The tarmac road and occasional car snaking through the winding glen is the only reminder that I'm still in 21st Century Scotland. For long periods the silence lingers and I feel overwhelmed by the beauty of the timeless sprawling mountain landscape before me. Glenshee might mean the 'Glen of the Fairies' but I can't help thinking it could comfortably house a small army of giants without any trouble.
This glen has been used as a route north to the Highlands for thousands of years, and like numerous travellers before me, my journey is destined to end at a 'Gathering'. From cattle drovers to Kings and Queens, I wonder how many of them have also stood here in the same awe.
Before reaching my terminus at Braemar, I have to navigate the highest main road in the UK over the ear popping Cairnwell Pass, a route surprisingly well frequented in the winter thanks to those flocking to the largest ski and snowboard resort in Scotland. A further 9 miles of twists and turns through the wild terrain of the Cairngorms National Park brings me to its heart at the village of Braemar and the end of my journey.
Thanks to its geographical position, Braemar has been the ideal location for various 'gatherings' throughout the centuries. A strategic place in the days of clan warfare, a meeting point of cattle droving roads, the centre of the biggest deer forest in the country and a place frequented by Scottish Kings. The current Braemar Royal Highland Gathering is just the latest in a long list of local meetings.
According to tradition it is said the original Braemar Gathering dates back to the time of King Malcolm Canmore who would call the clans to the Braes of Mar and have members compete against each other to find the strongest and quickest soldiers.
Gatherings at Braemar continued until after Culloden and the failed 1745 Uprising, when they were banned by law for over 30 years and were not up and running again until 1800.
In 1815 the Braemar Wrights Society was formed to organise a welfare and social insurance system. The Wrights Society subsequently became the Braemar Highland Society, with aims to preserve the kilt, language and cultural interests of the Highlands, values which continue to this day. The Society's Annual Procession laid the roots for the current Braemar Gathering which has enjoyed Patronage of successive Monarchs since Queen Victoria.
For my final day of touring Southern Scotland with Barbour, I suggested we head east from Ayrshire and finish our adventure with a visit to Peebles, a Royal Burgh and historic market town in the Scottish Borders.
Peebles seemed a fitting place to end our journey as it offers a little bit of everything and showcases all that is great about Southern Scotland in one location.
Its position straddling the River Tweed ensures pretty scenery, independent shops and galleries line the main streets, the Old Town provides some history and Glentress Forest is the ideal place to enjoy some outdoor activities. All this and it's only 23 miles south of Edinburgh!
Before reaching Peebles itself, we just had to include a stop at the nearby Neidpath Castle, which is easy to miss if you don't know it's there. If you are lucky enough to get a parking place at the adjacent lay-by, it is well worth pulling over to investigate the idyllic setting of this historic building.
Dating mostly to the 14th Century, it is privately owned by the current Earl of Wemyss. Although it is not open to the public, there are trails along the River Tweed that offer photogenic views of the castle and we decided to follow a path that snaked along the picturesque riverbank towards the eerie Neidpath Tunnel.
A shallow spot in the River Tweed also offered a fun opportunity to try out my new Barbour wellies. I can confirm that they kept my feet nice and dry!
For my third day touring Southern Scotland with Barbour, it was time to leave Dumfries and Galloway and travel further west into Ayrshire. I wanted to showcase Alloway which happens to not only be one of the prettiest villages in Scotland, but also the birthplace of Scotland's National Bard, Robert Burns.
If you ever wanted to find out more about this iconic Scottish poet, there is no better place to visit in Scotland as Alloway celebrates his life and work in a range of attractions, from the cottage he was born in, to the modern Robert Burns Birthplace Museum. Even the lamp posts, flower boxes and street names have all had a Burns themed makeover!
Robert Burns Birthplace Museum
With plenty of parking, the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum is a good place to start your quest to learn more about the man himself. It was built specifically to house the world's biggest collection of Burns related artifacts including original manuscripts written in his own hand and some of his personal belongings. The collection was started just after his death in 1796 and now has over 5,500 objects.
