Showing posts from May, 2015

Merkland Cross

Dumfries & Galloway | Kirtlebridge | Carved cross | ★

Merkland Cross is a beautifully-carved 15th century cross, thankfully not quite bulldozed by the M74 motorway which passes by just a few metres away. The cross also lies on the former path of a Roman Road, but this provides few clues as to its purpose: Historic Environment Scotland suggest it may have been a market cross or memorial, possibly commemorating a member of the Maxwell family. Getting there from the nearest suitable parking spot is a little complicated - wear sturdy footwear suitable for crossing rough fields.

📌Merkland Cross
Off minor road near B7076 a mile east of Kirtlebridge, G.R.: NY 250721 ///curtains.acre.challenge
Always viewable | Free

Anything else? Park at G.R.: NY 253718 ///worthy.fairly.nooks, then follow an intermittently faint track west then northwest close to the M74. It's a 5- or 10-min walk to the cross, occasionally muddy.

RSPB Loch Ruthven

Highland | Croachy | Nature reserve | ★★★

There are only about 30 breeding pairs of Slavonian Grebe in the UK, and almost all of them congregate at Loch Ruthven each summer. Quite why this unassuming body of water is the location of choice is a mystery, but the loch's isolated setting between craggy hills keeps it free from excessive human disturbance. A hide on the shoreline is maintained by the RSPB. From April to June the grebes don summer plumage, although on our visit the single Slavonian Grebe visible was too far away to capture a decent photo. You'll just have to go and see them yourself.

Location & info

📌 RSPB Loch Ruthven★★★
Off minor road 1 mi west of Croachy. Hide is at G.R. NH 635280 ///rock.graphic.tasks
Always open | Free

Anything else? From the car park at G.R.: NH 638281 ///pavilions.prettiest.owned it's a 10-min walk (each way) to the hide, on a narrow footpath with boardwalks, across open ground then through woodland.

Walk: Plodda Falls - through fir to the fall

Highland | Tomich | Short walk | ★★★★

Glen Affric and its neighbouring valleys don't do anything on a small scale, but this 50-metre waterfall is the region's tallest, beating nearby Guisachan waterfall in both power and scale. It's almost as if the waterfall and the surrounding Douglas Fir trees are competing in a height contest with each other - both are magnificent. This loop leaves the waterfall as a final climax, approached from the base with the top of the drop high above. In fact you'll be looking up for most of this walk - this forest contains some of Scotland's tallest trees. Whether that or the potholed approach road will make your neck ache more is open to debate.

📌 Walk: Plodda Falls - through fir to the fall ★★★★
Start / finish at Plodda Falls car park (charge), minor road 3 mi southwest of Tomich, G.R.: NH 280238 ///frosted.riverbed.successor. Access to car park involves nearly 5 miles of unsurfaced, potholed road - not advised for vehicles with very …

Guisachan waterfall

Highland | Tomich | Waterfall | ★★★★

The road through the pretty village of Tomich leads to more friendly, intimate terrain than the northern branch to Glen Affric. This is certainly still waterfall country though, and the falls are anything but intimate. This hidden spectacle near ruined Guisachan House is far higher than Dog Falls, easier to get to than Plodda Falls, and should be far quieter than both. Caution - there are unguarded drops and the bottom is a long way down. There is a bridge over the falls which would have been a brilliant viewpoint in the past - except it no longer has a base to it.

Location & info

📌 Guisachan waterfall ★★★★
Just off minor, unsurfaced road 2 mi southwest of Tomich, G.R.: NH 290249 ///however.risky.prettiest
Always open | Free

Anything else? No car park, but space for cars on the side of the unsurfaced road. Road probably not recommended for vehicles with low ground clearance due to large potholes. The waterfall is about 20 m from the road in woodl…

Walk: River Affric's rushing upper rapids

Highland | Glen Affric | Short walk | ★★★

Walkers who have already headed up to Am Meallan from here probably expect the other little loop from Glen Affric's road end to be something of an anticlimax. Don't despair, this walk packs in a lot of variety with no need to exert much energy at all, alongside tumbling rapids. The level path won't quicken the pulse, but occasional, tantalising glimpses of high mountains will. Places like this just make you want to climb hills...

📌 Walk: River Affric's rushing upper rapids ★★★
Start / finish at car park (charge) in Glen Affric, minor road end 10 mi southwest of Cannich, G.R.: NH 201233 ///

▶ <1 km / <1 mi | ▲ Negligible | ⌚ Short | ⬤ Easy
Features: Garbh-uisge rapids
Terrain: Clear footpaths, some suffering from water erosion. Section of exposed, uneven rock, with easier bypass path.

