Rannoch Moor

“A wearier looking desert a man never saw”. At least that was Robert Louis Stevenson’s view on Rannoch Moor in one of his novels. He probably didn’t visit on a bright and sunny day. Then Rannoch Moor becomes a paradise of heather, peat bogs, lochans and streams, surrounded by spectacular mountains. When I walked through Rannoch Moor on the West Highland Way I thought it was the best part of the entire hike, I couldn’t believe the beauty of the landscape. But decide for yourself:

Rannoch Moor - geograph.org.uk - 222875

Rannoch Moor form the A82

Rannoch Moor is a plateau that consists of an area of about 50 square miles in the shape of a triangle. There is one single road and a railway crossing through it from south to north. Apart from that, the West Highland Way brings a steady flow of walkers to the area, many of them stopping at the Kings House Hotel for a meal or the night. The only way to cross Rannoch Moor from east to west is on foot. There is a 10 mile track from Rannoch Station to the Kings House Hotel.

Rannoch Moor road

Driving Through Rannoch Moor

It is common to approach Rannoch Moor from Bridge of Orchy on the A82. Near Achallader the road meets the railway line and starts to climb the plateau. The landscape may appear to be from a different planet. Rannoch Moor’s north-west border is confined by Glen Coe. Buchaille Etive Mor, one of the best loved and most photographed mountains of Scotland, marks the entrance.

Rannoch Moor

Black Mount from Rannoch Moor in Winter

It is an isolated area, and the weather will have an important word to say on the impression Rannoch Moor will make on you. One way or another, it is one of the most spectacular landscapes of Scotland.

Please leave a comment!

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Oban

Oban harbour 14839d

Oban harbour

Oban is a small town on the western coast of Scotland with a total population of just over 8000. This number easily triples though during the tourist season. Oban is well known as the “Gateway to the Isles” since it is the departure point for ferries to Mull, Coll, Tiree, Colonsay and Lismore, as well as to the Outer Hebrides.

Oban wasn’t much of a town in the 18th century. This changed with the building of the local distillery in 1794. The town started to grow around the distillery, and by the end of the 19th century Oban had become a busy port shipping whisky, slate, wool and kelp to Glasgow and Liverpool. The construction of a railway line marked the beginning of local tourism and ensured the town’s continuing prosperity.

The town is situated in Oban Bay, which forms a horseshoe and is protected from severe storms by the small island of Kerrera.

Mull ferry leaving Oban Bay - geograph.org.uk - 204087

Mull ferry leaving Oban Bay

Apart from the distillery, which produces an outstanding whisky that is one of the 6 Classic Single Malts, McCaig’s Tower is another main feature of the town. A common Oban postcard motive, it was built in 1897 by a local banker named McCaig. The Colosseum-like monument towers on a hill above Oban, but never reached conclusion. Still, it is a pleasant 10-minute walk from the centre, and a nice viewpoint across Oban Bay towards Mull.

McCaig's Tower, from the ferry

McCaig's Tower

Oban is also associated with a Gaelic festival, the Royal National Mod, which was first held in Oban in 1892. Many road signs are bilingual, which reflects the fact that an estimated 9% of the population speaks Gaelic.
Oban is more than just a stopping-off place for tourists on their way to the islands. Admittedly, it can become crowded at times, but it adds to the bustling atmosphere and the number of eating and drinking places as well as to the number of shopping opportunities around town.

Personally, I really like coming to Oban. I remember one time when I spent the night in Jeremy Inglis’ Hostel, which was at that time an insider tip. It was clean, very friendly, and at least half the price of what you should have paid for a night in a similar place in Oban. I wonder if this place still exists, so if you know about it, or if you have any other comments or suggestions, please share them here!

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Tracing Your Scottish Roots

Scottish poster advertising emigration to New Zealand

Scottish poster advertising emigration to New Zealand

Like Ireland or Wales, Scotland has always been a country affected by emigration. In Scotland it was people from the Highlands and Islands and from the Borders that emigrated above all. When the clan system broke up in the 18th century many people emigrated to the cities, the Lowlands and to America, and after the American War of Independence as well to Canada. Later, from the 1840s Scots emigrated preferably to Australia and New Zealand.

Even in the 20th century there was still a high rate of emigration among the Scots. The Highlands were especially affected: More than 100,000 people left their Highlands homes between 1850 and 1950.

When immigrating to a different country, the Scots didn’t give up on their traditions, their culture or their language. With place names like Glenelg or Glengarry they tried to retain a piece of Scotland in their new home and soothe their homesickness.

