A Sense of Belonging to Scotland by Andy Hall

A Sense of Belonging to Scotland cover

We were recently given a copy of this beautiful book – A Sense of Belonging to Scotland by Andy Hall. It contains a collection of sumptuous photographs of Scottish scenery – the favourite places of Scottish personalities. The book was first published in 2002 and features a real mixture of people who have written about their favourite place and the photograph that Andy Hall has taken of it is on the facing page.

Most of the personalities chose beautiful scenery as their favourite place but I had to laugh when I saw the photo of author Ian Rankin’s favourite place – it is the pub sign of The Oxford Bar in Edinburgh.

It features fifty people’s favourite places – Kirsty Wark, Iain Banks, Jimmy Logan, Barbara Dickson, Sally Magnusson, Sir Ludovic Kennedy, Gregor Fisher, Rikki Fulton, Evelyn Glennie, Hannah Gordon, Richard Wilson, Cameron Mackintosh, Ewan McGregor – to mention just a few and some of the places featured are: Castle Campbell, Dollar Glen in Stirlingshire, Ettrick Valley, Langholm in Dumfriesshire, Plockton in Wester Ross, Mull, Loch Morar.

This book is a real feast for the eyes, a lot of the places I’ve visited but there are an awful lot that I haven’t. So I’m adding to my long list of places that I still want to visit in Scotland. I somehow think it will be a good few months before there is any possibility of getting on the road again, but until then I’m happy to read this book and admire the photos.

The photo on the front cover is Loch Morar and it was the choice of Cameron Mackintosh.

Balvaird Castle, Perthshire, Scotland.

Since one of our sons has moved to Errol in Perthshire we’ve been travelling along a road which we hadn’t been on before and the view of Balvaird Castle from the road is an enticing one. So a few weeks ago we were on our way back home to Fife and as we were in no hurry we decided to stop and investigate the castle. The photo below is just how it looks from the road.

Balvaird Castle

There’s a track up to the castle, it’s not too hard on the legs and it’s not long before you reach the castle.

Balvaird Castle

Some of it is in not bad condition but other parts are ruins as you can see. It all adds to the atmosphere though.

Balvaird Castle
It’s a fairly remote place but the surrounding countryside is lovely.

Balvaird Castle

The view above is of the land around the back of the castle. And below is looking over to Fife.

Balvaird Castle

The castle was built in 1500 by Sir Andrew Murray and it’s definitely worth breaking your journey to go and have a snoop around the outside of it, and it doesn’t cost anything either, unusually.

The House of the Binns – near Linlithgow, Scotland

Earlier in the month it was our 36th wedding anniversary, yes I can hardly believe it myself, obviously I was a child bride, but no, I wasn’t pregnant. Jack and I agree that the first 35 years are the worst!

We didn’t do anything special to celebrate but a couple of days earlier we visited The House of the Binns, another National Trust property, but this one is quite unusual because it is still a family home with the Dalyell family still very much in residence. They share the responsibility for the property with the Trust. The Dalyells have lived there since 1612.

House of the Binns

You might think it’s a strange name for a house but the word Binn (it’s like that other word for hill, Ben) in Scottish just means a hill, and the house was built between two hills. You can see a couple of interior photos here.

Tam Dalyell is a well known name in Scottish history and the present day Tam Dalyell was/is no slouch either, he retired as an M.P. and the Father of the House of Commons in 2005, and he had/has a great reputation as an independent voice and a thorn in the side of the likes of Maggie Thatcher. Alexander McCall Smith described Tam Dalyell as That great and good man in one of the Scotland Street books. He is a baronet but doesn’t use his title and the Dalyell children were sent to the local state schools, which is more than can be said for many other Labour politicians’ children.

