Royal Deeside in Aberdeenshire is an ideal area of Scotland to base yourself if you are a lover of castles and the outdoors - I'm definitely a fan of both. I spent a few days in the region and 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 walks was to Burn O'Vat, an amazing bowl-shaped geological feature which was carved out by glacial melt at the end of the last Ice Age. I visited early in the morning as it apparently gets quite busy later in the day. I was lucky to have it all to myself although I did pass lots of people headed that way on my walk back to the car park.
The walk is situated in the Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve which has many more trail options. I didn't have time to explore any more of them on my visit, however you could easily spend a good part of the day there.
Burn O'Vat Walk Details
DISTANCE - Approx 1 mile return walk from the designated car park, You could also add on the Culblean Circuit to make it a 4 mile walk
TERRAIN - A designated pathway at the start, although climbing over streams and rocks is required to gain entry
DIFFICULTY - Most of the walks I feature on my blog are easy to moderate as I want to include options that most people can manage. Overall this is an easy walk, however you do need some mobility and confidence to climb over the rocks. Waterproof footwear is also recommended as you need to cross a couple of streams. If the rocks are particularly wet and slippy or if the water is high, extra care needs to be taken.
FOLLOWING THE WALK
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!
My social media followers obviously know me pretty well as it was thanks to the recommendation from someone on Instagram that I first became aware of The Frank Bruce Sculpture Trail. They knew about my love of hidden gems and public art thanks to other blog posts I had written about the Andy Scott Sculpture Trail and the Caol Ruadh Sculpture Park.
After they sent me some images of intriguing carved figures from their own visit to this woodland walk at Feshiebridge, I knew I had to add it to my Scotland travel list.
I found the figures to be thought provoking and mysterious, like ancient woodland spirits passing on their wisdom. Being the only one in the forest, at times the walk even felt a little creepy, as some of the figures lurk in the shadows and can appear quite lifelike. In fact, it is their appearance of having some animation and a philosophical soul that makes these sculptures more than a work of art to be admired.
However, being made of reclaimed wood that is exposed to the elements means these striking pieces won't last forever. The trail has been opened since 2007 and unsurprisingly some are already starting to rot and some have had to be cut down and placed on the ground for safety reasons. Some people are disappointed by the lack of preservation but this was part of Frank Bruce's vision. That his work went through the natural cycle of birth, life and decay.
I've no doubt many of the sculptures will still be around for a few years yet but if you do plan to visit, you might want to add it to your list sooner rather than later. I've written a guide with all you need to know below.
Frank Bruce Sculpture Trail Walk Details
LOCATION - Feshiebridge in the Cairngorms National Park - about a 20 minute drive from Aviemore and Kingussie
DISTANCE - A 1 mile circular route from the designated car park
TERRAIN - A compact accessible path that is also suitable for wheelchairs and prams
DIFFICULTY - Easy
TIPS - There is a charge for the car park so make sure you have some change
ABOUT THE SCULPTURES
As with all art, the sculptures are designed to make you think and in this case there are strong themes of politics, Scottish culture and our relationship with others. The individual pieces are united under the title 'Patriotism & Poverty'.
Most of the sculptures are carved from reclaimed wood, some of them from ancient Caledonian Pines which actually came from the forest they now sit in. The wooden pieces emphasise the natural shape and features of tree, with knots and branches looking like arms and legs.
There are also three stone pieces on the trail which will remain as a legacy once the wooden ones have gone.
Some of the stops have information boards which explain the meaning of the piece, others are left for you to interpret. I've posted some of the sculptures below, with a bit about their background. However, I have also omitted a few so you are left with some surprises if you do visit.
Scotland is blessed with countless wonderful walks all around the country. Even in cities and towns, you are never far away from a green space filled with nature. Finding rewarding walking trails on my travels around the country is one of my favourite things to do and when I discover somewhere extra special you can be sure I will also share it here with you.
The circular walk at the Birks of Aberfeldy in Highland Perthshire definitely falls in to that category. This beauty spot even managed to captivate Robert Burns who was inspired to compose 'The Birks of Aberfeldy'. Prior to his poem, the area was actually called the Den of Moness and renamed after his lyrics were put to a pre-existing melody and became a popular song.
The route takes you through a mossy woodland and up past tumbling waterfalls until you reach Upper Moness Falls, the highest on the walk. I think it is a pretty magical place and obviously Burns did too, so if you fancy following in both our footsteps, read on...
Birks of Aberfeldy Walk Details
DISTANCE - Approx 2 miles from the designated free car park, add on about 1/2 mile each way if you are walking from Aberfeldy town centre
TIME - The walk takes on average 1 - 2 hours depending on how often you stop to admire the scenery!
TERRAIN - A mixture of designated pathways, wooden walkways and steps. Steep climb on the way up.
