Showing posts from 2016

WWT Caerlaverock

The wetlands bordering the Solway Firth are a paradise for bird species. Each winter, thousands of birds descend on the fields and mud flats to over-winter here, taking advantage of abundant food supplies and a frost-free climate. The area is a National Nature Reserve covering a huge 55 square kilometres, of which a small proportion falls under the remit of WWT Caerlaverock. This was the venue for the BBC's Autumnwatch 2015; between approximately October and March it's a fantastic place to watch Svalbard barnacle geese, pink-footed geese, whooper swans, various ducks and dozens of other bird species.

Name: WWT Caerlaverock★★★☆☆
Location: Minor road end 3 miles south-east of Bankend, G.R.: NY 051656 ///outs.infinite.harvest
Open (2018): Daily, but best in winter
Cost (2018): £7.90 (adults), £4.54 (children), free for WWT members
Anything else? The rest of Caerlaverock NNR (outwith WWT Caerlaverock) is free to visit and always open, though access and viewing is less convenient.

Annandale Distillery

Annandale Distillery is a new arrival on Scotland's whisky scene... well, sort of. The site actually started producing spirit in 1830 and was later taken over by giants Johnny Walker, but closed in 1924. Fast forward nearly a century and the long-abandoned site caught the attention of a wealthy local businessman. He set about restoring the derelict buildings into a 21st century distillery; the result is a real work of art, and a perfect fusion of old and new. Tours understandably have a historical slant, making them quite different from your average distillery experience. One caveat is that production only began in November 2014: given that Scotch whisky must be aged for at least 3 years, everything inside the casks is still very young. In the meantime, tours include tastings of surprisingly drinkable new make spirit. This comes in both peated and non-peated varieties, branded as "Rascally Liquor".

Name: Annandale Distillery★★★★☆
Location: Off B722 a mile north of Annan, …

Bruce's Cave

On the outside of a river meander close to the village of Kirkpatrick-Fleming, the Kirtle Water has carved a small cave into the sandstone cliff, its interior covered in carvings from centuries of visitors. Now several feet above the water level, this cave is said to be the spot where King Robert the Bruce had his famous encounter with a spider. The story goes that Bruce hid in the cave while on the run from Edward I of England during the winter of 1306-7, desperately low on morale. He watched a spider painstakingly spinning silk, eventually succeeding in making a web after several failed attempts. The spider's persistence inspired Bruce to a series of victories over the English, culminating in the Battle of Bannockburn and Scotland's independence for centuries afterwards. Now, a word of warning: several other caves around Scotland and Ireland claim the same significance, so a little imagination might be needed here. The large spider's web spun across the cave entrance di…

Walk: Don't bash Brimmond Hill

Unfashionable Brimmond Hill forms the centrepiece of a rather scrubby country park, scarred by an ugly radio mast and - especially with the new Aberdeen peripheral route - surrounded by dual carriageways. That's the bad stuff out the way - surely there's no way back from here? Well actually, if you ignore the man-made clutter around you then there are some fine views to be had: the Granite City backed by the North Sea to the east; fields stretching away into Deeside and Donside to the west. As Aberdeen's local hill it'll always be a popular spot for walking the dog, but it's worth the easy climb even without a canine companion.

Name: Walk: Don't bash Brimmond Hill ★★☆☆☆
Length: 3 km / 2 miles
Ascent: 110 metres
Main summits: Brimmond Hill (266 metres, sub-2000')
Start / finish: Car park on minor road just south of Wynford Farm, G.R.: NJ 846087 ///

Route: Car park - Brimmond Hill - return by outward route
Terrain: Clear path, usually wide but w…

Glendronach Distillery

Glendronach Distillery is found in a remote corner of northern Aberdeenshire, and reopened in 2001 following a few years of closure. Its setting, nestling amongst rolling hills, is reminiscent of a number of Speyside distilleries - although geographically this is (probably) a Highland whisky. The Glendronach Burn runs through the middle of the complex providing the all-important water source. With picturesque pagoda chimneys here, a rather ugly still house there, warehouses pretty much everywhere, there's a real mix of buildings. The visitor centre isn't large but it doesn't need to be - the off the beaten track location keeps visitor numbers low. Our standard tour was a bit brief but nicely informal, ending with the important tasting: unusually, Glendronach uses sherry casks in the maturation of almost its entire range. Think spicy, fruity... the perfect winter warmer perhaps?

Name: Glendronach Distillery★★★☆☆
Location: B9001 a mile south-east of Forgue, G.R.: NJ 626440 //…

Walk: Descent into Hell's Lum

The gaping black mouth of Hell's Lum is an ominous sight when seen from Castle Point. Scrambling down to across Troup Burn allows you to descend into the depths of the collapsed sea cave, with a long tunnel carved out by past storms leading all the way to the other side of the headland. There's plenty else to see here too. Aside from Hell's Lum, the coastline around Castle Point features dramatic cliff scenery, a secluded sandy beach (at low tide) and excellent views eastwards towards Pennan.

