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Portree, Isle of Skye, Scotland

Monday, November 30, 2009

This afternoon, I am focusing on the capital of the Isle of Skye.

I visit Portree a number of times each year in context of my Scotland tours for small groups and occasionally overnight in the town.

Portree is situated some 30/40 miles north of the Skye Bridge, about two thirds up the eastern coast of the island. It is a bustling little town heavily geared to the tourist industry and also acts as the administrative centre for the island.

The town was originally called Kiltaraglen and renamed following the visit of King James V in 1540. The name Portree is a derivative of the Gaelic 'Port an Righ' or the King's Harbour.

At peak season the town centre heaves with visitors and parking can be tricky. However, the town is well endowed with shops and eating facilities. Down at the harbour there is a good, value for money, fish and chip shop and a string of colourful properties similar to the front at Tobermory on Mull. For folks trying to connect with their Skye ancestors the harbour was the embarkation point for locals displaced under the infamous Highland Clearances and effectively deported to North America and Australasia in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Portree has the usual complement of tacky tourist venues but is a good base or stopping point for a tour of central Skye which can include the Cuillin Hills, Glen Varragill, the Old Man of Storr, the Braes (site of rebellion by displaced crofters) and the River Snizort.

I will post some images and video clips shortly.


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Moray Place Architecture, Glasgow, Scotland

Sunday, November 29, 2009

This evening, I am returning to the theme of Alexander Greek Thomson architecture as manifested in 1-10 Moray Place, Strathbungo, Glasgow.

Just by way of a brief recap, Greek Thomson lived 1817-1875 and is a candidate for the greatest mind in Scottish architecture. Thomson believed that the architecture of ancient Greece could be the basis of truly modern architecture.

Moray Place is a terrace of ten small houses, yet the composition has an astoshing monumentality. Repetition is a key feature. The ground floor windows and doors are evenly spaced and exactly the same size while an unbroken run of 52 square columns on the first floor links the two projecting end houses. The American historian, Henry-Russell Hitchcock opined that Moray Place was "the finest of all Grecian terraces".

Greek Thomson lived and died at No 1 Moray Place.

The Moray Place terrace may have been the inspiration behind Thomson's comment "....all who have studied works of art must have been struck by the mysterious power of the horizontal element in carrying the mind away into space, and into speculations upon infinity."

Video clip to follow.


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Broadford, Isle of Skye, Scotland

Saturday, November 28, 2009

This afternoon, I am posting some information on the village of Broadford which acts as a 'gateway' between the gentler south of Skye and the more mountainous north.

I find Broadford a very useful stopover point after driving down from Inverness during my Scotland tours. There is a wide selection of lodgings for an overnight before setting off next day for a Isle of Skye tour which can take a full day and then return to Broadford to be well positioned for connection with ferry crossing to Mallaig on the mainland.

Broadford started life as an 18th century cattle market then, with improving roads, became the hub for access to other parts of the island, a position which prevails today.

Although only a small settlement on Skye, Broadford offers a wide range of facilities including petrol station, cash machine, tourist information, art gallery, bookshop, textile crafts, boat trips, jewellery shop, upscale restaurant (Creelers) and even a Serpentarium! There are also two piers.

When conditions are right, local land and sea scapes offer excellent photo opportunities.

Images to follow.


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Urquhart Castle, Scotland

Friday, November 27, 2009

This evening, I am posting information on Urquhart Castle which is conveniently situated half way down Loch Ness. In fact, this castle offers the best vantage point to view the Loch and its elusive monster.

Urquhart is pronounced 'Erk-ut' and is one of my favourite visitor attractions in Scotland. I visit the site some five or six times per annum in context of my round Scotland tours.

The visitor centre is well managed. Apart from usual gift shop and refreshment facilities there is a useful introductory film on the castle's history.

The site was fortified from around AD580 when occupied by the Picts. The first conventional castle on the site dates from the 13th century when lands there were granted to Sir Thomas le Durward.. However, the current ruins derive from a rebuild by the Grants in the 16th and 17th centuries. The castle was deliberately blown up in 1692 by Government troops to prevent the castle falling under rebel, Jacobite control.

Chief features of the castle include drawbridge, gatehouse, prison, kiln, water gate, cellars, kitchens and the tower with latter providing a superb aspect for viewing the loch. There is also a replica trebruchet, a catapult type machine for attacking castles before the time of gunpowder and cannon.

Overall, this is an excellent visitor attraction, especially for guests wish to view the famous loch.

Images and video to follow.


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Blair Castle, Scotland

Thursday, November 26, 2009

This evening, I am posting information on Blair Castle, one of Scotland's top tourist attractions.

This castle is coveniently situated close to the main A9 north-south tourist route and just north of Pitlochry in Perthshire.

Although Blair is designated a castle it is more of a grand house or mansion and is the ancient seat of the Dukes of Atholl and home to the Atholl Highlanders, Britain's only legal private army.

The castle is a well managed tourist attraction offering not only the castle to see but also well managed grounds and gardens. Inside, the castle contains a collection of Sevres porcelain, Chippendale furniture and Holbein portraits.

The castle started as Comyn's Tower in 1269. By the 16th century a great hall had been added to the original Tower House. Mary Queen of Scots visited in 1564.

The castle was involved in military action during the 17th century war when Cromwell's troops took control. During the 1745-6 Jacobite uprising it was subject if a siege by the castle's owner, Lord George Murray. Substantial re-modelling occurred in both 1758 and 1869.

