Threave Gardens, Dumfries and Galloway

azalea walkway

We visited Threave Gardens during our recent four day trip to Dumfries and Galloway and we got there at the perfect time, just as the rhododendrons and azaleas were looking their best. The nearest town to Threave is Castle Douglas.

azalea walkway

It’s very weird but when I was there I didn’t even notice the electricity wires in this photo, or the shadow, too busy looking at the plants I suppose.
azalea walkway
This was originally a private estate but I believe it is now used as a horticultural training centre and the students have accommodation in what was the estate house – very nice I’m sure. The house is of course in the Scots Baronial style.
Threave House

There’s a wee burn running through the gardens in the Japanese section.
Burn at Threave Gardens
It wouldn’t be a Japanese Garden without a bridge and acers of course.
Japanese Bridge + Pond

Japanese Bridge

And a wee bit of a waterfall too. It was a boiling hot and very bright day, in fact too bright – not that I’m moaning.
cascade at Threave Gardens

If you’re into gardening you should definitely visit Threave. They have a great plant nursery there with lots of plant varieties that feature in the gardens for sale, so of course I just had to purchase some. In my experience it’s rare to be able to buy plants that you’ve actually seen growing in gardens like this one and it drives me nuts that they don’t bother to make the most of the commercial possibilities. Whoever runs Threave has got it right!

I took lots more photos but I’ll save the rest for another time.

Torhouse Stone Circle, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland

I don’t think I had even realised that there were standing stones in south west Scotland, which was daft of me because there must have been quite a lot of travelling to and fro between that part of Scotland and Ireland, even way back in the times when such stone monuments were being built.

So I was surprised to see stones in a field right next to the road we were driving along. It was the Torhouse Stone Circle, a bronze age monument. We stopped to have a closer look, and the sheep that we had disturbed in the field scattered and pushed themselves back into the neighbouring field.
Torrhouse stone circle
On the other side of the road there are just three stones and some broken bits standing in a field. The stones are nowhere near as large as the ones in Orkney, but they’re still atmospheric and intriguing and these ones have the added attraction that you’ll probably have them all to yourself when you visit them, unlike those in more touristy areas. I like the lollipop shaped tree in the distance.

Torrhouse  stone circle + lollipop tree

St Ninian’s Cave near Whithorn, Dumfries and Galloway

St Ninian's info board

When we were in the county of Dumfries and Galloway (south-west Scotland) recently we decided to visit St Ninian’s Cave which is near Whithorn. It’s apparently a place that St Ninian – the man who brought Christianity to Scotland way back in the 390s – used for contemplation and prayer. I must admit I hadn’t realised it was quite that long ago. It’s really a very small cave nowadays, but probably over the years it has suffered from rock falls and been eroded by the sea.

St Ninian's cave

When we reached the car park for the cave a bus full of school children and teachers complete with guitars had just disembarked. So we decided to race on ahead of them so we could reach the cave before them and sample the atmosphere better. It was apparently a walk of a mile or so, it seemed longer, through woodland before reaching what is a really beautiful beach full of the most interesting and lovely stones I’ve seen on any beach. It was slightly misty though.

St Ninian's beach from cave

pebbles

The cave is still a place of pilgrimage for Christians and a lot of home made crosses large and small have been left there, and also flat stones which have been painted with the names of loved ones who are presumably no longer with us.

crosses

crosses

To reach the cave you have to trudge over 400 yards of a beach which isn’t at all easy to walk on, when we left the area the kids on the school trip hadn’t begun to do it. They were being preached to – poor souls. No words were needed, it’s just a beautiful peaceful place. I’m glad we got to it before its atmosphere was filled with Kumbaya, or maybe it would have been Morning Has Broken.

I’m not at all religious but this is a very nice place to visit, even on a sea misty day.

flowers , St Ninian's beach

Dumbarton and the River Clyde

Back at Dumbarton Castle again, and you get some lovely views from there, below is the River Clyde, looking over to its south bank.

