The Birks of Aberfeldy (and other walks)

Breadalbane Stag

The Birks of Aberfeldy

Between Christmas and New Year we spent three nights in Aberfeldy in Highland Perthshire. The Birks (birch trees) of Aberfeldy is a famous walk, and also the subject of a Robert Burns song, a few words of which you can just about make out on the Breadalbane Stag above (Breadalbane being the name of the wider area).

The walk itself is a steep climb up one side of the Moness Burn and down the other. It’s the third time we’ve done it, the first being at a similar time of year in 2009, but with much more snow. Check out the two photos of Burns’ statue to see the difference! This year Rabbie, like the stag, has been decorated for Christmas.

I actually preferred walking on the deeper snow – it was more stable. In 2017, a thin covering of snow, followed by rain which froze over night, meant we slithered up and down to the Falls of Moness. Again, compare and contrast – in 2009 the Falls are frozen.

Black Spout

Another circular walk starts in Pitlochry, taking you past Black Spout waterfall and the Edradour Distillery (sadly, closed to visitors in the winter – a warming dram would have been nice).

Falls of Acharn

Yet another waterfall, this time above Loch Tay. Again, we slithered up one side of a gorge and down the other. The Falls are seen by walking through a so-called “Hermit’s Cave”, in reality an artificial structure built in the 1760s by the 3rd Earl of Breadalbane in order to conceal the view until the last minute. Some of these pictures look almost black and white but they are definitely in colour!

River Tay at Kenmore

Kenmore Hotel

No waterfalls in this walk! Kenmore is a model village built by the Lairds of Breadalbane. After lunch in the Kenmore Hotel, which dates from 1572, we walked downhill past Taymouth Castle gates.

Crossing the bridge over the Tay, we could see the back of the hotel, with its modern extension, on the other bank.

We walked along the river as far as a Gothic folly named Maxwell’s Temple, built by Lord Breadalbane in 1831 as a tribute to his wife Mary.

Returning through the village, we passed the church, white timbered cottages built by the 3rd Earl in 1760, and the Post Office which still advertises itself as a Telegraph Office (zoom in above door).

Aberfeldy

Should you ever need to visit Aberfeldy, we can recommend the Townhouse Hotel: comfortable rooms, a great breakfast and pleasant staff.

We ate in the hotel the first night and set out to explore on the other two – not that we got far: The Three Lemons was just across the road. We had a lovely dinner on night 2, but liked the look of the pizzas on the next table so much that we went back on night 3 to try them. Delicious!

Linked to Jo’s Monday Walks, which this week comes from Lisbon and is a much sunnier prospect than Aberfeldy.

Edinburgh: a Canongate walk

White Horse Close

After our recent visit to the Scottish Parliament, we walked slowly up Canongate exploring the closes, or courtyards, to either side. Canongate itself is over 800 years old, and was a separate burgh from Edinburgh until 1856. Its name comes from the Augustinian Canons of Holyrood Abbey who, in the 12th century, were given permission by the king to build on either side of the path, or “gait”, between the Abbey and the Old Town of Edinburgh.

Immediately opposite the parliament is White Horse Close (above) which takes its name from an inn which once stood there. The buildings have been restored, but still give a good impression of how the courtyard must have looked hundreds of years ago. Zoom in on the window above the stairs and you will see that it is dated 1623.

Further up Canongate is 17th century Panmure House, once home to the economist and philosopher Adam Smith. It’s currently undergoing renovation so it was hard to get a photograph to do it justice.

Panmure House

Not all the closes hide new buildings – tucked away in Crichton Close is the Scottish Poetry Library (1999).

Scottish Poetry Library

Next we explored Canongate Kirkyard – like all these places, apart from the Poetry Library, somewhere I’ve walked past many times without investigating. I was surprised how extensive the Kirkyard is.

The next close was my absolute favourite – Bakehouse Close is home to Acheson House, built in 1633 for Sir Archibald Acheson and now the home of Edinburgh World Heritage. The Acheson family crest, a cock and trumpet, is above the door.

Why do I love it so much? The information panels on the wall about Rangers Impartial List, a 1775 guide to 66 of Edinburgh’s prostitutes. Many of the closes in the Old Town housed brothels, and Acheson House was one of them, then known as the Cock and Trumpet after the crest. The list pulls no punches in assessing the women’s appearance and skills – I hope you can enlarge the panels sufficiently to read some of it. I particularly like Mrs Agnew, a “drunken bundle of iniquity” who would think nothing of a company of Grenadiers at one time. At 50!

