adeo Insights – Kevin Murray’s Diary, Week 7: End of the Road(trip)

It’s all very well us telling you what to see and do when you come to visit Britain but who can give you a better insight into what you can expect from an adeo tour than our guests themselves! Our guest Kevin Murray has been kind enough to allow us to publish his trip reports detailing his travels through England, Wales and Scotland this Spring.

This week Kevin and Glenys travel through England’s most northerly counties to cross the ancient border into Scotland.

We continued travelling north, following the picturesque lochs and valleys to Mallaig. Here we boarded a car ferry for a somewhat “bumpy” voyage to the Isle of Skye where we drove across the bare, windswept, mountainous spine to reach the blue waters and sheltered bays of Skye’s beautiful north coast.

img_1191The Isle of Skye has a reputation for wild, wet and windy weather and it well and truly lived up to this reputation for our journey around its coasts. However, we saw enough through the horizontal rain and obscuring mist to enjoy Skye’s rugged beauty, to appreciate her volcanic geology, and to admire those hardy, tenacious individuals that were able to make their livings here.

 

We crossed back to the mainland via the gracefully arching Skye Bridge… with an icy cold south-westerly gale doing its best to get us airborne. We visited two castles on our way to Inverness, both of which revealed the usual stories of invasions, medieval arms races, ever-changing alliances, inevitable betrayals, and power-seeking, war-mongering, egomaniacal despots – with brief periods of peace between the senseless, wasteful, bloody battles. But the views were superb.

img_1192Scottish highlanders have never forgotten “the 45s”, those clans who rallied to the cause of installing Bonnie Prince Charlie to the throne in 1745. Charlie’s ill-conceived plans, however, came to a terrible, bloody end a year later at Culloden, an otherwise unremarkable field just outside Inverness.  Standing where 1,500 “rebel” highlanders were cut down in less than an hour, and listening to real stories from the perspectives of the routed Jacobites and the victorious government troops, sent awful chills down our spines.

img_1194Heading east from Inverness, we explored the Moray Coast, surprised to find long sandy beaches on parts of it. Not so surprised to find ruined forts, ruined palaces and even a ruined cathedral (at Elgin). We also stumbled upon the remains of a very ancient Pict fort at Burghead, and a tiny 17th century man-made harbour at Portsoy that was still partly operational. We passed through several very neat little fishing villages trying to survive after the collapse of their traditional fisheries.

On our last day with the car in Scotland we felt that we just had to visit Dunnottar Castle. It was as if we had been saving the best ’til last. Dunnottar was breathtaking – slowly revealing itself as the whisps of morning mist rolled away, perched on an island of sheer-sided basalt, tenuously tethered to the mainland by a single steep, sinuous path. The defenders of this imposing fort were able to withstand the onslaught of Cromwell’s army for eight months, thus saving the Scottish Crown Jewels!

img_1195We left the coast and drove on to Edinburgh via the tortuous roads that wind through the majestic Cairngorms National Park, following the River Dee for much of its path through the deep glacial valleys where, in its quieter moments, it reflected the snow still clinging to the looming mountains above. Wow!

img_1196Edinburgh presents a harmonious mix of the very old and the very new, and tangibly buzzes with the melting pot of humanity coursing through its labyrinthine, cobbled streets. Naturally we explored its iconic Castle, perched atop those dark, dolorite cliffs, ominously dominating the city below. But we also investigated the pokey 17th Century alleys and houses hidden beneath the streetscape of today, providing us with a fascinating insight into those smelly, unhygenic, crowded and generally impoverished times.

What would a visit to Edinburgh be without paying homage to Grayfriars Bobby? Or spending time in the not-quite-as-austere-as-it-should-be St. Giles Cathedral? Or climbing Calton Hill to view the unfinished “Acropolis” at its summit and to take in the view over this magical city

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adeo Insights – Kevin Murray’s Diary: Week 6, Heading North

It’s all very well us telling you what to see and do when you come to visit Britain but who can give you a better insight into what you can expect from an adeo tour than our guests themselves! Our guest Kevin Murray has been kind enough to allow us to publish his trip reports detailing his travels through England, Wales and Scotland this Spring.

This week Kevin and Glenys travel through England’s most northerly counties to cross the ancient border into Scotland.

Leaving Chester, we crossed the bleak, browned grasslands of the high Pennines into Yorkshire. York itself was like a living museum; the presence of the Romans was still palpable and the subsequent Viking and Anglo-Saxon influences are also obvious. One place which typified this was the huge Minster that dominates the town. Below its floors can be found whole Roman walls and roads. Above the floors one can read the chequered history in the many architectural changes to this magnificent structure.

