Showing posts from 2017

St Andrew's Cathedral (Glasgow)

Given that St Andrew is the patron saint of Scotland, it's unsurprising that he has rather a lot of churches named after him. St Andrew's Cathedral, Glasgow is one of the most beautiful: an ornate building providing a haven of tranquility despite being dwarfed by neighbouring high-rise apartments and offices on the banks of the Clyde. The cathedral dates from the early 1800's and is the mother church for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Glasgow; the interior is wonderfully light and welcoming, having benefited from a major refurbishment in 2010. Well worth a visit outside the numerous services (or attend one).

Name: St Andrew's Cathedral (Glasgow)★★☆☆
Location: 196 Clyde Street, Glasgow, G.R.: NS 591648 / today harp slam
Open (2017): Daily
Cost: Free
Public transport: Train (Argyle Street), 300 metres; subway (St Enoch), 300 metres; bus, <200 metres

Glasgow Police Museum

OK, so the design of its website is a crime in itself, but The Glasgow Police Museum is a worthwhile and little-known attraction in which to spend half an hour or so on a rainy day in Glasgow. Scotland's largest city is home to the UK's oldest police force, founded in 1779 and then again (more successfully) in 1788. Expect text-rich information boards, police uniforms from all around the world and plenty of old truncheons. Surprisingly busy on our visit: perhaps the museum's still living off the reputation bought by its "28th Best Museum in the UK, 2010" award - we don't rate it quite as highly.

Name: The Glasgow Police Museum★☆☆☆
Location: 30 Bell Street, Glasgow, G.R.: NS 596650 / sleep hits number
Open (2017): Daily, April to October; Tuesday & Sunday, November to March
Cost: Free
Public transport: Train (High Street), 300 metres; bus, <200 metres

Walk: Legless on Lui

The first time we laid eyes on Ben Lui and its snow-filled coires, it took our breath away. The popular "grab-and-go" Munro bagger's route from the north has problems with bog and a wide river to ford, also missing out on the hill's best side. Instead, approach from Dalrigh to see this graceful, formidable massif in its full glory, returning over the range's three other Munros. It's a long day: 16 miles with nearly 2000 metres of ascent meant we felt pretty legless at the end of it all. But this intensely beautiful route is well worth suffering for, taking in dramatic coires and ridges, magnificent vistas, clear mountain burns and majestic glens. Save this one for a day when the ground is dry - otherwise bog will spoil the descent through ancient Caledonian woodland at the end of the day.

Name: Walk: Legless on Lui ★★★☆
Length: 25 km / 16 miles
Ascent: 1880 metres
Main summits: Ben Lui (1130 metres, Munro); Beinn a' Chleibh (916 metres, Munro); Ben Oss (1029…

Walk: Ben Donich dash

Small scramble aside, Ben Donich is one of the more straightforward summits in the Arrochar Alps thanks to its position next to the top of the Rest and be Thankful pass. With a decent path all the way to the top, a return trip can be accomplished in a few hours in good conditions. Despite the relative ease of ascent, it yields nothing to its more awkward neighbours in terms of views. The summit cairn is a perfect place to spot many of western Scotland's natural landmarks: lochs Goil, Fyne, Lomond, Awe and the Firth of Clyde; Mull, Arran, the Cumbraes and Ailsa Craig; Ben Cruachan and Ben Nevis among others. Ben Donich's own slopes are also interesting, with a chaos of huge boulders adding drama to the higher parts of the ascent. Beware: the geology has led to deep fissures close to the path in places. Dogs have been lost down these on more than one occasion - plenty of the openings are human-sized too.

Name: Walk: Ben Donich dash ★★★☆
Length: 7 km / 4 miles
Ascent: 580 metres

Cambuskenneth Abbey

Founded in 1140, Cambuskenneth Abbey used to be a grand, rich complex with links to nearby Stirling Castle. Resident canons prayed for generations of Scottish royals, with James III and his wife, Margaret of Denmark, both buried inside the church. Most of the buildings were razed to the ground during the reformation (and in subsequent quarrying of the stone for building materials), but the ornate bell tower remains intact as well as the tomb in which king and queen were reburied in 1864 following excavation. You can still easily see how the rest of the abbey was laid out thanks to its surviving foundations; also take time to wander down to the tidal River Forth behind, with excellent views of the Ochil Hills and Wallace Monument as well as faint remains of further ecclesiastical buildings.

