A chat with Calum Mcnee

Stills and Hills


Tell us about yourself and what you do – what’s Stills and Hills all about and why did you set it up?

After 20 years in Tourism, helping to grow and develop the successful tour company Rabbie’s, I decided it was time for a different challenge. I wanted to get back to a more hands- on job, personally meeting and guiding my guests around Scotland, providing them with a unique and personalised experience of the country. I picked my favourite areas of tourism to focus on – Whisky tours and Hiking trips – hence Stills and Hills. Most of my tours are based around whisky – distillery visits, tastings and unique whisky moments like my Scenic Daily Dram.  However even within the first two years I have diversified into many other specialist areas – from Outlander themed trips to textile and yarn tours.


What trends are you seeing in the demand for experiences like this?

The move to small group touring seems to have accelerated over the last few years with ever increasing number of small, independent tour operators coming into the market. The focus is very much on delivering high- end, personalised experiences and working with small groups allows the flexibility to adapt to the clients’ interests. Small operators like myself are focusing on particular types of tour, specific areas of the country or even distinct types of clients. This move towards many operators offering more specialist services is, for me, very positive as it raises the quality of experience for the visitors, although it can be more difficult to for the traditional travel trade operators to work with.


Where do your guests mainly come from and what do they enjoy most about the tours?

The bulk of my clients so far have been from North America – obviously a key market for Scotland but also one in which many of our visitors are wealthy enough and prepared to spend their money on personalised tours like mine. Whisky tours are very popular too in the Scandinavian markets but they are more budget conscious and, for them, day trips are more common than longer tours. It’s almost always the scenery and natural beauty of Scotland that makes the biggest impression. I think many visitors are surprised by how much space we have and how unspoilt so much of the country is. They are also very pleasantly surprised by the quality of food available throughout Scotland.


Scotland aspires to becoming a global food tourism destination – what do you think about this?

Personally, I think it is almost there already – in the quality and choice available. There’s no shortage of excellent food and drink options available throughout Scotland.  However, the general international perception is still that food and cooking in Scotland are not of high quality, and it’s very rarely mentioned as a reason for coming here. The exception, of course, is Whisky, which is a prime interest for many of my guests and always of at least passing interest to the rest. The biggest challenge for Scotland’s food industry is to change the long held and very persistent view that Scottish (and British) food is not exciting.


How will you be celebrating Scottish Food & Drink Fortnight?

I’ll be on tour with a couple of small groups from the US, showing them the best of Scottish scenery, history and eating out. I’ll be making reservations in advance for many places as it’s not always been easy to get a table at the best places this summer – a sign of success, but also demand exceeding supply at busy times.

And, of course, since the company is Stills and Hills there are always a few samples of Single Malt Whisky in the back of the bus to be savoured at some suitable point enroute – the Scenic Daily Dram has become an essential part of any tour!