Our travel guru, Gary Hudson, finishes his round-up of recommended UK destinations by recounting his favourite locations across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Recently, I invited readers to discover my favourite English resorts and cities, those that I would want to return to, and many to which I have done so on numerous occasions.
I wrote that article as I believe a return to international air and sea travel is going to be a relatively slow process after the islands’ restrictions from lockdown are gradually lifted. Flights and ferries to the mainland, however, won’t take too much time to build up services, once given the all clear.
There is, of course, more to explore than just England, and it would be remiss of me to not offer some recommendations of places to visit in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
As the Channel Islands represent the most southerly region of the British Isles, let’s head to the most northerly first: Scotland.
Fortunately, in the summer months we (usually) have direct flights to many parts of this country, be it Glasgow, Edinburgh and even the most northerly sizeable city on the mainland, Inverness, which can be reached within two hours.
Edinburgh is usually most people’s first thought when planning to visit Scotland, and why wouldn’t it be? It’s cosmopolitan, lively, friendly and has an abundance of attractions to visit.
If not spending money shopping on Princes Street, or in some of the more quirky establishments on the Royal Mile in the old town – headed by the magnificent Edinburgh Castle, with the Palace of Holyroodhouse at its foot – there are sumptuous restaurants to enjoy, lively bars to revel in, or simply gardens to relax in.
There is so much to do and see in this city, but with so much more to Scotland, let’s move on…
Experience Scotland by rail
My last visit to this expansive land took me on a rail journey from Edinburgh to the North East Coast city of Aberdeen, which saw us following the North Sea coastline for much of the journey.
I stayed here for two nights, and while the demise of the oil industry in this region was taking its toll, the city was reinventing itself. Although there is a ruggedness to the city, there is elegance with its granite buildings, open spaces and coastal location.
On this same visit, my rail journey also took in a brief stop in Inverness (to where l will return), then a scenic passage on the Highland Link through beautiful Cairngorms National Park, and eventually onto Glasgow.
This is a city that I was unsure of what to expect, but it didn’t disappoint. Modern, yet historic, welcoming, yet slightly guarded. Initially, this city offered far more than I expected, and a place I will definitely return to.
Of course, many visit Scotland for the Highlands and islands, and why wouldn’t you? There is such a vast range on offer, l wouldn’t do justice to any particular region within the confines of this piece, so all l can say is, when Covid-19 restrictions for travel are lifted, then GO.
Across the Irish Sea
Let’s pop across the Irish Sea to Northern Ireland. In summer we (usually) have direct flights from the islands, so it’s easy to visit, and to be honest, it wasn’t on my “travel radar” until I was invited over for a wedding.
Okay, I wasn’t there long, and l was at a wedding of friends, but a more warm hearted, genuine nation I’ve yet to come across.
Belfast, and l have to be honest, is the only part of Northern Ireland I’ve visited but with its lively nightlife, easy to navigate streets, and welcoming ambiance, it is a city l wish to return to, hopefully adding in much more of the region on my next visit.
l have managed to visit the south on a few occasions; Dublin, of course, is party central, a must for everyone at least once, and Cork, with my visit to the Blarney Stone ingrained on my mind, as l was held by the feet by an octogenarian, while hanging upside down, kissing the stone for good luck. It worked, I’m still here.
Back across the Irish Sea, we can’t forget about our Welsh friends. A country of such diversity, the north offers picturesque coastal towns, often guarded by historic castles, and the Isle of Anglesey, separated from the mainland by the historic Menai Suspension Bridge, plus the rebuilt Britannia Bridge, leading to a land of ancient sites and beaches.
Coming away from the coast, you have the impressive Snowdonia National Park and its crowning glory, Mount Snowdon, from where, on a clear day, you can see Ireland.
The wild west coast of Wales offers nature at its best, and was once described by Lonely Planet publications as “the best region on earth,” so l guess you’ll have to visit to see if you agree.
The south coast offers not only some stunning landscapes, sandy beaches but also the chance to enjoy some of the country’s larger cities: Pembroke, Swansea and Cardiff, a city I’ve travelled to many times and never tire of. It’s a city that always seems to have new building additions on each visit, but at the same time offers a look back to its history, such as the majestic Cardiff Castle.
The centre offers lots of shopping opportunities, plus bars and restaurants, but for something a little different, take the frequent Baycar, hop on a train or, if feeling energetic, walk down to stunning Cardiff Bay, where the atmosphere will swallow you up.
My brief article only allows me to highlight the highlights of the wonderful British Isles. So while international travel is disrupted, and once restrictions to visiting our great neighbours to the north are lifted, l suggest you make at least one visit.
Go on, you deserve it.