Showing posts from November, 2016

Walk: A Criffel cracker - one for the winter

Isolated from surrounding hills, views from the summit of Criffel are some of the most memorable in Scotland on a clear day. Looking south, the cluster of peaks forming the northern Lake District rise majestically beyond the miles of mudflats and seawater of the Solway Firth. But the hill is a double-edged sword despite paths all the way to the top. A trawl through the internet archives quickly reveals why: this hill has a serious reputation for bog, no matter which direction you climb it from. Expect wet feet on this otherwise wonderfully scenic circuit from the New Abbey side, unless you're lucky enough to get a rare day when all the mud's frozen solid. One for the winter...

📌 Walk: Cold Criffel cracker ★★★☆☆
▶ 10 km / 6 miles | ▲ 570 metres | ⌚ Half day walk
Main summits: Criffel (569 metres, sub-2000')
Points of interest: Loch Kindar
Start / finish: Car park at minor road end a mile southwest of New Abbey, G.R.: NX 957655 ///clever.whiplash.lively

Route: Car park - Loch K…

Walk: Grey skies at Gartmorn Dam

Gartmorn Dam is Scotland's oldest reservoir, constructed in 1713 to supply water for pumps draining a nearby colliery. The waters are an important migration destination for overwintering wildfowl long accustomed to the constant patter of dogs being taken for walks around the edges. Paths on all sides enable good viewing opportunities, while the Ochil Hills are well seen from the south bank on a clear day. Even if (as on our visit) the weather gods are against you, don't despair: bring food and the ducks will be happy even if you're not.

📌 Walk: Grey skies at Gartmorn Dam ★★☆☆☆
▶ 5 km / 3 miles | ▲ 10 metres | ⌚ Short walk
Points of interest: Gartmorn Dam reservoir
Start / finish: Car park at west end of the reservoir, east side of Sauchie, Alloa, G.R.: NS 911941 ///sensual.known.doubts

Route: Anticlockwise circuit of reservoir via Sherriffyards
Terrain: Fairly wide paths, mostly flat.
Wildlife today: Mallards, gooseanders, tufted ducks, swans & black-headed gulls.
Weather t…

Pickering's Gin Distillery

Edinburgh has a notable absence of malt whisky distilleries. But there are no such problems with gin. The city's Southside is home to Pickering's, a tiny 2013 startup based in a former animal hospital-now-turned-major arts centre - err, really. The distillery, also known as Summerhall, runs wonderfully casual "gin jollies" (they're way too hip to call them tours) at all hours including weekends and evenings. The short history of the company is remarkable: basically, flowering from a seemingly unlikely partnership between a butler and a construction worker into a fully-fledged brand in three years. But with just two compact rooms to see and only a handful of staff on the payroll this is still certainly a small-scale operation. An introductory gin and tonic as well as a triple tasting to finish up no doubt makes it a popular jaunt for university students round the corner. And for inquisitive travel bloggers from slightly further afield...

📌Summerhall Distillery (Pi…


Edinburgh is Scotland's capital city and a global icon. The list of world-famous attractions is impressive: Edinburgh Castle, the joint World Heritage Sites of the Old and New Towns, Edinburgh Zoo, The Royal Mile, Arthur's Seat... and the list goes on. Nowhere else in Scotland comes close to its breathtaking architecture, and there's a depth of history here that larger Glasgow can only dream of. And Edinburgh's striking cityscape seems in perfect harmony with the spectacular natural landscape. Extinct volcanoes are everywhere, making up a number of the city's legendary seven hills and rising 251 metres above sea level at rocky Arthur's Seat. It's easy to forget that Edinburgh has expanded to reach the ocean too, with Portobello Beach and the Port of Leith both only a short bus ride from the centre. The city does feel like it's owned by tourists at times - particularly during summer. And for a few weeks during August, fervour reaches new heights with th…

Scott Monument

Towering over Princes Street in the middle of Edinburgh, the ornate, 200 foot-high Scott Monument commemorates Scottish author Sir Walter Scott, erected in Gothic style about a decade after his death in 1832. The inflation-busting £8 entry fee (as of 2019) is almost as steep as the increasingly claustrophobic spiral staircases needed to ascend the interior. But you're not just paying for the exercise; visitors gain access to several museum rooms and viewing platforms offering amazing views across the city - much more than you would expect given the tower's slender profile. Worth the money? We're on the fence.

