I LOVE finding quirky accommodation in Scotland and it doesn't get much quirkier than the Coastal Carriage, an up-cycled vintage rail carriage set in a quiet field on a family run farm just along the coast from Fraserburgh in Aberdeenshire.
When the owner Carole invited me to experience this unique retreat for myself, I was determined to find an excuse to visit and luckily for me I was able to include an overnight stay during my recent #ScotCoast adventures. The first thing that struck me was the privacy and tranquillity of the setting before I was wowed with the views of the Moray Firth and Banffshire Coast stretching across the horizon. It really felt like I had stumbled upon a little pocket of paradise.
I love watching George Clarke's Amazing Spaces and often wish I had the skill and imagination to redesign a small and quirky space into something not only charming but also functional and that is exactly what Carole and Mathew have achieved with the coastal carriage.
On the rails from 1937 until the 1960s, the carriage was later used as storage by a crofter and gradually began to fall in to a bad state of decay before Carole and Mathew rescued it. The video below shows the journey of the carriage through its restoration. The before and after shots would make George Clarke proud!
Inside is beautifully rustic with a wood burning stove to keep you toasty on colder days and you can also boil the kettle or cook your dinner on the hotplate at the same time. Wood is provided.
The cupboards and shelves are packed with all the crockery and utensils you should need.
Although my cold wasn't completely gone, I decided it was time to get back on the road and head north again through Fife. I have already explored a good bit of the Fife coast so I only really planned to spend a day in the region with plenty of photo stops of course as it is a rather photogenic part of the country.
I had also left Willow behind for a few days which meant I was free to do some activities that weren't so dog friendly.
My first stop was Culross, one of my favourite places in the country and even in the morning it was already busy with tourists, partly due to the Outlander effect as this is the filming location used for the fictional village of Cranesmuir. You can read more about Culross and other Outlander filming locations in Fife in this blog post.
The East Neuk of Fife is brimming with colourful and characterful towns and villages including my next stop at St Monans.
At my next stop in the equally pretty Pittenweem I had arranged to catch up with fellow travel blogger, Nicola from Funky Ellas Travel. I got to know Nicola through my year in Scotlanders and although I've since left, we still keep in touch. It was great to catch up with her for lunch and a chat, do pop over and check out her blog for lots more Scottish travel tips.
It wouldn't be right if I met up with a fellow Scottish travel blogger and we didn't do some exploring together so we ventured to St Fillan's cave, once used by smugglers and later became a focal point for pilgrimages. The little smiling rock outside made my day, I'm easily amused!
Not having Willow meant I could pop in to the Scottish Fisheries Museum at my next stop in Anstruther and find out more about the history of fishing in Scotland. A series of galleries and interesting displays really helped me understand more about how the industry has shaped Scotland's coastal way of life and was a really relevant education for my trip.
Berthed in the harbour outside the Fisheries Museum you will find the Reaper, a historic ship which featured in the first episode of Outlander Season 2 when Jamie and Claire arrive in France.
The scene was actually filmed not far away in Dysart, this is a photo I took of the ship on the film set of Outlander last year.
As I was passing through Crail I just had to stop at this giant sand sculpture which had been created to commemorate those left behind after the Battle of the Somme with all donations going to Erskine Hospital which has been caring for veterans since 1916.
My journey continued through the centre of St Andrews and although I didn't stop this time, you can find photos from one of my previous visits here.
Crossing from Fife and in to Angus, I could feel my energy quickly fading and decided it was time to rest for the evening. On a whim I followed a camping sign for Tayview caravan park in Monifeith, another place I had never been until this trip. The weather was typically undecided, pouring one minute then sunny the next and I suddenly felt overwhelmed with tiredness thanks to my lingering cold so when I discovered I could have a glamping lodge complete with TV for only £13 more than a tent pitch, I was sold! For £40 I could stick the kettle on, watch TV, open the patio doors and enjoy my dinner alfresco with a view of the Firth of Tay. After I was fuelled I enjoyed a walk along the beach before falling in to bed, bargain!
The next morning I stopped for a closer look at some modern standing stones near the beach with an inscribed verse from the poem 'The Wild Geese' by Violet Jacob, all about longing for home.
