Scottish Food and Drink Adventure Guide

Whether you're hitting the trail on your bike, Munro-bagging up north, or just wandering around in the wilderness, Scotland has plenty of great food and drink to grab on the way

Feature by Peter Simpson | 04 May 2018

Your friends love the white-knuckle thrill of a kayak ride, but you’ve harboured a fear of the water since Jaws. Your pals insist on going climbing, even though they all work in offices and have the fitness and manual dexterity of… well, office workers. You believe that your leisure time should be spent eating delicious food, not chewing on mud thrown up by the cyclist in front. Buddy, we feel you. That’s why we’re here to turn this adventure guide into a culinary whirlwind around some of the Scottish food and drink greats that lurk beyond the cities. Yes, there is a Scotland beyond Edinburgh and Glasgow; it has amazing booze, great restaurants and bars, and seafood like you wouldn’t believe.

Breweries and Distilleries

One of the great things about Scotland is that wherever there are wide open spaces and rugged terrain to traverse, there tend to be a few folk holed up in a stocky old building knocking together something delicious and alcoholic. In extreme sports country, the Cairngorm Brewery in Aviemore runs hour-and-a-half long daily tours Monday to Friday, and can arrange a look around the brewery at weekends given enough notice. In the northeast, the Brewdog brewery in Ellon takes you through the vast ’Dog machine including a glimpse at their grain-to-glass spirit distillery Lone Wolf. Not only do the Black Isle Brewery offer regular trips around their organic brewing operation, but they also host the Jocktoberfest beer and music festival every September to cap off festival season with a slice of far-north exploration. Does that make up for the fact that the Black Isle is not technically an ‘isle’ at all, rather a peninsula? Yes, we believe it does.

Over on Harris, the Isle of Harris Distillery live up to their ‘social distillery’ moniker by throwing the doors open to the public six days a week. You can either go for an organised tour that takes in the full scope of the operation behind one of our favourite gins, or you can simply pop in for a coffee in the communal cafe and a nosey around a selection of goodies from producers from across the Island. Ideal if you wind up on an extremely onerous bike ride round Lewis and Harris and decide you fancy a G&T and/or a scone. Then of course there’s the whisky, and a distillery to complement most selections in our adventure calendar. Doing the Three Peaks challenge? Hike across for a look around Ben Nevis Distillery. Off to the World Stone Skimming Championships? It’s just a hop, skip and *plop* to the Tobermory Distillery. Off on your bike? Dalwhinnie Distillery is just round the corner from Laggan Wolftrax's twenty miles of purpose-built mountain bike trails. Trust us, you aren’t short of options.

Foraging and wild food

When it comes to going off-piste on a foodie adventure, foraging is a great way to combine a walk in the hills with some useful ingredients for your return to normality. In one sense, foraging is as simple as grabbing a bag and a guidebook; even in the big cities, wild areas of grass and shrub play host to a range of edible fruits and herbs. In another sense, it is an arduous and often literally fruitless task that requires a bit of logistical forethought, a working knowledge of botany and the patience of a saint.

We’ll start with the rules. Scotland’s Outdoor Access Code gives you the all-clear to forage wild food for your personal use, providing you treat the environment with respect and don’t go around trying to sell your wares afterwards. You also can’t uproot any plant without the owner’s permission (the knack of taking fruits without wrecking the scene is where your botany reading comes in handy), and if you’re on a nature reserve or Site of Special Scientific Interest, you’ll need permission from Scottish Natural Heritage before you go a-foraging.

Provided you can stick to those guidelines, there are some quick wins to be found. Among the more straightforward forages to aim for on a sunny day in or out of the city are wild garlic (chive-like herbs that you’ll smell a mile off – they make for a banger of a pesto); seaweed (found on beaches and outcrops across the coasts, there are dozens of varieties and none of those native to Scotland are poisonous!); and soft fruits like brambles and blaeberries. Mushrooms are also plentiful, but require a bit more care in both handling and identification. Thankfully, there are plenty of resources out there to help you get started – Scottish Natural Heritage and Forest Harvest both offer easy-to-follow guides to the basics of mushroom picking and eating, but the usual rules of ‘don’t eat anything you can’t definitely identify as edible’, and ‘be considerate of the habitat and nearby wildlife’ will set you on the right path.

Seafood and extremely secluded pubs

If you want to head out of the cities but still want to keep the comfort of having someone make your food for you, there are a number of interesting spots to keep in mind. Oban may be the jumping-off point for a whole host of island adventures, but the legendary Green Seafood Shack is well worth sticking around on the mainland for an hour or two. While everyone piles onto their ferries, you can watch from the harbour with a brilliant selection of locally-landed seafood; any fish fans passing through will be sure to tell you about it on their return, so you may as well join the club.

It’s a similar deal at the Uig Scallop Shack on the Isle of Lewis; excellent seafood in a wild location, combine this with the gin distillery from earlier and this notion of ‘adventure’ becomes a lot more foodie-friendly. Kicking things up a notch, Loch Fyne Oysters provide a chance to crack into some of the freshest oysters you’ll likely get your hands on – the farm celebrates its 40th anniversary on 12-13 May with a series of events and a chance to get up close and personal with the process that leads up to the classic ‘shuck, slurp and get a bit down your shirt’ manoeuvre.

Of course, if you really want to go on a proper adventure, there’s always The Old Forge at Knoydart, the most remote pub in the mainland UK. When we say remote, that’s not just standard journalist’s bluster, we really mean it – there’s no road in, so your options are a seven-mile ferry ride from Mallaig, or a 15-mile hike. Once you reach The Old Forge, the phone signal dies away, the pub wifi goes off at 6pm, and all you’re left with are beautiful views, the peaceful background hum of nature, and a pub’s worth of beer to get stuck into. Now that’s the kind of adventuring we can get behind.