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Thursday, November 24, 2011

Year of Active - West Coast Islands


The problem when picking a Scottish island is not so much the lack of choice, but rather too much choice. As I discovered, traversing the country this year, there are over 800 islands, the majority of them sprinkled off the west coast. And the good news is that many of them offer enticing options for meetings planners and business tourists looking to get active.

 

The most user friendly island is Arran. Only 50 minutes by ferry from the Clyde port of Ardrossan (itself well under an hour’s drive from Glasgow) is an oasis that has been dubbed ‘Scotland in Miniature’ and no wonder. The Highland Boundary Fault runs right through Arran so you get an impressive scenic diversity, as well as a whisky distillery, brewery, glorious beaches and a range of active options.

 

The Auchrannie Resort (www.auchrannie.co.uk) makes a great base for groups. It offers rooms in the historic hotel, bright modern bedrooms in the newer extension and luxurious lodges in the grounds. Then there are the myriad F&B outlets, two swimming pools, a health spa and conference facilities capable of holding up to 100 delegates. Right next door is the Arran Adventure Company (www.arranadventure.com). They offer everything from mountain biking and learn to sea kayak sessions, through to serious guided mountaineering and bespoke teambuilding exercises.

 

Elsewhere in the Clyde there is the Isle of Cumbrae, a remarkably attractive wee gem that hovers just off the mainland and offers myriad watersports. It is home to the Sportscotland National Centre Cumbrae (www.nationalcentrecumbrae.org.uk). Here groups learn to dinghy sail or kayak, or even to power boat or take a yacht away for a few days amongst more distant isles.

 

I tried one of their sailing courses, which was brilliant fun. After learning basic theory in a classroom it was on to the water. In a wash of smiles, jokes and serious instruction our dinghy bonded and soon we were all taking turns at the helm like seasoned pros, well slightly more seasoned beginners anyway!

 

Heading further out into the Hebrides I made for the Isle of Mull. I arrived by ferry, but planners wanting to impress can swoop from Glasgow with Loch Lomond Sea Planes (www.lochlomondseaplanes.com) and land right in Tobermory Bay. The Isle of Mull Hotel (www.crerarhotels.com) is the perfect base with a swimming pool, outdoor hot tub and a dedicated conference room. Mull these days is the hub of Scotland’s wildlife tourism industry. You can head out eagle spotting with Mull Wildlife Tours (www.mullwildlifetours.co.uk) and see up to 50 bird species in a ‘normal’ day. In the water Mull Sealife Surveys (www.sealifesurveys.com) eke out in search of whales and dolphins; the waters around Mull are the best place in the UK for meeting our mammal cousins.

 

Venturing further out into the Outer Hebrides I left the modern world further behind still. First up was the Isle of Barra. This wee gem is the Outer Hebrides in miniature with hills, stunning white sand beaches, great seafood, a castle, historic sites and much more. A brilliant incentive treat is flying in on the scheduled flight from Glasgow, which lands right on a sweeping Atlantic beach! With minutes of landing I was out in a sea kayak with Chris from Clearwater Paddling (www.clearwaterpaddling.com), a brilliant local company who cater for everyone from beginners right through to expert paddlers. Within another hour we’d seen seals, an otter scurrying along the shore and a brace of golden eagles soaring high above.

 

My last stop was checking out Amhuinnsuidhe Castle (www.amhuinnsuidhe.com) on the incomparable Isle of Harris. In this exclusive and remote hideaway groups can reside in their very own castle with plenty of opportunities for hunting, fishing and walking. With so many islands and so many choices on each island a trip to one or two Scottish islands can work out brilliantly for adventurous active business tourism groups.

 

For more information on this area please contact:

 

South                                                                                  North
Caroline Lyons                                                                 Moira Unwin
VisitScotland                                                                     VisitScotland
Burns House                                                                    Cowan House
16 Burns Statue Square                                                 Inverness Retail and Business Park
Ayr KA7 1UT                                                                       Inverness  IV2 7GF
Tel: +44 (0) 1292 616 124                                             Tel: +44 (0) 1463 244 115
Email: caroline.lyons@visitscotland.com                  Email: moira.unwin@visitscotland.com




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