'And far abune the Angus straths I saw the wild geese flee,
A lang, lang skein o’ beatin’ wings, wi’ their heids towards the sea,
And aye their cryin’ voices trailed ahint them on the air –'
Another sculpture that caught my attention before leaving Monifeith was 'The Welder' outside Tescos. It was looking a bit rusty and past its best, however it interested me as it celebrated a little piece of local history. On the site of the sculpture had stood the Monifeith Foundry in 1811 which had employed around 300 people from the local area by 1880 and although there is no trace of it today, it is nice that an important industry from the town's past hasn't been completely forgotten.
After Dumfries and Galloway I had to cross the country from the west coast to the east coast and as my mum and husband were going to join me for a few days, I broke the journey with an overnight stay at my parents in Glasgow. After almost a week camping I was very appreciative of a comfy bed and hot bath!
The following day we set off towards the Scottish Borders and made an impromptu stop at Crichton Castle, which isn't on the coast but seemed a good place to take a break before lunch. This was the first time I had visited the castle and was immediately wowed as we approached. An impressive spot and an impressive ruin, it must have been some spectacle in its day.
The interior was unique to anything I have ever seen in a Scottish castle before which made it really stand out for me. A diamond-faceted facade inspired by Italy and in particular the Palazzo dei Diamanti in Ferrara, makes Crichton Castle that bit more unusual. I've visited many, many (many!) castles in Scotland over my lifetime and this is definitely one of the more memorable ruins and now added to my favourites.
As there were now 3 of us (and Willow), we decided it was more practical to get an apartment rather than camp and found a fantastic 2 bedroom flat on Airbnb in the historic town of Greenlaw in the Scottish Borders. At only £50 per night, dog friendly and 30 minutes from the coast, it was ideal. It turned out to be a great little apartment and the village was nice and peaceful, I would highly recommend it as a budget base for exploring the southeast of the country.
It was then time to start exploring the east coast and after temporarily crossing the Border to England, I was back on my Scottish coastal adventures and enjoyed a lovely evening in Eyemouth.
The last time I planned a trip along the coast of Dumfries & Galloway, car trouble meant we had to turn back. This time I was determined to get further than Mull of Galloway, Scotland's most southerly point, although this is without doubt the most dramatic part of the coast.
After dropping my husband off at the train station in Girvan, Willow and I hurtled south towards Stranraer. I took a notion to stop at Castle Kennedy Gardens as it offered pretty walks, ideal for Willow and I to stretch our legs. Unfortunately, we were not long through the entrance when the heavens opened and we were both completely soaked. Willow was not impressed that I persevered with our walk despite the rain getting heavier and eventually I resigned to returning back to the car dripping wet, although we had wandered long enough to get a taste of how pretty the gardens would look on a drier day!
I had planned to return to one of my favourite campsites at Castle Bay near Portpatrick with a view towards the atmospheric Dunskey Castle and Ireland across the water, so made this our next stop (it cost me £11 per night). With grim weather forecast for the rest of the day I quickly set up the tent during a calm and dry period between the heavy showers and enjoyed a cup of tea with a pretty decent view.
As predicted the heavens opened once again and I sat cuddled up to Willow, cosy in our tent until the wind picked up and the back started sagging! I was convinced I must have put the tent poles in the wrong way and spent the next wee while taking down the tent and re-building it, battling the wind and rain just to find out that the tent poles were fine all along! At that point my camping neighbour returned and saw my pathetic predicament and quickly helped me figure out that I had forgotten to peg down 2 loops on the inside and I felt duly stupid and eternally grateful. By the time I finally settled in for the night I was wet through, miserable and feeling more than a bit sorry for myself. I slept on and off, listening through the night as the rain eventually softened and the wind was reduced to a gentle breeze. A lesson learned the hard way and hopefully the last of my camping mishaps!
I've quickly discovered that blogging while travelling and camping isn't going to be the easiest thing to do, which I pretty much knew before I started, but I really want to share a little journal of my travels with you so I'm trying to set aside time to do some quick updates when I can. Apologies if they are a little brief but I fully intend to write some longer blog posts when I return, the ones I write along the way are really just to keep you up to date with where I've been so far.
