Showing posts from July, 2016


Inverclyde | Langbank | Garden | ★★★

Attractive woodlands and 10 acres of gardens spill down the hillside overlooking the Clyde estuary between Langbank and Port Glasgow. This is the Finlaystone Estate, surrounding a country mansion belonging to Clan MacMillan. The house isn't open to the public, but the rolling landscaped grounds and forest walks make a good destination for a wander on a sunny day. Frequent events - including falconry displays - cater for families well if you come on the right date.

Location & info

📌 Finlaystone Country Estate★★★
Off the A8 (westbound only) or Old Greenock Road, 1 mi west of Langbank, G.R.: NS 365737 ///songbird.plank.treetop
Open daily | £5 adult / £3.50 child

Preston Mill & Phantassie Doocot

East Lothian | East Linton | Historic buildings | ★★★

Happen across Preston Mill by accident and you'd be forgiven for thinking you'd somehow stumbled across a real-life fairy tale, such is the unusual shape of this historic meal mill. This was East Lothian's last functioning water mill, still in commercial use until 1959 and with some (though not all) of the machinery still in operation today. Entry to the mill itself is by guided tour explaining the various components involved in producing oatmeal. There's also a small exhibition area: particularly interesting are photos of the regular spate events on the neighboring River Tyne which (still) regularly flood the buildings. A short walk away, over that same troublesome river and south across a field, is another piece of history also in the care of the National Trust for Scotland: 16th century Phantassie Doocot. The name turns out to be the most interesting thing about this beehive dovecot as you actually can't go i…

Gosford House

East Lothian | Aberlady | Stately home | ★★★★

Restricted public open days mean that Gosford House is little-known compared to some of the Central Belt's great stately homes. This neoclassical mansion was constructed by Robert Adam over 21 years in the late 1700s (though it wasn't completed until after his death) for the 7th Earl of Wemyss, nestling amongst 5,000 acres of grounds by the Firth of Forth around 10 miles east of Edinburgh. The sheer opulence of the interior, including a jaw-dropping entrance hall almost entirely made out of marble, instantly repays the patience needed in waiting for a tour date. Today it's a house of two distinct parts. The southern two-thirds live up to the grandeur promised by the magnificent exterior and entrance hall. But look closely when you approach along the entrance drive and you might notice that the windows on the north wing appear to be either blacked out or even painted on. Indeed, the entire northern wing was gutted by fire in the…

Dr Neil's Garden

City of Edinburgh | Duddingston | Garden | ★★★

Dr Neil's Garden can be found on the sunny southern slopes of Arthur's Seat: a beautiful and unexpected oasis of calm under two miles from Edinburgh city centre. The garden was created by a pair of GP's, who encouraged patients to help tend to the garden, benefit from the fresh air and enjoy the calm atmosphere. Although small, the various terraces and views over Duddingston Loch make the garden feel bigger than it really is. The founders passed away in 2005 and Dr Neil's Garden is now run by a trust; nevertheless the garden seems to have kept its original charm and tranquility, which in fact extends beyond its borders to the cobbled streets of Duddingston itself.

Location & info

📌 Dr Neil's Garden★★★
Old Church Lane, Duddingston village, 2 mi southeast of Edinburgh Waverley station, G.R.: NT 283726 ///stays.ages.pool
Open daily (best in spring / summer) | Free

Anything else? If arriving by car, park at Duddingston K…

Kilmartin Museum

Argyll & Bute | Kilmartin | Museum | ★★

Kilmartin Glen is a small valley with a huge depth of history, including some of the most remarkable neolithic and bronze age archaeological sites anywhere in Scotland. To begin to understand it all, the best place to start is Kilmartin Museum in the small village of the same name. The exhibition area is small and feels quite cramped (not surprising considering it has to fit in 5,000 years of history), but there are ambitious expansion plans for the coming years. Admission includes a handy map of the glen's various historical sites - you can visit many of these on an excellent half day walk starting right here in the village. The Kilmartin Sculptured Stones are housed in a shelter outside Kilmartin Church next door.

Location & info

📌 Kilmartin Museum★★
By the A816, Kilmartin village centre, G.R.: NR 834989 ///restrict.beginning.examples
Open daily from March to late December | £7 adult / £2.50 child

Kilmartin Glen Rock Art

Argyll & Bute | Kilmartin | Rock art | ★★★

Evidence of Neolithic activity is found throughout Kilmartin Glen, most obviously in the form of huge burial cairns stretching in a line south from near Kilmartin village. But perhaps the most beautiful remains are the intriguing 5,000-year-old rock carvings found on a number of exposed outcrops throughout the glen. This prehistoric art usually takes the form of circular depressions (or "cup marks") sometimes surrounded by a number of rings. Cut directly into the rock, they must have taken a significant amount of time to create, and the same patterns exist elsewhere in Britain and beyond. Their purpose remains a mystery, but what is certain is that Kilmartin Glen has some of the most significant outcrops discovered to date, so you should visit at least one of them if you're passing through the area. What are (probably) the 4 best examples are listed below.

