Blairgowrie: the walks

Footbridge over the River Ericht

The Knockie and Cargill’s Leap

During our week in Blairgowrie in August, several of our walks began, or ended, by crossing the footbridge just behind The Old Furnace where we were staying. On Day 1, we followed a 3 mile / 5 km circular route, turning right at the end of the bridge to follow the River Ericht upstream and climbing Knockie Hill. At one time there were 11 mills along this river: Oakland, above, is now derelict, but we also passed Brooklinn Mill which has been converted to a private house. The area is very fertile, as some of the images show, and fruit farming is a speciality, hence the polytunnels.

Can you spot two cats in the second picture below? The real one looks a lot less alert than the fake one …

After descending the Knockie, we made our way through residential streets to the riverside. It was lunchtime, so we popped into Cargill’s Bistro, or at least onto its outdoor courtyard. How could we not, when it looked so welcoming? Lunch was delicious, as was the beer.

Our walk back took us along the riverside path, with its attractive sculptures, past Cargill’s Leap.

At Cargill’s Leap there is a viewing platform into the river below. This is where Donald Cargill, a local minster and covenanter, escaped pursuing troops by leaping the falls below. The covenanters were Presbyterians who signed a National Covenant in 1638 to retain their way of worship; this led to their persecution by Charles II. Cargill was eventually captured and executed.

I like the little figure on the information board!

From here, it wasn’t long until the chimney of our temporary home came into view and we re-crossed the bridge from which we had started.

Ardblair Trail and Bluebell Wood

On Day 2, we combined two short trails to make a 5 mile / 8 km figure-of-eight (plus about half an hour’s walk at each end to get to and from the Old Furnace). We made a lot of use of that riverside path! It was a good day for spotting quirky sculpture and painted stones, as well as more natural features such as assorted fungi and two pretty lochs.

As luck would have it, the figure-of-eight popped us out onto the road at lunchtime, right opposite the Dalmore Inn. Again, our powers of resistance were low. This time, we ate indoors, only the second time we have done so since the pandemic began. Their hygiene practices were excellent, and we felt as safe as its possible to be under the circumstances.

Drimmie Wood

Day 3 – another day, another wood! Drimmie is about two miles from Blairgowrie: we could have walked, but as you can see, the weather was not very pleasant so we chose to drive to the start of this 4 mile / 7 km trail. We were home by lunchtime, and went out again in the afternoon to explore Blairgowrie itself (pictures in last post).

River Ericht Path

On Day 4, the weather had improved somewhat. We chose to walk up one side of the River Ericht and back down the other, crossing at Kitty Swanson’s Bridge. (Kitty Swanson operated a ferry crossing here for many years in the late 1800s, and lived in a cottage nearby). The fertility of the area was again apparent, and we got a close up of those polytunnels (and a chance to sample some strawberries). This trail is about 8 miles / 13 km.

Loch of the Lowes

On Day 5, we drove a bit further, towards Dunkeld. In another circular walk (5 miles / 8 km), we left the car in the Cally carpark, and walked through woods, and a golf course, to the Scottish Wildlife Trust reserve at Loch of the Lowes. It was their first day open after months of closure and we’d had to book a time slot online beforehand. They were understandably nervous about their procedures but, again, we were happy with hygiene and distancing standards. The only problem was the main attraction, the ospreys, hadn’t got the memo. While smaller birds cooperated by putting on a show outside the visitor centre, the only thing we saw from the hide at the lochside (with lots of zooming) was a large, empty osprey nest. Not even any swans! Our local pond can do better than that …

We walked back to the car through Dunkeld, and at least we saw some handsome sheep to compensate. Some quirky signage too.

Stormont and Meikleour

Day 6, our last day, was wet most of the time, but we soldiered on. In the morning, we parked the car in the village of Carsie and made up a circular tour including Stormont Loch which just happened to take us past the Dalmore Inn again at lunchtime – what a coincidence! We only once got a glimpse of Stormont because it was surrounded by trees. Much prettier was the smaller Hare Myre, and an unexpected bonus was a honey farm.

After lunch, we drove on to the village of Meikleour where North Wood hides the Cleaven Dyke dating back to the Neolithic period. It just looks like a long mound!

The village itself is pretty and features the Meikleour Beech Hedge (snapped from the car) which is in the Guinness Book of Records as the tallest hedge in the world!

