The Devils Pulpit | Finnich Glen | Killearn Scotland

The Devil Pulpit

Deep within the primordial bowels of Finnich Glen, lies The Devils Pulpit. An ethereal grotto, gurgling with red tinged water, 70 feet below the Earth’s surface in Killearn, Scotland.

The “River of Blood” calls to you from the bottom of a decrepit stairway. As a result, down you start to climb. Take care as you scale the steep, slippery and crumbling steps into the chasm below.

Jacobs Ladder into the Devils Pulpit RootlessRoutes 2018
Jacobs Ladder into the Devils Pulpit RootlessRoutes 2018

This flight of 78 steps known as Jacob’s Ladder or the Devil’s Staircase, was built by John Blackburn, the proprietor of the Killearn estate, in the early to mid 1800s. The steps are so very old, they virtually decay below your feet. So be alert as you clamber down into this tiny crag into the earth.

As you are climbing down, it is difficult not to ask yourself if perhaps you have completely lost the plot.

Looking into The Devils Pulpit RootlessRoutes 2018
Looking into The Devils Pulpit RootlessRoutes 2018

But then, you see it!

The Devil's Staircase Finnich Glen
Jacobs Ladder inside Finnich Glen at The Devil’s Pulpit Photo by Elizabeth Whitener 2018

Blood Red Waters of Finnich Glen

Finnich Glen is rich with verdant mossy foliage. Vibrant red sandstone stands out in eerie effect, as do the waters of the blood red burn.

The walls tower above, at points blocking out the sun. Elsewhere, sun streams in, casting  spectral shadows and creating tracks of magical light.

The journey down and back up again, may be perilous… but the surreal beauty of Finnich Glen is undeniable.

Devils Pulpit Scotland 2018
The Devil’s Pulpit Finnich Glen / RootlessRoutes Photo by Elizabeth Whitener 2018

The Devil’s Pulpit is an uniquely featured rock formation, which is often immersed beneath the rambling waters of the gorges underbelly.

Climbing into the glen and the subsequent ascent can be outright treacherous. Even the simple act of parking and walking along the road to get to the entrance is a death defying act.

Making your way out and back to your vehicle in one piece is surprisingly joyous.

Yet once within the vivid walls of Finnich Glen, beyond the sinister name The Devil’s Pulpit, nothing at the “den of the devil”, feels ominous in the least.

Braving the disconcerting climb for a glimpse of the serene and unusual beauty below.

Is it worth the risk?

Does the challenge of getting there make it all that more enchanting?

The Creation of Ashdhu / Ashdow / Finnich Glen

Through millennia the rambling water of Carnock Burn sluiced a short but deep chasm in the terra firma, eventually creating this remarkable glen.

Scotland is greatly made up of grey basalt rock. It’s sandstone and limestone is largely tan to brown. So when the distinctive red sandstone emerges from the depths in which it was naturally honed, it tends to create a rather dramatic sight.

Originally known as Ashdhu / Ashdow , uisge dubh in Gaelic , today Finnich Glen is commonly referred to as The Devils Pulpit.

The actual Devil’s Pulpit is not the gorge itself. It is a circular rock found within the burn.

When the waters are low, they flow around the rock formation giving it an air of mystical powerfulness.

Most who visit Finnich Glen do not even realise that the Devils Pulpit is a simply a stone at there feet and not the actual gorge they stand within.

Quote from a 1933 book “The Campsies and the Land of Lennox”

“Down in the channel is the Devil’s Pulpit, whither he was wont to go when he had anything of importance to say to those of his minions who lived in this area. A long flight of stairs leads to the channel, and when you are there you feel remote from the world. Only the moon is required to produce the most weird and awesome effect.”

There is some Celtic lore involving Druids and even the Devil himself for this place. But most of today’s stories about The Devils Pulpit, its dodgy staircase and the “River of Blood” are of recent provenance, made up by those trying to enhance its mystery. “Cough” bloggers “cough”.

Is The Devils Pulpit a darkly enchanting natural phenomena?

The Devils Pulpit Scotland 2018
The Devils Pulpit / Finnich Glen Scotland 2018

Or is it of supernatural origin?

