Getting to visit a new city and country is always exciting. Getting to do it with friends is even better. Getting to have built in local tour guides is as good as it gets and we had all of these things built into this experience.
This trip to Scotland was dreamed up back in October when our friend (who we met many years ago via Melissa), Ana Maria, and her son, Lucas, were visiting Maastricht. We’ve never been to Scotland and we’ve said many times over the years that we’d wanted to visit them and Ana’s husband, Graham, in their home in Newport on Tay on the coast of the Tay river. We decided to make a longer trip out of the Easter weekend and combine a short stay in London with this trip to Scotland, and Melissa & Flo also joined us on this trip!
We planned to travel to Scotland by train and left London after breakfast via Kings Cross station. One great thing about this LNER train was that we didn’t have to make any connections. It was a long train ride (5.5 hours) but lent itself to catching up on this blog! The views along the way were really very pretty. Lots of farmland, baby sheep, cows, and goats. There were glimpses of the Scottish coast towards the end. We took a lot of photos, but it is hard to really capture the beauty from a train window on your iPhone.
Ana, Graham, Lucas and Flo (who flew in the day before) picked us up from the train station in Leuchars and drove us to their town and our Airbnb house, right on the water in Newport on Tay. The River Tay is, according to Graham, the longest river in Scotland and the small town of Newport is 10 minutes from Dundee and an hour from Edinburgh. Graham is from Dundee and his parents still live there. Dundee is Scotland’s 4th largest city and had thriving industrial and journalism industries back in the day before the decline of traditional manufacturing. Now the city is going through a bit of a revival and starting to get noticed. They are working on renovating their beautiful waterfront to make it more connected to the city center. I say all this because, after visiting the nearby area, I foresee a lot of friends heading to Dundee in the future.
Where we stayed:
Our Airbnb was a perfect 3 bedroom, 1 1/2 bathroom ground floor flat on the water front. It was well maintained and purposefully decorated. We would definitely recommend it. There’s a bakery, a grocery store, a “boutique grocery”, and a couple of pubs less than a minute walking from the house. The walk to Ana and Graham’s was about 8 minutes, uphill, so we got our workout in every morning going to see the others.
What we did: A mix of casual, low-key hangouts combined with day trips by car to hike.
Pizza Night & Hangout
Once we got settled in at our Aribnb, the men went to a pub and the rest of us went over to Ana and Graham’s house. The boys went to a nearby park to play for a bit and the ladies prepped for homemade pizza night. Ana is famous in her circle of friends for her homemade pizzas. I don’t know the secret recipe. I just know that I want to show up anytime she’s making it. She’d already prepped the dough before we arrived so Melissa and I were on veggie-chopping duty. The boys had pepperoni and cheese pizzas, which were also great. Also worth noting…apparently the asparagus in Scotland is worth trying and even my boys tried it. Caleb, my non-veggie eater ate the whole thing! Just proof that miracles can happen. This night was a perfect welcome after a long train ride and we stayed up way too late catching up, enjoying wine, and eating these pizzas.
Pittenweem & Saint Andrews
On Friday, we took the two cars and drove to lunch at Balgove, a farm to table cafe with a small gourmet store that sells many local and Scottish things.
We then drove to Pittenweem, a beautiful tiny fishing village along the rocky coast. Being that we were in the home of golf, there was also a “crazy” golf course along the coast. We hiked from the harbor for probably a little over a mile, with many pit stops with the boys to skip stones or run around the rocky beach, and then turned around to warm up with a treat in the village.
Afterwards we met Graham in Saint Andrews where you find the famous Saint Andrews University (so many famous people study here, including royals William and Kate), and the Old Golf Course, considered the oldest golf course and where the 150th British Open will be played. The city is gorgeous and old. All the buildings are made of similar gray stone.
Fowelshough, Stonehaven, Dunnottar Castle, Arbroath
On Saturday morning we took a long drive (90ish minutes) to Fowelshough. This is famous for striking cliffs along the sea with puffins, seals, dolphins etc. Unfortunately for most of the hike the weather was extremely foggy and we could see very little. We joked that all our photos would just be of the clouds. We were rewarded on the return, though, with what we were pretty sure was at least one seal sighting and some clearer views of the birds nesting in the seaside cliffs. Among the birds we saw were guillemots, razor bills, pigeons, seagulls, and kittiwakes. We did not see puffins, but as I mentioned we are pretty sure we did see some seals eventually.
