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How Scotland's coasts and waters influence our food and drink tourism

VisitScotland is highlighting the unique influence coasts and waters have on Scotland’s larder and hailing the tourism industry’s dedication to the foodie experience.

Published: September 23, 2021
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The national tourism organisation has been championing the Scottish food and drink scene since it was set up over 50 years ago.

As we mark the Year of Coasts and Waters 20/21, the team at Visit Scotland say that the reputation of Scotland’s produce has never been stronger.

Research shows that, pre-pandemic, visitors spent around 20 per cent of their expenditure on food and drink – contributing around £1 billion in the Scottish economy.

Two thirds of Scotland’s visitors think quality food is an important factor when deciding where to go on holiday and are prepared to pay up to 15 per cent more for produce of Scottish or regional origin.

The Scottish Tourism Alliance and Scotland Food & Drink recently revealed a new army of regional food tourism ambassadors as part of Scottish Food & Drink Fortnight and several have distinct links to our coasts and waters.

Emma Clark, who runs Thistle Award winning Glenegedale House on Islay, is one of the new ambassadors and thinks it is Scotland’s coast and waters that make our food and drink experience one of a kind.

Along with husband Graeme, they took over the guesthouse in 2014 and fully embrace the produce and way of life offered by being an island-based business. They think the well-being created by living next to the sea is invaluable.

Emma said: “Our coasts and waters can offer unique experiences that nowhere else can.

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“You can forage for seaweed and make the most amazing gin cocktails, rake for cockles and cook them on the beach. Meet the fishermen right off the boat as they catch the freshest lobster, crab and langoustines or the divers that dive for the scallops.

“The most important thing our coasts and waters do is create experiences most of which cost nothing, create memories, and give us stories to tell for years to come.

Jo Nicol, who runs Drift Cliff Edge Café near North Berwick, East Lothian, a fellow ambassador, agrees and believes Scotland is unrivalled when it comes to the combination of food, drink, and scenery.

Jo and husband Stuart diversified their farm business three years ago into the café which is located inside a refurbished shipping container perched on a cliff.

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They wanted to take into account the stunning coastline stretching along their arable farm in East Lothian opening it up to the public so they too could enjoy the ever-changing colours of the sea, the impressive Bass Rock and the beautiful Fife coastline opposite.

The café was a huge success, welcoming around 80,000 visitors in its first year.

Starting small with a simple coffee and cake offering, they realised their dream to expand their food offering this June by introducing mackerel and salmon to the menu along with wonderful fresh vegetables, oils and seasonal fruits, sourced within East Lothian where they could, reaching out to other areas of Scotland where needed.

Research shows that, pre-pandemic, visitors spent around 20 per cent of their expenditure on food and drink – contributing around £1 billion in the Scottish economy.

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Visit Scotland

Not only that but during the last lockdown they also became a sought-after location for those in East Lothian who wanted to smell and experience the fresh sea air with many commenting on how much this had helped them mentally.

Jo said: “I know at Drift we often hear customers talking about our location.

“To be able to sit and eat and drink whilst looking out to sea is an incredible experience that you don’t get in very many other places.

"Since we have expanded and they are now able to eat produce from the very sea in front of them, it only adds to the experience.

"They are confident the food is fresh, local, sustainable, and delicious. Knowing that we have helped make this a reality for our visitors makes us feel incredibly proud.

“Scotland has a wealth of produce stretching right across it from the finest seafood to the fresh mountain waters but more than that, they are a draw to the many visitors looking to explore the most breath-taking scenery we have to offer.

“Here in East Lothian, we get many people stumbling on our stretch of coastline, amazed at what they see and blown away by what they eat and drink from local, sustainable sources.

"They leave with memories and a desire to return, which many do and that can only be a good thing in boosting and promoting all we have to offer far and wide.”

Both Jo and Emma have found that during the pandemic, visitors have become eager to discover more about where their food and drink has come from - once travel was possible again - connecting to Scotland’s coasts and waters and view it as a big part of the holiday experience.

Emma said: “We receive wonderful feedback every day from our visitors regarding food and drink on the coast.