Route & map

Car park - Garbh-uisge - start. Loop waymarked in blue (see River Affric section here).

Route credit: For…

Walk: Am Meallan - upper Affric teaser

Highland | Glen Affric | Short walk | ★★★★

Well done on making it this far, to the end of the tarmac in Glen Affric. Surely a 15-minute walk can't be worth a drive twice that long from the nearest village? Well you'd be wrong, and the incredibly tame chaffinches seal the deal... and deplete your meagre lunch rations. The drive here is epic enough, but the dramatic views from the top of this tiny hill show that this is only the beginning of the glen proper. Easily combined with a wander along the Garbh-uisge.

📌 Walk: Am Meallan - upper Affric teaser ★★★★
Start / finish at car park (charge) in Glen Affric, minor road end 10 mi southwest of Cannich, G.R.: NH 201234 ///

▶ <1 km / <1 mi | ▲ 30 m | ⌚ Short | ⬤ Easy
Summits: Am Meallan viewpoint (280 m)
Terrain: Well-made, but steep, narrow footpath with steps.

Route & map

Car park - Am Meallan viewpoint - start. Loop waymarked in white (see River Affric section here).

> Route credit: Forestry and Land…

Walk: Cnoc Croit na Maoile

Highland | Muir of Ord | Short walk | ★★★

The tracks and paths to the top of this difficult-to-pronounce little hill near Muir of Ord aren't particularly interesting, but the views on a clear day from the whitewashed trig-point-cum-seat exceed what you might expect from such a lowly elevation. The Beauly and Cromarty firths both point inwards towards this summit, with Loch nam Bonnach also visible from the top. To the west, rows of lofty peaks if the weather gods are with you. The photos here don't really do it justice.

📌 Walk: Cnoc Croit na Maoile ★★★
Start / finish at minor road corner (space for a few cars) near Corry of Ardnagask, G.R.: NH 493483 ///

▶ 4 km / 2 mi | ▲ 160 m | ⌚ Short | ⬤ Moderate
Summits: Cnoc Croit na Maoile or Ord Hill (319 m)
Terrain: Wide forestry track, then steeper, narrow footpath with one short boggy section.

Route & map

Start - bridge over Jessmore Burn - Cnoc Croit na Maoile - return to start by outward route. Route signpo…

Walk: The Mannie of Bhraggie

Highland | Golspie | Half day walk | ★★★

The 100 foot high, all-seeing Duke of Sutherland dominates the skyline above Golspie and the A9, and is as unsettling as the more southerly Fyrish Monument is graceful. Its subject, George Leveson-Gower, is a highly controversial figure - who instigated land reform which led to the displacement of thousands of residents from their homes during the Clearances. Attempts to remove, damage and destroy the statue continue almost 200 years after its creation. The slopes below Ben Bhraggie and its monument are criss-crossed by some of the best mountain bike trails in the Highlands, but footpaths also snake up the hill from the bottom - first through woodland, then onto open moorland. Tracks heading round the "back" of the hill enable a longer, gentler return to base.

📌 Walk: The Mannie of Bhraggie ★★★
Start / finish on Fountain Road (street parking), Golspie town centre, G.R.: NC 831001 ///reservoir.listed.stress. Alternatively, to shorten t…

Walk: Harry Potter & the Black Rock Gorge

Highland | Evanton | Short walk | ★★★★

From the road bridge in peaceful Evanton there's no evidence of the dramatic journey that water in the Allt Graad takes further upstream. Two short footbridges in Evanton Wood look inconsequential until you look down... and you can see why this unexpectedly deep - very deep - canyon featured in the film Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. From the canyon, returning by the outward route is quickest, but you can head downstream on the far bank on less well-maintained paths, eventually joining a minor road which descends back to the village. This is one of those places to which photos cannot do justice - you just have to be there.

📌 Walk: Harry Potter & the Black Rock Gorge ★★★★
Start / finish at junction of Balconie Street (B817) & Camden Street (street parking nearby), Evanton village centre, G.R.: NH 607662 ///soggy.jogged.rails

▶ 4 km / 2 mi | ▲ 110 m | ⌚ Short walk | ⬤ Moderate
Features: Black Rock Gorge
Terrain: Wide tracks and path…

Dalmore Distillery

Highland | Alness | Distillery | ★★★★

Dalmore enjoys one of the finer settings of any Scottish distillery, overlooking the Cromarty Firth just outside the Highland town of Alness. A distinctive stag's head adorns its whisky bottles, mirroring the Mackenzie clan crest as a nod to the family which owned the distillery between 1867 and 1960. We were impressed with the distillery tour (not to mention the whisky itself), despite photography restrictions being the strictest we've seen. Mobile phones, cameras and electronic devices had to be locked away in a separate building prior to the tour, and so our only photograph from the visit is taken looking in the other direction, out to sea. Back inside, among the things to look out for is the unusual still room, featuring wash stills with flat tops and spirit stills encased in cooling jackets to encourage reflux.

