10 Beautiful Scottish Villages UNCOVERED!

CAPTION: The Classic Highlands ‘Hairy Coo’.

When we think of Scotland – our minds tend to rush straight to classic images of those red -beards of loud men, assorted tartans, somewhat hormonal weather, bag-pipes and even the adorable ‘Hairy Coos’… BUT There’s more- there always is, more than even spectacular buildings!
As recently inspired by Scotland’s win in The Rough Guide’s competition for the Most Beautiful Country in the world – I decided it was time to UNCOVER Scotland’s Most Beautiful Villages in the Highlands. And all of Scotland for that matter and maybe even England – but let’s not tell the English that!

Firstup – #1: Killin.
Killin tops the list as the most beautiful – diverse in landscape, the villages here are surrounded by trees, mountains and has a prime location – situated at the western end of Loch Tay, plus you will be close to Ben Lauers National Nature Reserve & Finlaig Castle. Definite must-sees!
The Village itself – a mix of traditional cottage style homes and quaint pubs. If you’re trying to see a classic Highland’s village this is number one and matches your imagination to a ‘T’.
My TOP-TIP is to get out in nature, heck I say it enough – there’s wild-life to see and outdoor activities to be done- the best place for all the hiking equipment for sale or hire is The Killin Outdoor Centre, the guys there: full of useful information and best places to walk those feet!

CAPTION: Dochart Falls Bridge, Killin.

 

#2: Torridon.
Torridon, well hey #2: Steve Carter captured this spot perfectly through the lens of his camera – all the nature feels, the rapid cascading falls and the seemingly endless greenery.
The Village is sitting at the very feet of Liathach and Upper Loch Torridon- and there, there are the mountains and peaks of Torridon. Acclaimed by even the locals as the most beautiful mountain region in all of Scotland.
This location features gorges, rolling-slopes, cliffs – all just waiting to be explored.
My TOP-TIP is to do one of the great walks in the area and see it all – choose an intensive hike – either The Ridge Walk of Liathach Massif or Beinn Eighe OR an easier 7mile Lower Diabaig to Redpoint.

CAPTION: The stunning hills of Torridon, captured by Photographer: Steve Carter.

 

#3: Shieldaig.
Like Torridon it’s at the west of Liathach and on Loch Torridon. It’s often in competition by tourists with Torridon over which is more beautiful for that reason– it also makes it harder to choose between the two for 2nd and 3rd place!
Here, there’s a lot of history regarding the Fishing Trade! The village it’s self – is a mix of seaweed, scrub and the scenic Shieldaig Island. Beautiful in the days of snow too, like below.
MY TOP-TIP is to grab a rod and go for a fish.

CAPTION: The Winter-Wonderland of Shieldaig, captured by Steve Carter.

 

#4: Applecross.
Continuing on the coast of Scotland from Torridon you’ll meet up with the village of Applecross – no apples here, oh wait – maybe – I’m sure there’s some Scottish lad picking some as we speak – definitely not what we are travelling to Applecross for, however. Applecross is a village in the Highlands, which is known by locals as a ‘street’ more than a village, the actual name Applecross is roughly 1,300 years old though…
It resides in the remote area of Wester Ross also- but it’s fame really has nothing to do with apples but everything to do with the gorgeous scenic drives along Bealach na Ba Road and way into the hills as high up as 2,053ft! Among the highest in Britain and it’s views spread to Rassay and Skye via the Bay below.
My TOP-TIP is do the whole road-trip with some friends! Give the Applecross Guide a view too – it is a must-read – Click here.

Applecross hill drive

CAPTION: The Scenic Route among the hills and beside the water. Applecross.

 

#5: Braemar.
The next road we ‘can go down’, is just how high-up we can get into the Scottish Highlands – and there is the village of Braemar. Surrounded by the Grampian Mountains and close to the Cairngorms National Park – it’s easy to encounter snow here – just because of just high up the village is. The village’s cottages are also mostly made of stone to keep people up there warm! Brrrrrr.
In the area – there’s 65 miles of high level walks and cycling routes to help you see it at it’s best – delightful and dramatic.
MY TOP-TIP is to do some of the walks – most of which will take you to the Braemar Castle – unique in it’s appearance and ‘colourful’ in it’s history. Depending on the time of year there are the Braemar Highland Games held within walking distance.

Bramear castle.

CAPTION: Nestled amongst the trees and wide-open spaces is the unique Bramear Castle.


#5: Boat of Garten.

A popular destination for hiking and fishing by tourists & locals! And of course – so stunning.
Commonly referred to as the “The Osprey Village’, it’s found not far from the Cairngorms National Park – who tend to reap all the glory in the area… Boat of Garten, however, is perfect for getting away and unwinding in the peaceful surrounds. Not to mention boasting an abundance of natural beauty and wildlife! The famous and secretive Osprey bird is very commonly found here from April to August and clearly a big part of the town’s nickname!
Stunning in scenery my TOP-TIP is to get out of the car and catch the local steam-train to see it from new heights and perspectives, INFO & TIMETABLE HERE.

Boat of garten

CAPTION: The River Sprey in the Snow.


