This post is part of a paid partnership with Gateway to Galloway to showcase the Lighthouses of the Rhins Tour
For a long time I've tried to work out where my own fascination with lighthouses stems from and I know I'm not alone, there is even a name for lighthouse buffs (pharophiles if you're interested). Although I wouldn't claim to travel somewhere just to visit a lighthouse, if there is one in the general vicinity, I'll more than likely divert my route to see it, and then take a million photographs of it, from every angle.
For me, as a coastal lover, I think it is partly to do with reaching a place where the land meets the water and generally I find lighthouses to be eye-catching enhancements to already picturesque places. However, I'm also in awe at how these monuments mark out a battle line between man and Mother Nature, a battle to engineer a building that defies the elements and a battle to stop another life being swallowed by the gluttonous belly of the sea.
Stop 1 - Port Logan Lighthouse
These are my thoughts as I'm drawn like a moth to the stumpy grey beacon that sits at the end of the pier in Port Logan. It is not the most aesthetically pleasing lighthouse but its location guarding over the sweeping silvery bay and white-washed cottages of the village more than makes up for what it lacks in beauty.
The 25ft high landmark complete with bell tower dates back to 1818, and along with the pier, is the most westerly work of the famous engineer Thomas Telford.
This is the first of four lighthouses in the area that I plan to visit over the course of a day as I follow the new Lighthouses of the Rhins trail around the Galloway coast. There are six lighthouses to visit in total, and although you can drive to them, hiring an electric bike offers a more eco-friendly and in my opinion, enjoyable alternative as I discovered when I picked up my hired E-bike at my next stop in Portpatrick.
Stop 2 - Portpatrick Lighthouse
This post is part of a paid partnership with Visit South West Scotland to showcase the beauty of the night sky and the many diverse attractions in this part of the country
A 3 day itinerary for exploring South West Scotland
Not only is the South West of Scotland packed with attractions for all ages and interests, it is also one of the best places in the country to enjoy a dark sky experience and stargazing has become one of the most popular evening activities.
You could get away from it all and hang out beneath the stars in the peaceful Galloway Dark Sky Park, or do as I did, and base yourself in Moffat, Europe's first Dark Sky Town. Staying here offers the best of both worlds, a bustling hub of independent shops and cafes during the day, and easy access to the wonders of the night sky after dark thanks to a community observatory and special lighting that keeps light pollution levels low.
Moffat is surrounded by forests and rolling hills, yet it is only 1 hour from Glasgow and 90 minutes from Edinburgh making it a great destination for a nature break. It also acts as a convenient gateway to the many attractions in the South West of Scotland as I found out on my recent trip.
From hiking one of the UK's Highest waterfalls to following in the footsteps of Scotland's National Bard or exploring a historic mine in Scotland's highest village, there is plenty to keep you occupied during the day while you wait on the sun to set and the night sky to shine.
Here is my suggested 3 day itinerary for sampling some of the best things to do in the area -
Day 1 - Immerse yourself in the spectacular scenery & dark skies of Moffat
STOP 1 - EXPLORE MOFFAT - EUROPE'S FIRST DARK SKY TOWN
Moffat has a nice mix of historic charm and green spaces. Take a wander along the High Street filled with quality and quirky independent businesses including the famous Moffat Toffee Shop overflowing with colourful old-school sweetie jars and local sugary treats.
Other points of interest are Scotland's oldest pharmacy dating back to 1844, the world's narrowest hotel and a sculpture of the Moffat Ram by William Brodie who is probably best known for another of his statues, Greyfriars Bobby in Edinburgh. It was commissioned in 1875 to celebrate the town's long association with sheep farming and the wool trade.
Stop by the old churchyard dating back to around 1600 or take a short walk to Station Park, an oasis of greenery with a popular boating pond. You can easily fill a morning strolling around the town and if you've worked up an appetite, I can recommend Brodies on Holm Street for lunch or a tea and cake stop.
STOP 2 - HIKE UP GREY MARE'S TAIL WATERFALL
Grey Mare's Tail is one of the UK's highest waterfalls and despite being only 20 minutes from Moffat, the short drive from the town through hills and glens is as scenic as any in the Highlands, with the occasional sheep jam to contend with. If you didn't think you could find landscapes like this in the south west of Scotland, it might be time to visit for yourself and revaluate your preconceptions about this part of the country.
I'm not going to sugar-coat it, the hike up the waterfall is a proper workout and you will need sturdy shoes and some basic walking gear, but if you are able, the vistas from the top where the water plunges down 60m to the valley below are well worth the effort. If that sounds more than you can manage, you can still enjoy some fantastic vantage points without too much of a climb or just chill out at the viewpoint at the bottom.
