VisitAberdeenshire

A few weeks ago we crossed the country, heading East to Aberdeenshire with VisitAberdeenshire. It’s a part of Scotland I’ve rarely visited so I didn’t really know what to expect which made the trip all the more exciting. Over the four day trip we discovered a region steeped in history, edged with a spectacular coastline and with some of the cutest villages you’ll find anywhere.

From Lochgilphead to the city of Aberdeen takes around 5 hours but it was a stunning drive in the hot July sunshine. Watching the landscape change with every passing mile was wonderful, Scotland really is such a diverse country. We left the rugged landscape of the west, passed by the rolling hills of central Scotland before emerging into the arable landscape of the East coast.

Aberdeen tends to have this reputation of being a grey, dull city which I think is largely due to the majority of the buildings being granite. However, even though grey these buildings are striking with many featuring aspects of Gothic Architecture. Marischal College is particularly impressive. As you wander through the streets and lanes of Aberdeen you’ll find something equally impressive, street art. Aberdeen is home to an international public arts festival called NUART. There are dozens of painting located all over the cities walls which range in size, colour and style.

Since it’s early days Aberdeen has been dependant on the sea, in fact the first people settled here because of the proximity to the water. Over hundreds of years Aberdeen has been associated with every form of Martine industry imaginable. From shipbuilding to fishing to the whale oil industry of the past and oil industry of the present, Aberdeen has seen it all. We visited the Aberdeen Maritime Museum located in the historic Shiprow which gives a fascinating insight into this extensive maritime history.

At the bottom of Aberdeen, beside the beach you’ll come to a charming wee former fishing village called Footdee. It’s one of the cutest villages I’ve ever seen, it’s all built in squares, it actually feels like stepping into a film set. There are cottages of all different shapes, colours and sizes and the gardens are full of flowers and quirky signs and ornaments.

Foodee isn’t the only charming fishing village in Aberdeen, this area is littered with quaint villages. After Aberdeen he headed North to the Banffshire Coast where we discovered Portsoy. It has the most beautiful 17th century harbour which even has a nice wee sandy beach. Again, the weather was stunning so we sat in the sun, ate some of Portsoy’s award winning ice cream and watched a couple of Minke Whales pass by.

Just east of Portsoy, settled amongst the cliff, lies another beautiful fishing villages called Crovie. I think this was my favourite. There is no vehicle access to the town so it’ll really like stepping back in time as you wander along the front weaving in and out the washing lines. On our visit the sea was calm but in a winter storm living here must be pretty scary as the houses are just feet away from the sea.

Travel another couple of miles east and you’ll come to a similar town called Pennan.It’s not quite as charming as Crovie as there are cars and shops but it’s still nice. The film Local Hero was filmed here in the 80’s which makes it extra special. You’ll be able to step inside that famous phone box.

It’s not only quint villages that Aberdeenshire has in abundance, it also has some fantastic castles. 263 to be precise and on our trip we managed to visit a couple. Dalgatie Castle was the first one we visited which is home to the Clan Hay. A castle has been located here since around 1050AD but the one you see today was constructed during the 16th century. There is so much to see in the castle, including Mary Queen of Scots bedchamber. This prominent Scottish figure stayed here for a few nights after the Battle of Corrachie in 1562. If you visit the castle make sure you go to the Laird’s Kitchen, the cakes are INCREDIBLE!!

On the same day we visited Duff House which is technically not a castle but I think it falls under the same category. Relatively speaking this house is fairly new, being built in the 18th Century but it has amassed a lot of history in that time. The owner and the architect had a major fall out, it has been used as a stately home and a hotel but also as a sanitarium, an internment camp and a prisoner of war camp. The building houses some incredible artwork including a £10 million ‘El Greco.’ At the time of our visit Duff House had a ‘Romantic Scotland’ exhibition running which includes the works of great Scottish artists like Horatio McCulloch.

On the third day of our trip we visited a very unique castle. Kinnaird Head Castle is located in Fraserburgh, the castle was converted into Scotland’s very first mainland lighthouse in 1787. We were given a tour of the lighthouse and taken up to the room where the lighthouse keeper operated the light. It was absolutely fascinating, I would thoroughly recommend a visit if you are in the area! Beside the lighthouse you’ll find The Museum of Scottish Lighthouses which tells the story of Scottish Lighthouses and their keepers.

Ruined castles are plentiful here, the most famous being Dunnottar. It’s understandable why this castle is so popular. The location is incredibly dramatic, like something out of a Hollywood film. It sits out on rugged cliff, only accessible by a dramatic stair case. This rugged cliff top must hold some amazing stories. There has been a settlement here since Pictish times and the now empty ruins of Dunnottar once hosted legendary figures like William Wallace and Mary Queen of Scots.

If you like spooky places then Slains Castle is the places to go. Since it was abandoned in the 1920’s it’s been left to nature which has left the building looking a wee bit battered. Situated right on the cliffs it’s fully open to the elements of the North Sea. There is something about the building which is incredibly eerie, I’m assuming it has always had the feel to it even during it’s heyday as Bram Stoker used it as inspiration when writing Dracula.

We visited so many incredibly places on our trip but without a doubt my favourite location was The Bullers of Buchan. The coastline right along this stretch is spectacular but here it’s extra special. There is a circular chasm that plummets unnervingly far down to the sea below. This feature was formed when a large sea cave collapsed after millennia of erosion by the fearsome North Sea. The turbulent waters rush into this hollow through a natural sea arch. This whole area consists of perilous sea cliffs which are home to literally thousands of sea birds. I’ve honestly never seen sea bird colonies on such a grand scale. When visiting here it’s important to be extremely careful. There are sheer drops from the tops of the cliffs, the foot paths are rough and there are no safety barriers. I would advise avoiding this area with young children or if you are not confident in the outdoors. However if you are confident and up for a challenge it’s worth it.

As mentioned the cliffs are home to thousands of sea birds including everyones favourites, Puffins. Having never seen a puffin before I was so excited to see them flapping around and with a bit of careful negotiating we got pretty close. I’m just going to leave you with a selection of images from that joyous afternoon.

If you are a bit of a ‘twitcher’ another great place to visit is the St Cyrus nature reserve which is home to a wide variety of birdlife as well as butterflies and other insects. Unfortunately we didn’t get to visit the reserve as I tore a tendon in my knee and was able to walk to it but from photographs online it looks beautiful.

During our stay in Aberdeenshire we stayed in some beautiful accommodation. In Aberdeen itself we stayed at Skene House Hotel which was in a really central location and ate at Howies which was only a 10 minute walk away. On our second evening we stayed and ate in the Knowes Hotel in Macduff. This hotel sat on a hill over looking the Banffshire Coast and out to sea. The food in the restaurant was delicious and the waiting staff were so lovely which made our stay extra special!. On the final night we stayed in the MaryCulter house which sits on the banks of the River Dee. This place is really stunning and has an incredible history, parts of the building date back to the time of the Knights Templar.

Highland Titles Nature Reserve.

A couple of weeks ago I visited the Highland Titles Nature Reserve which is located near Duror on the beautiful banks on Loch Linnhe. The reserve first opened in 2007 and over the last decade they have focused on the conservation of native species through their long term rewilding project. I think the conservation of native plants and animals is so important therefor I was very much looking forward to seeing the work carried out at this reserve first hand.

On our arrival we met up with Stewart who is the lead volunteer at the reserve. He gave us a brief overview of the reserve and the work done here before dousing us with midge spray and taking us on a tour around the park in a buggy. The reserve is vast and a lot of it is uphill so it’s great that they have these buggy’s on hand for the less able bodied. After our tour around Stewart dropped us off to let us explore the park ourselves on foot. He mentioned that the highest point in the reserve offers some spectacular views so we headed up there first. The walk up is fairly steep and off road but anyone with reasonable fitness will be able to manage the climb and it’s definitely worth the effort as the views were spectacular even on a bit of a dreich day. From here you look across Loch Linnhe to the remote Morvern Peninsula.

After descending the hill our next stop was a wee corner of the reserve which has been made into a ‘Forever Home’ for Hedgehogs. I didn’t realise but over the last 50 years the hedgehog population has dramatically plummeted in the Scottish countryside. This is mainly down to an increase in farmland and the wide scale use of pesticides. Sadly we didn't see any Hedgehogs as they are nocturnal animals but it’s good to know that they have an area here to roam safely. You can read more about Hedgehogs by clicking here.

The Salachan Burn runs through the Highland Titles reserve and along the course of the burn there are many waterfalls and pools which you can easily walk to. There wasn’t much water in the river when I visited but I can image it’ll be pretty spectacular if there’s been a lot of rain.

The river isn’t the only water source of water in the reserve. Stewart and the team have created a man-made 3 acre Lochan which is abundant with wildlife. The lochans are full of brown trout which over the years have attracted an Osprey as well as otters. There were no otters or ospreys for us but we did see a few different species of birds and lots of jumping fish.

During the morning/ early afternoon of our visiting the weather wasn’t very photogenic which was really frustrating as the Lochan was beautiful but the beauty of it wasn’t coming out well in photographs. We decided to hang around the area and come back for golden hour where we were treated to a beautiful Highland sunset.

As I mentioned the reserve do a huge amount of conservation, evidence of this is found along the edge of this wee lochan. As you walk past you’ll see brightly painting boxes, these boxes are beehives which have been decorated by the children from the local primary schools. The school children are educated about the bees and their importance as well as being involved in their care. I think this is brilliant as it’s so important to have the next generation involved in conservation and be passionate about nature. You can read Stewarts blog about why Honey Bees are so important by clicking here.

Other work carried out in the park since it’s opening includes the removal of the non native Sitka Spruce, these ‘forestry’ trees are gradually being replaced by native broadleaf species like Oak Trees. There are still large areas of Spruce trees in the reserve but as Stewart explained this is a long term project which takes a lot of time and effort.

By far the most exciting project at the reserve is the rehabilitation of Scottish Wildcats. These cats, which were once found all over Scotland, are now one of the rarest species in the world. There are thought to be less than a 100 left which is incredibly sad. The reserve has one of the best rehabilitation centres in Europe which cares for injured adults and abandoned kittens before returning them to the wild when they have fully recovered. They live in vast enclosures where they can hunt and build up their strength. If you visit the reserve don’t expect to see a wildcat as you won’t, this is not an animal park or a zoo. They inhabit the forest away from areas frequented by the public. It’s so important to keep these cats away from the public and actually make them frighted of people so when they leave the reserve they keep away from humans and inhabited areas. Now when I was there I saw one of the wildcats but I was unimaginably lucky, even the volunteers who work here everyday rarely ever see them. The sighting was fleeting but it’s a moment i’ll never forget!

You can help protect the species and aid the work done at Highland Titles by adopting one of these magnificent animals, the link to the adoption page is here.

The Highland Titles Nature Reserve can be visited for free at anytime but if you fancy contributing to the work done here you can buy a plot of land in the reserve and become a ‘Lord’ or ‘Lady’ which I think is a really fun idea. The money paid will go towards funding this project and help Stewart and his team continue their excellent work.

We finished off the day watching a muted sunset from one of the viewpoints in the reserve. I would thoroughly recommend a visit here if you are in the area. The reserve is such a peaceful place to wander around and you can learn lots about nature along the way.

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Argyll's Secret Coast

As it’s name suggests Argyll’s Secret Coast remains largely undiscovered compared to other parts of Argyll. The Secret Coast lies on the South West of the Cowal Peninsula and is a place of picturesque views and tranquility. Despite this area of Argyll only being an hour away from me I have very rarely visited because I wrongly thought there wasn’t here other than Portavadie Marina and Spa. Portavadie contacted me during the Spring asking if I would like to stay and explore the area and as I love visiting new places and promoting Argyll I gladly agreed!

