After Dumfries and Galloway I had to cross the country from the west coast to the east coast and as my mum and husband were going to join me for a few days, I broke the journey with an overnight stay at my parents in Glasgow. After almost a week camping I was very appreciative of a comfy bed and hot bath!
The following day we set off towards the Scottish Borders and made an impromptu stop at Crichton Castle, which isn't on the coast but seemed a good place to take a break before lunch. This was the first time I had visited the castle and was immediately wowed as we approached. An impressive spot and an impressive ruin, it must have been some spectacle in its day.
The interior was unique to anything I have ever seen in a Scottish castle before which made it really stand out for me. A diamond-faceted facade inspired by Italy and in particular the Palazzo dei Diamanti in Ferrara, makes Crichton Castle that bit more unusual. I've visited many, many (many!) castles in Scotland over my lifetime and this is definitely one of the more memorable ruins and now added to my favourites.
As there were now 3 of us (and Willow), we decided it was more practical to get an apartment rather than camp and found a fantastic 2 bedroom flat on Airbnb in the historic town of Greenlaw in the Scottish Borders. At only £50 per night, dog friendly and 30 minutes from the coast, it was ideal. It turned out to be a great little apartment and the village was nice and peaceful, I would highly recommend it as a budget base for exploring the southeast of the country.
It was then time to start exploring the east coast and after temporarily crossing the Border to England, I was back on my Scottish coastal adventures and enjoyed a lovely evening in Eyemouth.
There's nothing like going on a Scottish road-trip, cruising over hills, along coasts and through glens. However, if you are one of the growing number of electric vehicle owners wanting to take off on a journey along the highways and byways of Scotland you might have to plan a bit more carefully. particularly when it comes to finding accommodation as few overnight stops currently provide the facility to charge your vehicle.
For those wanting to seek out the delights of Edinburgh and the surrounding area you will be pleased to know that you can now make use of new free twin charging points at The Edinburgh Marriott, handily situated near the city airport.
Having no experience of the logistics of taking an electric vehicle on such a road-trip, I was intrigued to take up an invite to stay at the hotel with the use of an electric car to explore the area during my stay and find out just how far I could go on battery power.
Here is how my 2 days went...
The Edinburgh Marriot is a large and functional hotel mainly used for business travel, coach tours, corporate events and airport stopovers. As you would expect from this size and type of hotel it has facilities such as a leisure club with swimming pool, business suites, beauty salon and hairdresser.
The rooms are more functional than luxury although they provide all the extras you would need. A couple of nice touches I appreciated were the sculpted swan towels on the bed (a dying art in my opinion!) and rather nice L'Occitane toiletries. Unfortunately WiFi is only free in public areas with a charge applied to access it from the bedroom, not ideal for someone like me who needs frequent online access.
I stayed in one of the deluxe bedrooms which had a huge and comfy bed and after a good nights sleep I enjoyed a tasty breakfast from a large buffet selection. I can also highly recommend the bar snacks as the pork belly bites were totally delicious!
My Nissan Leaf vehicle was provided by eCorporate Travel, who offer a professional and discreet 'green' chauffeur service, based in Edinburgh Their concept is to provide environmentally sustainable travel at competitive prices and after chatting to them I was impressed at how passionate they are about their business and their vision to provide a more environmentally friendly travel service, something we should all be embracing.
After some quick tuition in driving and charging the vehicle I was ready to set off on my first electric adventure in my silent, green machine!
Where did I go?
The Edinburgh Marriott is situated on the outskirts of Scotland's historic capital and this is a bonus if you are driving and don't relish the thought of navigating the one way streets or rush hour traffic going in and out of the city centre, not to mention finding an affordable parking space! With plenty of free parking and sitting next to the city bypass, this is ideal accommodation for those wanting to explore the gems that surround Edinburgh.
With over 100 miles of charge and the sun shining I was firstly drawn towards Edinburgh's own coastal suburb and a proper Scottish road-trip to visit the seaside delights of Portobello Beach. A 32 mile round trip wasn't too much of a drain on the battery, however I found it easy and convenient to top it up in the hotel car park whilst I checked in to my room and planned my next adventure.
On the second day I again opted to avoid the hustle and bustle of the city and made my way to Castlelaw Iron Age Hillfort in the Pentland Hills near Penicuik. At just over 10 miles from the hotel this makes an interesting alternative to the historic city centre attractions. There are also walking routes for those wanting to explore more of the outdoors and I highly recommend heading a few miles along the road to visit the famous Rosslyn Chapel while you are in the area.
