Earlier this year I enjoyed my first proper trip to Royal Deeside when I stayed at the gorgeous Mill of Dess Lodge. As I found out, this is an ideal area of Scotland to base yourself if you are a lover of castles and the outdoors, and I'm definitely a fan of both. I pretty much split my time between scenic walks and historical ruins, with a few great restaurants and cafes thrown in for good measure.
One of my favourite local discoveries was Burn O'Vat, an amazing bowl-shaped geological feature which was carved out by glacial melt at the end of the last Ice Age. As it was just a 15 minute drive from my accommodation, I headed there earlyish in the morning as it apparently gets quite busy later in the day. After parking at the Burn O'Vat visitor centre car park I set off on the very short and easy walk to reach the 'Vat' itself.
The route is well signposted and crosses a green wooden bridge before carrying on past a second bridge and then coming to an abrupt stop at a rock face - or so you think!
If you look closely, you will spot the narrow entrance-way which leads to the natural amphitheatre beyond. The next section to reach the gap does require a bit of agility to get over the boulders and across the stream, but isn't too strenuous and is actually quite fun!
Arriving at the entrance feels a bit like an Indiana Jones moment, with the possibility of ancient treasures or a forgotten civilisation hidden beyond the giant moss covered boulders. Okay, I'm being a little dramatic but its hard not to let your imagination run wild in a place like this, especially when there's no-one else about.
Crossing the stepping stones, negotiating the well placed tree trunk and the glimpses of a waterfall just add to the feeling of adventure although I should probably add that waterproof footwear will come in handy if the water levels are high or your balancing skills are lacking!
I love coming across scenic walks in Scotland that are hardly known outside their local area and its even better when they are steeped in history and legend. Crichope Linn near the hamlet of Gatelawbridge in Dumfries and Galloway certainly ticks all those boxes. I only came across the details of the trail thanks to local literature provided for guests during my stay at the nearby Trigony House Hotel and I was immediately intrigued. A search on Google provided some spectacular images of the waterfall and gorge, along with a few tales of the famous visitors that had once frequented this now almost forgotten about part of southern Scotland. It was time to explore this hidden gem for myself...
The entrance to the walk is easy to miss with just a rustic sign pointing the way from the quiet, minor road. A small parking area nearby is enough to accommodate a few cars and the start of the route was concealed by greenery when I visited. At the bottom of this blog I've pinned the location on a Google map to make it easier for you to find.
The first section of the trail runs through a wooded area before meeting up with a stream that flows down from the waterfall ahead. Occasional remnants of an old footpath are the only survivor of a network of tracks, bridges and viewing points that existed when Crichope Linn was a popular destination for Victorian tourists. Today it is a bit more hazardous to get around with muddy narrow paths, slippery rocks and fallen trees. The current atmosphere of overgrown abandonment makes it hard to imagine that this was once a famous and well frequented Scottish beauty spot.
After a short jaunt through the trees, the path opens up to reveal mossy covered red sandstone walls that tower upwards either side of the gorge. Countless visitors over the centuries have left their mark on the soft rock faces and it is even said that the initials of Robert Burns can be found among the stone carvings. I didn't spot them but he did live at nearby Ellisland Farm so there is every possibility that he visited here.
Other famous literary figures that definitely were inspired by the unique scenery were Thomas Carlyle and Sir Walter Scott who featured Crichope Linn in his novel 'Old Mortality'.
The Fairy Legends of Puck's Glen
Navigating the well worn and sometimes slippery stone steps that wind through the narrow woodland gorge of Puck's Glen is hazardous enough at times, but they are not the only reason you have to drag your eyes from the bewitching scenery to check your footing from time to time. Poca Ban is the resident spirit that disguises itself as a ball of wool and rolls around the glen looking for unsuspecting victims to trip up all in the name of some warped fairy fun. It seems quite fitting that a glen named after the mischievous sprite in Shakespeare's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' has a playful spirit of its own.
