I thought I would introduce Scotland to my many friends in Thailand, after browsing some photos I took in 2015, whilst touring my home country.
Scotland is a land of great beauty with wondrous mountains, silky lochs and splendid rivers. It is a land steeped in history, with castles galore, many of which are still well maintained.
My first image is of Glenfinnan Viaduct, which opened for business in 1901. It is part of the Fort William to Mallaig route. The image you see may be familiar to some of you, for the bridge and train have been used in TV and films in recent years and features in four Harry Potter movies.
It has 21 spans or arches carrying a single track over Glenfinnan, an area which is renowned for its beautiful scenery and history. If you ever plan to visit this location, bear in mind there is a small hike up to the viewpoint from the car park. It is steep and over rough ground at times, often proving to be an arduous trek.
My next offering is the romantic Eilean Donan Castle, which can be found on the A87 a few miles south of the Skye Bridge. The castle is built on a small island and accessed via a bridge from the mainland.
The castle dates from 1214 in one form or another and has a fair bit of history, which I will not bore you with, for it is covered in many websites around the internet. It is probably the most photographed castle in Scotland.
Next we head further south to what is often regarded as the gateway to the highlands – Glencoe. This is an area of astounding beauty, with mountains on either side of the road, most of which I have scaled in my hillwalking days. Glencoe is a place that I adore.
On the left there is the gorgeous Buachaille Etive Mor and Buachaille Etive Beag, which translates to the Big and the Little Shepherds. These two are the mountains you see when you enter the glen from the south. Each mountain contains easy going ridge walks, once the steep sides have been scaled, with the former being the superior both for walking and views, in my humble opinion.
However none of these are the highest peak in the range; that honour belongs to the magnificent Bidean nam Bian, which reaches the dizzy heights of 3770 feet above sea level. Here you will also find the famous Three Sisters, which are the three spurs of the mountain. Across the road and dominating the skyline is the Aonach Eagach Ridge, one of the most splendid ridge walks in Scotland.
At the top of the Glen is the village of Glencoe, and the scene of the infamous massacre of 1692, when the clan MacDonald were slaughtered by guests, they had welcomed into their homes. Those who escaped and fled into the mountains on that cold fateful morning, died from hypothermia as they were exposed to the elements.
Back to the castles of historic Scotland, this time in the south of the country near the town of Dumfries. Here we find the moated Caerlaverock Castle, which is of a triangular shape and quite unusual as castles go. The original castle was constructed in 13th century. This is actually the second building as the first one was situated a few hundred metres away, was abandoned in favour of the current one.
It is set in a picturesque locale and well worth a visit, especially if you venture out on a nice sunny day.
Sweetheart Abbey is located in the town of New Abbey a few miles south of Dumfries in the south of Scotland.
The Abbey of Dulce Cor to give it its correct title was built in 1275 and once again is a stunning structure. I will refrain from going into the history once more and let those who are interested, use the brilliant Google to learn more.
The Ailsa Craig. A rock that was part of my upbringing for I would observe this small rocky island almost every day of my life, being from the west coast of Scotland.
Paddy’s Milestone as many people call it, sits in the Firth of Clyde approximately ten miles from the small seaside town of Girvan.
Despite viewing the Craig on a multitude of occasions, I never ventured out to the island until a couple of years ago, when I was touring the country almost every day. I joined one of the trips from Girvan and was given a circular tour and an hour on shore to look around.
The island is formed from granite, which was was quarried for many years to produce curling stones, mainly because of the quality of the blue hone granite. The evidence is clear when you land, that there was a lot of activity back in its day but of course it is now uninhabited.
The western side of the island, which many people never see, is now a bird sanctuary and is home to thousands of gannets and puffins. This can only be seen from the sea as there is no suitable landing point and the cliffs make it impossible to descent from the summit.
There is a small castle on the eastern side, which was constructed in the late 1500s. It was also used a jail for over 100 years, although I have no idea who would be kept in such a prestigious and remote prison.
The lighthouse was completed in 1836 but has was automated in 1990. What shocked me was the presence of railway lines, which makes sense when you think about how they would have transported the granite to the small dock. This was horse drawn. Now my guide on the day also informed me of small inlets where the islanders kept pigs, which if memory serves me correctly, were for feeding the workers of the quarry. There were goats and rabbits, which were introduced to feed the workforce too.
Ailsa Craig is a must visit for anyone but make sure you get the boat that lands and circumnavigates the island to get the most of your day. It is also worth noting that the craft that you sail in, is a small converted fishing boat. I would tend to avoid choppy conditions at sea.
I will conclude this post with a few images of what I would determine as “A trip of a lifetime” – St. Kilda.
“Where” many will ask and to be honest, until a few days before I made the trip I had never heard of it either. St. Kilda is an uninhabited island 80 miles off the coast of Skye and 40 miles from the nearest land, which is North Uist on the western coast of Scotland.
I had little time to prepare for this spur of the moment trip, so my journey in what was an upmarket speedboat for four hours turned into a nightmare due to sea sickness and verging on hypothermia as I was ill prepared. However the skipper and his guide were on hand to ensure that I was kept safe and well and that I enjoyed the remainder of the trip.
The island once hosted a small population of up to 180 people but was evacuated in 1930, mainly because the younger men were leaving the island for better lives elsewhere and thus the remainder of the older generation and women, could not provide for themselves. They relied on the youths to scale the sea stacs to collect eggs and birds for food. Until tourism became popular the islanders had been left to their own devices for centuries but once the boats began landing, the young men departed with them. This was the start of the downfall of the island.
Disease killed many in the 1920s and failed crops took its toll and with only 36 inhabitants left, they were evacuated before they died of starvation.
Above you can see one of my photos of one of the sea stacs taken from the boat. The men would climb these rocks in their barefeet to gather eggs and birds. A tough old life.
The island is now in the hands of the National Trust, who have restored many of the cottages and turned them into what they would have looked like back in the mid to late 1800s.
It has become a world heritage site, which protects the island and its wildlife to ensure it will be there for many years to come. They have an indigenous breed of sheep and mouse, found nowhere else in the world.
There is a military presence there too, with personal that rotate all year round but no one is in permanent residence.
My final image is of 4 inch Mark III QF gun, which was installed during WWI but never saw action.
St. Kilda is a magnificent place and if you follow the rules, they will even let you camp there but they are very strict, so be prepared. The journey even on a calm day is horrendous. It is fine from Uig on Skye until you pass between the Isle of Harris and North Uist, where the seas become very rough. The boat bounces along the water, which is not great if you suffer from sea sickness, which a few of us did, in a big way. However, I enjoyed my time on the island and the trip back was good with no one being sick.