Linlithgow – The Perfect Day Trip From The Big Cities

Although the Highland may be the most beautiful of areas for visitors to spend time when they come to Scotland, the reality is that the vast majority never make it out of the two main cities, Glasgow and Edinburgh. This is understandable given the number of attractions and events they both have. But if you’re planning a trip to either of these wonderful cities I’m going to suggest that you take a day or an afternoon out of your schedule and visit Linlithgow.

The Royal Burgh of Linlithgow is easy to get to as it sits on the main railway line between Edinburgh and Glasgow. A small town, it has its unfortunate share of ugly town-centre buildings but overwhelmingly it is full of character and interest and there are many examples of what it would have looked like years ago, not least of which is Linlithgow Palace.

Linlithgow Palace

The palace sits on the edge of Linlithgow Loch and commands great views over the town and the nearby countryside. Managed by Historic Scotland, it is most famous as the birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots.

Construction was started in 1424 after a fire had destroyed Linlithgow Castle and even today, roofless and in some areas destroyed, it still takes the breath of many visitors. The locals (who call themselves Black Bitches after a local canine legend) are justifiably proud of the palace and the adjacent church.

As well as history, the town which has a population of around 14,000 is welcoming with a number of local cafes and tea rooms available to keep visitors refreshed and fed. Amongst my favourites are Taste, and Brodies, both of which are on the High Street. A recent addition is the ice cream shop, Kelly’s which has a great selection of flavours.

If you like walking then there are three great options, none of which are too taxing. The loch is an easy 2.5 mile walk and takes you past the palace.

The Union Canal passes through Linlithgow and this is a walk I have done and can recommend. I took the train from Edinburgh to Linlithgow then walked back along the canal. It took me and my dog, Jessie, 4 hours and on a fine day you can really appreciate the beauty of West Lothian. The walk stops through Ratho, where the Bridge Inn serves a nice pint. Ultimately you’ll end up at Fountainbridge near the city centre.

The other option for exploring, particularly if you enjoy woodland walks is Beecraigs Country Park which offers a lot of variety, and at the end of the summer is a great place for wild berry picking. This is dog-friendly and if you go there in the summer there is an ice cream van next to the very large childrens’ play area.

So, although the cities, Edinburgh in particular are very geared for tourists, if you want to get a good picture of everyday life in Scotland then Lithgae (as the locals call it) is a great stop with plenty of history to keep your interested in.

You can find out more at the Visit Scotland website.

Interestingly enough Linlithgow’s most famous son has not been born yet. Scotty from the original Star Trek series is, according to the script, due to be born there in the 23rd century. Not many towns have such a claim to fame as that.

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Beasties Big and Small

When visiting Scotland you’ll come to know, and hopefully love, the wildlife (and I’m not talking about Glasgow City Centre on a Saturday night).

The most famous of our “beasties” is, of course, Nessie, the legendary Loch Ness Monster. Many locals along the banks will tell you that they have spotted her, but the truth is that nobody knows for sure. The only certainty is that this creature, real or unreal, has proved a real boon the Highlands economy as busloads of tourists press their noses to the windows hoping for a glimpse.

Whatever the reality, though, the Loch Ness area is still worth a visit even if only to visit the ruins of the 16th century Urquhart Castle. At dusk the scene is transformed into a romantic vista and you’ll probably find yourself really wanting there to be a creature lurking in the depths of the loch.

This YouTube video from the History Channel is worth a watch if you want to know more about the legend of Nessie

Another big creature you’ll come across is the famous Highland Coo. These cuddly looking beasts are something that we Scots are quietly proud of – hairy and fierce, they perhaps remind us of our own wilder days as a nation.

The calves in particular look very cute, and the breed is famed for it’s mild temperament and curiousity.

highland cattle

And so to the smallest, yet deadliest of Scottish creature. Yes, the midge. These little flying menaces have ruined many a holiday and eaten visitors, often sending them homeward.

Your best friend when midges are about is a breeze as they detest flying in those conditions. For those brave, or foolish, enough to venture to the areas where they are (often by water) then a head net can help.

Numerous insect repellants are useless in the face of the Scottish midge, but a number of years ago there was a rush on Avon products when it was discovered that their “Skin So Soft” range worked a treat. I tried this on a holiday to the Ullapool area and have to report that it didn’t work for me, although I did smell beautiful.