Location & info

📌 Achnabreck Rock Art★★★
Description: Kilmartin Gl…

Islay Woollen Mill

Islay | Bridgend | Historic building | ★

With a usefully central location on Islay, you're bound to see the turnoff for Islay Woollen Mill at some point while exploring the island. Don't just drive by: the mill dates to 1883 and is the only one on Islay. Its customer base is rather broader than tourists alone: if you've watched Braveheart, Forrest Gump, Rob Roy or various other blockbusters you'll have seen designs made in the back rooms right here by the River Sorn. Even if you're not intending on buying anything, the friendly owners offer brief tours of the machinery, much of which is unchanged since the 19th century and is still in use.

Location & info

📌 Islay Woollen Mill
Off the A846 1 mi northeast of Bridgend, Islay, G.R.: NR 352632 ///mixes.cracker.pastels
Open Monday to Saturday | Free

Walk: Carraig Fhada's guardian tower

Islay | Port Ellen | Short walk | ★★★

The first time you spot the lighthouse at Carraig Fhada might be from the ferry to Islay, marking the western edge of the narrow channel into the harbour at Port Ellen. The area is also an enjoyable corner to explore once ashore, with a short concrete causeway built haphazardly across jumbled boulders to this unusually-shaped aid to navigation (built as a memorial to Lady Ellenor Campbell in 1832). This coastal walk also visits the sandy beaches of Kilnaughton Bay and Tràigh Bhàn, one either side of the lighthouse: a perfect, peaceful stroll on a calm evening.

📌 Walk: Carraig Fhada's guardian tower ★★★
Start / finish at car park by cemetery on minor road 1 mi west of Port Ellen, Islay, G.R.: NR 344456 ///ideals.lucky.solo

▶ 5 km / 3 mi | ▲ 80 m | ⌚ Short | ⬤ Easy
Features: Kilnaughton Bay; Carraig Fhada lighthouse; Tràigh Bhàn
Terrain: Varied: minor roads and tracks, sandy beaches, coastal path and one short, steepish ascent. Burn to cross on sa…

Laphroaig Distillery

Islay | Port Ellen | Distillery | ★★★★★

Laphroaig (pronounced la-Froyg) is probably Scotland's most distinctive whisky, and if you only ever visit one of Scotland's scores of distilleries, this should be your choice. A bold claim... so why do we think Laphraoig tops the pile? Firstly, few other distilleries can offer such a complete tour of the production process. Laphroig still malts its own barley, meaning you can still see the extensive malting floors in use, feel the dry heat of the kiln, and smell the acrid peat smoke rising from the furnace below. You can count the other Scottish distilleries that still do this on one hand. The rest of our (standard) tour was rich in detail, generous at the tasting stage and included a visit to the atmospheric warehouses. Booking is crucial at peak times: the distillery's worldwide fame and easy access from Port Ellen makes tours extremely popular. There's also an excellent exhibition area, and the coastal setting is superb. Beco…

Port Ellen

Islay | Village | ★★★

Port Ellen is the largest settlement in the southern portion of Islay and also one of the island's most attractive villages. Whitewashed houses spread along two sandy bays: horseshoe-shaped Loch Leòdamais and the straighter Tràigh Gheighsgeir. In between the two is a low headland to which is attached one of Islay's two main ferry ports, so you may well catch your first glimpse of Port Ellen from the sea. 3 distilleries line the road east out of town (walkable by an off-road footpath, although it'd take the best part of day including the individual distillery tours), while Port Ellen Maltings in the village itself provides malted barley for the majority of Islay's distilleries.


📌 Port Ellen ★★★
Islay, G.R.: NR 365453 ///mugs.headed.creatures

🚶 The local distilleries are accessible by a surfaced path (there is a also a bus); each are spaced about 1 mi apart. Carraig Fhada is also walkable via quiet lanes.
🚌 As well as the vehicle ferry to …

Walk: Soldier's Rock & Islay's wild side

Islay | Kintra | Half day walk | ★★

Most visitors to The Oa peninsula on Islay are visiting the American Monument at its southwestern tip. But dramatic scenery continues right around the peninsula, with one of the most interesting sections around the spectacular Soldier's Rock sea stack in the north; it's also a popular place for shags, though strictly of the seabird variety. A car park signboard illustrates a circular "Walk on the wild side" taking in this as well as the abandoned 19th century township of Grasdale. Be aware: despite the signboard, there's little or no waymarking and some of the later sections are pretty rough going with only traces of a path. No gain without pain though, and you can reward yourself with a visit to Kintra's stunning beach on your return. Sadly, no ice creams available (but perhaps that keeps the crowds away?).

