One place in Scotland I get asked to write about more than anywhere else is the Isle of Skye. Despite visiting numerous times, there are many reasons why I have never got round to publishing a blog post about Scotland's most popular island until now! I thought it was time to share my top recommendations for things to do on the Sleat Peninsula which is at the lesser visited southern end of the island.
There are a zillion articles out there already that list the top attractions on the Isle of Skye and the last thing the world needs is yet another blog about the Quiraing, Fairy Pools or Old Man of Storr, although I'm sure there will be many more to come! However, despite what numerous other travel blogs might lead you to believe, there is way more to see in Skye than the cliched list posts of must see attractions that swamp the internet. If you follow my Scotland travel blog, it is hopefully because you want to explore beyond the typical Scottish tourist attractions.
On my last two trips I have based myself in the Sleat Peninsula in South Skye which is known as 'The Garden of Skye' due to its relative greenness. There is no shortage of ruined castles, picturesque villages and stunning scenery to keep you occupied and a new whisky distillery is bound to make the Sleat Peninsula a more tempting destination, although there is not yet the same hectic crowds that you will find further north
Despite The Isle of Skye bursting at the seams with visitors at certain times of year, it is still possible to find quiet corners away from the crowds. My two biggest pieces of advice if you want to have the attractions and wild beauty of Skye all to yourself, is to visit off-season (April and October are good times as many attractions are open for the season although check individual listings for exact dates) and secondly, to explore the lesser visited parts of the island.
If you want to visit the Isle of Skye but don't want to be caught up in traffic queues and tour buses or just want to experience a different side of the island, you definitely need to check out my list of top things to do on the Isle of Skye's Sleat Peninsula!
Take the ferry to Armadale
Armadale Bay is home to the ferry terminal which connects the Isle of Skye with Mallaig on the mainland. Although you could drive across the Skye Bridge, following the stunning 'Road to the Isles' from Fort William and boarding a ferry feels like you are going on a proper island adventure. This is my preferred way to travel to Skye, although another unique way to travel to South Skye is via the world's last manually operated turntable ferry from Glenelg.
Armadale Bay has a few pretty shops and Rhuba Phoil has a short circular woodland walk which is a fairly easy leg stretcher. Look out for the viewpoints as you follow the winding path through the trees and take some time to enjoy the coastal panorama surrounding this permaculture community.
Another one of my favourite things to do is grab a coffee from The Shed and enjoy the views to Knoydart.
Visit - Armadale Castle and Museum of the Isles
On my most recent trip to the Isle of Skye I rented a Clan Donald Holiday Lodge within the estate at Armadale Castle on the Sleat Peninsula. The 20,000 acre estate in the South of Skye was once the traditional lands of Clan Donald and was purchased by the Clan Donald Lands Trust in 1971.
The estate is home to a range of walking trails, historic gardens and the stately remains of Armadale Castle, however the highlight of my visit was a tour of the Museum of the Isles. I highly recommend setting 1 - 2 hours aside to follow the audio guide through the 7 galleries full of fascinating objects, spanning 1500 years of history. This is definitely one of my top things to do on the Sleat Peninsula.
For those looking to research their ancestry, there are also genealogical resources in the library and after all that exploring I also recommend stopping by their ornate coffee shop for tea and a fresh baked scone.
Unfortunately there is not much left of Armadale Castle itself, a stately mansion house that was largely destroyed by a fire in 1855. The house was abandoned in 1925 and it is pretty much just the facade that is left today, although it is still an imposing sight.
If, like me, you stay at one of the lodges on the estate, entry to the castle grounds, museum and gardens is free.
This is one attraction on the Sleat Peninsula which can definitely get very busy, however when I visited in April I pretty much had it all to myself!
Visit - Dunscaith Castle
When it comes to Scottish castles I quite often find that less is more and Dunscaith Castle on the Sleat Peninsula is the perfect example of this.
To reach Dunscaith, park in the layby on the main road at Tokavaig and walk along the track towards the single white cottage before following the shore towards the obvious castle remains.
