Lace Up! - April 2017

Writing my April edition of Lace Up! I have been looking out of my office window in the Lake District and on to snow lying on the Lakeland fells. Now it's glorious sunshine and it feels great to start shedding those layers of winter woollies. Time to start thinking of spring and summer holidays and I can’t wait to go on my own next month to the fabulous islands of Orkney with all their history. So I’ve decided to share a wee bit of the Scottish history we explore on some of our long distance Scottish Trails and Island Hopping holidays. Many departures are now full for 2017 but there are definitely a few places still available.


Scotland is wild, unspoilt, stunningly beautiful and one of my favourite destinations in the world. Despite changeable weather and midges it has the most fascinating history. The best distilleries, spectacular beaches, remote mountains, beautiful castles, amazing wildlife and breathtaking islands can be found here surrounded by vast oceans and a warm hospitality. Scotland is bordered on the west and the north by the Atlantic Ocean and on the east by the North Sea. Many of the Scottish islands are swept by strong tides and the Corryvreckan tide race between Jura and Scarba is one of the largest whirlpools in the world and one you will hopefully experience on our Arran, Islay & Jura holiday. There are over 790 offshore islands around Scotland, with around 99 of them being inhabited. Their reputation is one of wildness and romanticism.

Scotland also has some great long distance trails. The West Highland Way is perhaps the best known and I am pleased to say that after increasing departures due to lots of demand we still have some spaces on holidays in July and August. Those of you on holidays early in the year will hopefully see the amazing bluebells along the shores of Loch Lomond. Another famous long distance trail is The Great Glen Way, and has a few spaces still available in June and September. It is Scotland's fourth way marked National Long Distance Walking Route. It travels from Fort William at the northern end of the West Highland Way to the City of Inverness along the Great Glen Fault. The trail follows closely the line of the Caledonian Canal.

Standing stones

Almost 8,000 years ago at the end of the last Ice Age early inhabitants were the Celts who came from the Iberian Peninsula. Around 2,000 BC their descendants raised the famous standing stone we see on many of our island hopping adventures. The purpose of these stones is a puzzle that we can only speculate over and may forever remain shrouded in mystery. Many sites are believed to have been used for religious or ceremonial purposes. Let your imagination take you back thousands of years in time. Some of the most famous are the Callanish Stones which you can see on our Harris & Lewis holiday.

Discover our break to Harris & Lewis

The Romans arrive...

In 82 AD the Romans came to Scotland and though they battled with and beat the Picts (known as the painted people), they could not conquer their land. They built the great 84 mile long wall known as Hadrian’s Wall; much is still standing today and was the north-west frontier of the Roman Empire. If you want to know more about this great wall then walk the best sections of the wall with us on the Best of Hadrian’s Wall. We visit along the wall its many forts and mile castles still in fantastic condition. The other wall built as defence and less well known was the Antonine Wall; a turf fortification on stone foundations, built by the Romans across what is now the Central Belt of Scotland, between the Firth of Forth and the Firth of Clyde.

Discover our Best of Hadrian's Wall break

The Islands of Orkney and Shetland lie north of Scotland, east of Ireland, and west of Norway. They were central to the Viking world and it is believed that Vikings arrived around 780 AD. Stories say they were "sea pirates", perhaps escaping Norway as much as raiding abroad. Orkney and Shetland were however likely used as a base for raids on Scotland, England, Ireland, and even Norway. With their own individual characters, they share a feeling of accessible wilderness, a fantastic array of wildlife and a deep sense of history. Highlights on our holiday include a visit to Hoy and its famous 140m high sea stack, discovering the standing stones at Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar comprising 27 stones and part of the Neolithic World Heritage site, the UNESCO site at Skara Brae and plenty of opportunity to see puffins, seals and a host of other coastal wildlife.The Vikings arrive...

Discover our Orkney & Shetland holiday

The Britons formed an alliance with Scotia (Scotland) in 1018 when it became a united kingdom with a shift from the traditional Gaelic culture of Scotland to the English culture of the South. In England there was a feudal system but in Scotland they still had their own kings, “lords of the isles” and clans with chiefs. There were constant battles; William Wallace led an uprising against the English restoring hope to the Scots but was captured and tortured to death. His successor, Robert the Bruce, beat the English against the odds on 23 June 1314 at Bannockburn. Scotland became independent but the wars with England continued. In 1371 the house of Stuarts became the big dynasty and James I reformed the legal system and founded Universities in Scotland; St Andrews in 1410 being the first. You can see this at the end of the Best of Fife holiday. Fife's existence can be traced back to the Pictish Kingdom of Fib in the centuries after the departure of the Romans and it is for this reason that Fife is commonly referred to as "The Kingdom of Fife", or simply "The Kingdom".Battles and kingdoms

