Showing posts from November, 2016

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…


Edinburgh is Scotland's capital city and a global icon. The list of world-famous attractions is impressive: Edinburgh Castle, the joint World Heritage Sites of the Old and New Towns, Edinburgh Zoo, The Royal Mile, Arthur's Seat... and the list goes on. Nowhere else in Scotland comes close to its breathtaking architecture, and there's a depth of history here that larger Glasgow can only dream of. And Edinburgh's striking cityscape seems in perfect harmony with the spectacular natural landscape. Extinct volcanoes are everywhere, making up a number of the city's legendary seven hills and rising 251 metres above sea level at rocky Arthur's Seat. It's easy to forget that Edinburgh has expanded to reach the ocean too, with Portobello Beach and the Port of Leith both only a short bus ride from the centre. The city does feel like it's owned by tourists at times - particularly during summer. And for a few weeks during August, fervour reaches new heights with th…

Calton Hill

Edinburgh has one of the most spectacular cityscapes in the world, and Calton Hill is one of the best places to see it all from. A rocky outcrop right at the heart of the city, the summit is sprinkled with an impressive array of monuments and buildings of its own. If the natural high point of the hill isn't enough for you, you can pay to ascend a further 143 steps to the top of telescope-shaped Nelson Monument for even better views.

Name: Calton Hill ★★★★☆
Location: Between Regent Road & London Road, 15-min walk north-east of Edinburgh Waverley station, G.R.: NT 262742 ///stands.shin.found
Anything else? Free parking is available on some of the surrounding streets outside working hours.

Name: Nelson Monument★★☆☆☆
Description: 100-foot monument built in memory of Admiral Lord Nelson commemorating his victory (and death) at the Battle of Trafalgar. Views from the top; small exhibition below.
Location: South side of Calton Hill summit, G.T.: NT 263741 ///career.memory.proof
Open (2018):…

Walk: Toil & trouble beyond Shakespeare's Dunsinane

"Macbeth shall never vaquished be, until Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane hill shall come against him." So said William Shakespeare in Macbeth, in which the summit features as the title character's castle. There are indeed some impressive ramparts, but they're the remains of iron age hill forts, no doubt providing the inspiration for the playwright. A deep cleft separates Dunsinane from a broad ridge leading to Black Hill and King's Seat, with the latter reached by toiling across heather on only intermittent paths. If that seems too much like hard work, the first section to Dunsinane is a pleasant leg-stretcher on a good path. But you'd be missing out on some excellent views across the Sidlaw Hills and beyond.

Name: Walk: Toil and trouble beyond Shakespeare's Dunsinane ★★☆☆☆
Length: 7 km / 4 miles
Ascent: 380 metres
Main summits: Dunsinane (310 metres); Black Hill (360 metres); King's Seat (377 metres, sub-2000')
Start / finish: Track junction on m…

Walk: Blairgowrie - Cargill, Covenanters & Caterans

Above Blairgowrie the River Ericht passes through a shallow, wooded gorge. Scenery and history have colluded to create a charming stretch of riverside path. The fast-flowing burn allowed a chain of mills to develop along its banks, now either derelict (but attractive) shells or stylish residential properties. The most dramatic section of rapids is Cargill's Leap, where local covenanter and minister Donald Cargill apparently jumped across the foaming waters to escape government troops. In the 1960's, foolhardy souls attempting the same feat led to the council blowing up the rocks around the narrowest part to make it more obviously impossible; nevertheless, it's still a dramatic spot. Later on the route uses the Cateran Trail to climb The Knockie for excellent views. This long distance footpath is named after Highland raiders who used to wreak havoc in the area; on our trip the only marauding party was a noisy flock of migrating geese.

Name: Walk: Blairgowrie - Cargill, Cove…

Tantallon Castle

Tantallon Castle is all about scale. Its huge size makes this one of the most impressive fortresses in the Scottish Lowlands, with a four metre-thick curtain wall protecting a large inner ward. Built by William Douglas in the mid-1300's, custodians Historic Scotland describe it as "Scotland's last great medieval castle", starkly defensive and almost completely lacking windows. On approach the clifftop castle looks one-dimensional, but crossing the bridge and passing through the single entrance portal reveals several subsidiary buildings and three great towers built into the curtain wall. Steps - lots of them - go all the way to the top for great views over the site and out towards Bass Rock.

Name: Tantallon Castle★★★★☆
Location: Off the A198 3 miles east of North Berwick, G.R.: NT 596850 ///bagpipes.guilty.declares
Open (2018): Daily
Cost (2018): £6 (adults), £3.60 (children), free for Historic Environment Scotland members

Walk: Quids in at St Baldred's Cradle

East Lothian was once home to St Baldred, a Northumbrian monk who came and founded a monastery at Tyninghame in the 8th century. He lends his name to nearby St Baldred's Cradle, a gorgeous headland on the north side of the (Scottish) River Tyne. An intimate, idyllic coast path winds through mixed woodland (and around less idyllic WWII tank traps) before continuing to the exposed tip of the headland. There's an ancient cairn here along with great views across to Bass Rock, where the saint spent his later years in a remote hermitage. An expansive beach at Ravensheugh Sands rounds off the route, best explored when the tide's low. All in all, well worth the cheeky parking charge recently imposed by the local council.

