As spring is approaching, slowly but steadily, it’s the best time to plan your first weekend trips. If you live in Scotland or by chance you will be in the Highlands soon, the first sunny days are a perfect excuse to visit the dolphins of Chanonry Point!
Chanonry Point, also known as Gob na Cananaich in Scottish Gaelic, is a spit not far away from Fortrose, quite near Inverness. The place is famous for frequent visits of sea fauna, including above all bottlenose dolphins, seals and porpoises, and a whole lot of different bird species. The views are best in the summer and during the salmon migrations, as the dolphins and other creatures have plenty of food and are willing to chase it spectacularly to the delight of crowds watching them. They are the main attraction and the whole place revolves around them. The University of Aberdeen has an important research spot there, and regular research is carried out in collaboration with the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, which also operates the Scottish Dolphin Centre at the mouth of the River Spey and the Dolphin and Seal Centre near North Kessock. If you want to admire the dolphins off shore, there are several companies that will take you on a cruise. There is even a Dolphin Space Programme – members of this scheme are obliged to ensure they do not disturb the creatures, so if you care about the dolphins’ peace, it’s better to go with a company who is a partner of the programme. Before you go, also ensure you check the tide details – the best ones are quite low, but with a bigger difference between the lowest and the highest point. Those details can be verified at the research spots, and there is of course a gossip network during the summertime.
The dolphins are charming animals, but there are many more attractions in the neighborhood! This is especially the case for those who enjoy military and historical pursuis. Just across the Chanonry Point you’ll find Fort George – one of the mightiest artillery fortifications in Britain and Europe. Visiting the Fort is an outstanding chance to learn about 18th century weapons. Fort George was designed to be impregnable, and was built to prevent Jacobean unrest – which never came. Nevertheless, the Fort is still used by the army, and visitors are also welcomed. They say that you can see the dolphins from the ramparts and that the view is amazing!
Speaking of Jacobean unrest – Culloden Battlefield is also nearby. The Battle of Culloden was the biggest one during the Jacobite rising, and took place 16 April 1746. The Jacobean defeat was the end of dreams to overthrow the House of Hanover and restore the House of Stuart to the British Throne, with around 2000 Jacobean fatalities. Today, there is a tourist centre nearby, and there’s an exciting award-winning interactive exhibition to enable you to enter the 18th century battle atmosphere and tactics. The place has also a souvenir shop and a restaurant.
If you haven’t had enough of fortifications, we encourage you to visit Cawdor Castle – built by clan Calder (the original spelling of Cawdor) in the 14th century, and passed to the Campbells in the 16th century. The castle is associated with Macbeth – the title character is the Thane of Cawdor – although the castle itself was built around 300 years later. The castle is probably best known for its famous gardens – planted in the 17th and 18th centuries. There’s also a legend – the castle is said to be built around a horn tree, later classified as a holly, which can be seen up to this day in the castle’s dungeons. For the amateur aficionado of sophisticated sports – there’s also a golf course nearby. If you want to visit the castle do remember that it’s inhabited (the late Thane of Cawdor’s widow is the current owner and resident for part of the year) and the castle is only opened for visitors from May 1st till October 4th each year.
For those who value calm and sea breezes more than battlefields and forts – there’s the Chanonry Point Lighthouse. Built in the 19th century, it was designed as a one man facility, but now it’s operated automatically through Northern Lighthouse Board’s offices in Edinburgh. The tower is 13 meters high, and is one of the best places to observe the dolphins playing. There’s also another feature – the keeper’s cottages built in the Egyptian style, as preferred by the designer, Alan Stevenson, at that time.
Chanonry Point and its surroundings have every trait of a perfect weekend destination if you’re looking for a fine Highland trip. The attractions are easy to get to due to the proximity of Inverness, and buses and coaches operate often. The trip to see the dolphins is definitely high on our list of places to visit in 2015!
It’s Hogmanay time! Even though London was hailed the most popular city-break for New Year’s Eve, if you want a Scottish celebration – Edinburgh is the only place to be! Prepare for 3 days of music, fun, fire and lights – one of the biggest New Year parties in the world!
The etymology of the word Hogmanay is obscure, although there are some hints on its origins. It may come from Norse, Goidelic (Insular Celtic) or French. In the Norse language, the haugmenn or hoghmenn mean the hill people – probably elves or trolls, and the celebrations were supposed to banish them back to the sea. The Goidelic version derives the word from Manx hog-un-naa or hob dy naa, which referred to Hallowe’en, and the French one – to the New Year gift or the celebration itself (aguillanneuf). Some other sources state that it might come from Gaelic og maidne (new morning), Flemish hoog min dag (day of great love) or the Anglo-Saxon haleg monath (holy month). Whatever the origins are, which we may never truly discover, Hogmanay in modern times is a massive celebration that gathers thousands of people and is an unforgettable experience!
The fun begins on December 30th with the Torchlight Procession, starting at George IV Bridge and heading to Waterloo Place and Calton Hill. Last year there were 35 000 participants! The procession ends with a stunning firework show that can be admired from every side of the city – a truly astonishing view (some even say that taking part in the Edinburgh Hogmanay Torchlight Procession is one of the 100 things you have to do before you die!).
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During those days, you may take part in many cultural and artistic events. Famous musicians, often Scots themselves, are often invited to give concerts – during previous celebrations you could listen to, among others, The Proclaimers, Biffy Clyro and Calvin Harris. This year you may dance with Lilly Allen, The Twilight Sad and Young Fathers. Remember that the concerts are not free, so get tickets in advance while they’re still available! If you prefer more contemplative ambiance, there is a Christmas carol concert held in the candlelit St Gile’s Cathedral – this will surely be an unforgettable and beautiful event, especially considering the setting and atmosphere!