The Birthplace Museum actually includes a further five sites within the village of Alloway and after an interesting introduction to the complex life of Robert Burns, it was time for us to follow in his footsteps on the Burns' Trail and find out more about the local places and characters that inspired some of his most important work.
For our next stop we travelled back in time to where the story of Robert Burns began, quite literally, as Burns Cottage is the place he was born on 25th January 1759 and spent the first 7 years of his life. This pretty clay cottage, complete with thatched roof, was actually built by Robert's father, William Burns in 1757 and incorporated 2 rooms, a byre and a barn.
When the family moved out, William sold the cottage and it was leased out by the owners as an alehouse but shortly after the death of Robert Burns, the alehouse had to be extended due to the number of visitors attracted by the spreading fame of the poet. In 1881 the cottage was bought by the trustees of the Burns Monument who spent 26 years restoring it to its original condition. Today visitors can get an insight into what life was like in the early years of Scotland's Bard.
Image Credit - Sean Elliott Photography for Barbour
The Poet's Path
The Poet's Path was designed as a link between Burns Cottage and the other attractions in Alloway. Look out for some quirky sculptures that celebrate some of the work of Robert Burns including a series of 10 weather-vanes with scenes from the famous 'Tam O'Shanter', a very large mouse that could never be described as a 'wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim'rous beastie' and a fox inspired by his poem 'On Glenriddel's Fox Breaking His Chain'.
Alloway Auld Kirk
A short walk from the Poet's Path takes you to Alloway Auld Kirk, which is undeniably atmospheric and dare I say a little bit creepy! This might have something to do with a childhood learning 'Tam O'Shanter' which features this ruined Kirk as the place poor Tam stumbles upon a macabre scene, with warlocks and witches dancing to a tune played on the bagpipes by the Devil. A drunken Tam stupidly disturbs their antics and they pursue him and his grey mare, Meg, towards Brig O' Doon, where they narrowly escape over the bridge with their lives as the witches can't cross the running water, although poor Meg did lose her tail.
Exploring here as an adult, I can still imagine that it is the sort of place that witches might gather. The ornate and eerie headstones, coupled with iron mortsafes designed to stop grave robbers gave us all a chill which couldn't simply be blamed on the damp weather!
As you enter Alloway Auld Kirk, you also can't miss the grave of William Burns, Robert's father, complete with an epitaph on the rear of the headstone composed by the poet.
Steam trains must be one of the most iconic modes of transport to travel by, but despite watching many a steam train puff by me, I've never actually journeyed on one before. So when I was invited to experience a Sunday outing from Edinburgh along the Borders Railway to Tweedbank on the historic Royal Scot, I couldn't wait to be transported back to an era when train travel was much more of a refined and romantic way to get around than it is today.
I didn't even realise you could go on a steam train from Edinburgh until now but thanks to the recent reopening of the Borders Railway line, steam train trips have become a popular way to get a taste of Southern Scotland.
As Mr Adventures Around Scotland and I made our way to the departing platform at Edinburgh Waverley Station, we were met by excited fellow passengers and train enthusiasts all waiting for their first glimpse of the steam train pulling into the station. Built in 1927 by London Midland & Scottish Railway, the Royal Scot was originally used for their fastest passenger routes from London to Birmingham and Manchester to Glasgow.
She has an interesting history, including being shipped complete with carriages for an appearance at the 'Century for Progress' exhibition in Chicago in 1933 and touring the USA before being returned to Britain and eventually retired from service in 1962. After being a static attraction at both Butlins and a steam museum, she subsequently received a complete overhaul which saw her return to steam on a main line railway in 2015.
On her arrival, we were given time to take photos and admire the shiny green locomotive that was about to take us on our journey south. With all the buzz on the platform, it really felt as if we were about to do something special.
Just to add to the romance and luxury of the trip, we were booked in for the premier dining experience and as we got settled in our comfy seats at our own table, we were welcomed with a glass of Prosecco and I kept thinking, this is how all my Sundays should start!
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