It is estimated that there are about 40 million people with a Scottish ancestry. People all over the world share Scottish roots, and thanks to the Internet today it is much more feasible to trace these roots back to their origin.

It also helps that Scotland is at the vanguard of providing information on family history online. This is thanks to a well conserved record of written documents that date back a long time. For example, Census records go back to 1841, but marriage, birth and death registers go back to 1553 and wills even to 1500.

The Higland emigrants monuments Helmsdale

The Higland Emigrants Monuments at Helmsdale

It is the General Register Office for Scotland that is responsible for the register of births, deaths and marriages. They also run the Census. Since 1998, these records can be accessed by the public. There is a genealogical website called Scotland’s People where anybody can have a look at the records on a pay-per-view basis. This website is constantly updated and comprises actually around 40 million individual records.

If you are physically in Scotland and want to investigate your family tree, in Edinburgh you should go to the Scotland’s People Centre or the Scottish Genealogy Society. Registers of property, testaments, church, business and family records and records of the Scottish government can be found at the National Archives of Scotland. The National Library of Scotland is another option. There you can search the International Genealogical Index. Some of its records go back to the Middle Ages. Also, they have Old Parochial Records, Census Information and Monumental Inscriptions. In Glasgow your first option is the Mitchell Library with voters’ rolls, emigrants and graduation lists, street directories and comprehensive family histories.

If you have any other tips on how to track down your Scottish ancestors, please leave a comment!

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Killin

Killin is a pleasant little village situated at the western head of Loch Tay. It lies right in the centre of Scotland, which means it is close to many places: about 1 ½ hours to Edinburgh, Oban or Fort William, slightly less to Glasgow, and just about an hour to Perth and Stirling.

Killin under the Tarmachan ridge - geograph.org.uk - 63964

Killin under the Tarmachan ridge

 

Its main attraction is the Falls of Dochart, an impressive series of rapids and waterfalls that flow right through the village and can be viewed from a narrow stone bridge, Dochart Bridge. Mind you, it has to be said that the amount of water in the river can vary quite a lot. At times, River Dochart can hardly be found amongst the rocky river bed, whereas at other times there is a furious flood roaring past and burying all the rocks underneath. It goes without saying that the spectacle of the falls relies heavily upon this matter.

Falls of Dochart kayakers

Kayakers on the Falls of Dochart

Killin has an eventful history, too. First, it was at the front of the war between the Picts and the Scots. Surnames like MacNaughton, derived from king of the Picts “Nechtan” or McDiarmid, from Diarmid, the legendary assassin of Fionn (Fingal) and founder of the Campbells, are still common in the area and tell of an ancient story. Later, Killin became the stronghold first of the MacNab clan and then of the Breadalbane Campbells, whose former seat in Killin, Finlarig Castle, is in ruins now. The hanging tree on a hillock is still there, complete with a beheading pit, a very uncommon feature for a Scottish castle. Other historic attractions include Fingals Grave on a hill above Killin, Kinnel House (seat of the McNab clan) with a well-preserved stone circle and the ancient burial ground of the McNabs on the small island of Inchbuie in the River Dochart that can be seen from the bridge.

Killin also offers an excellent base for hillwalkers. The Tarmachan Ridge, an extension of the Ben Lawers ridge, rises above the village. Ben Lawers, overlooking Loch Tay, is a classic Scottish mountain. Ben More and Stob Binnein are two other fine mountains to the west of Killin. The Rob Roy Way, a 79 mile walk from Drymen to Pitlochry makes a stop in Killin, before resuming its course to Ardtalnaig. For the less ambitious walker, there are many easy strolls around the area. More good news for walkers: There is a well-stocked outdoors store at the eastern end of the village. Apart from outdoor clothing and bicycle repairs you can also hire a bike or a canoe.

Stob Binnein from Beinn Tulaichean - geograph.org.uk - 343657

Stob Binnein from Beinn Tulaichean with Ben More in the clouds

 

At the Dochart Bridge you can visit the Tourist Information Centre and the Breadalbane Folklore Centre, which will give you an idea on what life in Killin was like in the 17th and 18th century.

Trout and salmon fishing is also possible. The paper shop issues permits, although rights and boats are limited, so try to book in advance.

As you can see, Killin is quite a historic place and at the same time very attractive for outdoor activities, as well. Hopefully you can stop by one day, and please don’t forget to tell me about your impression and what else there is to report about Kililn!

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Beltane Fire Festival

If you happen to be in Edinburgh on the night of 30th of April, there is no doubt about what to do. Go to Calton Hill and see the Beltane Fire Festival, one of the top events of the year that will leave you open-mouthed.