When the clock strikes midnight, you’d better know the words of Auld Lang Syne! This has become a tradition not only in Edinburgh or in Scotland, but across the whole of Britain. There is a custom that the people singing form circles and start to dance, so don’t be surprised to see this on the Edinburgh streets this year! At the end, everyone usually cross their hands at the breast, then approach the middle, reestablish the circle and turn around to stand with the face outside the circle while still holding the hands of their neighbors. Auld Lang Syne is quite old, believed to be written (or, at least, written down) by Robert Burns, and the average English speaker probably will need a few of the older Scots words translated to understand what they are singing about! The song is a popular selection for the celebrations marking the ends and new beginnings, and is also popular during funerals, graduations, and of course, the celebrations to commemorate Robert Burns.
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The Scottish traditions are strong among the people of Edinburgh– and the best proof is an annual outdoor New Year ceilidh! If you want to welcome 2015 with traditional Scottish music, dancing and delicious Scottish food, this is the best choice – and as this is a total sell-out each year, again take care to purchase your tickets as soon as possible if you want to participate! This year’s attractions feature Jimi Shandrix Experience, Hugh MacDiarmid’s Haircut and The Smashers.
If you feel a little hungover after over-indulging during the festive period, the best remedy might be the Loony Dook! Dook is a Scottish word meaning to dip or bathe, and this fun event involves taking the plunge into the cold waters of the Firth of Forth. The Loony Dook took place for the first time just 29 years ago, yet it has grown into one of the most well-known and popular New Year celebrations in Scotland. The participants often jump into the cold waters while wearing funny costumes, or raise money for charity via sponsorship, so the Dook attracts many onlookers – if you’re not keen on the idea of taking the plunge yourself, watching others do so might also be fun (but will certainly be less cool, literally and figuratively).
If you don’t find the Loony Dook appealing, there is another great and free event for the New Year – Scot:Lands. This is a journey through Edinburgh’s Old Town, where you’ll find specially prepared concerts, activities and hidden attractions! Taking part is absolutely free, but due to the high number of attendants last year, registration is required so sign up quickly!
Edinburgh has a lot to offer during these special days – no matter if you want to have fun on the streets with loud music or you prefer more traditional and calm events. Whatever your preference, the city as a lot to offer – and a Hogmanay City Break might be your best New Year experience ever!
Often when thinking of Scotland, outsiders only think of two places; the romantic wilds of the Scottish Highlands, or the winding alleys and friendly bustle of the nation’s capital in Edinburgh. But Scotland has more than one city, and in fact Edinburgh is not even its largest! That honour goes to Glasgow, an ancient settlement which has revamped and modernised over and over throughout the centuries to become the third largest city in the whole of the United Kingdom, and the Scottish centre for a wealth of industrial, artistic, and cultural touchstones. Join us in today’s blog to learn more about this impressive 21st century metropolis, and gain a deeper respect for the people who live and work there.
Like many Scottish towns and cities, the area which is now Glasgow has been inhabited by humans since time immemorial – quite literally! Evidence suggests that for millennia, prehistoric human hunters and fishermen settled along the banks of the River Clyde. In the 2nd and 3rd centuries, Roman settlements were also established, and the Antonine Wall was built in this area – supposedly to demark the limits of “Caledonia”, as the Romans referred to the region of Scotland. The Roman plan didn’t exactly work of course, but some remnants of the Antonine Wall can still be seen in Glasgow to this very day!
The official founding of Glasgow was achieved by the early Christian Saint Mungo, in the 6th century. The establishment of his church at Molendinar Burn, where Glasgow Cathedral stands in the present-day, paved the way for Glasgow to develop as a religious centre and, by the 12th century, become a real place of power in the hierarchy of Scottish settlements. Following on from this, in the 15th century, Glasgow University was established, and Glasgow’s position was cemented; with a reputation for supporting religion, academia, and of course trade. For throughout all of these other changes, one thing remained a constant; the River Clyde.
The Clyde truly has been the lifeblood of Glasgow, and indeed its influence stretched far across Scotland. Famed for its influence over the Industrial Revolution in Scotland, with the Glasgow Clyde shipyards being known and respected worldwide, the river has actually been of huge importance for much longer than a scant couple of hundred years. From pre-historic times when simple fishermen gleaned their catch from its banks to support their families, to a trading port for all manner of exotic imports and essential exports, to allowing access to the Scottish interior across its broad waters and impressive length, the Clyde has seen it all. Facing to the west, and the Americas, the Clyde also became a hub for Scottish emigrants in the 17th and 18th centuries, and many visiting Scottish-Americans enjoy visiting the historic parts of the city to imagine the places their ancestors may have been in the absence of being able to track down their true ancestral clan lands.