Conclusion

We had a lovely, relaxing week in Blairgowrie with comfortable, self-contained accommodation and gentle walks easing us into the idea of travelling again. All the trails we did, apart from Loch of the Lowes, are from the Perth and Kinross Countryside Trust Blairgowrie leaflet which you can download here. We found it really helpful.

On our way home to Glasgow we stopped in another pretty village with its own story to tell – but that can wait for next time.

Linked to Jo’s Monday Walk.

Port Glasgow Heritage Walk

Newark Castle and Ferguson Marine

The name Port Glasgow means exactly what you might expect. It was originally a fishing hamlet called Newark which expanded because large ships were unable to navigate the River Clyde, then shallow and meandering, to the centre of Glasgow. Newark became the port for Glasgow in 1668 and was known as New Port Glasgow until this was shortened in 1775. By the 19th century Port Glasgow had become a centre for shipbuilding, but today only Ferguson Marine remains and in its shadow lies a lingering vestige of the old name, Newark Castle (c1484). It was once home to the Maxwell family, hence the initials PM on some of the windows.

This visit took place in November after the castle had closed for the winter (and the foreseeable future, as it turns out), but we had a look round the outside before setting off on our walk.

The Port Glasgow Heritage Walk has been created by the blogger The Greenockian and can be downloaded from the link. Before setting off west on her route, we walked east for a mile or so along the riverside walkway. The posts you can just see sticking out of the water, in the first picture below, are the remains of old timber ponds. At the beginning of the 18th century vast amounts of timber were imported into Port Glasgow and stored in the ponds, being seasoned by the salt water, until needed by local shipwrights or sawmills.

Once back at the castle, we started the walk proper by walking west past the gates of Ferguson Marine. Across the road is the Ropeworks Building where ropes and sails used to be made, but which was converted into housing in 2007/8.

The route then took us through Coronation Park. Points of interest included an old steam hammer, manufactured by Glen & Ross of Glasgow, and a memorial cairn to the Clyde Boating Tragedy of 1947 when 20 people died in an accident while on a pleasure cruise.

On the back wall of Fergus Monk’s garage at the West Quay are these two colourful murals by Jim Strachan. One shows fishing boats and the catch being processed on the quay, while the other shows people enjoying themselves in a non-socially-distanced way that seems but a dream now..

Looking out to the Clyde, there are two lighthouses here, Perch Lighthouse (1862) on the treacherous Perch Rock, and the taller West Quay Lighthouse built in the 1870s to guide ships using the docks.

Across a busy road from here is a large retail park (a good stop for lunch, if anything is open, I think we went to Marks and Spencer). Set into the pathway are slabs with the names of local shipyards, such as the Inch Yard. On the way out of the retail park going towards the town centre is a replica of the Comet, the first commercial steam-powered vessel in European waters (1812).

We passed two churches – St John the Baptist (left below) was built in 1854 for the growing number of Roman Catholics, many from Ireland, who came to work in the area. The current St Andrew’s Church dates from 1823, but there has been a church on the same site since 1719. You can see St Andrew’s again peeking out from behind the Old Bank Building.

Port Glasgow has had a railway since 1841. The current station building has 14 murals made by local people, each celebrating part of the town’s history. I had a hard time choosing favourites, so here’s a large selection, starting with the remembrance panel because our visit was very near Remembrance Sunday.

Opposite the station is the Star Hotel with a couple of interesting ghost signs – or are they really ghost signs if the original business is still there? Old signs anyway!

A stroll down King Street took us past the Salvation Army, then we turned down Customhouse Lane heading for the town buildings.

These date from 1816 and once included a court, a council chamber, prison and police department. Port Glasgow is now part of Inverclyde and no longer needs these things, so the building houses the public library. There are references to the town’s past with sailing ships everywhere, including the weather vane atop the 150ft steeple and on the coat of arms seen on the lamp.

Across from the town buildings are two monuments, the War Memorial and the Endeavour sculpture. The latter was created by Malcolm Robertson in 2012 and is another celebration of the town’s shipbuilding heritage.

From here, we crossed the main road again to return to our car. Port Glasgow is somewhere I drive through regularly without stopping, so I’m grateful to The Greenockian for opening my eyes to its interesting history. Linked to Jo’s Monday Walks.