A couple of shots as we made our way to our next stop – the Tolbooth Tavern on Canongate peeking through an archway, and a further example of modern buildings behind old ones. These are student flats, with a lovely view of Salisbury Crags.

Another 17th century mansion is Moray House, now owned by the University of Edinburgh. The buildings round about comprise the University’s School of Education.

Next up is Chessel’s Court with this traditional 18th century Edinburgh ‘mansion style’ tenement, originally built to provide better accommodation for relatively wealthy residents of the Old Town. Back on Canongate, we were observed by a strange statue which is said to represent the Emperor of Morocco.

Finally, we turned the corner into St Mary’s Street, the site of Boyd’s Inn where Dr Johnson stayed in 1773 on his way to meet James Boswell for the start of their journey to the Hebrides. I liked the shop opposite with its rather cross looking bull!

From here, we headed across to the New Town and our visit to the ice sculptures which I’ve written about previously. I was soon to find out that it was possible to shiver even more on this bitterly cold December day!

I hope you’ve enjoyed your tour through part of old Edinburgh. I’m linking to Jo’s Monday walks – the blue skies of Portugal should warm you up after this chilly post!

Glasgow Gallivanting: December 2017

Loch Lomond, Boxing Day 2017

Christmas and New Year

So here I am playing catch-up in January with my December round-up. I hope, like us, you’ve all had happy times with family and friends over the festive season. I hope also that you didn’t get too blootered (one of many Scottish synonyms for, ahem, over-refreshed).

Weather-wise, it wasn’t great here, the brightest and best of it being Boxing Day when John, Mum and I took a trip to Loch Lomond. When we arrived, Ben Lomond had its head in the clouds. By the time we left, it was clear and beautifully lit.

I had one totally unexpected gift that I want to share with you because it is so amazing. One of John’s PhD students presented him with this fabulous shawl which his mother (in China) had made for me. Apparently it took her 6 months, which I can well believe – I’m touched that she was so generous with her time for a complete stranger.

Shawl from China

In between Christmas and New Year, we had a few nights in Aberfeldy, a small town in Perthshire, which will probably make it onto the blog – eventually. In the meantime, here’s the pretty central square.

The Square, Aberfeldy

Annual Review

I took my annual look at my WordPress stats and discovered that, for the first time, page views are down on the previous year. Before I started to feel too unloved, I remembered that this was probably because in 2016 I was (mostly) posting twice a week, whereas in 2017 I was (mostly) only posting once. So I dried my tears and decided things weren’t so bad after all. The most read post in 2017 surprised me, because it isn’t particularly spectacular – Glasgow canal walks, which leads neatly into the “ones that nearly got away”. I have several posts that almost got written, and probably won’t now, one of which is a walk along the Forth and Clyde Canal in October, this time near Kirkintilloch. It was a bright, still day with wonderful reflections.

I also noticed that three of these monthly round-up posts made the top ten last year, so I shall take that as encouragement to keep on with them. In 2017, according to my Fitbit stats, my gallivanting led to me walking almost 1700 miles. I’m not sure I believe that, but it sounds impressive! If I keep it up I should have plenty to write about.

The Station Cat

Here’s a heart-warming little story. I use my local station a couple of times a week and often see the same black and white cat wandering around. Eventually, I discovered that he is so well-known that he has his own Twitter account, ScotRail has appointed him Cat Controller and the adjacent hospital, which he also patrols, has made him an Honorary Purrfessor! Apparently, his owners staff knew nothing about this alternative life until the local paper ran a feature about him. Then – cat-astrophe – the week before Christmas he went missing. Twitter went into overdrive, and eventually, almost three weeks later, he was found and returned home on January 2nd. I must say he looks rather sleek and well-fed, so I don’t think he’s been trapped in someone’s garden shed over the holidays. He maybe has another secret life – I remember a children’s book called Six Dinner Sid about a cat who conned six different families into feeding him. Hermes has probably read it.

The last bit

Finally, I’d like to thank everyone who has followed, read, commented on, or liked posts in 2017 – it’s been a pleasure to be part of such a friendly community. Special thanks this month to Karen of Profound Journey, who made me one of her Favourite Blogs and Channels of 2017. If you don’t already know her, please give her a visit now, especially if “you are a woman who has made everyone and everything else priority #1, and now, finally, you are going to put yourself on the map” – and even if that doesn’t apply to you, it’s still a good read!