Travelling to Portavadie for me almost feels like visiting an island as the quickest way to get there is catching the ferry from Tarbert and crossing Loch Fyne. It only takes about 25 minutes and is a beautiful sail with views on to Arran in the South and Lochgilphead and Ardrishaig in the North. In summer you are very likely to see a porpoise or two, Simon and I counted five on our crossing.

Portavadie very kindly arranged for us to stay in one of their luxury apartments. These apartments are really stunning and offer views over the marina and out to the imposing mountains of Arran. The bathroom in our apartment even had a sauna.

On arrival we cracked open a bottle of Prosecco and sat out on the veranda which was just bliss on a mild summers evening. I had also been left a lovely wee goodie bag full of local products including a local speciality coffee so it was fun rifling though that.

That evening we ate in the Marina Restaurant and Bar, I’ve said it before in previous blogs but this place really is exceptional, the 2 AA Rosette awards confirms this. The restaurant has floor to ceiling windows with views over Loch Fyne where a lot of the seafood on the menu was caught. It’s not only the seafood options that are local, many other ingredients on the menu here are sourced from ‘Argylls’ Larder.’ After much deliberating we decided to share a crab starter. Actually I’ll rephrase that, Simon got a starter and I ate half of it! The restaurant also does fantastic cocktails which is a proper treat as I don't know anywhere else in Argyll that does proper cocktails. For mains we opted for the the Loch Fyne langoustines which were caught by the fishermen of Tarbert and the 8oz Sirloin steak .

We started the next day with a full Scottish breakfast before heading out for a drive around the area. We drove across to Millhouse (where I saw my first ever woodpecker) and then over to Kames where we headed south along the shores of the west Kyle of Bute. From this road you are treated to picturesque views of the Island of Bute and the Island of Arran. I love this time of year, the countryside is so green and fresh especially in an area like this. Along the way I spotted an area which was littered with pink and white fox gloves. The foxgloves grew in an area where a forest had been felled so it was great to see land that can often look quite ugly and deceased be filled with such vibrancy.

Our first proper stop of the morning was at Ostell Bay which is on the most southern shores of Loch Fyne. This is a beach of gorgeous golden sand which is pretty unusual for this area of Argyll, most of Loch Fyne’s shores are rocky and constructed from shingle. We parked up in the large lay-by at Kilbride farm and from here it took us about 15 minutes to walk down to the beach. We are both fast walkers so it may take others a little longer but no more that 30 minutes. The beach looks straight out to the Isle of Arran and with it’s distinct mountains it was quite a sight even on an overcast day. I can only imagine how beautiful it must be at sunset.

As you can see from the photograph we took the SUP down to the beach but because it was so windy neither of us could stay on. Instead we had a lot of fun ‘surfing’ about in the waves. Another plus point of this beach is it’s really safe particularly for children. Even about 50 meters off shore the water is only about 3 foot deep. The beach also has lots of little pools which are great for kids to play in and on a summers day they’ll warm up quite nicely.

After all that frolicking about in the water we were starving so headed to Botanica at the Barn at Millhouse. This restaurant which also has a farm shop and garden is beautifully rustic. They use local suppliers and even grow their own herbs and vegetables in the barns garden. For lunch we both opted for the seafood pasta.

As mentioned the restaurant has a garden and in the garden they have goats. I love goats. I think they are the funniest animals. Sadly we didn’t have much time to spend with the goats as we were booked on a boat trip on the Kyles but I still had time to take a couple of photos. Looks at their faces, so much personality!

We left the goats to meet Donald in Tighnabruaich who owns DC Marine. Donald runs boat trips on the Kyles of Bute on a converted fishing trawler called Morag. We spent about an hour on the water admiring the beautiful scenery as Donald entertained us with local tales. At the North end of the Kyles lie three islands; Eilean Mor, the big island. Eilean Fraoich, Heather Island. And Eilean Buidhe, yellow island. Collectively they are known as ‘ The Burnt Islands’ and Donald explained the reason for this. Around 1000 years ago this area was under invasion from the Vikings until The Battle of Largs in 1263 where the Scots finally defeated the fearsome northern warriors. During this time and after the battle the Vikings took their dead to these island to be burned, sending them to their afterlife in Valhalla. From then on the islands were known as the ‘Burnt Islands.

We returned to Portavdie after the boat trip and made use of the spa. It turned into a beautiful afternoon so relaxing in the outdoor infinity pool and hot tub was delightful. I also really like the upstairs spa area with its hydro pool and panoramic views. It’s always much quieter up here and sometimes worth paying that wee bit extra to use the upstairs facilities.

For dinner that evening we were treated to a lovely meal at The Royal an Lochan in Tighnabruaich. The building dates back to the 1860’s and offers beautiful views over the Kyles and onto the Isle of Bute. Like all in all other restaurants around here the food is all local. We both opted for fish and chips which was landed by the fisherman of Tarbert. The portion was so big both of us struggled to finish it. We sat in the dining room all evening but the hotel also has a public bar which is frequented by the shinty loving locals. If you are looking for a wee bit of local craic this is the place to go.

The next day we got up at stupid o’clock to catch the sunrise, I think the official time was 4am. I’ve heard that the view of the Kyles from the A8003 is one of the best in Scotland so since we were only 20 minutes drive I decided it would be a good idea to capture sunrise from here. That morning it didn’t seem like such a good idea and the sunset wasn’t overly spectacular but it was a gorgeous way to start the day and looking back i’m glad we did it!

Sadly this was out last morning in Argyll’s secret coast but we’ll definitely be back! There’s loads of places i’ve spotted to take the paddle board and I want to go back the beach on a really hot summers day. It would also be a great place for cycling, you can actually hire bikes at Portavadie. We were offered two that morning but after the early start neither of us could be bothered so we spent a while in the pool before leaving. The crossing back to Tarbert was absolutely stunning as there was hardly a breathe of wind and the reflections were almost perfect!

I hope this has inspired you to visit one of Scotland’s hidden gems and I would just like to say and massive thank you to Portavadie for putting us up and organising everything. Also a big thank you to all the local business who gifted us such wonderful food and entertainment.

Portavadie

Portavadie Marina and Spa is one of my favourite places to go for a wee treat and it only only takes a 15 minute drive and 25 minute ferry crossing for me to get there which is great. So when I was contacted by Jodie from Portvadie asking if I would like to come for the day and participate in a promotional film for their new SAIL | SWIM | DINE PACKAGE I was very excited! But also slightly nervous as being in the other side of the camera doesn’t come naturally.

I caught the 10.15am ferry from Tarbert which got me into Portavadie at around 10.40am. It’s a short walk from the pier to the main reception and on a sunny May day it was rather pleasant.

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At the reception I met Jodie and Abbie who took me around to the Spa and pool area. Portavadie has a beautiful indoor pool and spa area but the real attraction for me, and I guess most folk, is the infinity pool and outdoor hot tub. I think I’m right in saying that this infinity pool is the largest in Scotland. The pool offers stunning vistas across Loch Fyne to the little fishing village of Tarbert and out to the spectacular Isle of Arran. Abbie filmed me relaxing in the pool for a while which was actually a lot less awkward than I thought it would be.

This photograph was taken on a previous visit to Portavadie last winter.

This photograph was taken on a previous visit to Portavadie last winter.

The next part of the day was the part I was least looking forward to, a trip on Loch Fyne on a motor boat. This may sound like heaven to most people but I have a bit of a phobia of boats and deep water. Up until recently I even got worked up going on ferries. Just as we sailed out of the marina my nerves were distracted by two porpoises who were breaching near the boat. It was a real treat to see these lovely creatures so close and it definitely helped settle my nerves.

Sailing out of the marina.

Sailing out of the marina.

I ended up being very brave (for me) and sat up front as we speeded south towards the Sound of Bute. I still can’t decide if I found this fun or terrifying, possibly both. What I can say for definite is the views are lovely and it was great to see the area from a totally different perspective! We went as far as Ostell bay which looked really beautiful and I can’t wait to visit this beach on foot on my next visit to this area.

Ostell Bay.

Ostell Bay.

I did enjoy the boat trip and it was very kind of the staff at Portavadie to take the time to take me out on the loch but I was very glad to get my wobbly legs back on dry land. By this time it was lunch time and I was booked into dine at the Marina Restaurant and Bar. I had a fantastic steak meal in this restaurant in March so was thoroughly looking forward to my lunch. The menu has a great selection but there was no way I could pass up the Loch Fyne Langoustines which was served with a big bowl of salad and chips! They have a great drinks menu as well including a cocktail and mocktail list. Since I was driving later on in the day I decided to opt for a passion fruit flavoured mojito mocktail which was every bit as good as a regular alcoholic mojito. The restaurant itself is really bright and fresh looking and as you eat your meal you can look out onto the marina.

After lunch that was my official ‘work’ done but the girls said I could spend the rest of the day using the pool and spa which I wasn’t going to say no to. I spent at least an hour and a half relaxing in the infinity pool, the sun was out and winds were light. While I was in the pool I spotted the porpoises again, watching them swimming just off shore was a great experience! There is also an adults only Spa area upstairs which includes a sauna, steam room and hydro pool. Later on in the afternoon the pool got a bit busier so it was lovely to escape up there and regain peace and quiet. The spa offers floor to ceiling views across Loch Fyne and onto Arran so I was still able to watch the porpoises from the indoor hydro-pool.

I eventually managed to drag myself away from the spa and catch the ferry back to Tarbert. It’s was such a calm evening which made it ideal for watching the porpoises which were still playing around the area. I counted around six on the short crossing and even managed to capture a couple on camera.

Below is the finished film, I hope you like it! I’m heading back to Portavadie tomorrow for a couple of days while I explore Argyll’s Secret Coast which should be fun! The team at Portavadie have put together a great itinerary and if you like you can follow along on Instagram!

Wildlife of Argyll

I often discuss the beauty and history of Argyll but I don’t often touch upon the diverse wildlife that this part of Scotland has to offer which is why I specifically asked if I could have a wildlife tour while on the ‘Heart and Soul of Scotland’ campaign with Wild About Argyll. I do regularly see wildlife on my travels around Argyll and the rest of Scotland but I wanted a better insight on how to spot wildlife and to learn more about the species which we share the land with. If you have read my previous blog you’ll have seen the first thing I did on this trip was a wildlife tour of Mull with Wild about Mull. My guide, Bryan shared his vast amount of knowledge and offered tips which then helped me spot wildlife on the rest of my trip.

OTTERS

As a wee girl I read Otter in the Outhouse by Lucy Daniels and since then otters have been my favourite Scottish species. I just love how playful they are and I think their illusiveness just adds to their appeal. I’ve seen a couple over the years but usually from a distance so when Bryan asked what I wanted to see the most my answer was of course otters. We spent about two hours scanning the waters on both sides of Loch Scidain before Bryan finally spotted a mother and cub. Spending two hour of fruitless searching may sound frustrating and boring but it was anything but. I found it really exciting, I was constantly alert never knowing when something might appear and Bryan kept assuring me I would see something. He said he’s never had a disappointed customer so that kept me feeling optimistic. Listening to Bryan was also fascinating, he had so much knowledge and knew the name of every bird, butterfly and plant we passed or I asked about. He also shared tips on spotting otters which helped me and hopefully will help you too.

