Category Archives: Travel

Afternoon stroll at Hopetoun Monument

We couldn’t venture too far from home this Sunday as #RubyBloomT has come into heat for the first time and she is a little quiet at the moment. She will also have to stay on her lead for the next 3 weeks and she is not allowed to attend her obedience classes either.

We see the Hopetoun Monument almost every day and have fancied taking the short trip to investigate. Once at the car park it is only about 400m, uphill.

The way to the tower

The countryside is beautiful this time of year as all the flowers are coming into bloom, blossom on the trees, fields are a fibrant yellow colour with Rapeseed not to mention all the yellow Gorse scattered all over the hills.

The final patch of yellow Gorse

The hill up to Hopetoun Monument was steeper than I thought, easy enough on a dry day but I can see it being a tough climb on a wet Scottish day in winter. After leaving the wood the last section is through the beautiful yellow Gorse and there it is, rising high above you… Hopetoun Monument.

Built for the memory of John Hope in 1824

The monument was built in memory of John Hope who was the 4th Earl of Hopetoun. It is interesting that the monument is here given Hopetoun House is located 27 miles away in South Queensferry.

John commissioned into the 10th Light Dragoon’s in 1784 and was an MP from 1790 to 1800, which is not possible today. The military have to remain neutral therefore a serving member is not permitted to officially represent a political party until after they have retired. John rose through the ranks, succeeding Sir John Moore on his death in Spain and eventually commanded the 1st Division under the Duke of Wellington in the Peninsula Wars where he was captured by the French in 1814. He must have been extremely important because King George IV visited John at Hopetoun House when the King came to Scotland on a State visit in 1822. The significance of this was that the Kings visit was the first time a reigning British sovereign had visited Scotland in 170 years.

For some reason #DeaconT didn’t want to climb the 132 step spiral staircase to the top. It was steep, narrow and at times quite dark so I had to put my iPhone torch on. For some crazy reason I started running up two steps at a time, that foolishness stopped about two thirds up as my thighs began to burn. If you slipped on these stairs you would almost certainly tumble all the way down to the bottom!!!

The view from the top was amazing. To the west you could see one of my favourite places to go running, thePentland Hills, then there was Edinburgh and Arthur’s Seat. To the east you could see the North Berwick Law and in the south was the Lammermuir Hills. Even in May it was certainly breezy up here which meant the cold cut right into you. No time to contemplate the workings of the universe, take a few photos and then head back down before my fingers froze.

Panoramic view West > North > East

If I thought it was fun going up the spiral staircase it was more interesting going down. I didn’t realise how narrow these steps were, especially as I have size 10 feet. The few narrow windows give some light but near the bottom it gets very dark and it would be easy to lose your footing if you didn’t concentrate.

The narrow spiral staircase

Once at the bottom we headed off for a little walk which ultimately brought us back to the car park again. If you wanted to carry on exploring historical sites, Athelstaneford is just a few miles away, which claims to be the first place the Scottish Saltire was first flown in 832AD; there is some debate about this. As we had already been there we headed over to a cafe in Dirleton so #DeaconT could have some ice cream, and cake for the parents! There is a stunning castle in Dirleton but as we had #RubyBloomT that would wait for another day.

Easter Break 2019 – Goodbye Islay

It is inevitable that the last day of your holiday arrives but it always seems to arrive far too quickly. For us the sun was giving way to the clouds and a very blustery wind was building, which is probably the edge of Storm Hannah that has hit Wales in the last 24 hours.

We packed up our things and said goodbye to Byre Cottage and it’s spectacular views across the island.

View from Byre Cottage

On our daily excursions we had seen this red phone box and often wondered who would use it as it was at a junction in the middle of nowhere. We had been tempted a number of times to stop and have a look and so this time we did just that. I would have been very annoyed if I had seen this in the distance and trekked all the way to use the phone, only to find it didn’t even work!

The phone box in the middle of nowhere

Even though it looks a beautiful day the weather really did change shortly after this photo was taken. We headed down the peninsula towards Port Charlotte and then further down to Portnahaven. We were hoping to see the seals but the waves coming in off the Atlantic were huge. Some seals were braving the swells and we did see the odd seal head poking above the water. This would be a lovely little seaside village in good weather, but I suspect that doesn’t happen very often.