I’ll leave that up to you.

Descending into The Devils Pulpit / The Devils Steps

It doesn’t look so bad from above when you first start out, but once you descend a few steps… there is no doubt just how cumbersome this climb can be.

Built over 100 years ago, this crumbling staircase is slippery, covered in mud and moss and extremely unstable

Many steps have slipped to new positions, pushed up by an invading tree, making them less like steps and more like slides and hurdles.

There is nothing to hold on to and the rock wall sides are sharp. The offending tree juts out of the middle of the steps, forcing you to climb over and around it part way down.

One step is tilted so far forward, I had to scoot down it on my butt, covering my backend in slimy red mud. So bring towels, but leave them up above. Don’t carry much on the way down, for it is already easy to slip and fall to the unyielding rock floor below.

Once safely past the slimy rocks, over the perilous tree and past the tilted step, you come upon some actual steps still in place. Then the steps just cut off and you must jump or scamper down to the gorges muddy floor.

Yet with feet finally upon the embankment below, the glen floor is still a hazardous place. Remain cautious.

Inside The Devils Pulpit

As you climb the craggy steps into Finnich Glen, if not totally encumbered by the exertion of your descent, you will notice the air cools as you make your way down.

The atmospheric changes are similar to that of the The Glen, in Sligo Ireland.

It is as if you have descended upon a separate world.

The bewitching effect sweeps you away momentarily. A calm descends. Then some white kid with beauty salon dreads starts yelling to his bikini clad, barefoot wife (how the Hell did she climb down here?) while setting up a $6000 video rig WITH LIGHTS, in the middle of it all and you are immediately brought back to reality.

This once illusive and magical place, has been overwhelmed by those looking for locations off the beaten path.

But this path is now certainly well beaten.

Beautiful as it may be, this attraction that has managed to remain untainted for centuries is quickly sliding towards it demise.

Be gentile on your visit. Take out with you, everything you brought in and remain on the path specified.

Looking down on Finnich Glen from halfway down the Jacobs Ladder or the Devils Steps and into The Devils Pulpit and Finnich Glen Scotland 2018

The Devils Pulpit is always cooler and more humid than the area above and a strange dampening of sound occurs, making it quieter than the world above.

The red tinged water is clear enough to see the bottom. The trickling water is clean and cool.

Rest upon the tree that seems to have fallen just right for you to sit and rest. Kick at the water, as sunlight streaks from the sky in Godlike tendrils.

Shoes and socks dry in the Godlike tendrils as people explore The Devils Pulpit and Finnich Glen Scotland 2018

Take off your shoes and leave them to the side so that you may wade into the clear, clean water.

Then cross the stream and head to the small waterfall.

Some will wander beyond this point to the larger waterfall that flows from the rocky outcrop above which is the highest point of Finnich Glen.

The Devils Pulpit Scotland 2018

Keep in mind, the Devils Pulpit can trap people in its steely grasp, as the waters quickly rise. You are now at more than 70 feet below the surface, subsequently there is no phone signal down there.

Finding The Devil’s Pulpit / Finnich Glen

Finnich Glen is located in Stirlingshire, east of Finnich Bridge on A809, about 15 miles from Glasgow. (OSGB36: NS 4961 8489 [10m precision] WGS84)

There are 2 parking spots next to the bridge. It is a pretty dangerous place to park
There are 2 wee parking spots next to the bridge. It is a pretty dangerous place to park

The road (A809) is busy and dangerous. The locals are sick of dealing with inconsiderate people that treat the area like their own personal playground.

Please park respectfully and keep safety in mind, for you and everyone around you.

Unlike what other bloggers advise, enter at the gate just east of the bridge. Above all, do not disturb other areas or go barreling through the trees at another spot. Finnich Glen is on private property. Therefore left in trust for all to enjoy. Please do don’t abuse the privilege.

People live here, hence it is reasonably upsetting to them to see people tromping carelessly about a long beloved place.

Do not park on the verge by the bridge. It’s an insanely dangerous place to park. Don’t block anyone in and be aware of traffic. The speed limit is 60 mph on that narrow and winding roads, subsequently there are a lot of blind spots.