Edin’s Hall Broch

Riverside Bakehouse, Abbey St Bathans

This 10km circular walk was topped and tailed by stops at the Riverside Bakehouse in the tiny hamlet of Abbey St Bathans. The café and bakery is run by Aliona who first came to Scotland from Russia in 1999. As well as serving light lunches, she bakes and sells bread on the premises using locally grown flour. This is one of the many small businesses throughout Scotland that we’ve used and loved over the years that we hope against hope will survive the current crisis.

Our walking guidebook instructed us to return to the road, turn left to pass the timber yard and arrive at “Toot Corner”. What? Well, we knew it when we saw it!

From here, a signpost directed us through woodland to the lower slopes of Cockburn Law. The unusual Retreat House, a circular late 18th century hunting lodge, could be seen below.

Brochs are Iron Age drystone roundhouses unique to Scotland, but Edin’s Hall is one of only a few found outwith the Highlands and Islands. Its central space is also unusually wide with relatively thin walls, suggesting that it is unlikely to have been roofed. Perhaps more of a small fort than a broch?

Descending the hill on the other side of the broch we came to the Elba Footbridge across the Whiteadder Water.

The rest of the walk was on minor roads and farm tracks until we arrived back at the Riverside. Sheep were abundant!

This was the second last day of our 2019 Berwickshire break, so just one more post to go. This one is linked to Jo’s latest Monday Walk post.

Duns Law

Duns, Berwickshire

This is a short circular walk (7km) from Duns, the historic county town of Berwickshire. We had a quick look round the marketplace before we set off and found the Mercat Cross, a statue to Wojtek the Soldier Bear, and a nicely preserved ghost sign. Wojtek’s statue was gifted to the town by the people of Zagan in Poland in 2016. The Syrian brown bear was adopted by the Polish Army in 1942 in Iran. During the battle of Monte Cassino in 1944 he helped carry shells to the guns, as shown here, then at the end of WW2 he stayed with the Polish Army at Winfield in Berwickshire. Wojtek moved to Edinburgh Zoo in 1947, where he died in 1963.

From the centre of Duns, we made our way to the archway at the entrance to the grounds of Duns Castle.

Just inside, a woodland path led up to the 218m summit of Duns Law. As we climbed, we could see the castle gateway below us with the Cheviot Hills behind it.

On the hill’s flat summit is a Covenanters’ Stone, which marks the spot where General Alexander Leslie raised the Covenanters’ standard in 1639 in defiance of King Charles I’s imposition of Episcopalianism on his Scottish subjects.We descended part-way, then struck off across the flank of the hill where we passed a stone on the site of the old town of Dunse (sic), destroyed in the border raids of 1588. We could also see the castle peeking through the trees below us.

We tried to make our way down to the grounds of the castle, which we did with some difficulty. We formed the impression that not many people did this walk – the path was very overgrown and we felt we were hacking our way through at times. Once we got down, the walk through the castle’s woods was very muddy and not especially picturesque. However, we saw some lovely swans and the Neo-Gothic castle itself definitely was picturesque.

From the castle, we headed down the drive and through a different archway to the road, from which it was a short walk back to our car in the marketplace.

Linked to Jo’s Monday Walks.

Burnmouth to Eyemouth

Lobster fisherman heading out

We visited Eyemouth several times during our stay in Lower Burnmouth last summer – it’s a pretty little town in itself, but is also the nearest place to buy provisions. One morning, we set out to walk there (and back) on the Berwickshire Coastal Path. As we left, the local lobster fisherman was heading out of the harbour.

The path led us steeply out of Lower Burnmouth towards the clifftops. As we went, we could see our little cottage, The Old Lobster House, retreat further into the distance below us. It’s the little white building opposite the row of coloured houses.

The path reached the road at the upper part of Burnmouth. As the old sign tells us, it’s 6 miles to Berwick and 52 to Edinburgh. The pub is The First and Last – the first or last in Scotland, depending on your direction of travel.

I liked this house’s quirky gate and name sign.

Before moving on, we stopped for a while to read an information board telling us how Burnmouth used to be a hotbed of smuggling in the 18th century. One notorious family was the Lyalls who organised a raid on the Customs Warehouse in Eyemouth in 1780. John Lyall later moved to Sussex where he became a respected resident, operating ships out of London. His five sons showed how quickly and effectively the family distanced itself from its criminal past: they included a Conservative MP and a Dean of Canterbury. Clearly a talented family on whichever side of the law they operated.

