If your idea of the perfect visitor experience involves relaxing with a drink in hand while you watch the world and some iconic Scottish scenery go by while learning about the local area then I may have the answer for you.
Last week I decided to go on a boat trip down the Firth of Forth with Forth Boat Tours and I can't recommend it highly enough, in fact I would go as far as saying it is one of the best things I've done in Scotland!
We were welcomed on board at the pier in South Queensferry and my four legged companion was suitably fussed over! It is so nice to find attractions that allow dogs and Willow does love a cruise being a frequent ferry traveller herself.
Our transport for the next 90 minutes was The Forth Belle, which was equipped with plenty of seats outside and an indoor lounge area with a bar on the lower deck. There are seats at the front and rear and a couple of small areas up top next to the Captain for an all round view.
On the day I travelled I'd say the boat was half full which meant it felt quite spacious, I would recommend travelling at off peak times if you want to move around easily for photographs.
I was out on a warm, sunny day and the lounge was nice and cool. On a rainy day it is heated inside so the boat is designed for all Scottish weather eventualities.
I know first hand that travelling anywhere for any length of time can add up financially. As you may have guessed I love to explore Scotland at every opportunity and share all the wonderful places I find on my blog. Like most people I don't have a huge bank account and my travels are funded by my 'real' job but there is a way to stay in some pretty special places for cheap and even better for free!
Yes, I'm going to use the 'C' word, if you want to travel on a budget then it is time to embrace camping.
My most recent camping trip took me along the west coast from Ayrshire to Dumfries and Galloway. For 2 people and our four legged companion we managed to visit some pretty special Scottish places and our accommodation costs for 4 nights were only £36. The possibilities for camping are endless but this is a summary of my trip which you could easily do or seek out your own little haven under canvas.
We spent our first 2 nights in the lovely village of Maidens in Ayrshire with a beautiful harbour view, a handy picnic table, 2 minutes from a toilet block and a couple of minutes from the beach where we watched the sunset. Can you believe we enjoyed all this for free? We basically found a nice piece of public grass and pitched our tent.
This is classed as wild camping which is permitted in Scotland providing you follow some common sense rules. For more info have a read at the Visit Scotland guide.
People passing by kept commenting on how envious they were as we had such an idyllic place to stay for the night. Camping may not be for everyone but for me it's hard to beat if you're looking to save money and still have a great adventure.
There is a hotel in Maidens if you don't fancy cooking and it is nearby Culzean Castle and Country Park which is worth visiting for the day, you can read about it on my blog. As I sat on the rocks watching the sunset with our tea brewing on our little camping stove I did wonder if life gets any better than this?
Ever since stumbling across a link to the Mull of Galloway on social media I have been inspired to visit Scotland's most southerly point and I was excited to finally get there this week. For some reason I have never reached the extremities of my country and recently added them to my Scottish travel 'to do' list.
As I drove down the Rhins of Galloway peninsula on the southwest corner of Scotland looking towards the Irish Sea I expected it to be a harsh and windswept environment, however it is anything but.
Instead you are met with wide sweeping vistas of sandy beaches and colourful patchwork fields. There is a peacefulness and lush beauty that I didn't expect and I was also rewarded with the sight of my first Red Kite hovering and swooping over the farmland below.
Drummore is the last little town you pass heading south and 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 postal stop. Across the road you can also stock up on supplies at Scotland's most southerly store!
I'm going to put it out there, Culzean Country Park and it's instantly recognisable castle is one of my favourite Scottish attractions. I've been visiting this National Trust for Scotland property since my early childhood and 3 decades later not much has changed. There have been a few improvements and alterations here and there but overall this timeless classic of a park has pretty much remained the same giant playground for adventurers of all ages that I nostalgically remember.
The Robert Adam designed clifftop castle is no doubt the sparkling gem of this Ayrshire crown but the surrounding grounds offer an array of natural and historic twinkling jewels which compliment it perfectly.
The castle is open to the public and you can choose to tour the beautifully furnished room at your own pace or as part of a guided tour. The armoury is particularly impressive as it holds one of the world's largest collection of swords and pistols.
The manicured gardens below the castle with the groomed green lawn, ornate fountain and palm trees makes a perfectly picturesque lunch spot.
