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Issue 71 - 10 Best country parks

Scotland Magazine Issue 71
October 2013


This article is 4 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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10 Best country parks

?Keith Fergus visits some of Scotland's best open spaces

1 Clyde Murshiel Regional Park Scotland has three Regional Parks and the largest, covering 108 miles, is Clyde Murshiel, a status it has enjoyed since its inception in 1990. Sitting above popular towns such as Largs and Greenock, much of the park crosses open moorland as well as a good portion of the Ayrshire/Inverclyde coast. Clyde Murshiel’s main focal points include Lochwinnoch, Castle Semple Loch, Lunderston Bay and Greenock Cut and subsequently the park takes in sections of Inverclyde, Renfrewshire and Ayrshire. There are fabulous views across all of these regions whilst a diverse landscape means the flora and fauna is equally wide-ranging – roe deer, lapwing, snipe, curlew, oystercatcher, swans, buzzard, sparrowhawk, hen harrier, meadow pipit, common hawker dragonfly, green hairstreak butterfly, snowdrops, bluebells and fungi are just a few examples of the wildlife that can be found in and around Clyde Muirshiel. There are several superb walks to be enjoyed where points of interest, like the 16th century Castle Semple Collegiate Church and the magnificent Greenock Cut aqueduct, can be visited.

2 Pentland Hills Regional Park Sitting just a few miles from Edinburgh’s urban sprawl, the Pentland Hills Regional Park has a sense of wildness throughout much of its 22,000 acres. This is in part due to the magnificent range of the rolling Pentland Hills, which dominate much of the surrounding landscape - Scald Law, at 579 metres, is the highest point of the park. People have exploited the countryside here since prehistoric times and there is evidence of hill forts on Castle Law and Caerketton. There are also over 100km of paths criss-crossing the park providing a myriad of magnificent vantage points, some intriguing history and geology (certain rocks date back around 400 million years to the Silurian period) and many opportunities for outdoor activities such as walking, cycling and fishing – Glencorse Reservoir is particularly beautiful and popular. Furthermore the diversity of habitat means roe deer, otter, mountain hare, squirrel, lapwing and kestrel may well be spotted when exploring this outstanding park.

3 Lomond Hills Regional Park The Lomond Hills Regional Park was designated as Scotland's first in 1986 (at that point it was named Fife Regional Park but was given its present derivation in 2003) in recognition of its importance for recreation and conservation. This compact and picturesque park contains East and West Lomond Hill, Fife’s most prominent landmarks (at 522 metres West Lomond is the highest point in Fife) and from the summit of each the views extend across Fife, Perthshire, Stirlingshire and beyond – the Pentlands, the Ochils and the Southern Highlands are some of the hills and mountains on show. As well as the Lomond Hills the 65 square kilometre park covers parts of the River Leven Valley, Balbirnie Park, Lochore Meadows Country Park and parts of Benarty Hill, taking in hills, open countryside, woodland, parkland, lochs and rivers. Four reservoirs (Ballo, Drumain, Holl and Harperleas) sit within the park boundaries and with many miles of paths and tracks.

4 Galloway Forest Park Galloway Forest Park is the largest in Britain, covering approximately 300 square miles and containing more than 250 lochs and around 1 million trees. Even with such a vast covering of woodland the term ‘forest park’ is essentially a misnomer as the park also contains a broad sweep of moorland and hill, including Corserine, Shalloch on Minnoch and The Merrick, Galloway’s highest mountain. As well as these high points there are also some superb, low level woodland walking and cycling trails to enjoy. Galloway Forest Park was also designated Europe’s first Dark Sky Park in 2009 due to the lack of light pollution and so long after the sun has set it still has much to offer, particularly for stargazers and astronomers. Furthermore, with such a broad mixture of landscape the wildlife is suitably varied and a wildlife watchers dream: red squirrels, pine marten, otter, black grouse, golden eagles, red deer are just a selection of what resides within the park. Three superb visitor centres, at Glen Trool, Clatteringshaws and Kirroughtree, are all ideal places to begin any visit.

5 Brodick Country Park Sitting only a couple of miles from Brodick Harbour, Brodick Country Park has been one of the most popular visitor attractions on the Isle of Arran since its foundation in 1980. It is Britain’s only island country park and has been owned by the National Trust for Scotland since 1958. It sits beneath the dramatic setting of Arran’s craggy mountains, including the highest point, Goat Fell, and has a wonderfully varied landscape, from 10 miles of waymarked trails, gorgeous woodland, waterfalls and wildlife ponds. At the park’s centre is the 14th century tower house of Brodick Castle. The Hamilton family, who became Earls of Arran in 1503, built much of the castle we see today in the 16th century and the interior is equally as impressive as the red sandstone façade. Surrounding the castle are beautiful gardens, which include a Victorian walled garden, a pond garden, the national collection of rhododendrons, an icehouse, a limekiln and a Bavarian summerhouse.

