I'll be the first to admit that Royal Deeside is a part of Scotland that I don't know very well. Famous as a favourite stomping ground of Queen Victoria, the current Royal Family continue to enjoy their summer break at Balmoral Castle, one of many fine castles that dot the area.
The River Dee flows through the heart of the region which also encompasses nature reserves and part of the Cairngorms National Park, making it a favourite destination for lovers of the outdoors. All of this makes me wonder why, other than a visit to the Braemar Gathering, I've not spent more time getting to know this part of the country.
Recently, I was invited to stay at Mill of Dess Lodge on the Lower Dess Estate, and decided this would be the perfect opportunity to make a proper acquaintance with Royal Deeside.
Lower Dess Estate is situated next to the pretty village of Aboyne between the town of Banchory and the village of Ballater which means it is centrally located for exploring the region. Lower Dess is a relatively small estate on the north side of the River Dee which offers peaceful river walks and fishing on the doorstep.
Nearby Glen Tanar Estate has numerous walking and biking trails through Caledonian pine forests and acres of wilderness. If you prefer something different the estate also runs Land Rover safaris which from my experience in other parts of the country, can be a really fun way to get off the beaten track.
If castles are your thing, you will be spoiled for choice with so many just a short drive away. Some of the best local castle choices are Craigievar, Crathes, Drum, Kildrummy, Corgaff, Braemar and of course Balmoral, although check the opening hours and days for each castle as they do vary depending on the time of the year. For the complete Scottish experience, you can combine a castle tour with some local whisky from the Royal Lochnagar Distillery which runs tours and tastings.
Of course, you could just spend time exploring the pretty towns and villages that dot the river or follow the Victorian Heritage Trail which takes in many regal castles, estates and landmarks.
I've listed the things I got up to during my visit at the bottom of the page if you need any more ideas.
You might also like to read my recommended things to do in Aberdeenshire this weekend
On arrival we were welcomed by Anna, the Lodge Manager, who gave us a quick tour before showing us to our bedroom. By luck Mr Adventures Around Scotland and I had the entire place to ourselves which made our stay even more special.
The lodge has 10 bedrooms, a sitting area and a dining room. You can stay on a bed and breakfast basis (as I did) or book the entire lodge and even organise private catering if you prefer to eat in.
As you can see from my photos, the decor has a light and contemporary feel with some bright touches and a rustic nod to the local wildlife. The lodge is furnished to a high standard and was spotlessly clean, it really did feel quite luxurious.
Regular readers of my blog will know I love taking in the history of the places I visit around Scotland. When you live in a country that is littered with countless historical physical remnants spanning many millennia, it is only natural to acquire a curiosity about the past.
Edinburgh is a city woven with tales from bygone times and has more stories to tell than most places, from the characters that lived there to the events that have helped shape it as one of the most iconic cities in the world.
With so many historical layers, it can be hard to get to grips with all the elements that make up the fabric of Edinburgh which is why a unique 101 guide has been devised to help visitors and locals out. At the weekend I popped over to Scotland's capital to find out more and have devised a 1 day itinerary for those wanting to delve deeper in to Edinburgh's past.
The story of Edinburgh in 101 objects
How do you easily convey the history, culture, heritage and everyday life of a city as complex as Edinburgh? You create a unique visitor experience that captures the imagination of course!
In this case 101 objects and curiosities from across the city have been chosen to tell the story of 1000 years of Edinburgh's past. A handy map shows the location of each object and discovering them is a bit like a treasure trail, complete with a tick list to keep track. It is then up to you to delve a bit deeper and find out the significance of each discovery.
The project finishes at the end of March 2018 so the upcoming Easter weekend is a great time to explore the trail. This is Edinburgh website currently has a page dedicated to the Edinburgh 101 experience and maps can be picked up around the city. You can also upload your discoveries using #Edinburgh101 on social media.
I personally found it great fun and managed to visit 15 of the objects on my day out, some were easy to find and some took a bit more of an effort. If you fancy following in my footsteps, here is my suggested itinerary although I've deliberately not given too much away about the background of every object as doing your own research is all part of the fun...