10 otter spotting tips!

  1. Be patient, they will appear at some point.

  2. It’s always worth looking, you often read they are best seen at dawn/dusk on a low tide but they can be seen at anytime.

  3. Look out for slimy green patches on rocks, this is a good indication that there are otters in the area. They mark there territory by spraying which leaves slime on the rocks.

  4. If you are driving along travel around 10mph, any faster and you will miss them. (just remember to be courteous to other road users and use passing places)

  5. If there are ducks, geese etc close to the shore line the chances are you won’t find otters around the immediate area as these birds view otters as a threat.

  6. Look out for fresh water burns running into the sea, otters need fresh water to wash their fur of salt to keep it as an effective insulator.

  7. If walking along the shore line look out for remains of crabs and other shells this will give an indication if otters are in the area as this is what they feed on.

  8. Stay down wind so the otters won’t smell you.

  9. Try to conceal yourself if possible, the otter will probably see you before you see them and if you’re standing tall on the beach you’re going to stand out like a sore thumb.

  10. Finally stay as quiet as possible and RESPECT THE OTTER. Don’t get too close or so anything that may frighten the animal.

Thanks to Bryan’s tips I spotted more otters as I travelled down towards Fionnphort, I quietly watched them for about 40 minutes. The mother was well aware I was there but because I was quiet, moved slowly and kept my distance she didn’t mind.

That otter experience was fantastic but last winter I also had an amazing otter experience on Mull, this time on the shores of Loch Na Keal. My boyfriend and I had been driving around the island for hours looking for otters and were about to give up when I spotted a family running along the shore. There is a video of that sighting below..


SEALS

Seals are probably the animal I see most often when travelling around Argyll and I probably just take them for granted but if you don’t live around the coast I can imagine seeing a seal is quite exciting. Seals are also connected with many Scottish myths and legends including that of the Selkies. Selkies look like seals when in the sea then undergo magical metamorphosis when leaving the water to become a beautiful human when on land or so the legend goes.

On my travels I saw both Common and Grey seals, Scotland holds such a large percentage of the UK’s population of seals with 83% and 90% respectively. You’ll often find them lounging about on rocks near the shoreline and bobbing about in the shallows. On my trip I spotted them in many places including Carsaig on Mull, the Craignure ferry terminal, the Kilberry loop between Tarbert and Lochgilphead, Southend in Kintyre and on Loch Fyne.

DEER

Like seals deer are as common as muck throughout Argyll and the rest of Scotland with 4 species found here, the mighty Red Deer, Roe Deer, Sika Deer and Fallow Deer. There are thought to be up to 750,000 of them. So as you can imagine spotting them is not difficult. While travelling around I spotted them on the shores of Loch Scridain while out with Bryan, and on the hills of Mull. I also see them regularly close to the road in Kilmartin Glen which can be a little worrying at times. I also spotted ones when driving around Kintyre and on The Rest and be Thankful. The photographs below were taken on Mull and I didn't even have to get out the car to take the pictures. Deer are quite a good animal to go looking for if you are not very adventurous but want to see wildlife or if you have mobility issues and can’t walk far as you often see them close to the road.

But please DO NOT EVER FEED THE DEER CHOCOLATE BISCUITS, CRISPS OR ANY OTHER HUMAN FOOD! This type of food is so bad for the deer. Feeding deer the wrong food can cause a condition called acute Acidosis which is like IBS in humans but this condition can be fatal. Deer can’t digest high carb food leading to heart breaking stories of deer dying because they cannot digest the food. They effectively starve to death even though their stomachs are full. So please, if you are lucky enough for deer to come close to you and you feel the needs to feed them just pick up some grass and heather, their natural sources of nutrition.

RED SQUIRRELS

Argyll is one of the last remaining places in Britain that is purely dominated by red squirrels, there is not a single grey in the whole county which is great as grey squirrels are a serious threat to their smaller red cousins. Argyll has a really healthy population of these cheeky wee characters but unlike the deer they are a little more tricky to spot. I have seen them when wandering through the forests but it is a rarity. For this reason if I want to photograph red squirrels I often head to gardens like Crarae, Arduaine and Benmore as they all have feeding areas which the squirrels frequent plus squirrels living in these gardens are much more used to humans. I just love watching them scurrying around and nibbling at their food, they are probably the cutest of Scotland’s animals. The pictures below were taken in Benmore Garden’s near Dunoon. The one on the right obviously had a bad itch and the one on the left was a fierce wee beggar, no one was allowed anywhere near his spot or his collection of nuts.

BIRDS

Argyll has such a diverse variety of birds, you’ll find everything from Herons to Oyster Catchers, Jays to Blue Tits and even Kingfishers and Owls but my favourites have to be the big birds of prey, especially Eagles! I often see Buzzards flying around from my window but I’m not lucky enough to see eagles from my house. For Eagles the best place to head is Mull, I’ve never been to Mull and not seen an eagle. You get both White Tailed and Golden on the island and when I visited I saw both in Glen More but unfortunately they were a bit far away for decent pictures. Below is a picture of a White Tailed Eagle from a previous trip and a photo from the location I saw the Golden Eagle, at this point it had just disappeared into the cloud. When I spotted the eagle it was sitting high on a mountain ridge over looking its nest before taking off and soaring high into the clouds.

On my trip I also saw Buzzards, Ravens and Oysters Catchers pictured below.And hundreds of Herons which I never actually look any pictures of as they are so common.

Looking back now I was really fortunate to see all that wildlife, especially since I was moving around quite a bit and wildlife watching often requires a lot of waiting around and patience, This is only a small selection of wildlife you can see around the land and sea of Argyll. Over the years I’ve also seen foxes, badgers, snakes, stoats and even a sighting of a rare Wildcat. While crossing on the ferries to the islands I’ve been lucky enough to see Dolphins, Porpoises, Basking Sharks and even Killer Whales!

The Heart and Soul of Scotland.

Hello and welcome to my first blog from my adventures around Argyll and Glasgow, it was a paid campaign ‘The Heart and Soul of Scotland’ with Wild About Argyll and People Make Glasgow. This blog is going to concentrate on my itinerary over the 8 days and the places I visited. I will touch on the things I got up to but there will be more blogs to come focusing on wildlife, history, beaches and food. So grab a cuppa tea or even better, a wee dram and let me tell you about my adventures around the best county in Scotland..

I set off from Lochgilphead and travelled up the B816 to Oban to catch the ferry to Mull, this is the quickest route for me but if you were coming from Glasgow or anywhere from the central belt and further east the best route for you to take would be the A82 which takes you along the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond and then joins the A85 at Crianlarich. The A85 then continues west to Oban. The scenery along this stretch of road is spectacular and there are some notable places to stop along the way including the exquisite St Conans Kirk, Cruachan Power Station also known as the Hollow Mountain, Inverawe Smokehouse who I can assure you sells amazing produce. Oh and last but not least Kilchurn Castle, probably Argyll’s most famous landmark. This is a place most of you have probably been pronouncing wrong. Most people pronounce it the way it’s written, ‘Kil-Churn’ but the correct pronunciation is ‘Kil-Hoorn.’

Kilchurn Castle

Kilchurn Castle

Anyway, that was a wee bit of extra information, lets get back to me trip. I caught the 10am ferry from the Calmac ferry terminal, I had to be there for 9.30am as you are required to turn up at least 30 minutes before the ferry sails. They are very strict about this and if you turn up late, even though you are booked on, you may not be allowed to board. If you are taking your car over I highly recommend you book well in advance! The ferries get very busy especially during the summer months and many people turn up to find the ferry is fully booked.

It only takes 50 minutes to cross from Oban to Craignure and the sailing is very scenic. Mull is the 3rd largest of the Hebridean islands at 875km squared and one of the most easily accessible. There are 3 ferries to the island, the aforementioned from Oban along with one from Lochaline and one from Kilchoan. The main town of Tobermory was made famous by the children tv programme Balamory which was filmed in the town. The landscape of Mull is diverse, wild and an absolute haven for wildlife.

When I arrived on the island I headed straight for Pennyghael in the south of the island ( I’m going to insert a link to a map of the island here) to meet up with wildlife guide Bryan who runs Wild about Mull. Bryan has lived on Mull for 13 years and has over 30 years experience in wildlife watching. I was so impressed with his knowledge, he knew the name of every bird we passed along with vast amounts of information about each species. On top of that he’s a really nice and friendly man who’s dead easy to chat too. I told Bryan I wanted see otters and after a couple of hours of fruitless searching I did eventually get an incredible encounter with some otters. However, to hear more about my otter encounter along with tips I learned from Bryan on spotting wildlife you’ll need to wait until my wildlife blog but in the meantime I will leave you with a photo.

Mother and cub

Mother and cub

After my otter encounter I left Pennygheal, driving further down the Ross of Mull where I met up with my boyfriend who lives on the island. He took me to the most idyllic beach called Traigh Bhan na Sgurra (White sands of Scoor.) Just before the town of Bunessan you’ll see a sign post for Scoor, if you follow this road you’ll come to the beach. It is a wee bit off the beaten track so instead of me trying to explain it I will attach an ordance survey map of the area here. Getting down to the beach is a bit of a scramble and I would advise not going alone unless you are confident in the outdoors. It is totally worth the effort though as the bay is absolutely beautiful and the likelihood is that you’ll get it all to yourself. We stayed here for about an hour and because of light winds and high land surrounding, the beach was quite sheltered. Maybe even warm. We went for a wee paddle in the sea but it was absolutely baltic, I have no idea how people swim in water that cold!

Just to the west of this beach there’s another wee cove and in this cove there is a cave, in this cave there are several prehistoric carvings which I found really exciting. The carvings are mainly circles but there is also a trident. Again getting here is a bit of a scramble and the cave is a bit damp and smelly but I’d recommend a visit if you are in the area. I find it fascinating to see evidence of human life from prehistoric times.

By the time we left it was sunset and dinner time, after all the walking about I was starving so we headed for Keel Row in Fionnphort and had an absolute feast. I was so tired and hungry by this time I forgot to take any pictures but the food was delicious and the portions were huge, fantastic value for money. We were joined for dinner by Margaret, Matt and Rachel who own Achaban House where I was staying. After dinner we headed back to the house which is only 2 minutes drive from Fionnphort and I headed straight to sleep as by this time I was totally exhausted.

Day 2

After a well needed sleep I woke up to a fantastic breakfast laid out by Matt and Rachel, the homemade seeded bread was honestly the best bread I have ever tasted. At breakfast I discovered wild swimmer, Calum MacLean had also spent the night at Achaban. We had met a few years earlier so it was nice to say a quick hello. Unfortunately due to my schedule I didn’t get to spend much time in the house but what I saw was comfortable, beautifully furnished and freshly decorated. The hosts could not have been friendlier or more welcoming.

Achaban House.

Achaban House.

My first stop of the day was at Ardalanish Weavers, Matt and Rachel had recommended I visit here and it was only a short detour of my route. Ardalanish weavers consists of a farm, weavers shed and shop. The staff are welcoming and more than happy to show visitors around the weavers shed and demonstrate the weaving process. The process is really fascinating and requires a highly skilled individual to carry it out. The tweed made here is then sold in the shop and also online. You can read all about Ardalanish on their website which I’ve provided a link to above.

