Year of Coasts and Waters 2020

Robin McKelvie looks over Loch Coruisk, Isle of Skye

As travel writers and / or photographers most Guild members have seen their fair share of this wide world. We all harbour our hidden spots, our wee corners we consider underrated. Stick with me but mine is home, Scotland’s epic coastline and inland waterways, which I’m constantly amazed do not get the attention they deserve. That may be about to finally change as 2020 has been designed the official Year of Coasts and Waters.

Part of the reason I think Scotland’s waters are so underrated is that many people, including a lot of Scots themselves, do not appreciate the scale of this wildlife-rich oasis. To be honest I didn’t know we harboured over 10% of Europe’s total coastline – which is alive with everything from the world’s most northerly pod of bottlenose dolphins to killer whales – until I researched the first National Geographic guide to Scotland a decade ago.

Lochranza Castle, Isle of Arran

And were you aware that Scotland boasts over 800 islands, almost 100 of them inhabited? Or that our coastline is much, much larger than England’s? If islands are ‘cheating’ strip them away and Scotland’s coastline is remarkably still three times that of England and more extensive than the littorals of France and Spain too.

And then there are those inland waterways. When I got stick on BBC Radio 5 Live for jokingly dismissing the Lake District as the ‘Pond District’ I defended myself by pointing out that if you trawl around, pooling all the water from every lake in England and Wales together, it could not even fill Loch Ness.

And Loch Ness is neither the deepest ‘lake’ in Scotland (Loch Morar takes that honour), nor the largest (Loch Lomond trumps it). So now we’ve established what we’re dealing with, let us check out this massive theme year when Visit Scotland are shouting all about Scotland’s coast and inland waterways.

The sweeping sands of the Uists

The Year of Coasts and Waters swirls right through 2020 with a rich collage of rebranded existing events, such as Celtic Connections and the Edinburgh Festivals, through to one off spectaculars like theatre shows on ferries and outdoor cinema on the Forth.

Here are three of the events to give you a wee taste of what to expect, but there are literally hundreds of festivities planned throughout Scotland during this year-long extravaganza:

CalMac are ubiquitous in the Hebrides

Ferry FunCalMac’s distinctive white and black ferries are ubiquitous in the Hebrides and Firth of Clyde. This year journeys will be spiced up by live theatre performances so look out for these as you explore the coast and islands. Enjoy a wee dram as you take in a bit of Burns, what’s not to like?

DolphinFest 2020 – Aberdeen is a city on the up with the impressive recent revamp of the Aberdeen Art Gallery a sign of its dynamism as it strives for a future beyond fossil fuels. Aberdeen is also surely the best city in the UK for dolphin spotting, a fact being recognised by this festival celebrating these cute cetaceans this spring. Conservation will be the fore alongside the chance to cruise with the dolphins and survey them from the shore.

STORM – The one thing you really don’t want at sea is the inspiration for theatre company Visual Mechanics, who are taking their recyclable and naturally made massive puppet on a nationwide tour. It all kicks off at the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow where a riotous musical send off will be provided by the likes of Capercaillie and Skerryvore.

Scarista Beach on Harris, Outer Hebrides

You could check any of these events out, but for me the best way of really
getting to grips with and really appreciating Scotland’s coastline is on a small ship cruise.

Robin and wife Jenny aboard the Hebridean Princess

I’ve been lucky enough to spend over 20 weeks of my life on different vessels and have never had a duff adventure yet in the Hebrides (the isles west and north of Kintyre), nor in the Northern Isles archipelagos of Orkney (over 80 islands) and Shetland (over 100 isles), or even the Firth of Clyde just west of Glasgow.

At the top of the tree I’d recommend the literal Ship of Queens, the Hebridean Princess, which Scotland’s Elizabeth I has snared for exclusive hire twice now – check out my Telegraph piece on her for more.

At the other end of the scale, Argyll Cruising are a cosy family run outfit with two crew and a maximum of eight passengers who usually ply the Firth of Clyde. I’ve got a an article about them coming out in the Telegraph soon too.

Argyll Cruising

Another impressive operator is The Majestic Line. I’ve been working with them since the days when they were struggling to get the full 12 passengers on their two converted fishing trawlers with people doubting they could ever make small cruising in Scotland work. They have proved the naysayers wrong – in 2016 they launched their first purpose-built vessel and I’ll be joining their second purpose-built ship, the Glen Shiel, later this year in her first full season.

Special mentions also go to European Waterways for bringing seriously luxurious cruising to Loch Ness and the Caledonian Canal (think outdoor hot tubs and the best of Burgundy – see my Telegraph piece) and new operators Nova Spero, who I’m out with this September on their inaugural ambitious Inverness to Falkirk adventure.

Beach on Pabbay Island

Whether you join in the Year of Coasts and Waters festivities or ease out on a cruise around the isles you will soon appreciate the scale and drama of
Scotland’s epic coastline and inshore waterways. If you get it already I’m glad to be preaching to the converted. Happy sailing to you all!

Robin McKelvie
By: Robin McKelvie Blogger, Broadcaster, Travel Writer