.

My Trip to the Shetland Islands, Scotland

View from my guesthouse window on the island of Bressay, Shetland Islands

I went on a boat trip to the isle of Noss on the morning of the 27th of May.  I was feeling a bit nervous about this as I’m not a great sailor, being inclined to feel queasy when I leave terra firma.  Fortunately it was a beautiful, calm sunny day when I was picked up at Bressay pier.  There was so much wildlife to observe and photograph.  We entered a sea cave on Bressay and live footage from the sea bed was transmitted to the TV screen on board, with amazing quality colourful underwater life such as star fish and sea urchins.   As we made our way along the cliffs we saw loads of gannets on the cliff ledges, guillemots (which looked like mini penguins to me), puffins and terns.

My Trip to the Shetland Islands, Scotland

Gannets on Noss Island, Shetland Islands

One of the other passengers on the boat trip asked the skipper how often whales and dolphins were spotted.  About five seconds later I spotted a fin, it seemed like too much of a coincidence but I told the skipper, who cut the engine and a couple of minutes later a minkie whale surfaced briefly.  Unfortunately I didn’t manage to get a photo.  I disembarked at Lerwick harbour, where I was picked up to collect my hire car.  The heavens opened that afternoon, so after a wet wander around the shops, I decided to return to my guest house in Bressay by ferry.

The next morning I was heading north on the main island and did a circuit around the Sandsting Peninsula passing the Scord of Weisdale to Reawick, Sheld and Wells before checking into the Busta House Hotel for my final two nights.

My Trip to the Shetland Islands, Scotland

Wells, Mainland, Shetland Islands

The next morning I set off for the north of the main island and the Eshaness Cliffs, with a stop at the Braewick Cafe.. The cliffs at Eshaness are amazing, if you park at the lighthouse there’s a coastal path you can follow.

My Trip to the Shetland Islands, Scotland

Eshaness Cliffs, Mainland, Shetland Islands

I then drove to up to North Roe and Ibster (where the road ends).  Before returning to my hotel, I crossed over the bridge to the island of Muckle Roe, driving to Little Ayre, where there’s a footpath to a beach.

My Trip to the Shetland Islands, Scotland

View from the bridge to Muckle Roe Island, Shetland Islands

As Shetland airport is in the far south of the island, my final day was the ideal time to explore this area.  My first stop was Scalloway on the west coast.  The taxi driver who picked me up on arrival in the Shetlands had recommended St Ninian’s Isle.  As I drove down I was stunned by the white sands and colour of the sea. The beach is the largest tombola (beach with sea on both sides) in the UK and is the link to St Ninian’s Isle.

My Trip to the Shetland Islands, Scotland

The beach linking St Ninian’s Isle to the Mainland, Shetland Islands

I always aim to be at the airport two hours before my flight departure time, after a couple of near misses in the past.  However, there’s plenty to see within a mile of the airport including West Voe beach and the Norse settlement at Jarlshof.

My Trip to the Shetland Islands, Scotland

West Voe beach, Mainland, Shetland Islands (airport terminal in top left of photo)

I had a wonderful time on my Shetland flydrive trip.  I was very lucky with the weather, only having one afternoon of rain and few odd showers during my four day stay.  The natural beauty of the islands takes your breath away.  It was great to have everything organised for me and know that I’d be staying at quality accommodation.  It was reassuring to have a 24 hour emergency contact number.  Fortunately I didn’t need to use this as everything went so smoothly.

I was very happy with  the standard of accommodation and food served in both my lodgings.  One of my main requirements from accommodation was that internet connection was available.  The wifi in both my lodgings was very good which was a relief as I’ve stayed in several hotels on the UK mainland who claim to offer wifi but the signal is so bad that you can’t get connected.  The accommodation is personally selected and vetted by Robert Kidd, MD of McKinlay Kidd, so clients can be sure of good lodgings.  Flying from Edinburgh or Glasgow to the Shetland Islands takes around 90 minutes, so a Shetland flydrive is an ideal way to get the most from your Shetland holiday, as you do really need a car to get around the islands.

You can see more on my Shetland Islands photo tour and my Shetland photos and videos on Flickr.