After leaving Ardalanish I headed back towards Pennyghael then turned onto the B8035, this road is known as the scenic route but it is possibly the most challenging to drive if you are not used to single track island roads. There are steep hills, sharp bends, the road passes below cliffs that are prone to small rock falls and livestock are often found roaming on the road but please don’t let this put you off as the drive it totally worth it and as long as you take it easy and use passing places you’ll be absolutely fine. Along this stretch there are plenty of places to stop for walks, picnics or even a wee wild swim if you are feeling brave. It’s worth keeping your eyes peeled for otters and eagles on this stretch of road.

The scenery is very dramatic on this part of the island and looks incredible is all weathers. Below are a couple of photos which I’ve taken over the past year. The wee white house is actually an industrial cottage, I’m not exactly sure of it’s use but it is part of a hydro scheme.

I carried along the B8035 until I reached Grulin here I turned onto the B8073 which carries along the west coast of the island. This road takes you up the other side of Loch na Keal, I personally think this side of the Loch is the most scenic as you are looking across to Ben More (Mulls only Munro) and the other mountains.

This is a great spot for White tailed eagles, there’s a nest around this area and they regularly swoop down on the loch to catch fish, there are also fish farms nearby which they tend to frequent. I captured this eagle last summer as it was returning to the nest.

White tailed eagle

White tailed eagle

If you carry on along this road you’ll eventually come to a turn off for the Ulva ferry which takes you to the idyllic island of Ulva. This tiny ferry runs regularly during the summer months and only takes minutes to cross the small channel from Mull. I didn’t have time to visit on this trip but I did spend a day on the island last summer. The island is a paradise for walkers, there are numerous trails around the island for all ages and abilities. As well as natural beauty, Ulva also has a rich history for such a tiny island. One of the walks on Ulva takes you to the ruinous village of Ormaig, ormaig was violently cleared of it’s inhabitants during the Highland Clearances. Ulva was also known for it’s kelp industry and being the birth place of Lachlan Macquarie, The Father of Australia. Also worth mentioning is the Boathouse restaurant which you’ll find at the pier, the food is mainly locally sourced seafood which as you can imagine is delicious.

A couple of miles on from the Ulva ferry you’ll come to a waterfall which is worth stopping at, the name of this waterfall is Eas Fors waterfall and literally translates to ‘waterfall waterfall waterfall.’ It starts off pretty gently, cascading down into wee pools but if you follow the river abut 50 meters you’ll come to the edge of a cliff and the waterfall plummets over the edge to the shore below. I don’t have a photo looking over the edge as my lens kept getting soaked from the wind blowing the waterfall up the way.

Continue along the twisty turny road and you will eventually reach Calgary Bay, this area lended it’s name to that major city in Canada; Calgary. It always amuses me when I hear people stating that Calgary on Mull must have been named after Calgary in Canada. Anyway, this beautiful sandy bay is glorious in summer but when I visited it was very windy and a wee bit wet. However, I do think there is something exhilarating about being on a beach on a blustery day. On days like this you really feel the power of nature around you and that can be quite a good feeling. But it can also be a cold and wet feeling so I didn’t stay too long. Below is a picture of Calgary when I visited on my trip along with a picture taken on the hills above the beach on a hot evening last summer. I think you’ll agree that the beach and surrounding area is stunning in both weather conditions.

My next destination was where I would be staying for the night, Glengorm castle. Upon arrival I headed straight to the Glengorm Castle Coffee Shop I was starving and pretty tired after a busy morning to it was lovely to sit down in here and relax for a while. For lunch I ordered the fish platter which consisted of salmon and trout which was prepared and cured in different ways along with salad and bread. This meal was really delicious and also healthy, afterwards I had a big slice of rose and raspberry cake. Not quite as healthy but even more delicious.

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During the afternoon I was meant to meet Kerry, the Glengorm ranger to join her as she trained volunteers as guides for one of the walks run at Glengorm but disappointedly I was running late and missed the walk. Glengorm runs a wildlife project which was established in 2013, the aim of this project is to ‘monitor the biodiversity’ of the estate along with providing an ‘interactive education facility’ for the public to help ‘connect them with the spectacular natural heritage’ of this area. The wildlife project has a very visual visitor centre which is great for adults and children alike. The project also runs a variety of guided walks for all ages and abilities. These walks can take you to places off historic interest, on peacefully woodland walks and one even takes you to an extinct volcano. Since I missed the walk I had a wander around the estate by myself, its a really lovely area with beautiful views across the sound of Mull to the Ardnamurchan peninsula and also north to the islands of Coll and Tiree.

Glengorm

Glengorm Castle

Glengorm Castle

After my walk I was really quite tired so checked into the castle where I received a warm welcome before being shown to my luxurious room. My favourite feature of the room was the bath tub. I couldn’t resist having a bath to warm up and have a bit of a rest.

I adored this bath tub.

I adored this bath tub.

All the rooms the castle are so tastefully decorated. It’s definitely Scottish but not too Scottish if you know what I mean. In the reception area there is a large open fire to sit beside. There is a library with the most incredible selection of books and and even better view. There is also another guest room which is very comfortable to sit and has a pool table.

In the early evening I headed to a hill on the Glengorm estate called Meall an Inbhire, this hill is easily identified as it has radio masts. My aim here was to capture a magnificent sunset however Mother Nature had other ideas as a massive bank of cloud came in and blocked out the sun leaving rather unphotogenic light. I was quite disappointed that I wouldn’t be able to capture the photograph I had planned however it was still a magnificent view and well worth the walk.

Looking over the Sound of Mull.

Looking over the Sound of Mull.

After my walk I headed into Tobermory for dinner, the town is only a 15 minute drive from Glengorm castle. Tobermory has a great choice of places to eat, there’s something for everyone with options of good old pub food, restaurants serving local produce and even a seafood cafe. I’ve eaten in them all and thoroughly enjoyed the food and the atmosphere in each. On this particular evening I was treated to a complementary meal in MacGoghans which is located on the harbour. I ate in the Restaurant Bar but they also have other rooms including the cosy Bar Beag. The atmosphere was lively on the evening I visited with a mixture of locals and tourists eating and drinking. MacGochan’s regularly has live music especially during the summer months with great Scottish bands like Gunna Sound, Skerryvore and Heron Valley.

After a busy day I opted for the 8oz stirloin with all the trimmings.

After a busy day I opted for the 8oz stirloin with all the trimmings.

After dinner I drove back to the castle, by this time all the cloud had cleared away and the stars were beautiful however it was far too windy to consider photographing them. In the castle’s library there is a shelf of whisky which guests are permitted to help themselves to, so I poured myself a wee dram and sat by the open fire before retiring to bed.

Day 3

I was up early to catch the ferry back to the mainland and travel back down the A816 to my next destinations, the islands of Seil and Easdale. I always forget Seil is an island as you don’t need a ferry, in fact you just cross over what looks like a river by humpbacked bridge officially named The Clachan Bridg which was built in 1793. The small stream of water is The Clachan Sound, it connects to the Atlantic at both ends which is why the bridge is more famously known as The Bridge over the Atlantic. The weather was a bit grey when I passed by but as you can see it’s still very pretty.

Once on the island the first feature you see is an inn called Tigh an Truish with a fantastic story attached. Tigh an Truish translates as ‘House of the Trousers,’ after the failed Jacobite rebellion of 1745 the wearing of kilts was banned in Scotland but the remote islanders of Seil still wore their kilts but would change into their trousers in this inn before crossing to the mainland.

From the bridge I travelled another 15 minutes along the road to reach Ellenabeich, this is where you get the ferry to Easdale. Easdale lies about 200m off the island of Seil and is the smallest inhabited island in the Inner Hebrides. To get onto the island you hop aboard a very small ferry that takes a max of 10 people, there is no vehicular access to the island which makes it extra special. Once on the island you walk past the hub of the island, here you’ll find a small pub and restaurant, village hall and a scattering of houses. Easdale was once at the heart of Scotland’s slate industry with several large quarries on the island. The industry boomed for many, many years until a massive storm in 1881 flooded the quarries and after that the industry quickly declined. There is a museum on the island which gives you a great insight into the islands history. On arrival I wandered around the island, visiting the quarries and trying my hand at skimming some stones which I wasn’t very good at but if you are a good stone skimmer you should visit the island in September as this is where the World Stone Skimming Championships are held. I came with some friends last year and it was a fun day out.

The island offers great views over to Mull and back to Seil and the surrounding islands. On the day I visited it was rather windy which produced some great waves and some acrobatic displays from the seabirds riding the thermals. There are some very quirky things on Easdale including the seat made from an old boat in the pictures below.

Before leaving the island I popped into the award winning Puffer Restaurant for a bite to eat. They served local produce which is all homemade. The restaurant is really cosy which is just what you need after wandering around the wind swept island at this time of year.

Around 45 minute drive from Easdale lies The Loch Melfort Hotel and Arduaine gardens (Arduaine translates as ‘Green Point.’) The four star country house hotel is situated in the most beautiful location, perched right beside the sea it overlooks the islands of the Inner Hebrides including the famous Paps of Jura. Right beside the hotel are Arduaine Gardens which are owned by the National Trust for Scotland. The gardens cover 20 acres and were created by James Arthur Campbell and his wife in 1897. Over the years an extensive garden was created with a variety of plants from all over the world. Even on a grey and cold March day the gardens were full of colour and with the only sounds to be heard from the birds and nearby sea. I spent well over an hour wandering around the trails but you could easily spend a lot longer especially in the summer months. Like any of Argyll’s gardens the ultimate time to visit is May/ June as this is when the display of colours in the gardens are at their best thanks to the Rhododendrons and Azaleas.

I popped into the Loch Melfort hotel for a quick cup of tea before driving towards Lochgilphead, Lochgilphead is where I live so on this evening I stayed at home. To get home I drove through Kilmartin Glen which is one of the best Neolithic sites in Britain, within this glen there are over 800 ancient monuments including castles, standing stones, burial cairns and rock art. I didn’t stop in the glen on my way home because the weather was still miserable and it’s a place I've visited and photographed numerous times. I’ll be posting much more detailed information on Kilmartin in my history blog but in the meantime I’ll leave you with one of my favourite shots of the Glen. You can also read about the myths and legends connected to this glen on my previous blog.

Ballymeanoch stones.

Ballymeanoch stones.

Day 4

I awoke on the Saturday morning to brilliant sunshine which was such a joy, this area is beautiful in any weather but it certainly looks much better and is easier to photograph in brighter weather. Leaving Lochgilphead I headed down the A83 which will eventually take me to Campbeltown. Two miles south of Lochgilphead is the village of Ardrishaig which is where the Crinan Canal starts. While driving through I spotted something unusual, two mini kelpies so I had to stop for a quick picture. I later found out that these mini replicas are going to be in Ardrishaig for the summer months, they are located just beside the pier.

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A couple of miles south of Ardrishaig I turned onto the B8024, this thirty mile long single track road is known as the Kilberry loop. Along this stretch of road there are some beautiful beaches and the best views of Jura to be found anywhere. The first place I stopped was at Loch Caolisport, I often take my paddle board here as it’s shallow and safe as long as you respect the water. There are wee sandy patches of beach which stay above the high water line. Due to the Loch here being so shallow it can warm up nicely on hot summer days.

The head of Loch Caolisport

The head of Loch Caolisport

I carried along the road for a couple of miles enjoying the scenery, the great thing about quiet single track roads like this is you can drive slowly and admire the scenery and if another car comes along you just pull into the nearest lay-by and let them pass. The next place I stopped offers the best view of the island of Jura.

The Paps of Jura.

The Paps of Jura.