So now the holidays are over, it’s back to auld claes and parritch (old clothes and porridge). All the best for 2018 everyone.

Happy Hogmanay!

  • Hogmanay: New Year’s Eve in Scotland
  • Auld Lang Syne: old long ago, i.e. days gone by
  • A guid new year to ane an’ a’: a good new year to one and all

As the bells ring in 2018 tonight, many of you will be singing Auld Lang Syne, the famous poem by Robert Burns. It must be one of Scotland’s most recognisable gifts to the world – but did you know it originally had a different tune? Listen to The Cast’s haunting recording above and I swear you will never think of the song in the same way again. I first heard this version in the Sex and the City movie (don’t judge me) and loved it, so I offer it as my New Year’s gift to you.

Here’s to a wonderful 2018 for all of us. A guid new year to ane an’ a’.

Edinburgh at Christmas

George Street, Edinburgh

Christmas takes over Edinburgh in a big way. George Street, in the New Town, is particularly pretty and this year hosted Ice Adventure: a journey through frozen Scotland. See if you can guess what any of these ice sculptures are! (they’re all captioned, so click to view). I do have reservations about how festive Mary, Queen of Scots having her head chopped off is…..

We had tickets for the ice sculptures, but were pleased to happen upon another event.

Joy to the World, the Edinburgh Christmas Tree Festival, takes place at St Andrew’s and St George’s West. Forty trees are each decorated by a local charity, business or voluntary group. All the trees come from social enterprise Caring Christmas Trees, supporting homeless  people in Edinburgh throughout the winter, and donations to the event benefit another three charities. What a lovely idea!

A couple more Christmassy shots of George Street. Can you see the feet sticking out from that fairground attraction? It plummeted from the top VERY quickly. No way would I ever get on that!

All that remains is to wish you all a very Happy Christmas! I hope you have a lovely time however, or whatever, you are celebrating.

A tour of the Scottish Parliament

Scottish Parliament

A couple of Saturdays ago I fulfilled an ambition to tour the Scottish Parliament building – it’s been open since 2004, so I’m not really slow, am I? The building has always been controversial – it was late, over-budget and not everyone likes the design – but I felt I understood it much better after listening to our excellent tour guide, Adrienne. The Parliament is at Holyrood at the bottom of Canongate, the lower part of Edinburgh’s Royal Mile which is the medieval heart of the city. According to its website:

Drawing inspiration from the surrounding landscape, the flower paintings by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the upturned boats on the seashore, Enric Miralles, one of the world’s premier architects, developed a design that he said was a building “growing out of the land”.

Miralles also alludes to themes of openness and democracy and includes symbols of Scotland. The Main Hall, for example, is modelled on medieval vaults and features the Saltire cross from Scotland’s flag. Here, there is a Visitor Information Centre, exhibition, shop, café and crèche for visitors’ children.

Scottish Parliament Main Hall

Throughout, there are various works of art. Shown below are Contemplace by George Wyllie, the artist’s idea for a Scottish Throne, including the Stone of Destiny and references to Mackintosh, and a head of Robert Burns made of match heads by David Mach.

Travelling the Distance by Shauna McMullan is a collection of 100 handwritten sentences made of porcelain. The sentences were collected by the artist on a journey around Scotland to meet 100 women. Each of the 100 women was asked to write something about a woman they felt had made a significant contribution to Scotland. The artist asked each woman to refer her to another woman until she reached 100. We saw the parliament’s mace when we were in the Debating Chamber, but no photographs were allowed – the picture from the Visitor Centre, below, replicates the head, though the original, crafted in silver and gold by Michael Lloyd, was much more splendid.

It was a great thrill to step into the Debating Chamber having seen it so many times on TV. As I said, no photographs were allowed while on the tour, but we were able to go back to the Visitors’ Gallery later and take pictures from there. The Chamber is built in a semi-circle so that everyone is facing the Presiding Officer (rather than opposing politicians) and has a modern electronic voting system. I feel the archaic UK parliament at Westminster should learn lessons from this!

Scottish Parliament Debating Chamber

Throughout the Chamber, on the light fittings and in the glass, were symbols which we guessed to be whisky bottles, but apparently are stylised people, presumably to remind Members to whom they are responsible – us.

