This week I visited the Royal Burgh of Culross which is full of the most characterful streets and cottages. It is situated in the south west of Fife on the edge of the Firth of Forth and is the most complete example in Scotland today of a Burgh of the 17th and 18th centuries.
I visited as part of my research for a blog on locations in Fife where the Outlander TV show was filmed and it easy to see why this quaint little town was chosen as a location from the 1740s.
I ended up taking so many photographs of the buildings, windows, doorways, plaques and scenery that I have decided to dedicate a photo blog to this scenic part of Scotland.
It is certainly a unique place to visit and if you can ignore the cars and wheelie bins it really does feel like you have been transported back in time without the need to even touch a standing stone, although there are some nearby if you still feel the need...
If you want a real 'Taste of Scotland' then avoid the fast food joints, restaurant chains and deep fried Mars Bars*.
Instead head to one of the superb eateries up and down the country that focus on simple Scottish cooking using local produce. If you make the effort to visit a real Scottish restaurant you may be surprised at the choice of quality and tasty courses on offer.
What will you find on a Scottish menu?
There are common dishes that you will find in most Scottish restaurants, although they all have their unique way of cooking and presenting them.
Haggis is almost guaranteed on any Scottish menu and for those that haven't tried it I would highly recommend it! Seafood including mussels and salmon are pretty standard along with other fish choices. Our seafood is famous as some of the best and freshest in the world. Meats tend to include a choice of chicken, Scotch beef and lamb. For dessert expect sweet and savoury choices such as a Scottish cheese board with oatcakes, cranachan and sticky toffee pudding.
As Scotch lamb is a common ingredient featured in Scottish restaurants and usually one of my first choices on the menu, I couldn't miss a street food festival celebrating my meat of choice. With a butchery lesson, cooking demonstrations and the chance to try Scotch lamb cooked four different ways, the day was certainly educational.
I learned that Scotch lamb and beef labels can only be used for animals born, raised and processed in Scotland to a quality assured welfare standard. If the meat is only labelled 'Scottish' then they are not necessarily quality assured. I also learned that the Scottish red meat industry employs more than 50,000 people which makes you realise how important using local produce is in supporting the economy and providing jobs.
A butchery lesson and handily positioned posters helped everyone understand exactly where on the animal each cut of meat comes from.
As we weave our way through the Glasgow city centre traffic towards the motorway, Graham, our driver/guide has managed to point out historic buildings of note, cover Glasgow's history from medieval times to shipbuilding in the 70s and even managed a few laughs. This is quite a feat and the sign of an experienced guide, a promising start to my first Scottish tour bus trip.
I had chosen to join a Rabbie's small group day tour exploring Stirling Castle, Loch Lomond National Park & Glengoyne Whisky Distillery. Tales of romantic Scottish figures including Rob Roy, Robert the Bruce and William Wallace while travelling through some stunning scenery sounded amazing enough, the promise of a wee dram at the end was all the convincing I needed that this was the tour for me! I was not alone as eight other sightseers of various ages and nationalities from countries as diverse as Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada and Sweden had joined me for this mini Scottish adventure.
Our first stop of the day was Stirling Castle and as we arrived the cloudy sky opened up and the rain began to fall. I felt a bit disappointed as the views from the Castle are some of my favourite and it was hard to make out the landscape beyond the drizzle. Graham reminded us that Scotland needs rain to keep it looking so lush and beautiful and while this is true I was still secretly hoping the sun would suddenly appear along with the views.
The Cowal Highland Gathering is billed as one of the biggest and most spectacular Highland Games in the world. Staged in the west coast Scottish town of Dunoon, flanked by elevated green hillsides and the busy waters of the Firth of Clyde, the setting is certainly a picturesque one.
As I joined the meandering crowd heading to the stadium we were met with 'greeters' high fiving people with giant foam hands. This reminded me of my time at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games when I was welcomed by cheery volunteers at every venue and was certainly a first for any Highland Games I've attended. Once in the stadium I made my way around the various stands selling food, gifts and clothing although I was a little disappointed that there wasn't a wider choice of Scottish products available.
Being a Highland Games pro I whisked out my trusty picnic blanket and joined the many spectators on the hillside overlooking the main arena. Thankfully the weather was kind and this was a perfectly pleasant place to enjoy the action. Many people even more prepared than me (or maybe just more pessimistic than me!) had brought tents to keep sheltered from any rain which thankfully never materialised.
Highland dancers, pipe bands, heavy athletics and wrestling were the main activities taking place in the arena below. Personally heavy athletics is my favourite element of any Highland Games and there were some impressive competitors taking part.
For fans of Highland dancing the world championships with the best competitors from around the globe was a real highlight and the Cowal Hill Race is another draw with runners taking part in one of the toughest 5k races in the country.
Many people travel to Scotland to view the beautiful scenery and there is no denying that it has some of the most stunning landscapes in the world. However, Scotland has much more to offer those looking for a memorable adventure, there are some things that you can't do anywhere else in the world. Here is my list of 10 things that you can only do in Scotland, just in case you need another reason or ten to visit...
