Scotland is blessed with countless wonderful walks all around the country. Even in cities and towns, you are never far away from a green space filled with nature. Finding rewarding walking trails on my travels around the country is one of my favourite things to do and when I discover somewhere extra special you can be sure I will also share it here with you.
The circular walk at the Birks of Aberfeldy in Highland Perthshire definitely falls in to that category. This beauty spot even managed to captivate Robert Burns who was inspired to compose 'The Birks of Aberfeldy'. Prior to his poem, the area was actually called the Den of Moness and renamed after his lyrics were put to a pre-existing melody and became a popular song.
The route takes you through a mossy woodland and up past tumbling waterfalls until you reach Upper Moness Falls, the highest on the walk. I think it is a pretty magical place and obviously Burns did too, so if you fancy following in both our footsteps, read on...
Birks of Aberfeldy Walk Details
DISTANCE - Approx 2 miles from the designated free car park, add on about 1/2 mile each way if you are walking from Aberfeldy town centre
TIME - The walk takes on average 1 - 2 hours depending on how often you stop to admire the scenery!
TERRAIN - A mixture of designated pathways, wooden walkways and steps. Steep climb on the way up.
DIFFICULTY - Most of the walks I feature on my blog are easy to moderate as I want to include options that most people can manage. I would say that the circular route around The Birks of Aberfeldy is more towards the moderate category as there is some steep climbing in parts. However, provided you have good mobility and a basic level of fitness then it is achievable. If you do need a wee break then there are benches and view points where you can enjoy a wee breather.
TIPS - I would recommend following the trail clockwise - this direction is the most rewarding as you climb up past the many waterfalls but it does involve lots of steep steps. Alternatively you can head anti-clockwise which involves walking uphill on a slope and coming down the stairs on the way back. For the purposes of this blog, I'll be referring to the clockwise route.
FOLLOW IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF ROBERT BURNS
From the car park turn left and cross the first of several wooden footbridges over Moness Burn. The start of the walk is flat and easy going. Before long you will reach a sculpture of Rabbie Burns sitting on a bench, notepad in hand. Take a seat next to him and take in the scenery that inspired Scotland's National Bard to put pen to paper.
Burns visited in August 1787 and a little further along the way you will find the actual spot that he was alleged to have sat at while composing his famous poem. Although some of the woodland has changed since his visit, the oak, ash, hazel and birch trees are still there.
The birch trees are the stars of Rabbie's poem - 'birks' is the Scots for birch trees .
Last year I spent a week on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. After my trip many people asked me to write a blog post with my recommended attractions that they could refer to for their own trip. However, even after a week, I felt I had only scratched the surface and although I could have easily written a classic '10 things to do' list, I would have been doing the island and my readers a disservice.
I strive for my Scottish travel guides to be among the best out there which means they are well researched and I personally visit every location I write about. There is no point in me churning out another blog post that only features the popular attractions or I wouldn't be giving you anything that hasn't been written about widely already. I want my Scotland travel blog to offer you something fresh, original and comprehensive which also showcases some of the many hidden gems that other guide books and blog posts miss out.
I only write about a place once I feel I have gotten to know it fairly well and have explored beyond the stereotype. Often this involves multiple visits and in this case it took a second trip later in the year for me to feel comfortable enough to write about this captivating island.
Lewis has a long history and a deep culture so to sum it up in a 'top ten' list doesn't do it justice. Although travel blogging is my job, at the heart of what I do is travelling to learn about and understand the destinations I visit on a deeper level. I hope to encourage others to do the same.
While this blog post featuring my recommended things to do on the Isle of Lewis could be used purely as a tick-list, I would suggest it is better used as a starting point for learning about the many aspects that have contributed to moulding the people and the culture of this interesting island in to the place you see today.
TRAVEL TIPS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
From top attractions to hidden gems, activities to try, and places to eat and shop - hopefully you will find something that appeals in my recommendations. They are all tried and tested by me so you are getting the benefit of my personal experience to help you put together your own Isle of Lewis itinerary.
Incidentally, if you are still needing some help to put your Scotland travel itinerary together or would like a local to check your plans are doable, then I offer a range of Scotland itinerary planning services that might be of interest.
Here are a few things to note when planning your trip to Lewis -
Parking at some of the popular attractions is quite limited and those with motor-homes seemed to be struggling to find a big enough space. Arrive first thing if you can is my top tip for the popular places.
Religion is a big part of life on the island and most places close on Sunday, which is a day of rest and worship. This is worth remembering when you plan your itinerary.
Public transport is limited so I do recommend a car to make the most of your time.
You can sail to the Isle of Lewis from Ullapool with CalMac Ferries - you might also like to read my recommended things to do in Ullapool
You can also reach Lewis by sailing from the Isle of Skye to the Isle of Harris and driving to Lewis, which is the route I followed on my west coast of Scotland road-trip
I've also marked all of the places mentioned in this handy interactive map to help you plan your itinerary.
A HANDY MAP OF LEWIS WITH ALL THE LOCATIONS MENTIONED
My recommended things to do on the Isle of Lewis
Stroll along the beautiful beaches
While the Isle of Harris may be better known for its breathtakingly beautiful beaches, Lewis's southern neighbour definitely has some competition in the north. In fact the beaches of Harris get so much limelight, the stunning offerings on Lewis tend to get a little overshadowed. I wasn't aware of the plentiful large expanses of pristine sand on the island until I arrived.
