Showing posts from September, 2016

Soutra Aisle

Scottish Borders | Fala | Short walk | ★

If it weren't for the interpretation boards you'd never guess, but Soutra Aisle is the site of what was once Scotland's largest medieval hospital. Founded by the Augustinians in 1164, the hospital took in poor and unwell travellers passing by on the Roman Road of Dere Street between Edinburgh and Jedburgh (and London beyond). The one surviving building was once part of the hospital's church, preserved by virtue of it being a burial vault for the local Pringle family. Information panels (obviously written by an academic) go into great depth about the medicines used here based on ground surveys, and how the hospital eventually fell from grace following a scandal involving its director. There are good views over the surrounding countryside too, though you can't help thinking that an exposed, hilltop location isn't the best place to heal the sick...

Location & info

📌 Soutra Aisle ★
By the B6368 2 mi south of Fala, G.R.: N…

Thirlestane Castle

Scottish Borders | Lauder | Stately home | ★★★

Fairytale turrets and striking red brickwork characterise Thirlestane Castle, a grand 16th century mansion near the town of Lauder (pardon?) in the Scottish Borders. This is very much a single-family castle, built by the Maitlands after they acquired the land here from the Lauderdales through marriage in about 1250. The family still live in the north wing, but much of the rest of the castle is open to the public. The self-guided tour gets steadily more impressive as you go around, though sadly taking photos wasn't allowed.

Location & info

📌 Thirlestane Castle★★★
Off the B6362, half a mile east of Lauder town centre, G.R.: NT 534479 ///retract.donates.blush
Open Sunday to Thursday, late April to early October (2019) | £9.50 adult / £5 child

National Mining Museum Scotland

Midlothian | Newtongrange | Museum | ★★★★

The National Mining Museum Scotland is a wonderful, part open-air museum based in and around the well-preserved buildings of Lady Victoria Colliery, Scotland's first coal super-pit. It's a fitting tribute to an industry which played such a huge part in Scotland's economy from the late 1800s until a few decades ago. A visit starts with three floors of exhibitions about coal mining and its effect on people's lives. Good, but really just a forerunner to the vast pithead area (with much of the original machinery still in place) and reconstructed coal face (including hundreds of metres of underground tunnels). You can explore by yourself, but you'll get more out of a guided tour: ours was led by a former colliery employee, with the resulting fascinating, personal anecdotes. A guided tour also probably means you can see the huge winding engine in action. Allow a few hours to see it all - as if all this wasn't enough, the muse…


Stirling | Whins of Milton | Battlefield | ★★★★

The Battle of Bannockburn in June 1314 was one of Scotland's biggest victories in the Wars of Independence, when an army commanded by Robert the Bruce overwhelmed much larger English forces led by Edward II near Stirling Castle. Battlefields can be underwhelming places to visit - there's often not much there except a field bearing little sign of what once took place. But here the National Trust for Scotland have pulled out all the stops in creating something unique, centred on a striking visitor centre which opened in 2014. The Battle Room Experience is at the heart. This uses an impressive array of interactive technology including holograms and motion sensors, perfectly designed to appeal to teenagers but bewilder their elderly grandparents. After "preparing for battle" by trying out different weapons and meeting soldiers from both Scotland and England (and Wales), you're assigned to one of the sides to engage in a…


Stirling | Town | ★★★

Overlooked by the hulk of Ben Ledi, Callander is one of the gateways to the Trossachs, a hotspot for tourists, crammed with tempting eateries and a tiny toy museum. The attractive Main Street is also the A84, getting unpleasantly congested on sunny weekends, but it's relatively easy to escape the crowds. Just behind the town centre is the beautiful River Teith (a double-edged sword for the town, as it's prone to flooding after heavy rain or snowmelt), with paths following the bank west from the riverside car park. Or take to the hills - some nearby routes are listed below.


📌 Callander ★★★
Stirling county, G.R.: NN 628079 ///love.genius.certainly

🚶 The town is compact, and many local walks begin nearby, accessible by off-road paths. Ben Ledi is doable in a long day from here.
🚌 There are buses north from Stirling and south from Killin and Tyndrum.