My suggested #Edinburgh101 itinerary
Stop 1 - St Giles' Cathedral
First stop of the day is one of my favourite places to visit on the Royal Mile as it is an oasis of calm among the hectic hustle and bustle of the surrounding streets. St Giles' Cathedral was founded in the 1120s and is free to visit. It has some beautiful stained glass windows, ornate carvings and runs a rooftop tour on certain days. It is also home to the famous Thistle Chapel, home of the Knights of the Order of the Thistle.
There are 2 objects inside the cathedral, The National Covenant (object 77) and The Ceiling of the Thistle Chapel (object 85) which is stunning and a must see in my opinion.
Outside the chapel on the pavement is The Heart of Midlothian (object 1). The heart shaped mosaic marks the site of Edinburgh’s old Tolbooth where debtors were said to spit on the pavement at the main entrance as they left. Spitting on the heart is a tradition that continues today although I personally think it isn't the most pleasant of customs to keep going!
I have fond memories of my previous stay at the Lodge on Loch Lomond Hotel although up until last week it had admittedly been years since my last visit. When I worked out just how many years it kind of scared me as I was convinced it wasn't that long ago that myself and Mr Adventures Around Scotland had slept in the same bed as Bill Clinton in the Carter Suite (not at the same time I hasten to add!). It sometimes panics me how quickly time seems to be speeding up as my life passes by in a blur of birthdays.
When I was recently invited to review the hotel after a refurbishment, I couldn't wait to see if it was as good as I remembered. Despite the passing years, stepping through the front door of Lodge on Loch Lomond was reassuringly familiar and I immediately felt at home.
The hotel has a relaxing and intimate feel which helps you to switch off from the moment you arrive. Our welcome was efficient and professional, meaning myself and Mr Adventures Around Scotland could quickly get to our room, unpack and unwind.
The hotel is situated about a 30 minute drive from Glasgow on the west shore of Loch Lomond next to the pretty conservation village of Luss. It has beautiful views across the loch from most areas of the hotel and it even has its own beachfront if you prefer to immerse yourself in the Highland scenery, which I highly recommend!
The hotel is ideally located for exploring the Loch Lomond and Trossachs area with numerous walks, mountains, boat rides and cute villages on the doorstep. A short stroll along the beach will take you in to Luss which has to be one of Scotland's prettiest villages, with quaint cottages and colourful gardens. There are also options to take a boat ride from the pier if you would prefer to explore Loch Lomond from the water or even take a little ferry to the historic island of Inchcailloch.
Further south is the village of Balloch with a lovely country park, outdoor activities and shopping at Loch Lomond Shores. Further north and you enter a picturesque Highland landscape, with the breathtaking Glen Coe just over an hours drive away.
During this trip I headed to the east side of the loch and climbed Duncryne Hill, which is said to have one of the best views in Scotland of all the wee hills. I then headed to Balmaha, another pretty village, to enjoy a relaxed lunch by the loch before making my way to the opposite shore for my overnight stay at the hotel.
When people think of Scottish islands, images of the sandy beaches of the Hebrides, the history of Orkney or the whisky distilleries of Islay might come to mind. However, not all of Scotland's islands lie out at sea and some are very easy to visit like Inchcailloch, one of 22 named islands in Loch Lomond.
Easily accessible by boat, Inchcailloch is a National Nature Reserve which sits between the Highland and Lowland landscape and offers some superb views along Loch Lomond. It might be miniature sized but its history and scenic walks ensure a rewarding visit.
How to reach Inchcailloch
There are 2 options for reaching the island, either by a 5 minute crossing from Balmaha Boatyard or from the pretty conservation village of Luss, which is the route that I opted for.
It takes 45 minutes to reach Inchcailloch from Luss on the Cruise Loch Lomond ferry but I really enjoyed the longer boat ride as we explored the waters around some of the other small islands, islets and crannogs that dot the loch, while listening to some fascinating commentary from our very knowledgeable captain. In fact I'd recommend the cruise even if you don't choose to get off at Inchcailloch.