I'm already on day 5 and thought I'd do a little round up of my time on the Ayrshire coast. This is an area that I know pretty well as we had a family caravan in Girvan then Turnberry for over 20 years and my aunt had a caravan in Irvine which we also spent a lot of time at. Add to that countless day trips and there aren't many places that I've not explored in the area at some point, which is why I only spent 2 days here to allow myself more time in regions I've not visited before. Although there are of course still a few places that I've never been and one of those was my very first stop on my 6 week trip.
Portencross Castle - Overlooking the Firth of Clyde near West Kllbride and said to be the last resting place of the great Kings of Scotland on their way to be buried at Iona. I arrived before it opened so I didn't manage to visit inside but on a gloomy day it looked suitably atmospheric.
Jane Hunter Art - Another place that has been on my radar for some time is West Kilbride, known as Scotland's craft town due to the support and promotion given to artists and crafters. There are lots of studios and shops to visit on a designated trail and regular exhibitions.
I had been contacted by the lovely Jane Hunter who invited me to pop in if I was passing and it was great to meet her and her partner Sam who both design a range of gorgeous textile products inspired by the great outdoors. Jane was wearing a rather nifty t-shirt designed by Sam which will be part of a new mountain inspired range, think I might have to get myself one of those!
Unfortunately I didn't have a great deal of time to stay on this occasion but I will definitely be back to explore more of the town. Thanks so much to them both for encouraging me to finally make the effort to visit West Kilbride and be sure to check out their lovely online shops or even better stop by and say hello if you're passing.
I'm really grateful to the people and businesses that have invited me to stop by when I'm in their area and plan to accept invites whenever I can as it is so much nicer to communicate in person than online.
Next stop along the coast was Irvine and I loved discovering some colourful street art beneath the shopping centre.
I have a thing about photographing boats so expect a few more as I travel around the coast! These were next to the Maritime Museum in Irvine.
This is my travelling companion for the trip, my 3 year old lurcher Willow. We stopped by The Ship Inn in Irvine for lunch as it has great food and a large dog friendly area. Willow was delighted when she was given some homemade shortbread, not something she would normally be allowed but I made the exception since she is technically on her holidays! This is the oldest pub in Irvine, full of quaint historic details and character. A family favourite when we were on holiday at my aunt's caravan, I always pay a visit when I'm passing and highly recommend it if you're in the area.
It is virtually impossible for me to drive along the Ayrshire coast and not stop at Culzean Castle and Country Park. As a child I spent so many happy and adventurous summers here and still love visiting as an adult.
Culzean even has llamas and if you read my recent blog about my visit to Orkney and my trip to feed alpacas, you can imagine how excited I got seeing llamas!
In June I was lucky enough to be invited to experience the St Magnus International Festival, Orkney's midsummer celebration of the arts which was celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. This was my first time attending the festival and my first visit to Orkney, needless to say I had a very busy but amazing time, managing to fit in four very different performances during my trip. I have written this little guide with some tips for those planning their own first visit to The St Magnus Festival.
Where does the St Magnus Festival take place?
The festival takes place at various venues across Orkney although the majority of the events take place in the town of Kirkwall on Mainland, so this is a good place to base yourself if you plan to take in a few shows. This year performances were held in an eclectic mix of venues from the stunning St Magnus Cathedral to the unusual backdrop of the Mess Hall at Ness Battery.
When does it takes place?
It takes place in midsummer, which is a very magical time to visit Orkney as it never gets truly dark, a period known as simmer dim. It is normally held is normally held over 6 days but his year the festival ran with an extended programme of events from the 16th until 26th of June to celebrate its 40th year.
Who is this festival suitable for?
An eclectic mix of performances ensure most visitors will find something to their taste and will be made to feel very welcome.
Why should I visit?
This is a great chance to mix with the community and experience life as a local for a while as the events are very popular with Orcadians who are known for their love of music and arts.
The festival has grown to become highly regarded as one of the UK's leading arts festivals featuring top class performances which mainly revolve around music although you will also find drama, dance, literature and visual arts. You are just as likely to find talented local acts as you are esteemed international performers and the range of interesting venues used as backdrops means that you get to see a different side to Orkney.
