Finding the ideal present for your loved ones is no easy task: all that “will it fit?” and “will they like it?” angst. So a neat solution can be gift tokens or ‘pay-ahead’ treats – but finding something special for each person needs a spark of inspiration.
There’s no doubt that after the exhilaration of the bright and cheerful year-end festivities, it’s good to have a treat to look forward to in the weeks ahead which can sometimes seem long and bleak.
A ticket for an event or booking for a meal, even a date for a walk in the countryside, are easy – and very successful – options as a future gift. And there is nothing better than checking in for a gourmet weekend or luxury spa break at the end of a humdrum winter week.
Not all gift tokens need to cost a lot of money – after all just spending time with a friend or loved one is a precious gift. And a simple invitation presented in an imaginative way can be a triumph.
However you can be more ambitious with your pay-ahead treats and this year I’ve come across some rather nice niche ideas that you can book in advance and wrap up as a gift token.
In the summer, I went on a foraging walk with one of Edinburgh’s top chefs, Paul Wedgwood. It entailed a morning down at Tyninghame in East Lothian discovering the plants of the hedgerows and the coastal fringe and learning which of them we could eat.
We explored the flavours of these often overlooked plants and were warned sternly of those to avoid at all costs. Foraging has become trendy so taking expert advice seemed sensible and this is an inspiring way to get started.
My eyes were well and truly opened when we returned to Paul’s cosy Royal Mile restaurant for a seven-course feast created with the plants we had been learning about.
It was also a lovely excuse to walk beside the sea and explore a new stretch of the coast. Each time I head to the East Neuk, I remember that I keep promising to walk the Fife Coastal path. I know people who each January sit down to decide when they will meet that year to walk another section of the path.
Working out the logistics of overnight stays, car parking and bus or train times is part and parcel of the experience. Next year should see the opening of the train station at Leven, which will give ‘Coastal Pathers’ another option as they plan their walks.
Observing one pair of walkers as they close in on their shared goal has been fascinating and next year they will complete the 183km challenge – when they have worked out the logistics to ‘do’ the pesky Balmerino to Newburgh section.
For those who have already notched up the Fife Coastal path, the Fife 191 circular tourist route was launched this autumn. Similar to the NC500 and other Scottish driving routes, the 191-mile circuit highlights 22 locations with a mix of fishing villages, castles, golf courses, delicious food and Instagrammable locations.
Personally, if I can’t be beside the sea, I love to get up high. I’m fascinated to see the landscape from a perspective that we don’t normally enjoy and whether it’s a trip up the Cairngorm Mountain Railway or the Wallace Monument, it’s an invigorating way to get out and about.
A treat for me this autumn was visiting the new Port of Leith distillery in Edinburgh. I’ve watched the eight-storey whisky distillery inch up beside the Royal Yacht Britannia over the last few years. In particular, on walks during the pandemic, it kept me entertained as the steelwork emerged from the waters of the dock.
The top-floor bar, with a well curated whisky collection and enticing food menu, serves up the most amazing views of the port, city and across to Fife. Drinking in the scenery, with a Lind & Lime G&T from Port of Leith’s sister distillery is the perfect way to relax after a tour of Scotland’s first vertical distillery.
It’s a great addition for the Leith waterfront which already has the Britannia and a selection of independent restaurants, bars and places to stay. If floating the night away appeals, you can stay in the Art Deco-inspired Fingal or the newly restored Ocean Mist at the Shore. A landmark in Leith since the early 1980s, Ocean Mist is now a boutique hotel.
Another way to blast away the January blues is with a burst of music. Celtic Connections – Glasgow’s annual folk, roots and world music festival – runs from 18 January to 4 February. There will be 2,100 musicians from around the world performing in 18 days of concerts, ceilidhs, talks, art exhibitions, workshops and free events.
Knowing that you can’t now get tickets for Taylor Swift at Murrayfield in June, there are other events to book up for. I’ve already been signed up to the Royal Edinburgh
Military Tattoo by young cousins and no doubt the Royal Highland Show and Edinburgh’s festivals will draw me back.
For sports fans, the 152nd Open golf at Royal Troon in July or the World Athletics Indoor Championships at the Emirates Arena in Glasgow in March, might be just the ticket.
If you fear you won’t have had enough of seasonal celebrations after Hogmanay, then the answer could be a trip to Shetland for Up Helly Aa.
Lerwick celebrates its Viking roots and the turning point of winter as the light returns after the long dark days. There are marches around the town before the famous torch-lit procession and the dramatic burning of a long boat.
Having had a sun-drenched weekend in Shetland in August, a ticket back to see this iconic event is certainly on my bucket list. And if you can’t make Lerwick’s own fire festival, there are another dozen across Shetland before the end of March.
January is a great time to tick off your New Year’s resolutions. Acquiring a new skill is a perennial promise I make myself, but there are times when it takes someone else to book you up and make you take the plunge.
Read any adult eduction website or creatives’ social media and there are plenty of courses around. Jewellery making, drawing, upholstery or furniture upcycling come to mind among the practical things that could be wrapped up as a pay-ahead present.
Last winter, I bounced back from a bout of flu for a weekend scriptwriting course. I’ll probably never write a movie or TV script but it was a good tonic and has given me a fresh insight into what goes into making the films I watch.
After a recent visit to the Scottish Goldsmiths Trust’s annual exhibition – Elements: A Festival of Jewellery, Silver and Gold – I’ve also found myself thinking about jewellery making and whether I might have the skills to craft an heirloom. However, I’m not so sure after coming across my feeble attempts at stained glass from an enjoyable term at night school.
There was plenty of inspiration for gifts – ready made or bespoke – on show at Elements, where jewellers and silversmiths showcase the talent that is at work across the UK. It brought it home just why jewellery is so often the physical gift of choice.
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