📌 Walk: Soldier's Rock & Islay's wild side ★★
Start / finish at car park at Kintra Farm, 3 mi northwest o…

Lagavulin Distillery

Islay | Port Ellen | Distillery | ★★★★

Lagavulin is the middle of the three distilleries strung along the coast road east from Port Ellen. 2016 saw the distillery celebrate its 200th anniversary since being founded in 1816. Like the other two south coast distilleries, Lagavulin's whitewashed buildings occupy a picturesque coastal location overlooking one of the Sound of Jura's many little inlets (it's well seen from Dunyvaig Castle on the adjacent headland), producing heavily peated whisky as is usual for southern Islay. The distillery seems to emphasise the no-rush, relaxed element of whisky production, and its signature malt is a fairly expensive 16-year old. We ironically found tour 2016 tour a bit hurried and robotic (though only by Islay's very high standards, and still detailed), with no photography allowed in production areas. Conversely, we received an exceptionally warm welcome in January 2017 when we popped in for a look around the visitor centre: the drams w…

Walk: Sanaigmore Bay - lives lost amidst beautiful beaches

Islay | Sanaigmore | Short walk | ★★★★

At end-of-the-road Sanaigmore, close to Islay's northwestern extremity, a memorial commemorates 241 Irish emigrants tragically killed when the Exmouth of Newcastle hit rocks just off the coast in 1847. An elongated circuit from the memorial takes in three perfectly contrasting beaches and the irregular coastline in between them. The easternmost beach is shingle but with exquisitely contorted rock bands and pools. Sanaigmore Bay in the middle is a wide open, sandy beach and the most popular (i.e. there might be a few other people there). Port Ghille Greamhair to the west is a secluded cove, hidden until the last minute by vertical cliffs. Try to catch the latter two (sandy) beaches at low tide. The ground between each beach is a little tougher going than might be expected especially if you follow the coastline religiously: lots of little ups and downs, a few nervous cows and the odd boggy patch.

📌 Walk: Sanaigmore Bay - lives lost amidst beau…

Walk: The magic of Machir Bay

Islay | Kilchoman | Short walk | ★★★★

Islay has a wide selection of beaches to explore, but the magic of Machir Bay is undeniable. Smooth sands stretch for two kilometres, backed by large sand dunes and the cliffs of Cnoc nam Muc - chlach. In the other direction, you won't reach land until Newfoundland, a couple of thousand miles away. In good weather this is one of Islay's true gems, yet it's rarely busy: the photos on this page were taken on a sunny afternoon in mid-July! Perfect for a stroll after visiting nearby Kilchoman Distillery, if the tides are right - the beach is best at low tide, though there's always at least some sand above water level. Using a straightforward inland track for the outward route keeps the beach hidden until you're nearly upon it, saving the sand for the return leg.

📌 Walk: The magic of Machir Bay ★★★★
Start / finish at car park at minor road end just west of Kilchoman, Islay, G.R.: NR 209634 ///earth.economics.regime

▶ 3 km / 2 mi | ▲…

Bunnahabhain Distillery

Islay | Keills | Distillery | ★★★★

It's easy to fall in love with Bunnahabhain Distillery from the moment you descend to Bunnahabhain Bay at the end of the winding, scenic road from Keills. Your first view is of whisky barrels, stacked high against low warehouses and backed by rows of understated buildings. A fine wooden pier has signs pointing to Tobermory on the Isle of Mull. Somewhere in the midst of it all is the tiny visitor centre, stocked with whiskies which are generally, perhaps surprisingly, easier to drink than they are to spell. This is because most of Bunnahabhain's expressions are unpeated - unusual for Islay. Spirit started flowing here in the 1880s, and the site doesn't seem to have changed much. The traditional buildings, remote feel and informal (but excellent) tours also make it one of the friendliest distilleries on the island.

Location & info

📌 Bunnahabhain Distillery★★★★
At minor road end 3 mi north of Keills, Islay, G.R.: NR 421732 ///ropes.grapev…


Islay | Ballygrant | Historic site | ★★

In the 14th and 15th centuries, a huge swathe of western Scotland and its countless islands were the domain of the Lordship of the Isles, a far-reaching title held by the chiefs of Clan Donald. The unlikely centre of all this was Finlaggan, a pair of islands on a loch on the Isle of Islay. A long footbridge now provides a link to the first island, and the link to its ruined chapel and other buildings. The link to the so-called Cradle of Clan Donald is less visually obvious: most of the surviving structures were actually built in more recent times and have no link to the former power base. Nevertheless, the islands' historical significance mean they deserve a visit, with interpretation boards and a small but helpful visitor centre to explain what you're looking at. The nearby Ballygrant Inn serves superb evening meals and lighter lunches, with one of the most extensive whisky selections you're likely to find anywhere.

Location & in…