Next stop was Crear beach which is located beside Port Ban caravan park, this is one of my favourite beaches. I’m not sure why but there’s something about it that feels Hebridean. One of the photos below was taking during my trip and the other way taken about 10pm last summer. At the end of the beach there’s a small building which resemble a church but it’s actually a tomb for the Campbells and then on the hill above the tomb there is a standing stone which I assume has been there for thousands of years.

After a wander along the beach I got back to the car and headed into Tarbert for lunch at the Cafe Ca Dora who do the best deep fried Calamari you will ever taste in Scotland. I got a carry out and drove down to the east pier to eat it so I could enjoy the beautiful views over Loch Fyne.

Deep fried Calamari

Deep fried Calamari

After lunch I continued by drive down the westside of Kintyre, this drive has to be one of the best in Scotland and that’s not an exaggeration. My dad belongs to the Kintyre Peninsula and always calls it ‘Gods Country’ I used to laugh at him when I was younger but now I realise he’s not far wrong. The road down here is great to drive, unlike a lot of the roads around this part of Scotland it’s mainly straight with few counters and offers wide open vistas across the Sound of Gigha and out to the mighty Atlantic. The highlight of the drive is the views across the sea but the landscape is also pretty, instead of rugged peaks it has gentle green rolling hills, the shoreline is mainly gold sandy beaches and in front lies the imposing headland of the Mull of Kintyre. Thegolden sands of Westport stretch all the way to Machrihanish which is almost 7 miles away. This beach is popular with surfers thanks to the massive waves. As a kid I loved coming here just to watch the waves and also slide down the dunes, to be honest I still do. Although this beach is beautiful it can also be very dangerous if not respected. There are very strong under currents hence there are many signs warning you against swimming. The picture of the waves was taken on the day I visited on my trip and the other was taken last winter at sunset.

From Westport I travelled through Campbeltown and down to Southend where I met my parent and sister. We had arranged to meet here so my sister and I could treat my Mum for Mothers Day at the Holy Grail of tearooms; Muneroys. The cakes here are legendary and all freshly baked. The tearoom itself is really quirky, filled with lots of funny signs and ornaments. As well as the amazing baking the tearoom has a homely atmosphere and the young girl that served us was so lovely.

I had one of the more basic cakes, a simple chocolate sponge.

I had one of the more basic cakes, a simple chocolate sponge.

After cake we went for a walk along the shore at Southend, it was such a glorious day with just a light wind and clear blue skies Kintyre certainly looked at it’s best. Just along from Muneroy’s is a rocky bit of shore line where dozens of seals were lying on the rocks and swimming about in the shallows.

Just along from the seals are a couple of caves called Keil caves and a place of Historic interest, Columba’s footprint and Columba’s well. The footprint sits on a rocky outcrop and legend states that this is the first place in Scotland that St Columba set foot. There is a well just along from the footprint, this is also attributed to the Irish saint.

Dunaverty rock and the old Lifeboat station.

Dunaverty rock and the old Lifeboat station.

As sunset approached I said goodbye to my family and headed down the sinuous remote road that led me to the Mull of Kintyre. The Mull of Kintyre is the most south westerly tip of the Kintyre Peninsula, a really wild yet spectacular place. It was this place which inspired Paul McCartneys iconic song.

I parked up at a tiny carpark at the end of the peninsula and climbed up the hill to the top of the headland. From here the views are never ending, you can see Northern Ireland, Islay, Jura and Gigha and for miles out into the Atlantic Ocean, in fact other than skimming the very tip off Malin Head in Ireland the next bit of land you would reach would be Newfoundland.

That evening I stayed with Johnny and Mandy Beverage at their B&B in Machrihanish. The B&B is called Dunlossit House and sits opposite Machrihanish golf club, it’s such a stunning location. The house was built in 1902 by the Scottish based Architect Henry E. Clifford and has been beautifully furnished by Johnny and Mandy. The couple spent many years living in Asia and have picked up amazing pieces of art and ornaments which they have used to furnish the house.

For dinner that evening I headed into Campbeltown which is only 10 minutes drive away with there are plenty of taxis available. I dined at the Ardshiel Hotel which was really modern, relaxed and friendly. I had the offer of eating in the bar or the dining room and on this occasion chose the dining room where I was served a lovely duck dish along with a side of garlic bread. The hotel has an award winning whisky bar which serves whisky from all the local distilleries.

Day 5

This is the view I woke up to on Sunday morning from by room at Dunlossit.

After a delicious breakfast I had a nice wee chat with Johnny and Mandy as they showed me around their home and told me about their plans for the house. They are such a lovely couple! It transpires that my dad and Johnny knew each other when they were younger but have not seen each other in about 40 years. It was so lovely to discover that and made my stay here all the more special. In Argyll you are never far away from some sort of connection and that’s one of the many things I love about it.

Oh and there is one important member of Dunlossit that I haven’t mentioned, Freddy. Freddy is the very handsome and friendly head of security. He is an Italian Greyhound and an absolute delight.

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Before I left Machrihanish I had a quick nosey around the golf course and the Gauldrons which is just outside the village. From here you get a great view of the Mull, there’s a bird hide and I saw a couple of people of surfing.

From Machrihanish I travelled back into Campbeltown and onto the B842 which runs up the east side of the Kintyre Peninsula. I don’t know this side of the Peninsula as well so I was looking forward to the drive, especially on such a stunning day. The road winds along the coast of the Kilbrannan Sound with the mountainous island of Arran on the other side. The first place I stopped was Saddell, for such a small settlement it has a rich History. In a secluded graveyard lies the ruins of an ancient Abbey, the Abbey is called Sandell and is almost 900 years old. The Abbey was built my Irish monks but founded by Somberled who was one of the first Lords of the Isles. As well as the Abbey itself, the graveyard is also home to an impressive collection of tombstone and effigies which were created when the Abbey was active.

If you take a short walk down from Saddell Abbey you’ll find Saddell Bay. This wee bay appears to be like another along the Kintyre coastline but it’s a wee bit special and not only because it has its own castle. This is the place where Paul McCartney filmed the music video to Mull of Kintyre along with the Kintyre Pipe band. My dad was there during filming as he was one of the bus drivers. You can find the link to the video here. I lay on the beach for a while as it was actually quite a mild day out of the wind. I also wandered along the beach and took a couple of photos from where Paul was standing near the beginning of the video.

At the end of the beach I carried on for a bit, it’s a bit over grown with no path as such but it perfectly manageable. I quickly came to the top on a knoll and oh my goodness, the views of Arran were spectacular. The Kilbrannan sound was so calm which made it even more beautiful.

After visiting Saddell I had a bit of time to waste before visiting a gin distillery so I went on the hunt for lunch, I didn’t need to travel far before I found a fantastic restaurant called The Glen just out side Carradale. To be honest I didn’t expect to find a bistro style restaurant in this area, I thought I’d just find a wee corner shop and have to grab a snack from there so finding this place was a pleasant surprise. I ordered a chicken burger for lunch which was fantastic and came with the best onion rings I have ever tasted!

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After lunch it was time to visit the gin distillery, Beinn An Turic which takes it names from the hill above the distillery and translates from Gaelic as ‘The Hill of the Wild Boar.’ I met up with Niall, the co owner of Kintyre Gin and current Laird of the Torrisdale Castle Estate on which the distillery is built.. Niall showed me around the distillery and told me all about how they’ve built-up the business and the process of making gin. I really enjoyed chatting to Niall, it was easy to see how passionate he is about the distillery as well as the surrounding area. He has made the distillery completely sustainable by installing a hydro electric scheme, the turbine house is located just behind the distillery and the water comes from the burn that flows down from Beinn an Turic. The buildings which house the distillery and tasting room are converted barns giving it a really rustic touch. The tasting room is really beautifully decorated with all the shelfs and tables created from wood forested within the estate, everything here is as eco and as ‘local’ as possible. There are so many special touches in the distillery but for me the most touching aspect is the copper still, Niall explained the reason they chose a copper still was because it helps purify the alcohol and remove sulfur compounds. This particular still is pretty small and only has a fill capacity of 230 litres which he explained makes it a really hand crafted gin. This was all great but what makes this still really special is its name, ‘BIG DON.’ The still was named after Niall and co owner, Kenny’s Dad who passed away during the early stages of the distilleries development. I just thought it was a beautiful touch as this still is at the very heart of the company. After showing me around the distillery and gifting me a great goodie bag Niall told me about some of his plans for the distillery and Kintyre as a whole. At the moment the Distillery runs tours and you can enjoy tasting session but Niall soon hopes to open up a gin school where you learn all about the process and make your own gin. This visit was one of the highlights of my trip, I just love how connected the distillery is to the area and it’s roots which is so important.

From the distillery I travelled North to Skipness Castle, I regularly visit this castle with my family as the location is absolutely stunning. Since it was founded around the 1200AD it has been in the hands of the MacSweens, Stewarts, MacDonalds and the Campbells and rebuilt numerous times therefor the castle displays varied architectural designs. A 5 minute walk from the castle lies a chapel which was dedicated to St Columba and below the chapel lies a lovely wee bit of shoreline which offers incredible views across to Arran. There is a smoke house and seafood cabin just beside the castle, both were closed when I visited when I was there as I think they only open during the summer months but it might be worth double checking if you are planning a visit.

That evening I stayed in Tarbert which is around a 20 minute drive from Skipness castle. On arrival I checked into my accommodation at Starfish Rooms, this room was a lot more basic than the ones I had stayed in previously however it had it’s own shower room and was very comfortable, clean and warm. This would be perfect if you were on a budget as it was only £35 per night.

That evening I ate in the Starfish restaurant located directly below my room. As a massive seafood fan I was in absolute heaven. I ordered Langoustines in a garlic butter and for dessert I had a ginger pudding. Tarbert’s main industry is fishing therefor all the seafood is locally caught and extremely fresh. The restaurant staff were really friendly and attentive to me but also to everyone dining there that evening, it was refreshing to see that even though they knew I was there as part of a promotional trip they didn’t treat me any different from any other customer.

Day 6

Well overnight the weather had done a 180, the previous days light winds and spring sunshine had been replaced with grey, wet and windy weather. Fantastic! I caught the Calmac ferry from the east pier in Tarbert across to Portavadie, this is just a roll on roll off ferry so no need to prebook. I usually find this ferry journey short and relatively stress free however in the wind it was rolling about and I was not enjoying it. Things only got worse when I got to Portavadie and realised I had idiotically left my car window open leaving my seat soaked from the waves which had be crashing over during the journey. I could really have done with visiting the spa at Portavadie but there were other good things ahead. I travelled along the B8000 to the small village of Tignabruaich, once there I then took the B8003 up through Glen Caladh where you’ll find a famous viewpoint which looks over the Kyles of Bute. Now, I have passed through here a few times and every single time its been grey and misty meaning I’ve never seem this spot at it’s best however even on a dreich, cold day I could appreciate it’s beauty and it did look very atmospheric.

Kyles of Bute.  From here I travelled to Benmore Gardens via the A886, B836 and A815, these roads took me through mountainous glens which were cloaked in mist, despite the weather it looked scenic and again very atmosphere ( I used to describe driech days to tourists as ‘atmospheric’ when I worked in the tourist office, they would laugh at me before agree that I was kinda right.)  When I arrived at  Benmore Gardens  it was still raining but I was always told your skin is waterproof so there is no excuse for not going out! Plus I was quite excited to visit the gardens as I’ve heard so many good reports but I’d never actually been myself. The entrance to the gardens is spectacular, you are greeted by an avenue of Giant Redwoods which are 150 years old, all but one of the original trees still stands. I gather 150 years in relatively young for a giant red wood so it’ll be interesting how much they grow over our lifetime. Once in the gardens it’s quite difficult to know where to start, they are very extensive at 120 acres and there is so much to see, you could easily spend a whole day here. The gardens are on a hill so I eventually decided to walk up one way and back down the other. It’s a fairly steep climb in places but totally worth the effort if you are able. Some notable mentions are the rhododendrons which create a flamboyant display of pinks and reds, the Victorian Fernery, the Japanese Valley and the Chilean Rainforest Glade. That is only a couple of example of the amazing variety of treasures to discover here, there are plants and structures from all corners of the world.