Name: Cambuskenneth Abbey★☆☆☆
Location: South side of Cambuskenneth, G.R.: NS 809939 / silly divisions ages
Open (2017): Daily, April to September
Cost: Free

Walk: Warlocks & rock bands - Dumyat by the corridor route

Dumyat's craggy profile when viewed from the south makes it one of the most characterful hills in the Scottish Lowlands. And yet the "tourist route" to the summit from the west misses out on all of this, crossing unremarkable grassland on a busy and eroded path. Starting instead from Blairlogie allows access to a rarely used traverse route. This ingeniously follows a corridor of grass which miraculously navigates a maze of conglomerate cliffs and rock outcrops, with superb views across Clackmannanshire's plains: admittedly requiring more effort than the other route, but visually ten times better. After enjoying the panorama at the crowded summit, head east into Menstrie Glen to pick up the Hillfoots Diamond Jubilee Way for an easy ramble back to the start.

Name: Walk: Warlocks & rock bands - Dumyat by the corridor route ★★★☆
Length: 6 km / 4 miles
Ascent: 430 metres
Main summits: Dumyat (419 metres, sub-2000')
Start / finish: Car park off A91 just east of Blairlo…


Bordering the north bank of the Firth of Clyde, Helensburgh is an attractive seaside resort with a small but busy centre and beautiful cherry blossom-lined suburban streets in springtime. The town grew up as a wealthy commuter base for dirty Glasgow in Victorian times, and still has good transport links to Scotland's largest city - though it's recently lost the ferry service to Gourock across the Clyde, leaving behind an conspicuously empty pier. Away from the coast at the top of town, Hill House is something of a pilgrimage site for fans of Glasgow designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

Name: Helensburgh ★☆☆☆
Location: G.R.: NS 297824 / later aunts fully


>> see separate post for Hill House★★☆☆ (1 mile away)
>> see separate post for Walk: Ardmore Point's birds & bays★★☆☆ (4 miles away)

Hill House

Set among other widely spaced mansions in the upper echelons of Helensburgh, Hill House is Charles Rennie Mackintosh's finest domestic creation. The architect and his wife designed almost every outside aspect (and most of the interior) of this striking building in 1902, after being approached by wealthy Glasgow publisher Walter Blackie, who needed a new home. If you've visited any of Mackintosh's other masterpieces you'll immediately recognise his clean, geometric designs all over the property. The ugly grey colour (though it looks better in the sun, as above) of the exterior was apparently specifically requested by Blackie... well, the customer's always right.

Name: Hill House★★☆☆
Location: Upper Colquhon Street, Helensburgh, G.R.: NS 300838 / defaults work rainbow
Open (2017): Daily, April to October
Cost (2017): £10.50 (adults), £7.50 (children), free for National Trust for Scotland members

Road: A702 Dalveen Pass

The scenery of the Southern Uplands is seriously underrated. Too many visitors from across the English border zoom by on the M74 bound for Scotland's cities or the Highlands. Except that leaves the roads fabulously quiet for the rest of us. The Dalveen Pass threads its way south from the motorway through the southern part of the Lowther Hills, first following the broad Lanarkshire glen of a baby River Clyde, before clinging to the edge of the Carron Valley in a long but gradual descent to Durisdeer and Carronbridge in Dumfriesshire. Parts of the route used to be a Roman Road but you'd never guess, thanks to all the bends stopping you admiring the fine surrounding hillsides. It's probably best driven (and definitely cycled) in a southbound direction: 9 miles with hardly any need to touch the accelerator on the downhill side. The narrower, higher Mennock Pass provides an alternative scenic route a few miles to the north.

Name: A702 Dalveen Pass ★★☆☆
Location (summit): A702 be…

The Garden of Cosmic Speculation

The Garden of Cosmic Speculation is only open for one day each year, but if the sun's shining and you're in the area you should make every effort to visit this unusual, quirky work of landscape art. Graceful landforms, sculptures, bridges and gardens celebrating the universe, nature and the senses are waiting to be explored, only slightly marred by hundreds of others doing the same thing. Some of it gets quite technical (the Quark Walk gets you up to speed with the Standard Model of Elementary Particles, for example), many parts are fun for kids (with curving mounds, bridges and walkways including the Snake and Snail Mounds and the Comet Bridge), while other areas are simply beautiful gardens in the more conventional sense (such as the Linear Paradise Garden). It's all spread over 30 acres of picturesque Dumfriesshire countryside bordering the River Nith, and is the brainchild of American landscape designer Charles Jencks; he also created aspects of Jupiter Artland near E…

Methil Heritage Centre

Methil Heritage Centre is one of a handful of small museums scattered along Fife's post-industrial south coast. The displays inside are smarter than the slightly unpromising exterior of the building suggests, outlining the growth of Levenmouth (the name given to the conurbation made up of Buckhaven, Methil and Leven) through the centuries and the fortunes and fates of its main industries: primarily fishing and coal mining. The museum also includes a small gallery, displaying coal mining art when we were there.