The grounds include a walled garden, a wooded grove, a ruined celtic church, and a red deer park. Horseriding is also available for visitors.

Overall, an interesting visitor attraction which I visit maybe four or five times a year in context on my Scotland tours.

Images and video to follow.


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Dundonald Castle, Scotland

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

This afternoon I am posting information on Dundonald Castle which is located south oif Glasgow on the way to Troon and Ayr. A visit to Dundonald usually fits in nicely with a visit to Burns country and Alloway.

Dundonald Castle is an impressive ruin located on a high elevation with views across the Clyde estuary to the Isle of Arran. It must have been a formidable edifice in its day!

The castle is located on an ancient fortified site dating back to the Stone Age, many thousands of years ago. The current building superseded an earlier, 13th century castle built for the High Steward of Scotland to defend against Viking attacks.

The latest castle is based on a fortified Tower House (c.f. yesterday's post covering Castle Campbell) which was built for King Robert II on his accession to the Scottish Crown in 1371 and was used as a Royal residence by the early Stewart kings for the the next 150 years

This attraction is well presented with a useful Visitor Centre close by. However, access is via steep walkway.

This castle is definitely worth a visit.

I will post some images shortly.


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Castle Campbell, Scotland

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

This evening, I am posting some information on a delightful small, historic Scottish castle located high in the Ochil Hills, near to Stirling, Scotland.

This castle offers the visitor a fascinating blend of Clan Campbell history, superb high elevation location, multiple photo opportunities down Dollar Glen and an insight into castle evolution and architecture.

Castle Campbell is of the 'Tower House' variety and characteristic of the late 15th century. It is of a simple oblong plan with massively thick walls pierced by a few windows and rising to a slightly overhanging parapet 18m above the ground. There are four main floors each with a single room, and a garret in the roof space. The ground, first and top floors are covered by stone barrel vaults.

It is great fun to explore this castle, climbing up the various levels and availing of the stunning views from top of the tower.

In addition to the Tower House, there is the part ruined Hall and Chamber Range, the East Range, the Gardens and 'John Knox's Pulpit. The gardens are well cared for by the resident caretaker.

It is possible the castle's origins date back to the 12th century but its existence was first recorded in 1466 when held by the Stewarts of Innermeath and Lorne. The Tower House may date from the mid 1400s. The castle passed to Colin Campbell, Earl of Argyll in the late 15th century. In 1645 the Royalist leader, James Graham severely damaged the castle. In 1654 the castle was again attacked this time by General Monk. In 1715 the castle was briefly garrisoned but abandoned thereafter. The property was transferred to Historic Scotland in 1945 while Dollar Glen became the responsibilty of the National Trust for Scotland.

When in the area I usually include Castle Campbell in my tour schedule. Access is via very narrow road and great care is required in winter.

I will post images later


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Alexander Greek Thomson, Glasgow Architect

Monday, November 23, 2009

This evening, I am posting information on one of Glasgow's most renowned architects, Alexander 'Greek' Thomson (1817-1875), who has left a most interesting and diverse legacy of buildings in the Glasgow conurbation.

Thomson is a candidate for the position of greatest mind in Scottish architecture. He earned the nickname 'Greek' because of his belief that the architecture of ancient Greece could be the the basis of truly modern architecture notwithstanding which Thomson never actually visited Greece.

Thomson did not slavishly copy Greek designs but used Greek architecture as a living language to inspire his own designs. He was flexible and willing to include new inventions of the day ( e.g. plate glass and cast-iron) in his buildings.

Thomson had a wide canvas working in the expanding city of Glasgow and his prodigious output included commercial, warehouses, tenements, terraces of houses (row houses), villas and churches.

Thomson had a spiritual streak (he was a devout Christian) and interested in philosophical ideas and images of Old Testament catastrophes which also influenced his work.

Thomson's early work was influenced by Italian Romanesque, Scottish Baronial. and Gothic. He subsequntly converted to the superiority of the Greek ideal.

Examples of his work include:

The St Vincent St Church, Grecian Buildings, Egyptian Halls (video below), Gordon Street Warehouse (above), Eton Terrace, The Sixty Steps, Great Western Terrace, Caledonia St Church, Millbrae Crescent and Holmwood House.

I hope to put up a web page dedicated to Thomson by end 2010.



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Balmoral Castle, Scotland

Sunday, November 22, 2009

This afternoon, I have decided to focus on Balmoral Castle which is located in the Highlands of Scotland, close to the banks of the River Dee and near to the village of Braemar.

In course of my private, guided tours of Scotland, I visit Balmoral a few times each year. On balance this is a worthwhile experience.

The castle is owned in a private capacity by the British Royal family. The grounds and one room of the Castle (the Ballroom) are open to the public during the summer months. Obviously, most visitors are motivated by the Royal connection but behind that a visit to the Castle is a pleasant enough experience (provided the weather is clement) with grounds and gardens to explore and admire. There is a magnificent avenue of trees, under half a mile in length, after the main entrance gates. Many of these trees were probably planted at the time of Prince Albert in the 19th century. Species include Noble Silver Fir and Grand Silver Fir.

Queen Victoria was inspired to purchase the property in 1848 and wrote to her uncle Leopold "... the scenery all around is the finest almost I have seen anywhere...we are certainly in the finest part of the Highlands and quite in the heart of them, and the soil and climate are the driest I almost saw anywhere. You can walk for ever...and then the wilderness, the solitariness of everything is so delightful, so refreshing, the people are so good and so simple..." The property has been in Royal ownership ever since.