#7: Nethy Bridge.
Lucky 7! This village is a part of Speyside and south east of the River Spey and through from the forests of Abernethy.
The area is famous for being a big role in the Industrialisation of Scotland with production of Saw-mills from 1728. But we love it for the beauty mostly! Close proximity to the Abernethy Forest, it is also surrounded by Caledonian Pines and has 4 major bridges all photo worthy! The bridges – contributed to the name again. Like, Osprey- so clever Scotland! To mix it up – from rivers and scrub – this village hosts rocky landscapes, stone buildings and wide open spaces.
My TOP-TIP get up those mountains and test the limits of your feet with surmounting the rocks.

Nethy Bridge

CAPTION: On top of the world in Nethy Bridge.


#8: Cromarty.
Overlooked by most this village is just north of Inverness (of course close to Loch Territories), best known for it’s part in the historic county of ‘Cromartyshire’ until 1890 BUT to us – absolutely worth a look for the stunning views.
My TOP-TIP is to carefully amble the narrow streets and go up to the Cromarty Lighthouse to check out the view such as the one below.

Cromarty lighthouse view

CAPTION: Rainbows & Views – what a combination looking out the Cromarty Lighthouse.


#9: Plockton.

A delightful and picturesque village set amongst the hills and on a secluded bay of Loch Carron – to one side there’s all this wonderful-lush-greenery and to the other you find an indescribable coast line. It’s a fishing village and has it’s own harbour. Like other stunning villages it is set amongst the pines with views for days and we love that, but there’s also lots of Hairy Coos – and that just makes everything better!
My TOP-TIP is to sit right on the water’s edge (low-tide of course) with some locally caught Fish & Chips and a good read!

plockton village.

CAPTION: Amongst the hills, along the water is the stunning Plockton village.


#10: Ballater.
And finally, Ballater – commonly known as THE area for the best hiking in the Highlands, but more so, for it’s eloquent history. Way up in the Scottish Highlands, in the Royal Deeside within the Cairngorm’s National Park, you can find this village. The keyword in that sentence is: Royal. The village is close to the Balmoral Castle which hosts the Royal Family from time to time and has for an even longer time. The Royal Lochnager Distillery is also close by with exclusive Scottish whiskies. An exclusive abundance of wildlife is in the hills of Ballater – Red Deer, Golden Eagles and Grouse. Together these things add a very special touch to the Ballater village.
My TOP-TIP is to give one of the hikes a go, it’s truly the best way to see the village from the heights of a Golden Eagle.

ballater village

CAPTION: Picturesque Ballater Village.


3 Fun Scottish Phrases to use in your Village Highland Experience..

Hiked out? “I’m fair puckled.” – I am short of breath!
Confused? “Ah dinnae ken.” – I don’t know.
Inspired? “Whits fur ye’ll no go by ye!” – What’s meant to be – will happen.
Click here for more fun Scottish Slang and Phrases.

The Scottish Highlands is also where majority of our hostels are located – so we have this covered. Oban, Skye, Inverness, Loch Ness, Fort William and Pitlochry.

I recommend planning a 2-3 day road trip incorporating all of the 10 along the way.
Overall – these places are exceptionally spectacular to been see over the winter months and capped with snow.
A great website to check out for more information on what to see and do, where to eat and extra activities is VisitScotland.

I’ve always said: “you don’t often find the gems of a country in the big cities.” And it’s totally the case again.
Stretch your imagination and walk those feet to the Scottish Highlands.

court jeremiahWritten by Court Jeremiah.
STH Blog Writer/Photographer.
www.courtjeremiah.com
@courtredhanded_

Please Note: All opinions stated in this Blog are entirely those of the Author. Images photographed by Court Jeremiah are not to be taken or used without permission

 

‘When Cancer Meets Comedy’

Tim Blott Main Image

Introducing ‘Tim Blott’. Photograph by Court Jeremiah.

I’d like to introduce you to the Stella’ Tim Blott.
Tim: Some days he’s that Typical Scot’, some days he’s a Tour Guide and some days he’s an every-day comedian.
Tim is a Veteran with the MacBackpackers Tours company, clocking up’ 20years.
Tim first and fore-mostly is a very likeable fella’.

Rewind time just three weeks ago, I met Tim. Twice in a week actually – lucky me – I was headed into the Highlands for a project and so it happened I hopped on the MacBackpackers Tours Bus for the trip up. Departing from Edinburgh- there he was at the pick-up point helping-out. Then again, in the enchanting ‘Lochside Hostel’ of Loch Ness. Both times I was welcomed into his arms with a BIG hug and a BIG smile. I love a good hug – and Tim offers them like they’re going out of fashion’. In Loch Ness, Tim pulled me aside – he had an idea that he couldn’t contain! He wanted to raise money for Cancer by doing a stand-up comedy show. I don’t remember every detail… but what I do remember is the hope in his eyes, filling up before me with SUCH feeling.
In just seconds, I could feel my veins filling up too- with all the hope and passion I could see before me.

