Nature walks, tennis courts and water activities — a pick of the best resorts to resort to for a family break.
When parents ask where they should go for a break with the kids, they are usually looking for a destination that also allows a break from the kids. That’s why many Scots still head for Alton Towers and the like in large numbers. It may not be the most culturally enriching experience, but it deals with the challenge of keeping the children occupied.
Parents want that side of it to be taken care of in such a way that everyone is happy, which is why Crieff Hydro features in my list of child-friendly Scottish breaks.
In a different way, Baile-Na-Cille pulls off the same trick. Resting in the farthest-away corner of Harris, it does not pretend to have a pre-planned timetable of children’s activities; only a vast natural playground on its doorstep.
Children no longer have the freedom to roam, but Scotland has places that offer a solution
In years gone by, children had the freedom to roam every day, whether it be in the streets or at the park, but in many cases it is no longer safe enough to allow that. Isn’t it deplorable? Scotland, at least, has places that offer a solution, whether you fancy pitching your tent near the beach, treating the family to an ice cream on a Sunday or spending some time in blissed-out luxury.
Luca’s, 16 Morningside Rd, Edinburgh
The ice-cream kings from Musselburgh brought this modern ice creamery and café to “Holy Corner” where kids with dads will enjoy their spag and their sundae Sundays. Big cups of capp. Crowded upstairs, especially at weekends. Daytime snacks and family evening meals. Food not fab but gorgeous ice cream. (s-luca.co.uk, 0131 446 0233)
Vittoria, 113 Brunswick St, Edinburgh
Excellent Italian all-rounder that can seat 200 people, including outside on the pavement on a people-watching corner. Kids eat for £1 which is donated to a kids’ charity (under-12s till 5.30pm only). And they get a balloon and crayons and stuff. Now that’s friendly. (vittoriagroup.co.uk, 0131 556 6171)
Goblin Ha’ Hotel, Gifford
A restaurant with six rooms. Good woodland walking. The garden is nice for kids and there’s pizza. Open seven days for lunch and dinner. (goblinha.com, 01620 810244)
The Bridge Inn, Ratho
Waterside pub by canal basin with walks and barge watching, which can be a thrill for kids; occasional canal cruises (must book). Proper food for kids and grown-ups. (bridgeinn.com, 0131 333 1320)
Hotels that welcome kids
Crieff Hydro, Crieff
A national institution, still a family business and a truly great family hotel that moves with the times. It strikes the perfect balance between relaxation and activity (of which there is a staggering range of choice). Among the best in the world. And it is so very much in and of Scotland. There are six dining choices. Activities all day and all around: great tennis courts, riding school, two swimming pools including the Victorian pool (and spa) for adults only. Tiny cinema shows family movies; nature talks, donkey rides. Kids entertained (even while you eat) with a high tea (4.30pm to 6pm) just for them. Chalets in the grounds are among the best in Scotland. Great for family get-togethers. Despite the many bairns, it’s also brilliant for adults on their own. When in doubt, resort to this resort! (crieffhydro.com, 01764 655555)
Portavadie Marina, Portavadie
Very contemporary, very yachty leisure and activity complex on Loch Fyne across from Tarbert. Much ado about boats but lots of other activities inside and out. (portavadie.com, 01700 811075)
Baile-Na-Cille, Timsgarry, West Lewis
Far, far into the sunset on the west of Lewis; 60km from Stornoway so a plane/ferry and drive to somewhere you and the kids can leave all your other baggage behind. Exquisite, vast beach and many others near by; garden, tennis, games room. Wi-fi in the lounges. Plenty of books. Rooms basic. Good places near by for lunch. Dinner (closes one night a week) is excellent value, with a good wine list. Kids will keep this place in their hearts. (www.bailenacille.co.uk, 01851 672242)
Scarista House, South Harris
Big, comfortable former manse overlooking amazing beach and golf course. Lots of other great countryside around. The Martins, having had three kids of their own, will welcome yours and are happy to do a separate supper at 6pm. And a famously good dinner for grown-ups. A laid-back, far from Alton Towers experience. (www.scaristahouse.com, 01859 550238)
Auchrannie Spa Hotel, Brodick, Arran
Much expanded from the original house, the new block is perfect for a family holiday. You may have the run of both. Loadsa activities on tap, including two swimming pools, racket coscotlurt, spa and outdoor stuff (c/o Arran Adventures out back) on rivers, trails and hills. Many rooms can take two adults and two kids. Main restaurant is a bit motorway services but two other options in the original hotel. Kids will begin their lifelong love of Arran here. (auchrannie.co.uk, 01770 302234)
Isles of Glencoe Hotel, Ballachulish
A modern hotel and leisure centre jutting out on to Loch Leven. Adventure playground outside and nature trails. Conservatory restaurant overlooks the water. Lochaber Watersports next door has all kinds of boats from pedalos to kayaks, and bikes. (islesofglencoe.com, 01855 811602)
Glenfinnan House Hotel, Glenfinnan
Very large Highland hoose with so many rooms and such big gardens you can let them loose. Great introduction to the Highland heartland; music, scenery and local characters. Comfy rooms; no phone or TV but fresh flowers. The loch is at the foot of the lawn. (glenfinnanhouse.com, 01397 722235)
Peebles Hydro, Peebles
One of the first of the Victorian hydros (1881, rebuilt 1907) and a complete resort for families; it has that well-worn look but it doesn’t matter too much if they run amok. Huge grounds, corridors (you get lost) and floors of rooms. Taken over in 2015 by Crieff Hydro (see above) who will know how to make this Hydro thrive again. (peebleshydro.co.uk, 01721 720602)
Old Pines, nr Spean Bridge
A ranch-like hotel in a good spot north of Fort William. This hotel has long had a big reputation not only for food but also for welcoming children. The Dalleys have two children too and will welcome yours. A very safe, easy environment with chickens and woods (those pines!) to run around in. Also a nice stroll to the old Spean Bridge. (oldpines.co.uk, 01397 712324)
Kilfinan Hotel, Kilfinan
On a quiet road, a 300-year-old coaching inn with a good reputation for hospitality (and now food). The Wyatts have three children and there’s a proper children’s menu and early supper times for them. Lots of chickens and ducks as well as a fairy bridge; plenty of wild walks near by (they are happy to loan their dogs out). A relaxing and easy place for the whole bunch to enjoy. (kilfinan.com, 01700 821201)
The Inn on the Tay, Grandtully
Road and riverside inn in small village near Aberfeldy. This stretch of river famous for its rapids so usually plenty of raft and canoe action. Josie and Geoff keep this place family friendly. Nice lounge and café/bar with river deck. The brilliant chocolate shop is opposite. (theinnonthetay.co.uk, 01887 840760)
Cally Palace, Gatehouse of Fleet
The big, all-round family and golf hotel in the southwest, in charming village with safe, woody walks in the grounds. Old-style ambience (let’s not say tired); a piano is played at dinner. Leisure facilities include pool and tennis. 500 acres of forest good for cycling (bike hire can be arranged). Nice beach near by at Sandgreen and, of course, Cream o’ Galloway for ice cream. (mcmillanhotels.co.uk, 01557 814341)
Hilton, Coylumbridge, near Aviemore
There is plenty to do in summer and winter, and enough to do when it rains. Hilton Coylumbridge is the best of the often-criticised Aviemore concrete blocks. (hiltonaviemore.com, 01479 810661)