The A82 runs north from Glasgow to Inverness. Along much of the route the scenery is magnificent and favourite views are often topics for discussion. Some folk rave about Loch Lomond or the mountains of Glencoe. For others the rushing rivers, woodlands or the watery wastes of Rannoch Moor are most appealing. Yet it’s no secret that at times this road can be frustratingly busy with tourist traffic, especially at popular viewpoints.
Leaving it all behind however, is easy. At Corran, a few miles north of Ballachulish, you can cross the narrows of Loch Linnhe on a Caledonian MacBrayne Ferry. Minutes later, leaving the ferry and the village of Ardgour behind, you’ll appreciate the absence of traffic and the equally magnificent scenery. This is Morvern, a peninsula that feels like an island.
Though Morvern is connected by ferries to the mainland and the Island of Mull to the south, there is a sense of remoteness. Should you ever long for serenity such as you’ll find here, you might consider driving some twenty odd miles more to Ardtornish House near the southern end of the peninsula for a slow food adventure.
Ardtornish House is the focal point of Ardtornish Estate which extends over a large area of Morvern. Here, like other proponents of the Slow Food movement, it is believed food should taste good and be produced in a way that fully respects the environment, human health and animal welfare. Where possible, as Ardtornish Estate is also a working farm, food is grown and sourced on the estate and failing that as close as possible from like - minded providers.
Should you visit Morvern to take part in an Ardtornish Slow Adventure you’ll have opportunities to eat well while escaping the pressures of modern living – at least for a few days.
On arrival you’ll be offered home baked cake and coffee before a stroll through the estate kitchen garden to select salad leaves, vegetables or fruit in season for your dinner.
There are different Slow Adventures on offer. One might involve a walk from Ardtornish House of less than three miles to Leacraithnaich Bothy (more easily pronounced Tearnait Bothy) which stands on a hillside overlooking Loch Tearnait. Like other bothies on Ardtornish Estate it belongs to the Mountain Bothy Association whose members volunteer to maintain their properties.
The accommodation at Tearnait Bothy is basic. There’s no running water, electricity or toilet – just two rooms of rough stone walls beneath a corrugated iron roof. A fitted platform raised a few inches covers the larger area of floor. Bothy goers claim their space on the platform by unrolling and laying out their sleeping bags.
The living room boasts a dining table and two benches, three chairs and another table where food can be prepared in front of the window. When logs are burning fiercely in the fireplace and candles and tea lights are lit the room is cosy, though still somewhat other worldly.
After lunch and more coffee and cake mid - afternoon, adventurers can attempt to catch fish from Loch Tearnait for their supper. Should fishing lessons be needed, an Ardtornish Estate ghillie and a deer stalker/fisherman will demonstrate the fine art of casting a fly. Chances are they will also tell tales of the ones that got away.
You may also hear about the seemingly unconcerned otters that swam back and forwards over the fisherman’s wellington boots while he stood in the shallows of a loch, concentrating on casting.
But fear not. If the fish are not biting, your alternative dinner will already have been a major consideration for someone else. On my evening in the bothy, along with two other adventurers and our guide Karl Bungey, we dined on a pre-prepared Ardtornish Estate venison casserole, lentil stew and potatoes with a side salad. Water from Loch Tearnait was filtered. The convivial evening passed with conversation and a ‘wee dram’ of whisky round the fireside.
Next morning Karl cooked a leisurely breakfast. The freshly baked bread, new laid eggs and small batch sausages with herbs had been sourced locally mere miles away. At the moment there are nine local businesses involved in this Slow Food venture.
After breakfast, as we walked back down the track to Ardtornish House, we learned a little about our natural surroundings and the wildlife of these hills including red deer, otters and golden eagles.
The walk took us to a slipway on Loch Aline, a short distance from Ardtornish House where we enjoyed a picnic lunch of sandwiches thickly spread with mackerel pate and chicken liver pate on home baked bread. There was fruit and nuts and cake flavoured with whisky. The hamper had been packed with considered care at the Ariundle Centre, Strontian, another of the local, Slow Food enterprises.
After lunch we paddled Canadian canoes on Loch Aline under the watchful eye of our guide, Karl, a canoeing coach and experienced outdoor education teacher.