📌Scott Monument★★★☆☆
Location: Princes Street, 5-min walk northeast of Edinburgh Waverley station, G.R.: NT 256739 ///dare.mess.icons
Open (2019): Daily
Cost (2019): £8 (adults), £5 (children)

Calton Hill

Edinburgh has one of the most spectacular cityscapes in the world, and Calton Hill is one of the best places to see it all from. A rocky outcrop right at the heart of the city, the summit is sprinkled with an impressive array of monuments and buildings of its own, including the old City Observatory. If the natural high point of the hill isn't enough for you, you can pay to ascend a further 143 steps to the top of the telescope-shaped Nelson Monument for even better views.

📌Calton Hill ★★★★☆
Location: Between Regent Road & London Road, 15-min walk northeast of Edinburgh Waverley station, G.R.: NT 263742 ///rails.field.flags
Anything else? Free parking is available on some of the surrounding streets outside working hours.

Walk: Toil & trouble beyond Shakespeare's Dunsinane

"Macbeth shall never vaquished be, until Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane hill shall come against him." So said William Shakespeare in Macbeth, in which the summit features as the title character's castle. There are indeed some impressive ramparts, but they're the remains of iron age hill forts, no doubt providing the inspiration for the playwright. A deep cleft separates Dunsinane from a broad ridge leading to Black Hill and King's Seat, with the latter reached by toiling across heather on only intermittent paths. If that seems too much like hard work, the first section to Dunsinane is a pleasant leg-stretcher on a good path. But you'd be missing out on some excellent views across the Sidlaw Hills and beyond.

📌 Walk: Toil and trouble beyond Shakespeare's Dunsinane ★★☆☆☆
▶ 7 km / 4 miles | ▲ 380 metres | ⌚ Half day walk
Main summits: Dunsinane (310 metres); Black Hill (360 metres); King's Seat (377 metres, sub-2000')
Start / finish: Track juncti…

Walk: Blairgowrie - Cargill, Covenanters & Caterans

Above Blairgowrie the River Ericht passes through a shallow, wooded gorge. Scenery and history have colluded to create a charming stretch of riverside path. The fast-flowing burn allowed a chain of mills to develop along its banks, now either derelict (but attractive) shells or stylish residential properties. The most dramatic section of rapids is Cargill's Leap, where local covenanter and minister Donald Cargill apparently jumped across the foaming waters to escape government troops. In the 1960s, foolhardy souls attempting the same feat led to the council blowing up the rocks around the narrowest part to make it more obviously impossible; nevertheless, it's still a dramatic spot. Later on the route uses the Cateran Trail to climb The Knockie for excellent views. This long distance footpath is named after Highland raiders who used to wreak havoc in the area; on our trip the only marauding party was a noisy flock of migrating geese.

📌 Walk: Blairgowrie - Cargill, Covenanters …

Tantallon Castle

Tantallon Castle is all about scale. Its huge size makes this one of the most impressive fortresses in the Scottish Lowlands, with a 4 metre-thick curtain wall protecting a large inner ward. Built by William Douglas in the mid-1300s, custodians Historic Scotland describe it as "Scotland's last great medieval castle", starkly defensive and almost completely lacking windows. On approach the clifftop castle looks one-dimensional, but crossing the bridge and passing through the single entrance portal reveals several subsidiary buildings and three great towers built into the curtain wall. Steps - lots of them - go all the way to the top for great views over the site and out towards Bass Rock.