Beltane on Calton Hill by Bruce McAdam

National Monument on Calton Hill during the Beltane Fire Festival

 

Based on the ancient Gaelic festival of the same name, “Beltane” meaning “bright or sacred fire”, this celebration marks the beginning of summer on 1st of May. Since there were no centralized calendars it is thought that the event was held on the first full moon after what is now 1st of May.

People celebrated the fertility of their animals and their land. The main element of the festivities was the fire. First, all fires were extinguished and then a new, sacred, so called “Need Fire” or “Neid Fire” ignited, from which bonfires were lit before driving the animals through them. This was supposed to purify and to protect the herd, as well as to assure a good progeny. Then, people would take logs of the bonfire home, relight their fireplaces and dance around the fire hoping to evoke positive omen for their future.

BeltaneFireFestival

Crowds Gather on Calton Hill

 

The modern festival is based on the Gaelic tradition, although the organizers emphasize that there are a number of mythological, literary and historical influences to be taken into account and that it is an evolving event that draws on the directions and influences of the performers.

The event took place for the first time in 1988 with only a small number of enthusiasts. The festival has grown constantly since then, and in 2006 there were more than 300 voluntary performers and collaborators participating. At the beginning it was free to attend the event, but the popularity of the event led to an ever-growing audience, which resulted in the necessity to sell tickets and thereby restrict access. Usually, the 11500 available tickets sell out.

The main event is a procession, with the performers enacting a ritual drama. There are Blue Men, the procession’s guards; the Green Man in his winter disguise; Red Men, representing the forces of chaos; there is the May Queen and her bodyguards, the White Women.

BeltaneFireFest

Red Men

 

I have been a few times, but I am still not entirely sure of the whole plot. To me, it doesn’t really matter. I just immerse myself in this fascinating world of fire, ecstatic dancing, frenetic drumming, screaming and naked, painted bodies. It is wild, the air full of energy, and it is night. All in all: spectacular.

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Which Stove Should I Use?

When you go camping in Scotland or elsewhere, one of the most important things to bring is a stove. There are several types available on the market, and in this article you will find information about the advantages and disadvantages of each type.

Basically, there are four different types of camping stoves:

1.     Gas Camping Stoves

2.     Petrol Stoves

3.     Alcohol / Meths Camping Stoves

4.     Solid fuel stoves

Let’s have a look at each type in detail:

 

1. Gas Camping Stoves:

Primus stove

Portable Gas Stove

Gas Camping Stoves are among the most common cooking devices for camping. They are lightweight and neatly to pack. Also, gas heats water and food quickly, is easy to use and doesn’t blacken your pan. There are models where you simply screw a gas bottle on top, and there are stoves that have a hosepipe attachment. The latter permits for a more stable setup because the stove is closer to the ground. The only drawback is a slightly higher weight compared to screw on top stoves. Most models work with a self sealing screw bottle. There is a wide range of sizes available in outdoors and camping shops.

 

The disadvantages include the lack of recycling facilities for pressurized cans, and usually you are not allowed to bring them on a plane with you, which means you have to buy them there and then. Another point you have to take into account is that gas burns no that efficiently in very cold temperatures, and when there are high winds it will be hard to heat your food without a windshield.

Gas stove blue flames

Blue Flame of a Gas Stove

 

2. Petrol Stoves

Petrol stoves are very efficient and cheap to run. You can use a variety of different fuels like Coleman fuel, kerosene fuel, unleaded petrol or white fuel. Because they heat water in record time, they are very popular in winter conditions.

Since fuel is available nearly everywhere you usually don’t have to worry about where to get it. Just check with an attendant of the petrol station that there is no problem with your fuel bottle before filling it.

The disadvantages: They are heavier and require more maintenance in order to keep clean and running. You will need a proper fuel bottle. Also, the whole lighting process isn’t that easy, especially if you do it for the first time, so I recommend that you get some practice before using it in the middle of nowhere. Having said that, don’t get scared. It’s really not that difficult once you get used to the process.

Primus OF (jha)

Portable stove "Primus Omnifuel", running on universal gas (butane, propane) or fluid (petrol, diesel, gasoline)

 

3. Alcohol / Meths Camping Stoves

These stoves are quite handy: You get them as a package with pots and windshield. Alcohol or methylated spirits (meths) are used for the burner. They are not as efficient as gas or petrol stoves, so it will take longer to heat water or food. On the other hand, they are very cheap to run.

You get meths bottles at the chemist’s. It is recommended that you use a proper fuel bottle to transport the liquid, and again, you can’t bring them on a plane.