Canadian canoes are designed to carry large loads and be stable. With two seated paddlers, one at the front and one at the back on opposite sides, the skills required to travel safely on the water can be learnt fairly quickly under instruction.
Loch Aline is a sea loch that opens into the Sound of Mull. Before the tide ebbed too far we returned ashore and were soon walking back to Ardtornish House where our bedrooms in the South Wing were in marked contrast to our bothy accommodation the previous night.
The present Ardtornish House dates from 1884 and was built to replace an earlier house that was knocked down. Bedrooms are spacious with period fittings such as heavy mahogany furniture and marble fireplaces. To keep these fires burning, servants would have been summoned by the ringing of bells which are still in place, high up on the wall of a back door entrance.
Walking instead of driving, or being driven, is the norm on a slow adventure and an evening stroll along the woodland path by Loch Aline is a pleasant way to arrive at The Whitehouse Restaurant in the township of Lochaline in time for dinner. The Whitehouse, no distance from the loch, is an award winning restaurant with close links to Ardtornish Estate. As well as having its own kitchen garden behind the restaurant, products sourced from the estate include beef, venison, lamb and mutton. Sea food and fish at their freshest come from local waters.
The restaurant has two smallish rooms. The waiting staff bring a board with a chalked - on menu to each table and explain the ingredients of each dish. The list is not long – from two starters, two main courses and two desserts the staff recommend you pick four taster dishes.
Your choice of a starter course might be - Smoked salmon, Lochaline quail egg, cauliflower crema, avruga, samphire and backyard beetroot.
Your choice of a main course might be - Sea water poached cod fish, roast Mull scallop, Fishnish geic, seashore botanics, sheep yoghurt, potted tomato and herring roe.
Your choice of dessert might be - Morvern Tart - a rich concoction of fruit and nuts soaked in whisky and baked in a caramel and pastry casing.
Now replete, the soft adventurers were grateful for the offer of a lift back to Ardtornish House. The rest of the evening was passed discussing the highlights of the previous days while seated in the comfortable armchairs of a lounge.
Breakfast in the South Wing of Ardtornish House next morning was followed by a gentle cycle to end our Slow Adventure.
For further information: Ardtornish Estate: www.ardtornish.co.uk
Ariundle Centre: www.ariundlecentre.co.uk
Karl Bungey Otter Adventures: www.otter-adventures.co.uk
Whitehouse Restaurant : www.thewhitehouserestaurant.co.uk
Slow Adventure contact: Jane Stuart – Smith 07884361545 firstname.lastname@example.org
First published in The Peoples' Friend magazine
Leading towards Stirling Castle, a circuitous path known as the Back Walk rises from Dumbarton Road and follows the line of the old town wall. Historical information boards along the way offer insights into features such as the watchtower built into the raw rock. On the lower slopes where trees and shrubs flourish look out for the wood sculpture of a howling wolf. Legend has it that in the 9th century a howling wolf saved Stirling by alerting the townsfolk to the midnight approach of Viking raiders. Now Stirling’s coat of arms includes the figure of a wolf.
A stroll here was not always pleasant or safe, however. The Royal Court in Stirling was forever being attacked and as an outer defence, the wall was constructed in 1547 when King Henry VIII of England was seeking to force a marriage between the infant Mary, Queen of Scots and his son Edward.
Further up the path, a gate in iron railings gives access to a rocky knoll known as Ladies’ Rock. Some believe it was so called as the extra height allowed ladies of the castle a better view of medieval tournaments being held on flat ground, now called the Valley, lying between Castle and town. More likely the name derives from Our Lady’s Hill, the site of a pre-Reformation shrine.
The Valley has been a cemetery for years and predominant amongst many impressive gravestones is the Star Pyramid, a smaller version of the structures more usually associated with Egypt. Another headstone, the so-called Service Stone, is pitted on both sides with musket shot possibly from being utilised as a shield during General Monck’s siege of Stirling Castle in 1651.
Continuing along the path and up a few steps leads to the Castle esplanade where a statue of King Robert the Bruce is a popular subject for camera toting tourists. Their photographic efforts might also include the memorial tower to Sir William Wallace on tree clothed Abbey Craig in the middle distance and the Ochil Hills in the background.