Once entering the wee gate at the foot of the bridge, the slightly obvious path takes you to the left. Flanked by Finnich Glen on the left and fencing to the right, just follow the path via the swath of discarded socks and beer bottles.

” alt=”Path to jacobs Staircase and the entrance to Finnich Glen / The Devils Pulpit Scotland 2018 RootlessRoutes” width=”749″ height=”1000″ /> Path to jacobs Staircase the entrance to Finnich Glen and The Devils Pulpit Scotland 2018 RootlessRoutes

Kids in flip flops and platform shoes preparing to descend the perilous staircase of Finnich Glen Scotland 2018
Kids in flip flops and platform shoes preparing to descend the perilous staircase of Finnich Glen Scotland 2018

Walk along the wooded area between the Glen and the fencing and you will come upon The Devils Pulpit entrance.

You will know you are close, by the trail of discarded wet socks, discarded garbage and likely a group of people seemingly disappearing into the ground.

Take everything you arrive with back out with you and pick up any litter you might see along the way. Don’t be an ass.

Respecting The Devil’s Pulpit / Finnich Glen | The Outlander Phenomena

Due to the popularity of Outlander, along with other commercial connections the visitors to The Devils Pulpit is much increased. Hence irresponsible behavior has led to serious abuses of the landscape and littering is rampant. Consequently, minor injuries and even more, full out rescue operations have become more and more common.

A new caution sign has now been erected at the site of Devils Pulpit / Finnich Glen, so take heed, since many people traverse The Devils Pulpit without appropriate climbing gear.

Often visitors park in dangerous locations with little regard to the locals.

Blocking traffic flow and carelessly walking along a highly trafficked, high speed roadway that has no verge is not only rude it is just plane stupid.

Plan ahead and be conscientious if your surroundings.

 

Finnich Glen / The Devils Pulpit Scotland 2018 RootlessRoutes
Finnich Glen / The Devils Pulpit Scotland 2018 RootlessRoutes

The Future of Finnich Glen / The Devils Pulpit

Visit Finnich Glen early in the day in order to avoid the crowds, since it is no longer even remotely obscure. Dozens of people visit every day. In result, there are a lot of kids trying to climb down in inappropriate footwear such as like flip flops or even platform shoes.

Killearn Glen which includes  Finnich Glen / The Devil’s Pulpit was left to the Gordon Trust in 1980, on the condition that public access would be maintained to the site in perpetuity. Because of this, overuse and dangerous behavior will inevitably cause authorities to regulate access to Finnich Glen itself. Be kind to your surroundings and attentive to others. Do your best to park safely.

Don’t be an inconsiderate ass or The Devils Pulpit might just get you!

Scottish Highlands | Corrupt Uncorrupted Lands of Scotland

RootlessRoutes 2018

Scotland is a beautiful country. The Scottish Highlands, magnificent to behold. To revel in the grandeur of its ethereal terrain is a privilege I hold dear.

Scotland draws thousands of visitors each year. Most are now drawn to the fetching scenery of Scotland’s northern wilds. The Scottish Highlands are now Scotland’s largest tourism draw after Edinburgh.

As we hike, bike, drive and enjoy the breathtaking landscape and exhilarating roads, the wonder of this place is undeniable.

Yet a dark narrative lurks behind its stark allure.

How did such a magical landscape become a domain for mostly sheep?

RootlessRoutes Scotland 2018
Sheep in a treeless vista. Bealach Na BA Scottish Highlands 2018

Although never highly populated, the uncultivated land we see today and subsequently the sparse population of the Scottish Highlands is not a completely natural occurrence.

Centuries of clear cutting helped to deforest an already receding woodland. Regrowth, suppressed to make room for sheep.

The populace, cleared by force… much like the trees. Ripped from their roots, to also make room for sheep.

By the 1850s the Highland culture, demonized and disregarded for centuries had been virtually eradicated.

The insidious nature of centuries of repression, maintains its steely grasp on much of Scotland’s countryside today.