On my first trip I stayed in North Tolsta and everyone in my family unanimously agreed that nearby Traigh Mhor was our personal favourite, with the adjacent Tràigh Ghearadha (Garry Beach) also being highly rated. In case you are wondering - tràigh is Gaelic for sandy beach.
On my second trip I stayed in Ness and explored the nearby Eoropie Beach which turned out to be another favourite. Other places I highly rate include Reef Beach, Cliff Beach at Valtos. and Tràigh Uig which is enormous and stunning but a I found it to be a bit busier than the others.
I have no doubt there are many more I have yet to discover but these were a few favourites.
Calanais Standing Stones & Visitor Centre
Arbroath Abbey - one of Scotland's most significant historical attractions
With so many tourists drawn to Scotland because of its fascinating history, it amazes me that I hardly come across any that include Arbroath Abbey in their travel plans. This has to be one of the most interesting and significant buildings to feature in the story of Scotland.
From its connection to the famous Declaration of Arbroath, said to be an influence for the American Declaration of Independence, to the mysterious appearance of the Stone of Destiny, the abbey is often viewed as the home of Scottish nationalism.
I've explored countless ruins all over Scotland and only a few have left a lasting impression on me. Arbroath Abbey is one of them which probably explains why I keep returning. I can't quite explain it but the surviving stones seem to have soaked up some serious history which now seeps from the walls. You can really feel it, or at least I can. And don't even me started on the goosebumps I get when I reach the replica of the Declaration of Independence, displayed in the setting where it was said to be written and accompanied by the haunting voices of those who signed it.
I know all this might sound a little over-romanticised and I don't usually get so affectionate over the remains of an old building. However, it does feel extraordinarily special, maybe its in my imagination or maybe it really is in the walls but visiting for yourself is the only way to fully understand what I'm talking about.
Arbroath Abbey Facts
Arbroath Abbey has a long and interesting history with too much for me to cover in a blog post. However, here are a few quick facts as an introduction to its background -
The Declaration of Arbroath & its connection to the American Declaration of Independence
'...for, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom - for that alone, which no man gives up but with life itself...'
About the Isle of Gigha
The Isle of Gigha is clearly visible from the Kintyre Peninsula and a short 20 minute ferry ride across the Sound of Gigha is all that separates the two.
The little lump of land was originally named Gudey by the Norse King Hakon. The name meaning Good Isle or God's Isle was later adjusted by the Gaels to Gigha (pronounced Geeea).
There aren't many Scottish Islands that you can feasibly visit and explore widely in 1 or 2 days but the community owned Isle of Gigha is one of the exceptions. It is an ideal destination for those looking to experience a little piece of Hebridean paradise in a short amount of time thanks to its close proximity to the mainland and its bijou size.
It is the most southerly Hebridean Island and is only 7 miles long by 1 1/2 miles at its widest point, with one main road dissecting its length. Although you could visit with a car, its small size means it is equally possible to explore by bike (bike hire is available locally) or on foot.
There are not many man-made attractions on Gigha but the beautiful natural scenery is the real draw. Although there are no museums, the history of the island is told through the objects that intertwine the landscape from the standing stones to the modern 'Dancing Ladies' wind turbines.
The island has seen many inhabitants and owners over the centuries, including the Scots, Vikings, various clans and private individuals.
However, Gigha has been community owned since 2002 and many of the facilities are owned or run by the Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust. By visiting and supporting these ventures, you are directly supporting the future of a Scottish island community.
Where is the Isle of Gigha?
The little red marker is Gigha, nestled off the west coast of Scotland between the Kintyre Peninsula and Islay which are both famed for their excellent whisky distilleries.
A combined trip to the Kintyre Peninsula and Gigha is a great choice for those that like to take the road less travelled. This combination also makes a great detour on your Scotland itinerary if you plan to explore the west coast north to Oban.
Kintyre is also the starting point for a Hebridean island hopping adventure to Islay, Colonsay and Jura. Gigha makes an easy addition to this route if bagging some Scottish islands are on your travel agenda. You can also travel to Arran from Kintyre which offers another island hopping possibility.
You might want to check out my blog post with my travel guide to Kintyre for more ideas of things to do in this underrated part of the country.
How to get the ferry to Gigha
The ferry to Gigha departs from Tayinloan on the west coast of the Kintyre Peninsula. The crossing takes approx. 20 minutes and vehicles are permitted on the ferry.
There is no need to book in advance as this is a fairly quiet route but I do recommend turning up in plenty of time for your sailing to make sure you get a place if you do plan to take a vehicle. There is a cafe at the ferry terminal so you can park up in the queue early and grab a coffee while you wait.
You can find the ferry timetable on the CalMac website.
Tayinloan is around 120 miles from Glasgow and the drive takes about 3 hours. There is also the option to take the Campbeltown bus from Glasgow which stops at Tayinloan. I recommend using the Traveline website for planning public transport journeys in Scotland.
My recommended things to do on Gigha
Beaches, archaeology, natural scenery, wildlife, gardens, walks and historical sites are some of the things to see and do on a trip to Gigha. I've listed some of the places I been to that I think are worth exploring and a few other ideas of things that I haven't managed to do yet.
Whether you explore them all or just enjoy the chance to switch off from the hustle and bustle, Gigha makes a great wee alternative to its bigger and busier Hebridean neighbours.
HEAD TO ONE OF THE BEAUTIFUL BEACHES
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