Video no 1 below shows the sunken rose garden which, like the other gardens, is designed to be in flower when the Royal Family are in residence. There is a path which leads down to the River Dee and a beautiful riverside walk.

At the Castle there are also rest rooms, refreshment facilities and a shop. A visit will typically last about two hours.

Video no 2 below shows being led across the front of the castle.

video video


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Royal High School, Edinburgh, Scotland

Saturday, November 21, 2009

This evening, I am focusing on one aspect of Edinburgh's intriguing and diverse architecture.

The building shown in the video clip below is the front of the Royal High School which is located close to the Calton Hill 'Athens of the North' skyline and may have been designed to blend in with the Acropolis theme.

The Royal High School was designed by Thomas Hamilton and built during during the period 1825-29.

It is a building of international renown and at one time was considered a candidate to house the Scottish Parliament.

The central Doric temple contains the splendid oval hall ( possible debating chamber) with shallow, coffered ceiling and cast iron columns supporting the balcony.

This building is not open to the public.



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Isle of Skye Geology, Scotland

Friday, November 20, 2009

This evening, I have decided to read up on the geology of Skye. I am a frequent visitor to Skye with my private tours and think its time to learn about the fascinating and diverse landforms of which Skye is comprised.

Skye is the largest of the Inner Hebrides. As regards the geology:

  • Shape of the island is very irregular with numerous long peninsulas separated by sea lochs.
  • Comprised of Tertiary igneous rocks except for Sleat which is pre-Cambrian.
  • Broadford Bay eats into Jurassic shales and sandstones but the higher ground to south of Broadford is volcanic.
  • Skye best know for the Cuillin hills which consist mainly of gabbro with some dolerite. These hills are very rugged with erosion contributing to gullies and notches. The Cuillins are a fine examples of glacial landform. Typical height is 3000ft (900m)
  • The Red Hills consist mainly of granite and granophyre. Typical height is 2000-2500 ft.
  • The Cuillins and Red Hills were a major form of ice accumulation in the last ice age.
  • The northern two thirds of Skye (apart from the eastern and northern segments of Trotternish) consist mainly of plateau lavas which cover over 400 square miles.They feature table topped hills which are terraced as a result of erosion of lava flows.
  • At Trotternish can be found excellent examples of of land slips where spectacular scenery has resulted from the slippage of great masses of basalt over underlying Jurassic sediments.
The more visits I make to Skye the more I realise just how much there is to learn about this intriguing island.

Video no 1 shows the Quiraing north of the Trotternish area.
Video no 2 shows the Cuillins
Video no 3 shows the view from Torridon looking towards Loch Slapin
Video no 4 shows the view from Elgol and the Cuillins
Video no 5 is a view at the centre of Skye.

video video video video video


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Glencoe, Scotland

Thursday, November 19, 2009

This evening, I am focusing on one of Scotland's top scenic and historic visitor sites, namely Glencoe.

The name probably comes from the Gaelic gleann comhann meaning 'narrow glen'. However, the second part comes from the River Coe which runs through the glen (valley) and whose etymology is obscure.

In course of my Scotland tours I am a regular visitor to Glencoe but realise there is much more to see than is practical on a typical 'drive through' day visit.

To my mind the are two aspects to Glencoe: (a) the famous (or infamous) massacre which took place in 1692 and which still resonates through parts of Scottish society to this day, and (b) the raw and rugged beauty of the landscape which attracts walkers, hikers, mountaineers -and thousands of people with cameras!

The Massacre of 1692

I am going to concentrate first on the massacre which dates back to the late 17th century when the Government/King was trying to get some sort of control over the clan chiefs in the remote Highlands. On August 27th 1691, a proclamation was read in Edinburgh ( capital of Scotland) pardoning all those who had taken up arms provided they took an oath of allegiance to King William before Jan 1st 1692. All chiefs met the deadline with exception of Maclain, the MacDonald Chief of Glencoe and Glengarry. Due to various circumstances was unable to swear the oath until Jan 6th 1692. However, the Government was not satisfied with this and embarked upon a plan to exterminate the MacDonalds of Glencoe. On February 1st 1692 a contingent of British Army (120 of Argyll's regiment) were billeted with the MacDonalds of Glencoe. These soldiers were mainly of Clan Campbell. On February 12th the military officer, Robert Campbell of Glenlyon received his final instructions from Robert Duncanson, a Major in the Argyll Regiment which commenced with the following narrative:

"You are hereby ordered to fall upon the rebels the MacDonalds of Glencoe, and to put all to then sword under seventy. You are to have a special care that the old fox and his sonnes do not escape your hands."

In all 38 MacDonalds were shot. However, after taking into account the destruction of houses by fire and driving off the cattle, the total death toll may have been 127.

The image below is that of a memorial to the slain at Glencoe.

To this day there is a hotel in Glencoe with a somewhat tongue-in-cheek' sign over reception which states 'No Hawkers or Campbells'. No doubt this is in full compliance with all human rights and anti-discrimination legislation!

Glencoe Landscape

A wild and natural environment which includes the following sites:

  • Greymares Tail Waterfall at Kinlochleven.
  • Righ Falls, Inchree, Onich.
  • The Lochan Trail.
  • Signal Rock
  • National Trust Visitor Centre. Lots of information regarding the history, people, wildlife, mountaineering and environmental conservation.
  • Ballachulish Slate Arch

View from Onich

Video no 1 shows Loch Linnhe and the Glencoe mountains from Onich

Video No 2 shows a view of Glencoe taken from the National Trust Visitor Centre.

video video


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Edradour Distillery, Scotland

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

This evening, I am focusing a special and very popular Scottish tourist attraction in the form of Edradour Distillery, near Pitlochry in central Scotland. This is Scotland's smallest legal distillery and is very popular with visitors because (a) excellent quality free tours are provided throughout the year and (b) location is conveniently close to the principal A9 tourist route.