By the 19th century, Glasgow was a shining jewel in the crown of the British Empire. Known as the Second City of the Empire (after London, of course), it by this point had a wealth of gorgeous architecture, firmly established trade and industrial businesses, libraries, colleges and universities, parks, museums, galleries, and churches – in short everything a modern and successful city could ever wish for. But this wasn’t to last forever. Following the Great Depression of the 1930’s, Glasgow’s decline was temporarily halted by the outbreak of WWII, as it invigorated the shipyards by providing much needed business building warships. However, this came at a heavy price, and Glasgow’s Clydeside region was heavily bombed by the German Luftwaffe throughout much of the war, destroying many of the cities buildings, inflicting death, injury or homelessness on thousands of Glaswegian residents. After the war, the shipyards went quiet again and continued their slow decline, and by the 1960’s it seemed as though Glasgow’s proud history was drawing to a sad end, with derelict structures covering huge swathes of the dockyards and city proper, and many impoverished Glaswegians being forced to live in crumbling tenement buildings, certain regions of the city began to suffer from a sometimes unfairly rough reputation.
However, already the proud and innovative Glaswegian people had set a plan to rejuvenate and reinvent their city once more. The Bruce Report, published by Glasgow Corporation Engineer Robert Bruce in 1945, was followed almost to the letter (only being changed to allow for some beloved older buildings which had weathered the war to be saved), and the city was transformed over the course of thirty years. The 1970s and 1980s seemed like a dark time for many Glaswegians as their city struggled to find a new purpose once it became clear that shipbuilding and trade could no longer sustain it, but all the while new and better housing was built, a new transport system was established, and many residents were helped to move out of the over-crowded city centre to make way for new businesses and service based industries to come in.
Over the thirty years since the completion of Glasgow’s biggest makeover yet, the economy and reputation of the city has once again soared. New modern architecture has been welcomed and buildings such as the Clyde Auditorium and Glasgow Science Centre sit happily alongside the medieval Glasgow Cathedral, surviving Victorian tenements (themselves revamped and improved), and stunning Mackintosh buildings such as the Glasgow School of Art. From religion, to academics, to hard-nosed business and industry, the Glaswegian people have once again risen to a challenge to their very identity, and now Glasgow is considered one of the most artistic and cultured places in Scotland, not to mention being a hub for athletes of all kinds. Famous of course for the Old Firm, Rangers and Celtic football teams, Glasgow has also recently hosted football events for the 2012 London Olympics, and then rose to the occasion only a few short months ago by hosting the entire XX Commonwealth Games, a huge success in showcasing not only the greatest Scottish athletes of the moment, but also Glasgow itself and showing everything the city and Scotland has to offer.
Artistically, Glasgow is now considered the very heart of the Scottish contemporary music industry, with scores of venues and recording studios throughout the city, as well as boasting the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland which attracts students of all kinds of music and related subjects, and is the countries busiest performing arts venue. The Glasgow School of Art which was mentioned briefly before, is also an internationally famous establishment of higher learning and counts amongst its dozens of celebrity alumni Peter Capaldi, Robbie Coltrane and Liz Lochhead to name but a few!
Visitors to Glasgow are sure to enjoy any number of aspects of the city, from exploring its multi-faceted past and following the story of the indomitable Glaswegian spirit, to enjoying a vibrant and modern culture of music, theatre, fine restaurants and amazing architecture – not to mention the huge variety of festivals throughout each year covering topics such as comedy, fashion, visual arts, jazz, contemporary music, pipers, Scottish culture and homecoming and much more. Once again a Scottish jewel to show all we are capable of achieving, Glasgow is a truly modern metropolis, a cosmopolitan city rejoicing in its forward looking attitude while honouring its links to the past, and doing it all it can to continue to rise and succeed.
As a great Scottish summer draws to a close, we have one last stop on our tour of Scottish holiday destinations; the beautiful and historic county of Ayrshire. With verdant hills, gorgeous beaches and exciting islands to explore, Ayrshire is a haven for nature enthusiasts of course. But this south-west corner of Scotland has much more to offer as well. Read on to find out more about the castles, golfing, museums, and music of this wonderful region!
Although Scotland as a whole is known as the Home of Golf, Ayrshire is the birthplace of the world’s oldest, and still most prestigious, golfing tournament; the Open Championship. Originally hosted at Prestwick Golf Course, the Open is now played on either the Turnberry or Royal Troon courses, which amongst them have seen some of the greatest moments in golfing throughout their histories. From the first ever recorded hole-in-one of 1868, to Tiger Woods’ record breaking 8-stroke margin of victory in 2000, the Open Championship is a hot-bed of golfing achievement. As a spectator or a player looking to soak up some of the atmosphere and excellent playing conditions enjoyed by the golfing greats, a visit to Ayrshire is sure to provide you with endless enjoyment.
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It’s not only the Big Three of golf courses which Ayrshire hosts of course; there are many, many other world-class courses throughout the region. One of the newest of these is the course at Rowallan Castle, set in the beautiful surroundings of the 13th century estate from which it takes its name. If the rest of your party aren’t so keen on golfing, this would be a wonderful opportunity for them to spend some time exploring the grounds and buildings to learn more about the history of the Campbells of Rowallan.
There are many castles and other historical buildings of note in Ayrshire of course, among them the famous Dundonald and Turnberry Castles, each the home of Scottish kings. Though partially ruined, Dundonald Castle remains a magnificently impressive stronghold perched high on a hilltop, and can be fully explored and appreciated by visitors who can learn all about the castle’s history as the cradle of the Stewart dynasty, and its erection as a celebration of King Robert II’s ascension to the throne in 1370. By contrast, the older Turnberry Castle is completely in ruins, destroyed by the king who was born there, and dreaded to see it fall into the hands of the English. Robert I of Scotland, better known as Robert the Bruce, ordered this site decimated in 1310, and the castle was never rebuilt. After centuries of erosion from the wind and sea which assail it from three sides, hardly anything remains, but visitors can still explore the area to learn more and appreciate the size and strength the original structure must have represented.
