Boris Johnson’s Scottish holiday plans were interrupted when he was spied glamping on the Applecross peninsula.
It was an unusual holiday for the prime minister. He is more accustomed to controversial trips to luxurious villas on Mustique than staycations that involve irritating a Wester Ross farmer by pitching his tent on his land.
But the coronavirus crisis has meant this summer has been a strange one for everyone. So, we conducted an unscientific survey of how our politicians spent the Holyrood recess.
Trips to California and even the Western Isles were cancelled but MSPs did try to have as much fun as they could under the circumstances.
One Cabinet Secretary’s holiday to Lossiemouth was interrupted by the sight of Boris Johnson flying into Kinloss on his mission to save the Union. Another senior member of Nicola Sturgeon’s team enjoyed some cold-water swimming.
A third member of the Cabinet tried her hand at gold panning. One MSP made jam and elderflower champagne.
And there was a televisual achievement of sorts with a government minister managing to watch all 86 episodes of The Sopranos.
Read on to find out who did what and where.
How MSPs tried to make the best of a Covid summer
David Stewart, Labour MSP for the Highlands, admitted he was “a bit down in the dumps” when his plans for a Californian summer were spoiled by the coronavirus.
His son Andrew, 33, is a neuroscientist at University California Davis and Mr Stewart and his wife Linda were very much looking forward to making what has become an annual trip to the USA since he relocated there four years ago.
“It was obviously sad and very difficult for us because we were really looking forward to seeing our son. We miss him a lot,” Mr Stewart said.
The Labour MSP had also been looking forward to visiting the “picturesque” state capital of Sacramento. But the family had to make do with the equally picturesque attractions of Nairn and Ullapool. With their flight and accommodation costs refunded, Mr Stewart and his daughter Kirsty visited the Ceilidh Place in Ullapool.
Despite the disappointment of the Californian cancellation, the Stewart family felt “lucky” to be able to enjoy such a beautiful part of Scotland on their doorstep.
Of the 23 MSPs based north of the Forth who responded to our survey, the North East Conservative MSP Liam Kerr proved to be the furthest-travelled MSP this summer, making the long journey to Suffolk for a staycation.
Coronavirus-related constituency work meant he made a late decision on where to go. He eventually settled on a converted railway carriage in the old sidings of Brockford Station, near Stowmarket. He left his Aberdeen home before there was any sign of the resurgence of the virus which led to the city being put into local lockdown.
Nestling next to a barley field, the carriage was a base for trips to Cambridge to go punting. Mr Kerr’s penchant for water-based activities was also evident on a visit to Thorpeness to row a boat round a Peter Pan-themed lake – presumably on the look-out for Captain Hook and the crocodile. The Kerrs also enjoyed the Southwold Pier and travelled to Aldeburgh to pick up fresh lobster and crab for their tea.
“A wonderful part of the country, which we shall return to again soon,” Mr Kerr remarked.
His visit coincided with the start of Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Eat Out to Help Out scheme, which, as a loyal Tory, he took advantage of.
His Conservative colleague Donald Cameron was a little more… err…. conservative when it came to his holiday destination. Mr Cameron stayed at home in the Highlands taking his children fishing, swimming and hill walking.
“After lockdown, it was just so revitalising to be outdoors and free to let off steam away from Parliament,” said the MSP for the Highlands and Islands.
But perhaps the prize for the heartiest homebased holiday should go to the Green MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife Mark Ruskell who went on an “epic” three-day cycling and camping odyssey with his 10-year-old son Alastair.
According to his account of the expedition from Dunblane to Aviemore on Facebook, it had been a decade since he had done something similar. So his old kit was taken out of the attic.
Then the intrepid duo set off on their adventure, biking around 40 miles a day, taking them to Killin, Kenmore, Pitlochry and a River Garry campsite where they feasted on foraged chanterelles. Then there was the long climb through Drumochter, down to Dalwhinnie past the Insh Marshes to Aviemore.
“Always a sign of a good trip when three days feels more like three weeks. The wee man was phenomenal, hauling himself and his kit all the way,” said a proud father. They got the train back.
Finance Secretary Kate Forbes proved to be another hardy soul. She did not stray far from her Highland home, but the SNP MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch did some “cold water swimming” and trekking.
A particularly memorable walk was with her sisters Hannah and Sheona, with whom she lives, to Redpoint near Loch Torridon.
Her Cabinet colleague Fergus Ewing enjoyed the delights of the Lossiemouth Silver Sands Caravan Park where he and his wife Fiona were pictured with the facility’s manager, Mike Clappison.
Lossiemouth is pretty close to home for the Inverness and Nairn MSP, who normally goes to Orkney, Lewis or south of the border.