Tim came to Edinburgh this week where we conversed more formally; about what his plan was for how cancer AND comedy could come together.
The talk itself, was accidental – it so happened – that I was walking across a room with visions of hot chocolates dancing in my head and a direction in my feet- headed straight for the Urn.
Tim was walking into that room too, when I heard: “Court! How are you?!”.
Immediate hugs, some light chit-chat to follow and then we got talking…

“You know, Tim…” I said, “I don’t actually know your last name?”. “It’s ‘Blott’, B.L.O.T.T” he told me. “Ah yes, is that a Scottish name?” – “No, it’s an English name, from the North East of England” he went on to tell me how his father’s family were ‘way-back’ English from the hills. Whereas “My Mother’s side – they are from Ballater and Glenbrown, so they’re Scots!” We jokingly-concluded he was a typical ‘mixed-breed’.

Tour Guiding with MacBackpackers: he’s been doing it for 20 years“What made you decide to get into this?” – “I got into this by total accident, I was working as bar-man in Milne’s Bar in Hanover Street…” he responded, “Part of New Town?”, “Aye, going back about 21years…I served a guy, a Kiwi (from New Zealand). He had a guitar! So I asked him “Do you play guitar?” and he said “Ah yeah, I like to play guitar but there’s a music night down at the ‘Canongate’, every Sunday night there that I’m involved with, come along’ if you like live-music!”, well I loved music – so I went on down – there was a Backpacker Open Mic’ Session and while I was playing – there was this guy Scott, speaking to a guy called Jed – who had been employed to start a Tour Company. Well he asked Scott “Do you know any Scottish guys here, that are outgoing, quite entertaining, that would make a good Tour Guide?” and Scott went – “him” pointing a finger at me, and that’s how I got into it!” he said with a big grin.
And the rest is history?”
, exclaiming he said: “THE REST IS HISTORY, COURT!”.

Quirky Tim

Life’s never boring with Tim around. Photograph by Court Jeremiah.

Musician/Bar Man turned Tour Guide!
“I couldn’t believe someone was going to pay me to drive around a beautiful country and talk about my favourite subject matter which was Scotland, and its history! I thought – “What?!” This is amazing!”
“This obviously goes into the category of your Favourite Things To-Do Tim, what else do you love?” I asked. “EVERYTHING” he said to me. “EVERYTHING, I’m passionate about everything – I love history, knowledge, learning, playing music, singing, I love reciting crazy Scottish poems that no-one understands, I LOVE – MORE THAN ANYTHING ELSE- IS MAKING PEOPLE LAUGH!”

“Let’s talk about the Cancer-side of things now… What cancer do you have?” I carefully asked.
“I was diagnosed with Cancer of the Thyroid.” He told me, about what it entailed and the substantialness.
“It’s a VERY scary thing, when someone points the finger and says ‘CANCER’, it’s not very nice” – he then spoke of his luck with having such a great support system and having found it early.
“When did you find out you had cancer?” – “Ah, Middle of July.” Tim confirmed – “Quite recently actually then…” – “Yeah I mean, often people think yeah-nah, not me, couldn’t happen to me. It’s fresh – but you can either let it get to you, or you can make the best of it.”

Tim has been “receiving amazing treatment from NHS” (National Health System) –  he felt compelled to give something back: “That’s where the crazy idea of ‘Timmy’s Big Comedy Night’ came from.”
With hands outstretched, I joked back “Timmy On Tour at The Rock” – “Hey, I like that!” he gasped, I couldn’t take all the credit – I reminded Tim that he had said it to me in the Highlands.

“The best reason I’m doing this, is so that people put their hands in their pockets and put their money where it should be going – to helping people, especially people less fortunate than me. Helping the network of support like ‘Maggies’ who support the families of cancer patients…”


’Maggie’s’ is special because originally a cancer-patient: Maggie Keswick-Jencks, realised back in 1993, that although there was all this “physical help” for patients, there wasn’t really any help for the emotional side of things – either the sufferers OR their family or friends, a foundation was made, today there’s 20 odd Centres across the UK to help with that- for FREE!”  He mentioned that they are funded through people raising funds like he hoped to do.
“The volunteers are so beautiful there, so kind and so caring.”

“The thing Court, about Cancer and going through treatment is, that you feel so humbled- SO, SO humbled.” He said regarding all the support and generosity he’s receiving. “I think, some of the worst situations bring forth the best from people: sheer humanity’”. Tim sat across from me quite perplexed, but he then leant forth to me with his hopes in his eyes still. Tears accompanied: “Exactly. EXACTLY”.

Timmy Castle Image

“It’s time to take action guys!”. Photograph by Court Jeremiah.

Said in serious softness: “I felt COMPELLED to fight cancer- by getting off my ass’ to help do something about it! Not being that person saying I want to do it, I want to do it, I want to do it.” “I just thought: get off your ass and just do it!”

The Show is being held October 7th at the Castle Rock Hostel at 7.30pm, which’ll feature music too.

“Ultimately, what is your goal for this show Timmy?” – “I’d like to get at least 2,000 pounds in donations together for ‘Maggies’, if we could get something like 10,000 pounds… – well that would be just super’!”.

“I’m just willing to be the ‘World’s Biggest Idiot’ if it means that people put their hands in their pockets for some donations to help.”