The ruins of what once must have been an impressive coastal structure are perched dramatically on a big lump of rock on the shores of Loch Eishort. Dunscaith Castle is thought to date back to the 13th or 14th century and once served as the MacDonald Clan's principle seat on the Isle of Skye. It was abandoned in the 17th century and has been at the mercy of the elements since.
The stone bridge which links the castle to the mainland can still be seen, although it is missing some vital pieces and I definitely wouldn't recommend trying to cross it! It is best to visit when the tide is out so you can walk under the bridge and around the rock base. Head up to the cliff top to take in some pretty breathtaking vistas towards the Cuillin Hills.
Visiting Kilmun Church
I have mentioned on my blog before that although I'm not religious, I love visiting old churches on my travels around Scotland. I find that they are one of the best places to learn about the community and history of an area.
Recently I made a trip to Kilmun Church and Argyll Mausoleum on the shores of Loch Fyne in the Cowal Peninsula. It turned out to be so much more than just an interesting place of local worship, I found it to be a fascinating attraction with a lot to offer anyone interested in Scottish history.
There is a small visitor centre which details the story of the site from a Celtic Monastery to the final resting place of the Campbells, one of the most powerful clans in Scotland. Volunteer guides are also on hand to show you around if you wish and I found the guide on duty during my visit a wealth of information (I wish I had gotten her name!).
The only thing I found disappointing was to hear how low the visitor figures are, as this really is a special place where there has been a lot of effort put in to enhance the visitor experience. I thoroughly enjoyed my morning there and spent way longer than I had anticipated, partly because I got chatting with the guide over some tea and biscuits after my visit which is optional but recommended!
I really urge you to seek out Kilmun Church and Argyll Mausoleum for yourself and support this great attraction. There is so much history to discover in this little unassuming place and these are just some of the things I found out during my visit...
The history of Kilmun Church & Argyll Mausoleum
It started out as a Celtic Monastery
A Celtic Monastery originally stood on the site of the present church which is believed to have been founded by St Mund or St Mundus, a Scottish Abbot who lived in the 10th century. It is from him that the surrounding village of Kilmun got its name with its origins meaning the cell or chapel of Munn.
As I stood on the porch of my latest 'home from home' I was filled with my usual eager anticipation. Opening the door, I peeked my head inside and had a quick scope around. My first thought was 'Wow!' and the smile on my face reassured Mr Adventures Around Scotland that our new abode for the weekend was as lovely as we had hoped.
'It's like a show-home' I declared excitedly, before we kicked off our shoes and padded across the springy carpet to explore our surprisingly spacious holiday lodge.
We had been invited to stay at an ABI Ben Lomond Lodge in Loch Lomond Holiday Park and compared to other lodges I have stayed in recently, this was on another level with luxury bespoke fittings and co-ordinated soft furnishings. It really did feel like a bijou show-home and I was immediately ready to move in!
I probably shouldn't have been surprised as ABI specialise in designing quality hand built holiday homes that can be purchased by anyone wanting their own permanent holiday escape.
The open plan kitchen and living area was lovely and bright with patio doors leading out to a large porch with views to Loch Lomond and two big squishy sofas to relax on. The main bedroom had a little en-suite dressing room and bathroom, and a second twin bedroom and shower room meant that a family or larger group could stay there comfortably.
Drumlanrig Castle is not exactly a hidden gem; it is the Dumfriesshire seat of the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch and sits in the Queensberry Estate which covers over 90,000 acres of southern Scotland after all! However, you could easily travel around this scenic part of Dumfries and Galloway completely unaware of its existence.
Although I have been to Dumfries and Galloway many times, I had never actually visited Drumlanrig Castle until I was recently invited to go on a tour. It was already on my radar for visiting this summer as it was used as an Outlander filming location, however the invite brought forward my visit and I was lucky enough to get a private tour of the castle before it opened to the public for the summer. I also had one of the best afternoons in a long time going on a Land Rover tour of the estate and soon discovered that the castle and surrounding area have so much to offer that I wanted to share 5 reasons why I think you should visit Drumlanrig Castle for yourself.
1. Take the Drumlanrig Castle tour
120 rooms, 17 turrets and 4 towers - Drumlanrig Castle is seriously impressive inside and out. The best way to learn about its colourful history and to admire its lavish interior is on a guided tour. Unfortunately the castle tour season is a pretty short one, only running through July and August with a few other select days through the year, but it is worth timing your visit to coincide with the opening dates in my opinion.
