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FOUR SEASONS: AN APPETITE FOR ADVENTURE

Published: The Scotsman (TSMag) 16 July 2011

I WAS momentarily nonplussed, the other day, to receive a package from Martha Bryce, the food and drink PR for Visit Scotland. I am by no means a food and drink writer. In fact, I’m about as gastronomically illiterate as they come. Last year, for example, in a travel story about the Italian ski resort of Sella Nevea, I made passing reference to the quality of the food at a certain mountain-top restaurant – the one and only time I have ever tried to describe a meal in print. On reading the results, my wife instructed me never, EVER to write about food again unless I promised to have my words carefully vetted by Gaby Soutar prior to publication. For a few seconds, then, I wondered if Martha at Visit Scotland had mistaken me for someone else. But no – it turns out it really was me she was after.

The mystery package contained a copy of Visit Scotland’s new book (or perhaps booklet – it’s only 50 pages long – I’ll leave you to ruminate on how long a booklet has to be before it becomes a book) entitled Appetite for Adventure: A Gastronomic Guide to Scotland’s Great Outdoors. Written by freelance travel journo Lucy Gillmore, and with atmospheric accompanying photography by Chris Watt, it aims to point outdoors enthusiasts in the direction of places supplying top-quality tucker within easy reach of the beaches, hills and rivers they tend to congregate around at weekends, during school holidays or whenever they happen to have blagged a day off work en masse because the snow’s good/surf’s up/river’s full/sun’s shining. Ten different itineraries are suggested, from tackling the Four Abbeys Cycle Route in the Borders (via Millers butchers in Melrose and the Teviot Smokery near Kelso) to canoeing through the heart of whisky country along the River Spey.

Gillmore’s book(let) doesn’t set out to be encyclopaedic – the ten routes are merely intended to provide – ahem – a taster of what’s out there. Inevitably, though, it will provoke cries of, “How could you possibly leave out restaurant x?” Or “What about cafe y?” That was certainly my reaction. So, in case Visit Scotland ever decides to produce a new, expanded edition of Appetite for Adventure (An Even Bigger Appetite for Adventure, perhaps?) I would humbly suggest they take a look at some of the following. (And to save Gaby the trouble of editing this, I will keep my descriptions of food to an absolute minimum.)

It may not enjoy a prime position on the town’s main drag, but for apres-ski dining in Aviemore, The Old Bridge Inn takes some beating. With its cosy lounge and shelves lined with mountain-related literature, there’s no better place to nurse your windburn after a day in the ‘gorms. Also in its favour: good, wholesome food (and plenty of it), some fine, locally-brewed beers and a surprisingly good live music programme.

A shoo-in for the best place to go after climbing Goatfell on Arran: the eighteen69 restaurant at Auchrannie House Hotel, just outside Brodick. Happily, it recently scooped the prestigious Eat Scotland Silver Award so there’s no need for me to witter on about the quality of the grub. Great setting, though, in a big glasshouse overlooking the hotel gardens.

Any list of surf-side eateries, meanwhile, should feature the Tempest Cafe at Thurso, just a short walk from the end of the pier – a vantage point which allows you to stare straight into the eye of the barrel at Thurso East. Also of note: the St Vedas Hotel at Coldingham, where if you’re lucky enough to snag a table by the window, you can keep an eye on the surf.

Of course, the adage about food tasting better outdoors holds true. Not even the most elaborate indoor banquet can compete with dining al fresco. Case in point: a meal I enjoyed on the Cairngorm plateau a couple of winters ago with mountain leader Chris Wilson. After slogging up to our campsite on what must have been the mildest, sunniest February day since records began, we spent several sweaty hours digging a snow hole. The emergency ration packets of meatballs and pasta Chris cooked up that night wouldn’t have won any awards, but they are still the best thing I’ve ever tasted.

• Appetite for Adventure can be downloaded free of charge from www.visitscotland.com/surprise.

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