Posts

Showing posts from May, 2016

Inchcailloch

Image
Loch Lomond is peppered with dozens of islands ranging from Inchmurrin (the largest) to those barely large enough for a single tree. Beautiful Inchcailloch is the most accessible, a very short hop by frequent foot ferry from Balmaha - or less frequently from other departure points. Most of the island is densely forested (with swathes of bluebells and wild garlic in late spring), but the trees relent around its high point to reveal superb views over the loch and into the depths of the Highlands beyond. A couple of hours should be sufficient to explore the summit, sandy beach at Port Bawn, and the ruined church and graveyard - all on clear paths. A useful map board a few hundred metres up the path from the northern jetty shows you where to go.


Name: Inchcailloch ★★★★☆
Location: On Loch Lomond near Balmaha, G.R.:  NS 411903 / hood presenter safari

Bachelors' Club

Image
Connections with Robert Burns ooze from every corner of this region, but there's no better place to begin a Burns tour than the Bachelors' Club. The ground floor of this unassuming, village centre building was Tarbolton's watering hole during the 18th century. In the upper room accessed by an exterior staircase, the yet-to-be-famous poet founded a debating club, was initiated into the Freemasons and learned to dance. Following various uses over the decades since, the National Trust for Scotland have now restored the rooms to their former appearance, creating a small but charming attraction (and free at the time of writing).


Name: Bachelors' Club★★☆☆☆
Location: Sandgate Street, Tarbolton, G.R.: NS 431272 / fine linguists moved
Open (2017): Friday to Tuesday afternoons, early April to late September
Cost (2017): Free

Culzean Castle & Country Park

Image
For sheer variety, Culzean surely tops Scotland's long list of castles. Home to the Earls of Cassilis until the 1940's, the castle's magnificent architecture has few peers - and goes hand-in-hand with a stunning clifftop location perhaps equalled by no other in the country. Sheer cliffs drop directly from behind the castle walls to a beautiful stony beach, with miles of rock pools full to the brim with marine life. Head inland and the country park's grand scale becomes obvious, with woodland criss-crossed by shady footpaths and at least four separate car parks. Between the castle, visitor centre, walled garden, woodland, Swan Pond, massive adventure playground for kids, rock pools and bays, cannon battery, Deer Park... you get the picture... it'd be a disservice not to spend (at least) a full day here if the sun's out. Not a cheap day out, but worth every penny: and on a hot Bank Holiday Weekend, half of Scotland seems to agree...


Name: Culzean Castle★★★★★
Locat…

Walk: Impossible made possible on Buachaille Etive Mòr

Image
Buachaille Etive Mòr is the unmissable pyramid rising out of Rannoch Moor as you drive past, wide-eyed, on the A82 into Glencoe (click here for the dramatic roadside view). The name actually refers to the whole ridge, which extends for a few miles over several peaks (and two separate Munros) to Stob na Bròige overlooking the upper reaches of Loch Etive. This side of the pyramid looks a frightening prospect, but Coire na Tulaich makes the seemingly impossible possible with almost no scrambling. Epic mountain scenery throughout: rough ridges, rocky buttresses, waterfalls and summits of all shapes and sizes. And the views measure up too. Ben Nevis and the Mamores crown the northern vista, while Rannoch Moor stretches away to the east (its sheer scale fully realised from up here), drawing the eye all the way to Schiehallion's proud cone above Loch Rannoch.


Name: Walk: Impossible made possible on Buachaille Etive Mòr★★★
Length: 13 km / 8 miles
Ascent: 1110 metres
Main summits: Stob Dear…

Glasgow Botanic Gardens

Image
Glasgow's Botanic Gardens have occupied the tight spot between the Great Western Road and a meander on the River Kelvin since 1873. In the heart of the city's West End, they're predictably busy on sunny summer weekends: this is also the time of year when the colourful rose garden reaches its best. It's perhaps inevitable that they'll be compared to their verdant counterpart in Edinburgh. Do they measure up? Certainly not in absolute size, but in beauty? Very nearly. And unlike in the capital, the extensive glasshouses - the gardens' highlight - are free to visit.


Name: Glasgow Botanic Gardens★★★★☆
Location: Great Western Road, Glasgow, G.R.: NS 569674 / brings insect locate
Open (2017): Daily
Cost: Free
Public transport: Subway (Hillhead), 400 metres; bus, <200 metres

Walk: Caisteal & Chroin - Crianlarich variety show

Image
Despite an unpromising start (by a construction site in 2016), an ascent of An Caisteal together with its neighbour Beinn a' Chroin must be one of the best, most varied day walks in the Crianlarich Hills. An Caisteal (The Castle) takes the form of a rewarding ridge route, although with a bit of a slog beforehand: the summit does indeed have a fortress-like profile on the gentle northern approach. The descent ridge is shorter but much steeper with a couple of hands-on moments once the crest loses definition; this mirrored by the equally direct ascent to Beinn a' Chroin. Once you've visited all the knobbly summits (just to make sure, you know...), an easier ridge drops into the upper reaches of Glen Falloch. Wet feet nearly compulsory here: on a hot day in one of countless clear pools, on a rainy day, in bog traversed by the rather soggy path (although no problems after a dry spell).


Name: Walk: Caisteal & Chroin - Crianlarich variety show ★★★★☆
Length: 14 km / 9 miles
Asc…

Dumfries House

Image
Back in 2007 the future of Dumfries House looked bleak. The owner, the 7th Marquess of Bute, couldn't afford its cost of upkeep and the Palladian mansion was duly placed on the open market. Its furniture collection - one of the world's finest - was due to be sold separately, decimating the house's core. At the eleventh hour, a saviour arrived in the form of the snappily-named "The Great Steward of Scotland's Dumfries House Trust" headed by Prince Charles. The house, its breathtakingly opulent interiors and 2,000 acres of estate were duly saved and opened to the public, and the result is one of Scotland's most amazing man-made tourist attractions. Development of the estate over recent years has yielded a new (for 2016) arboretum on the way to the fairly recent walled garden: the grounds are now nearly as much of a draw as the house itself, although Chippendale furniture worth an estimated £20 million a piece may take some beating...


Name: Dumfries House★★★…

Ballochmyle Viaduct

Image
170 feet above the base of the River Ayr gorge near Mauchline is Ballochmyle Viaduct, Britain's highest viaduct and still used by trains on the line between Dumfries and Kilmarnock. Vegetation somewhat conceals the views of the main arch especially during summer, but also enhances the stunning location: the gorge here is a highly impressive natural feature and you should explore the maze of paths around the viaduct to fully appreciate the setting. Also look out for the ancient cup and ring marks on cliffs on the right of the path on route to the bridge. On return, from a spot close to the cup marks, a path threads its way down to the river bank for one of the best views of the viaduct. If the water's low enough you can wander upstream along the base of the gorge, with further faint trods later taking you back to the road.


Name: Ballochmyle Viaduct ★★★☆☆
Location: Off minor road at South Lodge, a mile south of Mauchline, G.R.: NS 509254 / lookout spooked heightens
Open: Always (v…

National Burns Memorial

Image
Ayrshire is full of buildings with links to Robert Burns, Scotland's most famous poet. One which is slightly more off the beaten track than most is the National Burns Memorial, Mauchline - opened in 1898 in the village near to the farm where Burns lived in the middle part of his life. A small museum in the tower is no longer open, but it's still an attractive edifice worth stopping by if you're nearby. The monument is also just down the road from the more interesting Bachelor's Club - the building in which Burns founded a debating society in his early years.


Name: National Burns Memorial ★☆☆☆☆
Location: A76, north end of Mauchline, G.R.: NS 493279 / flushes library community

Lincluden Collegiate Church

Image
This 12th century Benedictine priory is now very much in ruins, but despite being disused for at least the last four centuries there's still enough left to provide a glimpse into its past. Most of what still stands actually dates from the early 1400's, after the 3rd Earl of Douglas replaced the nuns with secular priests, citing moral decay (still applicable today, going by the rubbish on the floor...). The ornate, Gothic stone carvings around doorways and windows are probably the highlight here: a visit's easily combined with a day exploring the nearby centre of Dumfries.


