Urban Quarters Review
My recent visit to Dundee was my fifth trip to the city in the last couple of years and as I had already covered most of the Dundee attractions on previous visits, I was looking forward to exploring the city like a local rather than a tourist. Thanks to an invite to experience the centrally located Urban Quarters apartments, I even had my own luxury Dundee pad for the weekend and you can't get much more local than that!
Since it was also my wedding anniversary that week it was the perfect opportunity to celebrate with Mr Adventures Around Scotland as Dundee is one of our favourite places.
Urban Quarters is made up of 4 individual apartments, each named after a famous Dundonian. We were allocated the two bedroom Patrick Geddes apartment on the top floor.
From walking in, we felt immediately at home. The designer apartment is fitted out to a high standard with lots of creative and quirky touches which I just loved. It is definitely the first (and will probably be the only) accommodation I have stayed at with a popcorn maker, 3D glasses and a record player (complete with an eclectic mix of albums). If you were watching my Instagram story you might recall me playing some Scottish tunes from the legendary jimmy Shand as our Friday night entertainment. I really know how to party!
If you would rather chill out than dance the night away to some cheesy tunes then a yoga mat and book of mindfulness is provided to help you relax. Personally, I was really impressed by the unique touches which all helped us to feel at home, in fact it felt better than my home as I don't have a popcorn maker or a Jimmy Shand album.
When I stayed in Forres at the beginning of the year, I quickly realised just how many fascinating historical sites there are in the Moray area. Pictish stones, castles galore, Jacobite connections, quirky museums, Macbeth country, heritage whisky distilleries and a ruined yet still very impressive cathedral are just some of the diverse historical gems that drew me back a few months later. There are just so many historical attractions to visit in Moray that one visit just isn't enough, and as I have now found out, two visits aren't enough either as I still haven't made it to lots of historical places in the area, including Cawdor Castle which doesn't reopen until May and is still top of my list for next time.
However, I did manage to cover a lot of ground during both my stays and wanted to share with you 12 of the historical sites that I discovered in Moray which I think are worth a visit.
1. Elgin Catherdral
Scotland has more than its fair share of ruins, some hardly worth a mention and others, like Elgin Cathedral, which are well worth exploring. As ruins go, this medieval cathedral has lots to offer. What remains of the structure is impressive enough but for me the highlight is the large display of carved stones. I haven't come across a collection as magnificent as this anywhere else in Scotland and I was particularly spellbound with the lifelike detail of the faces.
Another unique display in Elgin Cathedral which I love is the effigy of Bishop Archibald, brought back to its former colourful glory with clever lighting effects.
As with all good Historic Scotland ruins there is a tower to climb which offers a rooftop perspective of the cathedral and open views across Elgin and beyond.
If you didn't know the history of Burghead before you arrived, you could mistakenly assume it is nothing more than a sleepy coastal village but you couldn't be more wrong. This is a village bursting with significant history and most of it is well hidden unless you know where to look. This unassuming place once held a strategic position of power, being surrounded by the sea on three sides made it an ideal location for what is reputed to have once been the largest Iron Age fort in Britain. Subsequently it was a site of significant power for the Northern Picts and later it was captured by Sigurd the Powerful, the Norse Earl of Orkney.
Burghead Fort is the only Pictish fort where bullstones have been found and you can view two of them in the tiny the heritage centre along with a model of what the fort might have looked like. You can also pick up the key for the mysterious Burghead Well from here (or the Bothy Bistro if the centre is shut). The main purpose of this man-made sunken pool is unknown although objects found within, including carved stones and a metal jug, have led to various theories including it being used as a shrine, a Christian baptistery and even a place for ritual executions. I recommend taking a torch if you want to look inside.
I suggest doing some local history research before visiting Burghead to fully appreciate just how important this area once was and you might even end up becoming as captivated by Burghead as I am!
As a Scottish travel blogger that prefers to head away from the typical tourist trail, finding inspiration for new places to visit is not always easy. Hidden gems are by their very nature difficult to discover.
With a free day to go exploring I found myself struggling to come up with somewhere new and unique that was an easy drive from Glasgow. After trawling through the internet for way too long, I was about to give up hope of finding some divine inspiration when I chanced upon Crawick Multiverse, only a one hour drive away in Dumfries and Galloway. A former open cast coal mine, transformed into an artland inspired by space, astronomy and cosmology, it certainly ticked the boxes for being unique and within a reasonable driving distance. Excited by the prospect of a new adventure, I quickly grabbed my camera, made up a packed lunch and jumped in the car. Before long I was turning off the busy motorway and found myself negotiating quiet country back-roads, the lush rural scenery mentally transporting me a million miles away from the city.
