Absolute Escapes January 21 2020

From quaint fishing harbours in secluded coastal spots to Scotland’s famous red telephone box, these picturesque harbours are the perfect setting for picnics and sunsets. Featuring everything from striking castles to sneaky smuggling tunnels, it’s no wonder so many of them have featured in films and TV shows screened around the globe.

With 16 years’ experience arranging walking holidays and self-drive holidays in Scotland, we’ve travelled from coast to coast discovering the delights of the sea, being captivated by the coast, and enjoying many portions of fish and chips!


Portpatrick, Dumfries and Galloway

Situated as far South-West as is possible in Scotland, Portpatrick is as pretty as a postcard and on a clear day, Northern Ireland can be spied in the distance. However, this picturesque town is more than just an attractive start to the Southern Upland Way; the residents of its pastel-coloured houses have played a pivotal role in the saving of the historic harbour.

In 2015 the people of Portpatrick formed a Trust and brought the Portpatrick Harbour under joint community ownership. The project remains active today as a shining example of community action.


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Port Ellen, Islay

The Port Ellen harbour on the Isle of Islay is magical even from the outset. While still on the ferry, passengers can admire the whisky distilleries situated on the southern coast of the island: Ardbeg, Lagavulin and Laphroaig. This is merely a glimpse of what is to come as Islay has a mystical network of whisky distilleries – 9 in total!

The harbour itself features the quaint Port Ellen lighthouse and monuments commemorating the shipwreck of the troopship ‘Tuscania’ and the 266 WW1 American servicemen who lost their lives when the ship was torpedoed in February 1918.


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Tarbert, Loch Fyne

The idyllic Tarbert Marina can be found on the shores of Loch Fyne and is a gateway to the enchanting peninsula of Kintyre. This corner of Scotland remains relatively unexplored and serves as a wonderful introduction to the West Coast of Scotland.

To really appreciate this beautiful loch, take a stroll from the East Pier to Shell Beach – a small bay made entirely of broken scallop shells with glorious views of Portavadie.


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Balmaha, Loch Lomond

Moving into the centre of Scotland to one of my favourite places, Balmaha is a charming yet understated portal to the magic that is Loch Lomond.

Located just a stone’s throw away from the West Highland Way and Conic Hill, or only short water bus trip away from Inchcailloch Island or Luss on the western shore. This is the perfect place for a picnic or a pint in the sun!


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Craobh Haven, Argyll

Located on the Northern shore of the Criagnish peninsula, Craobh Haven (pronounced ‘croove haven’) is an ideal base for further exploring the West Coast of Scotland. Whether it’s glassy calm or blowing a ‘hooley’, the sailing on Loch Shuna is second to none and boasts spectacularly blue waters in the summer.


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Tavyallich, Argyll

Loch Sween’s Tavyallich is a hidden gem on the Argyll coast and its natural shingle bay is popular with sailors. A fishing village, with Gaelic origins meaning ‘house of the pass’, this tiny but vibrant place comes alive with outdoor enthusiasts in the summertime due to the incredible variety of activities within throwing distance. The Tavyallich Inn is, therefore, the perfect place to watch the sunset with fresh seafood.


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Tobermory, Isle of Mull

Tobermory Harbour is one of the many reasons to visit the Isle of Mull while exploring the West Coast of Scotland. This unique harbour is rumoured to be the sight of the sinking of one of the Spanish Armada ships carrying gold bullion in 1588; while 2015 saw the opening of Europe’s very first ‘Catch and Release’ aquarium where visitors can see a seasonal display of local marine life that is returned to the oceans every few weeks.


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Castlebay, Isle of Barra

Another unique harbour in Scotland, Castlebay features the medieval fortress Kisimul Castle in the centre of the bay – the ancestral home of Clan MacNeil. Once a thriving herring port, nowadays the main traffic in Castlebay harbour is tourists and gin! Why not taste some while hopping around the Hebrides?


Portree, Isle of Skye

Life in the capital of the Isle of Skye tends to revolve around the harbour of Portree. The name in Gaelic translates to ‘King’s Port’ and is thought by many to have derived from a visit by King James V in 1540. Oddly enough, the name actually comes from the Gaelic for Port on the Slope and perhaps refers to the iconic mountains on the Isle of Skye.


Plockton, Kyle of Lochalsh

This tiny village, made famous by the TV show ‘Hamish Macbeth’, feels like another country, if not another continent – mainly due to the exotic palm trees that line the main street and harbour! A few hours in Plockton is a wonderful detour when travelling by train from the Isle of Skye to Inverness or if visiting the castle Eilean Donan.


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Lybster Harbour, Caithness

The unusual village of Lybster features a striking harbour, as seen in The Crown if you are prepared to take on the challenge of a visit. After leaving the abnormally wide main road, it’s a steep slope down to the harbour where a quaint lighthouse and cafe await you.

An alternative way of visiting a number of picturesque harbours and bays on the North Coast 500 is to take a boat trip from Wick!


Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire

Stonehaven Harbour is unmissable during any visit to the town. Once a busy hub for fishing in Scotland, Stonehaven is now home to the Tolbooth museum, the legendary chippy and ice cream shop and the start of a scenic stroll towards Dunottar Castle – an impressive coastal fortress which is perched on the edge of a cliff. Towering above the North Sea, Dunottar marks the start of Scotland’s famous Castle Trail.


Pennan, Aberdeenshire

The film buffs of the world will recognise this harbour from the 1983 production ‘Local Hero’ which resulted in Scotland’s most famous Red Telephone Box! Perhaps this was what attracted a colony of Gannets to Troup head in the mid-1980s as scientists can find no other reason for their arrival.

They share the coastline with colonies of razorbills, guillemots and puffins which makes for a wildlife fan’s paradise!


Pittenweem Harbour, Fife

Pittenweem, meaning ‘place of the caves’ is a colourful and vibrant fishing town in the East Neuk of Fife. The name refers to St Fillan’s cave in Cove Wynd, which was used as a chapel by St Fillan in the 8th century. A highlight of any trip to Pittenweem in summer is the fish market conducted on the harbour walls which are covered in fresh and local catches.

The stunning Fife Coastal Path passes right past Pittenweem Harbour and makes the ideal spot to stop for lunch between Elie and Crail!


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Cove Harbour, Scottish Borders

Last but not least, we come full circle to Cove Harbour at the end of the Southern Upland Way. After 212 miles of countryside hiking, walkers have the delightfully eerie experience of walking through the old fish smuggling tunnel in order to arrive at Cove.

The bay itself has allegedly been used by smugglers since the 17th century and the various caves and chambers were used to hide the smuggled goods. These days, the unique spot has featured in a number of films and is a lovely day trip from the city of Edinburgh.


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Catherine Angus

P.S. Established in Edinburgh in 2004, Absolute Escapes are award-winning specialists in walking and self-drive holidays in Scotland. Our team have turned our love of exploring Scotland into our day job – we know exactly where to find the best accommodation, the best food and drink experiences, and how to turn your trip into an unforgettable one. Send us an enquiry now and start planning your Absolute Escape.

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