The fishing cottages of Portnahaven

Time was pressing as we had to be at the ferry for 3pm and we were currently at the far end of the island. Once we were off the single lane roads we made could progress and had time to even stop at Finlaggan which was the ancestral home of the Lords of Isle.

We do like a good ancestral tree

Finlaggan and the Lordship of the Isles has been around since about c875 and did belong to the Clan MacDonald, that is until they backed the wrong side and had all their lands seized by King James IV and given to the eldest male heir of the King of Scotland, latterly King of Great Britain. Therefore the current Lord of the Isles is the one and only Prince Charles, which will then be inherited by Prince William, when/if Charles becomes King.

The ruins of the abbey at Finlaggan

The Finlaggan Visitor Centre it very small but it is full of interesting artefacts including an ancient cross that was discovered by the Time Team when they carried out a dig here back in 1995. This mini museum is certainly in the modern era as my five year old loved the VR system that was available. With the VR he could travel around Finlaggan Castle as it was in the Middle Ages.

After the visitors centre we walked down to the old ruins, walking across a wooden walkway through the reed beds to get to the tiny island. There was not much left but the old Kilfinlaggan Chapel was still partially standing, contained within was the effigy of Domhnall Mac Gilleasbuig, crown tenant of Finlaggan during the 1540s.

Effigy of Domhnall Mac Gilleasbuig

A quick 15 mins drive and we are at the Ferry port, saying goodbye to a fantastic few days on the Isle of Islay. I am pretty sure we will all come back again, maybe when #DeaconT is a little older and we can take advantage of the many walking trails. I will have to make sure I practice my ‘Islay Flick’ for the next time I am driving on the island.

Goodbye to the Isle of Islay

Easter Break 2019: The Long and Winding road of Jura

Amazingly we were on our third day on the island and it was still sunny. I am now getting used to the ‘Islay Flick’ when I am driving. Whenever you pass another car you give an acknowledging flick of your finger, of course not everyone does it but I suspect they are tourists that haven’t discovered the flick yet.

Now I was expecting the ferry to Jura to be small but this really was small. It can only carry about 5 cars. (On the way back we found out it can actually carry 7). A return trip was £23.50 which was a bargain as there is no other way to get across.

The Jura Ferry

I am taken aback at how the main road, which is the only road, is single track all the way. Although fun to drive on it does get tiring after a while as you are constantly watching for potholes, large stones and animals on the road. As well as other vehicles coming the other way and then working out where the nearest passing point is.

The Long and Winding Road of Jura

After about 20mins of driving and barely seeing another car, we arrive at the largest place on Jura, Craighouse. There is not too much to do here but we had a look in the Isle of Jura Distillery and I purchased some more whiskey! Chatting to the guy in the shop I discovered all the whiskey produced has to be transported by HGV down the long single lane winding road we had just come down! Also discovered, randomly, that you can get to Glasgow from here in 4 hours via a RIB.

We wanted to take Ruby for a walk and there was a lovely spot nearby called Corran Sands. It is pretty normal now to be the only ones on a beach and Ruby loves running like a maniac, although as soon as she sees a bird she really does become a maniac and goes full sprint after it. All obedience training goes out of the window and It feels like we are having an infamous ‘Fenton’ moment from Richmond Park.

Corran Sands beach just outside Craighouse

It was starting to drizzle and as it was lunch time we needed to find a nice picnic spot. On the rather sparse road map there was a place called Lowlandmans Bay. From the map it looked like a picturesque place to eat. Off the main road was a minor road, if roads can get any minor on Jura, that leads you around the bay. We discovered there was a gate across the road and had to stop at the top of the hill, but that was fine as it meant we could eat lunch and look down upon the bay.

One of the main reasons for coming to Jura was to visit the Lussa Gin Distillery, but as we were a little early we popped down to Inverlussa to walk #RubyBloomT again but also to see what the ‘Tea by the Beach’ was. It turned out to be a horse trailer with coffee/tea and cakes available inside, which are purchased on an honesty system. Sadly as we had just walked Ruby we were now going to be late for Lussa Gin so no time for cake.

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Lussa Gin was smaller than what I thought and we actually drove past it to begin with. Based in one outbuilding Lussa Gin is owned and run by Claire, Georgina and Alicia who all Co-founded Lussa Gin. Alicia met us as we arrived and then explained how they manufacture their Gin. The passion and dedication were clearly evident as we were shown the botanicals and how it can take 3 years to grow and cultivate a particular one. It was interesting to hear that the native deer can be quite a hindrance as they have a taste for junipers, which is why Lussa have to plant their junipers in multiple places.

