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Ultimate Summer Day Trips with Robin McKelvie

McKelvies at Rothesay Castle (2)


It's that time of year again when the long stretch of the school summer holidays loom into view. As a proud mum or dad you may have been looking forward to it, but suddenly there are weeks and weeks to fill. Weeks!

There is no need to panic, though. Instead why not turn things on their head and see the time as an opportunity to create lifelong memories for you and your wee ones? I love nothing better than taking my wee girls on a fun day trip on CalMac during the long Scottish summer days. Here are our top 5 ideas for the ultimate summer holiday day trip....

1. Arran

Balmichael fun on Arran

It's hailed as 'Scotland in Miniature' and this deeply attractive island boasts a country full of attractions for wee ones. We head here every summer and the excitement starts as soon as we board the train at Glasgow Central. It reaches fever pitch as we scan the waters for dolphins from the cafe on CalMac's Caledonian Isles.

Once ashore great walks await, a swathe of sandy beaches tempt and the island just begs to be cycled. Swirl in candle and soap making at Arran Aromatics , watching cheese waxing at the Arran Cheese Shop and the quite brilliant family friendly fun park at Balmichael and Arran is hard to beat. Then there is the wildlife - we love a sunset deer 'safari' in Lochranza and seal spotting between Corrie and Brodick. For wet weather days there is Auchrannie Resort , with its swimming pool and soft play.

2. Bute 

Beach on Bute

As a wee boy I travelled over to the Isle of Bute a couple of times a year to help work on my dad's yacht at the Ardmaleish Shipyard. I've kept the family tradition going and my girls are huge fans too. Rothesay is very much the classic 'doon the water' Clydeside resort town, with its gloriously old fashioned 1924 Winter Gardens (there is loads to see and do inside) and a promenade that is home to a putting green. There is an 'old school' amusement arcade across the road and one of the most fun family friendly castles in Scotland, Rothesay Castle .

Beyond Rothesay it's a lovely cycle to Ettrick Bay, where an excellent tearoom awaits. Daddy loves the milkshakes almost as much as my girls!

3. Cumbrae

Sportscotland National Centre Cumbrae 16

After hopping off the train from Glasgow Central don't forget in Largs to pop into Nardini's for an ice cream before you board the ferry.

At the other side of this short, scenic crossing you won't need to travel much further if your family are into their watersports. Near the ferry slip sits the sportscotland National Watersports Centre . You can enjoy everything here from a sailing session or a spin in a kayak, through to a variety of sailing experiences. They also run longer courses.

The island capital of Millport is a lovely place to relax and just enjoy the holiday vibe and epic views across to Arran. We love hiring a bike here and taking it for a spin right around this pleasantly bijou island. There is a café on the way round, where you can stop off for a wee snack as reward for all your efforts.

4. Days Out

Castle Duart from Cal Mac ferry en route between Mull and Oban

CalMac have made life easy if you are not keen to organise your own day out with a series of options for the ideal ferry day away. These range from non-landing cruises to the likes of Colonsay and the Small Isles, where the main attractions are the ever changing epic views and the chance for the wee ones to spot all manner of marine life, from dolphins and porpoises, through to whales.

Then there are structured day trips that include a tour ashore, which is an ideal way to discover the likes of Staffa and Iona. I'm a huge fan of the food these days on CalMac so you can even embark on a local produce laden adventure sailing out to Tiree to enjoy sunset along with a lovely dinner. The kids can sleep in the car or train on the way home!

5. Oban Ferries

Cal Mac ferry en route between Mull and Oban

I'm cheating slightly here as I've not got one idea for you, but loads! Oban as Scotland's busiest ferry port has myriad day trip options. The most popular is popping across to Mull, one of my favourite ferry journeys in the country! I'd recommend taking a car for this one as you can then head to the island capital of Tobermory ('Balamory' of course to the wee ones!) with its wee shops, ace fish and chip van (we love the king scallop suppers!) and wee walking trails.

Calgary Bay, Mull

I'd recommend driving to Calgary Beach too, a gorgeous strip of sand that works well for families. Or you could nip over to nearby Lismore, an underrated wee gem of an island. There is not much to do here bar stroll or cycle around the quiet lanes enjoying the epic views. Lismore's rounded little hills are great for little legs not used to tackling mountains.

Oban is also great for setting off on longer adventures to the likes of Islay and Barra, but that is another blog all together. Watch this space!

Buy Tickets

I've written a few more blogs for CalMac that may help you plan your day trip adventures so feel free to check these out. Enjoy your day or even days out!

McKelvies hillwalking on Arran

Bio: Robin McKelvie has been travelling on Scottish ferries ever since he was a wee boy and writing about them and the places they serve since he became a travel writer in 1997. Robin has travelled to over 100 countries, but still rates Scotland 'as easily my favourite destination in the world'. These days, as well as penning travel articles for newspapers and magazines across five continents, Robin also writes guidebooks, does a lot of social media and also talks travel for the BBC. He also blogs about Scotland for multiple websites. 

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