Round The World and other travels

A frequent flyer's collection of trip diaries

September 2012: On Home Ground - Central Scotland

I found myself grounded for much of the summer and early autumn of 2012 due to the need to undergo a major surgical procedure. My San Diego-based friend Bruce very kindly offered to come over for a period of around five weeks in order to help me through what was expected to be a long and slow recovery. In the event, progress was amazingly rapid and we were able to spend a reasonable amount of time exploring some of the sights of what, for me, was thoroughly familiar territory: the Central Belt of Scotland.

Loch Katrine

Loch Katrine is situated in the scenic Trossachs area to the north of Glasgow and west of Stirling. Although a natural loch, its level has been raised to turn it into a reservoir serving Glasgow's needs. A short sailing on the steam-powered vessel Sir Walter Scott provides a gentle introduction to some typically Scottish landscapes.

Culross

This pretty little village in the west of Fife was founded by St Serf and nowadays is well known for its Dutch-influenced architecture, with several historic buildings in the care of the National Trust for Scotland. It has one of those names that is guaranteed to fool all but the natives: the correct pronunciation is KOO-ross.

Linlithgow

It's all too easy to think of Linlithgow as being simply a dormitory satellite town of Edinburgh, but this overlooks the fact that it is a historically important and attractive place. Highlights include the ruins of Linlithgow Palace and its grounds, Linlithgow Loch and St Michael's Church.

Leith

Traditionally Edinburgh's port, Leith was dogged by a poor reputation for many years, but has been enjoying a gradual renaissance for the last couple of decades. Since 1998, it has been home to the retired royal yacht Britannia, immodestly marketed as 'Scotland's best visitor attraction'.

(South) Queensferry

Another formerly independent town that is now part of Edinburgh, Queensferry - often called South Queensferry to distinguish it from North Queensferry on the other side of the Forth - nestles between the unique and iconic rail bridge and the less celebrated road bridge that replaced the ferries in 1964. The town has an unusual, split-level main street with a narrow, cobblestoned road surface.

Stirling

As Scotland's smallest city, Stirling packs a mighty punch in terms of its role in Scottish history. Among many claims to fame, it is a former capital of Scotland and site of the battles of Stirling Bridge (1297) and Bannockburn (1314). Stirling hosted the coronation of Mary, Queen of Scots (in 1543, at the tender age of 9 months) and that of her son, James VI of Scotland (in 1567), who would later become James I of England. The city's famous castle dominates the flat landscape to both east and west, while also guarding the main north-south route between highland and lowland Scotland, and what was until relatively recent times the lowest bridging point on the River Forth.

Glasgow

Scotland's largest city has traditionally had something of an image problem, yet it contains much that is of interest to visitors, including lots of impressive architecture, several fine museums, acres of parkland and an extensive line-up of designer shops. By chance rather than through any enlightened planning, our visit coincided with the annual 'doors open' day, when many buildings that are not normally accessible to the public put out the 'welcome' signs.

City Centre (showing George Square, City Chambers, Gallery of Modern Art, Buchanan Street and Princes Square)
      
West End (showing Glasgow University, Kelvingrove and the Riverside Museum)

Edinburgh

Although separated by a mere 45 miles, Edinburgh and Glasgow are like chalk and cheese. They could hardly be less alike. While the capital is smaller than its western rival and suffers from inadequate transport infrastructure, it generally has a much more cosmopolitan and sophisticated feel. In contrast to Glasgow's American-style grid system, Edinburgh's Georgian New Town is an expansive and elegant array of gracious squares, crescents and circuses, while in the medieval Old Town the street layout is frequently three-dimensional in nature, with significant vertical distances (often traversed by daunting flights of narrow stairs) separating roads that look like simple cross-streets on a map.

The Falkirk Wheel

The world's first and only rotating boat lift was built as a Millennium project to re-establish the link between the Forth and Clyde Canal and the Union Canal, the original series of locks having been dismantled and built over in the 1930s.

Pitlochry

This one stretches the Central Belt theme a little, being situated in the southern part of the Scottish Highlands rather than the Central Lowlands. It's a lovely little town, the most unexpected feature of which is the Pitlochry Festival Theatre, often referred to as 'the theatre in the hills'. We saw the hit West End show The 39 Steps, a fast-paced comedy spoof of the Hitchcock movie with all parts played by just four actors.

Scone

The small village of Scone (population less than 5,000) lies just one mile outside the city of Perth. Like Stirling, it punches well above its weight in terms of historical importance. The former abbey there was the traditional coronation site of the kings of Scotland and the subsequent fate of the coronation stone of Scone (also known as The Stone of Destiny) has caused much controversy down through the centuries. The current Scone Palace which stands on the site is the home of the Earl of Mansfield and is a popular visitor attraction. Incidentally, Scone is another of those place names that foxes most people: unlike the popular bakery item, it rhymes with 'moon'.

Crail

Crail is probably the most picturesque of the small fishing villages that comprise the East Neuk of Fife. It is well known for its European-influenced architecture, so typical of much of Scotland's east coast.

St Andrews

St Andrews, on the east coast of Fife, is another relatively small Scottish town that has played a significant role in Scottish history and still enjoys a level of fame and importance that belies its modest size. The town is home to the third oldest university in Britain, one which is still considered to be among the most prestigious. Prior to the Reformation, it was also the focal point of Christianity in the East of Scotland. And most famously of all in the modern world, it is now known world-wide as the home of golf.

Clyde Coast

A few weeks later, I took advantage of some glorious autumn weather to join the paddle steamer Waverley for a trip in her traditional home waters of the Firth of Clyde, on the last day of her 2012 season.

Edradour

Visiting Pitlochry provided the opportunity to call in at Edradour, the smallest distillery in Scotland (by far) and the last surviving example of one where virtually every part of the process is carried out by hand.

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Favourite Eateries

Fishers in Leith

Hermann's, Stirling

Urban Brasserie, Glasgow

North Bridge Brasserie, Edinburgh

The Seafood Restaurant, St Andrews

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Hotels

Hilton Grosvenor, Edinburgh

Atholl Palace, Pitlochry

Fairmont, St Andrews