The Scottish Highland Warrior is a romantic and legendary figure which conjures up images of William Wallace and fiercesome claymore wielding clansmen. Highland Games were the place for these clans to compete against each other and show off their strongest and bravest men.
Highland Games today may be less battle like but it is still a showground for not only the strongest men in Scotland to perform against each other but also against some tough international adversaries.
Highland Games season runs from May to September and I visited my first event of the year this weekend at Carmunock, a pretty conservation village on the edge of Glasgow. This is one of the smaller events but it does attract some big characters (in personality and build!!) in both international Strongman and traditional Highland Games competitors. This year Scotland's current strongest man Luke Stoltman was one of the main attractions along with some impressive international names.
The event was also being filmed by Australian TV as part of their coverage of the Commonwealth Games.
Carmunock Highland Games puts a big emphasis on both traditional events like caber toss and stone put and strongman favourites including Atlas stones and log lift. I must confess to being a big Strongman fan and getting up and close to some of my favourite events was a real highlight.
Having grown up in the generation of Indiana Jones, I've always been excited by the prospect of going on my own treasure hunting adventure.
After coming across Geocaching I decided that this was the perfect way to satisfy my Indy envy. It also ticks alot of boxes on my list of favourite pastimes, like exploring the outdoors, heading off the beaten track and learning about places as I go. Although there may not be priceless artifacts at the end of the quest, there is still an unexplained excitement at discovering the random assortment of 'treasures' secreted in the strangest of places.
If you're a novice to Geocaching like me, you should have a look at the official website which will reveal all you need to know about this worldwide treasure hunting trend. Basically you are given a set of GPS co-ordinates, a few details and a cryptic clue before you set off with a purpose.
The Isle of Great Cumbrae is an 8 1/2 minute ferry ride from Largs on the west coast of Scotland and the perfect place to hone your Geocaching craft. Just over 10 miles in circumference and fairly flat terrain allows for easy travel between cache sites on foot or by bike. There are currently 14 sites listed for Cumbrae, although from my own searching I think a couple may be missing in action. With intriguing names such as 'The Hunt for Red October', 'The Good, the Bad and the Ugly' and of course 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' I knew this was going to be an entertaining weekend.
Despite the poor weather I downloaded the official app for Iphone (the £6.99 cost is worth every penny as I found it extremely helpful) and set off in search of my first cache only to be disappointed. I'm positive I was at the right spot and as does happen from time to time the cache appeared to have been removed (well that's my excuse anyway!).
Not to be disheartened I set off with enthusiasm to my next location at the highest point on the island where I was over delighted to find my first tub of treasure.
Today it's time to explore on foot and follow the the marked Inner Walk to the top of the island. At 417 feet above sea level you are rewarded with amazing panoramic views in every direction.
You can look across to the mainland, the islands of Bute and Arran and on a clear day you can see Ben Lomond and the Arrochar Alps.
One of the most fun things I did during my time on Cumbrae was to go Geocaching. View my blog post further down the page to read about this treasure hunting craze. On the Inner Walk there are 3 cache locations which were all pretty easy to find once you knew where to look! Geocaching will add another entertaining and educational dimension to your walk and I highly recommend giving it a go.
DAY 2 PM
After all that walking and seeking of treasure you will enjoy a proper lunch.
Refuelled it's time for one last walk around the town before heading home. Have a look at the few pretty seaside themed shops for the perfect souvenir.
Get you camera out and capture some last digital memories of the brightly coloured harbour benches, the house with the smallest frontage in the world (it is next door to the bistro) and don't forget to take a few snaps of the iconic crocodile rock. Head up to Kames Bay where you will get some nice views of Little Cumbrae, Arran and the seafront.
If this is your first visit to the Island of Great Cumbrae then a day trip won't be enough to discover the treasures of this little island. If you have the time and budget, stay at least one night, follow my itinerary and you should cover the main attractions. Of course if you have longer then take the chance to relax into Scottish island life.
For easy reading I've split this blog into 2 parts, one for each day.
DAY 1 AM
I recommend a visit to Garrison House as your starting point. The building itself, complete with sunken gardens, is beautiful to look at and it's history and recent renovation provide a fascinating story and insight into the development of Millport. It is free to visit and houses a small museum complete with video and exhibits telling the story of the building and island. There is also a cafe with free WiFi, a craft shop and you can pick up free leaflets and maps here.
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