DIFFICULTY - Most of the walks I feature on my blog are easy to moderate as I want to include options that most people can manage. I would say that the circular route around The Birks of Aberfeldy is more towards the moderate category as there is some steep climbing in parts. However, provided you have good mobility and a basic level of fitness then it is achievable. If you do need a wee break then there are benches and view points where you can enjoy a wee breather.
TIPS - I would recommend following the trail clockwise - this direction is the most rewarding as you climb up past the many waterfalls but it does involve lots of steep steps. Alternatively you can head anti-clockwise which involves walking uphill on a slope and coming down the stairs on the way back. For the purposes of this blog, I'll be referring to the clockwise route.
FOLLOW IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF ROBERT BURNS
From the car park turn left and cross the first of several wooden footbridges over Moness Burn. The start of the walk is flat and easy going. Before long you will reach a sculpture of Rabbie Burns sitting on a bench, notepad in hand. Take a seat next to him and take in the scenery that inspired Scotland's National Bard to put pen to paper.
Burns visited in August 1787 and a little further along the way you will find the actual spot that he was alleged to have sat at while composing his famous poem. Although some of the woodland has changed since his visit, the oak, ash, hazel and birch trees are still there.
The birch trees are the stars of Rabbie's poem - 'birks' is the Scots for birch trees .
Last year I spent a week on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. After my trip many people asked me to write a blog post with my recommended attractions that they could refer to for their own trip. However, even after a week, I felt I had only scratched the surface and although I could have easily written a classic '10 things to do' list, I would have been doing the island and my readers a disservice.
I strive for my Scottish travel guides to be among the best out there which means they are well researched and I personally visit every location I write about. There is no point in me churning out another blog post that only features the popular attractions or I wouldn't be giving you anything that hasn't been written about widely already. I want my Scotland travel blog to offer you something fresh, original and comprehensive which also showcases some of the many hidden gems that other guide books and blog posts miss out.
I only write about a place once I feel I have gotten to know it fairly well and have explored beyond the stereotype. Often this involves multiple visits and in this case it took a second trip later in the year for me to feel comfortable enough to write about this captivating island.
Lewis has a long history and a deep culture so to sum it up in a 'top ten' list doesn't do it justice. Although travel blogging is my job, at the heart of what I do is travelling to learn about and understand the destinations I visit on a deeper level. I hope to encourage others to do the same.
While this blog post featuring my recommended things to do on the Isle of Lewis could be used purely as a tick-list, I would suggest it is better used as a starting point for learning about the many aspects that have contributed to moulding the people and the culture of this interesting island in to the place you see today.
TRAVEL TIPS TO KNOW BEFORE YOU GO
From top attractions to hidden gems, activities to try, and places to eat and shop - hopefully you will find something that appeals in my recommendations. They are all tried and tested by me so you are getting the benefit of my personal experience to help you put together your own Isle of Lewis itinerary.
Incidentally, if you are still needing some help to put your Scotland travel itinerary together or would like a local to check your plans are doable, then I offer a range of Scotland itinerary planning services that might be of interest.
Here are a few things to note when planning your trip to Lewis -
Parking at some of the popular attractions is quite limited and those with motor-homes seemed to be struggling to find a big enough space. Arrive first thing if you can is my top tip for the popular places.
Religion is a big part of life on the island and most places close on Sunday, which is a day of rest and worship. This is worth remembering when you plan your itinerary.
Public transport is limited so I do recommend a car to make the most of your time.
You can sail to the Isle of Lewis from Ullapool with CalMac Ferries - you might also like to read my recommended things to do in Ullapool
You can also reach Lewis by sailing from the Isle of Skye to the Isle of Harris and driving to Lewis, which is the route I followed on my west coast of Scotland road-trip
I've also marked all of the places mentioned in this handy interactive map to help you plan your itinerary.
A HANDY MAP OF LEWIS WITH ALL THE LOCATIONS MENTIONED
My recommended things to do on the Isle of Lewis
Stroll along the beautiful beaches
While the Isle of Harris may be better known for its breathtakingly beautiful beaches, Lewis's southern neighbour definitely has some competition in the north. In fact the beaches of Harris get so much limelight, the stunning offerings on Lewis tend to get a little overshadowed. I wasn't aware of the plentiful large expanses of pristine sand on the island until I arrived.
On my first trip I stayed in North Tolsta and everyone in my family unanimously agreed that nearby Traigh Mhor was our personal favourite, with the adjacent Tràigh Ghearadha (Garry Beach) also being highly rated. In case you are wondering - tràigh is Gaelic for sandy beach.
On my second trip I stayed in Ness and explored the nearby Eoropie Beach which turned out to be another favourite. Other places I highly rate include Reef Beach, Cliff Beach at Valtos. and Tràigh Uig which is enormous and stunning but a I found it to be a bit busier than the others.
I have no doubt there are many more I have yet to discover but these were a few favourites.
Calanais Standing Stones & Visitor Centre
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