From the esplanade, stout wooden gates allow a way inside the castle’s defences. As well as being a fortress of great strength enclosing a palace that was a place of safety for generations of Scottish kings, Stirling Castle was almost a self-contained village. Visitors can wander through well-preserved kitchens and in the footsteps of royalty. The restored Great Hall, built for James 4th around 1503, is especially impressive. After years of neglect, an entirely new hammer beam ceiling crowns a room of lofty proportions complete with wall hangings, embroidery, stained glass and thrones. The so-called Stirling Heads that cover the ceiling of another room are portraits carved in Polish oak and painted. They were created to show the wealth, status and connections of the Scottish monarchy with the intention of impressing guests.
Outside on the battlements, a view indicator helps in identifying distant hills and sites of battles, including Bannockburn in 1314 and Stirling Bridge in1297 that influenced the course of Scottish history.
Before heading down into the streets of the old town nestling below the castle, it’s worth stopping off in the visitor centre at the end of the esplanade. In the comfort of the small cinema, a potted history of Stirling from the 1100s onwards vividly unwinds.
Back out in the daylight tread carefully on the cobble stones of Castle Wynd leading past Argyll’s Lodging. This nobleman’s town house is now refurbished to show how the nobility lived in 17th century Stirling. Furniture and fittings are based on the original inventory of house contents at that time.
Further down the brae Cowane’s Hospital built between the years 1639 – 49 offered charity to unsuccessful merchants. Work on the building will see it restored to its original glory.
Nearby, on the edge of Valley cemetery is the Church of the Holy Rude whose oak roof timbers were shaped by adze 600 and more years ago. Here in 1567, preceded by a Protestant sermon preached by John Knox, James 6th, a mere infant of thirteen months(baptised a Roman Catholic seven months earlier in Stirling Castle) was crowned King of Scotland. Meanwhile his mother, Mary Queen of Scots, languished in Lochleven Castle in Fife.
In 1651, during a campaign to subdue the Highlands, General George Monck, who was Oliver Cromwell’s Commander-in-Chief in Scotland, set up his guns in the tower of the church for the last successful attack on Stirling Castle.
Further disruption of a different kind took place in the 17th century when the church was divided into two parts for two different congregations. Rival ministers would then voice their religious disagreements over a wall. The wall is long gone and stained glass windows symbolise more enlightened times. In 1935 the Church and congregations were re-united.
Changes for the better would have topped many wish lists of those unfortunates who landed in the Old Town Jail on St. John Street where Victorian punishments were meted out in an attempt to correct ‘the sinning ways of those lacking morals’. In 1844 one cell held 24 prisoners. A visiting judge described the conditions as ‘wretched’ and ‘fearful’. The new prison, opened in 1847 had a modern design which allowed for solitary confinement, constant observation and hard work. As well, the chaplain could preach to all the prisoners whilst they were still in their cells. A tour of the jail can be taken with guide/actors who recreate the harshness of these times.
Markets took place on Broad Street. The Mercat (market) Cross that stands at the lower end is topped with a statue of a unicorn known locally as “the puggy”. Under it, proclamations were read out and important occasions celebrated. On royal birthdays, town officials drank copious toasts round bonfires while pipers or trumpeters played and church bells were rung. Rioting also took place here such as the one in December 1706 in protest at the proposed Union with England.
Continuing downhill past narrow buildings with crow stepped gables leads to the modern centre of Stirling. There is a choice of pubs, cafes and restaurants but if the weather is fine it’s worth considering picnicking about a mile away at Cambuskenneth Abbey and leaving the bustle behind.
Head past the railway station and cross the road-bridge over the railway lines. At the end of a street of terraced houses fronted by neat gardens, a pedestrian bridge spans a bend in the River Forth. On the far side, Cambuskenneth village has won Britain in Bloom Awards four times over the years.
Of Cambuskenneth Abbey (the abbey of Stirling founded around 1140 by David 1st) only the restored bell tower still stands. Where kings stayed as guests and Scottish parliaments met, low lines of stone above the grass are all that remain of the once impressive abbey. Behind railings there is a reconstructed tomb of King James 3rd (1452-88) and Queen Margaret of Denmark.
A return to the starting point of this trip back in time will take you through Stirling’s thoroughly modern temples to consumerism.