Name: Methil Heritage Centre★☆☆☆
Location: High Street, Methil, G.R.: NT 374996 / violin played civil
Open (2017): Tuesday to Thursday & Saturday
Cost: Free


Kirkcaldy vies with Dunfermline for the title of the largest town in the Kingdom of Fife. Like many of the coastal settlements on Fife's south coast, Kirkcaldy's historical growth came from fishing, coal mining and salt production. These were followed by something more unusual: the manufacture of lino(leum), popular as a floor covering until a few decades ago. These industries have all now declined but the long, winding high street (with plenty of scope for shopping) remains, giving the place its nickname: the "Lang Toun". There's further interest to the north-east. Following the underused esplanade in this direction reaches a cluster of sites to visit, dotted through old villages now swallowed up by Kirkcaldy. In the area known as Pathhead, Ravenscraig Castle is an unexpectedly substantial clifftop ruin; a little further on is the old fishing village of Dysart.

Name: Kirkcaldy ★★☆☆
Location (High Street): G.R.: NT 280914 / lame photos palm
Anything else? Central ca…

Buckhaven Museum

Buckhaven now appears to be an quiet, unremarkable coastal village, consisting of a lot of modern housing and not much tourist appeal. The small museum housed above the village library reveals that this wasn't always the case: by 1831, Scotland's second largest fishing fleet was based here before coal mining took over in the 1860's. Old pictures inside the museum show off a beautiful local beach; sadly, this was ruined by coal waste which also silted up the now non-existent harbour.

Name: Buckhaven Museum★☆☆☆
Location: College Street, Buckhaven, G.R.: NT 360982 / bills even sudden
Open (2017): Tuesday & Thursday to Saturday
Cost: Free

Macduff's Castle

Macduff's Castle is one of Scotland's more obscure ruins, named after the family who originally owned the land here. Set on cliffs above the wonderful Wemyss Caves and overlooking the Firth of Forth, it's easily reached by a short walk along the coast path from East Wemyss village. The castle was built by the Wemyss family in the 14th century following the burning of an earlier construction, and had two towers joined by a gatehouse range. Only the south-west tower has survived the wrath of the local council, who (apparently) demolished other parts of the property after somebody fell from it.

Name: Macduff's Castle ★☆☆☆
Location: East side of East Wemyss, G.R.: NT 344971 / feasted official cracks
Open: Always
Cost: Free
Anything else? Park on the seafront at G.R.: NT 342969 / audit catch overlooks. From here it's a 10-min walk to the castle on a good path with steps, passing the entrances to some of the Wemyss Caves.

Wemyss Caves

The clue is in the name of the local village, East Wemyss: "Wemyss" is derived from the Gaelic uamh - or cave. Strung along the coast to the east of the village are a series of sandstone caves. They'd be interesting to explore in their own right, but what sets them apart is their wealth of ancient carvings. The Bronze Age, Pictish and Viking periods are all represented (as well as additions from more recent visitors which act as red herrings), making up a fascinating section of coastline. Macduff's Castle is easy to visit on the same trip, and an unusually low tide made for excellent rock pooling when we were there. The usual precautions should probably be taken if entering the caves, such as wearing a hard hat and telling someone where you're going, but many people probably don't bother. Most of the caves aren't particularly deep so a torch isn't essential, though having one makes finding the carvings more straightforward. Scroll down for a brief gu…

Walk: Boozy Beinn Bhuidhe

A Munro with a brewery at the bottom? Sounds like a dream come true. Fyne Ales Brewery is perfectly positioned at the head of Loch Fyne for a sneaky tour (check in advance) or pint at the start or end of this circuit taking in Beinn Bhuidhe, a remote Munro just outside the western boundary of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park. A long, flat walk along Glen Fyne followed by a well-worn hill path has probably been the most popular route for decades; there are wonderful views alongside Allt na Faing and on the final summit ridge, but it's slow, steep going with rocky ground to negotiate further down. More recently a hydro track has appeared, snaking its way to about the 600 metre mark. It makes an easy alternative route (which we suggest using in descent, when legs are weary) at the expense of scenery: it's a truly hideous scar on the landscape, "designed" with seemingly no regard for the hillside it's been carved out of. Things improve temporarily before …