Showing posts from November, 2016

Walk: A Criffel cracker - one for the winter

Dumfries & Galloway | New Abbey | Half day walk | ★★★

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 ★★★
Start / finish at car park at minor road end 1 mi southwest of New Abbey, G.R.: NX 957655 ///clever.whiplash.lively

▶ 10 km / 6 mi | ▲ 570 m | ⌚ Half a day | ⬤ Tough
Features: Loch Kindar; △ Criffel (569 m, sub-2000…

Walk: Grey skies at Gartmorn Dam

Clackmannanshire | Alloa | Short walk | ★★

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 ★★
Start / finish at car park at west end of Gartmorn Dam, Gartmorn Road, half a mile east of Sauchie, Alloa, G.R.: NS 911941 ///sensual.known.doubts

▶ 5 km / 3 mi | ▲ 10 m | ⌚ Short | ⬤ Easy
Features: Gartmorn Dam reservoir
Terrain: Fairly wide, mostly flat paths.

Route & map

Car park - anticlockwise circuit of reservoir via Sherriffyards - start

Route credit: Wal…

Pickering's Gin Distillery

City of Edinburgh | Old Town | 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 slight…

Scott Monument

City of Edinburgh | New Town | 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; visitor on the guided tours 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.

Location & info

📌 Scott Monument★★★
Princes Street, 5-min walk northeast of Edinburgh Waverley station, G.R.: NT 256739 ///dare.mess.icons
Open daily by half-hourly guided tour | £8 adult / £6 child

City Art Centre

City of Edinburgh | Old Town | Gallery | ★★

The City Art Centre is one of a cluster of tourist attractions crammed into the gloomy gap between Edinburgh railway station and the north side of Castle Rock, just across the road from The Edinburgh Dungeon. This central gallery is council-run, usually free to enter and - with six floors - surprisingly spacious inside. Regularly changing exhibitions showcase a range of ages and styles, but mainly focus on Scottish works. The street is a bit of an art hotspot, with the Fruitmarket Gallery conveniently found directly opposite.

Location & info

📌 City Art Centre★★
2 Market Street, immediately south of Edinburgh Waverley station, G.R.: NT 258737 ///
Open daily | Free

Calton Hill

City of Edinburgh | New Town | Viewpoint | ★★★★

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.

Location & info

📌 Calton Hill ★★★★
Between Regent Road & London Road, 15-min walk northeast of Edinburgh Waverley station, G.R.: NT 263742 ///rails.field.flags
Always open | Free

Surgeons' Hall Museums

City of Edinburgh | Old Town | Museum | ★★★

The Surgeons' Hall Museums on the south side of Edinburgh's Old Town has roots stretching back to 1505. The collection of bone and tissue specimens began life as a teaching resource for local medical students, finally opening to the public in 1832. Even a decade ago this was a fairly niche tourist site, and even now, grisly bodily curiosities aren't to every taste; a major redevelopment in 2014 nevertheless helped transform the museum into a relatively popular attraction, encompassing what is now one of the UK's biggest pathology collections.

Location & info

📌 Surgeons' Hall Museums★★★
Nicolson Street, 15-min walk south of Edinburgh Waverley station, G.R.: NT 261733 ///scans.double.mugs
Open daily | £8 adult / £4.50 child

Walk: Toil & trouble beyond Shakespeare's Dunsinane

Perth & Kinross | Sidlaw Hills | Half day walk | ★★

"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 ★★
Start / finish at track junction on minor road (space for just a couple of cars without blocking access) just southeast of Collace,…

Walk: Blairgowrie - Cargill, Covenanters & Caterans

Perth & Kinross | Blairgowrie | Short walk | ★★

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…

Tantallon Castle

East Lothian | North Berwick | 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.

Location & info

📌 Tantallon Castle★★★★
Off A198 3 miles east of North Berwick, G.R.: NT 596850 ///bagpipes.guilty.declares
Open daily | £6 adult / £3.60 child / free for Historic Environment Scotland members

Walk: Quids in at St Baldred's Cradle

East Lothian | Whitekirk | Short walk | ★★★

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 ★★★
Start / finish at car park (charge) at minor road end 3 mi east of Whitekirk, G.R.: NT 626809 ///lined.healers.conquests

▶ 5 km / 3 mi | ▲ 40 m | ⌚ Short | ⬤ Easy

Seacliff Beach

East Lothian | North Berwick | 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.

Location & info

📌 Seacliff Beach ★★★★
Access from the A198 at Auldhame Farm, 3 mi east of North Berwick, G.R.: NT 605845 ///flocking.worldwide.dunes
Always open | Free. The muddy, potholed access road has a £3 charge for veh…

Loch Venachar

Stirling | Trossachs | Loch | ★★★

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 traces 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.

Location & info

📌 Loch Venachar ★★★
Stirling, G.R.: NN 571055 ///photo.instance.roost
Always open | Free

💬 There are various parking areas on the A821 along the north bank, and on the minor road to Loch Venachar sailing club on the southeast side.

Tullibardine Distillery

Perth & Kinross | Blackford | 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.

Location & info

📌 Tullibardine Distillery★★★
Moray Street (B8081), west side of Blackford village, G.R.: NN 895087 ///crows.stealing.output
Open daily | £9+ depending on tour type

Linlithgow Palace

West Lothian | Linlithgow | Palace | ★★★

Chief amongst Linlithgow's attractions is its huge palace, an architecturally striking building on the site of an earlier castle and overlooking Linlithgow Loch. 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.

Location & info

📌 Linlithgow Palace★★★
Kirkgate, Linlithgow town centre, G.R.: NT 002774 ///hotels.ruling.galaxy
Open daily | £7.20 adult / £4.30 child / free for Historic Environment Scotland members. This is a reduced price due to conservation works restricting access at time of update in September 2020.

Walk: The Brack... and beyond

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

The Brack is an craggy peak steeply overlooking Glen Croe and the Rest and Be Thankful road pass. After an easy start on gentle forest tracks, the absurdly steep qualifying scramble at the start of the hill path proper is a brutal reminder that you're in the jagged Arrochar Alps. Beyond the summit lies a partly pathless but attractively undulating ridge to the south west. This conveniently intersects with the Cowal Way for a straightforward return route. 3 km of road walking at the end can be varied by using scenic (but less direct) forest paths beside Loch Long and the River Croe.

📌 Walk: The Brack... and beyond ★★★★
Start / finish at car park on A83 immediately north of Ardgartan, G.R.: NN 270037 ///drag.supported.harp

▶ 13 km / 8 mi | ▲ 940 m | ⌚ Full day | ⬤ Tough
Features: △ The Brack (787 m, Corbett); Loch Long; Croe Water
Terrain: Wide forestry tracks then steep and rough hill path for ascent which may require hands rig…