Name: Walk: Descent into Hell's Lum ★★★☆☆
Length: 1 km / <1 mile
Ascent: 90 metres
Points of interest: Hell's Lum; Castle Point; Cullykhan Bay
Start / finish: Car park off B9031 a mile west of Pennan, G.R.: NJ 836661 ///fewer.dark.pursue

Route: Car park - Castle Head - Hell's Lum - Cullykhan Bay - start (or similar)
Terrain: Mostly narrow grassy paths - reaching Hell's Lum involves steep ground and jumping a small burn which could be problematic in spate. Boardwalk to acc…


Down an extremely steep and twisty road from the B9031 (which is nearly as steep) is the hidden fishing village of Pennan. A single row of houses hugs the base of the cliffs looking out over the North Sea, only protected from northerly gales by the width of the narrow main street (the only street...) and a paltry sea wall. This was one of the main filming locations for Local Hero (another being Camusdarach Beach on the west coast), with the famous red phone box also appearing on the logo for the village's only pub: the Pennan Inn. We had a meal here back in 2012, but doing a little research in 2016, it looks like the interior (and hopefully the food) has had a major refurb. Despite obvious tourist appeal the village doesn't tend to get overrun, and away from high season it's a great, if chilly, place to escape the rush of daily life.

Name: Pennan ★★★☆☆
Location: G.R.: NJ 846655 ///suave.survived.unsigned
Anything else? There's a little parking on the seafront at the east…

Walk: A fishy foray from Gardenstown to Crovie

An short but exciting coast path connects the captivating fishing villages of Gardenstown and Crovie. This is a wild section of coastline, with the thin strip of concrete path hemmed in between conglomerate sea cliffs and the chilly North Sea in places. A short section is covered at high tide, and the whole route is probably inadvisable in stormy weather, when large waves threaten even the villages themselves. Catch it at any other time and it's a perfect way to take in one of the most beautiful corners of underrated, coastal Aberdeenshire.

Name: Walk: A fishy foray from Gardenstown to Crovie ★★★☆☆
Length: 3 km / 2 miles
Ascent: 20 metres
Points of interest: Gardenstown; Gamrie Bay coastline; Crovie
Start / finish: Car park at east end of Gardenstown, G.R.: NJ 801649 ///cakes.binds.conquests

Route: Car park & Gardenstown - coast path - Crovie - return by outward route
Terrain: Short rocky beach section, then partly surfaced path with a few steps. The first section is normally (just)…


Crovie (population: not many) is a tiny fishing village a mile along the coast from slightly larger Gardenstown. An exciting coast path connects the two directly, while roads take a longer, much steeper inland route. But while Gardenstown seems to be quietly thriving, Crovie's situation seems less secure. The location, squeezed between steep ground and the wild North Sea, is desperately fragile - in fact, a major storm in 1953 destroyed large parts of the village. There's only room for a single row of cottages, and the track along the sea front barely wide enough for a couple of wheelbarrows, never mind a car. This makes it a perfectly picturesque place to wander around, but you can't help thinking that a repeat of 1953 could put the village's future seriously in doubt.

Name: Crovie ★★★☆☆ (pronounced "Crivvie")
Location: G.R.: NJ 807654 ///every.materials.match

Within walking distance

>> see separate post for Walk: A fishy foray from Gardenstown to Crovie


Gardenstown is the largest of the Aberdeenshire fishing settlements clinging precariously to the wild stretch of coastline between Banff and Fraserburgh. The village appears to have climbed up the steep hillside above the harbour over the decades, but the most charming part is still at sea level: a few rows of old cottages only protected from winter storms by a insignificant sea wall and narrow lane. Head uphill between the houses and you'll find a charming maze of back alleys squeezed in between the houses, seemingly unchanged for centuries.

Name: Gardenstown ★★★☆☆
Location: G.R.: NJ 799648 ///historic.ages.springing

Within walking distance

>> see separate post for Walk: A fishy foray from Gardenstown to Crovie★★★☆☆

Whitelee Windfarm

Whatever your feelings about wind farms, Whitelee is a eye-catching place. It's the UK's biggest onshore windfarm (and Europe's second largest), with well over 200 turbines which can produce enough energy to power 300,000 homes. The site is strung across bleak moorland yet within easy driving distance from Glasgow and Kilmarnock; it's always been surprisingly busy when we've visited - including in the middle of the night to watch a meteor shower. Start by visiting the modern visitor centre, which contains a smart, interactive exhibition as well as a café and the usual facilities. Afterwards, take a wander amongst the turbines - 55 square kilometres is easily enough to get lost so pick up a map from a leaflet box beforehand. It's a good area to explore by bike: indeed, a small area dedicated to mountain biking has also been developed here.