River Clyde

And below looking over to Langbank on the other side of the river from Dumbarton. Obviously I took these photos at low tide, but when the Queen Elizabeth II was launched at Clydebank just a few miles down the Clyde this is exactly where I stood to watch her sail past. I was still at primary school and the whole school walked there to see her and wave at the captain.
River Clyde

If you look to the left in the photo below you should just be able to see the Erskine Bridge in the distance.
River Clyde

The photos below were also taken from Dumbarton Castle Rock although this time looking inland. As you can see there’s a lot of house building going on at the moment. The land around there was the Sunderland aircraft factory during World War 2 I believe, so it was a busy place.
Dumbarton Crags
The photo below is of the area just to the right of the photo above, of Dumbuie and Dumbuck which used to be a huge mountainous rock but sadly when I was about seven they started to quarry it and now there’s hardly anything left, it’s like a big hollowed out tooth. I still mourn for what was the original Dumbuck. I hate quarries.
Dumbuie, Crags

When I was about 13 they started building new houses on farmland which was exactly where I used to walk to get to the top of the hills. I couldn’t believe it and feared that eventually there would be no hills left to walk on at all, but they must have decided that the area was too steep for housing, which it is. I noticed that the houses that are being built now near the Clyde have about a dozen stairs up to the front door. I’m not surprised as being so close to the river they’re in danger of flooding. Rather them than me! Dumbarton was a nice town to grow up in, where I lived anyway, on the edge of town but like many places it has sadly deteriorated, the scenery is still good though.
a pano from castle

Dumbarton Castle and environs

Dumbarton Castle and Rock

Last week I was at Dumbarton Castle which is an old friend to me as I used to play around it when I was a wee girl as I lived not far from the castle. It might be a disappointment to some people as it’s not much of a castle really, well not like Edinburgh or Stirling. But Dumbarton was the ancient capital of Strathclyde, so it’s more of a fort and has been used as such since at least AD 450. Built on a volcanic plug, as is Edinburgh, it’s located at a strategic point where the River Leven meets the River Clyde.

Dumbarton Castle and Rock

Over the centuries it has been well used and at one point a lot of French Napoleonic War prisoners were housed at the castle. Below is a photo of the prison but I believe that they were also living in a part of the castle which is now a ruin.

French Prison at Dumbarton Rock

You have to be fit to visit Dumbarton Castle as it has stairs all over the place. I used to think it was 365, they said there was one for every day of the year when I was a lass, but now they must have re-counted. I’m sure I saw a sign saying 555 stairs, all I know for sure is that my knees knew all about them the next day!

Dumbarton Castle stairs, Dumbarton Rock

Mary Queen of Scots sailed to France from here in 1435 when she went there to marry the Dauphin. But long before that it suffered attacks from the Vikings. It’s a very historic place.

I thought these photos might be of interest to people who have read Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles as the town is mentioned quite often in the books. Sadly the photos don’t do the distant mountains justice.

View from Dumbarton Rock

A few weeks ago there was a rumour going around the town that Prince Harry and wife would be given the title of Earl and Countess of Dumbarton. Wishful thinking I thought – so I was amazed to discover today that it is indeed true. I suspect that one day they will visit the town, the Georgian house (below) within castle is still used for special events, usually by the army. I just hope that nobody shows them the actual town!

Georgian House at Dumbarton Castle

There are guns aplenty scattered around the walls and strategically placed information boards.

View from Dumbarton Castle

Guns at Dumbarton Castle, Scotland

Dumbarton Castle

A country walk in Fife – part 2

I hope you’ve had a nice wee rest after that last walk in Fife. It’s time to get back to the last third of it which will bring us back to the small town of Markinch in Fife.

We’re going gently downhill now and on the right hand side of the path there’s a wooded area with piles of large stones, all moss covered now but it seems that this used to be a mill which has been overtaken by nature since it became disused years and years ago.

mossy stones
The mill stream is still running though, although I would call it a burn as we’re in Scotland. I love running water and can’t resist stopping and having a good look for any wildlife there might be around in it.

a burn in Fife
As we walked around in a big loop I suppose the farmland in the background must be the other side of the fields that we saw earlier, or not that far from them anyway.
a burn in Fife

But it seems that wherever you are in Scotland you’re never very far from a flock of sheep! Apparently years ago there was a large house in this area but it was demolished and only the smaller buildings have been left standing.
sheep