Whenever possible, I always include this distillery in my tour schedules not only because of reasons (a) and (b) above but because of the consistently good feedback form my guests whether they are whisky experts or non-drinkers. Tours are low key and not too technical yet the product is very good and wins prizes at various whisky competitions. To my mind the management has achieved the right blend of atmosphere and ambience which makes for happy visitors.

Edradour is pronounced eedradowr. The distillery was founded in 1825 since when has undergone many ownership changes (including a close affiliation with the Mafia during the U.S. prohibition era). Unlike the majority of Scotland's 90+ distilleries, Edradour is in private hands, part of a small company focused on specialist whiskies from all over the country. Annual production is about 90,000 gallons which is roughly the weekly output of a typical Speyside distillery.

At the distillery shop there is a wide range of whiskies available from all over Scotland. Edradour's own principle product is the 10 yr at 40pct. The standard 10 year old single malt is unpeated and matured in ex-sherry casks. However, a peated malt is now available as well.

Frozen cobweb at shop entrance.

Bar at Edradour. Apart from whisky tasting, coffee and tea is also available

Shop on left, distillery on right, old maltings at top.

Tour guide describing various specialist whiskies

Video no 1 shows the two stills. Video no 2 provides an overview of the complex-on a cold and frosty morning!

video video


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Abernethy Round Tower, Scotland

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

This evening, I have decided to focus on an important early Christian site in Scotland, namely Abernethy Tower which is located in the village of same name between St. Andrews and Perth in eastern Scotland.

Historically Abernethy was an important Christian site with the primacy of the Church transferring to Abernethy from Dunkeld around AD 865-908 before switching again to modern day St. Andrews. A church (or monastery.nunnery) at Abernethy was founded about AD 460 and dedicated to St. Bridget, perhaps in AD 525.

Although the date of construction is not known, the tower is certainly of great antiquity, dating from around 9th-11th centuries and in turn located on a Christian site dating back to the 5th century. The architecture and differing building materials may indicate that that the tower is an 11th century rebuild of earlier 9th century construction.

Abernethy is representative of a type of tower which is only found in the Isle of Man, Ireland and Scotland. Recently, I visited Ireland and came across the similar Aghagower Tower. These towers may have been influenced by similar buildings in northern Italy. Of course, the local peoples had a long tradition constructing circular buildings so the architecture was not exactly radical. Iron-Age brochs come immediately to mind.

All round towers of this type were free standing and usually situated a short distance from, and with their doors facing towards, the nearby monastic church which in this case would place the church north of the tower.

Ranked against its peers, Abernethy is average in height ( 22 metres or 72 ft.). The wall is 1.07m thick ( 3ft 7") at bottom and 88cm (2' 11") at the top. The interior diameter is a constant 2.515m (8'3"). The walls consist of outer and inner dressed stone layers with rubble in-filling.

The purpose of this type of tower is not known for certain. Speculation includes:

  • Watch Towers

  • Belfries

  • Penitentiary Towers

  • Defensive Structures ( c.f.Vikings)

  • Bell Towers (The Irish name for the towers is 'cloigtheach' or 'house of the bell'.)

  • An aesthetic tribute to God,.

The importance of Abernethy in early medieval Scotland is manifested in the fact that Malcolm III of Scotland met William of Normandy there is 1072 AD. Here the treaty of Abernethy was negotiated which ensured that Scotland did not suffer the same fate as Anglo-Saxon England, i.e. invasion by the Normans.

A very interesting site which I usually include in my tours of the area. There is a pleasant little tea room with books for sale close by.


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Dunkeld Cathedral, Scotland

Monday, November 16, 2009

This evening, I am focusing on possibly the most charmingly situated ecclesiastical buildings in Scotland. The Cathedral sits on the banks of the River Tay which in turn is within the magnificent scenery of Highland Perthshire.

Historically, Dunkeld was an important Christian centre to the extent that, in 849, King Kenneth McAlpin deposited part of the relics of St. Columba at this site. From this date we have some early carved stones, including the elaborately carved Apostles Stone which can be found in the Chapter House and features in video no 2 below.

The present Cathedral building was built in the late medieval era, viz:
  • The eastern limb was started in the mid- thirteenth century and finished by Bishop William Sinclair (1309-37).
  • The Nave was started by Bishop Robert Cardeny (1398-1437) and was eventually completed by Bishop Thomas Lauder (1452-75) who officiated at the consecration in 1464.
  • The South Porch which was extended by Bishop Thomas Lauder (1452-75).
  • The Chapter House. Again, initiated by Bishop Lauder. Building commenced on April 13th. 1457. This structure is a rectangular, two storeyd projection on the north side of the eastern limb. Its function may have been to house ancillary functions of the Cathedral's clergy.
  • The Tower and West Front.This four story tower was, again, commenced by Bishop Lauder.
The building was extensively damaged during the Reformation in about 1560, principally removal of the roof of the Nave subsequent to which the community used the eastern limb for services.

