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Issue 37 - Ones not to miss

Scotland Magazine Issue 37
March 2008

 

This article is 9 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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Ones not to miss

With so much to offer the visitor, how do you select the best places to visit during your travels in this wonderful country? Liz Pickering selects 10 of the best.

A northern retreat Nestled around a harbour on the northeast coast of Scotland, the pretty village of Helmsdale has many attractions for those staying in the village or using it as a base to explore further afield. Pan for gold at the site of the great gold rush of 1869 at Baile an Or and Suisgill, or journey downriver to the Strath of Kildonan, which has its own rich history and abundant wildlife.

The beautiful beaches in the area are some of the best in Scotland to find fossils from the Jurassic period, and the village itself offers a variety of diversions, whether you are interested in fishing, crafts, good food or local history. The mountains and wetlands of Sutherland are within easy reach, as are the whisky distilleries and the Orkney Islands.

With a tumultuous past and a vivid backdrop, Helmsdale is unforgettable as a holiday destination.

Tourist Information Strath Ullie, The Harbour, Shore Street, Helmsdale KW8 6JZ Tel: +44 (0)1431 821 402 The pride of Scotland The Burns Heritage Park in Alloway, Ayrshire, lays open the life of Scotland’s National Poet, and the inspirations behind the poetry that has travelled across cultures to be loved by people around the world.

Visitors can explore the small cottage where the poet was born, and view many personal items housed in the Burns Cottage Museum, giving a real insight into Burns’ formative years, his numerous love affairs and the inspiration he found among the Ayrshire countryside around him.

Follow the route of Tom O’Shanter to Alloway’s auld haunted kirk and across the Brig O’Doon, or see the beauty of the Ayrshire countryside firsthand from the top of the Burns Monument.

Burns’ poetry is widely thought to have restored the pride of the Scottish nation at a troubled time in its history, and no visit to Scotland would be complete without paying homage to this national treasure.

Tourist Information Burns National Heritage Park, Murdoch’s Lone, Alloway, Ayr KA7 4PQ Tel: +44 (0)1292 443 700 Web: www.burnsheritagepark.com Image of our ancestors Skara Brae on Orkney is a prehistoric farming settlement dating back 5000 years, discovered after a wild island storm uncovered its remains.

Unlike some archaeological sites where it can be difficult to get a sense of how the place worked and what the buildings looked like, Skara Brae is compact, well preserved and visually striking. The stone walls are set inside earth mounds, originally midden (or household waste), and inside the houses you’ll find beds, seats, dressers and boxes, along with recesses for personal possessions and hearths where the people would have burned heather or seaweed.

Next to the site a replica house fills in the gaps in our imagination, and the visitor centre contains many original artefacts from the village.

Skara Brae offers a unique insight into the hardships of daily life on Orkney 5000 years ago, and has its own special place in Scotland’s heritage.

Tourist Information Near Stromness, Orkney, KW16 3LR Tel: +44 (0)1856 841 815 Web: www.historic-scotland.gov.uk Dreams of steam Welcome aboard Waverley! The last seagoing paddle steamer in the world, Waverley inspires nostalgia in the most hardened seafarer. A 1947 replacement of the original Waverley built in 1899, she is fully restored to her original splendour, carrying up to 800 passengers and including two fully licensed bars, a dining saloon, observation lounge, souvenir shop and ‘Jeanie Deans’ tearoom.

The ship is popular with steam enthusiasts, who will know exactly what is meant by a ‘2,100 horse power triple expansion diagonal steam engine.’ In fact you can see what this means for yourself, because the magnificent engine room is open to public view.

Whether you choose Waverley for a short trip to reach another destination, or make a day of it to experience old-fashioned luxury and a great view of the coast, a journey on this famous ship is a must for anyone who can appreciate Victorian engineering at its best.

Tourist Information Waverley Excursions Ltd.

Waverley Terminal, 36 Lancefield Quay, Glasgow G3 8HA Tel: +44 (0)845 130 4647 Web: www.waverleyexcursions.co.uk Island escape Wild and remote between the west coast of Scotland and the Isle of Skye, Rona is uninhabited except for Bill Cowie, the resident caretaker and manager. The island appears desolate from the sea, but has a character and charm that seduces its visitors, whether staying on the island or visiting for the day.

Rona was inhabited until the 20th century, most of its residents having abandoned the island by 1922, and the ruins of their stone houses remain now as monuments to the people who lived off the land in extreme conditions.

Visitors can retrace the steps of the islanders, and observe the diverse bird and marine life around Rona. The thriving wildlife includes sea eagles, puffins, porpoises and several species of whale.

Seeing these rare animals from the untamed hills or harbours of Rona can awaken the awestruck child in even the most sophisticated city dweller.

