Things to do in Caithness - Visit the Castle of Old Wick
On the day I visit the Castle of Old Wick, the sky is stormy and brooding, the wind is howling and the sea is boiling and frothing.
Luckily, living in Orkney, I'm used to these conditions and exploring the coast of Caithness in the winter requires the same hardiness and thick layers of clothing to withstand the North Sea forces. The masochist in me actually enjoys being outdoors when the elements are at their harshest as it often means witnessing Mother Nature at her most dramatic.
After a short gusty walk along the cliff trail from the car park, during which I just about manage to stay upright, I get my first glimpse of one of Scotland's oldest castles, thought to date back to the 1100s.
I've seen some people comment that there isn't much to see, but I'm surprised that so much of the walls of the squat square tower are still standing. Let's not forget it is around 900 years old and sits in an exposed position on a narrow headland being battered by wind and water on a regular basis. I know I look pretty rough after just a couple of hours outside in those conditions!
As the waves crash against the rocks below I can imagine that this could be a bleak place to stay in the winter. However, as defensive positions go, building on a location that has sheer craggy sea cliffs on three sides is a smart choice. The remaining side on the mainland was defended by a gatehouse, two defensive ditches and drawbridge, just to make sure it was pretty much impregnable.
The castle's prominent coastal position also made it a good navigational marker and sailors referred to it as 'The Old Man of Wick'.
By shopping online you can not only bring a little bit of Orkney to you but you will also support local businesses and ensure their survival so they are still around when people are able to visit again.
So many people have told me how disappointed they feel about having to cancel their Scotland travel plans this year, including visits to Orkney, the place I am lucky enough to call home.
This blow hasn't just been felt by travellers, In Scottish island communities like Orkney, local businesses have been hit hard as many of them depend on tourism for survival.
As an islander, a small tourism business and someone who has had to cancel several trips of my own, I can relate to all these difficult circumstances.
However, just because you can't travel to Scotland or Orkney right now, it doesn't mean you can't immerse yourself in an island experience. By shopping online you can not only bring a little bit of Orkney to you but you will also support local businesses and ensure their survival so they are still around when people are able to visit again.
To make things easier an online shopping page has been set up so you can find a wide range of Orkney businesses including food, drink and crafts, that can deliver to your door. To give you a flavour of the diverse Orcadian goods you can buy, check out the listings below.
INDULGE IN SOME OF THE FINEST ORKNEY FOOD
Even though you can't dine in Orkney right now, you can still sample local Orkney produce thanks to all these businesses that deliver to your door.
Jolly's of Orkney - a one stop shop for a wide range of Orkney produce including cheese, fish, tablet and sweeties. If you just can't decide then one of their hampers with a selection of goodies is a great way to sample some of the fabulous local produce. There are also themed hampers covering everything from local whisky and gin products to baked goods made from beremeal, an ancient local grain.
JP Orkney - JP Orkney use seasonal and locally sourced ingredients to create the tastiest chutney, piccalilli, relish and jam - I can personally recommend their caramelised carrot jam which is perfect with crumbly cheese and an Orkney oatcake.
Orkney Craft Vinegar - The chef James Martin recently stated that this is 'the best vinegar you can buy' and many other well known chefs have also been singing the praises of Orkney Craft Vinegar. Some of the incredible flavours include Highland Park, Rosehip, Sugar Kelp and Rhubarb. The organic ingredients for each vinegar are foraged by hand on the island and the business strives to be sustainable.
Westray Bakehouse - Westray Bakehouse has been following family recipes since 1892 and today they produce a range of biscuits, shortbread, crackers and oatcakes which are perfect for a cup of tea or a snack. I particularly recommend pairing the oatcakes or crackers with some Orkney cheese and a JP chutney or relish for the full Orkney experience!
Barony Mill - With baking mania gripping the UK, now is the perfect time to experiment with Orkney beremeal, an ancient form of barley grown and milled in Orkney for over 300 years. Order a bag from Barony Mill and whip up some bannocks, scones and biscuits.
SAMPLE SOME OF THE LOCAL TIPPLES
Whisky, gin, wine, liqueurs, rum, beer, ale and even tea and coffee are some of the speciality drinks produced in the Orkney Islands and they can all be ordered online from the businesses listed below.