York - Shambles
York – Shambles

From York we now headed northwest to the Lake District. But on the way we detoured first to the little town of Ripley where we explored the enchanting walled garden belonging to the local castle/mansion. We then stopped off at Fountains Abbey, another huge Cistercian abbey destroyed by Henry VIII’s mob. The beautiful 17th century water gardens here are now under the protective wing of the National Trust and are superbly and lovingly preserved.

On we drove towards the west passing through the rolling hills of the Yorkshire Dales under increasingly threatening skies which decided to unleash their bucket loads of snow just as we were entering the steep mountain passes leading to the Lakes. Around every corner was a Christmas-card scene of snow-covered ground and conifers bending under the weight with bewildered sheep wondering where their grass had gone. The steep, narrow, icy roads made for some treacherous driving but it was well worth it in the end – as we gazed with delight out the window of our Ambleside hotel at a spectacular view of towering snow-shrouded peaks!

IMG_1185With our intended cruise on Coniston Waters cancelled because of the “inclement” weather, we drove down the western side of Coniston Waters to Greenodd and back up along the eastern side of Windemere, with the snow-capped mountains providing a dramatic backdrop to the windswept lakes. We had 10 minutes of rare sunshine just as we left Windemere, allowing me to capture a few stunning reflections. Near Carlisle we stopped at Birdoswald, the site of an excavated Roman fort, built in the second century as part of Hadrian’s Wall, which marked the northernmost boundary of the vast Roman Empire, keeping those pesky marauding Scots at bay. We even got to walk a little of the famous Wall itself.

And so, on to Glasgow, which, like Cardiff, is another industrial city successfully re-invented as a cultural capital. The miserable weather encouraged us to explore Glasgow‘s museums, including the newly opened and very modern Riverside Transport Museum and the fabulous Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. Each in their own way defining the considerable impact this city has had on the social, industrial and technological milieux not only of Britain, but on the rest of the world.

IMG_1188Northwards once more; but first we decided to climb the 400 steps to the remains of the historic Dunbarton Castle, perched strategically atop a massive volcanic plug, guarding the windswept River Clyde. We journeyed alongside the enigmatic Loch Lomond, experiencing brief periods of sunshine and rain in equal measure, following a waterlogged zig-zag path into the Scottish Highlands.

If you would like to explore the wild and beautiful North of England why not try our Yorkshire and the Lake District self-drive tour.

Ten magical Scottish Islands to visit instead of Skye!

This morning we came into the office to yet another slew of enquiries for guests keen to visit the Scottish Isle of Skye, and it’s got us here at adeo Travel scratching our heads!

I mean, yes, the Isle of Skye is beautiful, yes, it’s full of wildlife, dramatic coastline and intriguing history. But, it is only one out of hundreds of incredible Scottish Islands – 790 to be exact – each one more spectacularly beautiful than the last.

So here are 8 alternative Scottish Islands to visit if you want to escape the crowds this summer and experience the wild and unspoilt beauty of the Scottish Isles.

  1. Islay
Isle of Islay
Isle of Islay

The ‘Queen of the Hebrides’ is probably best known for its whisky production. Despite its size, at just 600 square kilometres, this tiny island is home to eight working distilleries – it’s certainly the Whisky Capital of the Hebrides!

Visit if: You never say ‘no’ to a dram or two!

Don’t miss: Bowmore, the oldest distillery on Islay, founded over two centuries ago in 1779

  1. Jura

This island is famed for being where George Orwell retreated to write 1984 and literary buffs can still make a pilgrimage to the remote croft house where he lived. Orwell wanted to get away from it all and you can see why he chose wild, untamed Jura where wild deer outnumber people more than 10 to one.

Visit if: You’re a novelist having an existential crisis.

Don’t miss: The Corryvrecken Whirpool, one of the largest permanent whirlpools on earth and one of the most dangerous stretches of water around the British Isles.

  1. Harris

    Isle of Harris
    Isle of Harris

You might be surprised to learn that most visitors travel to this Outer Hebridian Island for its beaches. The dazzling white sands and turquoise waters surrounding the largest island in the Outer Hebrides are reminiscent of the Caribbean. With dozens of beaches to pick from, you’ll be spoilt for choice.

Visit if: You’re a bit of a beach bum

Don’t miss: The volcanic islands of St Kilda, the most remote Islands in the British Isles.