If you look carefully you’ll be able to see the walled garden which belonged to the large house though. In the photo they don’t look that tall but they must be at least ten feet high I think. I’m now wondering if it has also been totally abandoned or if a nearby small house has taken it over. It’s all so Secret Garden-ish and I’d love a look around inside those walls.
Braes Loan, walled garden

As you can see we’re now nearly back at Markinch where we began this walk, you can see the spire of the 12th century church (St Drostan’s) in the distance.
Braes Loan, Markinch
By the time we reached the town I was glad that we had parked the car there as the long walk back on what was for us a hot day would have been too much to contemplate. That was a very gentle walk, just 2.5 miles and no doubt we’ll be taking longer ones this summer – weather permitting.
Markinch, Braes Loan

I hope you enjoyed stretching your legs a wee bit!

A country walk in Fife, Scotland

Come on, it’s time to get some fresh air and go on our first springtime walk of the year. This place is called Braes Loan and it’s a walk we hadn’t done before. Just 2.5 miles long I think – so easy peasy! It begins in Markinch and loops up and around part of the town ending very close to where the walk began.

Braes Loan, Markinch

The narrow lane above is quite steep as you would expect from a place called ‘brae’ – it’s Scots for hill, and it isn’t long before you get to farmland with views of the much higher Lomond Hills in the background.

Farmland and Lomond Hills in Fife

I took these photos on Saturday the 23rd of April, it was probably the warmest day we’ve had this year, not that it got any warmer than about 60 F, but it was still a very pleasant change from our long cold winter weather. How do you feel about wind turbines? Some people hate them, including a certain POTUS who is miffed that some are going to be visible from one of his Scottish golf courses, but I like them, in the distance anyway. It’s the golf courses that blight the landscape in my opinion, certainly in Fife (the home of golf) where we have just far too many of them!

Fife farmland

The view on the left hand side of the path is of woodland, and I like these old stone steps that lead to another path through the woods, we’ll take that path another day.

Braes loan in Fife

Onwards and upwards, the trees will not be quite so bare now, nearly three weeks since I took these photos.

Braes Loan path

But the celandines were happily showing their cheery wee faces in the sunshine.
celandines

There’s some kind of crop beginning to grow in this field, I’ll have to go back later in the year to find out what it is. In the distance you can see the small and historic town of Markinch.
Markinch in Fife

As you can see we’re still walking uphill, although it does even out from time to time so it’s not a relentless hike up. It seems to me that no matter what the month is in Scotland you’ll be able to find gorse or ‘whins’ as it’s called in Scotland in bloom, it fairly brightens the place.

Braes Loan, Fife, whins

I think the photo below was taken more or less at the highest point of the walk. It’s a bit hazy but in the distance you can see the River Forth which is several miles away. Surprisingly there are a few lonely scattered houses in this area and they obviously want electricity, hence the annoying wires in the photo – how very dare they!

Fife, River Forth, Scotland

Suddenly we reached a road and more or less flat land where there were a few horses looking for some human company. The small village in the distance goes by the poetic name of Star of Markinch and at one point the author Annie S. Swan lived here with her husband.

Star of Markinch

I don’t speak ‘horse’ and when they amble up to me it seems to me they always have something in mind, I find it a bit alarming. I just end up stroking their noses tentatively, while looking out for flashing teeth getting too close for my comfort!
horses

I’ve got a fair idea though that as I backed away from them they were saying – Oi! Come back, what – no apples? What was that all about then! There’s no doubt about it, horses find me disappointing.
horses , Fife

We’re about two thirds of the way through the walk now but we’ll take a break now and finish it off another day. If this is your first country walk for a while you’ll be needing a break. I hope you enjoyed this breath of fresh Fife air as much as I did!

Dunkeld in Perthshire

It was a sparkling afternoon in October I think when we visted Dunkeld again, just for a walk around the place. Perthshire is well known for having lovely trees.

sheep

Walking around the edge of the cathedral brought us to these sheep that are in the normal sheep stance – head down and chomping away.

Dunkeld sheep

The banks of the River Tay are very close to the remains of the cathedral, so the grass there is manicured compared to the rest of the riverside. It’s a nice place to sit and is just a hop and a skip from the wee town.

