Scotland in 2014: A homecoming spectacle and plenty of sport

Date Posted: 03/01/2014

A certain vote on 18th September aside, Homecoming Scotland 2014 will engulf Scotland for an entire year, from tiny folk festivals and whisky tastings at remote distilleries, right through to massive global extravaganzas such as the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup.

Thanks to the hundreds of eclectic events planned for Homecoming, Lonely Planet has proclaimed Scotland one of the world’s must visit destinations in 2014. The country is appearing on tip lists for the year in magazines and newspapers across the globe and on TV and Radio too, with advance bookings amongst airlines, train companies and hotels all said to be noticeably up.

The aim of Homecoming is simple. The Scottish Government and the national tourism agency, VisitScotland, want to persuade some of the estimated 50 million Scots Diaspora around the world, as well as anyone else with an interest in the country, to engage with the year and ideally come and visit.

There are five central themes to Homecoming. ‘Active’ focuses on the many adventures that you can enjoy and ‘Food and Drink’ delves into the country’s world-class natural larder. ‘Creative’ meanwhile explores the nation’s vibrant cultural and arts scene, and ‘Natural’ evokes the flora and fauna of one of Europe’s wildest and least spoilt corners. Finally, ‘Ancestry’ looks into the family and historic connections of Scots and the Scottish Diaspora.

A big year for sport

Starting with the global spectaculars, the biggest event of the year - indeed the largest multinational multi-sports tournament outside the Olympic Games - will be the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

From 23rd July to 4th August a total of 4,500 athletes from over 70 countries will be competing in 17 sporting disciplines at venues across the city, from the national football stadium at Hampden, through to the brand new Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome and the remarkable SSE Hydro arena, which opened towards the end of 2013.

The great Scottish cyclist won’t be competing himself at his eponymous velodrome, but big names on the Games roster include Mo Farah and the fastest man in the world, Usain Bolt. Tickets are still available for a range of events with group options.

The other massive sporting event in 2014 will be the Ryder Cup. Arguably the biggest golf tournament in the world will see a titanic struggle between the USA and Europe at the spectacular Perthshire golf resort of Gleneagles. The respective captains, Paul McGinley of Europe and Tom Watson of the USA, won’t need to gee up their players too much given the ferocity of competition over the last few Ryder Cups.

There are a variety of ticket options, ranging from general day tickets to watch practice rounds, through to packages that include a stay at its five star hotel, which also boasts Scotland’s only two Michelin star restaurant.

Battle of Bannockburn anniversary

The most dramatic historical event in Homecoming will be the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn. This landmark battle in 1314 saw the Scots record a famous victory over the Auld Enemy and send Edward II and his numerically superior English force back across the border ‘tae think again’.

Bannockburn Live has been organised by the National Trust for Scotland. Its highlight will be the largest ever re-enactment of the battle, which was fought over two bloody days. There will also be ‘villages’ where visitors can try out traditional Scottish food and learn about the lives of the local people at the time of the Wars of Independence.

Bannockburn and the king that led the Scottish forces that day, Robert the Bruce, are very much Scottish icons. As is the world famous Forth Bridge, an utterly unique triple iron red cantilever that rose like a leviathan from the Firth of Forth in Victorian times. Its less celebrated sibling, the Forth Road Bridge, is finally going to be enjoying her own share of the spotlight this year to mark her 50th birthday.

The ten-day long Forth Bridges Festival in September will bring both the bridges alive with a multitude of events, which range from motorbike parades across the estuary span, through to an attempt to stage the world’s largest sit-down lunch.

Another Scottish icon is the fabled ‘water of life’. Scotland’s national spirit is being celebrated with Whisky Month in May, a central plank of Homecoming Scotland 2014. This tribute to all things whisky kicks off with the Speyside Whisky Festival right in the heart of single malt whisky country. The rolling hills and distilleries that crowd around Scotland’s fastest flowing river will burst alive with special tastings, open days at distilleries that are not normally open to the public, and other festivities.

