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?
Lots of you have been in touch to say how useful my Outlander filming location blog posts have been in planning your Outlander inspired vacation to Scotland. I have been meaning to add more guides for a while but wanted to wait until Season 2 was well under way to prevent any spoilers! Also there are now so many filming locations in Scotland that it is hard to keep up but I'm trying my best and as I never want to write a blog post giving advice about a place I haven't personally visited it takes that bit longer to catch up...:-)
There will be more to come but in the meantime here are 7 more Outlander filming locations to add to your list.
1. Doune Castle
Doune Castle is one of the most visited Outlander filming locations in Scotland, with visitor numbers up a third since it was featured in the show as Castle Leoch, the seat of the Clan MacKenzie. Outlander is not this castle's only claim to fame as it was also featured as Camelot in Monty Python and the Holy Grail and starred in the pilot episode of Game of Thrones.
Doune Castle is a great place to visit with lots of nooks and crannies to get lost in and I highly recommend taking the audio guide to make the most of your visit to this 14th Century fortification. The audio tour is narrated by Monty Python's Terry Jones and thanks to the interest in Outlander it now also features Sam Heughan, bonus! Once you have explored the interior, make sure you find your way to the battlements as the views over the River Teith and towards the Menteith Hills and Ben Lomond are worth the effort.
The nearest city to Doune Castle is Stirling which is a 20 minute drive away. You could easily spend a couple of hours here and if you are being selective about which Outlander filming locations to include in your trip to Scotland I would definitely recommend fitting in a visit here. It can easily be combined with a trip to Deanston Distillery which is a 5 minute drive away, see details below.
Doune Castle belongs to Historic Scotland and there is an admission charge to visit. If you are going to a few of their sites the costs can add up and I recommend investigating whether a membership would work out cheaper.
2. Deanston Distillery
Handily located a 5 minute drive from Doune Castle is Deanston Distillery and if you are in need of some whisky after your tour then you need to head here. I should add that it is also an Outlander filming location so a visit here for a dram or two is totally allowed and indeed encouraged!
The distillery warehouse was featured in Episode 1, Season 2 of Outlander as the warehouse in the French port of Le Havre where the Comte St Germain stores his wine shipment.
There are several tours available of this former cotton mill and if you would like to know more about the Scotch whisky making process, taking a tour and sampling the goods is an enjoyable education.
The distillery also features in a Scottish film called The Angel's Share (give it a watch!) and in the warehouse look out for a whisky cask signed by the cast of the movie.
The distillery shop is well stocked with whisky related gifts from scented candles to flavoured chocolates to bottles of the real thing. There is also a little coffee shop if you need a caffeine boost after all that touring and whisky!
3. Linlithgow Palace
Some of the scenes from Wentworth Prison might be ones that most Outlander fans would rather forget but the filming location of Linlithgow Palace is not the grim place that you might envisage. Yes, there are a few atmospherically dark rooms and corridors which were used in the prison scenes, but overall it is a rather majestic ruin that strongly alludes to its former status as a great Royal Palace and the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots. Climb the steps to the top of the building for superb views over Linlithgow Loch and towards the Forth bridges.
Again this is a location that I think should be included on any Outlander filming location itinerary. Linlithgow is a 40 minute drive from either Edinburgh or Glasgow and can easily be reached by train from either city making it an ideal day out if you don't have a car. Like Doune Castle, this is another Historic Scotland property site and I recommend investigating membership which can be cheaper than paying individually if you plan on visiting a few of their properties.
Being a Glaswegian I often get asked about things to do in the city and one question I get a lot is for my recommendation of the best Glasgow tours. Until recently I hadn't been on that many tours in Glasgow so I decided to rectify that and have spent the last few months on a mission to discover the top unique tours in the city. After walking countless streets, climbing umpteen stairs, having a peek behind the scenes of several city landmarks and even exploring a few graveyards (all in the name of research!), I'm finally ready to share my findings.
Recommending the best tours in the city is pretty subjective as it really depends on personal interests, so I have decided to include a range of unique tours that in my opinion are 6 of the best in Glasgow...
Glasgow Central Station Tour
If you think a tour of a railway station might be dull, think again, this is actually my top recommended unique Glasgow tour overall, guaranteed to educate and entertain, just remember your hankies!
Paul Lyons is the mastermind behind the 90 minute tours that take you on a journey below the station platforms through forgotten Victorian tunnels and hidden rooms. It is his vision and passion that has made these tours a success and his plans to restore historic parts of the 135 year old station with money raised from ticket sales are commendable. Paul's ability to bring the human stories of the station to life is powerful, when he tells you at the beginning he will have you "Greetin' before the tour is over", he isn't kidding, although pan faced Glaswegian humour is also something he does very well.
It's no surprise that this is also the number one Glasgow tour on TripAdvisor, a well deserved accolade.
Glasgow City Chambers Tour
I've explored Glasgow City Chambers quite a few times over the years and I'm always surprised how few people realise that free guided tours take place every weekday providing a look behind the scenes of this grand Victorian building filled with mahogany, mosaics and marble.
