As a Scottish travel blogger that prefers to head away from the typical tourist trail, finding inspiration for new places to visit is not always easy. Hidden gems are by their very nature difficult to discover.
With a free day to go exploring I found myself struggling to come up with somewhere new and unique that was an easy drive from Glasgow. After trawling through the internet for way too long, I was about to give up hope of finding some divine inspiration when I chanced upon Crawick Multiverse, only a one hour drive away in Dumfries and Galloway. A former open cast coal mine, transformed into an artland inspired by space, astronomy and cosmology, it certainly ticked the boxes for being unique and within a reasonable driving distance. Excited by the prospect of a new adventure, I quickly grabbed my camera, made up a packed lunch and jumped in the car. Before long I was turning off the busy motorway and found myself negotiating quiet country back-roads, the lush rural scenery mentally transporting me a million miles away from the city.
Arriving at the unassuming car park of Crawick Multiverse, I paid the entrance fee and picked up a map of the site. On advice from the visitor assistant, I followed the path anti-clockwise as she explained this would take me uphill to a ridge with sweeping views over the area and the countryside beyond.
It was a glorious day and as the trail gained height, the views opened up and I got my first glimpse of the many enormous stones found on the site (over 2000 and counting!) which have now been utilised to create the unusual artworks.
As I reached the top of the ridge, the views across the artland and the pretty valley beyond were spectacular. This is definitely the best place to get a good overview of the standing stone artwork that spirals and swirls in patterns below.
The area which was once deemed a scar on the landscape has been transformed thanks to the famous landform artist Charles Jencks and funding from the Duke of Buccleuch, the local landowner. Now a community asset and thought provoking space, this is a fantastic example of imaginative regeneration. Although it was still patchy in places when I visited, it is a place that will continue to improve with time as the newly planted greenery flourishes and blends with the surrounding fields and hills.
I have always been curious about bothies in Scotland. Quaint little buildings that are open to anyone that needs a shelter for the night, at no cost. Often situated in remote places and rescued from dereliction, they frequently come with an interesting history and a story or two.
Although I love the outdoors, I have never actually stayed in a bothy myself. This is partly because I have always thought they were the domain of seasoned mountain dwellers, partly because I didn't quite know the bothy etiquette until now and partly because it sometimes seems that you need to be a member of some secret bothy society just to find out where many of them are located!
One man has decided to lift the shroud of mystery that surrounds these bothies after spending 5 years visiting them all. Geoff Allan has just published The Scottish Bothy Bible, the first ever detailed guide to Scotland's bothies.
I first became aware of this book when the adventurer Alastair Humphreys tweeted about it and if he recommends it I can pretty much guarantee that it would be a book I would also enjoy, so I was over the moon when I got a chance o check it out for myself.
For a chance to win your own copy, see below!
I expected plenty of photos of the stunning Scottish landscape and of course lots of information on the bothies themselves, thankfully the book didn't disappoint.
Last year I spent a lovely week in Ullapool with my mum, staying on the shores of Loch Broom in the well equipped Rubha Mor. Ullapool is well positioned for memorable road-trips around the North West of Scotland and we did plenty of exploring during our holiday. When I'm with my mum (or anyone else for that matter!), a day out exploring inevitably includes a tea and cake stop and we discovered some cute cafe gems in the most unexpected of places so I thought I would share my recommendations in case you find yourself craving for a cake fix in this stunning and wild part of the country. Those of you undertaking the North Coast 500 Route might also find this guide useful as you pass most of these stops on the way.
My mum and I do consider ourselves to be Scotland cake and tea stop aficionados so hopefully you won't be disappointed in our choices which definitely met with our expert approval!
TEA BY THE SEA, 17 SHORE STREET, ULLAPOOL
We walked past this gift shop come cafe a couple of times before we finally succumbed to temptation. Our willpower was eroded away by the list of delicious sounding daily desserts on the notice board outside which we just had to investigate for ourselves.
This is a quirky little place inside with a few tables adjoining a new age type gift shop. The friendly owners were more than happy to explain what delights were on offer that day and the counter was stuffed with enticing choices.