Drumlanrig Castle is considered one of the finest examples of 17th Century Renaissance architecture in Scotland and has been the seat of the Douglas Family for generations. In 1684, William 3rd Earl of Queensberry, was made 1st Duke of Queensberry in recognition for his loyalty to Charles II. The castle which stands today was built to reflect his new status, incorporating some of the 14th century castle which had previously occupied the site. However, after spending only 1 night, the Duke decided he didn't like his new abode and moved back to Sanquhar Castle, he was obviously hard to please!
During the guided tour you can view Drumlanrig Castle's renowned art, furniture and silver collections and learn about life at the castle through the centuries. You will also discover more about some of the colourful characters that have visited Drumlanrig Castle over the years and view the bed that Bonnie Prince Charlie and Neil Armstrong slept in, not at the same time obviously!
My guide was hugely knowledgeable and although the tour only covers a fraction of the castle, it gave me a real insight into one of Scotland's most powerful families.
2. Go on a Land Rover safari
I am really not exaggerating when I say that the Land Rover tour from Drumlanrig Castle is seriously one of the best things I've done in ages. I'll be honest and say that I was a little apprehensive that 3 hours might be a bit too long. 'What if I get bored?', 'What if it's too shoogly and I feel sick?' or worst of all 'What if I'm in the middle of nowhere and need to visit the little girl's room?!' Thankfully none of these worries transpired as I was having way too much fun and by the time my 3 hours was up and we arrived back at the castle I was pretty sad it was all over, time really did fly by.
My guide, Brian, has worked on the estate for 50 years and what he doesn't know is very likely not worth knowing. In fact, I'm pretty sure that there is nothing that he doesn't know about Queensberry Estate. For the entire tour he had me engrossed with stories from history, facts about land management and wildlife, all punctuated with some humorous anecdotes.
We rumbled through woods, across fields (literally!), stopped at points of interest and took to the hills, thanks to our off road mode of transport, normally inaccessible areas were no longer off limits. The hilltop drive really was a highlight and the views were just superb. Travelling by Land Rover really does mean anyone can access the stunning scenery, even those who wouldn't normally have the ability or time to reach the hill tops.
We saw so much wildlife, covered diverse landscapes and stopped at historical sites. This really was a unique experience and one that I'll not forget, it definitely ranks as one of my favourite things that I've done in Scotland.
Until recently, the seaside town of Largs would not have been a Scottish destination I would have associated with hill-walking. Ice-cream, yes, scenic hiking, not so much. However, I am happy to admit when I am wrong and wanted to share with you a fairly easy hill walk that I discovered which gets top marks for effort to reward ratio in my opinion.
Castle Hill has the best view of the Firth of Clyde that I've come across and a short detour at the start to visit a prehistoric tomb makes this a worthwhile adventure to add to your Largs itinerary.
The walk up Castle Hill is accessed via Douglas Park, a short stroll from the town centre, and when I visited the play-park opposite was full of gorgeous pink cherry blossoms. I couldn't resist standing beneath the floral coated branches while the fragile petals rained down in the wind.
The start of the Castle Hill walk is well signposted once you reach the park but I suggest you follow the path to visit the Haylie Chambered Tomb first.
Discovered in 1772 by James Wilson of Haylie, the remains of 5 bodies were found within. Sadly today all you are likely to find within is rubbish and the tomb does seem pretty unloved considering it is such a fascinating piece of local prehistoric history. However, its unexpected location in a little clearing behind some houses is worth a look.
I took a well worn short cut from the chambered tomb up to the official path for the Castle Hill viewpoint but you can take the path back to the signposted route at the start if you prefer. This is really a walk of two halves as the first stretch is along a path surrounded by patchy grass and scrubby undergrowth and isn't that picturesque. It is also quite steep going in places and I certainly felt my calf muscles working harder than usual.
However, keep checking behind you as the view opens up across the Firth of Clyde and you will get all the encouragement you need to keep going. There are also some benches where you can enjoy the view if you need a little breather.