In 1689 the Cathedral, because of its sturdy nature, played a central role in the Battle of Dunkeld when Government troops under Lieutenant Colonel William Cleland defeated a force of rebel Highlanders. Repairs were undertaken by the Duke of Atholl in 1691 and again in 1762. Further extensive restoration took place in 1814-15 and in 1908.

This building is popular with visitors to Dunkeld and is an integral part of the region's heritage.

Note the memorial to the famous local fiddler, Neil Gow which features in video no 3.

video video video


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Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh, Scotland

Sunday, November 15, 2009

This evening, I am posting information on one of Edinburgh's top visitor attractions, namely the Palace of Holyroodhouse. This is conveniently located at foot of the Royal Mile and close to other attractions including the Scottish Parliament and Calton Hill.

Holyroodhouse is a working royal palace and official residence of the British monarch in Scotland.

The Palace originated as a guest house for visitors to the Abbey of Holyrood which was founded as an Augustinian abbey in 1128 by King David I of Scotland (1124-53).

James IV (1488-1513) instigated the conversion of the lodgings into a palace and suitable home for his bride, Margaret Tudor. Extensions and embellishments were undertaken during the reign of James V (1513-42). The palace is closely associated with events surrounding Mary, Queen of Scots short reign during the period 1542-67 including the murder of Mary's secretary, David Rizzio.

Mary's son, James VI (1567-1625) took up residence and instigated further improvements. Anne of Denmark was crowned in the abbey in 1590. However, after James VI assumed the English crown and moved to London the palace diminished in importance. During the English civil war the palace was used as a barracks by Cromwell's troops and suffered damage by fire. Restoration of the palace occurred under Charles II (1660-85) using the services of Scottish architect, Sir William Bruce and the result is, more or less, how we see it today. Subsequent royal visitors/residents include Prince Charles Edward Stuart, George IV, and Queen Victoria.

A tour of the palace will include:

  • James IV's gatehouse fountain.
  • The Great Stair and Royal Dining Room
  • The King's Apartments.
  • The Queen's Apartments.
  • Mary, Queen of Scots' Chambers
  • Remains of the Abbey Church
  • 'Queen Mary' sundial
Self-guided audio tours are the best way to tour the palace.

video video


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Glen Nevis, Scotland

Saturday, November 14, 2009

This evening, I am focusing on Glen Nevis which is a quiet valley but one full of natural interest and steeped in history. Access is via a narrow road leading from Fort William in the Western Highlands.

This Glen (valley) shows the effects of glaciation. As recently as 10,000 years ago Scotland lay under ice sheets up to one mile thick which have left their mark on the landscape. At the foot of the valley runs the River Nevis which has its source at the top of Ben Nevis. At 4406ft (1344m) Ben Nevis is Britain's highest mountain. The prefix Ben is Gaelic for mountain. In common with other parts of Scotland, some of the oldest rocks in the world can be found here. At and around Ben Nevis the rocks have eroded to make a good face for climbing which is one of the many outdoor sports and activities available in and around Fort William.

This Glen is synonymous with the Camerons and was used as a set for the filming of the movie 'Braveheart'.

The image above and video 2 below show Lower Falls which can be found about 2 miles along the valley floor. The other video shows a small herd of Highland Cattle in their natural element.

video video


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Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland

Friday, November 13, 2009

This evening I am focusing on what may well be the most photographed castle in Scotland, Eilean Donan or island of Donan. This castle is strategically positioned at the junction of three sea lochs, Loch Long, Loch Duich and Loch Alsh. This location was important in bygone days when the sea was the major highway. Equally important for modern visitors, the castle is conveniently situated on the route between Loch Ness and Isle of Skye.

The actual site has a history dating back to the Iron Age. In the 13th century there was a castle on the site when it was held by Kenneth Mackenzie. Subsequently, in 1362, the MacRae clan came to the area and became constables of the castle in 1511. After attacks by the MacDonalds in 1539 and the Jacobites in 1715 the castle was ruined and abandoned after bombardment by Government frigates in 1719.

During the early years of the 20th century the castle was rebuilt under the supervision of Lt.Col, John MacRae-Gilstrap and Farquhar MacRae. This rebuild was based on the ground plan of earlier phases of the castle and took from 1913 until 1932 to complete at cost of GBP250K, an enormous sum of money in those days.

Key features of the castle are: Courtyard, Billeting Room, Banqueting Hall, Bedrooms and Kitchen with the latter very much reflecting the style of the 1930s. Outside there is the war memorial plaque which records all those members of the MacRae Clan who died in WW1.

The castle featured in the film the Highlander with Sean Connery and Christopher Lambert plus minor roles in other films and TV programmes.



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Fort William Tour, Scotland

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Today, weather was as predicted-dry in the morning and increasingly wet in the afternoon- so we achieved most of objectives by concentrating on key sites in the first half of the day, viz:

Start 0930 from Distillery Guest House in central Fort William then a short trip down the road to visit Old Inverlochy Castle.This is a substantial ruin on the banks of the River Lochy and dates from the 13th century when it was associated with the Comyn family of Badenoch. The Comyns were powerful establishment figured but were pushed aside by Robert the Bruce in his endeavour to gain control of the Scottish Crown.

Next we move on for a trip down Glen Nevis, a delightful ride around the base of Ben Nevis (Scotland's tallest mountain) and the associated Nevis Range. En route we encountered a very docile herd of Highland Cattle which was quietly munching away on the side of the road.There were no fences and we were able to get the car right up close to obtain a great set of photographs.

Just a short distance from the cattle we arrived at Lower Falls a modest but impressive waterfall set in magnificent Highland scenery. Here we spent about 20 mins enjoying the scenery and taking photographs.