At this point, we’d not packed any snacks and we’d missed lunch. The kids were nearing Lord of the Flies status so we then drove to Stonehaven for a coffee break/late light lunch/treat before driving to Dunnottar castle. This castle is a must see. Well, at least from the outside and the surrounding natural area. There are hikes and a rocky beach and it is another area where you might spot seals. You can also tour the castle but since the kids had zero interest and we had dinner reservations to meet, we decided to just keep the touring quick.
Dinner was in Arbroath on the way home to Newport on Tay, and was my favorite meal out of the trip (see below).
Favorite Dining Spots:
Balgove Larder – this was a cute farm to table spot that also had a small shop where you can buy local and national items, including local meats and gin.
Mitchell’s Deli (St. Andrews) – We ended up here because we were a larger group (6 adults, 3 kids) with no reservations on Easter weekend. I had no expectations and we were pleasantly surprised by the dinner. The fish and chips was a crowd pleaser. There was also live music that started as we were finishing up so the vibe was really fun (the place was nearly empty when we first arrived, but full when we left).
The Old Boatyard (Arbroath) – Graham picked this spot and I think it was my favorite meal out. The restaurant has incredible views of the water, is very family friendly, and the food (I had Scottish salmon) was excellent. We also had Gin and Tonics here that were some of the best of the trip.
Newport Bakery – It was dangerous having this place so close to our rental house. I felt like I could almost smell the baked goods as I woke up. Typically I don’t splurge on croissants and the like for myself. But on this trip I tried the cinnamon rolls and oh my word – I’m pretty sure they are the best I’ve ever had! The boys liked the chocolate croissants and the almond croissants were also a hit. Josh and Flo enjoyed some dense rye bread from there and I was also able to grab some coffee. A must-go spot if you’re in the area.
What we ate:
Fish and Chips – fried fish and french fries. Most restaurants offered this and some was better than others. In the small towns and villages, you’d see a line form in the afternoon at a small little window on a street and it was people lined up for their favorite fish & chips made fresh. Often there was little signage – they just knew who had the best.
Sticky Toffee Pudding – similar to a warm brownie type dessert, this is a cake (sometimes made with dates) that had a warm toffee sauce on top and was usually served with ice cream. Melissa talked this one up for days so of course we had to try it a couple of times.
Gin & Tonics – We sampled a few Scottish gins and came home with a couple we liked. I think our favorite ones at a restaurant were at The Old Boathouse in Abroath.
Scottish Salmon – I had this at the dinner in Abroath and it was perfectly made. I wish I’d taken a photo but I was too hungry and excited to eat it.
Chranachan – a super Scottish style dessert with raspberries and cream and usually oats and whiskey thrown in. The version I had in Abroath didn’t have the oats though and seemed to be a different take on the traditional dessert. I’ll be in search of a “real” one the next time I’m in Scotland.
Other fun had:
We celebrated Flo’s birthday on this trip. The adult men had a pub visit our first afternoon and every cafe/restaurant stop we made, Flo would try a dessert. At our dinner in St. Andrews, there was a guy performing live acoustic music and he also sang Happy Birthday to Flo.
We had an easter egg hunt Easter Sunday. I should note Caleb discovered that the treats from the bunny that had been left on our kitchen counter had price tags on the bottom and he totally called me out. In front of Mason. Who then bemoaned that Caleb (not me) had ruined his Easter. It was a tense morning but the Easter egg hunt with Lucas in the park made things much better.
Graham taught the boys how to make chorizo sausage and we ate that along with homemade asparagus risotto made by Ana for our last night in town. Truly better than any restaurant and memories we will always keep of that trip.
We had hoped to travel to Edinburgh the last full day of our trip, however the back to back long day trips had been fun but exhausting for the boys. They loved the park near Lucas’s house and really wanted a day to just “play”. City sight seeing did not fit that bill and the logistics to get to Edinburgh city center with the kids so that Josh and I could walk around a bit just ultimately didn’t seem worth it for all involved. So, we called off the day trip and hung around Newport on Tay. We had a long lunch at a riverside pub in the village and then some of us took the boys to the small beach near our rental house where they could skip stones to their hearts’ content, before returning to Ana and Graham’s for a cozy afternoon/evening. That night Ana and Graham cooked dinner for us – homemade sausage (the boys helped with this) and asparagus risotto mentioned above and we had a wonderful time just being together.
We can’t thank Ana, Graham, and Lucas enough for making plans on what to do, driving us around, hosting us for meals in their home, and just being really wonderful friends. We know we’ll be back to Scotland and can’t wait to see them again.