River Tay at Dunkeld

The Tay is really a thing of beauty, swift, clean and somehow honest looking, certainly when I compare it with my recent visit to the River Severn. Don’t fall in though! One of our ‘boys’ once kicked our football into it when he was a youngster, I think he thought we would be able to get it back – no chance.

River Tay

Sometimes they have the salmon season opening ceremony at Dunkeld, they pour some whisky into a quaich which is a two handled Scottish drinking vessel and throw it into the river as a blessing. Nowadays if you catch a salmon you have to put it back in the river, after taking photos of it of course. Conservation is important.

One year I remember they had to crack the ice to get a boat onto the river, but I can’t find any videos of that freezing year. I did find one of the 2018 ceremony at Kenmore though, another wee place I’m fond of and I’ve added it to an old Kenmore blogpost of mine. So if you enjoy listening to a pipeband and you’re interested in seeing a River Tay fishing season opening ceremony have a look here.

Fortingall, Perthshire

Way back in August last year we visited the Highland Perthshire village of Fortingall. The village is well known foor its ancient churchyard yew tree which is thought to be over 5,000 years old, apparently the oldest living thing in Europe. Over the years the yew tree has died in the middle, leaving a cave like space in the middle, so sadly there’s no massive tree trunk to hug! Tourists over the years cut bits off the tree as souvenirs so a wall and railings were built around it for protection.

Fortingall Yew

There has been a church there for centuries, the original one dating from the 8th century, but the church there now dates from 1901.

Fortingall Kirk
The surrounding landscape is typical hills covered with what looks like a Forestry Commission plantation. I hope that fewer of these are going to be planted in the future as they don’t look great en masse and when they do cut them down the place is always a scene of devastation.

Fortingall Hills
I believe that it was the local MP who had these gorgeous Arts and Crafts design houses built for the locals, lucky locals I say!
Fortingall Arts and Crafts

Fortingall Arts and Crafts

But the more traditional Scotish houses such as the one below are lovely too, this one had a lovely garden.

A Fortingall house

It looks like an idyllic village, but as always – I wonder what it’s like for young people to live there. I suspect they would just be stuck in the village unless they have parents willing to provide a regular taxi service for them.

Fortingall Arts and Crafts
However there’s a lovely burn for kids to play in in the summer, that’s something that we all did as kids but I have a nasty feeling that parents don’t allow their children to have fun messing about in burns nowadays.

Fortingall Burn

Fortingall is a very small village but like lots of far-flung places it seems to have a great community spirit, when we were there they were having an art festival and quite a few well known artists were exhibiting.

You can see more images of Fortingall here.

Loch Lomond and Ben Lomond

One day last week we had to drive over to my beloved west of Scotland, it’s only around 70 miles away but it’s very different from the east coast. Below is a photo of Ben Lomond, I don’t remember ever seeing it with so much snow on it before.
Snow on Ben Lomond

There was still plenty of snow piled at the side of the roads on the way there, but by the time we got to central Scotland, the Stirling area – it had disappeared. We couldn’t resist stopping at Loch Lomond to take this photo of Ben Lomond capped with snow. I was brought up just a few miles away from here and in the summertime, in the days when we actually used to have decent summer weather, I used to walk here to visit my older married sister who lived nearby.

In Scotland the largest hill in any area is called ‘ben’ and locally that one will always just be known as ‘the ben’.

Snow on  Ben Lomond

We drove onward to Arrochar and Tarbet where what had been a gorgeous day turned briefly quite grim with rain, so no photos were taken but you can see some images of the area here.

I took the photo below of Loch Long whilst we were driving along, it reminds me of the Norwegian fjords with those layers of mountains in the background.

Loch Long
Then we drove over to Rhu and Helensburgh by a very skinny road which twists and turns and has ups and downs reminiscent of a big dipper ride. We breathed in at times whenever a 4×4 was coming from the other direction. You can see images of Rhu and Helensburgh here.

It’s a pity there are so many trees lining the loch as it can be quite difficult to get a glimpse of it at times.
Loch Long

The only place that you can stop is when you reach the Ministry of Defence area, where my dad used to work in fact, straight ahead it’s a blot on the landscape, all military metal, nuclear nonsense and razor wire, but looking back up Loch Long it does feel very Nordic.

Loch Long

Loch Long

A walk around Helensburgh and coffee at The Sugar Boat ended a perfect day out.