Roslin Glen Country Park

at roslin glen country park

I bid Scotland farewell in April but there are still a few places I’m very keen on sharing with you, one of which is Roslin Glen Country Park.

Yes, I am talking about THE Roslin, home of Rosslyn Chapel which draws a constant stream of foreign visitors throughout the year thanks to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. Yes, THE Roslin where Dolly the cloned sheep was brought to life.

Personally, I’d never felt the urge to read Brown’s book and so I’d never felt the urge to visit the chapel. Nor had I ever dreamt of visiting the birthplace of Dolly. Seeing her stuffed cadaver at the National Museum of Scotland was quite enough, thanks very much. So I bypassed those attractions.

One weekend, however, I found myself looking for parks in and around Edinburgh and stumbled across Roslin Glen Country Park, which happens to be next to the aforementioned chapel and just down the road from the Roslin Institute.

Roslin Glen

The park’s trails stretch north-east and south-west of Rosslyn Castle. It’s easy to forget you’re so close to a big city when you’re wandering along the narrow paths which wind along the steep, forested banks of the River North Esk. Wear sturdy footwear and keep a close eye on younger hikers because there are all to many loose stones and tree roots to trip on.

In fact, no matter your age, make sure you don’t get too distracted by the captivating views across the river to the cliffs and caves on the other side. The long route also takes you past the former Gunpowder Mill Gates, the carpet factory and further reminders of the region’s industrial past which can be admired close up.

Practical advice

We hopped on Lothian Bus number 15 to get to Roslin Main Street and walked to the park from there. The journey takes about 45 minutes from central Edinburgh. Of course, there is a car park in the glen for those with a vehicle of their own.

It’s certainly worth taking refreshments since you can lose track of time all too easily, only to suddenly realise you’re rather peckish and thirsty with no shops nearby.

Union Canal, Edinburgh to Falkirk

Edinburgh Union Canal

“There’s a canal in Edinburgh?” asked my bewildered flatmate upon hearing about my weekend walk. Why yes, yes there is and it’s quite the hidden gem. Union Canal is 32 miles long and stretches from Edinburgh to Falkirk where it’s linked to the Forth & Clyde Canal via the famous Falkirk Wheel, a boat lift and engineering masterpiece.

In Edinburgh, the canal’s Lochrin Basin can be accessed very easily from the West End, just off Fountainbridge, behind a bar called Cargo. Ironically, you’ll see banners outside advertising Union Canal as Edinburgh’s best kept secret. Residents of Polwarth and other canalside neighbourhoods have many other routes to choose from as well.

canal bridge edinburgh

Once at the canal, the canalside path on the right hand side can be walked or cycled all the way to Falkirk with plenty to see and do along the way. Along the few-mile stretch of the canal from the West End to Slateford you’ll find two cafe boats for refreshments, many greedy ducks to feed, benches for admiring the wildlife and passers-by and a couple of rowing and canoe clubs. If you’re lucky, you can also watch the beautiful old Leamington Lift Bridge in action, letting barges pass through.

Many commuters use the route to get to and from work on foot or by bike, families teach kids to cycle and row here, and ramblers come out at weekends to stretch their legs. Edinburgh University boat club practices here too. Union Canal path is quite the happening place!

wintry Union Canal Edinburgh

In Slateford, the canal crosses the Water of Leith so you can pop into the Water of Leith Visitor Centre or choose to venture along the river path instead of the canal if you’d rather stay within the confines of Edinburgh city.

If you do make it to Falkirk in a day, trains run regularly between the town and Edinburgh. Or you could look into renting a barge for the return journey.

Alternatively, if you start your walk in Falkirk, you can check into the Four Sisters Boatel at the end of the day. The boatel is moored at Lochrin Basin and boasts rave reviews on Trip Advisor.

What else is there to do and see along the way? Do tell.

Pentland Hills Regional Park

colinton community compost

Pentland Hills Regional Park is less than an hour’s bus ride outside Edinburgh city centre. Indeed, all you need to do is hop on Lothian bus number 10, grab the top floor front seat and enjoy the journey to Torphin, the final stop on the route, just outside Colinton Community Compost centre. This’ll set you back a mere £1.40 – the price of a single ticket. Car owners can park at Bonaly Car Park which is signposted from Colinton. Then you are free to roam the hills or play a round of golf on the scenic course which boasts views across the city of Edinburgh.

pentland hills regional park

Paths criss cross the hills with some routes leading through woods, others passing Scottish Water reservoirs and almost all letting you greet some sheep along the way. Watch out for the droppings…
Weather permitting, it’s pleasantly relaxing to lie down in the heather and take in the incredible views of Edinburgh, the Firth of Forth and Fife far away in the distance. Definitely worth bringing a picnic.

pentlands edinburgh bypass

Bear in mind that you shouldn’t expect total seclusion. The Pentlands’ proximity to Edinburgh means the park can get overrun by keen ramblers at weekends, many of whom bring dogs.