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Ayrshire is not only the birthplace and home of kings, but also of Scotland’s Bard, Robert Burns, along with many other notable Scots. From pioneers of science such Alexander Fleming – the discoverer of penicillin who revolutionised healthcare in the early 20th century – to inventors such as John Boyd Dunlop – whose pneumatic tyres arrived at a crucial time for the burgeoning automobile industry. Even more recently, Ayrshire has been the home to one of Scotland’s most popular rock bands, Biffy Clyro, and the town has a vibrant musical scene culminating in the annual Live at Troon festival each September. Live at Troon has its own Fringe Festival which spills across all of the town of Ayr, featuring Scottish bands, musicians and comedians as well as much more.
When you’re not soaking up the sights and sounds of the festival though, consider visiting some of the excellent museums and art galleries spread across Ayrshire. Two personal favourites as a step away from the traditional fusty cabinets full of dusty relics and small-print placards are the Scottish Maritime Museum in Irvine’s harbour, and the Isle of Arran Heritage Museum. The maritime museum is an eminently practical exhibition, giving visitors the opportunity to learn a huge amount about the fishing industry which was the regions lifeblood for generations by exploring machinery, tools, boats and much more, as well as touring the tenements flats where workers lived, and boarding the MV Kyles – the oldest Clyde-built boat still floating. By contrast the Isle of Arran Heritage Museum is something of an escape, a step back into a time long since passed. This museum preserves and maintains its collections in traditional island buildings and seeks to teach visitors about the way of life on one of Scotland’s largest islands. Arran lies just off the coast of Ayrshire and is easily accessed by ferry. With a history stretching all the way back to the Bronze Age, Arran has a huge amount to offer, and their small and eclectic museum manages to fits a surprising amount of historical, geological and zoological knowledge into such a small space!
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Ayrshire truly is a wonderful place to visit to learn more about Scotland’s lowlands. If you’ve left it to the end of summer and still not taken that trip to Scotland you were planning on, this region offers so much to see and do you can easily pack in a huge amount of history, culture, and fun into a short space of time! If you haven’t been yet…what are you waiting for?! And if you have, we look forward to hearing about your favourite parts of the experience in the comments!
As Scotland basks in the heat of a so far brilliant summer, plenty of us will be thinking of our summer holidays. But as the recent weather proves, you don’t have to go far to enjoy a wonderful holiday, and visitors to our bonnie land can enjoy themselves too! Today we are going to look at a region of Scotland often overlooked by the fans of all things Highland and tartan related, the Borders. The southern part of Scotland has an incredibly rich history all of its own, and areas of outstanding natural beauty, from sandy beaches and rolling hills to craggy mountains and vast forests, are home to a plethora of amazing wildlife. The South-West is home to Dumfries and Galloway, and it is here our report will focus on some perfect ideas for a summer break!
The Dumfries and Galloway area is chock full of royal history, with no Scottish king more famous than Robert the Bruce himself! The king is best known for the famous Scots legend about him watching a spider building its web in the mouth of a cave, and continually failing until finally succeeding against all odds, and seeing this as a sign that the Scottish people must continue to fight against the English. Others nowadays will remember that he was a contemporary of William Wallace, as seen in the Hollywood film Braveheart – but what most people don’t realise is the nickname “Braveheart” actually refers to King Robert himself! Following his death in 1329, his heart was removed from his body and placed in a small silver casket. A close friend and ally of the Bruce’s, Sir James Douglas, wore this casket around his neck on a silver chain and rode into battle against the English, rallying the troops to his side in memory of their deceased king.
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During his life, Robert the Bruce spent a great deal of time in Dumfries and its surrounding areas. From the dreadful murder of his cousin and rival for the Scottish throne at Grey Friar’s Church, to his first major victory on the battlefield at Glen Trool, to his last journey to the shrine of St Ninian at Whitburn much of the Bruce’s life centred round this southern corner of Scotland; and an amazing Trail of the Bruce can be followed in this area nowadays, with historians retracing the steps of his life between various locations of importance. The trail is split into sections, allowing you to tackle one portion at a time – or meander between them, ticking off monuments, castles and battlefields as you explore the rest of the region.
If you tire of exploring old buildings, ruins and museums though, Dumfries and Galloway also has much to offer in the great outdoors! The Caerlaverock National Nature Reserve and Wetlands Centre is an excellent day out for all the family, offering walks among the Solway coast mudflats and flower meadows as well as comfortable towers and hides from which many different species of bird can be seen; from ospreys to barnacle geese. Or, for a more culinary experience, why not try the Cream o’ Galloway; where the kids can explore adventure playgrounds and gardens while you see how delicious Scottish cheeses and ice-cream are made, and sample some yourself!
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Of course, true romantics can’t spend time in this area without visiting the legendary blacksmith’s at Gretna Green! This small town lies just over the border from England, and in days past young English couples would hope over the border to pledge their troth as runaways, fleeing the stricter rules on marriage without parental consent for youths down South. Due to a quirk of Scots law, almost any person could conduct a marriage ceremony as long as two witnesses were also present, and so the town blacksmiths became known as “anvil priests”, marrying couples outside their shops using their anvil as an altar! Though the rules surrounding marriage have become much more regulated in modern times, Gretna Green is still a very popular wedding destination – hosting over five thousand ceremonies per year! Perhaps yours will be next…?
