UAE mum shares love of travel and adventure with her Scottish-Emirati daughter

Alison Watt runs two travel websites that explore off-the-beaten-track spots

Alison Watt is a naturalised Emirati originally from Scotland. Photo: Alison Watt
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“I wonder what’s over there,” Ajman resident Alison Watt often asked herself when driving through sandy bylanes and winding roads in the UAE. Each time she stopped to explore those unnamed roads, she discovered quaint villages, abandoned stone houses, ancient mosques, rugged hiking trails or serene camping spots.

Originally from Scotland and now a naturalised Emirati, Watt, who has lived in the UAE for 25 years, has been documenting her travel adventures since 2013.

Her website,, lists outdoor activities, heritage areas, cultural hotspots, hidden gems and cafes with stunning views, complete with maps and visitor-friendly details such as what to see and do, and information on picnic spots and hiking routes.

“Over the years, I have met several long-time UAE residents and their visiting family and friends who had hardly seen anything in the country beyond the malls and urban spots,” Watt tells The National.

“I really began writing Glimpses of UAE to show people more of this beautiful country steeped in natural beauty, history and culture.”

She also wants to share her love of offbeat adventure with her Emirati-Scottish daughter. Growing up in Scotland, Watt says most of her days were spent outdoors – from playing in lush gardens to going on ski holidays. A large part of her own journey involves bonding with her teenage daughter in nature. Her latest venture is another travel website, In Scotterati Footsteps, which launched in 2022 and where she posts stories from trips with her daughter as they tour places beyond the UAE, from Oman and Saudi Arabia to Iceland and Scotland.

‘A few dozen houses and one police station’

Watt came to the UAE in 1999 and has lived in four of the seven emirates, including for nearly a decade on a farm in Al Dhaid, Sharjah, with her Emirati husband. As part of her work as a language consultant with the American University of Sharjah and Emirates Post, teaching English to adult Emiratis, Watt had to drive across the country, including through remote districts and forgotten hamlets.

“I have stumbled upon so many fabulous places in the UAE. A favourite was the day I discovered the lush greenery in Al Nahwa, a tiny enclave in Sharjah situated inside the Omani exclave of Madha,” she says. “Nahwa is a quaint mountainous village surrounded by oases covering an area of just 75km. There are a few dozen houses, less than 100, some plantations and one police station.”

Another memorable moment was meeting an old man in a village in Ras Al Khaimah who used to live in the ruins of an old stone house. “I met his son who gave me a tour of the house and told me how his family was restoring the village,” she says.

Other cherished discoveries include the Bin Sultan Mosque in Masfoot, Ajman, the Wadi Naqab hiking trail in Ras Al Khaimah and Khor Kalba, which she says reminds her of Scotland.

“The Bin Sultan Mosque, built in 1815 of clay and gypsum, is still in use; Wadi Naqab has some stunning rock formations; and Kalba is a haven for nature lovers with its mangroves, beaches, lakes and palm groves,” she says.

Her cross-country trips have also taken her to Burj Al Naqbi, a tower built in 1880 in Khatt, Ras Al Khaimah; Wadi Shaam, the northernmost part of UAE; and Al Mirfa Beach, west of Abu Dhabi.

‘I don’t do bling’

Each post on Glimpses of UAE is peppered with images and information that Watt researches herself by speaking to archeologists and historians, and by referencing books in libraries.

“I don't do the bling. On my site, you will find more budget-friendly, authentic and unique recommendations,” she says.

Her detailed recommendation to explore Sharjah is a case in point.

Having lived and worked in that emirate for more than 16 years steered Watt to become a certified Sharjah tour guide and compile all her intrepid journeys into an eBook. The Ultimate Guide to Sharjah, which will go into print this year, includes information about the city, including its Central and Eastern regions.

“There are walking and cycling tours and itineraries that visitors can rely on to plan their own trips,” she says. To spend an hour uncovering Sharjah, Watt recommends beginning at Al Maghfirah mosque on Sharjah Corniche, then walking across the road to the Museum of Islamic Civilisation and onward to the Art District.

“Enjoy a walk through the old alleys and buildings, and soon you’ll reach Souq Sagr. Stop over, buy some spices and tea, then head to Souq Al Shanasiyah and relax at the Arabian Tea House. You’re now in the heart of Sharjah, so continue your exploration.”

Travelling across the country, married life with an Emirati and teaching English to locals has also given Watt a close insight into the lives of UAE nationals. “Emiratis are very kind and hospitable. My students always invited me home for meals and there have been numerous instances when local families we met on picnics and parks amiably requested us to join them for tea and snacks,” she says.

“I want everyone – especially my own daughter – to be exposed to different environments just as I have been, rather than just go to malls, spend money and have a limited view of life.”

Updated: March 08, 2024, 4:55 AM