📌 Dalmore Distillery★★★★
By the B817 half a mile south of Alness, G.R.: NH 666687 ///bottle.lads.refills
Open Monday to Satur…

Walk: Fyrish Monument - gate of Negapatam

Highland | Alness | Half day walk | ★★★

The Fyrish Monument is the southernmost of two manmade, hilltop sights which draw the eye when heading north from Dingwall on the A9 towards the far north. Built in 1782, the unusual arch design imitates the Gate of Negapatam, India, after a victory over the Dutch there the previous year. Its construction also provided paid work for victims of the Highland Clearances, and as such is far less controversial than the other large Clearances-related monument further on Ben Bhraggie. A quarter of a millenium later you can walk up to view the monument closeup, with the Cromarty Firth laid out below and Ben Wyvis to the west, happily without having to carry heavy construction materials.

📌 Walk: Fyrish Monument - gate of Negapatam ★★★
Start / finish at car park on minor road 2 mi northwest of Alness, G.R.: NH 627714 ///hence.cowboys.culling

▶ 6 km / 4 mi | ▲ 290 m | ⌚ Half a day | ⬤ Moderate
Summits: Cnoc Fyrish (453 m) | Features: Fyrish Monument

Walk: Ben Wyvis - Hill of Terror?

Highland | Garve | Full day walk | ★★★★

North of the Great Glen, Ben Wyvis is easily the highest mountain in the eastern Highlands - in fact, it's the name of whole sprawling massif of high plateau, with deep corries separating broad ridges. Despite one possible translation of Ben Wyvis as "Hill of Terror", this summit should hold no fears in good weather: the quickest, most obvious ascent route is by a good path, making it one of the busier Munros. From the top, the view can encapsulate hills as diverse as the Cairngorms, Cuillins and Ben Nevis, as well as much of the Black Isle with Aberdeenshire beyond... at least, if it's not foggy.

📌 Walk: Ben Wyvis - Hill of Terror? ★★★★
Start / finish at car park on A835 4 mi north of Garve, G.R.: NH 410671 ///money.serious.guidebook

▶ 14 km / 9 mi | ▲ 940 m | ⌚ Full day | ⬤ Tough
Summits: An Cabar (946 m); Glas Leathad Mor (1046 m, Munro)
Terrain: Excellent paths, steep on ascent to An Cabar, faint and eroded on plateau beyond.

Walk: By Black Water's bank - tale of two bridges

Highland | Garve | Short walk | ★★★

Surely one of the most attractive rivers in the Highlands, the Black Water cuts a rocky route through undulating hillside north of Garve. Rogie Falls are the most well-known sight here, but this short amble further upstream gets you closer to the river bank for most of the walk, passing endless rapids. An impressive, arched bridge allows a return on the opposite bank to complete the circuit. On a sunny day it'd be easy to spend hours here visiting every little pool and waterfall.

📌 Walk: By Black Water's bank - tale of two bridges ★★★
Start / finish at Silverbridge car park, A835 2 mi north of Garve, G.R.: NH 402640 ///limbs.sketching.kick

▶ 4 km / 2 mi | ▲ 50 m | ⌚ Short walk | ⬤ Easy
Features: Black Water rapids & bridges
Terrain: Clear, narrow footpaths, occasionally rocky. Short section of forestry track near start.

Route & map

Car park - bridge at Little Garve via east bank - return to start via west bank. Route (mostly) signposted …

The Birnam Oak

Perth & Kinross | Birnam | Nature site | ★

This elderly, elegant specimen is a rare and ancient survivor from the once extensive Birnam Wood which used to straddle the River Tay in these parts. The forest is even celebrated in Shakespeare's Macbeth, so it's a bit worrying that one of the last tangible links with this bygone era is at risk of collapse according to a recent news story. For now at least, branches (held up with sticks) continue to grow and you can visit the tree by following the aptly-named Oak Road from Birnam village centre. Well-worded signs help locate the correct trunk - see below.

Location & info

📌 The Birnam Oak ★
5-min walk north of Birnam village centre (access from Oak Road), G.R.: NO 032422 ///narrates.form.fakes
Always open | Free

Walk: Birnam Hill - peace by the A9

Perth & Kinross | Birnam | Half day walk | ★★★★

North of Perth, rolling farmland quickly gives way to something a little more interesting, with Birnam Hill (also called King's Seat) one of the first noticeable Highland foothills. This clockwise circuit takes in lush woodland and an open summit with decent views over much of Perthshire and the A9 / Tayside corridor, with Birnam (an alternative start point) conveniently close for refreshments before, during or after the walk. Unusually the ascent seems both shorter and gentler than the sustained, steep descent. Of course this is impossible, but walking the route anticlockwise isn't really recommended all the same...