Our next destination was Glencoe about 40 minutes south of Fort William. We drove through the village where the infamous massacre of MacDonalds by Campbells under British military control took place in 1692 and thence to the National Trust Visitor Centre for refreshments and more scenery and photos.

After Glencoe we continued south across the desolate Rannoch Moor down into the Trossachs and our final destination of Luss on Loch Lomond. This is a quaint heritage village on the banks of Loch Lomond where we enjoyed a very pleasant light lunch at the Loch Lomond Trading Company restaurant, However, we were thwarted by the increasingly heavy rain in plans to tour this charming village and churchyard so we headed back to the car and moved on down to Glasgow for final destination of lodgings at the upscale One Devonshire Gardens Hotel in Glasgow's West End.

Overall, the day went more or less to plan for this final day of our round Scotland tour.

The videos below cover the Highland Cattle, Lower Falls at Glen Nevis and Old Inverlochy Castle

video video video


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Isle of Skye Tour Scotland

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Today, we continued to benefit from cold but very clear and bright weather conditions with unseasonal blue sky for most of the day, a combination which showed off the stunning Skye scenery to best effect.

After leaving Portree we commenced our tour of the island with first stop at Kilt Rock and adjacent waterfall. The latter displayed an unusual effect in the form of a rainbow apparently embedded in the sea. See videos 1 and 2 below.

Next, we continued north to the Quiraing, a fascinating rock formation at a high elevation which afforded superb views and vistas against backdrop of sunshine and blue sky. Image immediately below shows the Quiraing. Refer also video no 3 below.

After the Quiraing and an intense photo session we drove across the top of Skye and en-route encountered a buzzard siting close to the road. See image immediately below. next to the village of Uig with hopes of some coffee and refreshment. Incredibly, all three cafes were closed and we eventually persuaded a nearby hotel to assist, this proved fine and we had added benefit of superb views over Uig harbour. See video no 4 below.

After coffee we moved on, first visiting the nearby Fairy Glen and then on to Dunvegan and rest of the island with regular photo stops en-route. Eventually we stopped for a light lunch at Broadford which we extended to incorporate some shopping at a craft shop and a second hand book store.

Finally, we connected with the ferry at Armadale for the short crossing to Mallaig and then drove to our destination at Fort William which is known as a base for various outdoor activities. Unfortunately the drive to Ft William was undertaken in the dark but we did manage to call in at Glenfinnan which shares both Harry Potter and Bonnie Prince Charlie connections.

After settling in at our lodgings we ventured out for dinner at the highly regarded Crannog restaurant where the dining experience lived up to expectations.

Tomorrow we head to Glasgow via Glencoe.

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Great Glen Tour, Scotland

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Today, we benefited from unseasonal sunshine which provided an added boost to the tour experience.

After departing Inverness about 0930 we drove down to Castle Urquhart tracking the River Ness and then Loch Ness itself.

Castle Urquhart is superbly positioned half way down the loch and from this general vantage point magnificent views of the loch can be obtained. The castle (a ruin) is of interest in its own right and benefits from a well run visitor centre. See image immediately below and videos 1 and 2.

After photo opps and some light (calorie controlled?) refreshment (per image below) we moved on down the Glen and then to Eilean Donan Castle on Loch Duich. This romantic castle (rebuilt in the 1930s) was a stunning sight in the bright sunshine which rendered the water surface a mirror like quality. The castle is home to Clan Macrae. Refer also video no 3 below.

Reflections on Loch Duich

Eilean Donan Castle

Next we drove to nearby Dornie for a very good pub lunch and thence on to Kyle of Lochalsh and onward across Skye Bridge to the Isle of Skye.

Once across the Bridge we continued north to the island's capital of Portree where we checked into our Guest House.

Tomorrow, we plan to tour Skye and then connect with the ferry which will give us access to the road to Fort William. Fingers crossed for continuing benevolent weather conditions!

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Highlands Tour Scotland

Monday, November 09, 2009

Today, we benefited from clear, dry but cold weather.

After departing lodgings in Dunkeld, central Scotland, we drove about 20 mins north to Pitlochry where we availed of a tour of Edradour, Scotland's smallest whisky distillery. This was a good value experience.

Here is the overnight lodgings-Atholl Arms Hotel at Dunkeld.

View of Dunkeld

Bar at Edradour, Scotland's smallest distillery. Refer also video clip below.

After Edradour we continued north to Aviemore in the Cairngorms national park. Here we obtained a spot of lunch in this centre for outdoor activities such as hiking, skiing and mountain biking. We noticed snow on the mountain tops.

After a light lunch we continued north to Culloden, site of the last battle on British soil. This took place in April 1746 and marked the final defeat for the Jacobite cause of Bonnie Prince Charlie at hands the British (Hanoverian) army. There is a good interpretation and visitor centre which is run by the National Trust.

Reenactment soldier at Culloden.

Next we drove to nearby Clava Cairns, a prehistoric site dating back some 4000 years and which comprises burial cairns and stone circles. If only we could get inside the minds of our ancestors who built this and similar sites across the British Isles! Here is an image of a well preserved passage grave.

Finally, we headed for our lodgings for the night in central Inverness.

Tomorrow we visit Loch Ness and Skye. Fingers crossed for favourable weather!