What is really strange about these burners is they heat your water faster when it’s windy. It has to do with their design, but don’t ask me any further…

Trangia-Burner-MJC01

Single Burner Alcohol Stove

 

4. Solid Fuel Stoves

Some stoves work with paraffin blocks. I wouldn’t really recommend that sort of fuel, unless you have to travel very light or you are broke. It is not an efficient way to heat food. You will need lots of tablets to generate sufficient temperature, and on top of that they will leave your pots black. You get the paraffin in outdoor stores.

Other stoves are fuelled with kindling and twigs. These are of a bigger size, maybe not the best kind of stove if you are backpacking. On the other hand, fuel is free! Then again, why not light a “real” campfire without a stove? Just be aware that in the Scottish Highlands wood is a rare resource at times…

Pocket-size collapsible cooker

Pocket-size Solid Fuel Stove

 

Conclusion:

Petrol stoves perform best. Gas stoves are the easiest to handle. Meths stoves are comfortable. Solid fuel stoves are romantic. You have to find out what suits you best. Your decision will depend on the factors weight, ease of use, fuel availability and efficiency (cooking speed). I hope this article will help you to enjoy lots of successful and hot outdoor meals!

Which kind of stove do you recommend? Please tell me about your stove experiences and leave a comment!

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Greyfriars Bobby

Greyfriars Bobby is the authentic story about a dog that became the most famous dog in Scottish history. Although this was more than 150 years ago, the story of this little Skye Terrier is still well known among the Scots.

Greyfriars Bobby 04

Greyfriars Bobby

Bobby belonged to an Edinburgh night watchman, John Gray, also known as Auld Jock. For two years, Bobby followed his master everywhere. Then, in 1858, Auld Jock died of tuberculosis and was buried in old Greyfriars Churchyard. Bobby wouldn’t abandon his master and spent his remaining 14 years of life right there, at his master’s grave. Dogs were not allowed inside the graveyard, and the caretaker tried to send Bobby away, but he would always return, even in foul weather, and refuse to leave his master’s grave. Local residents, touched by Bobby’s devotion, built him a shelter.

By hearing the one o’clock gun that was fired from Edinburgh Castle every day, Bobby would run to the restaurant where his master used to eat. People would recognize Bobby and feed him. Then Bobby would return to the graveyard. The locals took to him, and by word of mouth, the story of the faithful dog spread around. In 1867 Sir William Chambers, the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, renewed Bobby’s licence which saved him from premature death, since there was a law decreeing that dogs without an owner should be killed. Bobby’s new collar read:

“Greyfriars Bobby – from the lord Provost, 1867, licensed”

Greyfriars-Bobby-Stone

Headstone of Greyfriars Bobby

Bobby died on January 14th 1872 at the age of 16 and was buried near the gate of Greyfriars Kirkyard, close to John Gray’s grave.

But he wasn’t forgotten: The same year, Baroness Burdett-Coutts, an Edinburgh aristocrat, paid for a life-size statue of Bobby. It was placed near the entrance to Greyfriar’s Kirkyard, in front of a pub called “Greyfriars Bobby’s Bar”.

In 1981, The Dog Aid Society of Scotland donated a granite stone for Bobby’s grave. The monument reads:

“Greyfriars Bobby

Died 14 January 1872

Aged 16 years

Let his loyalty and devotion be a lesson to us all.”

Bobby became a tourist attraction. People started to leave flowers, sticks and dog toys at Bobby’s grave. Visitors from all over the world would learn about the story and have their photo taken next to Bobby’s statue. There are books, videos and films about Bobby, some more accurate than others.

BobbyDog

Bobby's Bar in the Background

 

The loyalty of this little dog has become a legend. In a city full of history and culture like Edinburgh, it is stories like these that touch your heart.

Please feel free to share your thoughts on Bobby and leave a comment!

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Princess Street Gardens

Edinburgh is a city full of culture and history. But at the same time, it is a city full of green and open spaces. Imagine stepping out of Marks and Spencers after three hours of shopping frenzy, crossing the road and entering into a world of immaterial green vegetation. That would be you in Princess Stree Gardens!

Edinburgh Park and old town

Princess Street Gardens with Old Town

 

On the south side of Princess Street, built in a valley between Old Town and New Town, these gardens were created in the 1820s after the drainage of Nor Loch, a large loch in the middle of the City Centre which was used for sewage.

Floral Clock, Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh, Scotland

Floral Clock

With Princess Street on one hand and the silhouette of the Old Town with Edinburgh Castle towering on top, the Gardens run the entire length from West End to East End. They are divided in the middle by the complex of the Scottish National Gallery and The Mound, a street that was built to connect the Old Town with the New Town.