Kyles of Bute.

From here I travelled to Benmore Gardens via the A886, B836 and A815, these roads took me through mountainous glens which were cloaked in mist, despite the weather it looked scenic and again very atmosphere ( I used to describe driech days to tourists as ‘atmospheric’ when I worked in the tourist office, they would laugh at me before agree that I was kinda right.)

When I arrived at Benmore Gardens it was still raining but I was always told your skin is waterproof so there is no excuse for not going out! Plus I was quite excited to visit the gardens as I’ve heard so many good reports but I’d never actually been myself. The entrance to the gardens is spectacular, you are greeted by an avenue of Giant Redwoods which are 150 years old, all but one of the original trees still stands. I gather 150 years in relatively young for a giant red wood so it’ll be interesting how much they grow over our lifetime. Once in the gardens it’s quite difficult to know where to start, they are very extensive at 120 acres and there is so much to see, you could easily spend a whole day here. The gardens are on a hill so I eventually decided to walk up one way and back down the other. It’s a fairly steep climb in places but totally worth the effort if you are able. Some notable mentions are the rhododendrons which create a flamboyant display of pinks and reds, the Victorian Fernery, the Japanese Valley and the Chilean Rainforest Glade. That is only a couple of example of the amazing variety of treasures to discover here, there are plants and structures from all corners of the world.

I thoroughly enjoyed walking around the garden’s slopes, it’s probably not the worst activity to do on a wet day because of all the foliage you actually get some shelter. The only part I got properly soaked at was right at the top while exploring the Chilean Rainforest and I guess that could be called an authentic experience. On my way down I discovered there was squirrel hide and I love red squirrels! Within moments a squirrel appeared on the trees in front of me munching away at the food in the feeder. A few other squirrels appeared but no one was going to get near the feeder until this guy had finished lunch.

Just north of the Botanic gardens you’ll find Loch Eck which lies within Argyll Forest Park. This park has so much to offer, if you are feeling adventurous you can go mountain biking or take to the water for kayaking or paddle boarding. Or if you fancy something less strenuous there are plenty of lovely picnic spots and trails to walk, some of the best are within Pucks Glen.

An  atmospheric  Loch Eck  I left the quiet shores of Loch Eck around 3pm and arrived at my accommodation in  Glasgow’s  busy Westend before 5pm, less than 2 hours to experience a totally different world. I travelled to Glasgow via a ferry crossing on  Western Ferries  to Gourock from there I travelled onto the M8, across the Erskine Bridge and onto the A82 that took me right into Glasgow which was really simple even for a county bumpkin like myself. For the next two nights I would be staying in the Hotel Du Vin at One Devonshire Gardens which is one of the most luxurious hotels in the city, I couldn’t believe my luck! On arrival I had someone carry my luggage up to my room and my room, well it was three rooms in one! There was a massive bedroom with a queen size bed, a dressing room and a bathroom which I think was bigger than my bedroom at home.

An atmospheric Loch Eck

I left the quiet shores of Loch Eck around 3pm and arrived at my accommodation in Glasgow’s busy Westend before 5pm, less than 2 hours to experience a totally different world. I travelled to Glasgow via a ferry crossing on Western Ferries to Gourock from there I travelled onto the M8, across the Erskine Bridge and onto the A82 that took me right into Glasgow which was really simple even for a county bumpkin like myself. For the next two nights I would be staying in the Hotel Du Vin at One Devonshire Gardens which is one of the most luxurious hotels in the city, I couldn’t believe my luck! On arrival I had someone carry my luggage up to my room and my room, well it was three rooms in one! There was a massive bedroom with a queen size bed, a dressing room and a bathroom which I think was bigger than my bedroom at home.

That evening I was booked into dine at the Ardnamurchan restaurant on Hope Street, I am going to dedicate a blog on my dining experiences in Glasgow so I'll just tell you what I ate. For starter I had Mull Scallops and for a main I had venison from an Ardnamurchan estate.

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Day 7

Now I am not a city person, the busyness of the city gives me anxiety and to be honest I would never really go to the city unless it was for a specific occasion therefor this was the part of the trip I was least looking forward to. My dad very kindly offered to use his bus pass to come to Glasgow and be my chauffeur for the day which I gratefully accepted as I have very limited experience driving in the city and the thought of using public transport makes me panic.

My plan was to explore Glasgow’s parks and after a bit of research I discovered there are quite a lot of them, over 90 in fact. Which makes sense that Glasgow’s loose translation from Gaelic is ‘dear green place.’ I decided to visit Pollock Park first which is the largest in the city. Pollock house and the Burrell collection both reside in the park however the Burrell collection is currently closed due to refurbishments. The main gardens surround Pollock house, the gardens are really pretty and reasonably quiet for being only 3 miles from the city centre. As you move further away from the house and the gardens it does get quieter and you do find yourself being alone at times as you explore the extensive trails which include river and woodland walks. I couldn’t get over how big it is, there was even a wee bit of wildlife around and some Highland Cows.. However my favourite moment came when capturing this pretty little Blue Tit, I never imaged I would capture such a good nature photo in the city.

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Next stop was the Glasgow Botanic Gardens, even though I’ve been here a couple of times in the past I don’t remember the gardens that well. On arrival we headed straight for the Kibble Palace, an elaborate glass house filled with tree ferns which has stood in the gardens since 1873. I was interested to discover that this was not the original glass palace, the original palace was known as ‘The Kibble Crystal Art Palace’ and was erected on the shores of Loch Long by the man behind the impressive structure, John Kibble. The same man ordered the dismantle of the original palace at his home and arranged for it to be moved to Glasgow where many features were added to the original structure.

Beside the Kibble Palace lies the glasshouses which had to be my favourite part of the gardens. The variety of plants in here was extraordinary, there was everything from giant cactuses to dainty orchids. And the best part of all is it’s free, you don’t pay a penny for any of it!

I’ll be honest and say that the outside gardens, in my opinion, aren’t as impressive as the ones in Argyll but they are still very pleasant to walk around and it is lovely to see so much greenery and pretty flowers beside such a busy area of the city. The gardens are even home to some little furry creatures that are bursting with personality.

Dad and I also took a wander around Kelvingrove Park and then went to The Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum. This is truly an astonishing place, as I mentioned before I suffer from panic attacks in the city and a busy place like this is likely to bring one on but I was so engrossed in all the incredible artefacts and art work that I was distracted from my anxieties. There are far too many things to mention but some highlights included the Leonardo Da Vinci exhibition that was running at the time, seeing the drawing of this absolute genius was a real treat. I also saw Dippy the Dinosaur, I got to see a painting first hand that has always pulled on my heart strings, The Last of the Clan by Thomas Faed. If you are not familiar with this piece it depicts a scene from the time of the Highland Clearances, a group of Highlander solemnly watch a ship departing for the Americas. I also came across artefacts from Kilmartin Glen which was a nice surprise.

That evening I ate in The Gannet restaurant which was the most extravagant culinary experience I’ve ever had in my life, I ate like an absolute Queen being served seven incredible courses. Again I’ll go into more detail when I write my food blog.

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After dinner I heading just along Argyle Street to meet a friend at the Park Bar (Taigh-osta nan Gaidhel, which if I’m right roughly translates as ‘The house of the Gaels.) Traditionally this is one of the pubs that is frequented by Glasgows Gaelic speaking community who have moved to the city from the Highland and Islands. It’s a great wee pub and after all the amazing but slightly intimidating city establishment that I’d visited it was nice to have a drink in a place that felt a bit more familiar, the pub just felt like my local.. I just wish my local was full of Gaelic speakers like The Park.

Day 8

This was the final day of my trip and from Glasgow I was heading home to Lochgilphead. It only takes 2 hours to drive from Glasgow to Lochgilphead but since I was stopping off at a few attractions along the way it obviously took me a bit longer. However I didn’t stop as many places as planned as the weather was horrific, a lot of the photos posted in this section have been taken in better weather.

Within 45 minutes of leaving One Devonshire Gardens I was driving along the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond. I had planed on stopping around this area however the rain was horizontal and the wind so strong it was catching the car and pulling on steering so I decided against it. On a more pleasant day there are lots of activities to be found in this area including walks, water sports and even seaplane trips.

The Rest and be Thankful was my next destination but again the weather wasn’t favourable, the wind was even stronger up here and the mountains obliterated by heavy sleet. Again, on a better day this area offers spectacular scenery and is a great area for hill walking. Below is a shot I made earlier.

Loch Restil

On the other side of The Rest you’ll find Loch Fyne which has some great places to stop on it’s shores including Ardkinglas House and Gardens, Fyne Ales Brewery and Loch Fyne Oysters. This is also where you’ll find the Royal Burgh of Inveraray which is famous for the fairytale Inveraray Castle but there are also some other gems to be found in this town including the Historic Inveraray Jail, a bell tower, two whisky shops plus great cafes and restaurants. Dun a Cuaiche hill is a great walk which offers amazing views over the town and down Loch Fyne, At the top you’ll find a building which is often mistaken for a watch tower but it’s just an ornamental building. It was built around the same time as the castle making it a little over 250 years old.

If you are in Inveraray it’s worth driving an extra 10 minutes south to the farming township of Auchindrain. This outdoor museum is ‘the most complete and well preserved example of a Scottish Highland farm township’ and was the last working township of its kind in Scotland. Most townships were cleared during the Highland clearances of the 17 and1800’s but the last tenant didn’t leave Auchindrain until the 1960’s. I was shown around the museum by Thomas, one of the outdoor staff. Thomas told me about the history of the buildings and the families who lived there over the generations. All visitors get an interactive tablet which goes into great detail about all the sites in the museum. Auchindrain is still a working farm so don’t be surprised to come across hens and sheep as you wander around. I’ll be writing about this place in more detail in a history blog.

5 miles south of Auchindrain you’ll find Crarae gardens which are my personal favourite. The gardens have been inspired by Himalayan glens. Throught the gardens the trails run beside the Crarae burn which gentle cascades through the gardens. This burn has multiple waterfalls which you can pass over using little wooden bridges. The gardens have a incredible variety of species but the best displays are produced by the Rhododendrons and Azaleas which peak in late May. The colours and scents at this time of year will delight your senses.

Crarae gardens marked the end of an incredible trip, over the 8 days I drove 600 mile and walked 31 miles travelling through the most beautiful and diverse landscapes. I’ve seen otters, eagles, squirrels and deer. I’ve passed by the footsteps of Saints and Kings and touched the art work of prehistoric people during walks along some of the most beautiful stretches of coastline imaginable. I’ve also eaten, drank and slept in this most wonderful establishments along the way. However this only touches the surface of what Argyll has to offer, there’s so much more! It’s also so easily accessed from Scotland’s biggest city, Glasgow, places like The Rest and be Thankful and The Argyll Forest Park are only just over one hour away.