See & do (<1 mi away)

>> The Hamilton Toy Museum★★
>> Walk: Callander - crag &…

Walk: Ready, Ledi, Go!

Stirling | Trossachs | Full day walk | ★★★★

Brooding Ben Ledi looms large above Callander - one of those abrupt points where the Scottish Lowlands end and the Highlands begin. At 879 metres above sea level the summit is the highest in the Trossachs, an outstanding viewpoint and marked with an iron cross. At least nine different lochs and reservoirs can be seen from various points on this route, perfectly illustrating why the Trossachs is known as Scotland's answer to the English Lake District. Combining the south ridge "tourist route" with a slightly quieter (but rougher) return along the north ridge before descending into impeccably-scented Stank Glen makes a great circuit.

📌 Walk: Ready, Ledi, Go! ★★★★
Start / finish at car park just off the A84 just north of the Pass of Leny (gets busy - arrive early), 1 mi west of Kilmahog, G.R.: NN 587090 ///walls.weeks.rising

▶ 10 km / 6 mi | ▲ 760 m | ⌚ Full day | ⬤ Tough
Summits: Ben Ledi (879 m, Corbett) | Features: Stank Glen wa…

Drummond Castle Gardens

Perth & Kinross | Muthill | Garden | ★★★★

Drummond Castle Gardens are surely one of Scotland's most amazing formal landcapes. The grounds encapsulate a magnificent set of perfect parterres dotted with bushes, statues, sundials and flowerbeds, while resplendent peacocks wander the lawns and ducks dabble in the tranquil pond. Don't miss the greenhouses and kitchen gardens just outside the southern walls. All of this is backed by a 15th century tower house and later mansion up on a low ridge - these buildings are private but provide a dramatic backdrop. Visit on a hot summer day and it'll feel like you're somewhere on the Continent rather than on the edge of the Scottish Highlands - who needs budget airlines when you can escape here instead?

Location & info

📌 Drummond Castle Gardens★★★★
Off the A822 1 mi north of Muthill, G.R.: NN 844180 ///lilac.grain.organisms
Open daily (mostly afternoons), Easter weekend & May to October | £10 adult / £3.50 child

Walk: Frustrating Falls of Barvick

Perth & Kinross | Crieff | Short walk | ★★

We first noticed the Falls of Barvick on the day we first climbed Ben Chonzie. The falls are marked on Ordnance Survey maps near the road up to Loch Turret Reservoir, with a clustering of contours promising great things. But in reality this is a site for purists only. There are undoubtedly some impressive single drops somewhere amongst the greenery, but thick vegetation and steep ground severely limit views. If you're still interested, paths (with somewhat superfluous "Caution! Steep ground!" signs which involve traversing steep ground to reach in the first place) up both banks join at the top to form an elongated circuit. Wait until the vegetation is low and there's been recent heavy rain to make the effort worth it.

📌 Walk: Frustrating Falls of Barvick ★★
Start / finish at car park on minor road between Glenturret Distillery and Loch Turret Reservoir, 2 mi north of Crieff, G.R.: NN 849243 ///cherry.pizzeria.asked

▶ 1 k…

Walk: Forgotten Falls of Turret

Perth & Kinross | Crieff | Short walk | ★★

A visit to the Falls of Turret is a descent into a lost world, to a beauty spot popular 150 years ago but now all but forgotten. The 1845 New Statistical Account of Scotland says this of the upper fall: "...the bosom of a deep and thickly planted dell, where this stream, as if struggling to find a passage, has worn a chasm in the opposing and nearly meeting rocks, a beautiful cascade is formed, of the height of thirty feet, over which the water, when swollen with rain, rushes with a deafening roar." The atmosphere of the place wasn't lost on the local landowner, who built a bridge, seat and rock-cut grotto at the base of the falls for lucky visitors. It's still an enchanting location, with the rusting bench and bridge miraculously still standing after decades of stormy winters; the history enriches what is, in reality, an attractive but unexceptional waterfall. Getting down to burn level from the track above is a bit of …

Walk: Lady Mary, whisky & a war general

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

The land around Crieff has a wealth of footpaths and old rights of way rarely matched elsewhere in Scotland. Prime rambling territory is the result, with a seemingly endless choice of routes connecting numerous local landmarks. This circuit takes in an old riverside footpath named after a nineteenth century local landowner, a little-visited monument to a Lothian-born war general, a low hill surrounded by rolling farmland, and Scotland's most popular distillery. Overall, it's an excellent half-day wander that can be stretched into a full day if you take time to explore Crieff at the start and / or join one of the regular tours at Glenturret Distillery.

