The Scottish Highland Warrior is a romantic and legendary figure which conjures up images of William Wallace and fiercesome claymore wielding clansmen. Highland Games were the place for these clans to compete against each other and show off their strongest and bravest men.
Highland Games today may be less battle like but it is still a showground for not only the strongest men in Scotland to perform against each other but also against some tough international adversaries.
Highland Games season runs from May to September and I visited my first event of the year this weekend at Carmunock, a pretty conservation village on the edge of Glasgow. This is one of the smaller events but it does attract some big characters (in personality and build!!) in both international Strongman and traditional Highland Games competitors. This year Scotland's current strongest man Luke Stoltman was one of the main attractions along with some impressive international names.
The event was also being filmed by Australian TV as part of their coverage of the Commonwealth Games.
Carmunock Highland Games puts a big emphasis on both traditional events like caber toss and stone put and strongman favourites including Atlas stones and log lift. I must confess to being a big Strongman fan and getting up and close to some of my favourite events was a real highlight.
Having grown up in the generation of Indiana Jones, I've always been excited by the prospect of going on my own treasure hunting adventure.
After coming across Geocaching I decided that this was the perfect way to satisfy my Indy envy. It also ticks alot of boxes on my list of favourite pastimes, like exploring the outdoors, heading off the beaten track and learning about places as I go. Although there may not be priceless artifacts at the end of the quest, there is still an unexplained excitement at discovering the random assortment of 'treasures' secreted in the strangest of places.
If you're a novice to Geocaching like me, you should have a look at the official website which will reveal all you need to know about this worldwide treasure hunting trend. Basically you are given a set of GPS co-ordinates, a few details and a cryptic clue before you set off with a purpose.
The Isle of Great Cumbrae is an 8 1/2 minute ferry ride from Largs on the west coast of Scotland and the perfect place to hone your Geocaching craft. Just over 10 miles in circumference and fairly flat terrain allows for easy travel between cache sites on foot or by bike. There are currently 14 sites listed for Cumbrae, although from my own searching I think a couple may be missing in action. With intriguing names such as 'The Hunt for Red October', 'The Good, the Bad and the Ugly' and of course 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' I knew this was going to be an entertaining weekend.
Despite the poor weather I downloaded the official app for Iphone (the £6.99 cost is worth every penny as I found it extremely helpful) and set off in search of my first cache only to be disappointed. I'm positive I was at the right spot and as does happen from time to time the cache appeared to have been removed (well that's my excuse anyway!).
Not to be disheartened I set off with enthusiasm to my next location at the highest point on the island where I was over delighted to find my first tub of treasure.
Today it's time to explore on foot and follow the the marked Inner Walk to the top of the island. At 417 feet above sea level you are rewarded with amazing panoramic views in every direction.
You can look across to the mainland, the islands of Bute and Arran and on a clear day you can see Ben Lomond and the Arrochar Alps.
One of the most fun things I did during my time on Cumbrae was to go Geocaching. View my blog post further down the page to read about this treasure hunting craze. On the Inner Walk there are 3 cache locations which were all pretty easy to find once you knew where to look! Geocaching will add another entertaining and educational dimension to your walk and I highly recommend giving it a go.
DAY 2 PM
After all that walking and seeking of treasure you will enjoy a proper lunch. The Cumbrae Bistro does good food in nice surroundings. If you visit on a Sunday, treat yourself to the 2 courses and glass of wine for £10.
Refuelled it's time for one last walk around the town before heading home. Have a look at the few pretty seaside themed shops for the perfect souvenir.
Get you camera out and capture some last digital memories of the brightly coloured harbour benches, the house with the smallest frontage in the world (it is next door to the bistro) and don't forget to take a few snaps of the iconic crocodile rock. Head up to Kames Bay where you will get some nice views of Little Cumbrae, Arran and the seafront.