Any donation: BIG or small, would be so appreciated. CLICK HERE TO DONATE.

selfie time

But wait… It’s ‘selfie time’! Court & Tim at the Rock’

Tim is still that Typical Scot, he’s still a Tour Guide and he’s still your every-day Comedian. Cancer or no Cancer – those things won’t change, what sets Tim apart is a tremendous amount of heart.
I am a better person for having met Tim.
So please, LET’S HELP HIM MAKE A DIFFERENCE.

court jeremiahWritten by Court Jeremiah.
STH Blog Writer/Photographer.
www.courtjeremiah.com
@courtredhanded_
General Note: All opinions stated in this Blog are entirely those of the Author. Images photographed by Court Jeremiah are not to be taken or used without permission.

‘WHEN CANCER MEETS COMEDY’ BLOG NOTE: UPDATES IN THE WEEKS TO COME ABOUT TIM’S PROGRESS AND HOW MUCH MONEY WAS RAISED FROM THIS CHARITY EVENT.

Harry Potter and the Edinburgh Spell – Part 1

Edinburgh

Where the magic begins…

Calling all HARDCORE Harry Potter fans! There’s a Harry Potter ‘Prequel’ you may have not know about yet… so I am inviting you to join me in turning our ‘Time-turners’ back and to whisk ourselves to the Old Town cobble streets of Scotland’s Capital: Edinburgh.
The year is 1994, because that’s where this story really takes-off.

J.K. Rowling (born 1965) had experienced a fateful moment on a journey from Manchester to London, just 4 years earlier. She thought of Harry Potter whilst gazing into the country-side as it passed her by and when experiencing a ‘traditional’ UK 4 hour train delay.
A little boy who didn’t know he was a wizard had cast a spell on her mind.

This was a year that altered her life enormously – not just by dreaming up Harry Potter, her mother also passed away at the end of 1990, and Rowling was extremely close with her, saying that the death brought “guilt and worry and anxiety” into her life.

In the years that followed: she married a Portuguese man, moved to Portugal and would have a daughter – but all of it was not as successful as first envisioned.
From it suicidal thoughts weaved their way into her every day, and she had hit rock-bottom.

Returning to 1994 she decided to make the return to the UK, and to Edinburgh to be with her baby sister Dianne.

J.K. returned as a shattered, divorced version of herself, & a single mother. She was as poor as poor could be without being homeless.
But no matter what her financial position was – she never lost her ideas for Harry Potter.
They started to flood her mind again.

Giving herself just one year to complete it– she would spend a great deal of time in Edinburgh’s coffee shops – ‘Nicolson’s Café’ and ‘Elephant House Café’ mostly. In fact, she’s quoted as saying that coffee shops were great because the cost of coffee was cheaper than heating her home. For hours her tiny daughter would lay beside her sleeping whilst Rowling wrote.

You see “this is a city people quite literally fall in love with”, no exception for Rowling – the old world feel, the gothic architecture, hidden pockets of mystery are scattered through the city and an even bustling pace of other creatives is evident. When it came to building the books – characters, locations and imagery were all vastly inspired by Edinburgh.

J.K. Rowling’s days were either spent wandering the city or in coffee shops.
When she wandered, she passed places like George Heriot’s School – the most expensive in the area but the only one offering Single-Parent Scholarships – it also comprises of 4 towers and 4 houses… are we taking note? Combine that with the likes of Edinburgh Castle which can be seen from George Heriot’s – and ideas for Hogwarts developed, Edinburgh Castle was intriguing to her being mounted on a large ‘rock’.
She’d also wander through the Greyfriar’s Graveyard gazing at headstones for ideas of ‘Old-world’ first names and last names for characters – the most obvious links being Tom Riddle and Professor MacGonagall.
On her wanders, were the streets of Victoria Street and Cockburn Street – laced with cobble, unique bends in the road, little shops stacked against each other – the resemblance to Diagon Alley is also uncanny.

HP BOOKS.

CAPTION: The Harry Potter book collection.

The first book was completed in 1995, she did it – stuck to her one year goal too.
And the rest as they say- is history…

This ‘edition’ of Harry Potter is ‘Fairytale meets tragedy’ – the wonderful writing of HP really commenced in Edinburgh and ended in Edinburgh- the last link to the last story’s creation being the Balmoral Hotel where she completed the book. Edinburgh is where a story was brought to life – fed, nourished, loved and where it would grow from a simple idea.

JK Rowling holding book

CAPTION: Rowling holding her final Harry Potter book.

It’s a funny thing how being an Author is a considerable risk to most people, and that definitely didn’t stop with J.K.Rowling – she suffered, what seemed like endless criticism for her dreams of writing books, even way before ‘Bloomsbury’ picked it up, it was dismissed as not good enough for publication by two dozen other Publishers…
and I bet they all feel like ‘Royal Idiots’ now… just a thought.

J.K Rowling now lives in her own ‘small castle’ in Edinburgh with her family.

