Kirsty Wark’s favourite places in Scotland : Guardian travel interview

The broadcaster and author on her favourite views in Scotland, the drinking dens to discover and the restaurants leading the country’s flourishing food scene. Interview by Robert Hull

If I were to describe Scotland to someone who didn’t know it, I’d say it’s a place of vast lochs, gentle hills and mountains – and that it’s beautifully green. I’d add that it’s also very easy to navigate because at its narrowest, between Edinburgh and Glasgow, it is less than 50 miles wide.

Though there are places in Canada,even vistas in upstate New York, that I’ve felt are very Scottish, I’d have to say nowhere can quite compare to Scotland.

The first thing you should do – or taste, actually – when visiting is to find a whisky that you like and have a dram. There are plenty of wonderful whisky shops, particularly in Edinburgh, which can help you with your decision.

My favourite city view has to be from one end of Edinburgh’s George Street to the other. It doesn’t matter which end. I also love the view of the Glenfinnan viaduct in the Highlands. It is a wonderful piece of engineering and, of course, Scotland has bred some great engineers. Viaducts and bridges are wonderful landmarks that string the country together. Continue reading

Iceland on film: a film-inspired road trip for Guardian Travel

Reynisdrangar seen from Vik, South Iceland

Reynisdrangar seen from Vik, South Iceland

There is no best-location Oscar. But if there was, as the makers of Prometheus, Game of Thrones and Thor have recently found, it would surely go to Iceland

The sun has yet to rise but the morning light is already illuminating the reasons why Iceland is renowned for its landscape. I’m standing on a helipad in the south-eastern town of Höfn: with its harbour behind me, I can see snow-covered mountains separated by four icy tongues, each part of the enormous Vatnajökull glacier.

A few lights glow yellow-orange in windows but the main colours are sky blue, a sliver of pink around the clouds and the dark-brown mass of mountains yet to reveal their rugged detail. I’m not waiting for a helicopter; this just seemed like a good place to take in the view … sort of. The wind speed is more than 40mph – that’s an eight (fresh gale) according to Mr Beaufort’s scale – and, as I frame a photograph, the wind inflates the hood of my parka and personal lift-off feels imminent.

Despite the conditions, the drama of this view makes it easy to understand why Iceland has, in recent years, become almost as popular with filmmakers as it is with tourists. And I’m here to explore the locations that have tempted Hollywood producers. Continue reading

Neil Finn on Auckland: for Guardian Travel

Neil in studio - Tony NybergThe solo artist and Crowded House frontman on food, music and the great outdoors in Auckland, New Zealand

The city has so much character. It’s a sprawling place that weaves around bridges and harbours, and there are lots of neighbourhoods, such as Britomart, Ponsonby and Grey Lynn, where good things are happening. I love the Polynesian aspect to the city. There’s a strong Maori presence and tradition but there’s also been an influx of people from the islands, too.

Buy fish and chips and climb Mount Eden. Get your food at The Ancient Mariner and head up the nearby hill (Maungawhau in Maori). You get a great 360-degree view of the city and a volcanic crater to peer into. You can walk up or take a car … but don’t leave the handbrake off: I once saw a car roll into the crater.

One of the venues I’m fondest of is Powerstation( I played there before Christmas and it’s just one of those really good clubs – nothing when you first walk in, but with a room full of people it has a big vibe. For a more close-quarters gig, there’s the Kings Arms. It’s a good place to see up-and-coming bands, as is the Golden Dawn.

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Filmed in Iceland: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty

Ben Stiller as Walter Mitty in The Secret Life of Walter MittyIt’s not uncommon to find Iceland grabbing attention in Hollywood movies – it’s just rare for audiences to know it is Iceland. In the last two years, the country’s glaciers, volcanoes, black sands and waterfalls have lent the required other-worldliness to films such as Oblivion, Prometheus and Thor, while also featuring in HBO’s Game of Thrones TV series.

But in the Ben Stiller-directed The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, which goes on UK national release on 26 December, the island’s epic scenery gets a lead role, and this time the locations aren’t supposed to be an alien planet – this time it’s all about Iceland.

Stiller’s romantic comedy, which is based on the classic James Thurbershort story, is about a daydreamer who is forced to leave behind his flights of fancy and challenge himself by seeing the real world. The film features Iceland as an integral part of the story – a first for a blockbuster.

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John Grant on Reykjavik: for Guardian Travel

John GrantThe American singer-songwriter, 45, on his adopted home’s best restaurants, coffee and hostel – and why you should think twice before taking a northern lights tour

I first went to Reykjavik for the Airwaves music festival ( in 2011. I went back a couple of months later to record my second album, Pale Green Ghosts. After that I decided I just didn’t want to leave.

Reykjavik has a mixture of southern and northern mentality. There’s a laid-back, relaxed attitude, but also the feeling things are going to get done.

There is a lot going on in the city but you can find your own space. I love the fact that there are small shops to explore and cosy cafes to relax in.

The first thing I would do is head to Mokka ( for a coffee. It’s the place that is on the cover of Pale Green Ghosts. As soon as you open the door you can smell them making waffles. Mokka opened in 1958 and is the oldest coffee shop in Reykjavik – and it hasn’t changed. A lot of locals, and artists, hang out there. It’s a great place to start and get a feel for the city. Continue reading

Flight Behaviour by Barbara Kingsolver, book review

There is an inherent danger in creating a lead character who is trapped in boring, small-town life – the concern being the reader ends up feeling bored and downtrodden too. It’s a problem that Barbara Kingsolver creates and fails to deal with in Flight Behaviour. One of the main reason why this is a frustration is that – unlike a previous novel of Kingsolver’s, The Bean Trees – this book is long. Much too long.

This is a weighty novel about significant issues such as climate change, science, religion and media agendas. Unfortunately, it falls into the trap of using clumsy dialogue to explain these “big” topics and it’s often very difficult to engage with characters whose dialogue feels like it’s being shouted at you: “YOU, YES, YOU. ARE YOU SO DUMB?” There is a science lesson in these pages but the reality is that you don’t need to hear it told in full to grasp the concerns or understand the characters. Continue reading

Sightseers review | London Film Festival 2012

Stars: Alice Lowe, Steve Oram, Jonathan Aris, Monica Dolan, Richard Glover, Eileen Davies
Screenplay: Alice Lowe, Steve Oram, Amy Jump
Runtime 88 minutes|Directed by Ben Wheatley

Dark, deadpan, violent and very, very funny, director Ben Wheatley’s follow-up to Kill List shows exactly why a strong script and performances often defeat even the biggest Hollywood budget. Wheatley’s movie, scripted by its stars Alice Lowe and Steve Oram (with additional material from Amy Jump), is a filmic cocktail mixing Michael Winterbottom’s The Trip, any Shane Meadows film and Natural Born Killers. Yes, that sounds weird, but it’s right.

While many of its quotable lines have the potential to become catchphrases and its comic set pieces will no doubt become popular YouTube destinations, what underpins Sightseers is the creation of two lead characters who audiences will root for. And this is the case no matter how twisted or violent their adventures become. Continue reading