Arriving at the unassuming car park of Crawick Multiverse, I paid the entrance fee and picked up a map of the site. On advice from the visitor assistant, I followed the path anti-clockwise as she explained this would take me uphill to a ridge with sweeping views over the area and the countryside beyond.
It was a glorious day and as the trail gained height, the views opened up and I got my first glimpse of the many enormous stones found on the site (over 2000 and counting!) which have now been utilised to create the unusual artworks.
As I reached the top of the ridge, the views across the artland and the pretty valley beyond were spectacular. This is definitely the best place to get a good overview of the standing stone artwork that spirals and swirls in patterns below.
The area which was once deemed a scar on the landscape has been transformed thanks to the famous landform artist Charles Jencks and funding from the Duke of Buccleuch, the local landowner. Now a community asset and thought provoking space, this is a fantastic example of imaginative regeneration. Although it was still patchy in places when I visited, it is a place that will continue to improve with time as the newly planted greenery flourishes and blends with the surrounding fields and hills.
I have always been curious about bothies in Scotland. Quaint little buildings that are open to anyone that needs a shelter for the night, at no cost. Often situated in remote places and rescued from dereliction, they frequently come with an interesting history and a story or two.
Although I love the outdoors, I have never actually stayed in a bothy myself. This is partly because I have always thought they were the domain of seasoned mountain dwellers, partly because I didn't quite know the bothy etiquette until now and partly because it sometimes seems that you need to be a member of some secret bothy society just to find out where many of them are located!
One man has decided to lift the shroud of mystery that surrounds these bothies after spending 5 years visiting them all. Geoff Allan has just published The Scottish Bothy Bible, the first ever detailed guide to Scotland's bothies.
I first became aware of this book when the adventurer Alastair Humphreys tweeted about it and if he recommends it I can pretty much guarantee that it would be a book I would also enjoy, so I was over the moon when I got a chance o check it out for myself.
For a chance to win your own copy, see below!
I expected plenty of photos of the stunning Scottish landscape and of course lots of information on the bothies themselves, thankfully the book didn't disappoint.
Last year I spent a lovely week in Ullapool with my mum, staying on the shores of Loch Broom in the well equipped Rubha Mor. Ullapool is well positioned for memorable road-trips around the North West of Scotland and we did plenty of exploring during our holiday. When I'm with my mum (or anyone else for that matter!), a day out exploring inevitably includes a tea and cake stop and we discovered some cute cafe gems in the most unexpected of places so I thought I would share my recommendations in case you find yourself craving for a cake fix in this stunning and wild part of the country. Those of you undertaking the North Coast 500 Route might also find this guide useful as you pass most of these stops on the way.
My mum and I do consider ourselves to be Scotland cake and tea stop aficionados so hopefully you won't be disappointed in our choices which definitely met with our expert approval!
TEA BY THE SEA, 17 SHORE STREET, ULLAPOOL
We walked past this gift shop come cafe a couple of times before we finally succumbed to temptation. Our willpower was eroded away by the list of delicious sounding daily desserts on the notice board outside which we just had to investigate for ourselves.
This is a quirky little place inside with a few tables adjoining a new age type gift shop. The friendly owners were more than happy to explain what delights were on offer that day and the counter was stuffed with enticing choices.
I opted for a creamy slice of bannoffee pie and my mum opted for the apple pie topped with caramel sauce and cream just for good calorific measure! A generous amount of tea and an extra pot of hot water to wash everything down completed our sweet, sticky feast and we both agreed that a cake stop at Tea By The Sea deserved a big thumbs up.
Check out my blog or more ideas on things to do around Ullapool
ACHILTIBUIE PIPING SCHOOL CAFE, OLD VILLAGE HALL, ACHILTIBUIE
The highlight from my week in Ullapool was definitely a trip to Achiltibuie and the Coigach Peninsula. The scenery is breathtaking and it really feels as if you have left the tourist trail well behind. I highly recommend a visit to this stunning part of Scotland and a stop at the village of Achiltibuie which is surprisingly big considering its remote location.
The Achiltibuie Piping School Cafe is a real off the beaten path gem with amazing views to the Summer Isles. This old village hall has a real community vibe and we found the table of home-made cakes irresistible! For such a remote place, I was also surprised at the wide range of teas on offer and although I didn't have Willow with me, it was good to discover that it is also dog friendly.
