7 days of fun with the kids during the school holidays
As the dad of two wee girls I know exactly how tricky it can be keeping lively children occupied for the school holidays. It is all too tempting to shell out on an expensive escape abroad, but I'd thoroughly recommend staying in Scotland for their school break. Think of the holidays not as a bane, but as an opportunity to discover the best of Scotland with the wee ones. Here are seven family adventures that lie just a ferry trip away.
1. Head Doon the Watter
You cannae beat a wee trip doon the water. From the Ayrshire, Cowal and Kintyre coasts the Firth of Clyde isles of Arran, Bute and Cumbrae are just a short ferry ride away. You can hire a bike and bash around Cumbrae with the kids literally in tow, fire their imaginations by rambling around the ramparts of Rothesay Castle or take them for a swim and soft play session at the Auchrannie, before a rummage in the shops on the Isle of Arran.
2. Meet the Fairies on Skye
The ace folk stars the Peatbog Fairies hail from Skye, you will find the Fairy Pools here and the Quiraing looks like something out of Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter put together, so what is not to like for kids on the Isle of Skye? Cross from the mainland, Outer Hebrides or Raasay and discover the wealth of things to see and do that the largest of the Inner Hebrides boasts.
3. What's the Story?
Tobermory, the island capital of the Isle of Mull, is renowned, of course, as home to the Balamory TV series. It is no longer being filmed, but you can still take kids on a Balamory tour and there is a wee shop on the main street that still sells Balamory souvenirs. One real bonus here is that you can 'entertain' fellow passengers on your trip from Morvern, Oban or Iona by asking your kids 'What's the Story?' and then walking a short distance away as they burst into loud song.
4. Perfectly Formed Gigha
This tiny wee charmer in the Southern Hebrides is a corker. There is no time for kids to get bored on the short hop from Kintyre. Once on the island they can enjoy scurrying around some gorgeous white sand beaches and lashings of space with barely a car in sight. You can treat them to some proper food too as it is here that Gigha Halibut - today starring on the fine dining tables of Edinburgh, London and Paris - is farmed.
This gorgeous and gorgeously modern resort complex on the southern reaches of the Cowal Peninsula is a short ferry ride from Tarbert on Kintyre and near to the Bute-Cowal ferry too. They opened a glitzy new £10m spa development in 2015 and we went back just before Christmas. My kids loved it, with the large indoor swimming pool plus the heated outdoor infinity pool that lay right on the beach on the shores of Loch Fyne. The adults-only section upstairs has massages if couples want to take it in turns or single parents can source a babysitter. There are a variety of accommodation options too. You can see my CalMac blog on Portavadie for more information.
6. Two Struays
If Tobermory is Balamory to my seven year old Tara, Coll screams Katie Morag to my four year old Emma. So does Lewis. Confused? Well the brilliant books by Mairi Hedderwick's are set on Coll, while the 'Struay' TV scenes are filmed on Lewis as any eagle eyed viewer parent will already have noticed. The cute wee village of Arinagour will be familiar to kids on Coll, while 23 beaches await dotted around this beautiful island. Lewis (which with Harris forms the third largest island in the British Isles) has plenty of attractions of its own from the stone circle that inspired Disney-Pixar's Brave, through to swathes of beaches of its own.
I'm putting Oban in as for island kids this is a real hub for holiday fun. Whether they are from Mull or Iona, Islay, Colonsay, Coll, Tiree or even remote Barra, Oban offers serious holiday fun just a ferry ride away. There is a massive pool and leisure complex, soft play and loads of shops for little magpies. Sitting with squawking seagulls overhead as the whole family devour delicious boat fresh fit and chips on the waterfront is a McKelvie family favourite I've a sneaking suspicion your wee ones will love too. Enjoy!
Biog: Robin McKelvie has been travelling on Scottish ferries ever since he was a wee boy and writing about them and the places they serve since he became a travel writer in 1997. Robin has travelled to over 100 countries, but still rates Scotland 'as easily my favourite destination in the world'. These days, as well as penning travel articles for newspapers and magazines across five continents, Robin also writes guidebooks, does a lot of social media and also talks travel for the BBC. He also blogs about Scotland for multiple websites.