Review of Busta House Hotel, Shetland Islands, Scotland

I stayed at the Busta House Hotel on the Shetland Islands for 2 nights in May 2010, on a complimentary b basis, during my McKinlay Kidd Shetland flydrive press trip.  The hotel is located on the west coast of the main island, close to Brae, overlooking Busta Voe (a narrow sea inlet). The hotel dates from the late 16th century with additions made over the following centuries.  It has an absolutely gorgeous garden which slopes down to the Busta Voe and a small harbour.

Review of Busta House Hotel, Shetland Islands, Scotland

Busta House Hotel exterior and garden

The hotel rooms don’t have numbers, they are named after the different Shetland islands. I stayed in St Ninian’s, which is classed as a double or twin room as it has two single beds which are pushed together as a double.  I think there would be virtually no space to move around in the room if the two beds were made up as singles with some space between them.  The room was quite old fashioned which in many ways is appropriate for the age of the building and the country house atmosphere.  The room was nice and cosy, the heating appeared to be on 24 hours a day.  I’ve stayed in some establishments, especially older buildings in the Scottish Highlands and Islands, where the heating is switched off during the day and the rooms are freezing.

However the beige carpet did have some faint stains on it, some of the paintwork on the woodwork was chipped and my towels on the first day were thin and frayed at the edges.  But the next day these towels were replaced with  fluffy, thick ones.

The view from my room was amazing.   The downside was that it faced east and I was awakened both mornings at around 5am by bright sunshine streaming in through the woefully inadequate curtains.  Busta House really needs to get some decent blackout curtains.

Review of Busta House Hotel, Shetland Islands, Scotland

View from my room at Busta House Hotel

The hotel offered free wifi throughout and the signal was very good in my room.  They have made a real effort with the wifi with routers along all the corridors. The wifi was better than wifi in many hotels on the UK mainland and for an old building like this, the Busta House Hotel is to be congratulated for its efforts.

The Long Room was really beautiful.  Unfortunately there were always some other guests here, so I wasn’t able to get a photo of the whole room.

Review of Busta House Hotel, Shetland Islands, Scotland

The Long Room at Busta House Hotel

I decided to try out both dining options at the Busta House Hotel. On my first evening I ate from the set menu at the Pitcairn Room restaurant. My Fish Trio starter was so tasty,  I’m not keen on mussels but the Shetland smoked salmon was much better than the average smoked salmon. My main course was Scallops which were very good., followed by a wonderful Coffee Fudge Pudding.  The portions were very generous and the only negatives were the vegetables served with the main course, as for my own taste the red cabbage was over spiced and the mangetout beans and baby sweetcorn were too al dente (not that I like mushy veg either).  I did find it slightly chilly in the restaurant, compared to the rest of the hotel.

Review of Busta House Hotel, Shetland Islands, Scotland

Fish Trio starter at Busta House Hotel Restaurant

Breakfast is cooked to order and served in the bar.  There’s a selection of cereals, yoghurt and fruit juices and fresh fruit salad (which was very heavy on apples) to start.  I had Bacon and Eggs one morning and Scrambled Egg with Smoked Salmon the other.  The bacon was a bit fatty and greasy for my taste.

Review of Busta House Hotel, Shetland Islands, Scotland

Breakfast at Busta House Hotel

On my second evening, I ate in the bar.  Knowing the size of the portions I dispensed with the starter, just as well as the Haddock cooked in Unst Ale Batter was enormous and really delicious.  Although that was more than enough food, I couldn’t resist another yummy pudding of Busta Rhubarb Crumble.

Review of Busta House Hotel, Shetland Islands, Scotland

Haddock main course at Busta House Hotel Bar

Overall, the Busta House Hotel is a great place to stay where the positive aspects vastly outweigh the negative. It’s a really characterful building with an absolutely beautiful garden and views, the food is mainly local and high quality. It offers decent wifi and the staff are lovely.  However, the hotel needs to do some carpet stain removal, get rid of these old towels, do some touch ups on paintwork and get some blackout curtains for east facing bedrooms.  All these negatives can be fairly cheaply and easily rectified and then I’d rate the Busta House Hotel as excellent.

Review of Busta House Hotel, Shetland Islands, ScotlandKeep It Real Travel Review – No Fluff

You can read more about my Shetland flydrive trip and see my Shetland Islands photo tour.