Right on the corner of the Mound there is the Floral Clock, which is replanted every year and has its hands and face covered with flowers.

Scott monument Edinburgh

Scott Monument

On the east side of the Gardens you can find the Scott Monument, a Gothic 200 feet monument in the style of Melrose Abbey which was built in the 1840s in memory of Sir Walter Scott.

Underneath the east part of the Gardens there is also Waverley Station, Edinburgh’s main train station. The railway line was tucked in a deep cutting underneath the Gardens and cannot be seen from street level.

Before Christmas, the Gardens change their face and become “Winter Wonderland”. There is a Christmas Market with handicrafts and food from all over the world. There are multiple rides, an ice rink and a 33 metre Ferris wheel.

Princess Street Gardens are an excellent example on how to integrate green areas into a thriving city. When you need to escape the bustle of busy street life, the Gardens are your first option.

If you want to share your opinion about the Princess Street Gardens, or if you have a recommendation for green spaces in Edinburgh, please post a comment!

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The Meadows

One of the great things about Edinburgh is its green areas. Princes Street Gardens, Arthur’s Seat or the Meadows: Each area is completely different from the others, yet they are all either in the city centre or in walking distance. In this article I will focus on the Meadows:

The Meadows Park

The Meadows

 

The Meadows is a large park to the south of the city centre. It extends to approximately 63 acres. Originally a loch (Burgh Loch or South Loch) providing the citizens with drinking water, it was partially drained in the mid-17th century. Sir Thomas Hope, a politician decided in 1722 to expand the drainage work and to convert the marsh land into a park by making walkways and planting rows of trees planted on each side of the walkways.

Spring in the Meadows, Edinburgh - geograph.org.uk - 350540

Spring in the Meadows

 

Today the park has a children’s playground, tennis courts, a croquet club and cricket pitches. It is bordered by Bruntsfield Links, which is basically an extension of the Meadows, where there is a public, free pitch and putt golf course. You can hire clubs if you don’t have your own.

The annual Meadows Festival with live music, stalls and a carnival with rides to go on is held in June. The Meadows also host the annual Fringe Sunday as part of the Edinburgh Festival.

The Meadows - geograph.org.uk - 6104

Game of Football

 

George Square and University of Edinburgh buildings are located just next to the Meadows, which makes it a popular meeting point for students. Since the park consists mainly of wide open grassland crossed by tree-lined paths, it is common to see people playing football, rugby, cricket or frisbee on a nice day. It is also great for cycling, rollerblading, jogging, (dog) walking or just hanging around with friends.

Unfortunately, it is not the safest of places in the dark, and although the City Council announced plans to improve security in 2006, it is better to avoid the park at night, especially when on your own.

Whereas Princes Street Gardens is more about lying around, the Meadows is for active folk as well as for chilling out but the main attraction for me is definitely the countryside feel you get in the middle of the city.

Cherry Trees, Coronation Walk - geograph.org.uk - 167692

Cherry Trees on Coronation Walk

 

 

If you would like to comment on The Meadows or other green areas in Edinburgh, please go ahead!

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ViewRanger – Turn your Smartphone into a GPS

If you are into hillwalking, you know the scenario: You started off on a nice clear day, but two hours later, half way up the Munro, clouds start to move in. Another hour later, you can’t see a thing. You know the summit is just there, but it’s a flat summit col, and you just can’t find the cairn. “The compass says it’s right here, but it’s not. Damn, I really have to get a GPS” is an understandable thought. Then again, that’s spending a good amount of money, and will you really use it that often?

Apple iPhone 3GS

Apple iPhone 3GS

Well, I just found this article about a new smartphone navigation app that could become a cool alternative to a proper GPS. Unless you have a smartphone, of course. And if you don’t, this might be an excellent excuse to get one! Actually, the application isn’t that new, but now they are launching Open Maps!

Basically, the application converts your smartphone into a GPS. It also includes an interesting feature called Buddy Beacon, which allows you to see the location of friends in real time. The application won ‘Best Indie App’ at the Mobile App World Awards last year among other prices, so it seems to be as good as it sounds.

Another plus is that now Open Maps can be used with ViewRanger , which means you don’t need OS, although OS will probably still provide you with the more detailed maps.

Chris Townsend used ViewRanger on a 75 day and 1200 mile hike across the Pacific Northwest Trail, reporting that navigating without the app ”would have been extremely difficult”.

Here is the full article so you can check out further details:

http://www.outdoorsmagic.com/gear-news/viewranger-launches-open-maps/7748.html

If you have already used your smartphone as a GPS, please tell us about your experiences!

 

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