First published in The Glasgow Herald
Where five roads meet outside Haymarket Railway Station in Edinburgh a small forest of traffic lights controls the comings and goings of people and vehicles. From somewhere underground the wail of a train adds to the noise.
Yet minutes away from this kaleidoscope of activity, Palmerston Place offers an escape. St. Mary’s Episcopalian Cathedral dominates this part of Edinburgh’s New Town and immediately draws the eye. Two ladies, the Misses Walker, heirs of Sir Patrick Walker on whose land this part of the city was developed, left their fortune to the Episcopal Church on condition the money had to be used to build a cathedral for the diocese of Edinburgh. Twin spires at the western end of the building are accordingly named Barbara and Mary in their memory.
At the main entrance, intricate stone carvings are worth a close look while inside the church a daily choral service has been a tradition since 1879. The choir perfects its music in the nearby Song School, a modest building which blends with the surroundings to give little indication of the richness of the murals enlightening every inch of the inside walls by the artist Phoebe Anna Traquair (1852 – 1936).
Carry on down Palmerston Place to the bottom of the hill then turn left onto Belford Bridge. From here you can enjoy views over the river, the Water of Leith, before rounding the bend into Belford Road to seek out the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art housed in a former school building. It’s well worth finding the paintings by the Scottish colourists Francis Cadell, John Duncan Ferguson, Samuel John Peploe and G.L. Hunter .
Outside, the lawn in front of the gallery has been landscaped to a design by Charles Jenks. Called Landform, the stepped grass mound winds a way round pools of water that mirror the passing clouds overhead.
Across the road, the Dean Gallery is home to the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art Two. Here there are works by surrealist artists Pablo Picasso and Robert Penrose but most arresting is the sculpture entitled Vulcan1990 by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi. This shiny metal figure standing nearly 30ft tall portrays a half man, half machine – a monument to the modern age. Vulcan, the Roman god of fire and blacksmiths, forged weapons for gods and heroes.
A path by the side of the lawn in front of the art gallery leads to an exit and, partially hidden by ivy, a doorway with steps leading down to the Water of Leith and the walkway which follows the course of the river. Though the city centre is only minutes away this is a green oasis enlivened by birdsong.
At Dean Village, new houses compliment the original stone buildings. Some of them, with crow stepped gables, were once meal mills, woollen mills or tanneries powered by the Water of Leith.
In turn, the river was used as an open sewer for waste. Now the mill buildings have been converted into sought after waterside homes and offices with something of the character of a rural hamlet remaining.
The Water of Leith also receives lots of attention. Work is on-going to improve the water quality, remove rubbish, protect wildlife and maintain the walkway from Balerno, south of Edinburgh, to the sea at Leith.
From Dean Village, a sign points out the continuation of the path under Dean Bridge built in 1829-31 to a design by Thomas Telford. Bridge traffic is constant but far below, beneath a supporting arch, little can be heard.
Further along the river bank, a Roman temple, an open rotunda, has pillars enclosing a statue of Hygeia, Greek goddess of health. She holds a large jar in one hand and in the other, an urn, tilted in the direction of a serpent that curls up the stump of a tree. This is St. Bernard’s Well.
From the late 1700s the supposed healing powers of the mineral waters were an attraction on the tourist trail. Though the well waters are not in use today, Stockbridge, hardly any distance from here, still caters for visitors.
This is a thriving area of the city with an air of confidence and the feel of a self-contained village. As well as a choice of cafes and pubs, there are fish, fruit and vegetable shops, butchers, bakers and candlestick makers, a cheesemonger and florists all within a few yards of each other. Browse in a book shop before setting off up Glanville Place and further into the New Town of Edinburgh.
On reaching Howe Street turn right.
Like much of the New Town streets it is wide and handsome with the added bonus of a view northwards across a city roof- scape to a blue strip of River Forth and the coast of Fife.
Catch your breath half way up before turning left and walking along Herriot Row. Here the grey stone facades have not changed a great deal since Robert Louis Stevenson moved to No.17 as a boy in 1857.
Electric lighting has long since replaced the gas lamps Stevenson mentions in his poem The Lamplighter, yet it’s easy to imagine the sickly child peering out of his window at the lamp before the door as “Leerie stops to light it as he lights so many more.”