Unlike Edinburgh where many tourist attractions centre around the Royal Mile, Glasgow's attractions are a lot more spread out. As it is an expansive city, if you only have 1 or 2 days to explore I recommend using the 'Hop on Hop off' Bus Tours to make the most of your time. Many of the attractions are quite a distance apart so walking is not the best option if visiting some of them is on your agenda.
At first glance visitor's might think the city doesn't have much to offer on a sightseeing trip, however this couldn't be further from the truth. Glasgow is bursting with world class museums, galleries and historic sites which are not only some of the most visited attractions in Scotland, but also within the UK.
On top of that there are more than 90 parks and gardens, umpteen music venues (did you know Glasgow was a UNESCO City of Music?), fantastic architecture and many more unique places to visit. Did I also mention that it is a previous European Capital of Culture and was named the top cultural and creative centre in the UK in 2019?
As there are no obvious tourist areas, Glasgow has a more authentic feel than other cities but that doesn't mean there isn't plenty for tourists to see and do. You just have to work a little harder to find the sites and the City Sightseeing Bus is the perfect solution for those short on time.
The circular route takes you around various districts and recorded commentary is a great introduction to the history of the places that you pass through. It stops at most of the major attractions and takes away the stress of planning individual public transport journeys to get around. I've tried out the tour twice and even though I was born in Glasgow and lived in the city for over 30 years, I found it an enjoyable way to explore and even learned a few new things along the way!
If it is a dry day, then the open top buses offer a great perspective of the vibrant street art and architectural details of the grand buildings. You might choose just to sit back, relax and learn more about Glasgow as you tour the city or you might decide to get on and off at various stops to explore a bit more.
Whatever you decide to do this handy guide to the Glasgow Hop on Hop off Bus will help you plan your own visit. Below you will find -
A Guide to the Hop on Hop off Glasgow Bus Tour
Unlike the Edinburgh Hop on Hop off Tours which offer three bus route options, Glasgow only has the City Sightseeing Bus and all buses follow the same route. You can't miss them with their distinctive red branding.
What does the Glasgow Bus Tour include?
Glasgow Hop on Hop off Bus Ticket Options
While visitors head to the north of Scotland in their droves, I often feel the south of Scotland gets unfairly overlooked. I've lost count of the itineraries I've seen online that only venture north of Edinburgh and Glasgow despite the fantastic historic and scenic treasures that fill Ayrshire, Lanarkshire, the Scottish Borders and Dumfries and Galloway.
I always think this is a shame, but on the plus side it does mean that the Mull of Galloway at the most southerly point of Scotland is a much quieter alternative to its counterpart in the north. However, that doesn't mean that it is any less rewarding to visit and I'd even go as far as saying it is more rewarding as it feels remoter, wilder and less commercialised.
It is also likely to remain that way as it is a destination rather than somewhere you pass through. Sitting at the end of a 5 mile long country road which heads south from the village of Drummore, it is often referred to as 'Scotland's Lands End'.
The Mull of Galloway is at the southern end of the Rhins of Galloway, a peninsula on the south-west corner of Scotland that is worth exploring over at least a couple of days. It also makes a worthwhile detour from Cairnryan for those travelling by ferry to or from Northern Ireland.
At the bottom of this post I've listed some of my other recommended things to do in the area if you do want to extend your stay.
Things to do in & around the Mull of Galloway
So what makes the Mull of Galloway so special and worth venturing so far south? I've listed some of the reasons why I love this part of the country below, and as usual, I hope it inspires you to consider a part of Scotland that might not have been on your radar until now,
Visit Drummore - Scotland's most southerly village
Drummore is the last village you pass heading south towards the Mull of Galloway. It is Scotland's most southerly village and you might be surprised to find out it is not only further south than the Scottish Borders but it is even further south than Newcastle!
If like me, you still enjoy sending mail the old fashioned way and not via virtual messaging then Scotland's first and last post office is situated here and makes a unique stop to send your postcards from. Across the road you can also stock up on supplies at Scotland's most southerly store.
Visit the Mull of Galloway Lighthouse Exhibition
As you continue south from Drummore, the scenery opens up and you are rewarded with a stunning view across to the Mull of Galloway Lighthouse in the distance, perched high on the clifftop.
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