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.

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Where to Eat in Edinburgh

A selection of tried and tested places to eat in Edinburgh.

There’s barely anything I like more than eating out. Of course, it’s never pleasant to leave a restaurant unsatisfied. Fortunately, in Edinburgh that’s unlikely, so good is the selection of eateries in the city.

So, whether you’re a local or a visitor, these are just some of your many options. Bon appetit!

Coffee shops/Coffee & Cake

Casa Angelina – The vintage tea room is tucked away in a London Street basement next to a sauna. Don’t let that put you off! You have to try the classic afternoon tea served on three-tiered cake stands. You may also want to try the divine soups and salads.

lovecrumbs edinburgh

Lovecrumbs – Always hard to choose from the selection of cakes presented in a vintage cupboard. Also, always hard to choose a table since you have options such as the retro piano and the windowsill. Delectable baked goods. Would be hard to find hipper servers.

Freemans – Set in a beautiful building near the Meadows. Everyone loves a bit of mismatched vintage furniture, excellent coffee, tasty sweet treats and lunch. A favourite among the local student population and trendy young families.

Project Coffee – The perfect coffee stop for anyone walking in the Bruntsfield/Morningside/Marchmont area of town. Can always be relied on for a good brew, cake and hearty bowl of soup. Undertstated interior. Trendy coffee drinkers.

Brew Lab – Quite possibly the most-talked-about coffee shop in Edinburgh. The design and feel of the place were largely influenced by coffee drinkers on Reddit whom the owners consulted prior to the opening. Chemex, V60 and other specialist coffee making “machinery” all available. Lunch and cakes available too. Feels like what I imagine Portland to be like.

Brunch and Lunch

Broughton Deli – Order anything and you’ll love it. Soup, sandwiches, salads and a selection of main courses. Fresh ingredients, perfectly seasoned. The bread and butter pudding is a highlight. Gets very busy at lunchtime. Learn to pay when you order instead of queuing again later.

manna house edinburgh

Manna House Bakery – A French bakery in the most unassuming of places on Easter Road. Freshly baked goods galore as well as a fine selection of salads. An excellent place to go for bread, the crunchy loaves are to die for.

Circle – Has never failed to deliver an impeccable lunch. The ingredients are fresh as can be. Choose from the regular menu and specials board. Many dishes feature halloumi cheese. The chocolate chilli cheesecake, brownies and flapjacks are mouthwateringly good. It’s hard not to like the staff.

Blue Bear – One of Edinburgh’s all day breakfast spots, serves up a splendid cooked breakfast and Eggs Benedict/Royale. Nice selection of fresh cakes and scones.

Dinner

Gardener’s Cottage – An utter treat in London Road Gardens. Dine from a set, six-course menu assembled from the freshest local ingredients. Guests are seated at communal tables in a tiny cottage which used to be the chief gardener’s. Candles and old school records make for a gorgeous atmosphere. You can see the chefs at work in the kitchen too. The menu can be tailored to suit dietary requirements.

Russian Passion – Homemade Russian soup, salads and melt-in-your-mouth pelmeni or dumplings cooked to order right before your eyes. Feels like sitting in a suburban Moscow kitchen. Genuinely friendly service by the proud cooks, two Russian ladies. Reservations are a must and food must be pre-ordered.

Beirut – Go here hungry or regret having had a big lunch. The banquet meal for two or four is a must. Dig into the Lebanese-style tapas but remember to leave enough room for the main course of grilled meat (veg option available too) and the baklava dessert.

10 to 10 in Delhi – Often overlooked due its better known neighbour, Mosque Kitchen, this little cafe is much more pleasant for a sit-down meal. The curries are ridiculously cheap and filling, the lassi is delicious and desserts are recommended. Don’t come here expecting anything fancy, it’s a neighbourhood cafe for low key dinners.

Leven’s – A restaurant with a futuristic spa ambience. You’ll know what I mean when you see it – water features, orchids, floating candles and serene music set the scene here. Exquisite, very flavourful dishes from Thailand. Extremely polite waiters will tend to all your needs.

Noble’s – A pub in Leith with wood panelling and stained glass windows. Not only does it boast a lovely interior, but also a superb menu with a lot of seafood. Enjoy live music while you feast.

The Compass – A neighbourhood pub near the Shore. Very welcoming and very cosy. The menu features quite a few British favourites and Scottish hits like cullen skink. A place where you can rock up in jeans and a hoodie and feel at home.

Inverlochy Castle Hotel

Inverlochy Castle hotel

Inverlochy Castle Hotel is the closest thing to heaven I’ve ever experienced. The luxury castle hotel is tucked away in its own estate just outside Fort William which makes it easily accessible from both Glasgow and Edinburgh by train. Alternatively, if your budget stretches far enough, you can arrange for Rolls-Royce or helicopter pickup pretty much anywhere in Scotland. In the words of my lovely other half: “For this, you might need to remortgage your house.”

A stay at the five star hotel complete with a Michelin restaurant doesn’t come cheap but, boy, is it worth it. From the minute you enter through the ancient wooden doors you’re attended to by a team of impeccable staff who are genuinely interested in your wellbeing and comfort throughout your stay.

inverlochy castle hotel hall

If you arrive too early for check in, you’ll be ushered into the drawing room and served refreshments of the highest caliber. Meanwhile, your luggage will be taken care of.

