Although Edinburgh Castle does have the advantage of having a location that dominates the Scottish capital, it has considerable areas that are closed to the public as a visitor attraction because it is still a working army barracks, whereas Stirling Castle has just as dramatic a location (overlooking the town and a number of ancient battlefields) and is altogether much more visitor orientated. Indeed I recommend Stirling Castle as a lovely family day-out with much to interest children, as well as adults.
The main difference between the two castles is that Edinburgh was always a castle designed around its strategic military importance whereas Stirling was designed around much more of a ‘court’ function and thus is much more aesthetically pleasing. Indeed even today the castle hosts some terrific Scottish dance balls in the Great Hall. During the day, the castle is open to the public to view the renaissance facades of the James V Palace, the palace kitchens, the Chapel Royal, the Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders regimental museum, the amazing views over the battlements and even some fun dressing-up in period costumes.
After a couple of hours at the castle your day can be extended by then going to visit the Gowan Hill & Beheading Stone, Stirling Old Bridge, Mar’s Wark, King’s Knot, Ladies Rock, Darnley’s House and Argyll’s Lodging all of which are within easy walking distance of the castle and are of considerable period interest or the National Wallace Monument which is a ten minute drive.
North Berwick Law
North Berwick really is a special place. There is a really good train service that takes 40 minutes from Edinburgh and you arrive at the perfect day trip destination. The town is situated on the Eastern corner of the Firth of Forth as the coastline turns from facing the North Sea. It has long been reknown as a holiday destination for those who apreciate the golf courses around the area and for the healthy sea breezes that can blow directly across the North sea from Norway. However, for the visiting tourist, it is the extraordinary feature of the North Berwick Law that can offer a special highlight to any visit. The Law is a volcanic outcrop that dominates the town and to get to its base from the train station is about a 15 minute walk. The path to the top starts a little confusingly by leading you on a relatively flat route to the right, which then branches more steeply up the hill. It is easy walking that does not require walking boots and can easily be managed by all abilities on good paths. It takes about half an hour walking gently to get to the top where you are rewarded with a magnificent view over North Berwick town, the Firth of Forth, The Bass Rock and Tantallon castle. There are various features on the top, a simulated Whale jaw-bone that you see in many Scottish coastal locations that appears to be tied in to an ancient good-luck symbol for fishing communities; some old second world war defence emplacements and a useful 360 degree landscape place-name indicator that assists in identifying the landmarks you can see from the top.
View from The Law towards The Bass rock and Tantallon castle
The Law whale jaw-bone
Do you have children or just a passion for old engines and things that do things? Then Summerlee is a great recommendation for a day-out.
The attraction has free admission but unfortunately is not particularly well signposted when driving in to Coatbridge from the M8. However once there, there is plentiful parking, an adequate cafe and enough to keep children amused for about 4 hours.
The opening hours are 10am to 5pm from 1st April to 31st October and the attraction features interactive displays on the iron and steel industries, a children’s ‘Discovery Zone’, working machinery from local mines and factories, Scotland’s only working electric Tramway, a mine with guided tours, a row of miners cottages furbished in various period styles and a quality Outdoor playpark.
Before the Kessock Suspension bridge was built in 1982, to continue northwards by road from Inverness to Dornoch, Sutherland and Caithness, you would have to detour West round the Beauly Firth.
Although we should probably apreciate more the efforts of our road and bridge builders, it is the visiting of the town of Beauly that is the great loss from this detour no-longer being necessary. It is the town that in my opinion symbolises the heart of Inverness-shire, while Inverness city acts as the cross-roads between Nairn-shire, Strathpeffer & Dingwall, the Black Isle and Loch Ness. I also somehow find Inverness city rather disappointing in spite of the Ness riverside properties, the fine cathedral, the good shopping and the convenience of its transport hub. Beauly however consistently delights and I would recommend staying in the area for 5 days to anyone and Isobel Crawford at Chrialdon House is delightful as are so many of the owners on Private House Stays. (http://www.privatehousestays.com/l/Accommodation/Chrialdon-House).
Principly the area has attractions for those interested in Birdlife, walking and discovering the wealth of ancient pre-christian cairns and iron-age settlements that would have sprung up from those seeking the rich estuary farmland sheltered from the full brunt of the North Sea. However Beauly town clearly developed in to a much more gentile place as the Story of Mary Queen of Scots visit to the Beauly Priory tells:
Beauly Priory From The Garden
“In the Summer of 1564 Mary Queen of Scots travelled through the Highlands to Easter Ross. She stopped at Beauly Priory before visting Dingwall, the capital of the Earldom of Ross. It is known that Mary was touched by the beauty of the Priory which was enhanced by a fine orchard“.
Today the Priory dominates the central area of the town and the orchard is long gone but the general beauty and atmosphere of the place remains:
Beauly Priory Nave
Problem looks sorted out now – many thanks.
I really, really appreciate being able to pick up the phone and talk to a
human, who can then talk through the problem. Not only that you have sorted
out the problem super-quick and I learned something new into the bargain!
Aurora Bed and Breakfast
Shieldaig, by Torridon
01520 755 246
Intl +44 1520 755 246
From the middle December 2012, VisitScotland will no longer be offering its own online booking facility on www.visitscotland.com. However, visitors to their website will still be able to book accommodation in a number of ways:
- Call or email you direct to make a reservation
- Contact you via your own website
- Consumers can use the VS Contact Centre or book in person, at one of their Information Centres
- From mid December 2012, click on a new ‘book’ button which will appear on your web listing which can provide a direct link to your online booking service provider
Private House Stays has committed to develop the integration of our availability calendars in order that this information is available to VisitScotland to make booking enquiries. The integration deadline is June 2013 although we expect to have this in place much earlier than that. In order for our clients to benefit from this integration, you will need to be listed with VisitScotland and pay an annual listing fee of between £75 and £120 (depending on your property size). This will not affect any of you who pay listing fees already.
