Absolute Escapes January 16 2024

From humble beginnings to a multi-award-winning tour operator based in the heart of Scotland’s capital city – it’s been a busy couple of decades for Absolute Escapes.

As we celebrate our 20th anniversary, we put some questions to our Co-Founders – Andy Gabe and Sheila Tulloch – including how the company began and where’s next on their bucket list.

Read on for a behind-the-scenes insight into how Absolute Escapes evolved, and the challenges and triumphs of Andy and Sheila’s journey.


Can you tell us the story of how you both met?

We met on a company graduate programme in the hospitality industry when we were in our early twenties. We then took a career break when we hit 30 to do a spot of travelling and ended up being away for 2 years.

Absolute Escapes founders, Andy and Sheila, in New Zealand


How did the idea for Absolute Escapes come about?

While we were travelling we spent a year in New Zealand and walked some of their iconic long-distance trails. Our first hut-to-hut walk was the Abel Tasman Coast Track and we immediately got the bug and completed another 6 more. That set us thinking about how we could start a business when we returned home involving the long-distance walking routes that we have in the UK.

On our way home from our travels, we spent some time in California and then in the Rockies where we spent the last of our savings hiring a car and heading out on a couple of fabulous road trips.

We thought we could combine these styles of holidays with many of the walking trails in the UK and provide packages for clients that we would enjoy.

Andy & Sheila in New Zealand


What were some challenges you faced when starting Absolute Escapes, and how did you overcome them?

How to work together in a 2-bed apartment in Edinburgh! We were also new to the travel industry, so we had to be fast learners and rely on our hospitality experience to focus on customer service and delivering the best experiences possible.

It took us 6 months to get our first booking, so we had to keep the faith and hope that those clients from the early years would keep returning and tell their friends.


Can you share some memorable moments or experiences from the early years of Absolute Escapes?

In the early years we used to organise meetings and incentive trips for corporate clients and we (somehow) managed to land NATO as a client. We arranged all of the transport logistics and tours for 750 conference delegates in Edinburgh, which resulted in us working with Rabbie’s Tours for the first time. We continue to work with them today.

Sheila at her desk in the Maxwell Street office


Which holiday offered by Absolute Escapes is closest to your heart and why?

Any of the walking trails that we completed in the first 5 years. We’ve always prided ourselves on having first-hand knowledge of the itineraries that we offer, and this is especially important with our walking holidays as the logistics can be quite tricky.

In the early years, we headed out on the trails and completed them ourselves, so the West Highland Way, Great Glen Way, Speyside Way, Rob Roy Way and Kintyre Way are all close to our hearts. These days we spread this around the team and we always try and ensure that someone in our team has experience in all of the locations that we offer in both our walking and self-drive holidays.

Andy on the Kintyre Way


What’s your favourite island to escape to?

The Isle of Tiree – one of the first islands we visited when we returned home from our travels. When we got off the ferry for our 4-night stay, we drove around the island in 30 minutes and thought we should shorten our trip.

Fast forward another 4 hours after spending an afternoon on Balevullin Beach and we could have moved there!


What’s your dream hotel for a special occasion?

The Torridon in the spectacular North West Highlands. Set amongst two of our favourite things: sea and mountains.

The Torridon, Scotland


How has Absolute Escapes evolved and grown over the past 20 years? What were some key milestones in the company’s journey?

If you’re interested in the history of Absolute Escapes, don’t miss our blog post: A Walk Through Time – A Brief History of Absolute Escapes. It has a fantastic timeline with key milestones of our journey.


Can you tell us about the team behind Absolute Escapes? How have you built a dedicated and passionate team over the years? 

We’re so proud of the team that we’ve had at Absolute Escapes, both past and present. We’re fortunate to work with some amazing people and we’re just so grateful that they’ve been on this journey with us.

While we’re all from different backgrounds, we all have a passion for the travel industry and a love of the outdoors. And we all like dogs.

Absolute Escapes team in Dovecot Studios office


What have been some of the most rewarding aspects of running Absolute Escapes for the past two decades?