1. Take the world's shortest commercial flight - The flight between the two Orkney Islands, Westray and Papa Westray takes a mere 47 seconds!
2. Bag a Munro - A Munro is a mountain in Scotland with a height over 3,000 ft. Climbing to the peak is known as 'Munro-bagging', the aim is to 'bag' them all (282 at last count).
3. Play at the world's oldest golf course - St Andrew's Old Course is the oldest golf course in the world with the game first played here as long ago as 1400.
4. Enjoy the view from the tallest, fully rotating free-standing structure in the world - at 127 metres high, The Glasgow Science Centre Tower provides panoramic views of up to 20 miles across the city of Glasgow.
If there is one area of Scotland renowned for it's love of country pursuits it is Perthshire. It is therefore no surprise that Scotland's leading equestrian event is held here. The Blair Castle International Horse Trials take place over several days with the lush green grounds of the Atholl Estate and the pretty white castle providing a very picturesque backdrop.
The Trials test the ability of the horses and riders in dressage, cross country and show jumping and those competing must be highly skilled in all three disciplines. The three part event has been compared to an equine triathlon and has evolved from a military event which required the horse and rider to parade with elegance, gallop cross country in battle and have the stamina to continue on demanding days. I attended for the first time this weekend which marked the 26th year of the event at Blair Castle.
I should make clear that I am in no way an expert in the techniques required to score points and win awards at an equine event like this, although I did learn that the winner is determined by the horse and rider combination with the lowest score. Even a novice like myself could still appreciate the dexterity of the riders and their steeds with participants ranging from Olympic medalists to amateurs competing for the first time, all keen to show off their skills in the sport.
With several arenas there was plenty going on and I enjoyed watching everything from a jousting demonstration to show jumping. The show jumping in particular was compelling to view and as each horse and rider approached a fence I found myself willing them over and joined in with the crowd clapping each successful jump.
Guest Post by Glen Moyer
Many thanks to Glen Moyer from the USA for providing this guest post about Monarch of the Glen Country. Glen was inspired to visit earlier this year after watching the TV show and went on to write a travel blog about his time exploring many beautiful parts of Scotland. I was lucky enough to meet Glen on his travels and I'm delighted that he has written this blog about the place that originally awakened his passion for Scotland. Even if you have never watched the show, this area is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful in the country and Glen has included many suggestions for making the most of your time here.
For fans of the BBC drama “Monarch of the Glen”, like me, no tour of Scotland is complete without a visit to “Glenbogle” and the surrounding “Monarch Country” in the Scottish Highlands. Of course Glenbogle is fictional, but Ardverikie, the house and estate where the drama was filmed on location for 7 ‘seasons’ from 2000 to 2005, is very real.
Ardverikie is the historical home of the Clan Macpherson but through various circumstances ownership passed to Sir John William Ramsden in 1867. A family company of his heirs continues to run the estate today.
This present day version of the house is the 3rd, begun in 1870 and completed in 1877 after fires destroyed the first two. Long before it served as a television studio and fictional home to the MacDonald clan, it very nearly became a royal residence. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visited here in August 1847 and fancied the house but not the Highland weather (or the pesky midgies) and so later purchased Balmoral as a royal Scottish residence instead.
“Glenbogle” was originally created by Sir Compton Mackenzie in his 1941 novel “Monarch of the Glen”, on which the TV drama was loosely based. It was the show’s creator Michael Chaplin who selected Ardverikie Estate and the region around it to serve as Glenbogle House and the village of Glenbogle for the BBC.
While the TV drama concluded filming and last aired (excepting reruns) nearly a decade ago, the hit series still enjoys a loyal worldwide fan base so Ardeverike draws visitors year round. Unlike many stately homes in England, Ardverikie - the house and the whole of the estate – remains private and as such is not open for public tours. This will no doubt surprise some fans should they arrive unawares. Still there are ways for fans (“Boglies” as they call themselves) and non-fans alike to gain access…
So you love Outlander and have fallen for all things romantically Scottish. You have booked your trip in the hope of finding your own kilted Jamie who will whisk you off across the hills and glens to live happy ever after in your cosy Highland home.
Okay, maybe that's a wee bit of an exaggeration (or maybe not!) but let's just hypothetically say you're coming to Scotland to admire more than the scenery. As a Scottish woman I totally understand, it is in my DNA to find men in tartan skirts more attractive than well cut, tight fitting jeans. However, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but a kilted man in 21st Century Scotland is an elusive creature and unless you know where to look it is possible that you may be left disappointed.
Now, if you are willing to hunt them down you will be well rewarded as they seldom roam alone, meaning you are likely to find a large pack gathered in the one spot. If you are one of those people who are hypothetically coming for purposes of this sort or know a friend of a friend who might be interested then here is my guide to five places you are guaranteed to find a kilted man in Scotland.
Follow me as I search for the best and most original travel experiences in Scotland.