~

HERE’S SOME FUN FACTS –
-JK Rowling used a very old Type Writer which is near-on-extinct in today’s society. See no fancy iPad required! And today is worth a collective $545 million dollars for her Harry Potter legacy – which technically makes her richer than the Queen!
– J.K. Rowling hails from England, but is notably 1/4 Scottish and her parents’ love blossomed on a train ride to Scotland.
– Edinburgh was the first UNESCO City of Literature. How appropriate?!
– As a child she began to dream of being an author and creating stories for those small too.
-HP was filmed in Warner Brother’s Studios in England, but most location filming was done in Scotland.
-The Harry Potter books (all 7) were published in 10 years exactly 1997 to 2007 and the 8 Blockbuster movies between 2001 and 2011.
-The HP Books have been translated 79 times and today 450 million copies have been sold word-wide. Impressive stuff.

Look out for part two where we talk about the awesome places to see and do all things Harry Potter!

 

Written by Court Jeremiah.
STH Blog Writer/Photographer.
www.courtjeremiah.com
@courtredhanded_
Please Note: All opinions stated in this Blog are entirely those of the Author.
Images photographed by Court Jeremiah are not to be taken or used without permission.

Chasing a little simplicity solitude? Go to Scotland!

Loch Ness

Loch Ness, Photo by Court Jeremiah

When travelling it’s so easy to get absolutely-caught-up in these big and majestic cities, they pull us in and entice our low energy levels with ‘all the things’ to run around and do: a frantic visual of -hopping on the train, getting off the bus, running from one location to another – because heck’ we only have 8 hours in a day and this city has 50 odd things see… familiar?
But that’s what it’s like in big cities! And not always just as a traveller. I too was needing a moment away from the ‘hustle and bustle’ of my beautiful home city of Edinburgh. And- even more so, that craziness of life.
Each year on this planet seems to speed by faster and faster, and we barely keep up – it’s simple: “Time stops for no one”.

‘Attempting to Stop Time’. Image by Court Jeremiah.

Amongst that velocity, sometimes we just find ourselves needing a little healthy solitude and simplicity, am I right? I’m not saying I AM capable of slowing down life for us all (wouldn’t that be a super-power), or that there is only one PERFECT place to get back to that simplicity, but what I am saying is- I’m over here totally in love with Scotland and I know

where we can find one of them. Under the umbrella of Scotland’s Top Hostels there’s a family beneath of places to stay for that escape to the Highlands and away from all the bustle.
This week I decided to check out Loch Ness & one of our hostels ‘Lochside’.

 

I took a seat on the legendary MacBackpackers Tours for the trip up and during: leader Dave said to me “It’s really fucking’ cold all year either way in Loch Ness, but it is something you’ll never forget.” He continued to say how often it is overlooked by travellers as a place to stay and check out, opposed to big name places like Skye. He educated us all on the history and the legends. Also, about the language of Scottish Gaelic, how it’s not used as much these days,

but is still very evident in the Highlands and Loch Ness.
Here’s a few words I found valuable for my time in Loch Ness, best to learn:
Glen means ‘Valley’.
Inver means ‘The Mouth of a River’
– and Loch meaning ‘Lake’ or ‘Sea Inlet’. Okay got it? Great!

Putting the words into context – Loch Ness is 23miles long and resides within the borders of the Great Glen – the Loch begins in the North – Highland’s Capital of Inverness and finishes in the South in the township of Invermoriston. The Loch encompasses a very large body of water that connects to the ocean via canals, and because of the huge amount, the water struggles to heat and sits in the 4-6 degree celsius zone. It’s stunning to take in visually! But also beneath the water’s surface- one of the most talked about legends of all time, made it’s way into history in 1933 – with the first recorded sighting of the Loch Ness Monster. Although the legend has had life amongst locals since the 6th century A.D.  No secret here that I am a legend/myth lover so I was especially excited to be sleeping “uncomfortably close to the monster”!

Those Loch Monster theories.

At the foot of the Loch, nestled amongst the ‘Scot’s Pine Trees’ is the baby of the STH family: the ‘Lochside Hostel’ previously known as the Loch Ness Youth Hostel, it was taken the wings of STH just last year. Early this year it was brought to life under the stealth management of Bruce Johnston and has resulted in becoming an ideal place to stay while in Loch Ness.

Candice and Fabian at Lochside

Candice and Fabian at Lochside

Taking some time aside I spoke with Bruce.
If you don’t know him, Bruce hails from South Africa but has been living in the UK for the last 5 years. It seems he came over for a short time and never left. What happened? He fell in love with Scotland and settled into the golden trimmings of Edinburgh’s Castle Rock Hostel. Under his belt (if he wore belts), he has an abundance of knowledge & experience on hostels and Loch Ness.

How would you describe the atmosphere at the hostel? “3 words really – easy words: Chilled, social and relaxing.” – that’s perfect for us!
What is your personal favourite thing to do in Loch Ness area? “Honestly, I love the Loch itself here, it’s just

massive, driving around it and viewing it from different angles and heights is incredible.” Bruce as I touched on- is very experienced – incredibly so in the city life, so I still couldn’t help but wonder –
Why did you come here? “I spent 5 years in Edinburgh, and although it’s beautiful, I wanted to get away from the busyness for a while, the Highlands was always somewhere I wanted to go and that’s why I’m here.”

Bruce Johnston (pictured middle) back in the Reception days at Castle Rock.