Name: Walk: Quids in at St Baldred's Cradle ★★★☆☆
Length: 5 km / 3 miles
Ascent: 40 metres
Points of interest: St Baldred's Cradle & coast; Ravensheugh Sands
Start / finish: Car park (with a charge) at minor road end 3 miles east of Whitekirk, G.R.: NT 626…

Seacliff Beach

Half a mile of flawless sand, distant views of a ruined castle perched above lonely cliffs, silence only interrupted by breaking waves and cries of seagulls overhead... Seacliff is a perfect example of a remote Highland beach. Except it's in the Lowlands, just 20 miles from Edinburgh. A lack of facilities and a small charge for vehicles (access is by a private road) keeps visitor numbers low, but it's a bewitching spot for those in the know. A tiny, rock-cut harbour on the west side, rock pools and the dramatic hulk of Bass Rock dominating the view out to sea add to the attraction. High tide completely covers the beach and also cuts off access to the harbour and adjacent headland, so time your visit carefully.

Name: Seacliff Beach ★★★★☆
Location: Access from the A198 at Auldhame Farm, 3 miles east of North Berwick, G.R.: NT 605845 ///flocking.worldwide.dunes
Anything else? Last mile to the beach is on a rather muddy private road with a small entrance fee - bring coins.

Loch Venachar

If you're heading into the depths of the Trossachs from the east side, leave some time in your itinerary to pause at Loch Venachar: a popular sailing destination with great views for the rest of us. Ben Ledi and the Menteith Hills provide barriers to the north and south, so access is from the east or west. The A821 cuddles the loch's north bank for a mile or so, with a couple of parking areas providing access to the waterside. For the ultimate escape, the south side has a cycle track for its whole length - hire a bike from nearby Wheels Cycling Centre at Gartchonzie.

Name: Loch Venachar ★★★★★
Location: G.R.: NN 571055 ///photo.instance.roost
Anything else? Various parking areas on the A821 along the north bank, or on the minor road to Loch Venachar sailing club on the south-east side.

Tullibardine Distillery

An abandoned retail village backing on to the A9 dual carriageway probably isn't what you'd imagine when picturing a Scottish whisky distillery. But Tullibardine Distillery easily predates the shops and its location actually makes a lot of sense: nearby spring water from the Ochil Hills, good transport connections to distribute its product, and the site's previous use as a brewery as far back as the twelfth century. The shopping centre closed around 2014, but Tullibardine have since pounced on the available space and are currently undergoing major expansion. The friendly standard tour crams a lot into its rather short 45 minute duration.

Name: Tullibardine Distillery★★★☆☆ Location: B8081, west side of Blackford village, G.R.: NN 895087 ///crows.stealing.output Open (2018): No info available on website at time of update, but daily in 2017 Cost (2018): £8+ depending on tour type

Linlithgow Palace

Chief amongst Linlithgow's attractions is its huge palace, an architecturally striking building on the site of an earlier castle. Parts date to 1424 and much remains intact despite the roof being missing. The courtyard is an impressive place, surrounded by walkways linking grand rooms and ranges on all levels. James V, Mary, Queen of Scots, and Princess Elizabeth were all born here, with the building's active use only coming to an end as the result of a major fire in 1746.

Name: Linlithgow Palace★★★☆☆
Description: Majestic ruined palace and the birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots, overlooking Linlithgow Loch.
Location: Kirkgate, Linlithgow town centre, G.R.: NT 002774 ///hotels.ruling.galaxy
Open (2018): Daily
Cost (2018): £6 (adults), £3.60 (children), free for Historic Environment Scotland members

Walk: The Brack... and beyond

The Brack is an craggy peak steeply overlooking Glen Croe and the Rest and Be Thankful road pass. After an easy start on gentle forest tracks, the absurdly steep qualifying scramble at the start of the hill path proper is a brutal reminder that you're in the jagged Arrochar Alps. Beyond the summit lies a partly pathless but attractively undulating ridge to the south west. This conveniently intersects with the Cowal Way for a straightforward return route. 3 km of road walking at the end can be varied by using scenic (but less direct) forest paths beside Loch Long and the River Croe.

Name: Walk: The Brack... and beyond ★★★★☆
Length: 13 km / 8 miles
Ascent: 940 metres
Main summits: The Brack (787 metres, Corbett)
Points of interest: Loch Long; Croe Water
Start / finish: Car park on the A83 just north of Ardgartan, G.R.: NN 270037 ///drag.supported.harp

Route: Car park - start of hill path at NN 253040 - The Brack - south west ridge (or similar route) - Cowal Way at NN 234018 - Coilessan Gl…


Ayr is a key hub for southwest Scotland and a good place to visit in all weathers. It's not exactly the first destination you might think of for a day out, but the town offers a long beach, excellent shopping and an historic centre - almost like a west coast version of Aberdeen, but without the oil industry and usually a few degrees warmer. Many of the old parts aren't well publicised so have to be sought out. The 15th century Auld Brig across the wide River Ayr is still open to pedestrians, just off the High Street; medieval St John's Tower is the only remnant of Ayr's original parish church. For a more touristy, leafier contrast, head to Alloway on the south side of town where Robert Burns was born.

Name: Ayr ★★★☆☆
Description: Large town with historic Auld Bridge (open to pedestrians) and attractive centre, slightly set back from a long beach front.
LocationG.R.: NS 338218 ///verge.customers.majority
Anything else? Free parking can be found towards the sea.

Within wal…