Poca Ban is not the only mystical Scottish fairy that you might encounter on your walk through Puck's Glen, concealed in the trees you might spot a Ghillie Dhu, wearing clothes of leaves and moss or catch a glimpse of the nature sprites that dance in the leafy shade of the ferns.
It's very easy to believe that enchanted creatures are hiding in the shadows of this magical landscape and I mean magical in the truest sense of the word as it really feels like you have crossed an invisible barrier into an otherworldly dimension. Frothy waterfalls, bubbling pools, hanging moss, tumbled stones and tall shady ferns, Puck's Glen is prime real estate for fairy folk.
Until recently, the seaside town of Largs would not have been a Scottish destination I would have associated with hill-walking. Ice-cream, yes, scenic hiking, not so much. However, I am happy to admit when I am wrong and wanted to share with you a fairly easy hill walk that I discovered which gets top marks for effort to reward ratio in my opinion.
Castle Hill has the best view of the Firth of Clyde that I've come across and a short detour at the start to visit a prehistoric tomb makes this a worthwhile adventure to add to your Largs itinerary.
The walk up Castle Hill is accessed via Douglas Park, a short stroll from the town centre, and when I visited the play-park opposite was full of gorgeous pink cherry blossoms. I couldn't resist standing beneath the floral coated branches while the fragile petals rained down in the wind.
The start of the Castle Hill walk is well signposted once you reach the park but I suggest you follow the path to visit the Haylie Chambered Tomb first.
Discovered in 1772 by James Wilson of Haylie, the remains of 5 bodies were found within. Sadly today all you are likely to find within is rubbish and the tomb does seem pretty unloved considering it is such a fascinating piece of local prehistoric history. However, its unexpected location in a little clearing behind some houses is worth a look.
I took a well worn short cut from the chambered tomb up to the official path for the Castle Hill viewpoint but you can take the path back to the signposted route at the start if you prefer. This is really a walk of two halves as the first stretch is along a path surrounded by patchy grass and scrubby undergrowth and isn't that picturesque. It is also quite steep going in places and I certainly felt my calf muscles working harder than usual.
However, keep checking behind you as the view opens up across the Firth of Clyde and you will get all the encouragement you need to keep going. There are also some benches where you can enjoy the view if you need a little breather.
As a Scottish travel blogger I often get asked for advice when people are making plans to visit Scotland and this usually inspires me to write a blog post on a place or experience that will help to answer some of those queries. However there is one place that I get asked about more than any other and that is Glencoe.
A rugged, dramatic and at times hostile environment, not surprisingly many of you find the thought of exploring it on foot an intimidating one and worry that it is only accessible to accomplished climbers and mountaineers.
One of the most common questions I get asked about is suggestions for easy trails for those with little or no hiking experience, so I wanted to share with you three of my favourite simple but rewarding walks in the area. For me, being among the mountains and forests brings the scenery to life as you start to notice the sounds of rushing water, smell the scent of pine and find yourself encompassed by the brooding atmosphere. It truly is a landscape that makes you feel small and you can't help but feel humbled and in awe at the power of Mother Nature. The best way to appreciate it is on foot, exposing yourself to all it's wonderful, powerful and strangely magical elements.
Can you tell how much I love this place?!
So here are my 3 favourite easy but rewarding Glencoe walks
1, Glencoe Lochan
Glencoe Lochan is an oasis of tranquility hidden away below the mammoth mountains. On the outskirts of Glencoe village this idyllic little spot was planted and modelled to resemble a Canadian landscape by a previous Canadian owner after his wife became homesick.
This is one of my favourite places in the area, the reflections of the mountains and trees in the still water make this a great spot for taking beautiful photographs.
The circular route around the Lochan is flat and easy, with longer woodland trails for those that want to explore further. There is an option to take a higher level route signposted 'mountain path' but to be honest the mature trees now block any view that would have previously made the effort worthwhile and the flat walk around the Lochan is visually the most rewarding.
This peaceful place makes a perfect relaxing escape from the contrast of the wilder landscape that surrounds it. An easy walk for all levels of fitness and mobility through some of the prettiest scenery.
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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