Review of Northern Lights Spa Guest House, Bressay, Shetland Islands, Scotland

I stayed at the Northern Lights Spa Guest House on the island of Bressay in the Shetland Islands for 2 nights in May 2010, on a complimentary basis, during my McKinlay Kidd Shetland flydrive press trip.  Bressay is just across the water from Lerwick, the main city of the Shetland Islands, reached by a regular ferry service.

I arrived in the evening on the 20:00 ferry from Lerwick with instructions to phone the guest house to arrange pick up from the ferry terminal on Bressay for the short drive up to the guest house.  I was greeted by Paul, one half of the husband and wife team who run the Northern Lights Spa Guest House.  On arrival, Vee showed me to my bedroom (Room 1),  which was spacious, colourful and comfortable.

The room had three windows, one with a view over towards Lerwick.

Review of Northern Lights Spa Guest House, Bressay, Shetland Islands, Scotland
View from Room 1 at the Northern Lights Spa Guest House

Wifi is available for a one off cost of £5.  I found the signal to be very good.

Review of Northern Lights Spa Guest House, Bressay, Shetland Islands, Scotland

Room 1 at the Northern Lights Spa Guest House

As I arrived after 8pm I was served a light supper on my first evening.  It was a very tasty vegetarian plate of open courgette, onion, tomato and asparagus pastry, a bean salad, potato salad and focaccia bread.

Review of Northern Lights Spa Guest House, Bressay, Shetland Islands, Scotland

Vegetarian Supper at Northern Lights Spa Guest House

Breakfast comprises of cereal, fruit, yoghurt, toast and a selection of warm items such as croissants, waffles, home baked cake and muffins.  There’s a selection of home made jams and lemon curd.

Review of Northern Lights Spa Guest House, Bressay, Shetland Islands, Scotland

Breakfast at Northern Lights Spa Guest House

My Northern Lights Hot Rock Massage with Vee was arranged for the following evening.  It was a very enjoyable experience using local heated basalt lava stones for a back, neck and shoulder massage.  Suffice to say that I slept better that night than I had done for ages. Use of the Turkish steam room, sauna and hot hydro pool is included in the room price.  In fact I was so relaxed after my massage that I was late getting down for dinner.  The home baked kale and carrot muffin served with the beetroot soup was delicious.

Review of Northern Lights Spa Guest House, Bressay, Shetland Islands, Scotland

Beetroot soup with carrot and kale muffin

That morning I was asked if I preferred the meat, fish or vegetarian option  for main course.  I plumped for fish so my main course was Fillet of Shetland Megrin Sole with Langoustines.

Review of Northern Lights Spa Guest House, Bressay, Shetland Islands, Scotland

Fish main course at Northern Lights Spa Guest House

Dessert was creme brulee followed by tea or coffee in the lounge.

McKinlay Kidd’s MD, Robert Kidd, personally selects the accommodation offered on their Shetland holidays, so you’re unlikely to end up in accommodation that’s not quite what you expected.

I’d highly recommend the Northern Lights Spa Guest House for a stay in the Shetland Islands.  The hosts Vee and Paul are really friendly, attentive and helpful, the accommodation is very comfortable and the food is fantastic.  Even if you don’t stay there, you can arrange for a spa session.

Review of Northern Lights Spa Guest House, Bressay, Shetland Islands, ScotlandKeep It Real Travel Review – No Fluff

You can read more about my Shetland flydrive trip and see my Shetland Islands photo tour.

Photo tour of the Shetland Islands, Scotland

I spent four nights on the Scottish Shetland Islands in May 2010 on a McKinlay Kidd Shetland flydrive press trip.  Below is a photo tour of these lovely islands, arranged from the south to the north of the main island (Shetland Mainland), with a few forays to nearby smaller islands enroute.

