Travel: Discovery is half the fun in journey to explore Scotland

IF I sit and think to count the precious things in my life, I’d say family, friends – obviously – but also the sense of home I feel in two places in Scotland: Selkirk, in the Borders, and the Isle of Jura, in Argyll.

I’m not talking about a home of bricks and mortar, but something else. I’ve tried to define the feeling in words before, once to a curious Time magazine reporter, who’d known nothing but an international life. “It’s like you’re talking about a lover,” she said. And I suppose that’s the closest I’ve come to a definition.

I don’t know what Tweed salmon feel when the homecoming impulse grips them one day while feeding on krill off the coast of Greenland, but maybe it feels a little like I did walking down Portobello Road in London four years ago, when I realised I didn’t belong there, that Scotland was my home.

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Since then I’ve tried to get to know Scotland better. I think that’s why I chose to be a writer and broadcaster – to tell people about what I’ve found. On the world map, Scotland looks only a wee place, but my hunch is I’ll never understand it, even after a lifetime of exploring. I feel privileged to have got to know a town and an island well.

To paraphrase the philosopher Michel de Montaigne: “Every man needs a room at the back of the shop”. This refuge could be a space in your head, or a bothy in the wilds of Scotland. When I escape the metropolis of Selkirk, I head to Argyll, winding by lochs and mountain passes to the Mull of Kintyre, to catch the ferry, first to Islay, and then finally, after eight hours of travelling, to the Isle of Jura in the Inner Hebrides.

Laphroaig Distillery on the southmost tip of Jura’s neighbouring island of Islay may be on the same latitude as Stow in the Borders, 15 minutes on my drive northwards on the A7 from Selkirk, yet flying to Colombia would be quicker. But that’s the point. Perhaps that’s why George Orwell chose Jura to write 1984, calling the island “extremely ungetatable”. You first glimpse the Paps of Jura from the ferry. And that’s when the feeling hits you: you’re going home, and leaving the world behind.

Jura is precious that way. Its land, people and way of life feel as constant and ancient as the Paps, or the raised beaches, stacks, arches, caves and thousands of red deer on the island’s uninhabited west coast. There’s a pub where everyone knows your name, Jura whiskies to try, and craic lasting until closing time – and often beyond it.

It’s a life that most who see it would fight to save, and miss when it’s gone. I don’t expect it’s any different from the way people feel about Kirkcaldy, Elgin, Cumnock, or Castlebay. Nor even Tashkent, Lima or Phnom Pen. This is simply my spot: the place I love.

For their holidays, the Broons left their tenement flat in 10 Glebe Street, Auchentogle to visit their but ‘n’ ben somewhere in the Highlands, where Paw forgot the key, Maw swept out the sheep, Hen fell into a bog, a bull chased Daphne, and the Bairn misheard Granpaw. Find your but n’ ben, wherever it may be in Scotland, and go there often. I think that’s the best advice any travel magazine can give. Here’s a few places to start…

The National Trust’s new 2012 holiday brochure is out, introducing An Gearasdan, Glenelg, an eco-friendly timber property sleeping up to ten people, with stunning views over the Sound of Sleat, and perfectly placed to explore the west coast of Scotland’s wild and remote scenery.

Further north in the picturesque Inverewe Garden is the Garden Lodge, described as “a gardener’s paradise”. Sleeping up to six people, the cottage is an ideal base to explore the Inverewe Estate.

Amid the tranquillity and freedom of Perthshire’s unspoilt landscape near Dunkeld, Laighwood Holiday’s three- and four-star self-catering properties – Wester Reichip, Leduckie, Craigton and Craigend – offer everything from a cosy hillside cottage to the magnificent former west wing of the Laighwood estate’s 19th century shooting lodge.

Less than an hour from Glasgow, where gentle rolling Lowland hills meet the wilder, dramatic Highlands beside Loch Lomond’s spectacular shores, lies Inverbeg Holiday Park, one of only a handful of five-star self-catering cottages in the Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park. See the website below to view their luxurious properties within Luss Estate’s 40,000 breathtakingly beautiful acres.

At Large Holiday Houses (LHH), choose some of Scotland’s finest self-catering farmhouses, villas and mansions region by region – from a stunning thatched cottage for two on the Isle of Skye to a castle sleeping up to 20 in Dumfries and Galloway ideal for weddings and parties LHH offers a bespoke service to all its customers, helping them select the most suitable holiday home for their requirements.

• Visit www.nts.org.uk, www.laighwood.co.uk, www.lussestates.co.uk, www.lhhscotland.com