30th April 2007 -
It's nearly May already and Spring/Summer seems to have started very early in Scotland this year. This April certainly feels like one of the sunniest that I can remember in my (almost) 40 years.
All this good weather has meant that Aurelia and I have been zooming all over the country trying to get new photographs for updating the website.
This week we seem to have spent a disproportionate amount of our time going back and forth on the M8 between Glasgow and Edinburgh to research routes for day trips from the cities. The M8 has to rank as one of the dullest roads in Scotland, but it serves the purpose of getting you quickly from East to West.
On Thursday I went to visit Charles Rennie Mackintosh's famous Hill House at Helensburgh. Seeing this house on a sunny day can make such a difference because the sunlight really allows you to appreciate the way that Mackintosh designed the house to use light.
The first room you enter in the Hill House is a dark wood panelled hallway with beautifully detailed stencils on the walls. Mackintosh even designed the light fittings with careful attention to how they would reflect light around the room.
After the cool darkness of the hallway you enter the crisp, fresh brightness of the living room and the mood of the house changes completely. On the first floor of the Hill House you can see a "State of the Art" 1900's bathroom with a complex shower that blasts water from multiple directions. Next door to the bathroom is a dressing room and the master bedroom, which is presented in a very original state.
The other bedrooms on the first floor are now used for displays about Hill House, Mackintosh's design themes and a small gallery for works of current artists. I found this a bit disappointing as the Mackintosh designed rooms are so beautiful that I wanted to see more of the same.
Later in the week we hit the M8 again to travel through to Edinburgh and then into East Lothian. Our objective was again to find new routes for Edinburgh Day Trips.
Our only pre-planned visit for the day was to Hailes Castle near Haddington, so we were just taking random decisions about whether to turn right or left depending on how nice the roads looked. This is one of the benefits of not being a tourist with just a few days to spend on holiday, we can afford to just meander and let serendipity guide us to some great wee places.
When we did eventually get to Hailes Castle we decided that it was not really worth taking a major detour to visit. The surroundings are lovely with Hailes castle standing amongst old trees above a slow flowing river that was bordered by freshly ploughed meadows. However, the castle is not that exciting for visitors unless they are just looking for a nice picnic spot by the banks of a river.
22nd April 2007 -
Election fever is in the air in Scotland and it should be an exciting result on the 3rd of May with the movement towards Scottish Independence gaining momentum. At the same time there are Presidential elections in France and Aurelia exercised her right to vote on Sunday. This entailed a trip through to Edinburgh to visit the French consulate. We'd like to think that the consulate might have embassy status in a few years time!
Politics aside, we used the trip through to Edinburgh as an opportunity to research new routes for day trips around the East Lothian area. This turned out to be a very fruitful day of exploration with some lovely little side roads, cafes and villages being added to our list of touring attractions.
From Edinburgh we travelled to Dirleton Castle which meant passing through the very pretty village of Aberlady. A place that I would happily move to if I could afford the house prices.
After a pint in Dirleton at the Castle Inn (not a place that we recommend. Nice outside, but mediocre beer and a bit bland inside) we headed through North Berwick to Tantallon Castle. The road to Tantallon castle has great views across to Bass Rock where Peddie family legend has it that one of our ancestors was imprisoned.
Tantallon Castle is a place that I had always dismissed as just being a big wall beside a cliff. How wrong I was! Tantallon castle really left an impression on me. I could easily imagine how frightening it must have been to be under seige. Hearing the canonballs of Cromwell's artillery hitting the massive walls of the castle.
After doing the castle bit, it was time to search out some good tearooms. I knew that East Linton had some good restaurants, but before we got there we stumbled across a beautiful little craft shop/tearoom in the prettiest of villages. No, I'm not going to share that with you unless you buy one of our guides. Otherwise it wouldn't be Secret Scotland, would it?
15th April 2007 -
In the 6 years that I (Aurelia writing this time) have lived in Scotland, I have been to the Isles of Lewis, Harris, Skye and Mull and to the Shetland Islands. Arran is one of the few islands that I had not yet visited, although Mike has gone every year of his life since he was 3.
On Saturday, I finally "bagged" Arran. The weather was nice and warm again, so I got up early (well, 8 o'clock!) and took the ferry to the Isle of "Scotland in Miniature". The boat wasn't as busy as I thought it would be on this beautiful Saturday of the Easter Holidays - but I know for a fact that it can be overbooked in the summer, having tried to sail to Arran in August a few years back. So I strongly recommend pre-booking your ferry tickets, even if you go as foot-passengers.
My day started with a visit to Brodick Castle, which is 5 minutes in the bus or a half hour walk from the ferry terminal. It's a beautiful building with fabulous gardens, although the latter are probably nicer in the summer, with all the bulbs and rhododendrons in full bloom. The Castle tour is very well presented, with guides in each room to answer your questions and tell you more about life at the time. I felt that, although the interiors are luxurious and impressively furnished (it is trully beautiful), the public doesn't see as much as they would expect after paying £13.50 each to get in.
After the Castle, I walked down to the Arran Brewery, and then on to the Arran Cheese Factory and Arran Aromatics - not to be missed! But go with a budget as you'll be tempted by the different types of cheese and the impressive array of perfumes, bath foams, body lotions on display.
After my retail therapy, I took the bus to Lamlash, a lovely coastal village to the South of Brodick. A peaceful stop after the (relative) hustle and bustle of Brodick. Unfortunately the sun hadn't quite pierced through the mist that lasted the whole day, and the views over the Holy Island were a bit hazy.
5th April 2007 -
Its been a glorious start to April in Scotland. Over a week of days with clear blue skies and lengthening evenings. Fortunately the great weather was with me for a visit to Galloway where I had some new B&B's to visit for consideration for the guides. Whilst in the area I took the opportunity to explore some new roads and take photos of the local historical attractions.
Galloway is one of the parts of Scotland that really does qualify as a secret corner. This makes it a wonderful place for driving as the roads are empty and you get that same sense of tranquility as you can find in the Highlands.
One of the pleasures of creating Secret Scotland has been taking the time to explore little side roads. On this trip my exploration of sideroads led me to take the twisty country road from Gatehouse of Fleet to Laurieston. What a gem of a road for enthusiastic drivers. It's so good that I think I will need to create a new category of tour just for people that like spirited driving.
Another find on this trip was the Garden Tearoom in Rockcliffe, which was doing a roaring trade with Easter holiday visitors enjoying the sunshine in their tea garden. More good stuff that I'll need to update our tour and accommodation guides with!