We’ve just come back from our third family holiday in Scotland since the boys were born. We love it there. It’s like Wales but not Wales so offers a familiarity but with slightly different things to see and do. And the fact that we can hit the border in three hours after a quick stop at the world’s best services (Tebay, for those of you not in the know) is a huge bonus. It limits the number of ‘Are we there yet?’s that Paul and I are subjected to. Although, audio books and a bag of midget gems kept the kiddos thoroughly entertained this time. So much so, that I think that they were almost sad that we arrived at our AirBnB so quickly.
Whenever we go away, we plan some activities in advance and then leave the rest of our time quite fluid but with a few vague ideas of what we could do or see depending on the weather or how tired little legs are. This year, we stayed in Thornhill, a really sweet village a fifteen minute drive away from the busier Stirling. If you’re thinking of spending time in the area and are looking for things to do as a family (or extended family … we were six adults, two children, one baby and one dog in total on this trip), here’s what we enjoyed the most.
Our first port of call was Falkirk and The Kelpies; two 30 metre high stainless steel monuments in the form of mythical water horses. They take your breath away the moment you round the corner and spot them. They really are awe-inspiring. We thought the official tour might be too much for the boys so we happily walked around the area ourselves and fed them a few facts that we’d gleaned from the website.
The Kelpies sit on a beautiful green space called The Helix. It’s always a good idea to mix a bit of ‘letting off steam’ with sightseeing/learning, right? So after spending time with The Kelpies, we walked through the nearby parkland and headed to the Adventure Zone, an amazing play area located next to a pretty lagoon. There’s also a café so you can grab a cuppa while you keep an eye on your kids. And dogs are welcome, too!
The Falkirk Wheel
We planned this badly by not checking exactly how much there is to do at The Falkirk Wheel. I, personally, wanted to quickly stop by and see it purely from an engineering perspective but I didn’t think the kids would be that interested. However, they were well and truly mesmerised. We had just half an hour there before having to leave but next time, we’ll book the boat trip/interchange tour and make sure we have a couple of hours on top of that to enjoy all the activities on site - there’s a ton of things for kids to enjoy and the food looked amazing too. It’s a great outdoor lunch spot if the sun’s shining.
Not visiting too many distilleries
Who miscalculated how interested their kids would be in distillery tours? That would be me. I thought we might sneak in a couple but in fact, we lasted just ten minutes. A quick look in the Deanston Distillery gift shop was the boys’ limit, particularly when they realised that the chocolates on display were whisky-filled and therefore not something they could indulge in. Fail!
Game of Thrones location hunting
The boys love a castle (I do not love them pushing each other at the top of castles, though) and Paul and I love Game of Thrones so we couldn't not visit Doune Castle, better known to Thrones fans as Winterfell. It was brilliant to look around and reminisce. I’m tempted to watch the whole show again at some point. I miss it. Jon Snow, in particular.
Spending the day in Edinburgh
We took the train from Stirling in to Edinburgh for the day and while I'd been before, I certainly hadn’t remembered how amazing a city it is. We walked the boys everywhere and had a complete and utter blast. There’s so much to see and with a brilliant park in the middle, lots of green space to pack a picnic and chill out in the fresh air for a while if little feet get tired.
The Edinburgh Festival was on so we booked last minute tickets to see a show - Jarred Christmas and Hobbit: The Great Comedy Beat Box Party - which was hilarious and a really lovely way to finish our day in the city.
You might be wondering how we persuaded the boys to walk so far and for so long? Well, the answer is also my top tip for seeing the sights of Edinburgh in a slightly different but entertaining way. And that is …
A Harry Potter guided walking tour
Yes, we booked a Harry Potter guided waking tour of Edinbrugh. A two hour tour packed with sightseeing, trivia and a Harry Potter quiz where you can earn points for your house. The boys are huge Potter fans so they loved hearing more about JK Rowling and seeing the spots around the city that supposedly inspired some of the scenes, characters and locations. And it meant that they were thoroughly keen to keep on walking to hear and know more while Paul and I soaked up some of the sights alongside them. We booked this tour with Get Your Guide and I’d highly recommend it. Our tour guide, Eddie, was a true star and great with my boys throwing question after question at him.
Lunch at The Grill by HW
The Grill by HW was mentioned by Tom Kerridge on the Remarkable Places to Eat series. Solid recommendation, right? With two children and a baby, we opted to head there for lunch rather than dinner and it was so nice. The food was brilliant, the service impeccable, and the location, in the Bridge of Allan, super pretty. Most of the family opted for the burgers but I had the steak wrap and it was amazing. If you’re a steak/beef lover, you have to go.
Pretend fighting at The Battle of Bannockburn Experience
The Battle of Bannockburn Experience was a real highlight - and free to National Trust members. If historical events had been presented to me in such an immersive way when I was in school, I would have aced history. The experience included 3D films with arrows flying over our heads, brilliant interactive elements and a battle game on a large 3D map where we could try out different tactics in our very own recreation of the Battle of Bannockburn. If you want to go, book your time slot in advance, either on the website or via phone. Oh, and pop outside afterwards to take a look at the battleground and monument.
The house we rented in Thornhill
We rented a beautiful house in Thornhill (you can see photos of the interior on AirBnB … the hosts really love cushions … SERIOUSLY love them). It was the perfect size for the nine of us and one dog, and really affordable, too. The village was so nice - great local shop and pub - and it was a short drive in to the centre of Stirling where we caught the train to Edinbrugh in 50 mins. We’d definitely stay there again.
And that’s the end of my Scotland trip roundup. If you have any questions or want to know anything more about where we went or stayed, pop them in the comments below and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.