Stephen, another kick-ass staff member of ‘Lochside’ – loves hikes and has a deep love of the area and Scotland. But, he’s also not a Scot’… I asked why he came here to Scotland he replied- “I travelled for a few months back in 2011 all over, but I found I kept coming back, so I purchased a one way ticket and never left”

Special stuff, boys! Maybe “there’s something in the water”? Oh wait… Nessie!

Loch Ness & Surrounds to-do-

Loch Ness & Surrounds Map from ‘VisitSouthLochNess’. CLICK TO ENLARGE.

One of the best things about Loch Ness is its location and with a strong focus on nature and the simplicity we’re chasing- here’s my top list of things to do!
Hiking! If you’re that hiking-addict or just wanting to give it a go, this place rocks for it. Loch Ness is in the heart of hiking territory, the centre of The Great Glen Way and totally giving you that ‘back to nature’ fix.
Here’s a couple to get you going –
Lochside to Forte Augustus is a 3-5hour hike depending on fitness levels or, the Invermoriston track from Lochside roughly a 2hour walk . You’ll be surrounded by waterfalls, the whistles of robins, and the thick wet moss-covered forest.
Cruise along the Loch Ness by boat, it’s an experience and light on the wallet – a cheap 14.50 pounds – ‘Cruise Lochness’ is a good one to take.

Drumnadrochit (there’s an art to saying it) – it’s only a 15-20minutes drive North of Lochside and has two awesome places to check out – the ‘Nessie Land’ museum and Loch Ness’ own 800  year old ‘Urqhuart Castle’: right at the edge of where the Nessie Sightings have taken place for over 200.
-To the West, a 15minute drive away is one of the largest pinewood forests found in Scotland (Glen Affric) with ‘views for days’. Plus there’s Lochs, Otters, Deer and Woodland birds.
Ben Nevis – the biggest mountain you’ll find in the British Isles (1,343 metres high!) is just over an hour away.

-Further North about an hour is Castle Territory – Castle Stuart, Cawdor Castle, Aldourie Castle. –
Regardless it’s just a 1 hour drive to places such as Skye, Fort William and Inverness, so check out these Highland townships.

The ‘Lochside Hostel’ is a seasonal hostel that operates over the warmer months, it has exactly what you need and everything that any good hostel should have: very good beds, hot showers, USB ports and common areas. It’s location is it’s best feature- right at the foot of the Loch and Loch Territory but also features amazing views from inside and out on the deck, a cosy fireplace and even a tartan pool-table. I received comments from travellers such as “It’s social but not overwhelming”,  “Completely surrounded by nature and located ridiculously close to everything great in the area.”

How to get to the Lochside Hostel –
‘Lochside’ is in Glenmoriston, along Loch Ness.
Inverness international Airport and the Inverness Train Station are both close. From the Station: 45minutes and the Airport: 1hour.
By Bus: You want to catch the CityLink bus, departing roughly every 30mins. CLICK HERE for times.
By Car: Travelling to ‘Lochside’ from Inverness by car is as short as 30mins.
NOTE: Throughout the months of April-October the buses run often but less frequent in the other months.

Chilling at ‘Lochside’ is Amy & Candice, Image by Court Jeremiah.

The Lochside Hostel – 3 C’s – Closeness, Cabin Feels and Cosiness. Definitely worth a visiwift for its 2018 debut in the April – It’ll be showing off new wooden beds and a jetty for you to jump into the Loch. But don’t forget there is a monster in there and it’s 4-6 degrees, haha!
It may be cold in Scotland, yes, BUT- it was just last week that The Rough Guide announced Scotland as the Winner of the Most Beautiful Country on The Planet, so that is saying something!
Because I love my legends- my ‘top two’ to do in Loch Ness is to go Nessie Land museum and cruise out on the Loch with your binoculars.
Embrace your own Nessie expedition and  ‘Lochside’ is where it all begins.

The mossy landscape of Loch Ness

The mossy landscape of Loch Ness

That simplicity and healthy-solitude? Did I get it? TICK. Cheers for that Loch Ness.

Call me a Wizard (or…crazy) – but I swear life slowed down this week!

Written by Court Jeremiah.
STH Blog Writer.
www.courtjeremiah.com
@Courtredhanded_

 

Please note: All opinions stated in this Blog are entirely those of the Author. Images taken by Court Jeremiah are not to be taken or used without permission, including Feature Image.

“Look out! ‘Scotland in Six’ Hidden Gems are revealed!”

Scotlands six hidden gems

Well hey History-buffs, Life Enthusiasts and Travel-Addicts alike,
If you’ve been ‘kicking-around’ in Edinburgh this last month you would’ve bear-witnessed the crazy-awesome-intensity of the Edinburgh International Fringe Festival. And if you’re reading this you absolutely survived the madness.
This however is not all that is being celebrated in Scotland this Summer.
Did you know that 2017 was the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology? I hear crickets… well hey it’s news to me too!
Although it’s hard to believe Scotland could be any more awesome, what with it’s abundance of tradition, cultural experiences and endless tartan… I have something to tell you!
Away from all the impressive landmarks, there’s other hidden gems…

Here’s the Scoop-
Back in April of this year Scotland’s Six World Heritage sites were celebrated over six separate events, and it was a lot of fun… but it also got the organisers ‘Dig It! 2017’ thinking about other hidden-less-known gems glistening around the country –
You know how England has Stonehenge? Well without disputing – it’s wickedly impressive and famous no doubt – BUT there are other stone circles on the same level as cool and just as mysterious – but we rarely hear of them compared… Try Castlerigg Stone Circle, near Keswick? Much less known but equally impressive.