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Why It’s Speyside For Whisky

I’m liable to fall out with one or two of my friends with this post as this is one of the most controversial topics discussed in Scotland. No, not politics, football or religion, but one thing more important that all of those, and something which brings all of those people together – I’m talking about our national drink, whisky.

If God was a Scotsman, and there is enough evidence to suggest that he is, then it makes perfect sense that he’s come up with something as beautiful as malt whisky. After time spent creating the mountains and lochs he though to himself, “I could do with a wee dram.”

Speyside whisky

It’s possible to take a tour of Scotland without ever leaving your room. I know, because I’ve done it several times. Simply gather a few friends, have each of them bring a bottle of malt whisky from a different part of Scotland and let the tasting and banter begin.

Even the most unsophisticated of palates will recognise the differences between them, – from the smoky taste of the peaty Islay malts to the light, watery feeling of the lowland malts.

But one area trumps them all – Speyside. Along the banks and nested in the fields of the River Spey area there are more than 50 distilleries, many of which are open to visitors and whisky tours.

A year or so back I spent 4 days at a small country hotel in Grantown on Spey whilst at their local whisky festival. What an education! The bonus was that William, the hotel owner, was a bit of an afficianado himself and was able to give me even more insight into my favourite tipples.

Speyside malts are characterised by a mellow smoothness and a warming, lingering taste on the tongue that stays just long enough to get your attention before blowing you a kiss goodbye. Oftentimes there is a subtle taste of vanilla and I swear you can taste the sunshine from the long summer days in every glassful.

If this all sounds somewhat romantic you’d be correct. Many a Scotsman, and women, have fallen in love with good whisky. It’s not something that I, or most, overdo, and like a fine cigar or wine, it is something to be experienced, savoured and is best when shared with companions.

And my absolute favourite? Well, it’s not a particularly expensive one, but if I had to take one last dram before I shuffled off this earth it would be a glass of Speyburn Bradan Orach Single Malt Whisky, with just the smallest of splashes of water to bring out the flavour.

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Hill Walking In Glencoe

It’s no exaggeration to say that Glencoe is a hillwalkers’ paradise. Aside from the Isle of Skye no other area Scotland can keep you as busy without having to travel. Once you’ve pitched your tent or found your B&B then you can have day after day of walking pleasure right on your doorstep.

The famous West Highland Way which runs from Milngavie, just outside of Glasgow, to Fort William skirts the top of the Glen, but for the best views and most challenging scrambles you need to head down into the valley and onto the mountains on either side.

As one drives towards Glencoe from the south you cross Rannoch Moor, a bleak, yet beautiful moorland. Ghostly and exposed in wild weather, the West Highland Way runs along one edge. As Glencoe itself gets closer the imposing Buachaille Etive Mòr welcomes you and gives a hint of the majesty to come.

Particular favourite walks of mine are Bidean nam Bian and Aonach Eagach Ridge.

The first of these takes you up the highest mountain in Argyll and is challenging both on the rise and descent. You can either enter of leave your days walk through the Lost Valley. This walk is only recommended for those who are fit and have some experience in hillwalking. Knowing how to use a map and compass is essential as the weather can close in very quickly and the landmarks you were using for reference can quickly disappear in the clouds.

The Aonach Eagach Ridge is one of the great classic Scottish ridge walks. Once you’re on it, you’re on it – keep going forwards. This walk is highly exposed at times and is not for those with a fear of heights. The views are breathtaking and on a clear day you can spend a few minutes counting the tops of the other mountains in view.

The traditional way of doing this walk is East to West. The fact that the Clachaig pub is at the bottom of the west side is purely coincidental!

Here’s a great video showing you this walk from the Munro Show with Muriel Grey.

For more info you can visit http://www.nts.org.uk/property/glencoe-and-dalness/

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Welcome To The Best of Scotland

For those of us who have lived here, or for those of you who have visited, Scotland is truly a magical place. A small country, with a large history. From dazzling romance, to dreadful darkness, the legends and tales live long in the memory. All the better told with a glass of whisky in your hand.

This website is our humble contribution to the story of Scotland. We’ll look at Scotland as it really is, rather than through the shortbread tin fantasy often sold to tourists.

Scotland is a place full of contradictions, none more so than in its people – on one hand withdrawn and reserved, yet quick to help and (once the barriers are down) some of the friendliest folk you’ll meet.

You’ll find small essays on this site sharing some of the magic, and hopefully you’ll be a wee bit inspired to come visit us, or to explore further what Scotland has to offer to the open-minded traveller. To get your appetite whetted here is an American visitor’s view of visiting.

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