If you travel from Balmaha you will get dropped off at the north jetty and if you travel from Luss you will get dropped off at the Port Bawn jetty in the south of Inchcailloch, because the island is so small the drop off point doesn't really make any difference.
The boat from Balmaha runs an 'on demand' service, however there are only a few seasonal ferries to the island from Luss each day so be sure to check the times for the boat back or you might get stranded!
History of Inchcailloch
Inchcailloch is Gaelic for the 'island of the old or cowled woman' and is named after St Kentigerna, the daughter of an Irish King and mother of St Fillan who is said to have set up a nunnery on the island. She settled there and died in 734 AD and the few remaining ruins of a church dedicated to her memory can still be visited. The church was built in the 13th century and along with its burial ground, is the only Scheduled Ancient Monument in or around the Loch Lomond area. It's amazing to think that every Sunday for 400 years, parishioners would row across to the island so they could worship there. The burial ground has some interesting old headstones with Macfarlane and Macgregor being popular names, in fact the uncle of the infamous Rob Roy Macgregor is buried here.
A complete guide to Hop on Hop off Edinburgh bus tours
I would always advocate walking as the best way to get to know a city but when you're on a tight schedule this isn't always the most practical way to make the most of your time. I often get asked about the best way to see Edinburgh in a day or a weekend and if this is your first visit to the city, I would recommend buying a ticket for the Edinburgh Hop on Hop off bus tours. Although it is a compact city, it is hilly, and pounding up and down the slopes, steps and cobblestones of the Old Town can be surprisingly energy sapping not to mention time-consuming. There are definite benefits to relaxing while being transported around and learning about the history of the places you pass on your journey. Your bus ticket will also give you a discount at some attractions (see below) which adds even more value.
I recently made a trip to Scotland's capital city and spent a couple of days trying out the different hop on hop off Edinburgh buses and routes and have put together this handy guide to help you plan your own visit. Below you will find -
What's the difference between the various Edinburgh hop on hop off bus tours?
There are three main Hop on Hop off Edinburgh sightseeing buses which can make things a little confusing so I have provided an easy explanation of each bus tour and ticket types below. Most people start their journey on Waverley Bridge, next to the Scott Monument, across from Edinburgh Waverley train station. There are always lots of assistants at the bus stop that will advise you on the different tours and sell you tickets - see the next section for ticket options and information.
Each full tour lasts up to 70 minutes and all the buses are fully accessible with dedicated wheelchair space. Each tour has its own unique benefits so I have listed the main points below so you can compare them and decide which best suits your needs.
WHAT EACH TOUR INCLUDES
After asking for feedback from you lovely folk last year about what you would like to see more of on my blog, I discovered quality accommodation recommendations were high on your list. This is definitely something I plan to do more of and I'm delighted to share my first hotel review of the year with you.
Earlier this month I was invited to check out the recently refurbished Murrayshall House Hotel in Perthshire. I must emphasise that I get quite a few offers to review accommodation and carry out lots of prior research before deciding if a place sounds like somewhere I could potentially recommend - I always decline invitations if I suspect the accommodation isn't up to scratch. I feel it is important to share this with so you can be assured that only the best places to stay in Scotland, based on my personal research and experience, make it to my blog.
After reading glowing public reviews about Murrayshall House, I was keen to find out what all the fuss was about and I'm glad to say it easily surpassed my high standards.
Murrayshall House Hotel is situated in Scone which is in the Perth and Kinross region of Scotland. It has a peaceful feel as it is surrounded by 365 acres of countryside which also incorporates two 18 hole golf courses and a driving range.
However, it is also only just over 4 miles from Scone Palace, the crowning place of Scottish kings, and just over 3 miles from the city of Perth, making it an ideal base for exploring this part of the country although you would really need a car if you were staying here as it is a bit off the main road.
