A gastronomic tour of central Scotland
Andrew Ditton guides us on a gastronomic (virtual) tour of central Scotland – including foodie hot-spots of Glasgow and Edinburgh – that will really get the tastebuds watering.
There are an incredible 44 golf courses in the Kingdom of Fife including the iconic links at St Andrews ©VisitScotland/Stuart Brunton
Many of us have spent far too much time at home over the past year, and for some of us, home is far removed from the nearest city. Personally, I am craving culture and restaurants, and I’m longing to get back out on the road – so a gastronomic tour of Scotland will be just the ticket! Circumstances decreed that I couldn’t complete this tour in person, so I’ll be revisiting past trips and sharing the latest developments to take you on a compelling journey that will hopefully sate the appetite.
We kick off at a Club site that is a relatively recent addition to the network, but that has quickly established itself as a firm favourite. Not only is Strathclyde Country Park a popular stop-off for members travelling to or from the Highlands, it’s also a great base for those wishing to stay longer and soak up the rich culture – and amazing food – that Glasgow has to offer.
Bellshill station is two miles away, and the train journey into Glasgow Central takes 20 minutes. There’s free parking at Bellshill, but be aware that spaces are limited. Once you arrive in the city, you’ll need to make the difficult choice between east and west. In the east of the city you have the option to enjoy Glasgow Green, visit the People’s Palace social museum, wander the world famous Barras Market (weekends only), or mooch around hip areas such as Dennistoun, recently voted one of the coolest neighbourhoods in the world by Time Out magazine. Places to eat and drink include three of my favourites: the Germany-inspired West Brewery by Glasgow Green, which has a great outdoor seating area; the trendy Drygate Brewery in Dennistoun with its wide choice of food and beers; and the dog-friendly 13th Note, which serves mostly vegan food in a cool, relaxed space.
The Glasgow Science Centre on the banks of the Clyde is a great place to visit for children and adults alike ©VisitScotland/Kenny Lam
For the West End, switch trains at Glasgow Central and head for Exhibition Centre. From here, why not wander down to the Clyde and enjoy a riverside walk? If you have small people with you, it’s definitely worth crossing the footbridge to visit the Glasgow Science Centre; two acres of interactive exhibits, a planetarium and an IMAX cinema should keep the wee ones entertained for a while. If you’d rather drive into the city, there is parking available here with none of those pesky height barriers. Visitors to the centre pay just £3 per day.
Back over the river, the main reason for hitting the West End is to explore the plethora of outstanding eateries, coffee shops and pubs in ‘Foodie Finnieston’. There are too many to list them all, but start off by checking out The Gannet for fine Scottish food with a modern twist; Mora Bar and Kitchen for fantastic Italian food; or my personal favourite, The 78 Bar and Kitchen with its relaxed vibe, cosy armchairs by the fire, and chilled jazz on a Sunday night to accompany your food.
Back at the site, you can walk off the day’s excesses in the adjacent country park, or run or cycle the four miles around the loch. If you can do without site facilities and prefer a relaxed and grassy Certificated Location (CL) for your Glasgow visit, look no further than Lochwood Farm. Gartcosh railway station is one-and-a-half miles from the site and, while no dog walking is permitted on the CL, Drumpellier Country Park is less than a mile away.
Arch-rival to trendy Glasgow is, of course, the elegant capital city of Edinburgh. The Club site here is a short distance from the banks of the Firth of Forth, and there is a great walk from the site along a broad, level esplanade to Cramond Beach, where well-deserved refreshment can be taken at the Cramond Bistro. At low tide, it’s fun to take the short walk along the causeway to Cramond Island, but do keep an eye on the tide times and make sure you don’t get cut off (see queensferrylifeboat.co.uk/cramond-tides for information). Alternatively, there’s a lovely, albeit undulating, walk to be had along the tree-shaded path following the River Almond.
If the tide is right you can walk to Cramond Island along the causeway which is not far from Edinburgh Club site ©VisitScotland/Kenny Lam
Edinburgh needs no introduction when it comes to tourist hot spots such as the Castle, the Royal Mile or, my favourite, Arthur’s Seat. There is a direct minibus from the site into the city, which leaves in the morning and returns late afternoon. Alternatively you can walk 10–15 minutes to the nearest bus stop and catch the frequent local bus. Dogs are permitted on both.