RootlessRoutes Northwest Highlands 2017
Northwest Highlands. RootlessRoutes Scotland 2017

The caustic relationship between England and Scotland runs long and deep.

For centuries a Brit marrying a Scot, was a crime punishable by death. The borderland between England and Scotland, a bloody no man’s land.

In time, Britons melded a bit with the lowland Scots, albeit with a wary eye. But the rogue nature of clan culture made it hard to tame the Highlands.

The dividing line between the Highlands and Lowlands has never been distinctly clear. The negative view of the natives of these Highlands have remained crystal clear

The Stuarts / Stewarts 

The House of Stuart (Stewart), started with Robert II. The Stuarts bared Kings and Queens of Scotland from the late 14th Century. When Queen Elizabeth I died in 1603 the true reign of the Stuarts began with James I.

It was a Renaissancian time for Scotland.

Except for the brief time that England was a Commonwealth (1649  1660), the Stuarts remained monarchs until the death of Queen Anne in 1714.

In 1707 the independent Kingdom of Scotland merged with England. The Act of Union created the Kingdom of Great Britain. In many ways this benefitted both nations. Scotland needed money and Britain needed a way to control their feral neighbor to the North.

The Jacobites of the Scottish Highlands

Although flawed, James I of England VI of Scotland, was highly regarded by his people, having experienced long standing peace and fairly low taxation.

Upon his death his son Charles I ruled with a steady hand, yet at a turbulent time. His unyielding disagreements with Parliament and the rise of Cromwell as a Commonwealth leader, led to the loss his head.

Portrait of King James
James I of England & Ireland VI of Scotland.

Nine years later, with the monarchy restored, Charles II became another much beloved King who reigned true. He died young. 

His arrogant and disagreeable brother James II succeeded him. With the blessing of Parliament, James II was quickly deposed by William and Mary (James II son in law and daughter). The Convention of Estates in Scotland, recognized William and Mary as legitimate monarchs over James II.

Death & The Divine Right of Kings

But Jacobite leanings in the Highlands stemmed mostly from the supportive treatment of the Highland clans by James I, and their continued belief in the “Divine Right of Kings”. Because of this, numerous Jacobite attempts were made to restore James and his descendants to the throne.

On April 16, 1746, the Jacobites met their most devastating defeat at Culloden Moor. 

Culloden Battlefield Rootless Routes Inverness Scotland 2017 by Elizabeth Whitener
Culloden battlefield

Thousands of men died in the name of Charles Edward Stuart. (The Bonnie Prince).  An ominous sense of foreboding still permeates that boggy hill in Inverness.

Cause & Effect

In the hope of suppressing any possibility of future Jacobite uprisings. The Duke of Cumberland (King George II’s son), did everything he could to end the Highland way life.

Kilts and Tartans were banned. Clans forbidden. Anyone suspected of Jacobite connections were imprisoned, executed or forcibly transported to the Americas. Scottish Gaelic was discouraged and suppressed.

Sadly, this is not where this tragic decimation of the Highland culture ends.

The Clearances

Most Highlanders were monetarily poor and living off the land. At the time of the final Jacobite rebellion, they mostly lived as tenant farmers. This meant paying rent (aka tax) to clan chiefs and land owners for land that had been passed down through their families for centuries.

The process of clearing out people began prior to 1745, but sped up quickly after the final Jacobite rebellion.

The deconstruction of clan society created a detachment between clan chiefs and their kinsman. In a short time, many of the chiefs grew to closely resemble British aristocracy, and saw their kinsmen a disposable commodity.

Shocked Scottish sheep. Rootless Routes Scotland 2017 photo by Elizabeth Whitener
Sheep shocked by the dreadful driving skills of tourists driving on Skye. Scotland 2017 Arnisdale / Glenelg by Elizabeth Whitener Rootless routes

In the name of agricultural improvement, tenant farmers were forcibly relocated to make room for the more profitable sheep.

With no laws to protect these farmers, most moved to coastal areas to fish for kelp. Many Highland Scots had no choice but to emigrate. Entire ancient communities were completely wiped out.

In the 1820s the fishing and kelp industry died. To prohibit people from moving back inland, owners raised rents to unreasonable levels.