And to finally wrap up, you didn’t think we’d forgotten about Dumfries’ most famous son, did you? Of course not – who could forget that Scotland’s Bard, Robert Burns himself, though born in Ayr, spent his final years in this beautiful Lowland Borders region! We have written much about the celebrations of Rabbie Burns’ life and poetry before, so suffice it to say that Dumfries is the place to be come January 25th! And indeed all year round Dumfries is a great place to learn more about this most influential of Scottish poets; Ellisland Farm where he lived and worked is now both a working farm and a museum to his time there with guided tours available, Robert Burns House where he died at the tragically young age of just 37 has been restored to show the day-to-day life of the writer and his family, and round the corner at the Globe Inn you can share a dram and some poetry at the Bard’s local pub! There are many other museums and monuments to Robert Burns in this region, and any fan of Scottish literature will want to make this pilgrimage a priority for their trip!
We hope this overview of just some of what Dumfries and Galloway has to offer has been useful to you – often the Lowlands are overlooked, especially by overseas visitors seduced by visions of tartans and Highland bagpipes, but the gentler landscape of South West Scotland has much to offer as well. As always, we hope to hear your perspective, and look forward to reading your comments below!
As we approach the Easter season, we thought we would take a different approach and tell you a little about the Isle of Eigg (pronounced “egg”), part of the Inner Hebrides and a great place to visit – perhaps especially at this time of year!
Eigg is famed for its outstanding natural beauty, and is one of the largest of the Small Isles which pepper the Scottish west coast. With remnants from Pictish and Viking cultures, and protected wildlife including otters, whales and a plethora of rare and beautiful seabirds, Eigg has a range of amazing experiences and opportunities to offer its visitors. Not to mention of course, the 83 permanent residents of Eigg themselves; who, through the Isle of Eigg Heritage Trust, help to guide and shape the future of their community in a sustainable and ecological fashion, winning many awards for their approach to life and from whom we can learn a great deal!
The isle is a natural haven for visitors, with its famous Singing Sands beach – a beach where the sand is made of quartz shards which make tuneful noises when walked on, and An Sgurr, the largest section of exposed pitchstone in the UK giving a great opportunity for an easy-going hill climb and rewarding views of many surrounding islands, and even the Lochaber mountains back on the mainland! There are also many beautiful caves, some with their own legends and history attached, such as Massacre Cave where, it is rumoured, almost the entire population of the island was wiped out due to clan wars between the MacDonalds and MacLeods – and not forgetting Kildonan Graveyard, where you can see ancient Celtic carvings and learn more about the resting places of all the different types of people who have inhabited this special place.
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Bird watching can be a reason in and of itself to visit Eigg; with over 130 species of birds regularly recorded in the islands each year there are more species of bird than total number of humans! From the breeding populations of raptors such as owls, kestrels, falcons, and the Scottish national bird, the Golden Eagle, to migratory species such as JacK Snipes and Whinchats, to even rarer visitors such as the Glossy Ibis spotted there just over a year ago, assumed to be from Spain or France! But on the other hand, naturalists who are more concerned with flora than fauna will also find much to interest them. One of Eigg’s nicknames is the isle of flowers, so called because of its dazzling array of wild plants. For such a small island, it has a great cross-section of terrains, and from woodland scrub, to marshy plains to the sea-cliffs a huge variety of plants spring forth – from beautiful orchids to fragrant bluebells to rare alpine sandworts. The sea life too is amazing to watch; dolphin and minke whales frolic with seals and can be regularly viewed from one of the boat tours available from the port at Galmisdale, but if you’re very lucky you may even witness a visit from an orca, basking shark or the unusual sun fish!
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Much of life on Eigg focusses on maintaining this wonderful wealth of natural beauty, visitor cars are generally not permitted on the island and most people encourage walking and cycling – though an island minibus is also available for longer journeys, sharing the journey with others of course gives you a chance to cut down on fuel consumption and meet new people! In addition to the switchover to their electricity coming from entirely renewable resources, such as the sun, wind and water, Eigg residents are also leading the way in switching to solar water heating, programs of excellent insulation for all buildings, recycling, consuming local and organic foods wherever possible, and many other green initiatives! Their work as a collective has been recognised with several official awards and now visitors can choose to have a residential holiday at the Earth Connections Eco Centre, and learn more about how to live in an ecologically sustainable way, though of course there are campsites, bed and breakfasts and self-catering options as well. And for the more adventurous of you…don’t forget that wild camping is legal in Scotland and independent campers are welcome on Eigg, so long as proper respect and care is shown to the surrounding area and residents.
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We hope that this description of one of Scotland’s most beautiful island gems has inspired some of you this Easter, and you will consider visiting this gorgeous location some time – or one of its cousin islands; Rhum, Mull and Canna. As always we welcome your comments, and hopefully we will hear from some of you who have been lucky enough to spend some time in the charming Inner Hebrides.
Located off the northern coast of Scotland, Orkney is an archipelago of around 70 islands and skerries, of which only 16 are inhabited. However, though the total population of this region may be less than twenty thousand people, Orkney is an important region of Scotland, historically and archaeologically, and Orcadians are very proud of their unique sense of regional identity – kilts and bagpipes are uncommon this far North, where instead the old Norse traditions and legends still have a strong influence. Today we will look at the history, important places and unique cultural aspects of this harsh but beautiful landscape, and the people who live there today.
