Showing posts from April, 2013

Edzell Castle

Angus | Edzell | Edzell Castle | ★★★

Edzell Castle was built as a tower house by the Earls of Crawford in the 16th century. Numerous extensions (now ruinous) and walled gardens came in the following decades - including a cute summer house at one corner. Today, the smooth lawns and works of art still perfectly complement the sandstone castle brickwork: Edzell Castle is one of Historic Scotland's most underrated locations. I mean, how could you resist a property with semi-tame peacocks strutting about everywhere?

Location & info

📌 Edzell Castle and Garden★★★
Off minor road 1 mi west of Edzell village, G.R.: NO 585691 ///
Open daily, April to September | £6 adult / £3.60 child / free for Historic Environment Scotland members

Handa Island

Highland | Tarbet | Nature reserve | ★★★★

About a mile wide and slightly more in length, Handa Island has an illustrious history for an island of its small stature in such a seemingly remote location. With its own parliament and even its own Queen (the oldest surviving widow), the 1848 potato famine spelled the end for island life here. Since then, seabirds have ruled the roost and are the main reason for visiting today. 200,000 seabirds reside here between approximately April and July, spread across over 150 species and including 100,000 guillemots and (from mid-May onwards) decent numbers of puffins. Once the Handa Ferry deposits you at the southwest corner of the island you're free to explore the paths in either direction - they form a rough circuit over much of the island. Most of the puffins nest on a stack off the northern side of the island, visible from the main path - take some binoculars! But even without the puffins there's plenty to enjoy, including the spectacular…

Handa Ferry

Highland | Tarbet | Boat trip | ★★

For most, the Handa Ferry is really a means to an end: a way to access the beautiful scenery and 200,000 seabirds on Handa Island. But the 2 mile direct trip (more if you're on a wildlife cruise) is a minor adventure in itself, from the often bouncy crossing to the rickety wooden, portable platform that "helps" you alight on one of Handa's beaches - the exact one depends on wave conditions. Arrive early and spend a little time exploring Tarbet: an idyllic seaside hamlet, accessed by scenic lanes through craggy terrain splattered with lochans.

Location & info

📌 Handa Ferry★★
Ferry departs from Tarbet pier, Port of Tarbet, G.R.: NC 164489 ///canoe.urban.drilled
Carries: Passengers
Boats depart Monday to Saturday in "summer season" (probably early April to early September). May to July is best for puffin watching | £15 adult / £5 child for return trip

Walk: Creag na Faoilinn - all eyes on Eriboll

Highland | Loch Eriboll | Half day walk | ★★★★

Creag na Faoilinn... where, exactly? This diminutive and little-known hill probably receives fewer visitors in a year than many summits get in a day, but its views surpass those from many Munros. From the top, there are great views up Strath Beag into the heart of the wilderness between Foinaven and Ben Hope, sunlight glinting off numerous silvery quartzite outcrops. But it's Loch Eriboll to the north that takes the breath away: laid out like a map and punctuated only by the remote Eilean Choraidh. Views from the coast road have nothing on this. The side of the hill facing the road is unassailable and few visitors means no paths up this hill, but a short and pathless circuit is possible using the gentler slopes round the back.

📌 Walk: Creag na Faoilinn - all eyes on Eriboll ★★★★
Start / finish at track junction (probably space for a single car only - don't block access or passing places - or look further along the road) on A838, h…

Smoo Cave

Highland | Durness | Cave & boat trip | ★★★★

It doesn't take long to run out of indoor options around Durness during a run of bad weather days. But have you thought about heading underground? The breathtaking entrance to Smoo Cave would be a major tourist attraction anywhere further south, but its remote location has helped it remain a relative secret. The entrance is awesome: a dramatic rock amphitheatre with a 50 foot-high, 130 foot-wide "mouth" beckoning you in. From the gaping jaws of the cavern, wooden walkways lead to an interior chamber, with a waterfall clearly visible from which water from the Allt Smoo plunges into the cave. If you're lucky with the weather (and water levels), short, geological tours by boat and foot take intrepid explorers further into the depths.

Location & info

📌 Smoo Cave★★★★
Off the A838 1 mi east of Durness, G.R.: NC 419671 ///neck.lamplight.raft
First part of cave is always open. Inner cave tour: daily, April to September | Fi…

Walk: Faraid Head - Scotland or Sahara?

Highland | Durness | Short walk | ★★★

Paths radiate off in different directions from the 17th century ruins of Balnakeil Church. While west takes you to the beautiful Kyle of Durness, the route north across Balnakeil Bay takes you to another world. The rocky prominence of Faraid Head is almost entirely covered with huge sand dunes, drifting across roads and dwarfing walkers and the odd military vehicle passing below them. The northern tip is part of an MOD firing range (Cape Wrath the target), so gunfire may add another unusual dimension to exploration of the headland. It evidently doesn't bother the puffins and other seabirds nesting here during late spring and early summer. If the sand is dry and the wind is up, expect to find grains of sand in unexpected places for the rest of your holiday. And leave time for Balnakeil Bay itself - this stunning beach stretches nearly two miles at low tide.