Then 1844 saw a devastating potato famine and more Scots were forced to emigrate or die.

Landowners continued to clear people from their lands until the 1850s.

Today there are more full blood Highlands descendents living in North Carolina than in Scotland.

Who the Hell owns Scotland?

Recent studies show that 432 people own half of all privately-owned land in Scotland, making this one of the highest concentrations of private land ownership in all of Europe. There is no way for the public to discover who owns what in Scotland. Nor how that land got into their hands.

The Scottish Land Commission (SLC) was formed to analyze the situation and make recommendations which could lead to significant changes in land law. It is their job to establish whether so few people holding so much land is detrimental to society.

Until something is decided, the vast open tracts of stunningly remarkable landscapes shall continue to draw visitors. As will the lochs and mountains dotted with rotting ancient brochs, farms, estates and castles on the horizon.

Winding single track roads will continue to curve through baaing sheep, and the tourists will keep coming.

Now What?

A sad irony in this grim history is the accidental but prudent result of this mass misappropriation of land. If more land goes into the hands of more Scots, what does that mean for the landscape?

The uncommercialized and undeveloped land of the Highlands, undoubtedly is one of the reasons why it remains so unique. The uncorrupted vistas are the crux of Scotland’s tourism boom. Subsequently supplying a new found wealth to Scotland. Albeit, who is most gaining from the monetary insurgence in Scotland remains to be clear.

With the indubitable right for more Scottish citizens to own land, build homes and live their lives, comes the need for more roads, more shops and more commercialization. In order to progress, the things that make this land so very remarkable may also be the most vulnerable.

How does a country offer fair opportunity to regain some of the losses of a people long repressed, without destroying the best parts of itself in the process? I simply do not know.

What I do know, is that when experiencing this awe inspiring environment, as it stands today or as it may be in the future, it is important to understand its history and contemplate the depths of the loss that got them here.

When you gaze upon the huge swaths of stunning vacant land, you should also appreciate the lives that once called this place home. The harsh realities of a culture so thoroughly washed away, that its remnants have become as natural a part of the environment, as the sheep.

Drive the Scottish Borders to Edinburgh | Scotland Road Trip

Scottish Borders Rootless Routes Scotland 2017

The Scottish Borders are quite different from much of Scotland, nonetheless distinctive from bordering England.  Additionally the Borders are full of exceptional wonders and unexpected gems.

Flanked on the Northwest by England’s Northumbria and Cumbria. The North Sea to the East, the Lothians on the North, with South Lanarkshire and Dumfries and Galloway to the West.

The boundary line between Scotland and England wavered riotously through the centuries, consequently creating an even more stormy relationship than the two countries already had.img_3926

Known for an impressive collection of abbeys, due to the Scottish Borders being the perfect location for Kings of yore to prove their dominance. How else to show who’s king then to erect enormous religious houses right along a regularly disputed border? This typically pissed off the English (especially Henry VIII) as a result, the Scottish Borders have one Hell of a bloody history.

Rootless Routes Scotland Road Trip 2017
the Scottish Borders are simply gorgeous in October.

Detour Through the Scottish Borders

My journey began from a friends house in Frodsham near Manchester heading for Edinburgh on the M6. Due to randomly deciding to make my way to a smaller roadway at about Gretna Green, I found myself deep in the Scottish Borders. A place I had not visited and knew little about.

Upon hitting the Scottish Borders on A7, I exclaimed to an empty car “Holy shit!” (I likely have it on my GoPro video).  It was the first time of many I’d expound to an empty vehicle because of the unbelievable beauty or wonders I witnessed in Scotland.

The Scottish Borders are magnificent, and largely unscathed by over tourism. Filled with so many things to see and do, it would take a week, if not more to see them all.  I don’t know why so few people seem to know of it, but hey… let’s just keep it a secret between you and I. At least for a little while.

Scottish Borders Road Trip Routes

Below is a list of some of the places I discovered. Some are fairly well known, many are quite obscure. There are far too many included for just a one day drive, so I ‘greened’ all of those that were my  favorite. I will create a second Scottish Borders Route that takes you along the coast once I am able.