Turning right onto Queen Street Gardens East leads to Hanover Street which continues over George Street where, in the intersection, a statue of George 1V on a pedestal commemorates the King’s visit in 1822 – the first by a British monarch to see his Scottish kingdom in 171 years.
The King had been sensationally dressed in flesh coloured tights and kilt and many others were impressed to follow his lead. Sir Walter Scott was the impresario behind this event and has since been celebrated and blamed for the popularity of tartan, bagpipes and clans.
From here on Hanover Street there is a splendid view of the Royal Scottish Academy of Art and Architecture and on the skyline, the towers of the New College of the Free Church of Scotland.
Before weaving through the crowds on Princes Street, grin or grimace eastwards in the direction of the monument and statue commemorating the writer Sir Walter Scott (you may like to climb to the top) then cross the bottom of The Mound with care to descend the steps down to Princes Street Gardens.
Pause at the Floral Clock then spend time enjoying the gardens and the best views of the great lump of volcanic rock topped by Edinburgh Castle.
First published in the Glasgow Herald
Further Information: www.cathedral.net
For Phoebe Traquair Song School Murals Tour
Cathedral Chorus Services with the Choir of St. Mary’s Cathedral
Though it’s not the beating heart of the city any longer, the Cathedral was where Glasgow originated and spread from and where this walk to the River Clyde starts.
The present building dates from the early 13th century and stands over the traditional burial place of St. Kentigern (or Mungo, as he is more popularly known), Patron Saint of Glasgow. Mungo is believed to have established a Christian community on the site in the 6th century. After his death his tomb became a place of pilgrimage where people came to pray for salvation, confess their crimes and seek cures. Their offerings helped to swell church funds and as the town grew in importance the church was enlarged and beautified.
From outside, the Cathedral is not overly awesome, yet inside an unexpected narrowness seems to emphasize the height of the ceiling. As the organ resounds and light floods through the stained glass windows, even an atheist’s gaze would be drawn irresistibly heavenwards, up the fluted stone pillars.
The Low Kirk underneath, containing the tomb of St. Kentigern, is reached from either side of the main church by stairs that descend into a forest of stone columns supporting a vaulted ceiling. It was believed Kentigern was buried here, although his bones were later moved to a shrine in the main church.
St. Kentigern was a popular saint who, it was believed, performed many miracles. Some of these miracles are commemorated in Glasgow’s coat of arms. Look up at one of the lamps lighting the way to the Cathedral to see the salmon and the ring, the resurrected robin, the oak tree (which was the blazing hazel branch of an earlier story) the bell with which he summoned devotees and the little mound from where he preached his sermons.
Before leaving Cathedral Precinct, take a turn through the St. Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art. There’s a wealth of exhibits and information on various religions practiced in the city, including Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism. At the back of the building, with a view towards the Cathedral, the Zen garden is not merely an example of low maintenance garden design but is a place for contemplation. Large lumps of carefully selected rock stand on grass and in a bed of raked white stone chips.
From the front door of the Museum of Religious Life and Art, cross Castle Street with care and step inside Provand’s Lordship. This is the oldest house in Glasgow and is a very rare example of 15th century Scottish domestic architecture. Furniture and fittings recollect the interior as it might have been around 1700.
Behind the house, in a different style of garden, plants commonly used for medical purposes in the 15th century are grown to reflect links with the Chapel and Hospital of St Nicholas thought to have stood near the present building.
Cross back over the road and begin walking down Castle Street to the statue of King William on his horse on a tall plinth. In windy weather you may see the horse’s tail moving.
Castle Street runs into High Street, the main route from the Cathedral to the River Clyde in medieval times. As development continued, people came here in search of work and this area became densely overcrowded. In the late 19th century the worst of the housing was demolished and replaced by high quality, red sandstone tenements that still line part of the street today. On the gable end of one of the tenements there is a recently painted mural given the name St. Mungo.
Turn west along George Street to find other murals that are features of Glasgow’s Mural Trail. As well, you can compare the more recent, utilitarian glass and concrete constructions of Strathclyde University with the grandeur of Glasgow City Chambers. The towers, turrets and stone carvings of this Venetian style building are especially ostentatious examples of the architecture in this part of town known as the Merchant City.