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Fife Coast Tour Scotland

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Today, our tour commenced Edinburgh about 0930. After leaving the capital we drove up to Dunfermline to view the Abbey and Royal Palace. Here, we were able to view a Remembrance Day ceremony at Dunfermline War Memorial from our vantage point at the Abbey. Image below shows historic Dunfermline Abbey. Combined with the nearby Royal Palace this site formed one of the most impressive building complexes in medieval Scotland. Inside is the burial of King Robert the Bruce who died in 1329. Video no 2 below shows the Nave of the Abbey Church which is a survivor from the Romanesque style of building in the 12th century.

Next we headed east to the popular fishing village of Anstruther where we availed of a spot of lunch at the famous Fish Bar (good value). Image below shows interior. Video no 1 below shows the port area of Anstruther.

On next to St. Andrews visiting the pretty village/port of Crail en route.

At St Andrews we first visited the famous Old Course (golf) and took pics at Swilken Bridge. Then a walk through the town to the medieval castle and ruined Cathedral. Nice weather and lots of photo opps.

West Beach at St. Andrews. This is where the opening scene of Chariots of Fire was filmed.

St Andrews Cathedral.
St. Andrews Castle

Next we moved on to our overnight destination of Dunkeld which is located on the banks of the River Tay right in the centre of Scotland.

A cold night tonight. Hope for another clear day tomorrow for our trip up to Inverness.

Images and videos to follow. video video


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Day Tour Edinburgh Scotland

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Today, Saturday, proved successful.

We first travelled about 8 miles from centre of Edinburgh down to the famous Rosslyn chapel where we joined the 10.00 am tour. This was of high quality and lasted about 30 mins. Rosslyn Chapel has been vaulted to one of Scotland's top tourist attractions following success of both book and film versions of the Da Vinci Code. Rosslyn Chapel has been connected with the Sinclair family for about 600 years. The Chapel dates from the 15th century, took 40 years to complete and is full of intricate and high quality stone carvings containing symbols and meanings which are not fully understood today. Because of long-term repair work there is the added bonus of access to the roof which also features extensive and decorative carvings plus grand views over the local countryside. Overall, Rosslyn was a good experience. Refer also video clip no 1 below.

Image immediately below is that of the Rosslyn Chapel undergoing repairs.

After Rosslyn we headed back to Edinburgh.

Next stop was Palace of Holyroodhouse which is the British Monarch's official residence in Scotland with origins dating back to founding of an Augustinian abbey in 1128 the ruins of which still exist, adjacent to the Palace. In fact the Palace evolved out of a guest house used by the Abbey. James IV (1488-1513) made the decision to convert the lodgings into a palace. A self-guided audio tour navigates visitors around the magnificent rooms and apartments occupied by the Stuart kings, Mary Queen of Scots and Bonnie Prince Charlie. The architecture of the present building dates from the late 17th century and is impressive. The designs were drawn up by architect, Sir William Bruce. Refer video clips 2 and 3 below for images of the Palace. Fixed image immediately below shows the interior courtyard of the Palace.

This is the ruined Augustinian Abbey adjacent to the Palace.

Next we popped across the road to visit the new Scottish Parliament which is now 10 years old. Controversial external architecture was offset by the well designed debating chamber inside. Being a Saturday no debates were in process. Fixed image below shows the exterior of the new Parliament building.

This is the interior of the Scottish Parliament. Refer also video clip no 4 below.

Final stop of the day was Calton Hill, also known as the 'Athens of the North'. There are two old observatories, a Grecian style National Monument (incomplete) and a tower in form of an inverted telescope as memorial to Lord Nelson, a British naval hero. Moreover, visibility was exceptionally good for the time of year affording us views of the Forth Bridge and Fife Coast as per image below.

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Temple Wood Stone Circles, Kilmartin Glen, Scotland

Friday, November 06, 2009

This afternoon, I am posting information on the prehistoric, Temple Wood circles which form part of the Kilmartin Glen prehistoric landscape in Argyll, West of Scotland.

This site has a long history dating back to 3500 BC and was in use for about 2000 years. The site comprises two circles of which the northern site (image immediately below this text) was erected first, probably using wood. Like many stone circles it may have had an observatory function.

The second (main) circle to the south (image no 2 and video) was constructed about 3000BC subsequent to which burials in cists were added. In one of the cists was found a pottery beaker with arrowheads and these can viewed at the St Mungo Museum of Religious Life in Glasgow.

Carbon dating indicates that the site was still in use about 1400BC.

Archaeological investigations have revealed considerable, detailed knowledge of this site which is easy to access.



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Ballymeanoch Stones, Kilmartin Glen, Scotland

Thursday, November 05, 2009

This evening, I am posting images and information concerning just one facet of the Scotland's major prehistoric site, Kilmartin Glen, Argyll.

These images show the remaining six out of at least seven original standing stones. It is evident they are grouped in two parallel lines, each running south east-north west. The line consisting of four stones includes two stones which are decorated with cup marks and cup-and-ring marks. For detail of these marks see video below. Remember that these carvings were patiently chipped out with only rock tools and hence the carvings required a significant amount of time and skill resources. It appears that each stone in the line of four is slightly shorter than its neighbour, a feature found in standing stones elsewhere in the country. The two stones which stand together are undecorated.

Cremated bone was found under the stump of the missing seventh stone.

These stones may once have formed part of a much larger complex of monuments and earthworks.

An interesting site, which should be viewed in context of the wider Kilmartin Glen prehistoric landscape.

video video


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Willow Tea Rooms, Glasgow, Scotland

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

This morning, I am posting information on one of Charles Rennie Mackintosh's famous designs, namely the Willow Tea Rooms at 217 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow G2. (Note that Sauchiehall means 'alley of the willows'.)