All the same, a campaign was born: with the intention to establish those gems – the campaign would be called ‘Scotland in Six – Hidden Gems’ beginning in June. What do we do though when it’s 2017 and we need a vote taken? Well forget the days of postal votes, we use social media of course! 1 Facebook ‘like’ was used as 1 vote for the 28 sites that were chosen across the country. The sites would include castles, fortes, stones, old buildings, churches and more. Amongst them were nominees such as Braemar Castle and Burghead Forte. If you’re interested in the 28 sites, you can check them out here. Voting lasted two months and the top six were decided!
Drum roll… brrrrrr…..

And.. the 1st place winner goes to…
The ‘Govan Stones’, who snagged 1st place with a whopping 2,472 Facebook likes.

Govan Stones image by Billie MacDonald.

Credit to Photographer – Billy MacDonald.

I believe it was voted as Scotland’s favourite historical gem because of the history and preservation of the stones… and part of the limited remains of some of Scotland’s coolest medieval eras: The Vikings.
You can find the Govan Stones in Glasgow City, the Govan Old Church hosts the last remaining 31 monuments, carved between the 9th and 11th century by the Vikings. There were originally 45 but would be wiped out as recently as the 1980s by demolition in the area.
The Stones were used as a way to celebrate the power held by the rulers of the Kingdom of Strathclyde. In the collection of 31 there are grave stones, ‘hogbacks’ and a unique sarcophagus.
They are unique and are carved with many different kinds of patterns by the Vikings. Patterns that would truly reflect the Viking era and the symbols that resonated with them during such time. Symbols varied from crosses to cross shafts, Celtic symbols and ancient warriors.
None of these pieces are by any-means small – five of the Hogbacks are made of sandstone blocks and the smallest still weighs 500kg. Speaking of those Hogbacks, they were found exclusively in the South of Scotland and North of England – and are by far the largest in the collection.
The Govan Sarcophagus is the prized piece (from AD 900), carved completely into solid stone.
Overall, no two stones are alike, each with a unique mix of carvings and shape.
There is literally nothing else like it in Scotland.
The church has announced free entry for the next 3 years to celebrate it’s win. Worth the look – it’ll ROCK’ your world.

Here’s the quick list of the winning six!
Congratulations to:
1.  ‘Govan Stones’
2. Ardrossan Castle.
3. The Howff.   
4. James Watt Cottage.
5. Campbeltown Picture House.
6. Lincluden Collegiate Church.

The winning six – image thanks to DigIt2017!

Let’s explore the 5 runners up a bit more shall we?

In 2nd place was – Ardrossan Castle. (2,039 likes)
I love a legend as much as the next person and this one has a lot!
Ruins of Ardrossan Castle.Ardrossan Castle Ruins.

The Castle was built in the 12th century, had a moat and was originally titled ‘Castle Crag’ which overlooks the town of Ardrossan and the Firth of Clyde.
What’s left from those days now are the legends, the stories and the very much HAUNTED medieval ruins! That’s right haunted – by two historic figures ‘Sir Ferugus Barclay’ and the infamous ‘Sir William Wallace’.
According to the legends Sir Fergus would make a deal with the devil that saw him gain exquisite equestrian skills via a magical bridal – in exchange for his soul. But when Fergus decided he didn’t want to give that up- the Devil would become enraged and curse him, attacking the castle and  leaving ‘hoof-prints’ in the sides & would be sentenced to death for allegedly murdering his wife.
Note to self – this is why we don’t do deals with the devil, okay gang?
In 1292, history would show that the English took claim over the castle, this was not taken lightly by William Wallace who would storm the grounds with his troops and take it back in the year 1296. Any remaining English survivors were thrown into a dungeon where they would be left to die horrible deaths. The event was known as ‘William’s Larder’. The English ghosts still haunt the ruins of the chambers, or so they say… William was later betrayed & executed in 1305.
Along with the ghosts of Fergus and the dead English, visitors have also reported seeing a tall bearded man that many believe to be Sir William Wallace.
Ruins and ghosts – what an awesome combination!

3rd place went to – The Howff. (946 likes)
The Howff Cemetry.The Howff Cemetery.

So right away I was impressed by that name – The Howff – it almost sounds like some kind of spooky Dracula reference – but no – it is actually a Scots word for ‘meeting place’. Located in Dundee the cemetery here was erected on land which was formerly the medieval ‘Greyfriars Monastery’. The infamous: Mary Queen of Scots then gave permission for it to become a burial ground for the Dundonians in 1564. As mentioned previously, it was also used as a meeting place for the nine Dundee Incorporated Trades.
So, the big question is, why is this graveyard the Bronze winner?
This is not any normal graveyard. 3 whole centuries of Dundee life and death have been sprawled across the gifted land. The headstones- all carefully decorated with Scottish symbols, creepy skull & cross bones and… the haunting scripture which details the incredibly hard lives of those that lay beneath the surface. If you ever wanted to time travel, this can be your opportunity (minus the DeLorean)- as there have been no alterations made to the site, you find yourself stepping back into 19th century Scotland. The last official burial took place here in 1878. Welcome to the portal.
The Howff is the owner of most important collection of tombstones in Scotland and has rightfully claimed a Certificate Of Excellence from Trip Advisor.
For some extra uniquely-eerie photographs, go at dusk – pack a stake and some garlic.

