Salmon fishing and loch wandering are almost rites of passage on a weekend getaway in Scotland. As is sipping whisky before a roaring fire in a luxury Scottish country retreat – particularly after a day spent in the great outdoors. Yet there are plenty of other ways to explore this country’s awe-inspiring countryside – with some more unusual than others.
Anyone for tennis?
Modern sports in Scotland aren’t about haggis hurling and tossing the caber. Book the right country retreat – with a big enough estate to play with – and you won’t have to go far to stretch your legs… or arms.
Brush up your back hand with the pros. Owned by sports superstar Andy Murray, it’s perhaps no surprise that at Cromlix, guests can take tennis coaching. If tennis isn’t your game, Cromlix also offers clay pigeon shooting tuition – or you can channel your inner Robin Hood with an archery session.
Hamilton Ice Rink near Crossbasket Castle and estate might not technically be outdoors, but where else can you have a go at curling – all year round?
The kings of the castles
Stirling, Edinburgh and Balmoral Castles tend to hog the spotlight. Swirling with historical stories and boasting incredible architecture, it’s easy to see why. But if you want holiday snaps that are different to everyone else, these quirky keeps will up your Instagram game.
It ticks all the classic castle boxes – with turrets and a magical glen carpeted in wildflowers. But you might not expect the contemporary graffiti that covers the whole front of 13th-century Kelburn Castle. Courtesy of a talented team of Brazilian artists, the bright greens, yellows and oranges make this no ordinary landmark.
Not strictly a castle, but what whimsical Dunmore Pineapple House lacks in drawbridges and moats, it makes up for in having a pineapple for a roof. This fruity folly stands proudly in Airth, between (and slightly north of) Glasgow and Edinburgh.
After you’ve been to the Bothwell Castle ruins in South Lanarkshire, cross the River Clyde and you’ll be standing where Blantyre Priory once was. Here, in the rock face are a series of spiritual carvings.
Think these are ancient rock art? So did many people for many years. But they turned out to be the work of a local man who created them in the ‘50s and ‘60s, at dawn and dusk with only a miner’s lamp for company.
Caving with a difference
On Drum Street in South Edinburgh stands a traditional miner’s cottage. Through the door is a visitor’s centre and within that lies the entrance to one of the city’s greatest puzzles – Gilmerton Cove. This clandestine network of passageways and underground chambers has baffled historians for years. Book a guided tour and see if you can solve the mystery. Nira Caledonia is an ideal boutique hotel if you want an Edinburgh city base.
Not strictly a cave, but Sheriff Muir Paradise Pools north of Dunblane make for a wonderful wild swimming spot with the rocks creating a natural water slide. Just be mindful of how slippery it can be – and cover yourself with insect repellent in warmer months.
There are monuments to William Wallace dotted all over Scotland. For something different to the norm, seek out Roslin Glen. As well as a river gorge and beautiful walk, it’s home to the Wallace Cave where, according to legend, he sought sanctuary between battles. Everyone comes here for Rosslyn Chapel – made famous by The Da Vinci Code – and it’s absolutely worth exploring this enchanting church while you’re here. But you’re more likely to have Wallace Cave all to yourself.