Check out my Perthshire travel blogs for more local inspiration
Murrayshall House has an interesting history, dating back to 1664 when it was initially owned by Sir Andrew Murray whose descendants, the Earls of Mansfield, still occupy nearby Scone Palace. It remained in the same family for 260 years, with modernisation carried out in the 18th and 19th century. In 1927 it left the family and was bought by local businessman Francis Norrie-Millar, the founder of General Accident. In 1973 it was sold again and developed into a hotel. The hotel has recently undergone a major refurbishment, combining tasteful contemporary Scottish decor with retained historical features.
If golf is your thing you might be interested to know that the golf course was designed by Hamilton J. Stutt who was involved with the building or improvement of many famous courses including Turnberry and St Mellion Old Course.
There are 40 bedrooms and suites offering a choice of accommodation and from checking the website rates, the prices are pretty standard for this level of four star quality, ranging from £170 to £250 per night at the time of writing. It is worth noting that these are the maximum rates and the hotel does seem to offer much better deals on their website which are really good value so be sure to check them out.
I stayed in room 2 which I believe is going to be renamed The Millar Suite and it was amazing! On entering I was super excited to see the carved four poster bed and immediately felt like a proper pampered princess. The suite itself was huge with a comfy sitting area, a separate dressing room and an extra big bathroom. I did a little tour of my suite on my Instagram stories and got quite a few 'Ooohs' and 'Aaahs' and admiring comments which is always a good sign.
The decor had just the right hint of traditional Scottish with a contemporary twist and I loved the giant period feature windows with views towards the Strathmore Valley and Grampian Mountains. Of course having been recently refurbished it also had the modern extras you might expect like a giant TV and plenty of sockets. The only extra I would add is some fluffy dressing gowns and slippers to complete the luxury experience.
As a Scottish travel blogger I am constantly exploring the beautiful country that I'm lucky enough to call home. Over the decades I've experienced most types of holiday in Scotland, from wild camping to luxury lodges. It's hard for me to recommend the best way to see the country as everyone has their own travel style but I do have a few recommendations.
When the lovely people from the Scottish Caravan, Motorhome & Holiday Home Show asked me to share some of my favourite travel memories, I was only too happy. The only problem was where to begin, so I opted to head back to the actual beginning, way back in the mists of time to the decade of flares, platforms and brown floral curtains...
Caravans & Holiday Homes
I often get asked where my love of the outdoors and travelling around Scotland comes from and I can honestly say it was born in a 1970s caravan. Not just any caravan though, my love affair began in our own family caravan based on the Ayrshire coast, Actually, it involved more than one caravan as my aunt also had a place in St Andrews when I was a baby and this is the earliest photo I can find from my first travel Adventures Around Scotland!
As a typical city family living in a flat, we yearned for our weekends and holidays in the countryside. The best thing about owning our own caravan was not having to book, plan or pack in advance, we could just jump in the car and take off.
My parents didn't have to worry about me or my brother playing outside as the holiday park was a safe environment and I acquired freedom I could only dream about back in Glasgow. My days were mainly spent outdoors on imaginative adventures with caravan site friends or going for long walks along country trails or playing on the beach with my family. I carried little nature books around with me so I could identify animal tracks, wild flowers, birds, trees and insects. We visited castle ruins and my dad hunted for treasure with his metal detector. This sparked my enthusiasm for history and all these interests have remained with me in adulthood. Regular readers of my blog will have noticed these themes continue to feature strongly throughout my current travels.
I never got bored of going on holiday to the same place, there was always something new to discover, new friends to make and old ones to catch up with. My caravan holidays were without doubt some of the happiest days of my life.
When we weren't using the caravan, other family members would stay and it was well utilised much of the year round. From the 1970s until the 1990s our caravan facilitated countless joyous family memories.