I opted for a creamy slice of bannoffee pie and my mum opted for the apple pie topped with caramel sauce and cream just for good calorific measure! A generous amount of tea and an extra pot of hot water to wash everything down completed our sweet, sticky feast and we both agreed that a cake stop at Tea By The Sea deserved a big thumbs up.
Check out my blog or more ideas on things to do around Ullapool
ACHILTIBUIE PIPING SCHOOL CAFE, OLD VILLAGE HALL, ACHILTIBUIE
The highlight from my week in Ullapool was definitely a trip to Achiltibuie and the Coigach Peninsula. The scenery is breathtaking and it really feels as if you have left the tourist trail well behind. I highly recommend a visit to this stunning part of Scotland and a stop at the village of Achiltibuie which is surprisingly big considering its remote location.
The Achiltibuie Piping School Cafe is a real off the beaten path gem with amazing views to the Summer Isles. This old village hall has a real community vibe and we found the table of home-made cakes irresistible! For such a remote place, I was also surprised at the wide range of teas on offer and although I didn't have Willow with me, it was good to discover that it is also dog friendly.
Now this is where I must confess to a blogger fail, I didn't photograph our tea and cakes as I was enjoying the experience too much, oops! I can tell you that I really enjoyed my huge slice of lemon cake and I did remember to photograph the view! The baking was so good that we bought pumpkin scones to take back to the accommodation and I also bought a cute little puffin card as a souvenir of our day. We also bought some local free range eggs from an honesty box on the road and I made sure I photographed them to make up for my earlier fail. You'll just have to take my word for it that our cakes looked and tasted incredible and of course try them for yourself!
Check out my blog to find out why I fell in love with the Coigach Peninsula
I'm not going to lie, 2016 was a real rollercoaster of a year for me and as it drew to a close I felt more than a little burnt out. A family getaway at the start of 2017 was very much needed and the prospect of visiting a new part of Scotland had me excited for the New Year to start.
Is there anything better than staying in a wooden lodge during the winter? I doubt it! When that lodge has plenty of space, three bedrooms (1 en-suite) is dog friendly and overlooks a cute lochan which you can admire from the conservatory or the porch, it pretty much ticks all the boxes for a relaxing family break.
All that space meant that Mr Adventures around Scotland, my parents and of course my little lurcher Willow could join me on a proper family getaway.
Tullochwood Lodges are set within 28 acres of tranquil woodland which means there is plenty of outdoor space on the doorstep, however there are also numerous places within a 30 minute drive that have lots to offer all members of the family including furry companions.
When we weren't chilling out in our cosy lodge, these are some of the places we discovered nearby and really enjoyed exploring.
Forres is only a few miles from Tullochwood Lodges and is one of the oldest small towns in Scotland. The main street is lined with historic buildings and it has been the winner of Scotland in Bloom competition several times thanks to its pretty floral displays.
Although a Royal Burgh since 1140, it might be best known as a location featured in Shakespeare's Macbeth. It is claimed the history of Forres dates back over 2000 years when it first appeared on a map under the name of Varis.
With lots of independent shops, a couple of supermarkets, a public park and some historic attractions there are plenty of reasons to spend time in this quaint town.
Culzean Castle is undoubtedly one of Scotland's most beautiful buildings and a popular Ayrshire visitor attraction. Although perched dramatically on a cliff top overlooking the Firth of Clyde, it was never intended as a fortress.
Designed by renowned architect Robert Adam for David Kennedy, 10th Earl of Cassillis, it was built as a romantic castle style family home.
Originally commissioned in 1777 to replace a more basic structure, building work was finally completed in 1792. Donated to the National Trust of Scotland by the Kennedy family in 1945, today the magnificent Adam masterpiece attracts visitors from all over the world.
Thanks to the NTS, the 18th century mansion and its interior have been well preserved and it would be unthinkable that such a grand and relatively modern building could ever be allowed to fall to ruin. Yet head a little further east in Ayrshire and you might be surprised to discover that the once equally beautiful younger sister of Culzean has succumbed to that very misfortune.