Depending on how far in the hills you venture, you can also almost constantly hear the distant drone of traffic whizzing along the Edinburgh City Bypass.

pentlands stone walls

Spring is a lovely time to visit Pentland Hills Regional Park for the flowers. What route would you recommend to best admire the flora and views?

pentlands view towards edinburgh

Enchanted Forest, Pitlochry

pitlochry enchanted forest

T’was a chilly October evening when I set off to discover the Enchanted Forest in Pitlochry with two Bulgarians in tow. To visit had been a dream of mine ever since I first heard about the annual outdoor light and sound show in my first year at uni.

Every year in October, a forest just outside the Perthshire tourist town of Pitlochry is transformed into an enchanted kingdom ruled by druids in long gowns, and unicorns. Faskally Wood is the ideal setting for enchantment. Its dark and mysterious loch, towering trees, and rugged rocks would look glorious enough on their ownsome, but their natural beauty is only further enhanced by moving lights in greens, reds, purples and blues, flickering to the rhythm of the music.

faskally wood pitlochry

A very well organised event, the Enchanted Forest sees ticket holders transported to the woods by shuttle bus from the town centre so you can travel to Pitlochry by public transport (train or bus) or car and leave it in the central car park. Heated public toilets and refreshment kiosks are available on site for all your needs, and what I found most wonderful is the fact that all paths are wheelchair and buggy accessible.

At various points along the walk, friendly druids and unicorns share their tales of the forest. This year, we got to learn about Celtic symbols and their meanings, and got instructed to touch a unicorn’s hoof but refrained. Why, you may ask? Because touching a unicorn’s hoof means giving up on doing bad deeds for the rest of your life! Unsurprisingly, I didn’t see a single soul agree to touch it, regardless of its inviting, moonlit silver sheen. How boring the world would be without that all important element of bitchiness.

enchanted forest

We were among the luckiest visitors as not a single drop of rain fell during our time in the Enchanted Forest. The loch was calm as can be, only adding to the overall experience with its stunning reflections. Of course, the music was also at its purest and most enjoyable, tugging ever so gently at everyone’s heartstrings.

Indeed, a must-see Scottish attraction if there ever was one. I do highly recommend you pay the 2013 edition a visit, or hurry to snap up any last remaining tickets for this year’s show that runs until the 27th October.

Back home I realised my wellies had helped me transport a considerable amount of the forest to Edinburgh. For this misdemeanour I offer my sincere apologies to the Forestry Commission… And I do sincerely recommend you wear wellies and warm, wooly clothing during your visit.

– Red

Isle of Skye by Public Transport

Sligachan Skye

Having spoken to many people about their trips to the famous Scottish island, no one bar myself and Miss Canada has been brave enough to travel to and around the Isle of Skye by public transport. Cool points to us!

It was the end of April when I came across a train ticket deal that seemed too good to be true: a mere £20 for return tickets from Edinburgh to Kyle of Lochalsh that’s just across the water from Skye (with our Young Person’s Railcard discount). Frantically, I got in touch with all my friends to see who was free to go in the middle of June.

And so it was that Miss Canada and I found ourselves boarding the 6:30 am train to Stirling, the 7:30 am connection to Inverness and later train to Kyle of Lochalsh. On the last leg of our journey, we were joined by a group of teenage girls who asked us if we’d mind if they played some music. Expecting them to whip out their iPods I wasn’t best pleased but grunted “OK” nonetheless, only to be surprised when they started playing live Scottish folk music instead. As it turned out they were on their way to the National Centre of Excellence in Traditional Music in Plockton. It was the highlight of our journey that day as we sped through the Highlands to the sounds of violins and a flute.

Kyle of Lochalsh Station

Once we’d arrived safely at our destination, we had a few hours to kill until our bus so we stopped off for a snack at Kyle of Lochalsh’s surprisingly international deli: Buth Bheag. This gave us the energy for the next leg of the journey which was crossing the bridge to the island. It’s a beautiful walk and, fortunately, at this point it was sunny and clear so we had fine views across the water.

Kyleakin is the village closest to the bridge on the other side, and from there we caught the Citylink bus to Sligachan, our final destination for the day. A tiny settlement at the foot of the Cuillin mountains, it is home to an old inn, and Sligachan Bunkhouse, our dwelling for the night.

After an evening walk along the local mountain trail and a very good night’s sleep, we set off on the 8 mile walk to Carbost, the home of Talisker Distillery. We managed the hike and arrived on time for a delicious seafood lunch at The Old Inn right on the very shore of Loch Harport where we were served by a lovely Hungarian who liked Skye so much it was his second season working there.

We’d heard the Talisker Distillery tour is a must so we sauntered along after lunch and sipped on our complimentary wee drams which were much appreciated after a few hours hiking in the wind. The guide took us through the whole process of making the renowned whiskey that has seen a drop in production this season due to the lack of rain needed to feed the local springs! Fortunately, they have quite a few casks of 50 year old Talisker to crack open to make up for the loss if need be…

Our bus (one of two a day) to Portree, the island’s “capital” arrived right on time. Unsurprisingly, we were the only passengers. Once there we checked into Bayfield Bacpackers, our home for the night where we got chatting to our roommates from Canada and Switzerland. Most people staying at the hostel had arrived with tour groups organised by Rabbie’s and Haggis Adventures, both very well known tour operators who run near-daily trips from Glasgow and Edinburgh. Everyone recommended eating at Cafe Arriba so we went there for afternoon tea and weren’t disappointed. They have a fantastic, international menu that changes every day.

Quirang Skye

Day 3 of our adventure led us to Quirang which some people might recognise as the setting for the opening scenes of Prometheus. It’s a stunning rock formation near the island’s northernmost tip where you can get to by bus from Portree’s central square. We got to know our bus driver well as he circles the Trotternish part of the island three times a day, all three of which we joined him for that day.

After our windy walk across Quirang, we decided to head over to Uig, Skye’s port that connects it to places like Talbert and Lochmaddy on the Outer Hebrides. Uig isn’t the most hopping of places but it is home to a lovely cafe where we whiled away the hours drinking mugs of extremely cheap hot drinks.

Back in Portree we headed out for a long walk along the bay, and had a seafood dinner in one of the many harbour-side restaurants. We were upset our trip had almost come to an end. That night we had new roommates from the US and Germany. In general, the island was flooded with Dutch and German tourists, most travelling by camper van and all willing to share their stories and recommendations.

Isle of Skye Bridge

On Sunday morning it was time to leave, and we hopped on the morning Citylink to Glasgow but got off in Kyleakin to walk across the bridge again. It was a lovely way to bid farewell to the Isle of Skye but I know I’ll be back.

Don’t hesitate to visit the island even if you don’t have access to a car. As long as you’re a keen hiker (which you should be if you want to visit Skye), you’ll be fine with public transport.  Long live the Traveline Scotland website for providing up-to-date information!

– Red

(P.S. I do realise I’ve committed a terrible blogger crime by neglecting my blog for over a month. Life just got in the way this time.)

Doune Castle: a Weekend Treat

Doune Castle

Scotland’s stunning scenery was one of the reasons why I decided to stay here after graduating. I was ashamed at how little I’d managed to see in the four years I’d spent at Stirling Uni. But it’s not so easy to get to these beautiful places without a car. And so it is that many students spend their four years cocooned in the close-knit university town community without even realising what kind of wonders await just half an hour’s drive away. Doune Castle is one of them.

near Doune Castle

My Lithuanian and I ventured to Doune last Saturday as it would have been a shame to spend such a warm and reasonably sunny day indoors. Though we chose not to explore the castle itself this time (f.y.i. it costs £5), we wandered along the paths that surround the area and take in a lot of the local scenery. One of the trails promised a lot of wildlife sightings but we failed to spot any living creatures apart from the occasional fellow hiker. There’s a beautiful wee spot where two rivers – the Teith and the Forth – join forces and where you can sit for hours just staring into the distance. The only thing that might put you off is the wafting smell from the waste water treatment plant right nearby…

Doune Castle’s a bit of a special place for us as it’s where we had one of our first dates (aaw I hear you say).

– Miss Red

Bracklinn Falls, Callander Revisited

This weekend I revisted my beloved Callander just a hop and a skip away from Stirling. After stocking up on meringues at the lovely Mhor Bread bakery on the High Street, my three Lithuanian companions and I ventured further to one of our dearest spots, Bracklinn Falls, a place of natural beauty that never ceases to amaze. The weather wasn’t the most delightful so we stayed warm by running through the heather, playing a bit of football and snacking on the gooey meringues.

At one point the sun came out to play and produced a series of rainbows. We chased one to the end but someone had already gotten their hands on the pot of gold…