6 Eglinton Country Park Eglinton Country Park is positioned inbetween the Ayrshire towns of Irvine and Kilwinnng and has the ruin of Eglinton Castle at its centre. The castle was built in 1802 for Hugh Montgomerie, the 12 Earl of Eglinton, and was used by Archibold, the 13th Earl, to host ostentatious medieval style events in 1839, drawing around 80,000 visitors. Only a small section of the castle remains today but the park continues to be popular with visitors. Officially opened in 1986 Eglinton Country Park has since welcomed visitors to enjoy its compact grounds, which includes, as well as the castle, an excellent visitor centre (and the Tournament Café), a walled garden, Eglinton Loch and Belvedere Hill, which has an impressive folly on its summit and some fine views, particularly west to Arran’s distinctive profile. Waymarked walking and cycling trails also add to the appeal of this wonderful little country park.

7 Chatelherault Country Park The name Chatelherault originates from the French town of Chatellerault and, due to close links between the Auld Alliance of Scotland and France in the 16th century, the title of Duc de Chatellherault was presented to James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Arran, in 1548 and subsequently the Duke of Hamilton. Chatelherault Country Park, near Glasgow, was formerly the estate grounds of the Duke of Hamilton and surrounded the magnificent Hamilton Palace. Chatelherault Hunting Lodge was built in 1734 by the renowned architect William Adam to provide estate buildings, stables and kennels for James Hamilton, the 5th Duke of Hamilton (1703-1743). Hamilton Palace was demolished in 1921, but the hunting lodge remains and grants a truly breathtaking focal point to the 500-acre Chatelherault Country Park. Avon Water cuts its course through a deep gorge and the woodland is stunning during autumn and alive with flora and fauna in spring and summer.

8 John Muir Country Park John Muir, the Scottish naturalist and explorer, who is regarded by many to be the father of modern conservation, was born in Dunbar in 1838. The John Muir Country Park nestles amongst the stunning East Lothian coastline at Dunbar and was named after this local hero. Although he moved to the USA aged 11, his formative years spent in the town may have sown the seeds of his ideas and ideals and the park is a fitting legacy to the man who established the concept of National Parks. As well as the ruins of Dunbar Castle, which sits precariously above Dunbar’s attractive Victoria Harbour, there is a spectacular cliff-top trail to follow, the broad sweep of Belhaven Bay to explore and far reaching views of Bass Rock, North Berwick Law and Fife’s Lomond Hills to enjoy. Coastline, river estuary, woodland, grassland and saltmarsh mean that there are over 400 species of plants as well as plenty of birdlife including kittiwake, skylark, meadow pipit and ringed plover.

9 Haddo Country Park Approximately 20 miles north of Aberdeen’s city centre is Haddo Country Park, which was opened in 1980. The park is beautifully maintained and was originally part of the designed landscape of Haddo Estate - it is listed in the Inventory of Gardens and Designed Landscapes in Scotland because of its wonderful use of early 18th and mid 19th century landscape styles. Surfaced paths lead around the grounds, which includes a deer park, mixed woodland, and a loch. There are several interesting buildings and ornamental features to be seen when exploring the park, including a Bronze Age stone circle, the stunning Golden Gates and Haddo House. Commissioned by William Gordon, the 2nd Earl of Aberdeen, and designed by the distinguished architect William Adam, this incredible mansion house was completed in 1735 and is set amongst equally beautiful gardens. It is also home to a magnificent art collection and has been cared for by the National Trust for Scotland since 1978.

10 Camperdown Country Park Opened to the public in 1949, Camperdown Country Park is Dundee’s largest park, covering over 400 acres, - the park’s boundaries also include Templeton Woods and Clatto Reservoir. The combination of parkland, woodland and open water means different species of wildlife are prevalent within the park including treecreeper and red squirrels. The park is named after the victory of Admiral Adam Duncan and his Royal Navy fleet who defeated the Dutch in 1797, a little off the Dutch coast, at the Battle of Camperdown. Duncan was born in Dundee in 1931, the son of Alexander Duncan of Lundie, Provost of Dundee. In 1828, Robert Haldane-Duncan, 1st Earl of Camperdown, and son of Adam Duncan, built Camperdown House, designed to a Neo-classical style by the architect William Burn. It was bought by Dundee Council in 1946 and since 2003 has been open to the public, displaying much of Dundee and Admiral Adam Duncan’s maritime history.