Discover our Best of the Fife Coast holiday 

Over the sea to Skye

In the famous battle of Culloden in 1746 George II beat the Jacobites (clan-chiefs) and Bonnie Prince Charlie became the most wanted refugee. He was never caught and the romantic vision of Flora McDonald rowing him across the sea to Skye is something many people will be familiar with. On our Hebridean Hopscotch we visit Skye and experience this history and some fantastic walking, including a walk to the high point on Raasay, where the views are superb. Taking the ‘Bella Jane’ from Elgol, we sail across Loch Scavaig, in the shadow of the mighty Black Cuillin, and disembark near the Coruisk Memorial Hut before walking through to Loch Coruisk and continuing right through to Glen Sligachan. With the pink granite hills of the Red Cuillin to your right, and the savage sharks-teeth of the Black Cuillin to your left, this is a valley walk as fine as any. By contrast, the final day’s walk on Skye explores the mysterious pinnacles of Trotternish’s Quiraing – a total contrast to the high Cuillin Mountains, where you can see the famous Needle, Prison and Table. The holiday continues by ferry, visiting the Atlantic islands of North and South Uist, and Barra, another contrasting experience with walks on stunning white sands and by turquoise seas.

Discover our Hebridean Hopscotch holiday

Culloden to today

After Culloden it was forbidden to wear tartan, play bagpipes and carry arms. The Clearances began in the north of Scotland and many people were forced out of their homes as the clan-chiefs became feudal lords and the area they ruled became their property. In the south of Scotland there was an economic boom, particularly in Glasgow, with tobacco, cotton and coal and ship building. In the 19th century Scotland became famous for architecture but after the Act of Union it became clear England and Scotland were not equal and with Westminster the political centre it was felt English matters were more important than Scottish ones and as a result the Scottish National party was formed in 1934. Throughout this century Scotland continues to seek independence. It would be interesting to be a fly on the wall for the future but this will be someone else’s history lesson.

For now live, breathe and enjoy what Scotland has to offer with us, including its amazing history.

Raising the standard!

On 25 March I had the honour of attending the official opening of the new section of path which has been eagerly awaited on a particular boggy section of the Coast to Coast by Nine Standards Rigg above Kirkby Stephen in Cumbria. The North Pennines AONB Partnership completed work at a cost of £30,000, on 400 metres of paving across the very worst of the bogs at Millstone Hags where the Red and Blue routes of the Coast to Coast split. This replaces a desperate struggle through eroded swampy hags with a 3-minute stroll on yorkstone paving slabs. Apart from making life easier for CC walkers this will reduce the very serious erosion caused by the thousands who cross each year. The HF Pathways Fund helped to contribute to this fantastic project with a £10,000 donation. Whereas in 2016 we raised almost £20,000 worth of Pathways Fund donations from our guests and members...let’s see if we can increase this for 2017.

Looking for a gentle introduction?Find out more about the HF Pathways Fund and how you can help

The Norfolk coastline is not only full of outstanding beauty and internationally renowned for its prolific birdlife but it gives you a great introduction to trail walking. It is leisurely and the terrain is easy going so you can really appreciate the sights and sounds on offer. Without knowing you’ll become a long distance hiker as you gently traverse the salt marsh, sand dunes and some of the finest beach in England on your way from Hunstanton to Cromer. The quaint villages and little fishing ports ooze with seafaring history. We have holidays in June and September so look no further if you want to try a trail in 2017.

Discover our Norfolk Coast Path holiday

Some helpful advice about Scottish midges

We try to forget they exist but you might be sure to meet the odd one or two on your travels in Scotland. It is the female midge that bites. It can only lay its eggs after it has had a blood meal; which is where you and I come in. The numbers of midges vary considerably from year to year, depending on the severity of the preceding winter, the amount of spring rainfall, and the temperature

Some people they seem to love and others they are not so interested in. But we do know they hate unprepared visitors!! They tend to be around more in the morning and evening and they like wet summers and shady cool damp places. They hate the breeze and strong sunlight and as long as you are on the move they tend to leave you alone! They prefer it if you wear dark clothes. They are not too keen on white or light clothing.

Additions to your back pack to help curb the “wee beasties” are anti-midge hats with a mesh around to keep them out.  Repellents can help containing varying concentrations of a chemical called DEET (di-ethyl toluamide) or DMP (dimethyl phthalate). A more recent arrival on the scene has been a product called "Smidge", which uses Saltidin as its active ingredient and seems very effective. Other alternatives are available using citronella and eucalyptus oils. Some also swear by the midge-repellent effects of Avon's Skin So Soft Body Oil. Bog Myrtle which grows readily in Scotland is said to ward them off too so pick some up as you walk along and see how it goes.

It is worth keeping midges in perspective. They've been a part of life in the Scottish Highlands for centuries, and are only likely to depart if the climate changes so much that the countryside itself becomes a very different place. And it's the countryside you come to the Highlands to see. Midges serve a useful purpose in controlling the role and impact of man in Scotland.

Join us on these last-minute breaks

If you haven't yet booked or you're looking to cross off another challenge this year, why not join us on one of these fantastic breaks: