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Showing posts from June, 2016

St Mary's Church, Grandtully

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From the outside it's an unassuming, run-of-the-mill farm building. Why have Historic Environment Scotland bothered?- you might think. But first appearances can be deceiving: open the door, flick on the lights and gaze upwards. Here you'll find a magnificent painted ceiling, added to the 1533 exterior a century or so later. Portable panels explain the various sections, with death and the final judgement at the centre. Well worth the short drive from nearby Aberfeldy.


Name: St Mary's Church (Grandtully)★★☆☆☆
Location: Minor road end off A827 2 miles south-west of Grandtully, G.R.: NN 887506 / templates lows limes
Open: Always
Cost: Free

Dewar's Aberfeldy Distillery

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The area around Aberfeldy has a long history of whisky production - today, the last distillery standing is just to the east of town - home of Dewar's Aberfeldy Distillery. Fortunately a visit is much more satisfying than their horrifically designed website, which makes it comically complicated to find tour times and other basic info. In addition to the standard whirlwind tour through the production areas, tour tickets also give access to a highly impressive and extensive museum area and auditorium: if possible, visit this part before the guided tour to get the context. Potential information overload specifically about the Dewar's brand (as well known for its blend as for its single malt) probably means this isn't the best place to go for your first distillery tour, but for dedicated Dewar's fans or distillery "collectors" it proves excellent value for money.


Name: Dewar's Aberfeldy Distillery★★★★☆
Location: G.R.: NN 866496 / silk relishing leaflet
Open (201…

Castle Menzies & Mausoleum

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Castle Menzies (pronounced Ming-us, or something) is the ancestral seat of Clan Menzies, a proud mansion originally built as a Z-plan tower house in the 1500's. The thriving Menzies Clan Society has been responsible for saving the castle from a somewhat ruinous state in the 1950's: various corners are still undergoing restoration, but there are nevertheless a huge number of rooms to explore once you've watched the optional (and seemingly never-ending) introductory video. The family mausoleum is a short walk or drive down the road at Weem, housed in the village's former parish church and included in the castle entrance ticket.


Name: Castle Menzies★★★☆☆
Description: 16th century castle and ancestral home for Clan Menzies.
Location: B846 just west of Weem village, G.R.: NN 837496 / remarried bounty access
Open (2017): Daily, April to late October
Cost (2017): £6.50 (adults), £3 (children)

Name: Old Kirk of Weem (Menzies Mausoleum)★☆☆☆☆
Description: 15th century building, once t…

Aberfeldy

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A bustling town on the upper reaches of the River Tay, Aberfeldy has many ingredients for a short countryside holiday destination. Many of the local attractions are water-related: this stretch of the Tay is well known for white-water rafting, while many neighboring burns sport impressive waterfalls after heavy rain or snowmelt - the Birks of Aberfeldy is the closest example, championed by Robert Burns and easily reachable on foot from the middle of town. Local spring water also helped kick-start Aberfeldy's whisky distilling traditions, which continue just up the road at Dewar's Aberfeldy Distillery. The very centre perhaps lacks an "X-factor" - not helped by the main road running diagonally across the middle of the town square - but the variety of surrounding sights more than make up for this. The attractions continue across the 18th century river bridge - check out the full list below.


Name: Aberfeldy ★★☆☆☆
Location: G.R.: NN 857491 / promotion zeal public


Within wal…

Fortinghall Yew

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5,000 years ago, a yew tree seed sprouted in the remote glen of the River Lyon in deepest Perthshire. Astonishingly, this very tree is still alive and thriving (and apparently changing sex according to a recent discovery by staff from the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh). This is truly one of Scotland's great natural wonders; if the age is right then it could be Europe's oldest tree, though there are other contenders. The yew's notable age has already attracted tourists for millennia - yes, you read that right - and it's no coincidence that Pontius Pilate is said to have been born in the village, when the tree could have been a mere 3,000 years old. Unsurprisingly, over the centuries visitors have wanted to take home "souvenirs", damaging parts of the tree. It's probably just as well that it's now protected by a stone enclosure, even if it does slightly limit viewing opportunities. Nevertheless, this is a special place if you know the back story: a ti…

Cluny House Gardens

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Cluny House Garden isn't your typical public garden. If you're expecting perfectly manicured lawns and well-trimmed hedges, forget it. Instead, this hilltop hideaway is an intimate woodland paradise with red squirrels seemingly scampering around every turn of the twisting, narrow paths which you navigate by aid of numbered waymarkers. Himalayan plants are the garden's speciality, but the gardens also boast Britain's widest conifer. With a circumference of 11 metres, it's surrounded by squirrel feeders as well as (hopefully) the rusty rodents themselves; visit early or late in the day for the best chance of spotting them - we've never seen so many at a single location before.


Name: Cluny House Gardens★★★☆☆
Location: Off minor road 3 miles north-east of Aberfeldy, G.R.: NN 879514 / type debut ramble
Open (2017): Daily, but probably best in spring / summer
Cost (2017): £5 (adults), £1 (children) between mid-February and early November; free outwith these dates

Balloch Castle Country Park

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Balloch Castle Country Park lies just to the north of Balloch town centre, a planned landscape centred around 19th century Balloch Castle. Technically the park is (just) south of the Highland Boundary Fault and therefore in the Lowlands, but there are hints of Highland grandeur in the views across the loch from the shoreline paths. There's quite a lot to see here, and seeking out the various bits and pieces (walled garden, Chinese garden, Fairy Glen and Loch Lomond itself to name a few) is more complicated than you might expect due to the aimlessly meandering paths (who designed these?!). The expanse of open grassland in the middle of the park used to be grazed by sheep and cattle... nowadays, as the park leaflet helpfully informs you, "you're more likely to see a lawnmower". Charming.


Name: Balloch Castle Country Park★★★☆☆
Location (car park): North side of Balloch, G.R.: NS 391823 ///trappings.autumn.union
Open: Always
Cost: Free
Anything else? A scenic path along the …

Walk: Doon with the Dunoon ducks

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Bishop's Glen Reservoir is a popular local beauty spot for Dunoonites (yes, that is a thing), within easy walking distance uphill from Dunoon's town centre. Wide and shady paths set a little way back from the duck-filled waters make a circuit easy, and busy by Cowal's standards. The burn at the head of the reservoir has a bridge for a possible shortcut to the return leg; for more variety, continue up Balgaidh Burn's verdant glen with occasional glimpses of dark pools and rapids.


Name: Walk: Doon with the Dunoon ducks ★★☆☆☆
Length: 3 km / 2 miles
Ascent: 100 metres
Points of interest: Bishop's Glen Reservoir
Start / finish: Car park at upper end of Nelson Street, Dunoon, G.R.: NS 165767 / flop seaweed hounded

Route: Car park - cross burn just upstream from car park - Bishop's Glen Reservoir (south bank) - cross burn at NS 153769 - Bishop's Glen Reservoir (north bank) - start.
Terrain: Wide paths (narrower options closer to the reservoir side) with only odd steep s…

Dunoon

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The only settlement of any significant size on the Cowal peninsula, Dunoon plays an important dual role as both the regional capital and the arrival point for two ferry routes from the "mainland" Central Belt. It's a long way to get here by road alone, and the region's resulting reliance on ferries gives the town an island outpost sort of feel. The main street has that pleasant but slightly faded feel common to many Clyde seaside resorts nowadays, but still with a reasonable selection of places to stay, shop and eat: the 51st State(website down at time of update) American-theme restaurant has a large menu and even larger portion sizes, magically transforming into an Italian restaurant each evening. Up on the hill above the small pier is Castle House Museum, surrounded by attractive gardens with excellent views over the Firth of Clyde. Overall, pretty much an obligatory stopping point before you head off into Cowal's wilder interior.