Mr Ewing could not escape from politics completely, as he happened to be near Kinloss when the prime minister flew into the barracks on a work trip to publicise the UK Treasury through the furlough scheme during the coronavirus crisis.
But Mr Johnson’s flying visit to sell the benefits of the Union failed to impress the Rural Economy Secretary, who was unable to resist a dig at the prime minister.
“We were, believe it or not, quite coincidentally near Kinloss when his plane – with union flag on tailplane – came in to land,” Mr Ewing said. “That’s the Tories for you. Always up in the air – out of touch!”
Another of the MSPs to stay at home during the crisis was Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie. The North East Fife MP did, however, make it to Anstruther with his wife Janet for supper “at the famous fish bar”.
Mid Scotland and Fife Tory MSP Murdo Fraser was another home bird, although he did mention that he had managed to climb his 200th Munro – Buachaille Etive Mor, Glencoe.
On the summit of Buachaille Etive Mor, my 200th Munro. Looking north to Ben Nevis and the Mamores. pic.twitter.com/RRFLuZofDK
— Murdo Fraser (@murdo_fraser) July 11, 2020
Highlands and Islands MSP Maree Todd of the SNP stayed at home in Strathpeffer, remarking that “taking a wee picnic on a bike ride has been a very simple pleasure”.
Runs in the hills with her dog Cooper were also a feature, as were trips to Rosemarkie beach. For the first time “in decades” she found the time to make jam and elderflower champagne (sounds delicious).
“Hopefully that means we will be able to get the taste of summer for many months ahead” she added.
“The foaming stream, deep-roaring, fa’s, o’erhung wi fragrant-spreading shaws” of the Birks of Aberfeldy was one place visited by North East Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald.
The beauty spot immortalised by Robert Burns was one of several picturesque Scottish destinations visited by Mr Macdonald and his wife Sandra.
Their summer also involved excursions to Fort Augustus and Glenfinnan, some consolation given that they decided to cancel their usual holiday visiting old friends in the Western Isles.
Highlights included the Caledonian Canal, the Falls of Foyers on Loch Ness, local seafood and visits to Crieff and Pitlochry.
“Physical distancing had an impact on what we could do, but it didn’t stop us enjoying the hospitality of the Highlands,” Mr Macdonald said.
The SNP’s Alastair Allan, MSP for the Western Isles, managed a trip to Harris, having not ventured much further than the Stornoway Co-Op during lockdown. He also visited the Borders and Edinburgh and enjoyed a two-day walk along the Solway Coast. “Nothing exotic,” was his description of his break.
Labour MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife Alex Rowley enjoyed spending time in North Kessock, sampling the delights of “a few local hostelries along the way”.
“Other than that my free time was spent on my allotment and, I can say, this has been a good year for growing food,” he said.
Gold panning at the Highland Safaris Red Deer Centre, near Aberfeldy, was an activity enjoyed by Shirley-Anne Sommerville, the Social Security Secretary, during her break.
Also during her stay at a self-catering cottage in Kenmore, the SNP Mid Scotland and Fife MSP tried her hand at archery.
A mafia crime drama marathon
Moray MSP Richard Lochhead of the SNP managed days out to the “stunning locations” of Cullen and Rosemarkie as well as his local beaches.
“I always feel blessed to live so close to the coastline and being able to escape for a few hours sometimes on the bike,” Mr Lochhead said.
Given his duties as Higher Education minister and the “incredible amount” of constituency casework relating to the pandemic, he admitted that it had not been easy to find time off.
Nevertheless, he had managed to read late in the evening as well as “watch all 86 episodes of The Sopranos” – the mafia mobster drama series.
The Tory MSP Alexander Stewart for Mid Scotland and Fife said there had been “no time to switch off”. His four-day staycation in Pitlochry involved virtual parliamentary committee and Holyrood bureau meetings. But he and his wife enjoyed a long weekend in Edinburgh.
Labour MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife Claire Baker visited the Japanese Garden at Cowden, near Dollar, and had a few days in Oban, which included a day trip to Mull.
Highlands Tory MSP Jamie Halcro-Johnston spent time on “costa del Orkney” where he has friends and family. He could also be seen at the Grange Cricket Ground, Edinburgh.
All that Orkney Lib Dem MSP Liam MacArthur did was to go south to Edinburgh to catch up with his brother and do some DIY in his flat. But as he remarked: “Time at home in Orkney at this time of year is not too shabby, though.”
Gillian Martin, Stewart Stevenson, Graeme Dey and Maureen Watt of the SNP were among the many people who did not venture from home this year, as was Alexander Burnett of the Conservatives.
Never mind, there’s always next year – if someone finds a vaccine.