The chairs in the Visitors’ Gallery were rather an odd shape, but surprisingly comfortable – and the view behind was terrific.

Visitor’s Gallery

After our tour, we had lunch in the café before heading back into the cold. On the way out, I picked up a leaflet about Canongate which I’ve walked up and down many times, but following this map took us into some of the closes on either side and we learned some interesting history. That’s for a later post: for now, I’ll finish with some exterior shots of the parliament from Canongate.

The Scottish Parliament website has information on how to book tours. I found this general tour fascinating and I hope to go back to take a more specialised tour soon – maybe literature or art.

Arduaine Garden and Kilmartin Glen

Arduaine Garden

After our beautiful walk on Kerrera we were disappointed to wake up the next day and find the weather had reverted to a more normal grey drizzle. Nevertheless, we decided to stick to our plan of driving home from Oban the long way round in order to visit Kilmartin Glen.

First, we stopped at Arduaine Garden, started in 1898 by James Arthur Campbell and now part of the National Trust for Scotland.

Fortified with coffee, we headed for our next stop at Carnassarie Castle, dating from the 1560s. There were good views over Kilmartin Glen from the top, even if it was a little damp and misty – we certainly didn’t envy the people excavating an adjacent mound. That looked a cold job.

Into Kilmartin itself, and we visited the small museum, the church and its associated graveyard before having lunch in the hotel.

After lunch, we set out to explore the glen further. Kilmartin Glen has one of the most important concentrations of Neolithic and Bronze Age remains in Scotland, including standing stones, a henge monument, numerous cists, and a ‘linear cemetery’ comprising five burial cairns. The gallery below is just a selection.

Finally, at the southern end of the glen we climbed to the remains of the fortress of Dunadd, a royal centre of Dàl Riata, the first kingdom of the Scots, more than 1300 years ago. The inauguration stone has a footprint (allegedly created by the hero Ossian) into which the new king placed his foot, thus betrothing himself to the land. These days, it’s a replica but we gave it a go anyway.

After that, it was time to head for home at the end of a lovely weekend.

Glasgow Gallivanting: November 2017

How’s this for a highlight? Andy Murray Live was a charity tennis event starring Andy himself and some mate of his called Roger Federer who seemed to be a pretty good player too. Our seats were far too high up to get good pictures, but I think this tweet highlights the spirit of the event. The cry which came from the crowd was not “Donald, where’s your troosers?”¹ but “Roger, where’s your kilt?” If someone found him one, said Roger, he’d wear it. Within a few minutes a woman was standing at the edge of the court (with her coat wrapped round her lower half ) brandishing a kilt. My goodness, he was good at swaggering in it (*fans self quietly*). It even toned with his shirt! Towards the end, Roger presented Andy with a parcel containing a Jimmy² wig – a tam o’ shanter with ginger locks attached, easily purchased in any tourist tat shop. I think he really suited that too.

The event raised over £700,000 for UNICEF and a local children’s charity, more than double last year’s total. Good for Andy and Roger (as well as Jamie Murray, Tim Henman and Mansour Bahrami) – they did a great job.

Kelvin Way

A Sunday afternoon stroll down the Kelvin Way brought good and bad sights. Artist (and friend) Ash Loydon recently had an exhibition in the city centre created in partnership with The Glasgow Night Shelter for Destitute Asylum Seekers and the Open Museum. Since it closed, the associated banner has shown up on various park fences, a great way to spread the word that “Everyone has the right to a home”.

Just across the road is the Suffragette Oak, planted in 1918 to commemorate the first women in the UK to get the vote. Long-term readers might remember that in 2015 I was part of a team from Glasgow Women’s Library which successfully nominated it as Scotland’s Tree of the Year (see here). There are big plans for next year’s centenary – but unfortunately, Storm Ophelia has pulled a great chunk of the tree down. It is hoped the oak will survive, and appropriate uses will be found for the damaged wood, but it’s so sad to see a hundred years of growth diminished.

Glasgow by night

On a brighter note, literally, a lot of November events took us into the centre of Glasgow at night and it is looking awfully pretty at the moment.

One of our events was a talk in the City Chambers, a Victorian edifice which features the largest marble staircase in Western Europe. Apparently it has “played” both the Kremlin and the Vatican on screen!