“The whisky, gin, rum and beer of course, we cannot forget that. Without our rugged coastline we would not have the diverse taste and flavours that can be enjoyed overlooking the most magical bays.

"Seeing where your food came from, where it grew and roamed makes you feel good about the produce, knowing how we respect and appreciate our larder here in Scotland makes our produce taste even better.

“The best bit is watching guests try something new and enjoying the experiences of these textures and flavours provide.

"Learning how to eat and cook some of our produce, techniques, and the chatter over trying new things makes magical moments and brings people back year after year.

Jo added: “To have our coasts and waters highlighted has helped a lot of people explore them in all sorts of ways that they may not have done before.

"We have had customers ask regularly about paddle boarding, kayaking and other ways to get out on the water to experience all it has to offer.

“It’s helped to engage people with food and drink sourced from around our coasts and within our waters to appreciate the abundance of produce found and produced from them with many now more appreciative of what we have right here on our doorstep.”

"Learning how to eat and cook some of our produce, techniques, and the chatter over trying new things makes magical moments and brings people back year after year.

Jo Nicol,

Marie Christie, head of development events industry at VisitScotland, said: “Scotland’s food and drink has long been a jewel in our tourism crown, and our coasts and waters play a key role in shaping the country’s incredible larder.

“There has never been a more important time to support local food and drink producers and businesses – to support traditional skills and food heritage, lessen the food miles, and help boost the economies of the local communities in which these businesses are based.

“The Year of Coasts and Waters 20/21 encourages visitors to dive into the amazing food and drinks experiences on offer and celebrates them through exciting virtual and now in-person events.

“In the wake of Covid-19, it is important that people support local businesses, and Scotland’s coasts and waters are ready to welcome visitors, serving stunning scenery, mouth-watering food and drink or a totally new experience.”

Fiona Richmond, head of regional food at Scotland Food & Drink, added: “Scotland’s bounty of world-renowned food and drink owes so much to the country’s coasts and waters.

“From langoustines and crabs to Arbroath Smokies, trout and mussels, seaweed and scallops to and salt, whisky, trout and much more, Scotland has it all.

“The continued success of our sector industry depends on the production, selling and serving of this wonderful, precious produce, and the Year of Coasts and Waters 20/21 is a perfect way to remind us of this”

There are lots of food and drink experiences linked to the Year of Coasts and Waters 20/21 to be found across Scotland.

Food and drink trails and experiences

The Arbroath Smokie Trail - This trail was launched earlier this month and brings together five locations around Arbroath and Auchmithie to tell the story of the Arbroath Smokie. Visitors can learn about the famous fish dish that has received worldwide recognition for its unique process and flavour.

The Malt Whisky Trail - This is a great way to experience whisky to its fullest. The trail covers the Speyside region and takes in active and historic distilleries, as well as the Speyside Cooperage. There is also the upcoming Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival which is full to the brim with fun events celebrating Scotland’s national drink.

Foraging Fortnight – Taking place until 25 September, it offers a range of in-person and virtual events across Scotland including multi-day outdoor experiences, seminars on food policy and a range of great foraging walks focusing on plants, seaweed, and fungi.

The Coig - This driving route is overflowing with food and drink stop-offs to enjoy. Its website offers inspiration from cosy coffee shops and pubs to whisky distilleries and fine dining.

Johnnie Walker Princes Street – This new whisky experience offers a deep dive into ‘the water of life’ where visitors can learn about Scotland’s national drink. Located in Edinburgh, it features a rooftop cocktail bar and several tours to choose from.

Argyll Taste Trails – There are five trails to choose from here, with one focused on spirits and beer and another on seafood. Visitors can use interactive maps and read the blogs to make the most out of their visit to the area.

For more Year of Coasts and Waters 20/21 inspiration visit the Visit Scotland website.

Known for cake making, experimental jam recipes, Champagne and gin drinking (and the inability to cook Gnocchi), Rosalind writes for The Scotsman on all things food and drink related as well as hosting Scran, The Scotsman's food and drink podcast.

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