Regular readers of my blog will know that I often recommend small group tours as an economical way to see some of the best sites in Scotland for those short on time. There are many companies that traverse the highways and byways of the country in their logo emblazoned minibuses on a daily basis.
When I was invited to experience a day tour with Invent Scottish Tours I wanted to know what makes them different?
Starting my day in Edinburgh I immediately spotted the first disparity to previous small group excursions I have sampled; the vehicles used by Scottish Invent Tours only seat a maximum of 8 passengers and provide much more space and comfort than the usual minibuses. This also means that the journey feels much more intimate and personal, in my opinion they seem to fill a gap between a private tour and a larger group tour.
Joined by some lovely lady travelling companions from the USA, our small group was assembled and we were ready to get underway, so far so good!
Having opted for their Holy Grail and Knights Templar tour we began our journey south from Edinburgh and it wasn't long before we reached our first scenic stop of the day at Scott's View which is always a pleasant welcome to the Scottish Borders. As some of you may know I had only been there a couple of weeks previously but like Sir Walter Scott I could happily stop here and admire the sweeping Borders vistas on a frequent basis. This time I was also delighted to see some impressive red kites swooping and gliding overhead.
Something else that made this tour very different to some other companies was the time we had to stop at each location. No quick photo stops on this tour, we were encouraged to take as much or as little time as we wished, ask questions and wander off to explore, it was a pleasant change to not feel in a regimented rush. Add to this the flexibility of our itinerary and I would say that Invent Scottish Tours genuinely brings something fresh to the Scottish small group tour market.
The flexibility in our day became apparent at our second stop at Smailholm Tower. Not in our official schedule, our guide recommended the short detour to this picturesque tower house and the area where Sir Walter Scott spent much time as a young boy at his grandparents' farm.
I have seen Smailholm Tower from a distance several times, however I was glad of the opportunity to finally explore it up close. Although sadly there has not been much effort put into the displays within this Historic Scotland property, the views from the top are impressive. If you are not a Historic Scotland member and have to pay the admission fee you might feel disappointed and to be honest a walk around the outside of the tower and the surrounding landscape is just as rewarding.
One of the tour highlights is a stop at the pretty and historic Borders town of Melrose. We had 90 mins to spend as we wished and for me it was an easy choice of a quick bite of lunch and a visit to Melrose Abbey. I absolutely love the Borders Abbeys and highly recommend visiting all four of them if you ever have the time as they are all very different and all very atmospheric.
Another Historic Scotland property, the admission price is not included in the tour but I feel it is worth it. I often recommend becoming a Historic Scotland and a National Trust of Scotland member if you are interested in visiting several of their properties as the cost quickly adds up.
Founded by King David 1 in 1136, it was substantially rebuilt in the 1380s. It continued as an abbey until 1560 and although it is mostly a ruin today, there are still plenty of impressive carved features. A climb to the top of the tower is a must, not only for the views but also for a close up of the famous bagpipe playing pig! Melrose Abbey is also the burial place of the heart of King Robert the Bruce who died in 1329, although his body was interred at Dunfermline Abbey.
1. Mercat Tours - The Edinburgh Outlander Experience Walking Tour
This seasonal 2 hour walking tour of Edinburgh takes place each Saturday and explores the history of the city during the period Jamie and Claire would have visited and stops at locations which either feature in the books or have inspired Diana Gabaldon in her research.
I was invited to experience the tour for myself and started off my weekend by joining an international group of fans keen to hear tales of life in 18th Century Edinburgh. Our guide Gillian started off with an interesting summary of the unfortunate generations of Stuart Kings and the events that eventually led to the Jacobite risings, an essential aid to understanding the background of the books.
Gillian then led us into atmospheric back closes, up to the Castle and back down the Royal Mile from the Canongate to the Palace of Holyroodhouse, stopping off at strategic points along the way to regale stories of witches, printmakers, pubs, wells, graveyards, herb gardens and the Tolbooth jail where the men of Lallybroch were imprisoned. Diana Gabaldon may have wrote a fictional series, however she has really done her research and much of the background is based on real events and places which would actually have existed in the city at the time and Mercat Tours are experts at not only finding them but also bringing them to life.
Just to make sure we didn't get lost or distracted, Gillian tempted us along like an Outlander Pied Piper by holding up photos of Jamie and occasionally Claire by demand of the men in the group!
