Showing posts from March, 2015

Camera Obscura & World of Illusions

City of Edinburgh | Old Town | Camera obscura | ★★★★

"5 jam-packed floors of fun", asserts the website of this popular building on the Royal Mile - which is also jam-packed with tourists over the summer months. Edinburgh's Camera Obscura & World of Illusions also has a surprisingly long history: the Camera Obscura (a sort of giant pinhole camera) part of the attraction was born in 1853, making it the capital's oldest purpose-built tourist site. The remaining floors offer up a kaleidoscopic collection of optical illusions and other exhibits from a mirror maze to 3-D holograms, all deftly designed to bamboozle and amaze; these tricks of light and amusing special effects pander perfectly to children, though it has some appeal for all other ages too. Climb up to the rooftop terrace for excellent views across large parts of the city, including a grandstand view of the entrance to Edinburgh Castle. Our only reservations? We've already mentioned the peak season crowd…

Holyrood Palace & Abbey

City of Edinburgh | Old Town | Palace, abbey & gallery | ★★★★

Edinburgh's Royal Mile abruptly comes to its lower end at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Queen's official Scottish residence. Hefty ticket prices include an ruined 1128 Augustinian abbey (in the palace grounds), and admission to the Queen's Gallery if you buy the joint ticket - the latter showcasing artwork from the Royal Collection. Make sure to take the excellent, free audio guide which provides information on all these areas plus the attractive gardens. Altogether there's enough to fill a few hours - and the Scottish Parliament is across the road.

Location & info

📌 Holyrood Abbey★★★
Description: Ruined Augustinian monastery dating from 1128, built to serve Edinburgh Castle.
In the Palace of Holyroodhouse grounds (see below), G.R.: NT 269740 ///seats.nature.alive
Opening times as for Palace of Holyroodhouse | Admission included in Palace of Holyroodhouse ticket

📌 Palace of Holyroodhouse★★★★

Walk: Simple Semple

Renfrewshire | Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park | Half day walk | ★★★

Tracing the Black Cart Water upstream from Clydebank leads to an attractive set of large lochs sandwiched between the Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park and lower hills to the east. A straightforward walk from the outskirts of Lochwinnoch reaches a view over the lochs from Park Hill and also visits the late Gothic ruins of a Collegiate Church founded in 1504 by John, Lord Sempill. Dogs and cyclists can outnumber walkers on the lochside section. RSPB Lochwinnoch lies at the southern end of the loch.

📌 Walk: Simple Semple ★★★
Start / finish at Castle Semple Visitor Centre car park, Lochlip Road, 10-min walk east of Lochwinnoch town centre, G.R.: NS 358591 ///rudder.canoe.classic

▶ 6 km / 4 mi | ▲ 90 m | ⌚ Half a day | ⬤ Easy
Summits: Park Hill (90 m) | Features: Castle Semple Loch; Castle Semple Collegiate Church
Terrain: Wide dirt or gravel paths, occasionally muddy, then tarmac cycleway for return. The ascent of Park Hill and…

Walk: Where's Whangie?

Stirling | Kilpatrick Hills | Half day walk | ★★★★

The Whangie is one of those downright bizarre features (with a bizarre name to match) that Scotland provides in abundance. It's an unexpected rocky cleft with 50-foot walls in the middle of the grassy, relatively featureless Kilpatrick Hills. The gap is probably the result of a gradual landslip and you can walk right along the bottom of it; it's also perfect for both simple and serious rock scrambling. The views north are superb for the entirety of the approach, but a short detour to Auchineden Hill's summit is also recommended with Glasgow laid out to the south, just 10 miles distant. This is a short and popular walk, but there's a profusion of paths in the immediate area which don't all end up at the destination. The Whangie itself is hidden until you're practically upon it, and if you don't take a map you can easily end up wandering the plateau in circles, wondering where it is (ahem)...

📌 Walk: Where&#…

Finnich Glen (Devil's Pulpit)

Stirling | Croftamie | Gorge | ★★★★

Driving south on the A809 from quiet Croftamie, the road descends to cross a small bridge in woodland just beyond the junction with the B834. You've just crossed the Scottish Grand Canyon! OK, whoever coined Finnich Glen's nickname was being a bit optimistic, but only slightly - for it's here that the previously unexceptional Carnock Burn abruptly enters an 80 foot-deep gorge. Despite all its drama, Finnich Glen was little known until fairly recently, but its appearance in various films and TV series has resulted in a popularity explosion; it's now a major tourist destination but lacking any of the necessary tourist infrastructure - see below for parking info. Rough paths wend their way along the canyon edge, with several restricted views of little cascades, potholes and centuries of fallen debris at the bottom of the abyss. Eventually a notch is reached where crumbling steps lead haphazardly to the water level.