Wander off the beaten track into the achingly trendy area of Leith, and Edinburgh starts to give Glasgow a run for its money in the coolness stakes. Leith is about four miles from the site, so it requires a drive, a bus ride, or a half-hour cycle along the river. Members with an appetite for fine dining will be delighted to find two Michelin-starred restaurants here – The Kitchin and Restaurant Martin Wishart – but there are options for all budgets and tastes. My top tip is to visit on a Saturday and take in Leith Market on Dock Place, where you are bound to pick up something delightful for dinner back at the ’van.
The journey north from Edinburgh to our next pair of sites is an adventure in itself as we traverse the Firth of Forth via the stunning, toll-free Queensferry Crossing. Whatever your preference, Powmill CL and Balbirnie Park Club site provide perfect settings to relax and recharge. Powmill offers compact hardstanding pitches (with an 8m length restriction), electric hook-ups, a small facility block, and sweeping views while Balbirnie Park is incredibly well situated being just a 10-minute walk from Markinch station where direct trains whisk you to Edinburgh via the Forth Bridge.
The Queensferry Bridge provides a stunning route across the Firth of Forth en route to Balbirnie Park Club site ©VisitScotland/Stuart Brunton
For golfers, Balbirnie Park Golf Club is close by, and it is just a 20-mile drive to the famous St Andrews Links. The Kingdom of Fife boasts an incredible 44 golf courses in total! My dog, on the other hand, was pleased to find the site located right in the heart of the 400-acre Balbirnie Park, where he could play ball in the open areas and check out all the scents in the woodland.
The Orangery at Balbirnie House is a short walk from the site, and offers luscious lunches, tempting teas and delicious dinners. Definitely a place to make up for time lost during lockdown.
Another Club site set in the grounds of a country park is Forfar Lochside, a full-facility site offering both grass and hardstanding pitches. Not only does it enjoy a beautiful setting and views of the adjacent loch but it’s just a short away from Forfar itself, the county town of Angus. The delicacy here, widely available in the town’s bakeries, is the meat pastry known as the ‘Forfar Bridie’. It’s nowhere near as famous as the Cornish Pasty, but locals here will tell you it’s far tastier than its southern rival.
Forfar Lochside attracts culture vultures, as it is a mere 30-minute drive from Dundee and its new design museum. Opened in 2018, the V&A Dundee has exceeded all expectations. It impresses at street level with its striking appearance, inspired by the cliffs of Eastern Scotland, and inside boasts the reassembled Oak Room by the renowned Glasgow designer, Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Dating from 1908, its constituent pieces, numbering in the hundreds, had been held in storage for over 50 years.
The striking V&A Dundee museum is a must-visit attraction for those staying at Forfar Lochside Club site ©VisitScotland/Kenny Lam
Another must-see is the truly delightful Glamis Castle. Home of the Earls of Strathmore and Kinghorne since 1372, the castle is more popularly known as the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and the childhood home of the late Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother.
To reach this tour’s final site we must embark on a long drive across the middle of the country and then all the way down the Kintyre Peninsula to Campbeltown, before heading northwards again to Carradale Bay Affiliated Site. (Please follow the directions in your Sites Directory & Handbook and don’t attempt the route down the east side of the peninsula).
Carradale Bay is a slice of heaven. Its spellbinding location, right on the south-facing sandy beach, really cannot be beaten, and it is the ideal place to bring a small boat or stand-up paddleboard. But it’s the heady vanilla scent of the gorse in late spring that really tantalises my senses. Across the road from the site you’ll find Carradale Forest, where you can walk and cycle, or even hire an off-road buggy.
Carradale Bay is in an idylic setting, nestled between the beach and a forest with mountains in the background
A 15-minute walk takes you into Carradale itself, where you can enjoy bistro-style dining with an emphasis on local seafood at the Glen Bar and Restaurant, or tea and cake at the Drumfearne Tearoom. Carradale is the perfect place to round off a gastronomic tour of central Scotland. I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the beginning of our road to freedom.