This was a paid campaign but I hope I’ve managed to articulate how much I love Argyll and that this blog and trip wasn’t motivated by money but more by a desire to share this incredible place with the rest of Scotland and beyond. Argyll is where I grew up, its this landscape that inspired me to pick up a camera at a young and pursue my passion for photography into adulthood. I hope you’v enjoyed reading about my travels through Argyll, I know it’s been quite a long blog but I didn’t want to miss anything about. Please let me know what you think in the comment section.

International Women's Day

Now I’d like to start out by saying that I am a feminist in the original sense of the word. The Oxford dictionary defines feminism as ‘The advocacy of women's rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.’ I am 100% in support of this, equality between men and women is of paramount importance to me and I believe women are capable of doing anything they set their minds too. However, I class International Women’s Day the way I class Valentines Day; an absolute load of cac! Why do we need a special day to celebrate women? Shouldn’t we be celebrating women’s achievements everyday and show support to the amazing women in our life? Social media is awash with people gushing about the women in their lives and although I have seen some truly inspirational posts the majority of posts are simply people jumping on the bandwagon with gimmicky posts which I personally believe does nothing for feminism, like a lot of modern, feminism it demeans the cause.

As a female landscape photographer I’m in the minority in my field, reports suggest that as little as 15% of professional photographers are women. I’ve seen so many people (of both sexes) up in arms about this but maybe it could simply be that more men want to be photographers than women? Or heaven forbidden the thought that men are taking better photos than their female counterparts! I can hear the gasps of Nazi feminists everywhere! In all seriousness I don’t believe that men are better photographers than women but I do believe there are simply more men interested in photography, particularly landscape photography, than women and that’s ok. I cannot comment on the industry as a whole but I have a pretty good insight into the ‘gender gap’ of photographers on Instagram. Yes, the majority of the big players in landscape photography and the outdoors in general are male on Instagram. Men totally outnumber women, no one can deny that but I do genuinely believe it’s because there are simply more men pursuing a career/ focusing their Instagram account on landscape photography and the outdoors. On the whole women dominate the beauty industry and the majority of young girls create Instagram accounts focusing on hair, beauty, clothes skincare etc, not photography and the outdoors. And there is nothing wrong with that, it’s fantastic to see young girls creating incredible make up looks and I am so grateful to the women who research the science of skin care to share it with us all. Feminism is all about doing whatever you want to do and women creating success for themselves though their passion, whatever that passion may be is both inspiring and empowering.

Now there are of course still sexist morons out there who belittle women and believe there are the weaker sex. Last year I was out on my own taking photographs , I bumped into a group of men who told me I shouldn’t be out in the wilds on my own and that I should have a man to look after me. I was absolutely fuming, how dare they suggest that I needed someone to look after me simply because I was a woman when in the likelihood I could navigate and ascend the surrounding mountains a hell of a lot quicker than they could. But thankfully men like this are in the smallest of minorities in the western world. There are women who utter equally ridiculous and belittling statements. Sticking with landscape photography I’ve seen numerous women complain about not enough women in photography and get their knickers in a twist because there’s more men are hiredas photographic ambassadors, cameras are advertised my male models or social media has the audacity to have more gifs with men holding a camera than women! As I mentioned before more men a pursuing landscape photography careers on Instagram and why does it matter if more men are seen holding cameras? Are these women trying to say that this will prevent women getting into photography? If this is true I find this a total contradiction and implies women will only have the urge to pick up a camera if they see other women doing it, as a woman I find this totally insulting. All in all I actually find it quite beneficial to be in the minority of landscape photographer as it makes me stand out which can only be a good thing.

Many of you may disagree with what I’ve written and thats fine, I’d actually like to hear your thoughts. Do you think IWD is a gimmick or do you genuinely feel empowered today? Equality and women’s rights have come a long way since our grandmothers generation and if we compare Scotland to other places in the world women in the UK live in paradise. However there is still a long way to go in some areas. I truly believe it’s far more important to concentrate on real issues rather than having gimmicky days and getting in an uproar over fickle things like a larger amount of men in photography adverts.

Legends of Argyll

It’s the landscape of Argyll that is the main inspiration for my photography but the myths and legends are also hugely influential. I often say that I want my pictures to look magical, like a land from a fairytale. Part of that comes from Argyll’s physical beauty but I also want to capture the spirit I believe this land has in my photographs. I grew up hearing stories of many local myths and legends and was always so intrigued and fascinated by them, particularly when I could visit the places connected with the legends. When I photograph places connected with old stories I like to take a moment and recount the story and think about all the people who may have stood in that place hundreds, if not thousands of years before me. So I thought I would share some of my favourite tales from Argyll with you.

Dunadd Hill

Many people will be familiar with the legend of Dunadd fort in Kilmartin Glen. The story goes that this was the birth place of Scotland, and the place where the first Kings of Scotland were crowned. At the top of the fort lies a rock with an impression of a footprint, it is said that this is where the Kings placed their foot when they were inaugurated. There is a lot of evidence that backs up this legend but there are also whispers that this unassuming hill also has connections with the Stone of Destiny as well as King Arthur which may be a wee bit more imaginative.

More fanciful yet is the ancient story that tells the imprint on the rock was made by Oisín, son of the giant Fingal. The Irish Warrior had been hunting on the hills above Loch Fyne when he was attacked by some wild animal, to get away he took a giant leap to Rhudle Hill and then landed heavily on Dunadd Hill creating the indent.

Another slightly more modern legend tells that this is where fairy people lived and the footprint is the fairies footprint, These fairies were called Daoine Síth in Gaelic. Scotland was once a very superstitious land and people believed that these fairies would steal human babies and replace the human baby with one of their own, these ‘replacement’ babies were known as changelings. Daoine Síth were given the blame when a child was mentally disabled, the parents believed that the Daoine Síth had stolen their baby and left a changeling in the babies place. This is where the phrase ‘away with the fairies’ comes from.

The footprint of the Kings.

The Ballymeanoch Feast

This next legend comes from another area of Kilmartin Glen around two miles north of Dunadd hill. Ballymeanoch is probably best known for the impressive standing stones which have stood for over 4000 years. They are thought to be connected with the mid winter solstice but there is a much darker tale connected with Ballymeanoch.

The tale tells of Lady Ballymeanoch, a frightfully unpleasant women who was always causing problems and fighting with her neighbours. One day, very uncharacteristically she invited all her neighbours to a giant banquet in her barn as an act of peace supposedly to reconcile their differences. At the feast all her guest were sat in-between her family members and close friends. A giant haggis was brought to the table, as she went to cut open the haggis with her dirk she uttered the words ‘let my friends do as I do’ at that moment all her followers pulled out their dirks and stabbed to death the guest beside them. Forty of her enemies were killed in the barn, only one managed to escape and he ran across the fields shouting ‘Och on Och, Och on Och.’ He was eventually caught and the place where he is said to have fallen is to this day called Killinochonoch.

Ballymeanoch Stones.

The Mull Witches

I love Mull and its absolutely full of legends, the one about the Spanish Galleon that is said to lie covered in the mud at the bottom of Tobermory bay is a good one. There are a few variations of this legend but I think this one is the best.

During the 16th century the King of Spains daughter, Princess Viola had a dream one night about the most handsome man she had ever seen. When she awakened the next morning she told her father she had to find this man. The King granted her request and prepared her a ship to travel the world to find this handsome man. After years of searching and with faith she would find this man slowly vanishing she landed in Tobermory on the Isle of Mull. On arrival she finally found the man from her dream. He was a man of nobility, a MacLean from Duart and gladly ‘entertained’ this beautiful Spanish Princess. They say hell hath no fury like a woman scorned and this was certainly the case when MacLean’s wife found out about his encounter with the Spanish Princess. She hired a lowlander called Smollett to kill the Princess, as instructed he blew up the Spanish ship with the Princess on board. On hearing about the death of his daughter the King of Spain set about planning his revenge, he sent a galleon off to Mull laden with a crew who were ordered to cut the right breast off every woman on the island. Lady Duart got wind of this and called upon Doideag, the Mull witch for help. Doideag then called on her sisters, Ladhrag Thiristeach and Ghlaisrig Ileach to help her. Together the brewed a terrible storm with the intention that it would destroy the Spanish Galleon but by this time the Galleon had reached the sheltered waters of Tobermory bay and escaped unscathed. The witches next step to save the women of Mull was to call upon Gormshúil Mhór a Lochaber, an incredibly power woman for help. On her arrival Gormshúil Mhór gathered all the cats she could find on the island and ordered them to attack and kill the men on the Spanish Galleon. She did this by chanting a secret spell. The army of cats carried out her commands by mauled the crew of the Galleon to death and then clawed through the hull of the ship to sink it to the bottom of Tobermory Bay.

Tobermory

The Scandinavian Prince and the Corryvreckan

The Corryvreckan whirlpool which lies between Jura and Scrarba is the third largest whirlpool in the world so it’s only natural a few legends are connected with this place.

A Scandinavian Prince called Breakan visited the shores of Argyll during the reign of the Lord of Isles, here he fell in love with the Lords daughter and asked for her hand in marriage. Her father said he would give his permission for the marriage but only once the Prince had proved his worth and bravery. The task was to spend three nights anchored on the mighty whirlpool. The Prince bravely accepted this task and set sail back to Norway to find the wisemen who would prepare him for this challenge. The wisemen said he should have three different ropes; one was to be made of hemp, one to be made of wool and one to be made from hair of fair maidens. In order for the maidens hair to hold it had to be from a pure maiden, their purity was the key to keeping the rope strong. The Prince did as instructed by the wise men and returned to the Lord of the Isles to carry out his task. On the first night the hemp rope broke but they stayed afloat, on the second night the woollen rope broke but they managed to survive the seas however on the third night disaster struck, the rope of hair broke in a wild gale and the boat was swamped by massive waves and dragged to the depth of the whirlpool. The Prince was drowned along with his crew but his dog survived and dragged Breakan’s body to shore. The Prince is said to be buried in cave on the island of Jura. The tragedy struck because one of the maidens who donated her hair was not pure!

The Gulf of Corryvreckan

The Duntrune Piper

Dunturne castle is one of my favourite places to photograph and is widely accepted to be the oldest inhabited castles in Scotland. It also has a reputation of being haunted by the a handless piper. This tale is slightly more eerie as during excavations of the castle a handless skeleton was found..

The protagonists in this legend are the Campbells and MacDonalds and it set during The War of the Three Kingdoms where the Campbells and MacDonalds were on opposing sides. One night the the leader of the MacDonalds, a fearsome 6ft 6inch warrior called Sir Alistair MacDonald launched a surprise raid on Duntrune Castle which was held by the Campbell clan. The MacDonalds successfully defeated the Campbells and took the castle as their own. Sir Alistair then left the castle in the hands of a few of his men along with his piper while he attended Royalist meetings. Soon after Sir Alistair’s departure the Campbells launched a counter attack claiming the castle as their own once more. They killed all the MacDonald men apart from the piper who was ordered to play to amuse the Campbell garrison. The Campbells waited patiently for Sir Alistair to return so they could seek their revenge and eventually he did. One day his ship was spotted entering Loch Crinan and the Campbells prepared for their surprise attack. This attack was however thwarted by the MacDonalds piper, he realised the danger his chief was in and took to the castle ramparts to play the warning tune ‘Píobaireachd-dhum-Naomhaid. On hearing this tune the MacDonald chief realised there was danger and turned the ship around heading back to the safety of the Sound of Jura. When the Campbells realised what the piper had done, they cut off his hands and let him bleed to death. It is said that the piper haunts the grounds of the castle, playing his pipes to this very day. Thankfully I haven’t encountered him.. yet!