Orkney has been continuously occupied for at least eight and a half thousand years, and has only been part of Scotland for the last 550, after the region was gifted to James III of Scotland by Christian I of Norway. However, the Norwegian earls themselves only ruled Orkney for about 600 years; prior to this it was an independent region, used often by Vikings, Picts and Scots, as well as being settled by hunter gatherer tribes since Neolithic times.
From the time that Orkney came under Scottish rule, the stories of the ordinary people emerge in historical documents more clearly; Scottish entrepreneurs flocked to the region and helped to build a diverse community that included farmers, fishermen and merchants who were powerful and able to defend their rights more confidently to prevent further exploitation by feudal overlords. Beginning in the 16th century, fishing fleets from mainland Scotland, and the Netherlands, dominated the local herring industry. Orcadians, unusually for such a coastal people, did not have a fleet until the early 19th century, but this changed quickly and by 1840 over 700 Orcadian boats were fishing the region, centres on ports at Stronsay and Stromness. Meanwhile, at Shapinsay, burning seaweed to create soda ash had become a lucrative industry, and agricultural improvements led to many Orkney farms producing high quality beef cattle. By the 18th century, Jacobites found many sympathisers in Orkney, at the end of the 1715 rebellion, a large number of Jacobites who had fled north from mainland Scotland sought refuge on Orkney and were helped to flee to safety in Sweden. In 1745, the Jacobite lairds on the islands ensured that Orkney remained pro-Jacobite in outlook, and was a safe place to land supplies from Spain to aid their cause. Orkney was the last place in the British Isles that held out for the Jacobites and was not retaken by the British Government until 24 May 1746, over a month after the defeat of the main Jacobite army at Culloden.
But, of course, it is the prehistoric features which have survived to modern times that Orkney is most famous for, especially the Neolithic settlement at Skara Brae on the Orkney Mainland. Discovered in 1850 after a storm ripped away its earth covering, Skara Brae – nicknamed “the Scottish Pompeii” is a near perfectly preserved small stone village, with stone beds, storage boxes, and hearths all still present along with artefacts such as paint pots, beads, ivory pins and other valuable items. Although the remains of this ancient civilisation have taught researchers a lot about the activities and day-to-day lives of the inhabitants, one thing about Skara Brae which remains a complete mystery is why it was abandoned so suddenly that these types of items were left behind, even remains of what seems to be a half-eaten meal have been discovered! The village, along with three other Neolithic settlements makes up “the Heart of Neolithic Orkney” and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Centre – there is a wonderful museum showcasing the history and artefacts from the region and many brilliant opportunities to learn about the settlement and other ancient monuments in the area; a uniquely designed chambered tomb at Maeshowe with the largest collection of runic inscriptions (left by looting Vikings!) ever discovered, the jagged, imposing and supposedly magical Standing Stones of Stenness, and the Ring Of Brodgar, one of the largest henges in the UK, containing more standing stones, runic inscriptions, and other evidence that this area was at one time an extremely important sacred ritual landscape for the early settlers of Orkney.
Coming into more modern times, but still with an eye to the past, and the ways in which Orcadian residents respect traditions while having fun, is the Ba’! This rambunctious and chaotic game is traditionally played in Kirkwall on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, is open to any resident to play and is similar in many ways to mass football games which have mostly died out now. The town is split into two teams the Uppies and the Doonies, your team allegiance will depend on where you were born. As the majority of people are now born in hospitals (and Kirkwall doesn’t have one – good thing too or it would skew the numbers of the team whose turf it was located on drastically!), people take their newborn children home by particular routes to ensure they are on the “right” side of the team line when they enter Kirkwall for the first time in their lives – and adult incomers to the town are encouraged to do the same thing! On the designated days, the eligible players from each team (usually about 200 players in total per game) will meet at the Mercat Cross and the ball (or ba’) thrown between them. A mad rush will ensue and the ball will be kicked thrown or run with until a goal is reached – either by getting it safely past the Catholic church up the end of the road for an Uppies win, or into the salt water of the harbour for a Doonies win! The winning team will then declare their overall winner, not necessarily the best player of the match, but a team member who represents an ideal of a Ba’ player, and who has been dedicated to the game. This is quite a high honour, and the winner will be given the Ba’ itself to take home, and encouraged to hold an open party for all players to attend!
There is so much more richness to the experience of visiting Orkney; the lighting of midsummer bonfires, the WWII history of Scapa Flow, the arts and folk music festivals becoming famous now, that we are not able to discuss everything in just one article! But we encourage you strongly to consider adding this to your travel itinerary alongside the nation’s cities and Highland retreats. This wild, Viking-influenced region may not always match the idea of Scotland we have in our heads sometimes; but it is such an interesting and vital part of the nation it should never be discounted!
Edinburgh is possibly the most beautiful of all Scottish cities, and holds its own on the worldwide stage also! Each new visit will bring with it new discoveries and experiences…though part of Edinburgh’s charm is of course the traditional, the ancient, and the familiar. In this instalment of our blog, we look forward to sharing with you some of our favourite aspects and sometimes overlooked treasures of Scotland’s capital – the home of HeritageOfScotland!
Edinburgh is very lucky in that it has several beautiful and easily accessed public parks. Among these, Arthur’s Seat is often feted as the best place for a bracing walk in the city, and of course Prince Street Gardens is also popular as a place to enjoy some downtime from shopping. However, our favourite place to rise above the hustle and bustle and provide a good walk combined with the chance to enjoy several historic monuments, is Calton Hill. With its challenging slopes and beautiful views, Calton Hill is very popular amongst locals, who have used this area as freely accessed public land since 1456! It is home to such striking buildings as Nelson’s Monument, and the unfinished National Monument, sometimes also known by nicknames such as Edinburgh’s Folly. For many years the City Observatory also operated here, though this is currently closed for redevelopment the beautiful building can still be seen, and of course the elevated location makes the Hill ideal for even amateur star-gazing.