📌 Walk: Lady Mary, whisky & a war general ★★★
Start / finish at car park in MacRosty Park, Turretbank Road, 10-min walk northeast of Crieff town centre, G.R.: NN 858221 ///marathon.trending.props

▶ 11 km / 7 mi | ▲ 270 m | ⌚ Half a day | ⬤ Moderate
Summits: Laggan Hill (154 m)…

Rumbling Bridge gorge (River Devon)

Perth & Kinross | Rumbling Bridge | Gorge | ★★★

This unexpectedly dramatic little canyon can be found on the River Devon immediately upstream of Rumbling Bridge village. The intriguing name apparently refers not to the sound of the river below the bridge, but instead to the reverberation caused by vehicles passing over the top: the bridge is built directly over an older one, causing a distinctive rumbling noise. Paths lead along both banks of the river through often humid, rainforest-like scenery with a footbridge at the mid point, and it's worth continuing along both sides until the walls and trees relent after about 500 m. Glimpses down to river level are at a premium, with purpose-built viewing platforms on the west bank providing the best views - it must be an exciting place in spate. Light is muted in the gorge depths even at midday, allowing a colourful array of fungi to spring up during the autumn months. N.B.: Don't confuse the place with the rapids at Rumbling Bri…

Sauchie Tower

Clackmannanshire | Fishcross | Castle | ★

Sauchie Tower is unknown to most tourists visiting Clackmannanshire's other historic tower houses. Built sometime in the mid 1400s by Sir James Schaw, comptroller (or account auditor) to James III, the property is now owned by a local heritage trust and eventual restoration may be on the cards. For now the tower is simply a derelict though attractive structure which has survived much better than the courtyard buildings that once surrounded it. It doesn't merit travelling for miles to see, but Sauchie Tower makes a logical extension to visiting nearby Menstrie Castle or Alloa Tower.

Location & info

📌 Sauchie Tower
By minor road half a mile north of Fishcross, G.R.: NS 896957 ///keep.cherished.sheep
Always open (exterior only); very occasional guided tours of the interior (see website) | Free

Menstrie Castle

Clackmannanshire | Menstrie | Castle | ★

Menstrie Castle was built by the Alexander family in the mid-16th century, and now forms a unique centrepiece for a housing estate in the middle of Menstrie village. The building was nearly consigned to the scrapheap of Scottish castles bulldozed to make way for urban development in the 1950s, but campaigning led to flats being built around the castle rather than over it. The castle itself was restored, which involved conversion of some of the building's interior into flats too. A small ground-floor portion opened to the public as a National Trust for Scotland property in recent years, mostly consisting of an exhibition about Sir William Alexander (born here in 1577) and his links with the colonisation of Nova Scotia - but it apparently closed in 2017. Perhaps it'll reopen, but in the meantime, the exterior is still worth checking out if you're passing through Menstrie.

Location & info

📌 Menstrie Castle
Castle Road, Menstrie vil…

Coats Venue (Thomas Coats Memorial Church)

Renfrewshire | Paisley | Church / events space | ★

Paisley is brimming over with grand old buildings. One of the most impressive is Thomas Coats Memorial Church, a monumental red sandstone hulk towering over the western end of the High Street. Paisley seems an unusual location for what was - until recently - the largest Baptist church anywhere in Europe. Then again, the town has an unusual industrial history peppered with rich individuals. The building's scale and elaborate interior can be attributed to the local, immensely wealthy Coats family who commissioned the church in 1885 following the death of family member Thomas Coats, a Baptist and philanthropist who made his fortune in the thread industry. Unfortunately the cathedral-like proportions were massively excessive for a town like Paisley, and generated costs which eventually proved unsustainable through a small congregation and visitor donations. Services ceased in 2018, but seemingly against the odds the building is expecte…