Storm approaching Duntrune Castle.

The Cailleach Bheur

Some of my favourite Argyll legends are about the Cailleach (an old giant woman who lives in the mountains) so I thought I would end with a couple of stories about her.

She was said to bath in a Loch on Mull to rejuvenate herself, wash her clothes in the Corryvreckan whirlpool and she is even credited with creating the Hebrides, Apparently she returned from Norway with a sack full of rock, this sack split and the rocks came tumbling out landing to create the Western Isles. But I think my favourite legend about the Cailleach is the one about how she accidentally created Loch Awe. The Cailleach kept cattle on the slopes of Ben Cruachan and let them drink from a magical spring on the mountain but this spring could only be uncovered between sunrise and sunset, if left uncovered at night something dreadful would happen. The Cailleach was alway very careful to cover the spring before bed each night but one night she was so tired she fell asleep before recovering the spring. She was awakened during the night to a torrent of water thundering down the mountain flooding the glen below. The flood water from the spring stayed in the glen and Loch Awe was formed, The legend goes that she was in such despair at what had happened she turned to stone, a stone that still sits among the other boulders in the Pass of Brander.

Misty morning on Loch Awe

I hope you’ve enjoyed these mystical stories of Argyll, there are so many to choose from but I think these are my favourites. I’d love to hear if you have any legends, not only of Argyll but the whole of Scotland.



Facing my fears and capturing the Aurora Borealis

I dream of seeing a ‘proper’ display of the Northern Lights in one of the northern countries one day but until that day comes I am quite content on watching the displays Scotland has to offer. I’ve seen the ‘merry dancers’ a few times now and even though the Scottish display mainly consists of a couple of glowing arches in the sky and the occasional flare it’s still mesmerising to witness. The best display I’ve ever witnessed was in April 2016 over Moine Mhor, Mid Argyll, where I could actually see what looked like lasers shooting up into the sky.

Anyway, in this blog I wanted to talk about my most recent sighting. I saw them last Thursday night, January 31st January 2019, this was my first sighting of them this season and the best thing about it was they were totally unexpected. The conditions were perfect for star gazing so after dinner I had decided to go out to attempt to photograph the Milky Way and my chosen location was the standing stones in Kilmartin Glen. I’d chosen the standing stones as my location as for me, personally, it’s not just enough to capture something pretty, I like to be able to add an atmosphere and something special to my photographs. I think i’ve said this before but I like my pictures to have almost a fairytale feel to them. So I chose the stones as they are so mysterious just like the night sky.

I find night photography quite difficult, it’s a photography skill i’ve not quite mastered yet but what makes it even more difficult is I have Nyctophobia, a fear of the dark. So trying to make a photograph while frighted is rather difficult as you simply cannot concentrate properly and night time photography requires a lot of concentration. It’s silly really, I’m well aware I live in an incredible safe place and no one is going to attack me but it’s not really humans I’m afraid off. It’s more the supernatural but at the same time the logical part of me doesn’t believe in the super natural but I guess the fear comes from not being able to see what’s there and that something, even totally innocent like a wee mouse or a sheep, could appear at any point and catch you unawares.

Anyway, back to Thursday night after sitting in my car for about 10 minutes I managed to pick up the courage to venture down to the Ballymeanoch stones which are about 10 minutes walk past a cairn and through a field from the carpark. As soon as I arrived at the stones I think I knew this wasn’t going to go well, I set up my camera but because I was so scared and alert I wasn’t really concentrating on what I was doing. I then discovered by using the Night Sky App that the Milky Way was in the wrong position anyway in relation to the stones so I clumsily picked up my equipment and fumbled through the snowy field back to my car phoning my boyfriend on the way as I’d worked myself into such a panic (don’t know what he was suppose to do, he was in Mull but I suppose it was just that human contact.)

After I composed myself I headed along to the Nether Largie stones, they are only two minutes from the carpark so slightly more manageable. I quickly tried to focus on what I came to do locating the Milky Way and setting my camera up on the tripod. While I was doing this I noticed a slight glow to the north but the village of Kilmartin is located about a mile away so at first I just thought it was the lights from the village but the glow slowly grew stronger and at this point I got excited as I then realised it was the Aurora Borealis.

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The Aurora doesn’t appear as vivid to the naked eye as it does on the camera and it does take a wee bit of of experimenting with the settings to get it right. In the image to the left here my settings were ISO 5000, Aperture f/3.5 and a 15 second exposure. Again my night time photography skills and knowledge are not fantastic but what I tend to do is put the ISO up as high as it will go without getting to grainy, have a wide aperture to let as much light in as possible and have a long exposure to again let light in and capture the movement of the lights. Also I flick my focus settings over to manual focus and focus to infinity if the lens I’m using allows. Oh and I use the widest lens I have, this was taken on a basic 18 -55mm lens. I could do with upgrading but lens are so expensive.



After figuring out the settings and doing a few tests it was time to work out the composition. Again I try to make my pictures more than just a nice picture or capturing one thing so composition is very important to me. I wanted to incorporate the stones, northern lights and Milky Way into the image to create that magical image that I visioned. It took a lot of pacing back and forward and a bit of cursing under by breathe but I finally got a composition that I was more or less happy with and the results are below.

After taking a bundle of shots I switched the camera off and just watched the display and suddenly realised I wasn’t frightened anymore. It just goes to show that fears can simply be overcome by taking your attention else where, this is something I hope to apply to many other parts of my life.

Since Thursday night I’ve seen so many amazing photographs of Aurora Borealis display from all over Scotland which has actually made me doubt my work. There have been some truly wonderful shots where the photographers have captured a more powerful display of the aurora or the quality of the pictures are better or the photographs are just more eye-catching and it has made me question if my photos are up to the high standard that I set myself or as good as others. But then I realise that sometimes it’s not always about the photos, sometimes it’s about enjoying the experience and realising how lucky you are. I suppose there are not many people who have been lucky enough to watch such an incredible natural phenomenon surrounded by 5000 years of human history 10 minutes drive from their house and for that I should be grateful.

Winter Adventures on the Isle of Harris.

Two weeks ago my boyfriend and I spent a few days exploring the Isle of Harris, it was an amazing few days and we got to see the island at it’s wild best which was amazing. I was invited up to Harris by Essence of Harris to photograph some of their amazing products.

The journey from Argyll is quite a long one, especially at this time of year with it getting dark around 4 so we broke the journey up by staying in a lovely wee B&B on Skye called Dunans near Flodigarry. On the Tuesday morning we sailed to Tarbert, Harris from Uig. Although the journey was very scenic I was glad to finally reach dry land as I’m not a massive fan of ferries. Actually it’s not the ferries I hate it’s the deep turbulent water. Anyone else have this fear?

We headed straight to the Essence of Harris factory once we arrived where we were given a warm welcome and a big box of products to photograph! The owners of the company, Jamie and Deenie let us stay in their lovely wee Airbnb called the Smithy, it’s such a cosy wee studio perfect for couples.

The weather wasn’t ideal (being December we didn’t expect much else) but we headed out with the products from Essence of Harris anyway towards Huisinis beach. We stopped at a wee river along the way to get some shots, nearly fell in the river but that’s all part of the fun and the shots turned out ok.

It’s quite a long drive down to Huisinis beach along a wee narrow winding road but it’s totally worth it as the views onto the beach as you approach are beautiful even on a driech day.

I was cursing the wind earlier on in the day as it kept blowing the products about however the wind here helped create my favourite shot of the entire trip. We position the candle in the grass on the dunes and I used a slow shutter speed and steady hand to capture the movement of the grass. For me it was important to capture the elements of the place and I think that’s what the company wanted as well.

The next day the weather was far too wet to be taking the products out to photograph so we headed up to Lewis and visited the Callanish stones, they were pretty incredible but I didn't take any photos due to the weather. En route to Lewis we stopped for lunch at a wee catering trailer called Taste n’ Sea located at Bowglass, I would highly recommend stopping here for some food, all the seafood is fresh and locally caught and while you’re eating you can look out to the gorgeous views of Loch Seaforth.

On the Thursday morning we woke to the most incredible sunrise so jumped straight out of bed and into the car heading for the amazing view of Loch Seaforth from Bowglass but unfortunately by the time we arrived there the vibrant sky had disappeared which was very frustrating. Still we managed to get some ‘moody’ shots of the lovely hip flasks Essence of Harris make.

On our way back we managed to catch a bit of nice light in a couple of places to create some interesting photos. It was difficult though as there was a strong bitingly cold wind which blew all the products about. It’s quite funny, when I’m ‘in the zone’ and shooting I don’t feel the elements too badly it’s when I stop it the cold hits me, usually like a brick and it certainly did that morning.

On Thursday afternoon we went to Luskentyre beach, for me this was one of the highlights of the trip. Luskentyre has been on my bucket list for many years but I guess I didn’t see it in the way I dreamed of. I don’t know about anyone else but when I think of Luskentyre I think of beautiful sunsets, sunshine and I suppose a place of tranquility but when we visited we saw the real Luskentyre. The sky was angry looking, the waves crashed violently onto the beach and the bitterly cold high winds which swept the sand along the beach at such speed it made me feel quite dizzy. Not to mention that the sand got everywhere and blinded me for a good few minutes. But even though the beach was a lot more volatile than what I wanted to experience it was incredible to see that way and it almost felt invigorating, well until the cold finally took over.

The tweed I’m wearing in the bottom photo is Essence of Harris’s tweed, its very beautiful and you can see quite clearly it’s been inspired by the natural colours of the island. More importantly for me at the time it was super cosy.

After a bracing day we decided to give ourselves a wee treat (also because we thought it was our last night on Harris, it wasn’t the weather put paid to that) and went for dinner at the North Harbour Bistro on Scalpay. Oh my goodness, the food here was absolutely incredible and the chef was a fantastic host, he cooked an incredible meal for us even although he wasn’t fully open when we turned up. This place could be considered a wee bit expensive if you are on a budget but in my opinion it’s 100% worth the extra pounds as everything about this place is delicious!

We were meant to head home on the first ferry on Friday morning but a storm was hitting and I pretty much refused to go on the ferry. Thankfully Jamie and Deenie were very accommodating and let us stay. We ended up having to stay the Saturday night too as all ferries were cancelled. The extra days were spent wave hunting and my goodness there was some incredible waves along the west coast of the island.

By Sunday the weather has thankfully calmed down and the sun came out for the first time, we weren’t leaving until the afternoon so got to spend the morning photographing the landscape basking in that beautiful, soft winter light. There was even snow on the hills.

We also headed back to Luskentyre, very briefly, just see the beach in the sunshine. I wasn’t disappointed, it looked so incredibly beautiful and the best part about this visit was getting lucky enough to photograph the beautiful white horses which live on the dunes.

I also took a few product shots, this was a lot less challenging than the previous visit!

I was gutted to leave Harris, despite the wild weather it was incredibly beautiful and had a wonderful atmosphere. Everyone was so friendly and welcoming, particularly Deenie, Jamie and all the staff at Essence of Harris. I only work with companies that I like and I really did like so much about Essence of Harris. The products smell amazing, are great quality and the packaging beautiful but what I loved the most about the company was how authentic they are and so connected to their roots on the island which I think is really refreshing and important.

Hope you enjoyed reading about our adventures and thank you for taking the time to read my blog. Just a quick tip if you are visiting the Outer Hebrides, make sure you have plenty of fuel if you are there at the weekend, all fuel stations (along with most shops) are still closed on a Sunday. This is something we never took into consideration and nearly got caught out.

Eilidh