Traditional music is strongly featured and every year a full scale orchestra is also brought to the festival, add to that new talent, specially commissioned pieces and world premieres and you will understand why the festival has grown to be a big feature on the Orkney events calendar.
What type of performances can I see?
Music features strongly on the programme, particularly traditional and classical. Each year Magfest adds a 'Fringe' element to the lie-up with drama, circus and cabaret acts. This year it included a life-sized puppet circus style show!
To give you an idea of the variety on offer, these are the four very different shows I attended this year.
The Biggest Marionette Circus in the World - Certainly a show with a difference complete with a life-sized elephant, giraffe and lion. I think I was a little old to appreciate this show but the children there seemed to enjoy it!
The Orkney Traditional Music Project - The project was founded in 1998 to revive the teaching of traditional music in Orkney and I found it very inspirational to watch the next generation of Orkney fiddlers and accordionists showing off their skills.
Saltfishforty - The highlight show for me was by local act Saltfishforty who were joined by several guest musicians, both established and up and coming. Their performance of traditional and original tunes from Orkney had everyone tapping their toes in the stunning venue of St Magnus Cathedral. The video below will give you a little taster of their fantastic show.
Meditations by Orkney Camerata - My final show of the festival was a night of mystical and spiritual music, again within the beautiful backdrop of St Magnus Cathedral. Orkney is a magical place and this seemed a fitting finale for my final night on the island.
Anyone who knows me, knows that Orkney has been on my travel bucket-list for a very long time. Its fascination for me has much to do with the tapestry of archaeology, layers of preserved heritage and complex relationship history that have helped Orkney achieve an almost mythical status. Salty sea tales, mysterious folklore and ancestral tradition just add to the magic.
Orkney is an archipelago made up of approximately 70 islands and its position off the far north of Scotland on the same latitude as Oslo and Stockholm means that depending on what part of Scotland you live in, visiting generally requires a bit of planning as it can be more expensive and difficult to reach than some European countries. After an almost 6 hour non-stop drive from Glasgow to reach the ferry terminal at Scrabster I can testify to this! However, none of this should be a reason to put off your visit as there are also options to fly or catch a ferry from Aberdeen, it's just a case of planning the journey in a way that works best for you.
With a mere 36 hours to explore and 20 or so inhabited islands to choose from, I had to plan my visit wisely and decided to focus most of my time on Mainland, the largest of the Orkney islands. I managed to squeeze A LOT into my stay although there is also A LOT that I didn't manage to do, but I did have an absolutely amazing time so I thought I would share my 3 day Orkney travel itinerary to help you with planning your own trip.
3 Day Orkney Travel Itinerary - Day 1
I started my day on the 8:45 Northlink ferry from Scrabster to Stromness and the 90 minute journey across the Pentland Firth. I spent much of my time out on the windy deck, watching the seabirds bob and weave alongside us and kept my eyes peeled for some of the marine life that frequents the area, although sadly this time I wasn't rewarded for my perseverance. Even though the day was fairly calm, the boat rose and dipped as it traversed the swell of the waves and I can imagine that these exposed waters could provide a pretty bumpy ride if the weather was not on your side.
Before reaching Stromness, the ferry skirts around the fringes of Hoy, the second largest island in Orkney and most famous for its iconic sea stack affectionately named the Old Man of Hoy which inevitably convinces every virgin visitor to grab their cameras, rush out on deck and brave the exposed conditions to capture a few shaky snaps as the ferry lurches by. For me, an even bigger bonus was the towering cliffs of Hoy, rising dramatically into the clouds like a setting from Middle-earth, while the ferry Captain managed to sail surprisingly close to the tallest vertical cliff face in Britain at St John's Head, a maneuver no doubt perfected to wow the gawking passengers!
After my endurance drive the previous day, I was relieved to finally step ashore at Stromness, ditch the car and let someone else take the wheel for a while. I had booked a day tour with Wildabout Orkney and was very relieved to sit back and relax in the comfort of their executive touring vehicle while I soaked up the expert commentary from our guide Clive.
Their tours are ideal for day trippers to Orkney who want to maximise their visit by being personally guided around some of the most famous attractions and dropped off again in time for their return ferry. The tours vary slightly depending on the day of the week and I enjoyed their 'Treasures of Orkney' tour with the following itinerary.
