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

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.

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.

 

The Royal Mile – 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.

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The Royal Mile is the name given to a succession of streets forming the main thoroughfare of the Old Town. With all the historic buildings along this street, it came as a surprise to me to learn the name ‘Royal Mile’ was only coined in 1901 in W M Gilbert’s Edinburgh in the Nineteenth Century. The name was further popularised as the title of a guidebook, published in 1920. The Royal Mile runs uphill from Holyrood Palace to the Castle. East to West it comprises Abbey Strand, Canongate, High Street, Lawnmarket, and Castlehill.

Visitors can spend an entire day sampling all the delights and sights along this single street in Scotland’s capital and that’s without doing any shopping. It’s always better to see a few things well than to see many things fleetingly, so pick your favourites and choose to spend more time at them.

Abbey Strand is the shortest of the five named parts of the Royal Mile and is only as long as the Queen’s Gallery, where items in the Royal collection are exhibited in the former Holyrood Free Church. There are also the remains of the gatehouse of Holyrood Palace built by James IV. The coat-of-arms set in the wall belong to James V and is not an original. With Holyrood at your back and looking up the Royal Mile, the modern building to the left is the Scottish Parliament. Work began in June 1999 and Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) held their first debate on 7 September 2004. Enric Miralles, the Catalan architect who designed the building, died before its completion.

Callanish Stone Circle – 4

In his 1726 work on the druids, John Toland specifically identified Diodorus Siculus’ Hyperborea with Lewis, and the “spherical temple” mentioned by Diodorus with the Callanish Stones. Diodorus was a first century BC Greek historian, best known for writing the monumental universal history Bibliotheca historica, much of which survives, between 60 and 30 BC. A Scottish writer Martin Martin visited Lewis in 1695, researching his book A Description of the Western Islands of Scotland, and was told that Callanish was “a place appointed for worship in the time of heathenism, and that the chief druid or priest stood near the big stone in the centre, from whence he addressed himself to the people that surrounded him”. This is an interesting explanation, but doesn’t provide an insight into when the ‘time of heathenism’ was.

I first saw the stones silhouetted against the sky when I was driving from the airport to my hotel for the night. I could have visited the stones, even at 9pm, because the site is free and open to all, the way it should be. I pulled over to the side of the road, because it was difficult for me to comprehend that 5,000 years ago, I could have stood in exactly the same spot I was now and seen the same view I was seeing now. 1,825,000 days ago, the view would have been the same. For me, that is an amazing feeling to have, and ultimately the fact the stones are still there is more important than the reasons why the stones were placed where they are. It made me feel very small underneath the universe.

Dun Carloway Broch – 3

A path leads up the hillside, giving views of the broch and the surrounding countryside. The side facing you is built above steep rock, and most of it remains as originally designed. As you round the broch to the entrance, on the north side, you are presented with a different picture. From here you can see that the most easily accessible parts of the wall have been removed. What you are left with is a life-size cutaway model, exposing sections through the walls and showing clearly much of their structure.

Inside the broch a number of chambers are accessible at ground floor level, an area which would probably have been used to house farm animals. The human residents would have lived 2m higher, above wooden flooring supported on a ridge that can still be seen running around the inside walls. As in other brochs, stairs are fitted within the thickness of the walls, and there would probably have been several floors of accommodation beneath a conical roof.