Mackintosh (1868-1928) was a Glasgow born designer and artist. His worked spanned a wide range including jewellery, graphics,, wall decoration, paintings (landscapes and flowers), pottery vases and wood engraving. He also designed domestic use objects such as tables, chairs, cutlery, napkins, carpets, mirrors, curtain fabrics, light fittings, beds, hat stands, wardrobes and clocks.

Mackintosh was notable for his design of buildings in their entirety-foundations, structural steel, ventilation systems and plumbing. The thrust of Mackintosh's work was the design of places to be inhabited.

Mackintosh was not alone, he was one member of the 'Glasgow Four' comprising himself, Herbert MacNair and the sisters Margaret and Frances McDonald. This group worked within the Glasgow School of Art (itself designed by Mackintosh) 1890-1910 and produced a wide range of works including furniture, architecture, panels, embroideries and graphic material.

The Willow Tea Rooms were he brainchild of Catherine Cranston and focused on the provision of a respectable, social meeting place for ladies of the era. Mackintosh was Catherine Cranston's designer for 21 years from 1897 where he worked on properties at Buchanan Street, Argyle Street, Imgram Street and during 1903-4 at Sauchiehall Street where he designed the complete interiors and front facade of the building (shown here) acquired by Miss Cranston in 1901.


Contact me for information on Mackintosh themed tours of Glasgow.


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Kilmartin Church, Argyll, Scotland

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

This evening, I am focusing on the extensive collection of medieval grave slabs at Kilmartin Church, Argyll in the West of Scotland. The slabs shown in the videos below date from the 14th-15th centuries and are classified as from the Loch Awe School. It will be noted that the carvings show swords, crosses and armoured figures. However, inscriptions are rare and hence little is known of the slabs' social context.

For visitors planning to tour the prehistory sites in Kilmartin Glen, a stop at the church is worthwhile, both to view the slabs and view the Glen (valley) from a high aspect. The church is close to the museum and information centre at head of the Glen.

video video


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Achnabreck Prehistoric Rock Art, Scotland

Monday, November 02, 2009

This site can be found at the southern end of Kilmartin Glen which itself is packed with tangible evidence of our prehistory forefathers as manifested in standing stones, stone circles and burial cairns.

The 'artists' at Achnabreck used a pre-existing canvas in the form of hard, ice-smoothed metamorphic rock. (During the ice-age Scotland was covered in glaciers up to one mile deep.)

The driver, purpose or function of these carvings is not known, we can only speculate on the mindset of the peoples who inhabited the area some four thousand years ago.

Motifs include:

  • Cup at he centre of concentric rings.

  • Oval and round cups of varying sizes.

  • Cup and duct at the centre of concentric rings.

  • One group of cup-centred rings cuts into another.

  • Cup and rings with long ducts.

  • A horned spiral
Overall, there are some 323 carvings comprising 183 cup marks, 135 cup and ring marks, 2 spirals and a few other designs. Some key features:

  • All carvings with four or more concentric rings have at least one radial groove.
  • The majority of grooves run downhill
  • The carvings are virtually invisible in the noonday midsummer sin but very prominent in low midwinter sun.


The visitor to Kilmartin Glen should include this site in the tour.


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Inveraray Castle, Scotland

Sunday, November 01, 2009

This afternoon, I am posting information on one of Scotland's top visitor attractions, namely Inverarary Castle in Argyll on the West of Scotland.

This Castle is inextricably linked with Clan Campbell whose chief resides at the Castle to this day.

The Campbells moved to the present site on Loch Fyne from Innischonnell Castle (a ruin) during the late 15th century.

The 1st Earl of Argyll built a conventional (by the standards of the day) fortified Tower House but two centuries later, after creation of the Dukedom, this building was deemed inappropriate. The 2nd Duke of Argyll thus embarked on construction of a grand mansion to reflect his family's standing and wealth.

Working from an original idea by Sir John Vanbrugh, the architect Roger Morris was commissioned to design the building under the guidance of Duke Archibald. Morris engaged the services of the famous Scots architect, William Adam and his two sons John and Robert. William Adam was contractor and overseer but died in 1748 and then, a few months later, Morris also passed away. These developments left the two Adam brothers to complete the work with John the principal influence. The interiors were mainly the work of Robert Mylne (1734-1811).

The foundation stone was laid in 1746 but completion was not achieved until 1789. This slow programme was no doubt influenced by the need to bring in materials by sea as roads were very poor in the 18th century. Also, the town of Inveraray had to be rebuilt at this time about one mile away in order to make space for the new Castle. This project placed extra claims on materials, resources and finance.

The Castle suffered major fire damage in 1877 and 1975 but in both cases restoration was carried out with the Castle now in good condition. The Castle is home to Torquhil, the 13th Duke of Argyll and MacCallein Mor (Clan Chief) and his family.

Inside, the Castle offers a wealth of art, antiques, rich decoration , furniture and an armoury. The Castle is open to visitors who can admire the highly decorated State Dining Room, Tapestry Drawing Room, China Turret, Armoury Hall, Saloon, Gallery, Clan Campbell Room and Old Kitchen. There are also impressive gardens dating from the 1870s.

South front of Inveraray Castle

Main entrance (North)

Bridge with Loch Fyne in distance.

The Castle is open April-October and has tea room facilities. Popular with visitors and a convenient stop on the route from Glasgow to Oban, Fort William and Inverness.



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