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Showing posts from May, 2017

Review: Rabbie's Tours

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When travelling around Scotland exploring new places, we can't help but notice the popularity of guided tour companies. For many visitors this is the obvious way to see the country, be it for one day or several. But I was sceptical. Could it be fun being stuck on a bus full of strangers, shepherded around roadside viewpoints with fellow passengers getting in the way of your photos?

The answer is an unequivocal yes. Having spent a day with Rabbie's - one of the giants of the Scotland tour company scene - I can confirm that this is an excellent way to see the sights. A fixed, guided itinerary takes the stress out of holiday planning and lets you tick off must-see attractions without needing to hire a car. Read on for a trip report; all photos on this page were taken on the tour.


The west end of George Square was bathed in morning sunshine as I arrived bright and early in Glasgow city centre. It was sunny and already over 20°C (68°F) at 8 am - highly unusual for Scotland in May.…

Kilchurn Castle

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It's ruined, romantic and surrounded by stunning Highland scenery: Kilchurn Castle is your quintessential Scottish stronghold. Set on a pocket of land jutting out into the country's longest freshwater loch, Kilchurn's dramatic waterside setting rivals that of that of much more popular (and expensive) Urquhart Castle, although with no facilities. The castle was built in the 15th century as a residence for the mighty Campbell family, converted into a garrison after the 1689 Jacobite uprising. Substantial parts of the walls and towers remain, and it's well worth exploring all sides (and the steep steps to the top of the main tower) thoroughly to do this castle justice. There's also an excellent viewpoint accessed from the A819 to the south - see below for access.


Name: Kilchurn Castle★★★☆☆
Location: Off A85 2 miles west of Dalmally, G.R.: NN 133276 / mixes weekends hero
Open (2017): April to September; southern viewpoint always accessible
Cost: Free
Anything else? The cas…

Oban War & Peace Museum

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The Oban War and Peace Museum is, like a few of Oban's attractions, easy to walk right past. The museum's housed in the old HQ of the Oban Times and doesn't look like much from outside. But if it's one of those days when rain's falling and you're running out of indoor options, you won't be complaining. It's old-fashioned but free, and in fact the name rather undersells itself: most aspects of the town's broad history are covered.

Name: Oban War and Peace Museum★★☆☆☆
Description: 
Location: Corran Esplanade, Oban town centre, G.R.: NM 858303 / sardine bats deriving
Open (2017): Daily, March to late November
Cost: Free

St Columba's Cathedral (Oban)

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St Columba's Cathedral is a cavernous building dominating the north end of Oban. Built gradually over the years between 1932 and 1953, the cathedral is the mother church for the Catholic diocese of Argyll and the Isles: a huge region stretching from the Outer Hebrides in the north to Arran in the south. Probably impressive more for its sheer scale rather than its beauty, it's nevertheless well worth the short walk along the Esplanade from Oban town centre.


Name: St Columba's Cathedral (Oban)★★★☆☆
Location: Corran Esplanade, 10-min walk north from Oban town centre, G.R.: NM 855307 / plan admire breeze
Open (2017): Daily
Cost: Free

St John's Cathedral (Oban)

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Despite its central location, St John's Cathedral is easily missed on a trip to Oban, capital of the West Highlands. This sandstone and steel Episcopal cathedral dates to the early 1900's, and fortunately looks better on the inside than on the outside! The angular exterior hides an impressive, though admittedly unusual, nave and narthex; the prominent metal support columns result from funding running out during the construction of what was originally meant to be a much larger church.


Name: St John's Cathedral (Oban)★★☆☆☆
Location: George Street, Oban town centre, G.R.: NM 859304 / roughest visions fruity
Open (2017): No info online, but probably daily
Cost: Free

Castle Stalker

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Castle Stalker has one of the most romantic settings of any Scottish tower house, cut adrift from everyday life on a tiny tidal island in Loch Laich. It's possible to visit the 15th century castle - which featured as Castle Aargh! in Monty Python and the Holy Grail - via boat from Portnacroish, but a cheaper option is to view it from the mainland. A hillside viewpoint is easily accessed from the A828 at Portnacroish; alternatively, cross the Jubilee Footbridge from the other side of the estuary for a closer view.


Name: Castle Stalker★★★☆☆
Location (hillside viewpoint): Off A828 at Castle Stalker View café, just north of Portnacroish, G.R.: NM 925477 / shell darling bloom
Anything else? Details above refer to the hillside view - we haven't been to the island or inside the castle. From the café, it's a 2-min walk to the viewpoint along a clear path with a gentle gradient.

>> see separate post for Walk: Castle Argh! via Jubilee Bridge★★★☆☆

Lochgoilhead

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Occasional views of Lochgoilhead from the summits of the surrounding Arrochar Alps aren't promising: a spread of caravan parks and hotels seemingly ruining an otherwise beautiful sea loch. The reality is better: a tiny village with its tourist accommodation mostly a respectful distance away, taking little away from the stunning situation at the head of Loch Goil, itself an arm of the much larger Loch Long. And that's about it - there's almost nothing to do here apart from take in the scenery. Carrick Castle (exterior views only) is worth a quick trip, five miles away down a dead-end road to the south. Despite being just 30 miles from the centre of Glasgow as the crow flies, Lochgoilhead is as remote a location as many elsewhere in the Highlands. Steamer services have long ceased, so the only access is by a choice of two winding, single-track mountain passes - no doubt hairy in winter.


Name: Lochgoilhead ★☆☆☆☆
Location: G.R.: NN 200013 / shipyards miles pounce

Crarae Garden

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Billed as a "Himalayan glen", Crarae is an absolutely gorgeous forest garden on the banks of Loch Fyne. Lady Grace Campbell created the site in 1912, sourcing trees, flowers and shrubs from China, Tibet and Nepal via her nephew and plant collector, Reginald Farrer. Several waymarked trails explore the hilly site, which straddles a burbling burn complete with small waterfalls and gorge sections. The red path covers the highlights (also incorporating the shorter green and yellow trails), with the steep white and blue routes visiting eucalyptus forest and a viewpoint for Loch Fyne. Look out for red squirrels too.


Name: Crarae Garden★★★★☆
Location: A83 just north of Minard, G.R.: NR 986972 / mile land meanders
Open (2017): Daily, but probably best late spring / early summer
Cost (2017): £6.50 (adults), £5 (children), free for National Trust for Scotland members

Auchindrain Township

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In the early 1700's, most of Scotland's population lived in small, self-sufficient and rural communities, surviving largely on a meagre diet of dairy products from cattle and locally-grown crops. Then from around 1750 to 1850 came The Clearances: landowners "improving" the productivity of the land by replacing people with sheep, driving tenants onto tiny crofts or even to emigration. Townships dwindled but, amazingly, Auchindrain survived until 1967 when the final family moved away. Only a year later the remains of the scattered settlement re-opened as an open-air museum with over a dozen buildings, today surviving in various states from rubble to fully restored cottages. A slick visitor experience is delivered by a portable tablet which you carry around the site, equipped with map, GPS system and info about each house and area of the township; we also had an informal tour guide in the form of the museum's cat, which followed us into each of the buildings. It…