Another wonderful place to visit and experience a calmer aspect to Edinburgh, is the cities Royal Botanical Gardens, established in 1670 and now offering one of the world’s largest collections of living plants. With scientific research being at the forefront of the developer’s minds, this can be a brilliant educational experience for the whole family, and a great place to let the kids run wild for a few hours chasing squirrels and climbing trees! For the interested but inexperienced botanists, you can even booked guided tours to fully appreciate the beauty contained. This type of event is always best to tackle when the temperamental Scottish weather is co-operating of course, but even if your picnic arrangements go south, there is also a beautiful restaurant offering stunning views, and the adjoining Inverleith House, considered part of the Gardens, offers year round exhibitions by invited artists.
Coming back into the city centre though, let’s now look at some of Edinburgh’s famed architecture. St. Gile’s Cathedral and Holyrood Palace are very different indeed, but both have a rich history and an imposing and impressive aspect on the Edinburgh sky line. St. Gile’s Cathedral is also known as the High Kirk of Edinburgh, and is the principal place of worship for the Church of Scotland in the city. However, no matter your beliefs, this is a truly awesome place to visit, to tour and observe the amazing Gothic architecture, with vaulted ceilings, stained glass windows, and touching memorials. Special effort must be made also to view the Thistle Chapel, a small side chapel dedicated to the famed Order of the Thistle, a prestigious and historical chivalrous society. Further down the Royal Mile, Holyrood Palace is another wonderful example of an historic building still in use, this is the official residence of the Royal Family during their state visits to Scotland – though the Windsors are well known to love Scotland almost as if they were native, and to spend a great deal of time visiting other locations in Scotland also! Offering public tours of both the modern and historic apartments, the grounds including the ruined abbey, and even tales of its own resident ghost, the Palace of Holyroodhouse is second to none in showing how the historical and modern blend seamlessly in Edinburgh, we feel!
Finally today, we will look at one of Edinburgh’s many museums. There are of course literally dozens of public museums and art galleries in the city, small and large, and the ones most often visited are probably the wonderful National Museum of Scotland in Chambers Street, and Our Dynamic Earth near Arthur’s Seat. However, Scotland is famed not only for its kilts, bagpipes and scenery – Scots are also some of the world’s finest poets and writers, and The Writers Museum in Lady Stairs Close celebrates three of these; Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson and Robert Burns, in their permanent collections – but also have frequent events and temporary exhibitions featuring other Scottish writers. This cosy little museum all fits neatly into an historic merchants house which was donated to the city so is also a wonderful trove of architectural features, and a lovely little sitting room upstairs has public access bookshelves so you can enjoy some fine Scottish literature during a break on your visit! This place really is a hidden treasure; even if you don’t have time for a full scale tour around the collections, you should definitely remember to at least search around the adjoining Makars’ Court, and find beautiful stones inscribed with quotes from Scottish writers throughout the ages.
There is so much to see and do in Edinburgh it would be impossible to cover everything in one short article, or even to examine in depth the attractions we have chosen to highlight! From the world renowned Edinburgh Festival and Fringe, to the International Book Festival, even to the Beltane Fire Festival, Military Tattoo, and Hogmany street parties – Edinburgh is a vibrant and larger-than-life city and you will never be bored there! Let us know in the comments your favourite aspect to this beautiful city – or if you would like more information about one of the topics discussed here let us know and we will do our best to come up with a blog post about it very soon!
After visiting St. Abbs, exploring outdoor activities in the Isle of Arran, taking a rest in the Isle of Sky and discovering Rosslyn Chapel’s secrets, it’s time for another trip. Have you ever been to the Highlands? Or maybe you are one of those lucky guys who actually lives there? No matter your answer, since you are here reading this blog, I’m sure you are interested in the Highlands as much as we are! But this blog series is not only about the Highland area itself. It’s rather about the long, but magnificent way to the Highlands with all that the country of kilts has to offer. We’ll take you through astonishing glens, mysterious lochs and historical landscapes.
For those who live there, or whose ancestors did, the Highlands is not just a Scottish region, it can hardly be defined in the geographical sense, filled with unforgettable landscapes. For tourists who’ve visited this place at least once in their lives, this place is perceived as one of the most beautiful they’ve ever seen. That’s the reason why so many people are getting back to the Highlands each year.
Our trip starts in Edinburgh – one of the main arrival points to Scotland, and finishes in Inverness, the “capital” of the Highlands which itself opens the door to the whole area including Isle Of Skye, Sutherland, Orkney and Isles. Obviously, the easiest way to get to Inverness is to take the motorway M90 which then changes to the A. Choosing this way helps to save about 2 hours of travelling time, but also means missing many stirring landscapes and the stories behind them. Therefore, I absolutely recommend taking the old route to the Highlands which takes about 5 hours. If you decide to use these tips regarding the most important and interesting places to see and visit on your way, your travel time will surely extend. Not only because of these fabulous places which you cannot miss, but also due to many narrow sections of road that will necessitate slower driving for safety.