The bottles are really elegant and Alicia says how proud they are of them. This does come with a caveat as they wished they had known how long it takes to put labels on bottles by hand before designing them. Given they have produced in excess of 14,000 bottles in three years that is a lot of labels to put on by hand!!! Thankfully they know have a bottling machine so at least they no longer have to fill up all the bottles by hand. The whiskey distillery that I went to the other day, Kilchoman, actually donated their old bottling machine to Lussa Gin.

We love independent projects who take on a challenge, source locally and stay true to themselves; whilst also producing a delicate and tasty Gin.

It was time for us to leave as we needed to get back to the ferry and on this road that was going to take an hour at least. Just enough time for us buy a bottle of gin and say goodbye to Alicia, Claire and Mr Scruffy.

Lussa Gin and Jura Whiskey

A word of warning about the ferry is that you could be taking a risk if you aim for the last ferry. When we turned up there were already 5 cars in the queue and by the time the ferry came this was up to 10 cars and only 7 can fit on.

Such a great day on Jura, a great place to come and trek and get away from a busy world. Sadly we say goodbye to Islay tomorrow in Part 5.

Easter Break 2019 – Knights and Bluebells

Another day on Islay and yes our 5 year old was still up before 7am. Children do not understand the relationship between ‘holiday’ and ‘sleep in’.

Today we wanted to head to the south of the island through Bomore and along the longest, straightest road into Port Ellen that the Romans would be proud of. The one place I wanted to visit was Kilnaughton Chapel where the tomb of an ancient knight from the 1300s can still be found. We missed the turning to begin with but we soon found it. Due to the poor state of the chapel it is really difficult to enter the ruined chapel, but if you lean over the wall you can see the knights tomb.

The Warrior’s Grave

It is a short drive further along the road to the little Carraig Fhada Lighthouse and then a sandy beach called Singing Sands. Here was an opportunity for #DeaconT and #RubyBloomT to have a run about and play in the water.

Ruby loves to jump

The sun was starting to hide behind the gathering clouds, we were hoping to get a bite to eat at Ardbeg Distillery but sadly it was closed when we were arrived. Instead we headed back into Port Ellen and had good old fish and ships from the Seasalt Bistro.

Adberg Distillery

It did indeed begin to rain but not for very long, by the time we were at Bridgend it had stopped and the sun was out again. The woods here are covered in bluebells this time of year and even Ruby stopped to admire them. A short distance away was a craft area with local gallery, quilt shop and the islands only ale brewery called Islay Ales. It would be rude not to stop and pick up a couple of bottles. These will be my well earned treat this evening.

Hopefully tomorrow we are off to the Isle of Jura in Part 4.

Easter Break 2019 – Beach and Kilchoman Whiskey

We were all hoping for a lay in this morning but mum was up with Ruby at 0630 and then I was up with DeaconT at 0745 letting mum sleep for longer as she had to get up so early.

Having had a shower, (see my random thoughts on this) we were all packed and ready for a day exploring. Having driven on the Isle of Skye I am used to single track roads but these are even smaller; I love them. Our first destination was to Machir Bay which is a fabulous sandy beach. This is a huge stretch of unspoilt beach, we only saw one other couple, which RubyBloomT also spotted and sprinted after. Given this is on the Atlantic I was surprised at how clean the beach was from litter and tidal debris.

A deserted beach

After all that sprinting the dog had to be tired! A short car trip up from the beach was a cemetery and Kilchoman Church. We were hoping to see some of the old gravestones, one being from the 13th or 14th century, but sadly as the church was in ruins it had been declared an unsafe building and cordoned off.

Kilchoman Church
Kilchoman Cross

Next stop was something I had been looking forward to which was the Whiskey tour at the Kilchoman Distillery . First we all had a bite to eat in the cafe.

As whiskey tours go I was impressed with the honest simplicity of this tour, which is inkeeping with the Islay farm distilling ethics of the company; 100% Islay as their whiskey is called.

The barley is washed and then laid on the floor and turned by hand every 4 hours to enable the malting process. Even during the smoking process it is turned by hand every 4 hours, that is one smoky job.