It’s easy to lose track of time at Inverlochy Castle Hotel. There’s something to be admired wherever you look, from the pristine furnishings and decor to the stunning artwork adorning the walls. Also worth seeing is the collection of elk heads in the snooker room, shot in North America by the late owner of the estate.

inverlochy castle drawing room

I can’t comment on all the rooms but ours was incredibly spacious with a blue, yellow and floral theme, a TV, Bang & Olufsen sound system and other expensive details. The bathroom featured both a bath and a shower and boasted a full set of Penhaligon’s toiletries.

Dinner is served in a room furnished with antique tables and cabinets gifted by the King of Norway in the mid-20th century. You’d best know your cutlery before dining here. Don’t fret if you’re not a wine connoisseur, however, as there’s a sommelier on hand and you’re given thirty minutes before dinner to browse the wine book, whilst enjoying your amuse-bouches.

Everything we ate was divine and beautifully presented. Local seafood and game feature heavily on the menu. I recommend opting for the cheese board for dessert as it’s like no other I’ve ever seen. Expect a waitress to arrive at your table with a silver tray loaded with around ten cheeses, some Scottish, others French.

After dinner, it’s a pleasant surprise to walk into your room which has been prepared for the night – duvets turned down, curtains drawn, night lights on.

The bed linen of goodness-knows-what-high-thread-count guarantees a good night’s sleep, unless you suffer from post-cheese-board nightmares!

inverlochy castle snooker

Breakfast is once again served in the dining room with a view across the loch and hills in the distance. Again, there is a menu to consider and you’ll leave very energised for the day ahead. By breakfast time I felt a little less intimidated by the grand surroundings and highly enjoyed the opportunity to people watch. As a 24-year-old and 29-year-old couple we were the youngest guests by far. Some guests seemed to be regulars while others were obviously visiting Scotland from afar. Remember to bring posh clothes to fit in! In the evenings it’s suit and tie only in the dining room.

We were sad to have to check out, so unwilling in fact, that we popped back in the afternoon for a cheeky break and beverage before departing for our bus.

Inverlochy Castle hotel chess

Photos by Grafyte.

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.

Glen Coe Throughout the Seasons

glen coe autumn

In 2013, Glen Coe is perhaps best introduced as the setting for that epic scene from the latest James Bond movie, Skyfall, in which Daniel Craig and Judi Dench are stood at the side of the road gazing thoughtfully into the distance beside the now iconic Aston Martin. Many parts of the blockbuster were filmed in and around Glen Coe, a Scottish jewel.

It’s also the site of the Massacre of Glencoe, a bloody event in 1692 which saw many members of the local MacDonald clan killed for avoiding to pledge allegiance to William and Mary.

glen coe snow

On your average day, Glen Coe is a prime destination for hillwalkers and winter sports aficionados. The famous West Highland Way snakes through its valleys and across the mountains. Other paths join it along the way, some of which are less taxing than others. So, you’ll find something appropriate for all levels, provided you’re suitably kitted out in walking shoes and outdoor gear.

Last weekend, we saw a family with three children braving the Devil’s Staircase path on a cold winter’s day with knee-deep snow in parts. I’d never seen happier or healthier kids, all wrapped up in wind and rainproof clothing, and wearing protective goggles to shield their eyes from the face-slapping snow.

wintry glen coe

For a less extreme adventure, you might want to visit during the spring or summer months. Views are less likely to be obstructed by rain, snow and fog.

Expect stunning mountain views dotted with the occasional tree, a fair few rocks, streams and quaint old cottages. Deer and rams are also commonplace and can be friendly.

deer at kings house hotel

Visit the deer family that likes to hang out outside the Kings House Hotel, a 17th century inn which I can personally recommend for food and lodgings. The hotel gathers travellers from all walks of life and even has a token Aussie seasonal worker manning the bar.

Dig into warming Scottish classics like haggis, poached salmon and curry. Yes, you can have curry in the Highlands. Curry in the Highlands! Nothing quite like it after a day on the slopes at Glencoe Mountain Resort or hiking in the hills.

glen coe cottage

(Wintry photos by Grafyte)

Spas in Castles and Manor Houses

houstoun house uphall

Nowadays, many of Scotland’s former castles and manor houses are home to hotel and spa complexes. It’s a great way to use some of the space available in these huge estates and residences.

You’ll find spas throughout the country from the Borders in the south to the Highlands and Islands up north. Some are accessible by public transport which makes them much sought-after weekend destinations. Advance bookings are therefore advised.

In most cases, treatments can be booked individually or as part of a package deal. As an example, we recently went to the spa at Houstoun House, a resort managed by the Macdonald Hotels group. This was a corporate spa day.

houston house courtyard

The aptly-named Stress Buster package included two 25-minute treatments (massages and facials), use of the spa facilities (pool, sauna, steam room, gym, lounge area) and a bento box lunch. Priced at £59 per person during weekends, we felt this was very reasonable.

Houstoun House is conveniently located close to Uphall Station, a mere 18-minute train journey away from central Edinburgh.

If you’re based in a city during your stay in Scotland and don’t have time to travel outwith, some of the big classic hotels house spas as well. For example, The Scotsman in Edinburgh, the Stirling Highland Hotel and Mar Hall just outside Glasgow.

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