4th place winner – James Watt Cottage. (847 likes)
This another Gem I am especially impressed with.
James Watt Cottage.

The Birthplace of The Watt Steam Engine, Image courtesy of ‘Don’t Blink Photo’.

If we rewind time for a moment a cottage was built in 1769 on the grounds of Kinneil Estate. The cottage was built by a man named Dr. John Roebuck, here he would spent countless hours with an up and coming inventor: James Watt. Away from the invasive eyes of Bo’Ness, James had visions of creating new and improved steam engines that would transform the world. And that is what the two would do – work on and test out prototypes for steam engines.
This now ‘roofless cottage’ became a workshop in secret. Over two years the engines would be worked on. Funded by Dr. John Roebuck in exchange for the brilliant workings of James Watt’s mind, the two would work away in secret and developed something that literally changed history.
In a later stage Dr. Roebuck would become bankrupt and the project was taken over by another party.
James Watt would go on to be a famous inventor and create a legacy. This cottage is thought to be the only remaining building that is linked to his work and life. And these improvements made away in secret would see a huge impact on the Industrial Revolution. Dr. Roebuck’s initial part in the story should not be discredited either, it saw a wonderful invention come to life – The Watt Steam Engine. James Watt Cottage is the birthplace, go check it out!

5th place to – Campbeltown Picture House. (781 likes)
Campbeltown Picture House.Campbeltown Picture House.

Coming in at #5, the Campbeltown Picture House is the baby of the family. The Picture House began it’s life rather recently in 1913, playing host to Operas, plays and films. It was originally designed by architect Albert V Gardner and has kept it’s ‘heavy-weight’ title as the Longest Running Cinema in Scotland. Though the local’s still call it ‘Wee Pictures’, don’t let that emasculate the building, it is BIG and wise. The historic auditorium would be briefly remodeled in 1935 and would go without major work done until it’s close in 2014, pretty much straight after celebrating it’s 100th birthday. The Queen better have produced a letter with those kind of digits! Jokes aside – this was thought to be the last cinema of it’s kind still used as a running cinema.
Buildings these days, are more often- than not, torn down and instead new modern buildings or classic shopping centers take their place. Well that didn’t happen thankfully! It has been closed for the last 3 years to see it refurbished and is expected to reopen shortly and will be used as a Picture House once more. #happydays

Lastly, in 6th place is – Lincluden Collegiate Church. (758 likes)

Lincluden Collegiate Church.


Once upon a time, around the year 1400 in the outskirts of Dumfries a church would be constructed called the Lincluden Collegiate Church. Formerly Benedictine Nuns would be found pottering the halls of the building as it was previously a Nunnery. It would be improved to make way for a larger grander structure. It worked, and would be seen as grand – Princess Margaret was entombed here after her death in 1450.
Though, the era called ‘The Reformation’ occurred and would change Scottish history forever: the END of the Roman Church’s 500 year domination. Presbyterian Protestantism instead took over in 1560 in efforts to destroy every piece of art, sculpture and architecture that could be associated with the Pope. Therefore, Lincluden Church – which was badly damaged as a result.
Repairs were made and many hands were to own the Church but inevitably it was abandoned in 1700 and deteriorated into ruins. The site is now taken care of by the Historic Environment of Scotland.
The best reason to see this Gem is a) it’s free to be seen all year round, b) it boasts the best of Gothic Architecture in Scotland & c) seeing it evokes something very confronting from witnessing the ruins by a war of religion.

Scotland’s Six Hidden Gems are impressive to say the least!

Chasing accommodation?
As usual Scotland’s Top Hostels have you covered for accommodation in the areas.
Our hostel in Pitlochry is close to The Howff, with a little over an hour’s drive.
In Edinburgh we have 3 wonderful hostels to choose from: Castle Rock, Royal Mile and High Street- all of which are close enough to do an easy day trip, out to the sites: James Watt Cottage, Lincluden Collegiate Church and The Govan Stones.
The hostel in Oban is nice and close to both Campbeltown Picture House and Adrossan for half-day trips as well.

Thankfully, the madness of August is over but now it’s September and it’s also Scottish Archaeology Month! So why stop the fun now?! Take a trip out to see the sites to celebrate, they have arrested my attention so far and I will be checking some I haven’t seen- myself.
I like to think that you don’t often find the ‘gems’ of a country, in a city.
No, these gems are not as likely to ‘pop-up’ in your Instagram feeds, BUT there really is something magical in jumping off the beaten track and discovering places that glisten out of the spotlight.
So embrace a piece of the past and discover a new & untouched story.

Written by Court Jeremiah.
STH Blog Writer.
@courtredhanded_
#ScotlandinsixHG