The malting process

The next stage was mashing where warm water is added to the ground down malt so that the sugars are released. We were given a sample of the mash which was lovely and sweet, but the next container had wort in it, which meant the sugar had been drained off and this was really sour. I wished we had tasted these the other way around!!!

Next came fermentation which is when yeast is added and the magic begins; sugar turns into alcohol. Afterwards we enter the distillation room where the stills help separate the alcohol. The first third is siphoned off as it’s too pure, the last third is also siphoned off for being too weak, but the middle third is the pure gold!!! This feels like it should be part of the Goldilocks and the three bears story. This process is also known as the top and tails.

One of the fermentation stills

The final stage is for the whiskey to put into barrels so that it can mature for however many years the distiller has planned. Unlike other distillers, Kilchoman try to keep to the old ways and ensure the end to end process is all completed on Islay. This is also means that it is bottled here and one of the labels is still put on by hand.

Every bottle of Kilchoman whiskey is bottled and labelled here

After such a great tour I had to purchase my own bottle and as we were on the beach earlier in the day it had to be a bottle of Machir Bay.

Looking forward to this

I think we are planning to travel to the south of the island tomorrow in Part 3.

The Easter Trip 2019

Our holidays tend to be much closer to home now, for a variety of reasons but it has to be said the main reason is Ruby Bloom our 8 month old Vizsla. She is part of the family and we can’t bare the thought of putting her into kennels

The view of Rest and be Thankful road

Our chosen destination this time was to the Isle of Islay, which was about a four hour drive, but it also included a 2 hour ferry journey as well. Although Ruby has been on a boat on Loch Ness, she hasn’t been on a Ferry before.

We broke the journey up with a leg stretch at Luss on Loch Lomond. This is quite a popular tourist attraction so we ate our sandwiches and headed off to try and find somewhere off the beaten track. It wasn’t much further when we found the ‘Rest and be thankful’ stretch off road which leads up to a fantastic view point. If you take the minor road off to the left you head down a single road. About 400m down the road is a tiny car park next to a wood block. Here you can take a trail that leads up alongside the wood block and goes up to the top of the hill. The views from up hear are even more stunning.

Ruby loves the Scottish outdoors

We didn’t quite get to the top as the wind was picking up, we weren’t really prepared for an impromptu walk in the Scottish hills and time was against us as we still had to get to the ferry at Kennacriag. Even Ruby was feeling tired by the time we made it back to the car, but she does cover about four times the distance. She routinely disappeared off into the woods before bouncing back into view like the a kangaroo.

The next leg was slow going as we were stuck behind a lorry, but it didn’t matter as the sun wasn’t out and the scenery was stunning. Eventually we made it to Tarbert which was a little picturesque fishing village. Time for another walk, uphill again, to the Tarbert Castle. As normal Ruby wanted to lead the way and if she had her way I would have to run everywhere. Due to my back injuries and physio I have hardly been running in the last year; well and truly lost my hill legs at the moment.

View of Tarbert from the Castle

Since DeaconT had done so well at all this walking he was treated to an ice cream. We somehow lost track of time and then realised we had to be at the ferry port in 15 mins. Thankfully it was only a 10 min drive away and we were there in plenty of time. I had the distinct feeling we were the last ones to turn up, seeing as the guy at the checkin booth mentioned us by name as we pulled up. I don’t know what everyone was panicking for as we then parked up for 30 mins and watched as our Ferry came alongside. Even Ruby had time to get out and watch.

“Here comes our Ferry”

I know everyone is wondering about how Ruby coped with a 2 hour ferry journey?! Well after an initial problem of not being able to open the car boot, as we were the last car and the barrier was right up against us. Then we couldn’t find where dogs were permitted, then she slipped her harness (Houdini would be proud) she finally gave up and made herself comfortable on my jumper on the seats. She even figured out that she needed to improvise with the seats as she was too big to lay down! Who said dogs were not smart!

I can lay down on these seats

We arrived at our cottage near Loch Gorm and quickly unpacked the car as it was getting dark. #DeaconT was already asleep so we had to carry him up to bed. #RubyBloomT was far too excited to explore her new surrounding, including the sheep in the field next door. After a quick meal of pre made spaghetti bolognese (using a Neff hood and Creda Contour oven that looked like it was probably a top of the range model in the 1970s) it was time for bed. Exploring the island begins tomorrow in Part 2.