The path then led us down the side of the Village Hall and back on to the cliffs. Burnmouth Harbour and our little house were still in view!

The clifftops were lined with fields of crops, mainly barley, and wildflowers.

We wondered what this brown crop was, and only identified it later. Had we been earlier in the year, these fields would have been bright yellow – it’s oilseed rape. 

This was the first, but not the last, day we noticed an abundance of painted lady butterflies. Apparently, last summer was a once in a decade mass emergence when weather conditions and food sources provided ideal conditions for the species to thrive.

Looking out to sea, we admired the folds in the rocks. Geology writ large.

Then Eyemouth came into view, and we were almost there.

After spending the afternoon in Eyemouth we had to walk back. Remember The First and Last in Burnmouth? We naturally stopped for a beer and some good pub grub. I liked the way it was decorated with old advertising boards.

Then it was down the hill again, home to The Old Lobster House. Next time, I’ll show you round Eyemouth itself.

Linked to Jo’s Monday Walks.

Going up Doon Hill

River Forth at Aberfoyle

Yesterday, 1st December, was a lovely crisp, winter day so we decided to go for a walk in the Trossachs. We drove to Aberfoyle, less than 30 miles from Glasgow, and followed the trail to Doon Hill, home of the fairies. Allegedly.

The minister in Aberfoyle between 1685 and 1692 was Reverend Robert Kirk who had a strong interest in local folklore and wrote a famous book telling the secrets of the fairies. Doon Hill is the site of their revenge. The fairies were so cross with Kirk’s revelations that they kidnapped him and encased his soul in the pine tree at the top of the hill.

People sometimes leave offerings to the fairies in the form of clouties (cloths) in the hope that, as the cloutie rots, the illness or misfortune affecting the person on whose behalf it was placed will also vanish. It’s a few years since we did this walk, and it seems from the new trail notice, that some people aren’t quite getting the concept and are leaving non-biodegradable items which are never going to rot.

Something else that was new to us were the fairy houses, carved from tree stumps, on the way up the slope. Lots of offerings here.

On the other hand, the top of the hill seems to have been cleared quite considerably. We remembered the surrounding oaks all being decorated and bells tinkling in the breeze. Even if you don’t believe in the fairies, that made it quite a haunting place. Now, the offerings are largely confined to the central Scots pine, home to Rev Kirk’s soul. Or not.

After descending Doon Hill, the path took us through woodland, following the River Forth for a while, before returning to Aberfoyle. The frosty trees and the late afternoon light were wonderfully atmospheric.

It’s a while since I’ve linked up with Jo’s Monday Walk. If I’ve made you feel cold, I suggest you hop over there immediately for a warm in some Portuguese sun.

Cowden Japanese Garden and Castle Campbell

Japanese Garden at Cowden

At the end of September, John had an unexpected day off work. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t great but we believed the forecast which said it would be better further east. It lied! We arrived at the Japanese Garden at Cowden in Clackmannanshire in pouring rain so, as it was around midday, we decided to have lunch first in the hope that the weather would clear. The small café is housed in a temporary Portakabin, but once inside you wouldn’t know because it is well maintained and attractive – better still, the food is good and the staff are friendly.

Cowden is somewhere I’ve wanted to visit for a while. Created in 1908 by intrepid traveller Ella Christie (1861-1949), with the help of Taki Handa originally from the Royal School of Garden Design at Nagoya, it fell into disrepair in later years and was badly vandalised in the 1960s. In 2013 Professor Masao Fukuhara from Osaka University of Arts, Japan, was appointed to restore the garden and, although still a work in progress, it is now open to the public again. The full history, detailed on the garden’s website, is fascinating and well worth a read.

Our strategy of waiting for the rain to go off over lunch hadn’t worked, but it didn’t detract from the beauty of the garden and gives us an excuse to come back to visit in sunshine some day. Click on the gallery below to take a stroll round the central pond with us.

After Cowden, we headed a few miles back up the road to the small town of Dollar to visit Castle Campbell. We left the car in town and headed up the burn to Dollar Glen, where we chose the west path which climbs through woodland, eventually following the Burn of Sorrow, and leading to great views of the castle.