Probably two main ones stand out for us:

  1. The feedback and comments that we’ve received from clients over the years, along with some spectacular photos. When a happy smiling couple send you a selfie from their self-drive holiday when they’ve just got engaged that’s a pretty special moment.
  2. Seeing our team develop as individuals in their roles and watching how they help each other out in so many ways. We are nothing without each other, and it’s a real privilege to be part of such a close-knit team who genuinely believe in what they do and care for each other. And the occasional dog coming into the office.


Are there any particular challenges or trends in the travel industry that you have had to adapt to in recent years?

The obvious one here is Covid. That was quite a challenge. This goes back to my previous answer, as the only reason we were able to come through it was the loyalty of our clients and the dedication of our team.

It highlighted to us that despite living in such a digital age, what really mattered was the people in our business – both the clients who kept their deposits with us and the team we had who supported each other and us throughout some dark times.


Can you share a success story or testimonial from a client who had a remarkable experience with Absolute Escapes?

We’ve been so fortunate to have many returning clients for which we’re eternally grateful.

Perhaps our most loyal client is David from California who has booked numerous walking trails, self-drive holidays and guided tours with us. He’s an absolute delight to work with and has booked holidays from the far north of Shetland to the west coast of Ireland. He’s heading to Wales for the very first time in April 2024 and we’re looking forward to hearing all about his Welsh adventure on his return.

Our director, Andy, with Absolute Escapes clients in the office


Excluding the UK & Ireland, what is your favourite travel destination in the rest of the world?

It has to be New Zealand for too many reasons to mention. The NZ tourist board used to have the perfect strapline for their country: The once-in-a-lifetime holiday that you need to do every 3 years!


Questions from social media followers:

“I’d love to know what’s still on their Scotland bucket list!”

(@megan_kath11 on Instagram)

We both love visiting Scottish islands and we used to book a holiday cottage for a week every year on a different island. We’ve been fortunate to visit so many of these wonderful places over the years, but we’re still missing visits to Barra and Shetland from our list.

We’re heading to the Small Isles in April, so we’ll have to add these two to our list for 2025.


“What is your favourite walk in England?”

(James on Facebook)

South West Coast Path: great coastal walking, beautiful towns and villages, amazing restaurants. And if you complete it all, it’s the equivalent of scaling Mount Everest four times!


“What walk(s) do you recommend for a very fit 76-year-old Australian?”

(Sandy on Facebook)

I’m sure you could tackle all of the trails that we offer and I just hope we’re still considering a long-distance trail when we’re 76.

The person I think of when considering a walking trail in your mid-70s is the legendary Alfred Wainwright. He devised the Coast to Coast walk from the Irish Sea to the North Sea, which has become one of Britain’s most popular long-distance walks. He was still walking the fells of the Lake District well into his 80s, so I’m sure he’d have been delighted to know that you were still fit and active.


“What’s your favourite walk that AE offers?”

(Pippa on Instagram)

I think we have to go back to the first trail that we walked when we returned to Scotland from our travels – the West Highland Way. It was while walking the final day of the trail between Kinlochleven and Fort William that we realised the idea could become a reality.

While it remains our most popular trail with our clients, it still draws us back for numerous day walks and we’re looking forward to taking on the trail again next year with our 12-year-old son and 2 border terriers!

Absolute Escapes founders, Andy & Sheila, at the end of the West Highland Way


What’s next for Absolute Escapes?

As we celebrate this incredible milestone, we’re also looking ahead to the next 20 years.

With a wonderful client base, exceptional suppliers and a talented team behind us, we look forward to seeing where our motto of Keep Discovering takes us.

Absolute Escapes team Calton Hill

We continue to expand our range of holidays to provide the best new long-distance walks and the most exciting road trip destinations. As this happens, you can be sure that our first-hand knowledge and exceptional customer service will remain at the centre of what we do.

Don’t just take our word for it, take a look at our high number of excellent customer reviews.

Whether you’ve been a part of our company in some way since 2004 or have only just joined the world of Absolute Escapes, we’re so grateful that you’ve been part of our story. We hope that you’ll join us on our journey over the next two decades.

Andy Gabe & Sheila Tulloch
Directors and Co-Founders of Absolute Escapes

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