📌 Walk: Birnam Hill - peace by the A9 ★★★★
Start / finish at layby at Birnam Quarry, B867 a mile south of Birnam, G.R.: NO 041405 ///lyricist.shut.mountain

▶ 6 km / 4 mi | ▲ 420 m | ⌚ Half a day | ⬤ Moderate
Summits: Birnam Hill or King's Seat (404 m, sub-2000') | Features: Birnam
Terrain: Wide track then p…

Walk: Beinn an Lochain - airy but not too scary

Argyll & Bute | Arrochar Alps | Half day walk | ★★★★

The sawtooth profile of Beinn an Lochain's northeast ridge is an intimidating sight from the top of the Rest and Be Thankful pass on the A83. Amazingly this short, steep route rewards the walker with all the fabulous views you'd expect from a ridge of this shape, but with next to no scrambling. In fact in good weather the greatest barrier to progress is more likely to be the small but potentially serious bog encountered just a few steps from the starting layby. With a total distance of only 3 miles, this is possibly a feasible post-work evening trip from Glasgow during the summer months.

📌 Walk: Beinn an Lochain - airy but not too scary ★★★★
Start / finish at layby on A83 1 mi north of Rest and Be Thankful, G.R.: NN 234088 ///

▶ 5 km / 3 mi | ▲ 720 m | ⌚ Half a day | ⬤ Tough
Summits: Beinn an Lochain (901 m, Corbett) | Features: Easan Dubh waterfall
Terrain: Clear, narrow path expertly avoids any diffic…

M&D's (Scotland's Theme Park)

South Lanarkshire | Motherwell | Theme park | ★★★★

M&D's self-claimed title of "Scotland's Theme Park" is a bit cheeky - there are other theme parks in Scotland. But it's definitely the biggest and most popular, occupying a site overlooking Strathclyde Loch near Motherwell, close to Glasgow. An indoor tropical rainforest, crazy golf and other attractions complement 7 roller coasters as well as various smaller rides. Compared to major English, European or North American theme parks it's tame, but much cheaper and good fun for a day out.

Location & info

📌 Amazonia★★★
Description: Indoor rainforest area with a variety of reptiles, amphibians, insects and other animals.
Next to M&D's theme park, G.R.: NS 721583 ///hidden.rapid.tower
Open daily (2019) | £6.20 adult / £4.75 child (2019), discount for booking online. Joint ticket with M&D's available

📌 M&D's (Scotland's Theme Park)★★★★
Description: Scotland's largest theme park,…

Hill of Tarvit

Fife | Craigrothie | Stately home | ★★★

Hill of Tarvit is a comfortable mansion amidst attractive Fife countryside a few miles south of Cupar. Small parts of the home date to the 1600s, but most of today's building was designed by Sir Robert Lorimer in the early 20th century for Frederick Sharp, a businessman who made his fortune in the jute industry. The National Trust for Scotland have restored the interior to how it looked in Sharp's lifetime, with attractive grounds encompassing hilltop and forest walks, gardens and even a restored Edwardian golf course. Before you leave, ask about the key for visiting nearby Scotstarvit Tower, built by previous owners of the Tarvit estate.

📌Hill of Tarvit★★★
Off the A916 a mile north of Craigrothie, G.R.: NO 379119 ///relishes.builds.spring
Open Saturday to Tuesday, April to October | £10.50 adult / £7.50 child / free for National Trust for Scotland members

Scotstarvit Tower

Fife | Craigrothie | Castle | ★★

Despite slightly awkward access arrangements, Scotstarvit Tower is well worth nipping over to from nearby Hill of Tarvit - you have to pick up the key from there to access the top of the tower anyway. Turn the key, lift the latch (or something) and hey presto: it's almost like you're the owner of a 16th century tower house, originally built by the Inglis family but significantly altered by Sir John Scot after he bought the estate in 1611. The 6 floors are rather bare in layout - apparently reflecting the character of the later owner - but well preserved thanks to Historic Environment Scotland, and you can climb all the way up. Surrounding trees make taking photos of the exterior quite tricky, with the best view probably from the approach track.

📌Scotstarvit Tower★★
Off the A916 a mile north of Craigrothie, G.R.: NO 370113 ///windmills.remarked.indicated
Open daily, April to September. For parapet access, contact Hill of Tarvit (slightly differen…