It’s a long time since we’ve actually visited the castle, but we decided to do so now. It was no longer raining, but the mist made the views from the top of the tower very atmospheric and, as the last image in the gallery below shows, there were some weak rays of sunshine as we left.

In the internal photos, you can see two Green Man carvings in the ceiling which would originally have held chains for oil lamps in their mouths. You can also see John testing one of the latrines for comfort, as invited by the notice behind him. This notice also informed us that a remedy for bed wetting from 1544 involved adding the ground bones of a hedgehog to the sufferer’s food and drink. Poor hedgehogs!

After the castle, we took the east path back down the glen along the Burn of Care until it merged with the Burn of Sorrow to form the Dollar Burn and led us back into town.  Such sad names!

Before leaving we found this interesting drinking fountain and a bench dedicated to Ella Christie whose garden we had visited earlier.

This was a day which proves there’s no point in sitting at home waiting for the weather to improve. Just get out and do it! We had two lovely walks which I’m linking to Jo and her wonderful group of Monday walkers. She has blue Portuguese skies to counter my grey ones.

Jo’s Monday Walks.

Castle Semple Country Park

Castle Semple Loch from Parkhill

Castle Semple Park, near Lochwinnoch in Renfrewshire, is based on a large estate created many centuries ago by the Sempill family. The original Castle (c. 1500) is no more, but the remains of a later mansion have been incorporated into private residences which are not accessible to the public. However, there are plenty other hints as to what the landscape might once have looked like.

The park has a Visitor Centre (including café) and a loop trail for walkers and cyclists totalling 9 miles. We cut a bit out and walked about 7 miles. Here are some highlights.

Throughout the trail there are unusual seating areas and “Lookooteries” or viewpoints. The stone structure I am sitting on is the Grotto in Parkhill Wood, a once fashionable accessory to any country estate.

Another must-have would have been a water feature and, between 1727 and 1730, garden expert William Bouchert diverted the burn behind Castle Semple to create a series of cascades for then-owners the MacDowall family. Although allegedly restored recently, you can see my puzzlement as I searched for the water flow. The burn is badly overgrown!

Close by is the Collegiate Church which was founded in 1504 by John, Lord Sempill. A collegiate church was not controlled by a bishop, but was served by a college of priests whose chief duty was to pray for the souls of the Sempills. John Sempill was killed at the Battle of Flodden in 1513 and his son extended the church to house his father’s tomb. Although not used for worship after the Reformation it survived as a burial enclosure.

Finally, before turning back, we climbed Kenmure Hill to the folly known as Kenmure Temple. This was built in 1758 to provide the MacDowalls and their guests with a vantage point over the estate. It seems graffiti artists have also visited!

Castle Semple is an attractive park which, although just over half an hour’s drive from home, we’ve only visited once before. It’s maybe not as spectacular as other places we visit, but we had a pleasant afternoon out and I think we’ll now add it to our repertoire of regular walks.

Linked to Jo’s Monday Walk – today she’s in the Azores – a must see!

Hebridean Hop 20: Craigston, Cleit and Eoligarry

Thursday 16th August 2018

St Brendan’s Church, Craigston

Having rejected the previous two days as too dreich to get the boat out to the castle, we then decided this day was too nice. We wanted to explore the island in the sun. Driving up the west coast, our first stop was at St Brendan’s Church where Father John MacMillan (1880-1951), about whom we had seen an exhibition in the heritage centre, was once priest. He spent most of his life ministering to the people of the islands, including two years in Canada when, after the First World War, many Hebridean families settled in Red Deer in Alberta. MacMillan volunteered to emigrate along with them in 1923, but left after a fight with the Canadian authorities which he felt were inflicting unnecessary hardship upon the immigrants. Father MacMillan wrote Gaelic songs, and was also immortalised in both a piping march and in his friend Compton Mackenzie’s book, Whisky Galore, in which the character of the priest, Father James Macalister, is based on himClick on the link above to read more about this remarkable man, including the Canadian story.

The church dates from 1857 and is almost as simple inside as out.
From the church it was a short walk back along the coast to find Father Macmillan’s grave in the cemetery. The scenery was stunning, and the neighbours friendly.