The month bashes on with a multitude of events, culminating on the Hebridean isle of Islay. Islay’s Festival of Music and Malt sees open days at all eight of the island’s distilleries, as well as blind group tastings and a wild traditional ceilidh, complete with traditional music and dancing that makes the perfect finale for a group trip.

Homecoming Scotland 2014 is very much a countrywide extravaganza with events to suit all tastes. In the capital the world’s biggest arts festival, the Edinburgh Festival, will be coming under the Homecoming banner. As will the most important celebration of Gaelic culture, the Royal National Mod, which will become part of a special Highland Homecoming, a series of old and new cultural and artistic events that stretches from 9th September right through to 31st October.

Then there will be the likes of the Tweedlove Bike Festival in the Borders, the World Sheepdog Trials in Tain and the John Muir Festival, which celebrates the life of one of the most criminally unheralded Scots in history, the man who gave America its national parks.

Scotland is a destination that has always boasted myriad attractions for groups. Its appeal will rank up a notch in 2014, a year that sees the eyes of the world turn to all things Caledonian to watch massive sporting events like the Commonwealth Games and the Ryder Cup, and savour Homecoming Scotland 2014 festivities at the very castles and wild scenic locales that have long made Scotland such an attractive place to visit.

Best for Groups

Until now the deck at the top of the landmark Forth Road Bridge that hovers over 150 metres above the River Forth has been exclusively the preserve of engineers. From this year small groups will be guided right to the top to enjoy unparalleled views of the Forth Bridge (the epic Forth Bridge next door dates back to Victorian times) and Edinburgh. The first batch of tickets have been snapped up, but more are set to be released during 2014 for an experience that really sheds new light on both Forth Bridges.

In celebration of Homecoming Scotland 2014 Mercat Tours is offering a new ‘The Pride, The Passion and The People’ package, which opens up the real locations behind the myths and legends of Scotland. The odyssey sweeps over three days from the battlefield of Bannockburn to the field of Culloden, delving as it goes into the Wars of Independence, the Reformation and the fateful Jacobite rebellions, culminating on bleakly tragic Culloden Moor.

Seaplane Ride – Scotland is home to the UK’s only seaplane operation. A small group at a time can enjoy a prime window seat as you lift off from the River Clyde right in the heart of Glasgow and swoop off down-river in search of the expanse of Loch Lomond on a short sightseeing tour. Longer trips include options to swan off at 160mph for a seafood lunch in the ‘Seafood Capital of Scotland’, Oban, or an adventure even further out to the rugged mountainous island of Mull.

Pick an Interest

Golf
The John Muir Golf Challenge on 22nd April allows groups to enter a ‘Texas Scramble’ competition as a team of four. The cost is £40 per person and includes 18 holes of golf, prizes, food and a commemorative engraved whisky glass.

The eyes of the golfing world will be firmly on the famous Gleneagles golfing resort in Perthshire this September when the Ryder Cup buzzes through. Groups can nip in before the likes of Tiger Woods and Rory Mcllroy to enjoy a round or two.

Golfers with Scottish family connections have the chance during Homecoming to enter a unique tournament. To qualify for the Dean’s Scottish Clans Golf World Championships you just need to enter your clan name.

History

At the new Bannockburn Visitor Centre (opening in March) groups do not just have to settle for learning all about the epochal battle, but will actually be able re-enact it during their own mini battle on the new 3D simulator.

Scotland is famous for its swathe of castles, with 2014 breathing new life into many. On the Isle of Skye the Dunvegan Castle Summer Exhibition, launched on 26th April, will see art and artistic installations welcomed into the castle and its grounds.

Part of Homecoming Scotland 2014, the Dunfermline Bruce Festival on 12th and 13th July sees everything from jousters and jesters, through to mighty knights and re-enactments of battles, as well as, of course the great man, King Robert the Bruce, come back to the town where his body is buried.

Pictured: Culloden Battlefield, near Inverness (Photo credit Paul Tomkins and VisitScotland).

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