If this is your first visit to the Island of Great Cumbrae then a day trip won't be enough to discover the treasures of this little island. If you have the time and budget, stay at least one night, follow my itinerary and you should cover the main attractions. Of course if you have longer then take the chance to relax into Scottish island life.
For easy reading I've split this blog into 2 parts, one for each day.
DAY 1 AM
I recommend a visit to Garrison House as your starting point. The building itself, complete with sunken gardens, is beautiful to look at and it's history and recent renovation provide a fascinating story and insight into the development of Millport. It is free to visit and houses a small museum complete with video and exhibits telling the story of the building and island. There is also a cafe with free WiFi, a craft shop and you can pick up free leaflets and maps here.
When it comes to unusual places to stay a Cathedral is pretty far up there. If that wasn't enough what about staying on a Scottish island at the smallest Cathedral in Britain, some say Europe? I spent 2 nights bed and breakfast at theCathedral of the Isles, situated in the town of Millport on the Island of Great Cumbrae.
The rooms are actually situated in the North College next to the cathedral, built in 1851 it was originally used for students of theology. I must add that you do not have to be religious or of a particular faith to stay here.
There are a range of rooms from single to family sized, some are also en-suite. There is a separate bathroom, shower room and several toilets including one with disabled facilities. A common room with a tv, books, fridge etc is situated on the ground floor.
The rooms are basic and rustic but have all you need for a comfortable stay. This is probably not the place for you if you can't survive without mod cons as the kettle is the only electronic convenience you will find! The rooms have no tv, no wifi and I didn't even have a phone signal. However, in keeping with the ethos of the place, I embraced the quiet time away from outside distractions.
There are many fantastic ways to explore Scotland but sailing along the coast is one that I had never really considered before. This may seem strange as I not only live on an island but I have a picture view through my windows of the Firth of Clyde and spend way too much time gazing at the multitude of yachts that drift by, wondering what exciting journeys they are on.
This week I had the chance to find out just what it is like to view Scotland from the water gazing towards the land and not the other way around and I can confirm it was superb, in fact better than superb, I had an amazing time! Granted, I was on a luxury catamaran and I did have lovely weather which added immensely to the experience and set the bar for future trips but I felt I was seeing some of my favourite and best known parts of the country for the first time.
If there was one Scottish event I wasn't going to miss this year, it was the launch of The Kelpies. These two 30 metre, 300 tonne, stainless steel horse heads have captured my heart from the beginning.
I love that there is something mystical and ethereal about them as they shimmer in the light and give the impression that they could come to life at any moment.
The opening night saw a clear blue sky over Falkirk which slowly coloured to orange as the sun began to set. I stood in a snaking queue with excited anticipation at the much hyped fire, light and sound show which was about to take place.
While everyone stood waiting in the now chilly evening, we were entertained by poets, musicians and street performers, all setting the mood for the event ahead.
For me, walking is by far the best way to explore and get a feel for a place. Following a long distance pathway can provide a sense of adventure and achievement while you are guided through fascinating and ever changing landscapes, often only accessible on foot.
The West Island Way on the Isle of Bute (not to be confused with the much longer and more arduous West Highland Way) leads you on a 40km (25 miles) walking tour of this west coast island. Easily accessible from Glasgow in under 2 hours, yet often overlooked, this long distance walk provides you with stunning and varied scenery as you cross the Highland Boundary Fault Line from Highlands to Lowlands.
If you want to really experience the beauty and diversity of a Scottish island, the West Island Way should be on your travel list.
You are frequently rewarded with spectacular sea and island vistas from rugged hilltops as the route guides you along coastline, through woodland and farmland and over moorland, passing several pretty lochs along the way. With part of the walk crossing Bute golf course and the island airfield you are never short of variety.
Curious livestock and an abundance of local wildlife from the birds of prey circling overhead to the hares darting across your path or the occasional shy roe deer peeping through the trees ensure you will never be short of company as you progress along your way. For bird watchers and nature lovers there are plenty of opportunities to observe the diversity of wildlife that inhabits the island.
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