The house is the most interesting Trust property which we’ve visited and we were shown around by Mairie, a very friendly and knowledgeable guide. There was a roaring log fire in the hearth of the main reception area. You enter the house through what was a back door originally, it’s the oldest part of the house and the next room has a secret tunnel in it. When you open what looks like a cupboard door in one of the rooms you can see part of a tunnel which they think leads out to nearby Blackness Castle on the shore of the River Forth. It was probably used for smuggling purposes as ships from the Netherlands and the rest of Europe were frequent visitors to the area. I imagine that a lot of gin and brandy was rolled up that tunnel! As it’s hundreds of years old it would have to be excavated and shored up as there must have been lots of collapses over the years. What a wonderful project for Time Team or a university archaeology department that would be.

Blackness Castle

As you progress through the house it becomes grander but there is only one room which has one of those keep off ropes in it, and that is just to stop people from walking on a fragile Aubusson carpet. Most of the land has been sold off or rented out over the years so there’s no lovely garden to walk around, but you can walk up through a wooded area to a folly, and from there you get a 360o fantastic view over to Fife on the other side of the Firth of Forth and the Lothians on the nearer side.

Folly tower

There is restricted access to the House of the Binns so be sure to check the opening times before you set off, I think it’s closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Forth Bridges

Just as we got to the end of the tour we heard lots of laughter coming from the large hall/reception room. The two other guides were sitting by the roaring log fire and having a good old blether with another lady who turned out to be Mrs Dalyell, the lady of the house. Honestly, my gast had never been so flabbered, and she was so friendly, even taking us back into another room to show us a particular book. Thinking about it though, it’s obvious that Tam Dalyell would have a lovely wife. Anyway, the upshot is that I forgot to buy the guide book on the way out, so I’ll be going back for another visit. Mind you the guide book and some postcards is all that there is for sale as there is no space for a National Trust shop or tearoom. There are a couple of garden centres nearby where you can wet your whistle or slake your drouth, or in other words – get a cup of tea.

A view from the folly tower at the House of the Binnsfromtower1

You can see more images of the house and surroundings here.

Naval ships are often in the Firth of Forth as they go about their business at the nearby naval bases of Crombie and Rosyth in Fife.

a view from hill near the House of the Binns

All in all we had a great afternoon out at The House of the Binns. The nearest town is Linlithgow, and Mary Queen of Scots was born at Linlithgow Palace, another interesting place to visit although it’s really just a shell now.

Loch Lomond, Scotland

Last Saturday, believe it or not, it was the start of the Scottish football season, so we drove over to the west of Scotland, to Dumbarton in fact, so that Jack could see his beloved team get beaten!

It was one of those April showers days so I ended up staying in the car and reading, rather than go for a walk around the town. I must admit that some chocolate did pass my lips!

Anyway, on the way back to the east we went via nearby Loch Lomond, it’s just a couple of miles from Dumbarton. This is a photo taken from Loch Lomond Shores which is a shopping centre which has been plonked on the edge of the beautiful loch. In the good old days before there was any such dastardly thought of turning Loch Lomond into a National Park, there would have been no possibilty of such a blot on the landscape being given planning permission. I’ve spared you a view of the shopping centre.

Ben Lomond

I’m ashamed to say that I’ve never been up ‘The Ben’ as it’s known locally, and I was brought up just a couple of miles from Ben Lomond. Apparently it’s quite an easy walk, in good weather anyway.

BenLomond and Loch Lomond

The paddle steamer is the good old Maid of the Loch, I often went for a trip ‘doon the watter’ on her when I was a wee girl. She has recently been refurbished and now chuggs around the loch instead of up and down the River Clyde.

The Maid of the Loch

This is a display of whisky which is in the Valvonna and Crolla shop at Lomond Shores, just in case anyone is interested in whisky or indeed V and C which if you read Alexander McCall Smith books you will know well. He’s forever mentioning those shops for some reason.
a whisky display

I heard someone on the TV during the week say that Loch Lomond had been given National Park status to promote business and development in the area. That’s exactly the opposite of what National Parks are supposed to do. John Muir started them so that places of beauty and scientific interest would be protected from the ravages of big business, he must be birlin’ in his grave at what is being done in his name. And no – we didn’t buy anything in the shops!