STOP 3 - LOOK DEEP INTO THE NIGHT SKY AT MOFFAT OBSERVATORY
Although you can see thousands of stars, some planets and a few other space objects with your naked eye on a clear night, there is so much more you can see with a professional telescope and a bit of expert guidance as I discovered at the Moffat Community Observatory. Located a 5 minute drive or 15 minute easy walk from the town centre, the observatory is open to the public and anyone can book an 'Introduction to Astronomy Session' for free (although donations are appreciated).
My tutor for the night was Stephen Hunter, a local astronomer and astrophotographer with a real enthusiasm for his subject which really rubs off on you. Visits do depend on the sky being clear enough to view astronomical objects so basing yourself close by and being flexible increases your chances of being able to see something. Luckily, my visit coincided with an almost cloudless evening and before long I was viewing the swirls of the Whirpool Galaxy, the aptly named Ring Nebula, the spirals of Bodes Nebula and the Hercules Globular Cluster which looked an explosion of stars on the telescope lens.
Stephen's knowledge allowed him to pick out the best objects given the time of year that would showcase the variety of astronomical objects that lie beyond what you can see with the naked eye. I had a fascinating night and despite having only basic knowledge when I arrived, I left armed with lots of new facts and a greater appreciation of the many mind-blowing things that surround our little planet.
Day 2 - Follow the Robert Burns Trail around Dumfries
STOP 1 - VISIT ELLISLAND FARM, THE FORMER HOME OF ROBERT BURNS
About 40 minutes from Moffat and 15 minutes from Dumfries is Ellisland Farm, a former home of the famous Scots poet Robert Burns. The buildings he designed have changed little since he lived there with his wife Jean Armour from 1788 until 1791 and despite only spending a small part of his life at Ellisland, he produced a vast amount of writing and some of his most notable work there including 'Tam O'Shanter' and 'Auld Lang Syne'.
View the preserved interior and follow in the poet's footsteps along the River Nith which provided him with endless inspiration. Recently taken over by a new trust, business development manager, Joan McAlpine, shared lots of exciting future plans for the farm which will further add to the visitor experience including a renovated cottage which will be opened as holiday accommodation in the near future. I'm already excited to stay there!
If you are looking for a more authentic Burns attraction rather than a museum, Ellisland Farm ticks the boxes.
STOP 2 - PAY TRIBUTE TO THE POET AT THE HOUSE WHERE HE SPENT HIS FINAL YEARS
Visit Burns House where the poet lived out the final years of his life until his death on 21st July 1796 and where his wife Jean Armour continued living until her death in 1834. Today it is a free to visit museum and has been designed to give an idea of how the Burns family lived.
There are numerous artefacts owned by Burns on display and a guide is on hand to answer any questions you might have. A highlight is his small study complete with desk and if you look closely at the window you will see where he engraved his name on the glass.
STOP 3 - GO FOR A WANDER AROUND HISTORIC DUMFRIES
This post is part of a paid partnership with Be Our Guest Scotland to showcase the diverse range of bed and breakfast and guest house options around Scotland.
Staying at Straigona B&B in Orkney
When your B&B is recommended in a Rick Steves guide, you know you are doing something right and Straigona owners, Julie and Mike, have worked hard on perfecting their offering over the years as I recently found out.
Julie is part Orcadian and spent her life visiting the Orkney Islands before a long term dream of moving to Orkney came to fruition in 2011. After buying an already established B&B with her husband Mike, they both revamped the accommodation, putting their own stamp on it and gathered up lots of little extras to ensure their guests are well catered for.
Over 10 years later Straigona is still going strong, with many returning guests and a steady stream of new visitors choosing it as their home from home during their Orkney vacation. And as I found out, it is very homely and welcoming, you are made to feel like one of the family as soon as you walk through the door which is exactly how a bed and breakfast should be and it is what makes this type of accommodation unique to the other options out there.
Located just a 5 minute drive from Kirkwall, Straigona benefits from a quiet rural setting while still being conveniently close to town. The whole house is a homage to Orkney with mugs and placemats featuring Orkney scenes, and local photographs and artwork adorning the walls.
I stayed in 'Inganess', one of three guest bedrooms. A family sized room, it was very spacious with a double and a single bed, a sitting area by the window and a desk which was perfect for me as I needed to catch up on some work while I was there.