It has been a few years since I last visited Edinburgh during the festive season and this year I was excited to see how much it has grown. More rides, more market stalls, a bigger ice-rink, themed zones and the Street of Light project have turned Edinburgh into a competitive European destination for a Xmas break.
With a full day to get into the Xmas spirit this is what I got up to on my Edinburgh Christmas adventure...
I took the short train journey from Glasgow and exited Waverley train station to a welcome of blue skies and a burst of colour. I immediately realised I had put on far too many layers in my anticipation of a typically cold winter's day. Scottish weather problems!
I decided to start my day with a bit of ice-skating and despite not having skated for 15 years, I had romantic images of myself and Mr Adventures Around Scotland gliding effortlessly around St Andrew Square. Blame all those Xmas films set in Central Park featuring glamourous couples ice-skating hand in hand for putting this daft notion in my head! If you watched my Instagram story you would have seen the reality of me wobbling unsteadily across the ice although I did manage to remain upright so that's a win in my book! There were lots of people shuffling along precariously and desperately grabbing on to the side who no doubt had their romantic notions shattered too but at least everyone looked like they were still having fun!
Incidentally make sure you are following me on Instagram if you want to follow my stories and get a peek behind the scenes of my travels.
Next on my list was a shot on the Star Flyer which is nearly 60 metres high so not ideal for those scared of heights. Personally I loved it and the 360 degree views as you soar over the city were incredible. As soon as I got off I wanted to go up again but my long list for the day meant time wasn't on my side. I'd really love to see the views over the city at night so hopefully I can fit it in on my next trip to Edinburgh.
When the lovely people at Perth & Kinross Countryside Trust got in touch to ask if I would like to experience Perthshire's 'Big Tree Country' during the autumn, I had my bags packed quicker than you could say 'Giant Douglas Fir'. With over 200,000 acres of woodland, including more champion trees than anywhere else in the UK, autumn in Perthshire is pretty spectacular. The landscape bursts into a fiery tapestry of colour and thousands of towering trunks are testament to why this region has become known as 'Big Tree Country'.
Often seen as a convenient stopping point on the road between the Lowlands and Highlands, it seems a real shame that more people don't take time to really appreciate how special the Perthshire scenery is.
This blog post only scratches the surface of outdoor places to explore in this vast region but I have tried to include a mixture of walks, viewpoints and places of interest which I think give a good introduction to the diversity of the area. Hopefully these ideas inspire you to explore more of 'Big Tree Country' and discover some gems of your own.
There is no better way (in my opinion) to explore Perthshire than on foot. Thanks to the hard work of Perth and Kinross Countryside Trust and their partners, an ever growing network of paths criss-cross the region. With walks for every ability there is a dizzying choice of trails and you could easily spend weeks following them and still only have covered a fraction! I've chosen 4 walks that I think are rewarding in their own right, from an accessible trail in Faskally Wood to a more challenging walk around the Annat Loop. For me, these trails show off some of the best assortment of scenery in the region with a few unexpected surprises along the way!
If you have read my recent blog with some of the highlights from my week in Ullapool, you will know that I was waiting to reveal my stand out experience from the trip as I felt it deserved a blog post all to itself. Well, I am finally ready to share not only the top highlight from my week in Ullapool, but a corner of Scotland that has firmly entered my list of top places to visit in the country.
I wanted to take you on a photo journey of my road-trip which started at Ullapool and ventured towards Achiltibuie and around the Coigach peninsula, a region that I fell more than a little bit in love with. It really was one of those road-trips when I kept thinking that the views couldn't get any better until I turned the next corner!
The only way to reach Achiltibuie is by a long and winding single track road which means it remains free from mass tourism and the whole area still has a simple and rustic charm. I could easily spend way more than a thousand words rambling on about how magical this place is, but I thought on this occasion I would let the pictures do the talking instead...
Heading north from Ullapool it wasn't long before I got my first glimpse of the Coigach mountains as I followed the road towards Ardmair.
Abandoned stone buildings topped with red tin are a common sight in this part of the country.
As the sweep of Ardmair Bay came in to view, the white pebble beach was a stark contrast to the dark and brooding mountains in the distance.
Around the bend from Ardmair, the mountain and loch scene was completed by some colourful fishing boats.
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