One disappointment was Nursery Crymes, billed as “A unique night-time experience exploring the dark themes behind our beloved childhood stories [and] the sinister side of nursery rhymes – the ideas of authority, morality and social indoctrination underpinning these simple stories for children.” A great idea which needs more development, but came across to us as a confusing mish-mash – sometimes we weren’t even sure which rhyme or story was playing out. Below are Rock-a-bye-baby, Bo Peep and – a large head? Who knows what that was about? Not me.

Amsterdam

Amsterdam at dusk

We’ve been to Amsterdam! A whole week at the end of November, beginning of December. More to follow soon.

The last bit

For this month’s Scottish words lesson I’ll explain some of the terms used in the first section above.

¹ Scots often change the vowel sound in words such as trousers and house to troosers and hoose. Donald where’s your troosers? is a comedy song made famous by legendary Scottish entertainer Andy Stewart. Hear him in the video below accompanied by a montage of men in kilts. Keep watching for an Elvis impersonation and a VERY cheeky ending!

²Jimmy wigs get their name from a generic term for a man, often heard in the phrase “See you, Jimmy!” For example, if a stranger knocks your elbow in the pub and you spill your pint, you might say “See you, Jimmy! Gonnae no dae that?” (“You there! Please don’t do that.”) On the other hand, I don’t advise it. It might invite aggression….

So here ends the eleventh Glasgow Gallivanting post. I never thought I’d keep it up for a whole year, but there’s only one more to go – how can it be December already? Have a great month.

A walk round Kerrera

Remember this view from last time? Our window in Oban looked out on the island of Kerrera which we were determined to explore. A small passenger ferry runs from Gallanach, a couple of miles along the coast from Oban. Unless you live on Kerrera (current population about 35) no vehicles are allowed.

There are two possible walks suggested, the southern loop taking in Gylen Castle (and nearby tea garden – vital!) or a linear walk to the northern tip where there is a monument to  David Hutcheson, one of the founders of the Caledonian MacBrayne Ferry service. We chose the 11km loop to castle and tea garden / bunk house.

Kerrera

From the ferry, we turned right along Horseshoe Bay and Little Horseshoe Bay. We hadn’t gone far when we discovered the tea garden owners were enterprising in a quirky sort of way. The slates read Hello! Is it tea you’re looking for? Lionel Rich Tea. 

From here on our walk was punctuated by teapots – and cattle. At one time, Kerrera was a stepping stone for transporting cattle from Mull (the much larger island behind it) to the mainland.

Sometimes the teapot messages were really helpful. Cake!

The path to the castle was just before the tea garden but we chose to go for a cup of tea first, then explore the castle and return for lunch. Might as well make full use of the place! It was a lovely sunny day, but even if it hadn’t been there was comfortable indoor seating in the old barn.

The quirkiness continued in the bike park (an old tree trunk, click to enlarge to make it clearer).

And the toilet which is twinned with a toilet in Pakistan.

The ruined Gylen Castle, dramatically perched on a rocky outcrop, was built in 1587 by Duncan MacDougall of Dunollie, the 16th chief, on the site of an earlier fortification.

From the castle and tea garden, the path followed the more rugged western edge of the island before crossing back to the ferry point. And, of course, just in case anyone was walking the loop in the other direction, there were more teapots.

This was an absolutely beautiful day and I’d love to go back to Kerrera. The next day, we were heading back home from Oban and the weather was not so kind to us. We still made some interesting stops, though – next time!

I’m linking this post to Jo’s Monday Walks. Pop over for some Portuguese sunshine, I could certainly do with that today!

Oban and Dunstaffnage Castle

Thornloe Guest House

In May, we spent two nights in Oban, a west coast town a couple of hours north of Glasgow. It was a last-minute decision, so we were lucky to find a wonderful place to stay, the Thornloe Guest House, which was as attractive inside as out.

 

Note the open window above – we never tired of the view from it as you can see below. After staring at the island immediately in front of us, Kerrera, for so long we were inspired to visit it the next day, but that’s for another post.

As we only had one full day, our time in Oban itself was mainly spent wandering around at night before and after dinner. Beautiful!

 

In one of the pictures above, you can see the round arches of McCaig’s Tower on the hill above the harbour. We climbed up to it one evening for sunset views back down to the town.

 

Close to Oban is Dunstaffnage Castle. We visited on our way to the town and found they were having a Viking day. Some of those Vikings look quite scary, but we ran across them in a Chinese restaurant in Oban that evening and they seemed much more genial then!

 

Coming next, I’ll take you for a walk round Kerrera.