Tourist Information Broadford, The Car Park, Broadford, IV49 9AB Tel: +44 (0)1471 822 361 Web: www.isleofrona.com A human timeline If Skara Brae shows us a snapshot of prehistoric island life, Jarlshof on Shetland shows us the evolution of a settlement, from the Bronze Age settlers in their oval houses, to the Iron Age brochs and wheelhouses, the long houses of the Vikings, the medieval farmstead and finally the laird’s house of the 16th century.

The site was occupied continuously for 4000 years, each generation building over the last and now uncovered in one of Scotland’s most important archaeological investigations. Jarlshof has been excavated to reveal each stage of its history in order, so we start our visit at the Bronze Age and finish at the Old House of Sumburgh, which was built by Earl Patrick Stewart and abandoned by the end of the 1600s.

Jarlshof paints an impressive portrait of the changing communities and lifestyles of Shetland residents over 4000 years.

Tourist Information Tel: +44 (0)1950 460 112 Opening hours: Open summer only from April to September 9.30am to 5.30pm every day.

Admission: adult £4.50, child £2.25, concession £3.50 Religious history Scotland’s gory history often had severe implications for the Church. St Andrews Cathedral was no exception, and although all that remains now is a ruin, the cathedral was once the greatest and longest church in Scotland. It was the seat of the Scottish Church, incorporating two earlier churches on the same site. The earlier St Rule’s Church still has its tower, and at a height of 100ft this would have been an imposing and extraordinary sight for the early pilgrims who travelled there.

The cathedral took 150 years to build and was consecrated in 1318 in the presence of Robert the Bruce, but the building was beset by problems and eventually the monks were expelled during the Reformation. What remains is still an impressive building, and an essential part of the vibrant town of St Andrews.

Tourist Information VisitScotland Fife, 70 Market St, St. Andrews, Fife KY16 9NU Tel: +44 (0)1334 472 021 Scotland’s Cold War When people plan a visit to Scotland, they might be thinking of castles and lochs or cosmopolitan cities, but most would be surprised to learn about the part Scotland was set to play in the event of a nuclear disaster. Hidden 100ft underground, inside 15ft thick walls of reinforced concrete, and approached via a tunnel underneath an innocuous looking bungalow, the Secret Bunker was, as you may have guessed, secret. The Bunker was to have been the control centre of central government if the need arose, and includes six dormitories designed to sleep up to 300 personnel, a Nuclear Command Room, broadcast studio, computer rooms, and well sized accommodation for the Secretary of State.

This is certainly not a laugh-a-minute visitor attraction, but instead gives us a rather serious insight into the world of the 1970s Cold War.

It is one of Scotland’s more unusual but nonetheless significant tourist destinations.

Tourist Information Scotland’s Secret Bunker T/a, Scotcrown Ltd, Crown Buildings, Troywood, Fife KY16 8QH Tel: +44 (0)1333 310 301 Email: mod@secretbunker.co.uk Opening hours: Friday 14th March 2008, until the end of October 2008, seven days a week 10am last admission 5pm Admission: Adult £8.00, child £5.00, concession £6.50 Aloch less travelled No one would dispute the natural wonder of Loch Ness or Lomond, but there are many other lochs in Scotland, attracting fewer visitors and in some ways they are the better for it.

Running lengthways through the Cowal Peninsula, Loch Eck is a magnificent six mile stretch of water bounded by steep forested hills. Its combination of natural drama and peaceful tranquillity makes Loch Eck a very special destination for those who value expansive views, fresh air and a slowing down of time. The calmness of the place is best understood by taking long walks or fishing for salmon, trout or fresh water herring. Walks in the surrounding area could take you to Carrick Castle, or through great stretches of the Argyll Forest Park, or to the world famous Benmore Gardens.

Tourist Information Argyll, The Isles, Loch Lomond, Stirling & Trossachs Tourist Board Loch Lomond & Clyde Area Office, 7 Alexandra Parade, Dunoon, Argyll PA23 8AB Tel: +44 (0)870 720 0629 Aclan’s history Duart Castle at Craignure on the Isle of Mull was the setting for generations of betrayal and bloody intrigue among the Clan Maclean. If legend is to be believed, family members were routinely kidnapped and murdered. Added to their domestic turbulence, the Macleans suffered for their political alliances, and after a long struggle the castle was surrendered to the Duke of Argyll for the last time in 1691.

It wasn’t until 1910 that the castle was purchased by 26th Chief Sir Fitzroy Maclean.

The castle was extensively restored and an Edwardian house built inside the outer wall.

Seen from the sea the castle still stands proud on the cliff top as a strategic fortress, watching over the sound of Mull, Loch Linne and the Firth of Lorne. Perhaps Duart Castle does not have the majesty or architectural brilliance of some of Scotland’s greater castles, but the fascination lies in the lives of the people who came and went from Duart.

Tourist Information VisitScotland Stirling, Argyll & Forth Valley The Pier, Tobermory, Isle Of Mull, PA75 6NT Tel: +44 (0)1688 302 182