And here is the grave we were looking for. Twelve hundred mourners from all over the Hebrides attended the funeral, processing from Craigston to the cemetery behind six pipers. It must have been quite a day.

After a short drive further up the main road, we turned off at Cleit to explore another fine beach. On our way down, we passed this desirable holiday home.

We chatted to a trio of elderly tourists and watched a group of body-boarders for a while. It looked cold!

On the other side of the car park was a small geo (chasm) where the water rushing in and out fascinated me.

However, beautiful as these stops were, our main plan for the day was an 8.75 km walk round the Eoligarry peninsula, Barra’s most northerly point, so it was time to move on – stopping at the excellent airport café again for lunch.

The walk started at Eoligarry jetty, from which the passenger ferry to Eriskay used to run when we last visited. Now, there was nothing much there, but it was a convenient place to leave the car.

We soon came to the old church of Cille Bharra with a replica of the Kilbar Stone, a Viking grave which once stood here. I detect some unhappiness about its absence.

I was delighted to pick up a history of the church and to realise that it was written by Alan Macquarrie, a former colleague of mine.

Onwards again – that was the flat part of the walk. There were a couple of short climbs coming up, first to the remains of Dun Sgurabhal, an Iron Age fort, with views to beaches on all sides. The cows liked it up here too.

Coming down from the fort, we stumbled over lumpy grazing land before climbing again to Beinn Eolaigearraidh Mhor. Despite mhor meaning large, at 105m it wasn’t – but still had panoramic views to admire.

We descended to the west of the peninsula to Traigh Eais, crossing the dunes to the other side after 1.25km of beach walking. This took us back to the beach runway at Traigh Mhor. The day’s planes were long gone, so the airport was now closed with no chance of a further visit to the café.

This also meant we could disregard the warning signs and walk back to Eoligarry along the beach rather than the road. Traigh Mhor is also known as Cockle Strand – the cockle pickers were back on the beach too.

This was one of our loveliest days in terms of weather. It was also a culinary highlight. Who’d have thought that a tiny place like Castlebay would have an excellent Indian Restaurant? Café Kisimul holds a folk night on Thursdays and we had booked almost as soon as we arrived on the island.

We do look rather happy, don’t we? The food was excellent (as was the beer).

As I’ve mentioned before, on these small islands you tend to run into the same people several times. Also eating in the restaurant were the elderly tourists and the body-boarders we saw in Cleit in the morning, and the young man tuning up his fiddle above would serve us lunch in a different place the next day. That would be our final day on the island so, rain or shine, we had to get out to that castle at last!

Linked to Jo’s Monday Walk – it’s almond blossom time this week.

Hebridean Hop 19: Tangasdale

Wednesday 15th August 2018

Should we go out to the castle today? Hmm, no – the weather was too dreich again. Instead, we headed out of Castlebay for a short walk. Starting at Loch Tangasdale, we first passed MacLeod’s Tower, built in 1430 by the son of Marion of the Heads. She was the widow of the chief of Clan MacNeil and had her two stepsons beheaded so that her own son would inherit.

Further on, in a small glen, are the ruins of an old settlement inhabited by another MacNeil, Roderick the Dove, in the 18th century. His name suggests he was much nicer than Marion!

As the path climbed, we could see down to Halaman Bay at the side of which perches the Isle of Barra Hotel – this is where we stayed during our 1990s trips to Barra.

The climb to Dun Ban, the 2000 year old remains of a fortified broch, was rugged but worth it.  I liked the way the stones had been taken over by nature.

On our return, we dropped down onto the beach at Halaman – probably a mistake! As the rain and the wind built up we got soaked through and the sand whipped into our faces. As we struggled to stay upright on two feet, hopping on one leg to don the waterproof trousers wasn’t an option. It was still beautiful though, and I don’t think you can tell from the pictures how bad the weather was. (As a bonus, I’ve included a picture of me on the same beach on a better day in 1992).

We have rarely been so pleased to reach the car. When we got back to the hotel, we just had time for a quick change of clothes before we caught last orders for lunch.

A relaxing afternoon with a book followed. Amazingly, the sun came out later and it was a lovely bright evening. We watched the ferry dock from our room and managed to bag a window seat at dinner. Not a bad day overall, despite the weather doing its worst – slàinte!

Linked to Jo’s Monday Walk.