Name: Dunoon ★★☆☆☆
Location: G.…

Kilmun Arboretum

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Way back in the 1930's, the Forestry Commission decided that the Cowal Peninsula's cool, moist climate provided ideal conditions to test the worth of hundreds of tree species as possible candidates of timber production. A tiny forest of each species was planted; out of the 300-ish trials, approximately half of the miniature forests have survived into the new millennium, making this a great place for a wander (unless you hate trees...). Admittedly different types of pine all start to look a bit similar after you've passed dozens of signposted groves of them, but more obviously exotic highlights include eucalyptus and monkey puzzle trees.


Name: Kilmun Arboretum★★☆☆☆
Location: Off the A880, north end of Kilmun village, G.R.: NS 164823 / items snug cove
Open: Always
Cost: Free
Anything else? The lower, waymarked trails are clear and mostly straightforward. Venture higher and the paths are rougher, steeper and overgrown by ferns in summer - beware ticks!

Historic Kilmun

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On the face of it, Historic Kilmun is simply an attractive parish church above the Holy Loch on the Cowal Peninsula. But (by little-visited Cowal's standards) this should be a fairly major tourist attraction. Why? The local area's Christian roots go all the way back to the seventh century, when one of western Scotland's earliest Christian communities was formed here by the Irishman (and later Saint) Fintán Munnu. By the 1400's, the site had also become the Collegiate Church of the Campbell Clan: several of the clan (who later became the Earls and Dukes of Argyll) are buried here in a cavernous mausoleum. The original church is no more, but the depth of history here is tangible, enhanced by an excellent visitor setup which has clearly had a lot of money poured into it over recent years. A couple of other things worth mentioning: the stained glass windows are truly stunning, and the recently restored organ is one of the only water-powered organs in the UK.


Name: Historic…

The Govan Stones

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The Old Church in the once heavily industrial suburb of Govan is the location for no fewer than 31 magnificent medieval stones. Viking hogbacks, standing stones, cross slabs and a single sarcophagus are dotted around the church in a rough clockwise loop. All have been discovered over the centuries in the surrounding area, which was once a key religious centre within the ancient kingdom of Strathclyde. The sheer size of the church is a reminder of the area's long history and former status - once distinct from that of nearby Glasgow - and a fitting place for the stones.


Name: The Govan Stones★★★☆☆
Location: Govan Old Church, Govan, Glasgow, G.R.: NS 553659 / actor former empire
Open (2017): Afternoons, April to October
Cost (2017): Free
Public transport: Subway (Govan), 300 metres; bus, <100 metres

Renfrew Museum

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Renfrew is the ceremonial capital of Renfrewshire, long overtaken by nearby Paisley in terms of status. The town centre is small but smart enough; a sentiment that could also be used to describe the museum housed in the Town Hall. The display space opened in 2012 and is themed, somewhat tenuously, around the elements of Earth, Fire, Air and Water. Perhaps worth visiting to brush up on your knowledge if you live locally - or to fill time if you're early for a flight at nearby Glasgow Airport.


Name: Renfrew Museum★★☆☆☆
Location: Renfrew Town Hall, Renfrew town centre, G.R.: NS 508677 / ocean dull nodded
Open (2017): Monday to Saturday except public holidays
Cost: Free

Walk: Smirisary's spellbinding sands

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As you negotiate the winding road west from Glen Uig on route to the start of this walk, look smug as you gaze out over the often packed Samalaman Beach. You're bound for a much better spot. A rough half-mile beyond the road end car park lies the township of Smirisary, a roadless settlement made up of half a dozen scattered houses plus several ruins. As idyllic spot as any in Moidart, sheep wandering between the shelter of the various buildings and keeping the lush grass in check. But the real destination on a hot day is the fantastic, hidden beach a further mile to the south. These miniature, secluded bays are well worth bearing the boggy approach for, carved into intimate sections by rock bands and with brilliant views in all directions. Although best at low tide, part of the beach stays dry even at high water level, so you don't need to worry too much about timing your visit to coincide with tide times.


Name: Walk: Smirisary's spellbinding sands ★★★★☆
Length: 5 km / 3 mi…