Although we no longer have our own caravan, I have continued to enjoy this type of holiday around various parts of Scotland although these days I have 'upgraded' to staying in more spacious and comfortable lodges within holiday parks. Last year I stayed in an ABI holiday home next to Loch Lomond which I could actually have lived in as it was so spacious and luxurious. You can read all about my stay with ABI in my blog post and as you will see things may have moved on quite a bit since our 1970s aluminium caravan, however what hasn't changed is the limitless adventures this type of holiday can provide.
ABI are one of the exhibitors at the Scottish Caravan, Motorhome & Holiday Home so you can check out their luxury lodges for yourself.
Camper vans & Motorhomes
These days I travel around Scotland more than ever and heading off on a road-trip to explore as much of the country as possible is one of my favourite things to do. I've found travelling by camper van is a fantastic way to explore Scotland due to the flexibility it offers.
I first hired a camper van from Rockin Vans 5 years ago so we could get off the beaten track in Dumfries and Galloway. We spent the first night overlooking Clatteringshaws Loch, sipping on a glass of wine as we watched the sun set before falling into bed. I decided there and then that the camper van life was for me. The freedom to set your own route as you go and park overnight at any place within reason is one of the reasons this type of travel appeals to me so much.
Although there are many great camping sites out there, I personally like to choose a quiet spot in the wilds.
More recently I took another Rockin Vans camper van on a winter road-trip to the Isle of Mull. The great thing about a standard camper van is it costs the same price as a car on the ferry, making it an ideal way to explore the Scottish islands.
We drove along the Argyll coast before crossing to Mull and returning via some spectacular scenery on the mainland. Again my highlight from that holiday was the ability to travel without any real plans and park up at some beautiful viewpoints while we stuck the kettle on for a cup of tea. You can find out more about my road-trip to the Isle of Mull on my blog post and you can also visit Rockin Vans at the Scottish Caravan, Motorhome & Holiday Home Show if you fancy following in my tyre tracks.
As you can tell I'm a camper van convert and I have another road-trip coming up in April which I'm really excited about.
I've yet to explore Scotland in a motorhome although it is definitely on my list for the future as I would love to experience the benefits of more space. I actually envisage myself retiring and having the freedom and time to travel around the world in a motorhome one day, watch this space...
Scottish Caravan, Motorhome & Holiday Home Show
Whether you prefer static holiday homes or mobile travel, the best place to get inspiration for your next Scottish adventure has to be the Scottish Caravan, Motorhome & Holiday Home Show. The show runs from the 8-11 February 2018 and is so big it will take over the entire SEC complex in Glasgow!
It is the only event of its kind in Scotland featuring a wide range of holiday accommodation and a Holiday Park Village where you can plan your next trip. You can also explore the latest caravans, motorhomes, holiday homes and even compare tents in the tent village. With over 200 exhibitors and exclusive discounts & offers, this is my dream show to visit. I might even see you there as I search out some ideas for future Adventures Around Scotland!
Tickets for the show can be purchased in advanced from Eventbrite and I'm delighted to offer a discount code for a small saving on adult ticket prices for the show using the code ADVSCOT18
Children aged 16 and under go free
Disclaimer - This is a sponsored post in collaboration with the Scottish Caravan, Motorhome & Holiday Home Show
Everything you need to know for a memorable road-trip along the Aberdeenshire Coastal Trail
Everyone has a landscape that they are drawn to, a setting where they instantly feel at home. It could be the mountains, forests, or even the bustle of the city - for me, it has always been the coast. A couple of summers ago I decided to travel around the entire periphery of mainland Scotland on a 6 week road-trip. As this was only enough time to get a taster of the many coastal gems around the country, I mentally noted all the places I wanted to return to and explore more thoroughly at a later date.
One of those places was the Aberdeenshire Coastal Trail, which I only became aware of thanks to brown tourist signs along the road-side. Post trip research provided little information on the route other than an online leaflet which I printed off. This seemed a bit strange given the obvious amount of investment in signage.
So last year while everyone else was off doing the North Coast 500, I opted to return to Aberdeenshire and follow the suggested 165 mile route. This was effectively the second time I'd been along this stretch of coastal road but this time I had more opportunity to visit places.