Photo tour of the Shetland Islands, Scotland

St Ninian’s Beach which leads to St Ninian’s Island

Photo tour of the Shetland Islands, Scotland

Shetland ponies and foals in Sumburgh, Shetland South Mainland

Photo tour of the Shetland Islands, Scotland

West Voe Beach, Sumburgh, Shetland South Mainland

Photo tour of the Shetland Islands, Scotland

Spiggie Beach and Loch, Shetland South Mainland

Photo tour of the Shetland Islands, Scotland

Painted houses at Scalloway, Shetland Central Mainland

Photo tour of the Shetland Islands, Scotland

View out of sea cave on the Island of Bressay, Shetland Islands

Photo tour of the Shetland Islands, Scotland

Gannets on Isle of Noss, Shetland Islands

Photo tour of the Shetland Islands, Scotland

Weisdale Voe, Westside Shetland Westside Mainland

Photo tour of the Shetland Islands, Scotland

Dusk over Busta Voe looking towards Brae, Shetland North Mainland

Photo tour of the Shetland Islands, Scotland

Harbour at Muckle Roe Island, Shetland Islands

Photo tour of the Shetland Islands, Scotland

Eshaness Cliffs, Shetland North Mainland

Photo tour of the Shetland Islands, Scotland

North Roe,  Shetland North Mainland

I thought that the Shetland Islands were jaw droppingly beautiful and my Europe travel tip for anyone visiting Scotland is to make a trip to these islands.

You can see my all my Flickr Shetland Islands photos and videos here.

Verdant Works Dundee: The history of the jute industry

The Verdant Works in Dundee, Scotland illustrates the history of the Dundee jute industry. This museum is my tip for visitors to Dundee interested in Scottish industrial heritage.  This Dundee attraction opened in the early 1990s when the Dundee Heritage Trust purchased the then derelict Verdant Mill.

Verdant Works Dundee: The history of the jute industry

Dundee’s global jute connections

Jute became a big industry in Dundee for three reasons: the existing weaving skills of workers, the local shipbuilding industry that built the large vessels to carry the raw material from India and the availability of whale oil (used to soften the jute) from the Dundee based whaling fleet.

Verdant Works Dundee: The history of the jute industry

Hand operated jute weaving loom

The Verdant Works does truly bring history to life.  On the factory floor there are working smaller machines built in the first half of the 20th century for training local workers.

Can you imagine working for 9 hours a day in all this noise?

Verdant Works Dundee: The history of the jute industry

I was fortunate that volunteer Lily Thomson, a former jute weaver, was at the Verdant Works on the day I visited, so I could see (and hear) the machines in action.  There are screens behind each of the pieces of machinery showing old films of scenes from the jute production line.

I enjoyed my visit to the Verdant Works, it certainly gave me an insight into the lives of the Dundee jute workers and the amazing number of products manufactured from jute including tents and carpet backing.  The Verdant Works offers a great day out for all the family as there are plenty of interactive displays for kids. There’s free parking for visitors at the rear of the building and an on-site cafe.

You can see all my Verdant Works photos and videos on Flickr.

Click here for the lowest prices on Dundee hotels

Review of La Tasca Edinburgh

We had lunch at La Tasca Edinburgh in South Charlotte Street (just off Princes Street at the Haymarket end) in May 2010.  There’s some outdoor seating on the pavement at the front but it’s too close to the road for my liking.

Review of La Tasca Edinburgh

La Tasca Edinburgh exterior

The interior is a bit contrived but nevertheless attractive as it’s bright and colourful.  It was pretty quiet when we were there for Sunday lunch.  There were two staff on duty, both of whom were attentive and enthusiastic.

Review of La Tasca Edinburgh

La Tasca Edinburgh interior

I had a 50% off “Tapas to Share” voucher.  We  ordered 10 dishes, the full price would have been £44 but with the voucher we paid £22.  The quality and flavour of the food was very good but the servings are quite small, so you did need that number of dishes to feel that you’d eaten a decent meal.  I wouldn’t have been prepared to pay the full price for what we ate .I wish that La Tasca would adopt the Spanish custom of serving bread with their meals.

Review of La Tasca Edinburgh

Our 10 tapas at La Tasca Edinburgh

La Tasca run various promotions so it’s worth checking them out before you go.  I’ve seen an evening offer running Sunday to Tuesday 5pm  – 9pm with an all you can eat menu for £10 a person and a 5 Tapas for £10 lunchtime offer (which I’ve sampled at La Tasca Belfast) but dishes such as prawns or salmon are not featured on these menus.

In summary if you eat at La Tasca Edinburgh on a fixed price menu or have a promotional voucher, you can have a very tasty meal at a reasonable price in pleasant surroundings.

Review of La Tasca Edinburgh Keep It Real Travel Reviews