As the seat of political power in Glasgow, the City Chambers was designed to impress and not surprisingly the interior is just as ornate as the exterior. As it is a working building and the headquarters of Glasgow City Council, access to some areas may be restricted at certain times although tours generally take in the opulent banqueting hall, the grand marble staircase which is reputed to be the largest in the world, the portrait gallery and even the opportunity to sit in the Lord Provost's chair, an ideal photo opportunity! I've yet to find a better free tour in the city.
The Friends of Glasgow Necropolis Walking Tour
As part of my research I did a few history based Glasgow walking tours and the only one I felt really stood out as being unique was the Friends of Glasgow Necropolis Tour around the city's most famous graveyard. This might not be everyone's idea of a fun day out but in my experience graveyard's offer one of the best insights into the history of a place and the volunteer guides really bring this city of the dead to life with their knowledge about monuments of interest and anecdotes about people that are buried here.
The Glasgow Necropolis is a 37 acre cemetery which has seen 50,000 burials and is home to 3,500 tombs, some of which are works of art in themselves designed by major architects and sculptors of the time. It also boasts impressive views over Glasgow from the top of the hill and joining a walking tour will really enhance your visit and knowledge about the city.
The Isle of Gigha is clearly visible from the Kintyre peninsula and a short 20 minute ferry ride across the Sound of Gigha is all that separates the two. The close proximity doesn't stop me feeling the same excited anticipation that always precedes an island adventure, or from standing on deck braving the gusty wind and regular soaking from sea spray as the main settlement of Ardminish draws closer.
This is an Island I have been meaning to visit for a while and a last minute decision to pop over and fill a free day in my diary sees me making my way to the little lump of land that the Norse King Hakon originally named Gudey, meaning the Good Isle or God's Isle, and which the Gaels later adjusted to Gigha (pronounced Geeea).
There aren't many Scottish Islands that you can feasibly visit and explore in 1 day but the community owned Isle of Gigha is the ideal destination for those looking to experience a little piece of Hebridean paradise in a short amount of time thanks to its close proximity to the mainland and bijou size.
It is the most southerly Hebridean Island and only 7 miles long by 1 1/2 miles at its widest point, with one main road dissecting its length. Having the car meant I could explore most of the island in an afternoon, however it is equally doable in a day by bike (bike hire is available locally) or on foot.
There are not many man-made attractions on Gigha but the beautiful natural scenery is enough to make a visit worthwhile and although there are no museums, the history of the island is told through the objects that intertwine the landscape from the standing stones to the modern 'Dancing Ladies' wind turbines.
White Beaches and Turquoise Water
If the very mention of 'Hebridean island' conjures up an image of flawless white sandy bays, clear turquoise water and rugged coves, you'll be pleased to know Gigha won't disappoint with its own bite sized slices of paradise. Being only 1 1/2 miles at its widest point and 1/2 mile at its narrowest, you are never far from the coast and at certain places you can even admire the tempting stretches of sand along both sides of the island at the same time, talk about a dilemma!
Views to Islay and Jura
You can almost smell the waft of whisky from Islay and reach over to touch the Paps of Jura which both sit teasingly close off the west coast of Gigha. If a visit to this miniature Hebridean oasis leaves you hankering for more, then gazing across at its imposing relatives is guaranteed to add to your island wanderlust and immediately booking you next ferry trip.
Having grown up and lived in Glasgow most of my life, I have watched it transform from a rather unattractive post industrial weed into a colourful bloom, worthy of its place in the cultural garden of Europe. As part of its reinvention, this 'Dear Green Place' on Scotland's west coast is gradually learning to capitalise on the talented art and design scene that has always been present in the city but not always marketed as one of its major assets. Creative studios have been reclaiming historical buildings, world class museums now attract visitors from every part of the globe and public art has appeared all over the city.
I moved out of Glasgow almost 3 years ago and each time I return I notice more changes, some subtle and some designed to make a bolder statement. The street art scene in the city has exploded over the last few years and this artistic development made such an impact on me it was the very first topic I wrote about on this blog!
With my blog turning 2 next month I decided it was time to revisit the street art of Glasgow that first inspired me to put finger to keyboard to find out how it has been progressing and I'm glad to report that almost 2 years on, we are both flourishing!
These days, Glasgow's street art has spread its graffiti tentacles all over the city, however a walk around the centre provides a good introduction to the diverse range of murals that have been commissioned since 2008 to brighten up neglected spaces. The nature of street art means that new pieces appear while other pieces disappear; it is an every changing open air gallery which can be enjoyed for free by anyone at anytime. I'm a huge fan of the murals and judging by the amount of people that were clicking away on cameras and phones next to me, I'm not alone.
If you want to find out more about the Glasgow city centre street art murals, here is an introduction to some of the main artists and venues.
Street Artist - Smug
Smug One (aka Sam Bates) is an Australian born street artist based in Glasgow and as you walk the streets of the city it is hard to miss his enormous works of art that often adorn entire gable end walls. His pieces are completed freehand using aerosol cans and in my humble opinion he is one of the most talented street artists in the world. Here are a few of his most prominent works in the city centre.
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