Although there is a TV, I spent most of my time enjoying the view across fields to the sea and the small runway of Kirkwall Airport. After Julie mentioned an owl was using the adjacent field as a hunting ground, I also made use of the room binoculars to regularly scan the landscape but didn't manage to spot it on this occasion.
If there was an award for the best equipped guest rooms in a B&B, I'm pretty confident Straigona would win, it is certainly the best equipped bed and breakfast I've ever stayed at! From suntan lotion to insect repellent and hairspray to hot water bottles, Julie has gone above and beyond in supplying little extras. Of course, the standard inclusions like a hairdryer, kettle and well-stocked hospitality tray are all included too. For those heading out on a ramble there are walking poles, hats, scarves, gloves and binoculars available and even a guest mobile phone you can borrow.
Most importantly, at the end of a long day, I was glad of a super comfy bed as feeling rested in the morning is essential when you have more exploring planned. The spotless modern bathroom with a walk-in shower and supplied toiletries left me feeling revitalised in the morning.
This post is part of a paid partnership with Visit Wester Ross as part of their 'Are you a West Coaster' campaign
Are you a West Coaster?
In my view, west coast sunsets like this should be savoured while strolling along a sandy shore; sitting on a rock; celebrating with a local tipple; or polishing off a plate of boat fresh seafood. It is not an experience to be rushed, but one to revel in as the burning orange embers of the sky gradually fade, a final memory to treasure at the end of a day well spent in a very special part of Scotland.
This is one of many special moments I've enjoyed in Wester Ross, a region of Scotland that includes some of the most scenic parts of the north-west Highlands. In a world where we spend much of our working time and day-to-day life rushing around, taking a vacation in a place like this provides space to breathe, relax and reconnect.
Locals here have embraced 'Highland time' and a new tourism campaign is encouraging visitors to do the same. 'Are you a West Coaster?' - if you share the ethos of west coast dwellers and prefer a more authentic experience when you travel, like me, you are a 'West Coaster' at heart.
Wester Ross forms part of the NC500 and although countless people who have travelled along the route would consider the region 'ticked off', I can guarantee they didn't even scratch the surface. Boasting a breathtaking coastline, an above average number of picturesque villages, lush gardens to visit, spectacular mountains to climb, iconic wildlife to spot, local culture to sample and a bountiful larder to taste, you need to dedicate longer than a night or two on a road trip to really appreciate everything Wester Ross has to offer. I know this because I'm speaking from personal experience - I've still only seeing a fraction of the area despite spending a fortnight there on holiday and visiting on several other shorter trips.
Stay a bit longer and give yourself time to get to know the people, immerse yourself in the landscape and get off the beaten track, because if you do, I can guarantee Wester Ross will get under your skin and leave you lovestruck. I can also promise you will collect some extraordinary memories and feel like the stress of the world has been lifted from your shoulders - I know I did!
5 ways to slow down in Wester Ross
To help with your planning, I've shared my 5 tips for things to do, to help you slow down, switching to 'Highland time' and experiencing some of the best that Wester Ross has to offer.
1. Get a bird's eye view of the landscape
Wester Ross is home to a landscape that has your jaw-dropping at every turn as you weave your way past sea, lochs and mountains. The backdrop is dominated by brooding peaks which include some of the most iconic mountains in Scotland. I don't consider myself a mountaineer by any stretch of the imagination, but even I felt a magnetic pull to conquer one of the craggy mountain summits for myself.
Because I had chosen a longer stay in the area, not only did I have the time to climb up one of the peaks, I could also pick the best day to do it. Early one sunny morning, I started up the well trodden path of Stac Pollaidh on the most perfect day imaginable. When I reached as close to the summit as I could without scrambling, I found a rock with a view, poured myself a coffee and gazed across at some of the most astounding scenery I'd ever set eyes on.
As I was staying nearby, I was in no rush to get down and lay back lazily in the sun, inwardly high-fiving myself at setting a goal and achieving it. Stac Pollaidh may not be the highest of mountains, but at that moment I felt on top of the world! To this day, it is still one of my favourite memories from travelling around Scotland.
Giving yourself enough time to climb a mountain is key, you can't just pull over in the car, run up to the top and take a photo. Another essential is having the skills, knowledge and equipment to climb a mountain safely. If Munro-bagging or even just hiking up a high hill in Scotland is something you dream of but don't have the knowledge or experience to confidently undertake, I recommend hiring a local mountain guide who will keep you right and know all the best places to go so you can achieve your goal.
Although I haven't used a guide myself, here are a few covering in the Wester Ross area -
Climb Ride Explore
Mountain & Sea Guides
2. Take to the water
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