Spring Travel: the Chaotic Scot on her car(e)-free sustainable ethos of exploring the islands

Job title It depends who you ask. I am commonly pigeon-holed as an influencer, but my answer is travel writer or travel blogger; I plan itineraries too and have a small online shop with my own range of beanie hats.
Exploring Easdale.Exploring Easdale.
Exploring Easdale.

How did you get started? I’ve always loved to travel and to write, it just took me a while to find my readers. I started my travel blog in 2013 as a way to document my adventures and share my new-found love for Scotland. I’d been very complacent about what was on my own doorstep until that point.

In the years since then, I’ve explored Scotland extensively and grown an online community who are inspired by my solo adventures and island-hopping escapades on public transport.

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​What sparked your love of writing? As a child, I was obsessed with books, more so than toys. I’ve always enjoyed my own company and felt most content when lost in the pages of a book. It brought me adventure and escapism, and it nurtured my vivid imagination and the immersive writing style I have today.

Kay Gillespie aka travel blogger the Chaotic Scot.Kay Gillespie aka travel blogger the Chaotic Scot.
Kay Gillespie aka travel blogger the Chaotic Scot.

You don’t drive, so what problems does this present with irregular public transport services? In some places, local buses don’t run on Sundays, but it’s never affected my trips because I always plan in advance and create an itinerary which fits with the public transport.

Friendly interactions, local stories and a bit of banter from the drivers is more common on bus services in rural areas than in big cities – particularly the West Coast!

The bus drivers on the Citylink and West Coast Motors route between Glasgow and Campbeltown – here’s a shout-out to Drew and Jamie! – are absolute gems and will often give me a wave and a toot when they’re passing.

Any big ideas on how to make tourism in Scotland more sustainable? I’m on a mission to inspire more car-free travel for both non-drivers and drivers, inspiring the latter to just leave the car for a day for a short break and experience Scotland by bus or train. Not only is it more environmentally friendly, it also encourages a slower pace oftravel – and I genuinely lovesitting and daydreaming over the passing scenery.

The Isle of Iona.The Isle of Iona.
The Isle of Iona.

I’m launching a new project this year to focus on all of the above... watch this space.

A more even dispersal of visitors throughout the year could help ease peak season over-tourism in certain areas. I’m always shouting about the vibrant beauty of autumnal Scotland and the cosy vibes over winter.

As a blogger, where is the most Insta-friendly place in Scotland?To me, Scotland is much more than a pretty face or perfect square on Instagram, but there’s certainly no shortage of picture perfect locations. Glen Coe is an obvious one, but I love the lesser-known locations – the West Highland peninsulas, mid-Argyll, the Moray Coast, the Isle of Coll, and Easdale Island.

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How do you go about devising an personalised travel itinerary? Is it different for visitors from overseas?

I have a detailed questionnaire for my itinerary clients to help with that. I do my best to match the experiences they are looking for with the perfect locations, accommodation, eateries and activities, etc. It’s very much dictated by how much time they have, how they are planning to get around, and their style of travel.

Overseas visitors tend to lean more towards the obvious tourist hotspots and will be travelling for longer, while people in Scotland are more inclined towards short breaks, unique places to stay, and the best places to eat.

As a history geek, do you have a favourite figure from Scottish history, and do they loom large in your travels? It has to be Mary Queen of Scots, who became the Queen of Scotland at just six days old. She was considered charming and popular by many, but became a controversial character due to her religious beliefs... and choice of husbands.

When I was a tour guide, I enjoyed telling her story, despite the sad and gruesome end to her life. Many places I’ve visited on my travels in Scotland have a Mary claim to fame – she definitely got about!

You’re a fan of quirky glamping. What and where is your favourite so far, and what would be your ideal? I love staying in the Mongolian yurt on Gigha. The Boathouse on Arran is really special, beautifully hand-crafted by [renowned local furniture maker] Max Worthington – the roof is the former Holy Isle ferry.

If there’s a wood-burning stove, fairy lights and sea views, I’m a happy lassie. ​

Your favourite island? And which one is next on your horizon? Iona is my favourite place in the whole world, it’s just so peaceful and idyllic.

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I have a three-night sailing trip around the Inner Hebrides planned with the luxury, family-run Majestic Line Cruises and I’m staying in a cottage on Muck for a whole week this summer.

You once worked in a whisky shop. What is your favourite single malt, and where would be the ultimate Scottish location in which to enjoy a dram? Unsurprisingly, island whiskies are my favourite; I love a peaty dram. If I had to choose just one, it would be Lagavulin 16 and there’s nowhere better to drink it than on Islay itself.

Although a close second would be an alfresco dram, sat on the sand dunes at the north of Iona, while the sun is setting over the sea. That’s all speaking from experience, of course.

Life file

Born and raised I’m an Edinburgh girl and I currently live in Leith, but I’m often travelling away around Scotland; The best of both worlds.

Education I went to Holyrood High School, took a (five-year) gap year, then graduated with a first-class honours in tourism management and marketing.

Family I have a very small immediate family; I’m an only child and an only grandchild, on my mum’s side.

First job 6VT Youth Cafe on Victoria Street Edinburgh was one of my favourite haunts as a teenager, and they hired a few of us as waiting staff.

Hobbies My life revolves around planning adventures and my next meal!

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Favourite holiday A girls’ holiday to Croatia (my favourite country after Scotland), when the international travel restrictions eased after lockdown. Being abroad had never felt so good.

Personal motto Always be true to yourself and do what makes you happy.