April 16, 2014
If you’re planning a visit to Aberdeen this summer you’d be hard pressed to find a more authentically Scottish day out than one of the many Highland Games events taking place across the region. Aberdeen’s Highland Games at Hazlehead Park take place on the third Sunday in June, where you can witness Highland dancing, piping and much tossing of cabers alongside other events like hammer throwing, stone putting and the tug of war.
Later in the summer, on the first Saturday in September, the Aberdeenshire village of Braemar hosts the biggest and most famous Highland Games of all. The Braemar Gathering – known simply as The Games – plays out in beautiful surroundings, traditionally attended by the Royal Family since Queen Victoria’s first attendance in 1848. A major highlight is the strenuous hill race to the summit of 2,818 ft Morrone, which looms dramatically over Braemar – along with the pipe bands, dancers, and sheer variety of tartans on display.
But if crowds leave you cold, Aberdeen is not short on places to find solitude. In summer, one of our fave spots is stunning Balmedie beach, about twenty minutes north of the city. This vast 14-mile system of sand dunes is home to areas of both grassland and wetland vegetation, and the perfect place to sit and do nothing but look for seals and sand martins while contemplating endless skies over the North Sea.
In June, the Edinburgh International Film Festival promotes and debates the best in global filmmaking; late June/early July sees the Edinburgh Magic Festival bring back the thrill and wonder of live magic stage shows, and don’t forget the profusion of extra events taking place this year for Homecoming Scotland 2014, including jousting at Linlithgow Palace, the agricultural celebrations of the Royal Highland Show, and the authentic folk arts of TradFest Edinburgh, which combines traditional crafts with storytelling, music and dance. Even if you’re not remotely interested in festivals, Edinburgh’s charms are hard to resist. Portobello’s sandy beach and promenade appeals to bucket-and-spade toting families, while scrambling up Arthur’s Seat for the awe-inspiring 360Ëš city view – surely one of the best in any European capital – remains a perennial must-do.
But Edinburgh’s natural highlights extend far beyond the city limits. Half an hour southwest of the city, free-to-visit Almondwell and Calderwood Country Park is a glorious place to visit at any time of year, but is especially beguiling in summer. This 93-hectare patch of woodland and riverside walks is full of Roe deer, herons, foxes and otters – and a newly refurbished visitor centre, conservatory and play area makes it an ideal day trip for families. Walking enthusiasts will be pleased to learn about the opening of a new section of the John Muir Way, which extends further west from the existing Edinburgh-Dunbar section to Loch Lomond and the Trossachs, making it entirely feasible to combine an urban city break with a trail-walking trip of a week or more.
Quirky, edgy, creative and fun – Manchester is all of these things and more. This year, the city is laying on a string of summer events to seriously rival the capital down south, starting with the wonderful Chinese Dragon Boat Festival and the mass-participation Great Manchester Cycle to name but two.
For party vibes and (hopefully) sunny skies, Manchester’s Warehouse Project kicks off the music season with the Parklife Weekender on 7-8 June at Heaton Park; scene of former legendary concerts by the likes of The Happy Mondays, The Stone Roses and Oasis. Two weeks later on Sunday 22 June, witness real Mancunian pride on exuberant display at the Manchester Day Parade, where around 2,500 participants bring this year’s theme of “˜Going Global!’ to life, while a further 50,000 local and visiting spectators cheer them on.
And don’t forget Manchester’s prime northwest position makes it perfectly placed for day trips into the countryside, with national parks like the Peak District almost on the doorstep. But there’s natural beauty to be found even closer to the city too, with various short walks like the South Pennines Water Trail, the tucked-away Piethorne Valley and the lovely three mile circular walk around Worsley Village all worth an excursion.
And of course, London always calls. It goes without saying that a world-class capital like ours will have something to offer visitors every day of the year, but for a summer like no other, we recommend checking out the seasonal series of music, film and visual arts at Somerset House; the Taste of London restaurant festival in Regent’s Park in June, and the Notting Hill Carnival on August Bank Holiday Monday.
Header image of Manchester Day Parade © Stuart Grout