I cannot say at the moment how much benefit we will all receive from this integration investment with VisitScotland. VisitScotland still plans to levy a 10% commission + a £4 booking fee + VAT on a punter booking at their Tourist Information Centres or at their Contact centre. They have promised that this will be charged to the punter as a “Booking Fee” not as a “Deposit” in order that no clients arrive believing that they have already paid 10% of the cost of their stay, but I have some doubts that staff at Tourist Information Centres might still be in the habit of using the old terms.
Booking Enquiries from Tourist Information Centres also suffer from other problems. Firstly the majority of their punter enquiries are for accommodation that night or the next day. This does not fit with the “Booking Request” method of making an on-line booking which is the overwhelming preferred option for Private House Stays accommodation providers. Thus effectively TICs will bring us business only if we are available to take a phone call and can speak directly to a client who provides their credit card details over the phone and a reservation confirmation is able to be issued immediately. Also we will only be able to get business fully guaranteed by the booking form if the card-holder is present, as VisitScotland staff will not enter credit card details on behalf of punters directly.
Since there are many of us who are not especially keen on accepting last minute bookings anyway, it is the pre-planned bookings from the VisitScotland contact centre that will be of much greater interest to us. In these cases, I will design a system whereby VisitScotland staff can make a booking request directly by filling in our on-line booking form with an access code in place of credit card details. In these cases it will be made clear that the booking request has come via VisitScotland and you will be required to use the contact details in the booking request to retrieve yourself the client’s credit card details before issuing your reservation confirmation. The booking form will be reprogrammed to make sure that any edited credit card details go through the checking process before the edit is accepted. VistScotland will also be automatically notified when you send your reservation confirmation, so they can collect their commission.
Frankly I foresee problems for VisitScotland in collecting their commission both from TICs and the contact centre as I expect us to benefit from clients who use VisitScotland to find their accommodation and then book direct – but this is not our concern.
The Cafe at Glenfinnan station
A trip to see Glenfinnan viaduct is recommended in its own right, if only to marvel at the extraordinary feat of engineering required to drive a railway line through to Mallaig from Fort William. A number of delightful B&Bs are conveniently located in Fort William and the Seaview Guesthouse – Mallaig is a wonderful place to stay on the other side of the railway.
The centrepiece of this construction is the Glenfinnan viaduct which was made out of poured concrete, one of the first examples of construction using this technique, although it is now commonplace using reinforced steel rods. A piece of trivia I have always found interesting is that one of the donkey drawn carts used for transporting the mixed concrete still lies buried in the heart of the central column of the viaduct, this occurred when the weight of the concrete pulled the cart (and donkey) down in to the pit. There is a daily steam train called the Jacobite that runs daily to Mallaig and back which excitingly featured as the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter films (an absolute must see if you have children!). Beware you have to be quite organised to book on this in advance in the summer months as it understandably gets very busy. If you don’t fancy the whole train trip you can see the train cross the viaduct at Glenfinnan at around 11am or at around 2.30pm on its return. You can also visit the Glenfinnan station museum which tells the story of the building of the line and then have ice-creams and tea at the delightful station cafe which is located in one of the disused train carriages.
The best place to watch the train cross the viaduct can be found by nipping down the hill from the station to the forestry commission carpark and walk inland away from Loch Shiel along the path for about 5 minutes until you see the viaduct above you. If you leave enough time you can then climb up the side of the embankment to cross the line and perch on the hillside to get the photograph of the train looking down from above. A perfect day out for all the family especially ‘Potter’ enthusiasts!
Jacobite Steamtrain over Glenfinnan viaduct
I have always believed that to get the best out of Scotland you must get away from the cities and experience the breathtaking beauty of the Scottish countryside, and what better way to do this than taking your children into the great outdoors. If you have children then you will know the time between supper and bed is the hardest time to keep them entertained, so what better way to keep them occupied on holiday than taking them on a wee adventure.
On our latest trip to the west coast we got away with the line that we were off to see a magic castle when staying in Ardnamurchan and frankly when we got to Tioram castle on the Eilean Tioram in the Ardnamurchan peninsular at 9pm, we thought it was magical too!
Causeway across to the castle
This Scottish ruined castle is a scheduled monument dating back to 13th Century so is obviously very ruined but it is in the most stunning location across a causeway, covered at high tide.
The castle is not an advertised tourist attraction but a stunning hidden gem amongst so many others throughout Scotland.
Although we thoroughly enjoyed our trip to Tioram Castle, what was really nice about being on the west coast was being able to watch the sun sink down over the coastline and the western isles in the distance, there really is no shortage of spots to choose from! There are also a wealth of wonderful places to stay in the area including Salen House, the Heatherbank Guesthouse and Meall Mo Chridhe.
The view westwards from Tioram castle
The Sun sinking over Tioram
There has been much written about Skye for many centuries illustrating the romance and the spectacular atmosphere that the Cuillin Hills and the Trotternish cliffs give to the Island. This year we took the family to Skye and we stayed at one of the islands lovely and welcoming B&Bs, here we discovered what Skye is really all about – namely its vast quantity of beautiful coastline. There can be very few places in the world where so many properties not in the towns or villages have their own bit of private beach, with vast sands, sundrenched corners and spectacular sunsets – Skye is one of the most idyllic places on Earth.
Looking over Broadford bay at Breakish
You can nearly always find some place wherever you are on Skye to get away from any other living thing – the perfect place for a romantic getaway! Find a sheltered spot out of the wind and marvel at the 360 degree scenery and beautiful rugged coastline. I have to say that if you get sunny weather, then Skye can be one of the most uplifting places and an experience you will never forget.