📌Tantallon Castle★★★★☆
Location: Off A198 3 miles east of North Berwick, G.R.: NT 596850 ///bagpipes.guilty.declares
Open (2019): Daily
Cost (2019): £6 (adults), £3.60 (children), free for Historic Environment Scotland members

Walk: Quids in at St Baldred's Cradle

East Lothian was once home to St Baldred, a Northumbrian monk who came and founded a monastery at Tyninghame in the 8th century. He lends his name to nearby St Baldred's Cradle, a gorgeous headland on the north side of the (Scottish) River Tyne. An intimate, idyllic coast path winds through mixed woodland (and around less idyllic WWII tank traps) before continuing to the exposed tip of the headland. There's an ancient cairn here along with great views across to Bass Rock, where the saint spent his later years in a remote hermitage. An expansive beach at Ravensheugh Sands rounds off the route, best explored when the tide's low. All in all, well worth the cheeky parking charge recently imposed by the local council.

📌 Walk: Quids in at St Baldred's Cradle ★★★☆☆
▶ 5 km / 3 miles | ▲ 40 metres | ⌚ Short walk
Points of interest: St Baldred's Cradle & coast; Ravensheugh Sands
Start / finish: Car park (with a charge) at minor road end 3 miles east of Whitekirk, G.R.: NT…

Seacliff Beach

Half a mile of flawless sand, distant views of a ruined castle perched above lonely cliffs, silence only interrupted by breaking waves and cries of seagulls overhead... Seacliff is a perfect example of a remote Highland beach. Except it's in the Lowlands, just 20 miles from Edinburgh. A lack of facilities and a small charge for vehicles (access is by a private road) keeps visitor numbers low, but it's a bewitching spot for those in the know. A tiny, rock-cut harbour on the west side, rock pools and the dramatic hulk of Bass Rock dominating the view out to sea add to the attraction. High tide completely covers the beach and also cuts off access to the harbour and adjacent headland, so time your visit carefully.

📌Seacliff Beach ★★★★☆
Location: Access from A198 at Auldhame Farm, 3 miles east of North Berwick, G.R.: NT 605845 ///flocking.worldwide.dunes
Cost (2019): Free, but last mile to the beach is on a muddy private road with a £3 charge to lift the barrier - bring coins or wal…

Loch Venachar

If you're heading into the depths of the Trossachs from the east side, leave some time in your itinerary to pause at Loch Venachar: a popular sailing destination with great views for the rest of us. Ben Ledi and the Menteith Hills provide barriers to the north and south, so access is from the east or west. The A821 cuddles the loch's north bank for a mile or so, with a couple of parking areas providing access to the waterside. For the ultimate escape, the south side has a cycle track for its whole length - hire a bike from nearby Wheels Cycling Centre at Gartchonzie.

📌Loch Venachar ★★★★★
Location: G.R.: NN 571055 ///photo.instance.roost
Anything else? Various parking areas on the A821 along the north bank, or on the minor road to Loch Venachar sailing club on the southeast side.

Tullibardine Distillery

An abandoned retail village backing on to the A9 dual carriageway probably isn't what you'd imagine when picturing a Scottish whisky distillery. But Tullibardine Distillery easily predates the shops and its location actually makes a lot of sense: nearby spring water from the Ochil Hills, good transport connections to distribute its product, and the site's previous use as a brewery as far back as the twelfth century. The shopping centre closed around 2014, but Tullibardine have since pounced on the available space and are currently undergoing major expansion. The friendly standard tour crams a lot into its rather short 45 minute duration.

📌Tullibardine Distillery★★★☆☆ Location: B8081, west side of Blackford village, G.R.: NN 895087 ///crows.stealing.output Open (2019): Daily Cost (2019): £8+ depending on tour type

Linlithgow Palace

Chief amongst Linlithgow's attractions is its huge palace, an architecturally striking building on the site of an earlier castle. Parts date to 1424 and much remains intact despite the roof being missing. The courtyard is an impressive place, surrounded by walkways linking grand rooms and ranges on all levels. James V, Mary, Queen of Scots, and Princess Elizabeth were all born here, with the building's active use only coming to an end as the result of a major fire in 1746.

📌Linlithgow Palace★★★☆☆
Description: Majestic ruined palace and the birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots, overlooking Linlithgow Loch.
Location: Kirkgate, Linlithgow town centre, G.R.: NT 002774 ///hotels.ruling.galaxy
Open (2019): Daily
Cost (2019): £6 (adults), £3.60 (children), free for Historic Environment Scotland members