Standup paddleboarding off Scotland’s wild west coast

A new SUP and digital detox break on this beautiful coast means switching the smartphone off and focusing on the meditative pull of a paddle and the rhythm of the sea

Royal Botanical Gardens – Edinburgh

Excerpt from the book Travels through History : Northern Ireland and Scotland  Belfast and the Causeway Coast has been rated best region in the world to visit in 2018 by Lonely Planet. In September 2017, Scotland was voted the most beautiful country in the world by a respected travel company, Rough Guides.

==========

The original Edinburgh Botanical Garden was founded in 1670 at a place called St Anne’s Yard near Holyroodhouse. This site soon proved too small and, in 1676, grounds belonging to Trinity Hospital were leased from the City Council: this second garden was sited just to the east of the North Bridge. The site was subsequently occupied by tracks of the North British Railway and a plaque on platform 11 of Waverley railway station marks the location.

In 1763, the collections were moved away from the city’s pollution to a larger “Physick Garden” on the west side of Leith Walk. In the early 1820s under the direction of the then Curator, William McNab, the garden moved west to its present location adjacent to Inverleith Row, where current visitors can enter via one of the two entrances, the East Gate on Inverleith Row or the West Gate entrance on Arboretum Place. The most famous features are The Glasshouses including the Temperate Palm House, the tallest in Britain, which was built in 1858.

I would recommend starting at the East Gate, simply because it’s closer to the centre of the city and because you are instantly introduced to an outstanding feature of these gardens, namely the sculptures. Even before I entered the garden, I was impressed. The gates at the eastern entrance are intertwined stainless steel representations of rhododendron flowers, designed by Benjamin Tindall and created by the blacksmith, Alan Dawson.

Dun Carloway

Excerpt from the book Travels through History : Northern Ireland and Scotland  Belfast and the Causeway Coast has been rated best region in the world to visit in 2018 by Lonely Planet. In September 2017, Scotland was voted the most beautiful country in the world by a respected travel company, Rough Guides

Dun Carloway, or Dun Charlabhaigh, is a remarkably well-preserved broch in a stunning location overlooking Loch Roag on the west coast of Lewis. Dun Carloway was probably built some time in the last century BC. It would have served as an occasionally defensible residence for an extended family complete with accommodation for animals at ground floor level. It would also have served as a visible statement of power and status in the local area.

The broch at Dun Carloway is extremely well preserved. It was built at a time when brochs were already starting to be replaced by other forms of housing less demanding on scarce resources (and wood in particular), and it is not known how long it remained in use. It seems to have been still largely complete in the 1500s when some of the Morrison clan sought refuge inside the broch after being discovered stealing the local MacAulays’ cattle. Donald Cam MacAulay climbed the outside of the wall and threw in burning heather, smoking the Morrisons out.

The broch is next mentioned in a report by the local Minister in 1797. By this time, brochs were believed to be watchtowers used as defense against, or by, Vikings. Dun Carloway featured prominently in reports on Western Isles brochs in the latter part of the 1800s, and as a result it was one of the very first ancient monuments in Scotland to be taken into state care. By this time a large a part of the wall had been removed, probably for recycling into the blackhouses built nearby: including the one whose walls still stand nearly complete below the access path.

Dryburgh Abbey – Scottish Borders

Excerpt from the book Travels through History : Northern Ireland and Scotland  Belfast and the Causeway Coast has been rated best region in the world to visit in 2018 by Lonely Planet. In September 2017, Scotland was voted the most beautiful country in the world by a respected travel company, Rough Guides.

===========

In 1124 King David I came to the throne of Scotland. His brother-in-law was the then king of England Henry I. David established a feudal system in Scotland and introduced many novel ideas such as silver coinage, promoting education and giving royal audiences to rich and poor alike. Stirling, Perth and Dunfermline were made royal burghs which meant that they could engage in foreign trade.

However, David’s biggest desires for Scotland were to create a lasting peace with its southern neighbour and to create a nation where the influence of the Church would have a positive social effect, much as it had in the England of the time. Where better place than the Scottish Borders then, to show this demonstration of goodwill towards England, that the Scots shared their religious belief but did have the power and wealth to build large religious houses of their own? The result was the founding of four large abbeys: Kelso in 1128; Melrose in 1136; Jedburgh in 1138 and Dryburgh in 1150 with each of the buildings being the home of a different order of monks.

Dryburgh was founded in 1150 by Hugh de Moreville, one of the many Anglo-Normans who came north with David I in the first half of the 12th century. As High Constable of Scotland, de Moreville was one of the most powerful men in Scotland and had estates throughout the Borders, Ayrshire and in England. Despite his obvious piety (he enrolled as a novice in his old age) his son was one of the murderers of Archbishop Thomas à Becket at Canterbury in 1170.

My new book

My new book is called: Travels through History – Northern Ireland and Scotland 

Belfast and the Causeway Coast has been rated best region in the world to visit in 2018 by Lonely Planet.

Lonely Planet praised its “timeless beauty and high-grade distractions – golf, whiskey and some of the world’s most famous rocks. The region may be famous for Game of Thrones but its many scenic filming locations are just the start.”

 

Travels through History : Northern Ireland and Scotland covers not only the murals and Titanic Centre in Belfast, but also the world-famous rocks of The Giant’s Causeway, Dunluce Castle, and the Beaghmore Stone Circles, situated in Northern Ireland’s darkest area.

The original owners realised it was time to leave Dunluce Castle when the kitchen along with their cooks and the dinner they were preparing fell into the sea during a particularly bad storm.

In September 2017, Scotland was voted the most beautiful country in the world by a respected travel company. Rough Guides, the leading publisher of travel and reference guides, tasked its readers to choose the top 20 most beautiful countries in the world, and Scotland came out on top.

Travels through History : Northern Ireland and Scotland covers not only the capital Edinburgh, but also the Isle of Lewis, the border abbey at Dryburgh, and the mysterious chapel at Rosslyn as featured in the famous book The Da Vinci Code.

On Lewis, itself voted Europe’s top island destination in 2014 by TripAdvisor, I write about the 5,000-year old stone circle at Callanish, the 2,000-year old rock house at Dun Carloway, and the black houses at Arnol where people lived until the 1960s.

In Edinburgh, I describe the sights that can be seen along The Royal Mile from Holyrood House to The Castle including the cafe where JK Rowling wrote some of the Harry Potter books. I visited the botanical gardens with its magnificent Victorian Temperate Palm House, the tallest in Britain and a Chinese garden, home to the largest collection of wild-origin Chinese plants outside China.

 

Top 10 spring walks in the UK

The countryside is about to burst into life with fresh greens, yellows and blues replacing the muted tones of winter.

Move to Stronsay, the Scottish island that’s open to all

Anti-tourism is not welcome on the Orkney isle of Stronsay, where a community group has started a campaign to attract visitors (and residents) to the remote outpost with a ‘rich cultural life and sense of freedom’