📌 Walk: Faraid Head - Scotland or Sahara? ★★★
Start / finish at car park at Balnakeil Ch…

Ceannabeinne Township

Highland | Durness | Clearance village | ★★

Ceannabeinne in the 18th century was a radically different place. The township was once a thriving crofting community, home to some 50 people across 14 houses. After the Highland Clearances, little survived except for the poignant ruins of a few of the buildings, the same beautiful coastal views... and the history, which is brought to life in great detail and drama through a series of signboards. These and a series of wooden posts take you around a short circuit through the remains of the settlement and out to the headland beyond, from which there are great views of Tràigh Allt Chàilgeag's tempting sands to the east, and several islets littering the passage out to sea from here.

Location & info

📌 Ceannabeinne Township ★★
Access from layby on A838 3 mi east of Durness, G.R.: NC 437658 ///occupy.afterglow.revives
Always open | Free

💬 Exploring the township is by a waymarked path, just under 1 mi long across open ground.

Walk: Sandwood Bay - Britain's best beach?

Highland | Blairmore | Half day walk | ★★★★

It's an ambitious claim, but many Scots reckon that Sandwood Bay is the UK's most spectacular beach. A mile of pristine sand, backed by a freshwater loch and overlooked by the lonely, slender sea stack of Am Buachaille. Beautiful, dramatic, unspoiled... but 4 long miles of track (8 miles including the return journey) through barren moorland on foot from the nearest road is enough to put many visitors off. But you must visit if you're spending a significant amount of time in the Northwest Highlands.

📌 Walk: Sandwood Bay - Britain's best beach? ★★★★
Start / finish at car park on minor road, Blairmore, G.R.: NC 194600 ///

▶ 13 km / 8 mi | ▲ 150 m | ⌚ Half a day | ⬤ Easy
Features: Sandwood Bay
Terrain: Good track across remote moorland.

Route & map

Car park - Loch na Gainimh - Loch a' Mhuilinn - Sandwood Bay - return to start by outward route

Route credit: Scotland off the Beaten Track
On our visit


Walk: Oldshoremore foreshore

Highland | Oldshoremore | Half day walk | ★★★

The access road to Oldshoremore isn't promising: taking you past the decidedly functional fishing port at Kinlochbervie, litter and the shell of a burnt-out house lining the way on our visit. Luckily the coastline beyond soon reverts to the beauty you come to expect in the Northwest Highlands. Oldshoremore is just the start point for a trio of stunning, sandy beaches: each wilder and more remote than the last, and each separated by headlands fully exposed to the fury of the Atlantic Ocean on a stormy day. There are at least 4 car parks on the circuit. The one listed below is the quickest to reach by car, but setting off from Blairmore instead would split up the road walking - and it's also the launchpad for expeditions to Sandwood Bay.

📌 Walk: Oldshoremore foreshore ★★★
Start / finish at car park near minor road end for Am Meallan beach, half a mile west of Oldshoremore, G.R.: NC 203585 ///fine.huts.butchers

▶ 8 km / 5 mi | ▲ 170 m…

Walk: Blown away by the Kyle of Durness

Highland | Durness | Half day walk | ★★★

At low tide, the final throes of the River Dionard thread a winding route through an enormous expanse of immaculate sand. These are the Kyles of Durness (from the other side of which you can access the wild north-western tip of the UK mainland at Cape Wrath). There are several possible start points on the circuit, but setting off from the scattered buildings at Balnakeil Craft Village splits up the duller inland section. This is a beautiful stretch of coastline: with the added dimension of storm force winds when we visited, the luxury hot chocolate at Cocoa Mountain was an unlikely but very welcome sight at the end!

📌 Walk: Blown away by the Kyle of Durness ★★★
Start / finish at Balnakeil Craft Village, minor road half a mile west of Durness, G.R.: NC 394680 ///creatures.masses.splendid

▶ 9 km / 6 mi | ▲ 120 m | ⌚ Half a day | ⬤ Moderate
Features: Balnakeil Craft Village; Balnakeil Bay; Kyle of Durness
Terrain: Minor road to Balnakeil Bay then co…

Durness beaches

Highland | Durness | Beaches | ★★★

Whatever the village of Durness may lack in facilities, it more than makes up for in natural beauty. The region's coastline is pockmarked by a series of sandy beaches - stunning even (as in the photo above) at 9pm on a grey evening in April! Three of the most accessible are detailed below - two are right on the North Coast 500, so a perfect break from the tarmac. Sango Sands are close to the village "centre" and quite popular in high season. Tràigh Allt Chàilgeag is a few miles away on the winding coast road next to the abandoned Ceannabeinne Township. Previously only frequented by the opportunist passer by or well informed surfer, for the last few years it's been the site of the UK's northernmost zip line. Finally, we also feature Balnakeil Bay - perhaps the best of them all - as part of a separate walk.