  1. Orkney

Actually Orkney consists of around 70 Islands but I’ll ignore that. I’m going to leave it to the poet and storyteller George Mackay Brown, who lived on Orkney at Stromness, to sell you his island home. He wrote ‘The essence of Orkney’s magic is silence, loneliness, and the deep marvellous rhythms of sea and land, darkness and light.’

Visit if: There is a hint of whimsy in your soul

Don’t miss: The Neolithic settlement of Skara Brae which is thought to be older than Stonehenge and the pyramids.

  1. Iona
Iona abbey
Iona abbey

Iona is a mystical Island accessible only by foot-passenger ferry from Mull. The Island is infused with religious devotion and is known as ‘the cradle of Christianity’ in Scotland. Iona Abbey was founded by St Columba in 563 and continues to be an important site of worship and pilgrimage.

Visit if: You are in search of peace and restoration

Don’t miss: The Fairy Hill or Hill of Angels which has been the site of pagan and Christian rituals for centuries and has been strongly associated with the world of the supernatural.

  1. Arran

One of the most accessible islands, you can drive to Arran from Glasgow in a couple of hours. Despite being so close to the hustle and bustle of the mainland you will still be able to experience the relaxed, whimsical atmosphere of island life as well as the dramatic scenery and eclectic wildlife of the Inner Hebrides.

Visit if: You’re looking for a taste of the Islands of Scotland

Don’t miss: The spectacular Glenahdale Falls, accessed by walking through an Iron Age fort and Neolithic burial mounds known as The Giants Graves.

  1. Barra

    Barra airport
    Barra airport

Beautiful Barra is the most southerly of the inhabited islands in the Outer Hebrides. it was the strong hold of the Clan MacNeil and you can visit their ancient seat, the ‘Castle in the Sea’, sitting on a rock islet in Castle Bay.

Visit if: Your name is MacNeil

Don’t miss: The island’s unique airstrip on Traigh Mor Beach.

  1. Mull

The third largest of the Scottish Isles and one of the most accessible as it is served by three ferries. This island boasts a huge variety of flora and fauna including Golden and White-tailed Eagles, Otters, Whales, Dolphins and Basking Sharks.

Visit if: You are a birder or a twitcher

Don’t miss: The brightly painted waterfront houses of Tobermory.

 

If you’re tempted by any of these alternative Islands why not visit them with adeo Travel. You can visit by car on our Scottish Islands Self-Drive tour or a small group tour such as Orkneys and Scottish Highlands.

Or email us for a completely bespoke tour of the Scottish Isles!

A Brave Attempt to Recreate Scotland

With the Olympics now over and no longer filling our television screens 24/7 and the Edinburgh Tattoo and festival in full swing, there has been no better timing this week for Disney/Pixar to launch their new Scottish set animation, Brave.

Princess Merida - Brave
Princess Merida – Brave

I am a secret Pixar fan, so with the excuse of entertaining my young niece and nephew, I grabbed the kids and trundled down to our local cinema to watch it on the big screen.  As you would expect from Disney, the film was a solid fantasy adventure story with endearing characters and a good splash of humour – the kids were engrossed.  But having lived in Scotland for 3 years, what I was intrigued to see was how the look and feel of Scotland would be captured in their animation?

The remote and rugged landscapes of the Scottish Highlands have provided an ideal back-drop for storytellers throughout the ages but I was concerned that they might lose their appeal when converted in to animation.  I must say however that Brave didn’t disappoint.  It seems that capturing a genuine look and feel of Scotland was a labour of love for the production team and director Mark Andrews, who actually spent his honeymoon vacation in Scotland.  The animators made a number of visits to Scotland whilst working on the film to experience themselves the Scotland that they were to recreate and immerse themselves quite literally in the Scottish landscapes (reportedly rolling in heather and swimming in

Callanais Standing Stones - Isle of Lewis
Callanais Standing Stones – Isle of Lewis

Highland lochs!).  The result is some enchanting images and sequences which truly capture the colour, texture and atmosphere of the Scottish Highlands.

The film features a number of Scottish traditions and icons including Highland Games, tartan clad clan leaders, ancient castles and mysterious standing stones.  Whilst, it seems, none of the settings and backdrops are based on specific locations in Scotland you can see that the producers drew inspiration from some key landmarks they visited such as Dunottar Castle, Eilean Donan Castle and the Callanais Standing Stones on the Isle of Lewis in the remote Scottish Islands.

The film impressed and the kids were entertained however it must be said that whilst the stunning animation of Disney is a good taster, there is really no substitute for coming and experiencing the enchanting landscapes of Scotland first-hand.