Name: Lincluden Collegiate Church★★☆☆☆
Location: Abbey Lane, 2 miles north of Dumfries centre,G.R.: NX 966779 / hopes reduction candles
Open: Always
Cost: Free

Dumfries - the Burns connection

Image
Alloway is often regarded as the Robert Burns capital of Scotland: the poet was born here in 1759. But Dumfries also has a reasonable claim, for it was here that Burns spend the latter years of his life before passing away at the young age of 37. Unsurprisingly there are enough Burns-related attractions here to quench the thirst of even the most obsessive of enthusiasts. You can visit both his last residence and his resting place as well as a decent exhibition at the Robert Burns Centre, the latter reached by a pedestrian suspension bridge across the turbulent River Nith. Also take time to seek out the Globe Inn, Burns' favourite watering hole, hidden away down a narrow alley just off the main street.


Name: Robert Burns Centre★★☆☆☆
Description: Exhibition about the poet's life housed in an 18th century water mill, also home to a theatre / cinema and decent-looking restaurant.
Location: Mill Road, 10-min walk south-west from Dumfries Midsteeple, G.R.: NX 970759 / funky ignites be…

Dumfries

Image
We like Dumfries. Located a little way away from the M74 corridor through southern Scotland, it's often unfairly neglected by visitors driving up from the south who zoom straight past en route to Glasgow, Edinburgh and the Highlands. They're missing out on a town bursting with history, literary connections and charming architecture: maybe the town to visit south of the Central Belt? Its past roles as frontier town, market and major bridging point have given Dumfries more importance than its size merits alone, with numerous striking buildings and bustling High Street. What struck us over and above all this, however, was how well the town seems to be set up for tourists: no fewer than four separate museums (all free), linked by a choice of walking tours available as free booklets and leaflets at each site. They're all listed below, except for those related to Robert Burns and those not within walking distance (on a separate page, but linked to from here).


Name: Dumfries ★★★☆…

Dumfries & Galloway Aviation Museum

Image
Former RAF base and control tower, this lesser-known of southern Scotland's two aviation museums has a slight air of faded glory which puts it in direct contrast to the shiny exhibits at the more popular National Museum of Flight. And herein lies its greatest strength: you're pretty much given total freedom to wander around the entire site and inside a number of the aircraft, mostly without the distraction of safety barriers and restricted areas that might come with a more popular museum. An old control tower also houses three storeys of artefacts relating to UK (and especially local and wartime) aviation history, as well as exhibits in smaller buildings around the fringes of the site. Well worth the entry fee - and expansion is planned for the near future.


Name: Dumfries & Galloway Aviation Museum★★★☆☆
Location: Heathhall Industrial Estate, 3 miles north-east of Dumfries centre, G.R.: NY 000785 / relies tower durations
Open (2017): Wednesday to Sunday, July & August; We…

Walk: Duncarnock - from fish to fort

Image
Duncarnock is a prominent volcanic plug just a few miles beyond Glasgow's south-western suburbs. The hill isn't much to look at from most sides... except to the north, where it displays an impressive sheer cliff overlooking the reservoir of Glanderston Dam. Happily this is also the easiest side to approach from, by a path along the water's edge (with large fish leaping high out of the water when we passed by) which turns into a very short but interesting scramble on the north face of the hill. If you don't want to use hands, just climb the hill by the gentler eastern side which we returned by. Views from the summit and trig point extend far beyond the reservoir: all of Glasgow and much of the lower Clyde can be seen, backed by the Campsie Fells and Kilpatrick Hills respectively. Great views often go hand-in-hand with decent defensive qualities: indeed, the summit features faint remains of an Iron Age fort.


Name: Walk: Duncarnock - from fish to fort ★★★☆☆
Length: 1 km / …