Location & info

>> Golden Eagle Zip Line (not yet featured)

📌 Sango Sands ★★★
💬 Really 3 beaches divided by minor …

Walk: Ben Stack - direct (ridge) line to heaven

Highland | Achfary | Half day walk | ★★★★

In clear weather, the prominent rock line jutting out of grassland creates an easily followed and arrow-straight route directly to the top of Ben Stack, a wonderful viewpoint for the maze of lochans and wild country between here and the Atlantic Ocean. Loch Stack and the mesmerising quartzite massif of Arkle are breathtakingly beautiful accompaniments to the breathtakingly relentless ascent: mostly pathless, but it's less than three miles to the top. The short distances involved could make this hill an ideal candidate for a pit-stop on the North Coast 500... since it feels you can see most of it from the tiny twin summits. For summit baggers, the true summit is beyond the trig point, on the opposite mini-summit.

📌 Walk: Ben Stack - direct (ridge) line to heaven ★★★★
Start / finish at car park on A838 half a mile north of Achfary, G.R.: NC 297402 ///magma.wake.juggles

▶ 8 km / 5 mi | ▲ 700 m | ⌚ Half a day | ⬤ Tough
Features: △ Ben Stack (72…

Haddo House

Aberdeenshire | Tarves | Stately home | ★★★★

The spectacular stately home of Haddo House was built in 1732, wings gracefully curving as if to embrace the manicured lawns in front. Home to the Gordon family over the centuries as well as a temporary maternity hospital during World War II, a tour of the sumptuous interior is unmissable, including a large chapel and the bedroom where Queen Victoria once stayed. If you're keen on visiting Scottish castles, you'll appreciate the Giles Room, which contains no fewer than 83 paintings of them, by the artist of the same name. The long access drive through beautiful parkland will make you want to explore the extensive grounds as well.

Location & info

📌 Haddo House★★★★
Off minor road 1 mi north of Tarves, G.R.: NJ 869347 ///respected.chairs.prayers
House open daily, late March to early November; Friday to Monday, mid January to late March & early November to late December. Grounds: daily | House: £14.50 adult / £11 child / free for…

Walk: Harbouring a Portsoy dram

Aberdeenshire | Portsoy | Half day walk | ★★★

What could be a more perfect objective to a coastal walk than a stunning sandy beach overlooked by a distillery open to the public? If the whisky tour doesn't make you giddy then the scenery surely will, with a succession of rocky inlets either side of West Head frequented by seabirds, seals and even the occasional cetacean. Lovely Portsoy at the start isn't bad either - leave a little extra time to explore what the village has to offer.

📌 Walk: Harbouring a Portsoy dram ★★★
Start / finish at Portsoy old harbour (street parking), Shorehead, Portsoy village centre, G.R.: NJ 589663 ///barmaid.reception.start

▶ 9 km / 6 mi | ▲ 130 m | ⌚ Half a day | ⬤ Easy
Features: Portsoy; Portsoy to Sandend coastline; Sandend Bay; Glenglassaugh Distillery; Sandend
Terrain: Good coastal path above cliffs to distillery, with sandy bay beyond (best at low tide); track and minor road for inland return.

Route & map

Start - Glenglassaugh Distillery★★★ vi…


Aberdeenshire | Village | ★★★

Portsoy is one of the North East's most picturesque seaside villages. Its fishing heritage is not just strong but inescapable: there are not one but two harbours - a charming old stone construction separated by a rocky headland from its thriving replacement. The Scottish Traditional Boat Festival turbo-charges a reasonably popular resort into an all-out party for a couple of days each summer (26-27 June in 2021); visit during the winter months and your experience will be quite different again. A wander west along the coast path to Sandend is well worthwhile.

Location & info

📌 Portsoy ★★★
Aberdeenshire, G.R.: NJ 589661 ///foggy.wider.shallower

🚶 Coast paths extend in both directions - west leads to Sandend, but the route eastwards eventually fades to nothing. The village itself is fairly compact.
🚌 Portsoy is served by buses on the Buckie - Cullen - Banff coastal route.

See & do (<1 mi away)

>> Walk: Harbouring a Portsoy dram★★★

Nearby …

Walk: Three Brethren - where ancient lands meet

Scottish Borders | Selkirk | Half day walk | ★★★

The old estate boundaries of Yair, Philiphaugh and Selkirk come together at the top of a broad hill above what is today Yair Hill Forest. Their convergence is marked by a trio of massive cairns, constructed by the respective landowners in the 15th century. They add character to what's already an excellent viewpoint over rolling Borders hills, with the shapelier peaks of the Eildon Hills catching the eye to the east. On the way up, look out for the waterfall of Corby Linn, while Selkirk dominates views on the return.

📌 Walk: Three Brethren - where ancient lands meet ★★★
Start / finish at car park on Corbylinn Road, 1 mi west of Selkirk, G.R.: NT 454289 ///

▶ 9 km / 6 mi | ▲ 410 m | ⌚ Half a day | ⬤ Moderate
Features: Corby Linn; △ Three Brethren (464 m); Three Brethren cairns
Terrain: Tracks and paths across open ground, rougher and wet in places on the return.

Route & map

Car park - Corby Linn - reservoir - Cair…