I certainly learned lots of new facts about the city and discovered lots of nooks and crannies I hadn't noticed before and probably wouldn't have if it wasn't for the tour. Standing huddled together in quiet old closes hearing tales of the characters that lived there helps you to imagine the Edinburgh that Jamie and Claire would have experienced which certainly felt a world away from the bustling 21st Century crowds on the Royal Mile.
The tour ends at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, another location which fans will be familiar with and it is possible to visit this magnificent building which is the official residence of the Queen in Scotland, although being an official building it is occasionally closed to the public which was the case on the day I was there so it is advisable to check opening hours in advance.
I also recommend a visit to the National Museum of Scotland if you have time before the tour starts. Here you will find exhibits about the Jacobites and Bonnie Prince Charlie among their many interesting displays.
The majority of the tour centres around the books and in particular Dragonfly in Amber so be aware there may be some spoilers if you have not read it. Walking for 2 hours on cobbled stones is best done in comfortable shoes and I would also advise you also take a bottle of water along on warm days.
Visit the Mercat Tour website for more information and to book.
This is my second blog covering Scottish regional filming locations used in the the Outlander TV series and this time I will also be including some other Outlander themed activities available in the area.
Last weekend I went on an Edinburgh and Lothians Outlander pilgrimage which included a walking tour in the city and visits to nearby key filming locations from Series 1.
As part of my research I personally visit every location I include in my guides so I can give you the best advice and top tips to make the most of your experience. I recommend a minimum of 2 days if you want to briefly visit the places mentioned in this post although in reality 3-4 days would be ideal if you want to explore them properly. I managed to cover all this ground in a weekend so it is possible if you are short on time!
I spent the rest of my weekend visiting nearby Outlander filming locations which are all handily situated a short drive from Edinburgh, making it easy to travel to them all over 2 days.
2. Bo'ness Railway Station
Approx a 40 min drive brings you to the quaint little steam railway at Bo'ness. Transformed into a 1940s London railway and renamed Milford Station for episode 1 of Outlander, this is where Claire and Frank bid each other farewell.
I was lucky enough to pull into the carpark just as one of the trains was about to depart and quickly dashed up to the overhead bridge to take some photos. I really find steam engines quite romantic and it was a treat to see one pass directly under me with the steam wafting up into my face!
As I was on a mission to get to my next stop I didn't have time to fully appreciate this cute little station or visit the museum, however I hope to return and actually take one of the train journeys for myself as they look great fun,
Passenger trains run for a limited number of dates throughout the year, check out the online timetable and try and coincide your visit with a steam train departure to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of bygone rail travel.
3. Blackness Castle
Just a 15 minute drive from Bo'ness back towards Edinburgh and you will reach the imposing Blackness Castle. Who could forget those scenes of poor Jamie being flogged in the courtyard when the 15th Century castle stood in as Fort William?
This is definitely one of the more interesting Scottish castles that I have visited and there is certainly a gloomy atmosphere that permeates the stone walls which is no surprise given it's dark history. In contrast the views from the curtain walls and towers across the Firth of Forth are impressive and momentarily distract you from the darkness of this formidable structure. I highly recommend exploring the inside and outside of this dramatic castle if you have the time.
Blackness Castle belongs to Historic Scotland and there is an admission charge to visit. If you are going to a few of their sites the costs can add up and I recommend investigating whether a membership works out cheaper.
If your idea of the perfect visitor experience involves relaxing with a drink in hand while you watch the world and some iconic Scottish scenery go by while learning about the local area then I may have the answer for you.
Last week I decided to go on a boat trip down the Firth of Forth with Forth Boat Tours and I can't recommend it highly enough, in fact I would go as far as saying it is one of the best things I've done in Scotland!
We were welcomed on board at the pier in South Queensferry and my four legged companion was suitably fussed over! It is so nice to find attractions that allow dogs and Willow does love a cruise being a frequent ferry traveller herself.
Our transport for the next 90 minutes was The Forth Belle, which was equipped with plenty of seats outside and an indoor lounge area with a bar on the lower deck. There are seats at the front and rear and a couple of small areas up top next to the Captain for an all round view.
On the day I travelled I'd say the boat was half full which meant it felt quite spacious, I would recommend travelling at off peak times if you want to move around easily for photographs.
I was out on a warm, sunny day and the lounge was nice and cool. On a rainy day it is heated inside so the boat is designed for all Scottish weather eventualities.
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