Name: Whitelee Windfarm★★☆☆☆
Location (visitor centre): Minor road 4 miles south-west of Eaglesham, G.R.: NS 529490 ///lamps.…

Rough Castle

One of the most easily visible sections of the Antonine Wall is around Rough Castle, the wall's best-preserved fort. 2,000 years ago the site included a bath house, granary, HQ and several other buildings although only faint earthworks exist today. More interesting are the curious oval holes found on the other side of the wall. These were defensive "lilia pits", fitted with stakes concealed amongst leaves and twigs and designed to injure invaders from the north. The Antonine Wall is also quite impressive here - or rather, the ditch in front of it, which runs east to west between the car park and the fort (and beyond in either direction). Allow up to an hour to explore the whole area and wear sturdy shoes; a burn runs through the middle of the site with boggy ground surrounding it.

Name: Rough Castle★★★☆☆
Location: East end of Bonnyside Road, Bonnybridge, G.R.: NS 843799 ///products.already.outhouse
Open: Always
Cost: Free

The Helix

Only a decade ago, the land between Grangemouth and the north side of Falkirk was an uninspiring area of underused semi-industrial land. Thanks to a huge amount of lottery and government funding, since about 2012 the space has gradually been transformed into a 350-hectare belt of smart urban park. £40 million+ has got local residents a new section of the Forth and Clyde Canal providing better access to the River Carron, 17 miles of pathways, a new lagoon and boating pond, new wetland habitats for wildlife, modern sculptures dotted around... and the magnificent Kelpies. This huge pair of mythical water horses was constructed out of stainless steel by Andy Scott and have really placed Falkirk on the tourist map; if you don't have time to stop, look out for them when driving along the M9.

Name: The Helix★★★☆☆
Location (The Kelpies): Off the A9, north-east side of Falkirk, G.R.: NS 907821 ///wings.steer.flames
Open: Always
Cost (2017): Free (one of the car parks has a charge)

Walk: A Criffel cracker - one for the winter

Isolated from surrounding hills, views from the summit of Criffel are some of the most memorable in Scotland on a clear day. Looking south, the cluster of peaks forming the northern Lake District rise majestically beyond the miles of mudflats and seawater of the Solway Firth. But the hill is a double-edged sword despite paths all the way to the top. A trawl through the internet archives quickly reveals why: this hill has a serious reputation for bog, no matter which direction you climb it from. Expect wet feet on this otherwise wonderfully scenic circuit from the New Abbey side, unless you're lucky enough to get a rare day when all the mud's frozen solid. One for the winter...

Name: Walk: Cold Criffel cracker ★★★☆☆
Length: 10 km / 6 miles
Ascent: 570 metres
Main summits: Criffel (569 metres, sub-2000')
Points of interest: Loch Kindar
Start / finish: Car park at minor road end a mile south-west of New Abbey, G.R.: NX 957655 ///clever.whiplash.lively

Route: Car park - Loch Kindar …

Walk: Grey skies at Gartmorn Dam

Gartmorn Dam is Scotland's oldest reservoir, constructed in 1713 to supply water for pumps draining a nearby colliery. The waters are an important migration destination for overwintering wildfowl long accustomed to the constant patter of dogs being taken for walks around the edges. Paths on all sides enable good viewing opportunities, while the Ochil Hills are well seen from the south bank on a clear day. Even if (as on our visit) the weather gods are against you, don't despair: bring food and the ducks will be happy even if you're not.

Name: Walk: Grey skies at Gartmorn Dam ★★☆☆☆
Length: 5 km / 3 miles
Ascent: 10 metres
Points of interest: Gartmorn Dam reservoir
Start / finish: Car park at west end of the reservoir, east side of Sauchie, Alloa, G.R.: NS 911941 ///sensual.known.doubts

Route: Anticlockwise circuit of reservoir via Sherriffyards
Terrain: Fairly wide paths, mostly flat.
Wildlife today: Mallards, gooseanders, tufted ducks, swans & black-headed gulls.
Weather today…

Pickering's Gin Distillery

Edinburgh has a notable absence of malt whisky distilleries. But there are no such problems with gin. The city's Southside is home to Pickering's, a tiny 2013 startup based in a former animal hospital-now-turned-major arts centre - err, really. The distillery, also known as Summerhall, runs wonderfully casual "gin jollies" (they're way too hip to call them tours) at all hours including weekends and evenings. The short history of the company is remarkable: basically, flowering from a seemingly unlikely partnership between a butler and a construction worker into a fully-fledged brand in three years. But with just two compact rooms to see and only a handful of staff on the payroll this is still certainly a small-scale operation. An introductory gin and tonic as well as a triple tasting to finish up no doubt makes it a popular jaunt for university students round the corner. And for inquisitive travel bloggers from slightly further afield...

Name: Summerhall Distillery…