I loved it even more the second time around and made lots of new discoveries although I still didn't manage to spend as much time as I would have liked in some places - Banff being one. However, having completed the journey twice I have gotten to know it well enough that I feel confident my own suggested highlights along with the official literature will help you get the most out of the route.
There is so much diversity along this small edge of the country and I recommend setting aside 3 - 5 days so you can experience as much as possible. The following highlights are not a comprehensive guide and you should leave enough time to make your own discoveries but these are the places I think shouldn't be missed - grab a cup of tea, there's a lot to take in!
For more ideas, check out my guide to things to do in Aberdeenshire
St Cyrus Nature Reserve
HIGHLIGHTS - NATURE, BEACH, EASY WALKING TRAIL, HISTORIC CHURCH
The first stop on the Aberdeenshire Coastal Trail and indeed my first stop, was the National Nature Reserve at St Cyrus. I parked up at the visitor centre where I picked up some leaflets and had a look at the board where members of the public note down their wildlife sightings. I was jealous of those that had spotted whales off the shore during the summer, and although it was unlikely I would see one as it was too late in the season, I was optimistic of spotting a peregrine due to the numerous recent comments about sightings.
One of the leaflets in the centre provided details of the Tyrie Trail, an easy circular walk of just under a mile through the reserve which is home to more than 300 plant species. I opted to follow the trail, adding in a slight detour to the Sand of St Cyrus, a beautiful beach that stretched as far as I could see in either direction, with some quirky driftwood shelters dotted along the sands.
The trail leaves from the visitor centre and heads over a bridge built by a troop of Gurkhas as a community training project. Stone markers on the ground lead the way through the reserve which was full of fungi during my autumn visit but must be teeming with wildlife in the spring and summer. Before the trail heads back to the visitor centre, it passes the Nether Kirkyard. I love exploring old churches so just had to stop off for a quick look around the atmospheric ruin which sits in the most picturesque spot below some towering cliffs. I was also rewarded with a peregrine falcon, shrieking and circling overhead. From here it is a short walk back to the visitor centre where you can share your wildlife sightings.
As you head back look out for the former ice-house which is now a quirky looking holiday home.
Fowlsheugh RSPB Reserve
HIGHLIGHTS - VERY LARGE BREEDING SEABIRD COLONY, SCENIC CLIFFTOP WALK
ST CYRUS TO FOWLSHEUGH
DISTANCE - 16 MILES APPROX DRIVING TIME - 30 MINS
I didn't stop off at the Fowlsheugh RSPB Reserve on my latest road-trip along the Aberdeenshire Coastal Trail as it was the wrong time of year to spot the vast amount of seabirds that can be seen perching on the cliff edges during the breeding season from late April until the end of July. However, I did take a walk along the clifftop path on a previous visit during the summer and it was a complete assault on the senses, thanks to the noise and smell!
The spectacle of over 130,000 breeding seabirds is a really memorable one and at the right time of year, RSPB Fowlsheugh should definitely be one your Aberdeenshire coastal stop offs. It is one of the largest seabird colonies on mainland Britain and some of the birds to look out for include guillemots, razorbills, kittiwakes, puffins and fulmars. Take binoculars and you can also scan the sea below for local marine mammals. The clifftop path is fairly easy walking, just be careful of going too near the edge as it is a long drop to the sea below!
HIGHLIGHTS - HISTORIC CASTLE, ICONIC SCENERY
FOWLSHEUGH TO DUNNOTTAR CASTLE
DISTANCE - 2.5 MILES APPROX DRIVING TIME - 5 MINS
One of the most photogenic (and photographed!) castles in Scotland is Dunnottar and this is a popular stopping point along the coastal trail. I would love to tell you more about visiting the castle but I've yet to look inside due to bad timing on my part, something I really need to rectify.
Previously home to the Earls Marischal, one of Scotland's most powerful families, the castle has a colourful past involving some of the most famous figures in Scottish history. Today it is one of Aberdeenshire's most popular tourist attractions.
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