Location & info


Walk: Balmaha Millenium Forest Path - 1 mile to celebrate 2,000 years

Stirling | Balmaha | Short walk | ★★★★

"Small but perfectly formed" is the phrase which springs to mind when describing this little loop from Balmaha. "Tourist trap" would be another, less favourable description, but with good reason: this is one of the prettiest spots on Loch Lomond. A lot of variety is packed into a single mile, including shady forest, a little summit viewpoint and an interesting path right on the water's edge. Keep an eye out for red squirrels and several bird species including common crossbill and the tiny goldcrest. Near the finish is the Oak Tree Inn, which we wholeheartedly recommend for food.

📌 Walk: Balmaha Millenium Forest Path - 1 mile to celebrate 2,000 years ★★★★
Start / finish at National Park Visitor Centre car park, B837 in Balmaha village centre, G.R.: NS 421909 ///geology.clicker.apes

▶ 2 km / 1 mi | ▲ 60 m | ⌚ Short | ⬤ Easy
Features: Craigie Fort; Loch Lomond
Terrain: Wide, gravel or dirt paths with short, steep ascent / desce…

Walk: Conic Hill - Highland views with Lowland effort

Stirling | Balmaha | Half day walk | ★★★★★

Conic Hill lies right on the Highland Boundary Fault separating the Lowlands from the Highlands, and its broad ridge leading down to Loch Lomondside is one of the rift's most visible manifestations. The contrast between fertile farmland to the south and bleak moorland to the north is particularly arresting. Viewpoints do not come much better than this, and the summit can be conveniently accessed via the West Highland Way from nearby Balmaha. If you find the steps tiring, spare a thought for the sweaty long-distance trekkers en route from Milngavie to Fort William some 151 kilometres away, having to do the same with huge backpacks. Remember to fork off right to explore the ridge and summit - the WHW passes this by. For hill-bagging purists, the true summit is at 361 metres at the far end of a succession of false summits.

📌 Walk: Conic Hill - Highland views with Lowland effort ★★★★★
Start / finish at National Park Visitor Centre car park, B…

Walk: Ayr Gorge(ous)

South Ayrshire | Failford | Short walk | ★★

Ayr Gorge Woodlands Wildlife Reserve (AGWWR is a bit less of a mouthful) is well off the beaten track in deepest Ayrshire. Jaw-droppingly dramatic scenery this is not, but it's an attractive little den which springs a few surprises, such as in the photo above. Areas of woodland are at a bit of a premium in Ayrshire, but the steep slopes around here have helped preserve a reasonably undisturbed landscape. Wildlife includes red squirrels, badger, otter, roe deer and several bird species. Start or finish with a meal or pint at the Failford Inn, at the heart of a village so tiny that we originally wrote in 2015 how surprised we were that the pub could stay afloat. A few months later, the place indeed went out of business, but we're happy to report that it re-opened in late 2016 - hopefully for good!

📌 Walk: Ayr Gorge(ous) ★★
Start / finish at car park on B743, Failford village centre, G.R.: NS 459261 ///minus.walking.thousands

▶ 5 km / 3…

Walk: Dumgoyne... & a dram

Stirling | Campsie Fells | Full day walk | ★★★★

Looking northwards from Glasgow, Dumgoyne is one of the most prominent bumps on the skyline. If you have a penchant for painful ascents, the first mile to Dumgoyne summit is for you. From the Campsie Fells plateau beyond, fabulous views north towards the Arrochar Alps, Loch Lomond and the Trossachs even on a grey day like today. Of course we couldn't resist a tour and a dram of whisky on return at Glengoyne. This picturesque distillery straddles the Highland / Lowland whisky border and is self-styled as the slowest distillery in Scotland!

📌 Walk: Dumgoyne... & a dram ★★★★
Start / finish at layby (can get full) immediately north of Glengoyne Distillery, A81 3 mi north of Strathblane, G.R.: NS 527827 ///hilltop.widely.recur

▶ 11 km / 7 mi | ▲ 710 m | ⌚ Full day | ⬤ Tough
Summits: Dumgoyne (427 m); Earl's Seat (578 m, sub-2000') | Features: Glengoyne Distillery
Terrain: Clear paths, eroded and increasingly vertiginous around …