In front of the City Chambers pause at the War Memorial before finding the statues in George Square commemorating Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott and James Watt amongst others, then walk along Cochrane Street past the other side of the City Chambers and down John Street.
Hutchesons’ Hospital Hall (1802) on the left hand corner of John Street/Ingram Street was designed by David Hamilton, one of Glasgow’s greatest architects and built at a cost of £5000. James and George Hutcheson, whose statues from 1649 grace niches on the Ingram Street front of Hutchesons’ Hall were the original founders of an earlier property-The Hospital - built as a refuge for the city’s elderly craftsmen. Following a succession of different occupants the property is now a restaurant. In an upstairs hall, while the stained glass windows are lovely and the ceiling, cornice plasterwork and decoration most impressive, another feature of the building is still more arresting.
The ghost of a lady (so I’ve been told) wearing a long white dress makes fairly regular appearances. She has even been seen opening the door into the hall and leaving by an unopened window. On the walls, oil paintings of Sir Thomas Lipton, philanthropic Glasgow grocer, Sir David Richmond, Provost of Glasgow in the mid1890s, and Sir William Alexander Smith, founder of The Boys’ Brigade, gaze down as if in disbelief.
With the front of Hutchesons’ Hall to your left, walk along Ingram Street to Ramshorn Theatre known earlier as Ramshorn Kirk. On the nearest wall to the pavement, there is a plaque commemorating Sir John A. MacDonald 1815 – 1891. He was born hereabouts in Ramshorn Parish and went on to become Canada’s first Prime Minister.
Cross Ingram Street to see the large mural on the car park wall then head down Candleriggs. Stop for a moment at the entrance to City Halls where the BBC Symphony Orchestra is based and look up to find the small plaque on the wall commemorating John MacLean, socialist pioneer.
The end of this block, part of the Old Fruit Market dating back to the 1800s, is another example of Glasgow reinvention. Restaurants and bars surround a floor space used for craft fairs, exhibitions and musical events.
Continue down Candleriggs to busy Trongate.
An unusual feature on the opposite pavement at the Tron Theatre is an archway which was cut into the side of the building to allow the passage of carriages in bygone days. In the streets behind, there is an eclectic mix of retailers where you can be tattooed, buy a comic, an aquarium or a camera.
Cross Saltmarket and turn to look back to Glasgow Cross where the Tolbooth Steeple stands marooned on an island amidst flows of traffic. Once it was part of halls and assembly rooms long since demolished that served as the 17th century municipal business hub of the city.
Walk along St. Andrew’s Street.
Ahead, St. Andrew’s Parish Church is a fine example of a town-planning feature that was specific to Glasgow. Built facing the end of St. Andrew’s Street, to make a grand statement, the church displays the lavish taste of Glasgow’s 18th century tobacco lords though it has recently undergone a conversion. Where once there were hymns, the space now resounds to the sound of music and dancing feet above a café/bar. The church was later surrounded by an elegant residential square.
A complex of white houses that wouldn’t look out of place on a Mediterranean coast is found behind. Beyond these houses lies Glasgow Green.
Traditionally the open space has been a gathering place for diverse groups including armies, trade unionists and women hanging out washings. Immediately noticeable is a tall obelisk commemorating Lord Nelson and his victories. At the eastern end is the much-loved People’s Palace (1898) part winter garden, part museum presenting social histories of the city. One exhibit depicts a once-typical tenement room. Gas lamps illuminate a small sink, a zinc bath in front of a kitchen range, box bed, and a few other bits of furniture. A taped commentary describes family life in such circumstances when bath water for the last person in line became progressively colder and dirtier. “Happy days” was overheard from a visitor who appeared old enough to know better.
From the front door of the People’s Palace, take time to inspect the terracotta fountain topped with a figure of Queen Victoria above depictions of people from her Empire. Then make the short walk for a close up view of the exotic facade of the Templeton’s Carpet Factory building inspired by the Doge’s Palace in Venice.
After a refreshment in the West restaurant and brewery which is housed in a corner of the building, cross the Green to wander alongside the River Clyde.
Further Information: Glasgow Cathedral doubled as the beautiful Hopital des Angles in Season 2 of the T.V. series Outlander.
At the time of uploading this article the Peoples’ Palace and Winter Gardens were closed until the Easter weekend