The Italian Chapel
Our first stop was the beautiful Italian Chapel on the little island of Lamb Holm which is reached by a causeway originally designed to block access to Scapa Flow during WW2. The chapel was built by Italian prisoners of war brought to Orkney to assist with the construction of the concrete block barriers. It is hard not to feel emotional reflecting on the devotion and skill needed to produce this stunning sanctuary given the basic materials they had. A very special place that should be on every Orkney itinerary.
Next up was the highly impressive Skara Brae, a 5000 year old village uncovered by a storm in 1850 and now considered the best-preserved Neolithic settlement in Western Europe. Walking around you can peer in to the ancient homes complete with stone furniture and fittings, that's if you can take your eyes off the huge sweep of white sand and turquoise water of the neighbouring beach! The mounds around the site were actually created by rubbish thrown away by the inhabitants and if you look closely you will see little trenches that reveal piles of discarded shells. Older than the pyramids, the details of this site are simply mind blowing and its location is spectacular, this was by far my favourite archaeological attraction out of those I visited and again a must for any Orkney travel itinerary.
What would you do if you had 6 weeks in Scotland on your own?
This is the third year I've had to face this dilemma since moving to the Isle of Bute and starting a term time job. Unfortunately my husband, friends and family aren't as lucky as me with their holiday allowance and this means I have to find ways to amuse myself for weeks on end. Luckily, I'm quite happy to travel on my own and this year I have had a craving to go on a more adventurous journey rather than my usual series of shorter trips.
I thought a lot about going somewhere exotic, however since I have started writing about Scotland, I always find my thoughts drifting to new adventures on my doorstep. Also, I have been on long trips in different parts of the world before but never in Scotland so this seems like the perfect opportunity to go on an exciting journey around my own country for a change.
So, back to my original question, what would you do if you had 6 weeks in Scotland on your own? Here is what I have decided to do...
I've always loved exploring the Scottish coast and find myself drawn there at every opportunity. Rather than the brief seashore trips I'm normally restricted to, I've decided to go on an extended 6 week circular journey, travelling thousands of miles around the entire mainland coast of Scotland, joining up the fishing villages, sea stacks, lighthouses, sandy beaches, rugged cliffs, hidden coves, mysterious caves, tourist towns and deserted corners.
I'm excited for all the areas I'll be visiting for the first time but also looking forward to gaining a new perspective on familiar places and making sense of the diverse landscape of the Scottish coast.
I plan to mainly wild camp during my travels, not just because it keeps the cost of such a long trip down, but also because I like the freedom of being able to sleep in awesome places. Also, as I've never been solo wild camping before, this adds a personal challenge which is an important element of any adventure!
I have set points that I need to reach at the end of each week but other than that I'm flexible in my plans as I want to leave a large part of this journey up to serendipity (another essential element of any adventure!) so I don't have a set itinerary for each day. The only conditions that I've set myself are to stick to the coast as much as possible and to camp at the most extreme parts of the country, Mull of Galloway in the south, Dunnet Head in the north, Buchan Ness in the east and Ardnamurchan Point in the west.
I've also factored in a few days in Dornoch mid trip when I'll be spoiled in a lovely little self-catering cottage. I've never been to this part of the country before so I'm pretty excited about exploring somewhere new.
I should add that I won't be completely alone as my lovely lurcher Willow will be joining me, she loves the beach possibly even more than eating and sleeping, so a coastal trip should make her very happy! This does mean I'll be limited to dog friendly places along my route so I've downloaded the excellent Dugs N Pubs App with lots of suggestions.
I'm heading off at the start of July and I plan to start my journey in Ayrshire before moving south to Dumfries and Galloway, then crossing to the east coast and working my way north.
If you have suggestions of dog friendly places to visit or amazing places to camp along the coast get in touch. Also it would be lovely to meet some of you in person, so if I'm in your area give me a shout :-)
I really hope you will enjoy following my journey around the coast of Scotland on social media on the hashtag #ScotCoast and I hope to do some short blog post updates along the way but as I'm not sure of the logistics yet I won't promise anything!
What would you do if you had 6 weeks in Scotland?
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