Now this is where I must confess to a blogger fail, I didn't photograph our tea and cakes as I was enjoying the experience too much, oops! I can tell you that I really enjoyed my huge slice of lemon cake and I did remember to photograph the view! The baking was so good that we bought pumpkin scones to take back to the accommodation and I also bought a cute little puffin card as a souvenir of our day. We also bought some local free range eggs from an honesty box on the road and I made sure I photographed them to make up for my earlier fail. You'll just have to take my word for it that our cakes looked and tasted incredible and of course try them for yourself!
Check out my blog to find out why I fell in love with the Coigach Peninsula
I'm not going to lie, 2016 was a real rollercoaster of a year for me and as it drew to a close I felt more than a little burnt out. A family getaway at the start of 2017 was very much needed and the prospect of visiting a new part of Scotland had me excited for the New Year to start.
Is there anything better than staying in a wooden lodge during the winter? I doubt it! When that lodge has plenty of space, three bedrooms (1 en-suite) is dog friendly and overlooks a cute lochan which you can admire from the conservatory or the porch, it pretty much ticks all the boxes for a relaxing family break.
All that space meant that Mr Adventures around Scotland, my parents and of course my little lurcher Willow could join me on a proper family getaway.
Tullochwood Lodges are set within 28 acres of tranquil woodland which means there is plenty of outdoor space on the doorstep, however there are also numerous places within a 30 minute drive that have lots to offer all members of the family including furry companions.
When we weren't chilling out in our cosy lodge, these are some of the places we discovered nearby and really enjoyed exploring.
Forres is only a few miles from Tullochwood Lodges and is one of the oldest small towns in Scotland. The main street is lined with historic buildings and it has been the winner of Scotland in Bloom competition several times thanks to its pretty floral displays.
Although a Royal Burgh since 1140, it might be best known as a location featured in Shakespeare's Macbeth. It is claimed the history of Forres dates back over 2000 years when it first appeared on a map under the name of Varis.
With lots of independent shops, a couple of supermarkets, a public park and some historic attractions there are plenty of reasons to spend time in this quaint town.
Culzean Castle is undoubtedly one of Scotland's most beautiful buildings and a popular Ayrshire visitor attraction. Although perched dramatically on a cliff top overlooking the Firth of Clyde, it was never intended as a fortress.
Designed by renowned architect Robert Adam for David Kennedy, 10th Earl of Cassillis, it was built as a romantic castle style family home.
Originally commissioned in 1777 to replace a more basic structure, building work was finally completed in 1792. Donated to the National Trust of Scotland by the Kennedy family in 1945, today the magnificent Adam masterpiece attracts visitors from all over the world.
Thanks to the NTS, the 18th century mansion and its interior have been well preserved and it would be unthinkable that such a grand and relatively modern building could ever be allowed to fall to ruin. Yet head a little further east in Ayrshire and you might be surprised to discover that the once equally beautiful younger sister of Culzean has succumbed to that very misfortune.
It has been a few years since I last visited Edinburgh during the festive season and this year I was excited to see how much it has grown. More rides, more market stalls, a bigger ice-rink, themed zones and the Street of Light project have turned Edinburgh into a competitive European destination for a Xmas break.
With a full day to get into the Xmas spirit this is what I got up to on my Edinburgh Christmas adventure...
I took the short train journey from Glasgow and exited Waverley train station to a welcome of blue skies and a burst of colour. I immediately realised I had put on far too many layers in my anticipation of a typically cold winter's day. Scottish weather problems!
I decided to start my day with a bit of ice-skating and despite not having skated for 15 years, I had romantic images of myself and Mr Adventures Around Scotland gliding effortlessly around St Andrew Square. Blame all those Xmas films set in Central Park featuring glamourous couples ice-skating hand in hand for putting this daft notion in my head! If you watched my Instagram story you would have seen the reality of me wobbling unsteadily across the ice although I did manage to remain upright so that's a win in my book! There were lots of people shuffling along precariously and desperately grabbing on to the side who no doubt had their romantic notions shattered too but at least everyone looked like they were still having fun!
Incidentally make sure you are following me on Instagram if you want to follow my stories and get a peek behind the scenes of my travels.
Next on my list was a shot on the Star Flyer which is nearly 60 metres high so not ideal for those scared of heights. Personally I loved it and the 360 degree views as you soar over the city were incredible. As soon as I got off I wanted to go up again but my long list for the day meant time wasn't on my side. I'd really love to see the views over the city at night so hopefully I can fit it in on my next trip to Edinburgh.
Follow me as I search for the best and most original travel experiences in Scotland.