The first part of our alternative road to the Highlands will run along the 39 miles long Antonine Wall built in AD 140s by the Romans. Then we turn to A82 road, passing the largest loch in Scotland, Loch Lomond, and the Trossachs National Park. From water the road leads us to breathtaking glens, widely known from the latest part of James Bond’s adventure. After reaching Fort William and the highest Scottish mountain – Ben Nevis, we finally reach the famous Loch Ness, which contains more fresh water than found in all the English and Welsh lakes combined. About 8 miles past the loch we finally achieve our destination – Inverness.
According to the Scotland Visitor Survey published by VisitScotland.org in 2011, 93% of visitors were satisfied or very satisfied with their experiences and half of all respondents said they’d definitely return to the Highlands in the next few years. But although these recommendations are encouraging, some potential visitors may still be wavering on whether to visit or re-visit the Highlands, either through lack of knowledge of what there is to see and do – not only in the Highlands area itself – but also on the journey there. That’s exactly what this blog series is about!
I hope this short introduction to possibilities available has encouraged you to visit GlimpseOfScotland regularly. The route we love is not the easiest or fastest way comparing to the M90, but like brave Scots – we do like challenges!
Forty minutes by the public bus to be transported a hundred years away from the Edinburgh of today. The mystery of Rosslyn Chapel is captivating. You just can’t pass it by. Starting from the legends and stories around this place and ending with its astounding interior, Rosslyn Chapel may be described in thousand different ways on a million pieces of papers. However, I know that many of you are here for just a few minutes, so let’s make it brief but quaint.
The Chapel was founded in 1446 by the William St Clair, the Prince of Orkney. Due to the fact that the construction plans have not been preserved, we do not know exactly what the chapel was intended to look like. However, the foundations uncovered in the 19th century showed that it was to be a large church rather than a chapel. Building work was stopped when William St Clair died in 1484. The Chapel is his resting place.
The whole Chapel is covered by sculptures and reliefs. I would even venture to say that there’s not an empty square meter on the vaults, walls or pillars. Reliefs are situated side by side, from the one below grows another above. Their diversity seems to be even more outstanding and extraordinary due to the “crowd” on the walls and ceilings. Rosslyn Chapel maintains the symbols of many different and somehow opposite cultures. You can admire bible stories as well as Pagan, Mason and Viking symbols. Therefore, in the neighborhood of the Christian cross, you will see an angel with pipes, Lucifer turned upside-down, David’s stars, astrological signs, some fruits, vegetables and flowers as well as a Robert Bruce’s heart held by William St. Clair himself. Unbelievable, isn’t it? But the most astonishing, in my honest opinion, is the Green Man sculpture. Or rather sculptures. Green Man is a form of a human face with leaves in his mouth, which is a Celtic symbol of harvest. There are over 100 Green Men inside and around the Chapel!
Tour guides tell a lot of stories and legends that concern Rosslyn Chapel. The most interesting is perhaps the one about the Holy Grail. According to legend, this most important of all holy icons rests somewhere in the Chapel, hidden by Knights Templar members who had emigrated from France to Scotland. The legend says the Sinclair family hid Templar and Masonic artifacts and documents, which they had brought to Scotland, in the vaults. This story also shows up in a famous Dan Brown novel The Da Vinci Code (2003) and after that also in the Hollywood blockbuster based on the book (filming took place at the Chapel in August 2005). Since then, the number of visitors has increased significantly, placing the Chapel among the most popular Scottish destinations.
Another story concerns the famous Apprentice Pillar. The legend says that during his journey to Rome, William St Clair literally fell in love with a pillar he saw. He thought it would be fine to have the same in Rosslyn and came back to Scotland with a model of that wonderful pillar. The master mason, who was asked to carve that centerpiece pillar couldn’t manage the task, and went to Rome in order to see it for himself. On his return, it turned out that his apprentice had finished the work. The master mason was so angry, jealous, and disappointed that he cracked the apprentice across the skull killing him. Rumor says that the apprentice is still present in the Chapel – as the carving of a man with the gash on his head…
A window on the south side of the Chapel hides (or maybe reveals?) another secret. Intriguing sculptures of corn and aloe vera indicate that these exotic plants had been known before Christopher Columbus returned from America. Some people suggest masons who were working in the Chapel were descendents from Vikings who in turn are often considered to have landed in the New World earlier than Columbus (for those of you who do not know yet: Orkney was a Norse land before becoming part of Scotland). On the other hand, some debunk this myth saying that these sculptures were added later.
If you are scared enough of listening legends, go outside and take a walk! Not only is the interior of Rosslyn Chapel worth praise, but the gardens and paths which it is surrounded by will let you rest your mind after the unbelievable lesson about this place. Rosslyn is not only the Chapel. When you look further you will find yourself in the Pentland Hills Regional Park, which is a 20 miles long range of hills. The Pentland Hills area is perfect for a one day trip, especially for those who live in Edinburgh or in its neighborhood. It’s absolutely popular among those who enjoy short mountain (or rather hill) tours and walking.
Rosslyn Chapel is open almost every day (except 12/24, 25 and 12/31, 1/1), the adult’s ticket costs £9. The Chapel’s authorities remind the visitors that due to the conservation work the building will be covered by scaffolding until December 2012. However, the Chapel doesn’t lose its charm despite this essential work.
The Rosslyn Chapel is spectacular and beyond one’s expectations. It keeps a number of long lost secrets. The Da Vinci Code has not truly revealed a single one, only raised the interest and speculations around Rosslyn’s mysteries. Is anything in the vaults? Should it ever be excavated at all? What are your thoughts? The debate continues…
The Rosslyn Chapel’s website: http://www.rosslynchapel.org.uk/