I’ll end with another view of the loch, this is just a wee part of Loch Lomond, there are lots of islands in it which can’t be seen from here. You can read about it here.

Ben Lomond, Loch Lomond, Scotland

Scotland’s Light

I don’t really keep up with Hollywood, in fact I wouldn’t even recognise the so-called household names who are involved in the film industry nowadays. I still think of Meryl Streep as a bit of a newcomer. So it was only when I watched the Scottish evening news earlier that I learned about this new Disney animation movie called Brave, set in Scotland apparently.

Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister is jumping on the bandwagon and is over in Hollywood whilest the film is being promoted and is going to be attending Brave’s premier. I suppose if you think that there’s no such thing as bad publicity then you might as well go with it. Apparently they think the film will be great for Scottish tourism. It might turn out to be quite an entertaining watch but if we’re relying on Disney to get tourists to Scotland I can’t help thinking we’re in a really bad way.

Come to Scotland for the scenery, history, geology, archaeology, food (yes) the whisky (if you’re that way inclined), hill-walking, climbing, white water rafting, the Edinburgh Festival (if you must), great museums and art galleries, lochs and castles galore, stately homes and palaces and purer air. Maybe even come for the people, well some of them!

If you want someone else’s opinion on Scotland have a read at Deborah Orr’s article which appeared in Friday’s Guardian. You can read it here where there are links to lovely scenery.

The thing that I love most about summer in Scotland is the light. At the moment it’s 10 o’clock at night and it’s not far off broad daylight outside. I was gardening until just half an hour ago and I still could easily as there are no problems with seeing what I’m doing. It’s a big contrast to living in the south of England where you don’t get the benefit of the light nights. Honestly, you haven’t lived until you’ve experienced the gloaming in some rural setting, you could almost believe in fairies!

Have a look at the lovely Scotland in the Gloaming site. I have to thank Peggy Ann for pointing me in its direction – via the US.

Elie and Earlsferry, Fife, Scotland

A couple of weeks ago we went for a drive along the Fife coast to Elie but we ended up visiting Earlsferry too because the villages run into each other and it takes you no time to walk from one to the other. The photo below is of the Bass Rock and I took it from the main street in Earlsferry. It looks quite eerie somehow but it’s quite a view for people to have from their garden. The rock is home to thousands of sea birds so you can guess what the white stuff is! In the dim distant past prisoners used to be put on the rock and R.L. Stevenson mentions it in Kidnapped.

Bass Rock

The next three photos are of some of the local houses which I particularly fancied the look of. The one below is so cute a wean/kid could’ve drawn it.

Cute wee house

This one must once have been two flats, as you can see the window at the bottom on the left hand side was originally a doorway. The orange coloured roof tiles are called pan tiles and they were widely used on the east coast of Scotland but they originally came from Holland, they were used as ballast in ships which sailed here.

Pink cottage

The one below is altogether much grander and as soon as I saw it I thought it looked very similar to the houses you see in France so I wasn’t surprised to see that its name is Marionville.


This one is of Elie taken from the beach in Earlsferry which is just off the main street there. They are nice wee places to visit but I really wouldn’t want to live there, they feel so remote and there’s not much in the way of shops at all. I don’t fancy having to travel miles to the nearest supermarket when we eventually downsize, so we won’t be moving to this area. The search continues!
Elie from Earlsferry

A Country Walk in Fife, Scotland.

