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Issue 37 - Off the beaten track

Scotland Magazine Issue 37
March 2008


This article is 10 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Off the beaten track

Sally Toms enthuses about Scotland's tucked away treasures.

Hello again and welcome to another packed edition of Scotland Magazine. In this issue you will find an assortment of treasures; we’ve got whirlpools and Cold War bunkers, mysterious Iron Age structures and treasure hunts; Dominic Roskrow has an emotional moment atop a mountain in Kintail, and Liz Pickering highlights some of Scotland’s most unmissable attractions, some of which may surprise you. Because that’s what we try to do here at Scotland Magazine. Of course we’re proud to feature the fivestar castles and houses and abbeys etc – they’re the most visited quite often because they’re the best – but Scotland is also full of hidden and highly unique places to visit.

I don’t know about you but I hate crowds and absolutely loathe queuing. It’s something the British are supposed to be good at, but standing in line and getting a glimpse of something in a glass box as you file past has never been my idea of a good time.

Some of Scotland’s best attractions were just not built to accommodate lots of people. More often than not there’s a velvet rope separating hoards of other trampling feet (including yours) from a dusty room and a bed that Mary Queen of Scots once slept in.

All very fascinating and you want to just stand there and soak up the history. Actually what you really want to do is get in there and have a good look round, but you can’t because of the rope, and because someone else is standing behind you clearing their throat impatiently and waiting for their turn in the doorway.You constantly feel harried, and politeness dictates that you don’t linger.

I don’t mean to be hard on Scotland’s castles and country houses, some have been adapted for the thousands of annual tourists perfectly well, and if you can get there on a quiet day, even better. But I firmly believe the less obvious places to visit, or the places you stumble across by chance, can be infinitely more rewarding. The people are friendlier, and the place tends to be much better value.

Such places are like secrets, which makes you reluctant to share.

Silly really, because without visitors these treasures will cease to exist, and yet, you don’t want everyone to know in case the velvet ropes come out.

So, in the spirit of sharing, one of my favourite places recently discovered is the Port Logan fish pond. For a start, the Mull of Galloway is just beautiful but sadly this whole corner of Scotland is often overlooked. The fish pond is a totally unique Victorian relic. It was once a kind of living larder for the laird, who was fond of a fish supper or two, but now is a most unusual aquarium. It is best described as a cliffside hollow, about 30 feet across and almost as deep with a pond at the bottom fed by the cold green Irish Sea. You can buy a bag of fish food from the gift shop and feed the fish. Not colourful tropical fish mind-you, but local residents such as cod, turbot, plaice and so on. It’s just delightful.

I happened upon it in one of my favourite guidebooks of last year, Far From The Sodding Crowd, which is full of similarly unique attractions around the British Isles. This book speaks to me: I am somewhat obsessed with small, kitsch and slightly eccentric places, which perhaps comes from spending my formative years sandwiched between two of the south west’s premier visitor attractions: Barometer World and the Gnome Reserve.

Luckily Scotland is full of these treasures, and I’m still discovering more. Next stop is the Wicker Man’s legs. Fabulous!