In Scotland you are surrounded by history wherever you travel in the country and for every popular historical attraction there are dozens of others that remain under the tourist radar. Many of these sites have just as much, if not more, historical significance but receive much less attention for various reasons.
Nestled tightly between a housing estate and the Main Street of the North Ayrshire town of Kilwinning is the unexpected gem of Kilwinning Abbey.
Urban Quarters Review
My recent visit to Dundee was my fifth trip to the city in the last couple of years and as I had already covered most of the Dundee attractions on previous visits, I was looking forward to exploring the city like a local rather than a tourist. Thanks to an invite to experience the centrally located Urban Quarters apartments, I even had my own luxury Dundee pad for the weekend and you can't get much more local than that!
Since it was also my wedding anniversary that week it was the perfect opportunity to celebrate with Mr Adventures Around Scotland as Dundee is one of our favourite places.
Urban Quarters is made up of 4 individual apartments, each named after a famous Dundonian. We were allocated the two bedroom Patrick Geddes apartment on the top floor.
From walking in, we felt immediately at home. The designer apartment is fitted out to a high standard with lots of creative and quirky touches which I just loved. It is definitely the first (and will probably be the only) accommodation I have stayed at with a popcorn maker, 3D glasses and a record player (complete with an eclectic mix of albums). If you were watching my Instagram story you might recall me playing some Scottish tunes from the legendary jimmy Shand as our Friday night entertainment. I really know how to party!
If you would rather chill out than dance the night away to some cheesy tunes then a yoga mat and book of mindfulness is provided to help you relax. Personally, I was really impressed by the unique touches which all helped us to feel at home, in fact it felt better than my home as I don't have a popcorn maker or a Jimmy Shand album.
When I stayed in Forres at the beginning of the year, I quickly realised just how many fascinating historical sites there are in the Moray area. Pictish stones, castles galore, Jacobite connections, quirky museums, Macbeth country, heritage whisky distilleries and a ruined yet still very impressive cathedral are just some of the diverse historical gems that drew me back a few months later. There are just so many historical attractions to visit in Moray that one visit just isn't enough, and as I have now found out, two visits aren't enough either as I still haven't made it to lots of historical places in the area, including Cawdor Castle which doesn't reopen until May and is still top of my list for next time.
However, I did manage to cover a lot of ground during both my stays and wanted to share with you 12 of the historical sites that I discovered in Moray which I think are worth a visit.
1. Elgin Catherdral
Scotland has more than its fair share of ruins, some hardly worth a mention and others, like Elgin Cathedral, which are well worth exploring. As ruins go, this medieval cathedral has lots to offer. What remains of the structure is impressive enough but for me the highlight is the large display of carved stones. I haven't come across a collection as magnificent as this anywhere else in Scotland and I was particularly spellbound with the lifelike detail of the faces.
Another unique display in Elgin Cathedral which I love is the effigy of Bishop Archibald, brought back to its former colourful glory with clever lighting effects.
As with all good Historic Scotland ruins there is a tower to climb which offers a rooftop perspective of the cathedral and open views across Elgin and beyond.
If you didn't know the history of Burghead before you arrived, you could mistakenly assume it is nothing more than a sleepy coastal village but you couldn't be more wrong. This is a village bursting with significant history and most of it is well hidden unless you know where to look. This unassuming place once held a strategic position of power, being surrounded by the sea on three sides made it an ideal location for what is reputed to have once been the largest Iron Age fort in Britain. Subsequently it was a site of significant power for the Northern Picts and later it was captured by Sigurd the Powerful, the Norse Earl of Orkney.
Burghead Fort is the only Pictish fort where bullstones have been found and you can view two of them in the tiny the heritage centre along with a model of what the fort might have looked like. You can also pick up the key for the mysterious Burghead Well from here (or the Bothy Bistro if the centre is shut). The main purpose of this man-made sunken pool is unknown although objects found within, including carved stones and a metal jug, have led to various theories including it being used as a shrine, a Christian baptistery and even a place for ritual executions. I recommend taking a torch if you want to look inside.
I suggest doing some local history research before visiting Burghead to fully appreciate just how important this area once was and you might even end up becoming as captivated by Burghead as I am!
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