I hope you’ve buffed up your virtual hiking boots because we’re off on a walk along a country track. We usually stick to walking along the esplanade or around a local park during the winter months but on Sunday it was a lovely day and we decided to go off piste and took a path out of the park and down to what has recently been called Wizard’s Walk after Michael Scot who was a scholar and apparently had ‘second sight’. He lived in the Balwearie area in the 12th century. You can read about him here.

carved wooden thistle

This is a carved thistle at the beginning of the walk which has been made from an old tree stump. The path leads you to a wee stream or burn which is quite pretty as it tumbles over the rocks. I think this stream fed one of the many mills which used to make linen in the town.
park mill stream

park mill dam

The field on the other side of the burn is home to a couple of very quiet horses who are obviously great pals. They both came over to have a look at us but only one came down into the stream to have a nice drink. At the moment the wild garlic is just beginning to flower and the air is fairly pungent with it, it seems to be taking over the whole area.

park mill stream and  horse

The horses didn’t stay long and then ambled back to their favourite corner of their field.

park mill stream and horses
At the end of the path we turned right and walked up a fairly steep farm track. The trees are still bare as you can see, apart from all the ivy which is galloping up their trunks and throttling them. I’d pull it all down if they were my trees. I’m going to go back this way in a couple of weeks just to see how different it all looks.

Country path
When you reach the top of the track there’s a good view of open fields, I think in a few weeks this place should be transformed when all the trees come into leaf and the crops start growing – whatever they are.

Ploughed fields

I don’t know about you, but I think this ploughed field is a thing of beauty. It must be quite a skill to be able to plough on what is quite steep and undulating land. It looks like it has been quilted.

This is another pair of horses which are further up the hill, they were too busy eating to even notice us, it’s nice that they seem to keep them in pairs so that they are company for each other.
field horses

The walk took us just over two hours but it was such a lovely day and there was plenty to see, it’s just great to be able to stretch your legs somewhere different after the winter. Don’t put your virtual boots away yet. The walk is only half done. Come back tomorrow for part two!

Forth Bridge, South Queensferry, Scotland

I was watching our Great Leader (and I don’t think!) David Cameron on the TV news today and thankfully I was distracted by the view of the Forth Bridge which was behind him, as he was in South Queensferry, for some odd reason. I had been hoping to see a train going over the bridge in the background because they’re very frequent, about every five minutes it seems. Unfortunately I couldn’t see any, I did begin to think it was just a photo he was sitting in front of but there were seagulls flying about so it can’t have been.

Anyway, I did take a couple of photos of a train on the bridge when I was there a couple of weeks ago but I didn’t get around to blogging about them. I just wanted to show the scale of the whole thing, fairly massive I think you’ll agree! The photo below is of a train just going on to the Forth Bridge.

Forth Bridge, South Queensferry

If you look closely below you’ll be able to see the same train right in the middle of the bridge, it looks like a toy. As I said before, the whole bridge is massively over-engineered, deliberately so to give people confidence that it would be safe to use and wouldn’t collapse in a storm as the original Tay Bridge did.

Forth Bridge, South Queensferry

Somehow it still manages to look elegant, despite the tons of iron which it’s made from.

St Andrews, Fife, Scotland

This is what the sea at St Andrews looked like when we were there on Saturday, I took this photo around about 3.30 and an hour later it was completely dark. That’s what I hate about winter. I’m so looking forward to the winter solstice! Considering it was such a wild day the sea looked amazingly calm as it rolled in.

St Andrews Seascape

This is what is left of St Andrews Cathedral. It’s quite difficult to take digital photos in a gale as you and the camera tend to get blown about. The cathedral stands above the sea and has been battered by the wind for about 1000 years. After the reformation it fell into disuse so the locals would have taken as much of the stone as they could for building purposes as usual. Well, you can’t blame them for recycling.
St Andrews Cathedral
And this is St Andrews Castle, I have to admit that I took this one earlier in the year when the sky was blue. There are some great photos of the castle here, if you’re interested in seeing some more of it.

St Andrews Castle

In no time at all it was a dark and stormy night – but that’s for another blogpost!

Pop Over to Evee’s blog

This is just a quickie to say that Evelyn of Evee’s blog has found some time in her busy life to do some blog posts. If you’re into things Scottish or you just like beautiful scenery you’ll want to look at her gorgeous photos of the Hebrides which you can see here.