I have shared links (where available) for all stops along the way. Do call ahead to make sure everything you wish to visit is open before you head out. All times and observations are approximate and subjective.


the Scottish Borders to Edinburgh

Road Trip Route I

Gretna Green to Edinburgh – Trail of the Stuarts – Interior Route

About 100 miles total (161 Kilometers)

  1. Gretna Green
  2. Hermitage Castle & Graveyard
  3. Jedburgh
    • Jedburgh Abbey
    • Mary Queen of Scots House
  4. Cessford Castle (not the most exciting on this list)
  5. Kelso Abbey
  6. Dryburgh Abbey
  7. Melrose Abbey
  8. Innerleithen
    • St Ronan’s Well
    • Traquair House & Brewery
  9. Neidpath Castle
  10. Edinburgh

1) Gretna Green – Gretna Green

In the mid 18th-century English marriage laws were tightened forcing couples to wait until the age of 21 before they could marry without their parents’ consent and their marriage had to take place in a church. Scotland, laws, well yeah, not so much. So with Gretna right there on the border, resulting in, well you can figure it out.

The ensuing new laws meant Gretna became a marriage hot spot. You could marry your first cousin, your sisters 10 year old friend. IN result, running off to Gretna with the stable boy, became a rather regular thing. It’s a fun little town to visit and check out. And as one may expect, it has an awful lot of wedding chapels.

Starting at Gretna Green you can follow the Borders Historic Route , yet none of the suggested stops along that route were particularly interesting to me, you may feel different.

Photo Alert: Plenty of great photo ops

Sheep Alert: Some sheep roam freely in the area

Parking Alert: Fairly abundant amount of free parking

Next Destination: Hermitage Castle Drive Time: 45 minutes


2) Hermitage Castle & Graveyard – Hermitage Castle

Newcastleton, Roxburghshire TD9 0LU

Hermitage Castle Rootless Routes
Hermitage Castle the Scottish Borders on my 1st Scotland Road Trip

Known as the “Bloodiest Tower House in Britain” this ominous ruin, located deep in the wilds of the Borderlands, is a beautiful drive and a quick but memorable visit. The area is abundant with wildlife. Click here for info Hermitage Castle

Photo Alert: Everything is extremely photogenic, particularly the castle interior

Sheep Alert: It’s the Borderlands expect sheep to show up anywhere and everywhere

Parking Alert: decent enough basic car park

Kid Alert: I’d keep an eye on the kids

Additional Information: about 600 feet (200 meters) from the car park you will see a grassy (sometimes muddy) path. Portions of the path are steep. You will pass the Visitor Center for tickets along the way to the castle. Watch your step. Steps into the castle are steep

Toilets: I believe there to be toilets in the visitor center

Worthy Local Stop: Jedburgh Abbey – Abbey Bridge End, Jedburgh TD8 6JQ

Next Destination: Mary Queen of Scots House Drive Time: 45 minutes



3) Jedburgh – Jedburgh

The Village of Jedburgh is a wonderful and ancient village but somehow I missed this Abbey. I drove around but could not find it. It’s freaking HUGE too.  I returned to visit it on my way back from the Highlands a month later. It was well worth it for the history itself, let alone the amazing condition it is in, but it was NOT as close to Hermitage Castle as I expected.

If you are short on driving time, I’d skip heading to Jedburgh. The journey ads 65 minutes total drive time to the trip. There are other similar (but not quite as impressive) Abbey’s along the way. Depends on how much you like Abbeys.

Abbey Bridge End, Jedburgh TD8 6JQ

The remains of this abbey are impressive and largely intact. Building started in the 1100’s, but continued for nearly 80 years. This long expanse of building time created a wonderful conglomeration of Romanesque and Gothic architectural styles.

Jedburgh is the largest of the four great abbeys including Dryburgh, Melrose and Kelso. They are all worth a visit for those of us who never tire of such things. When looking for it you will see the Abbey on the hill dominating the sky.

Alternately, Cessford Castle is sort of the least exciting Castle on this trip. If you skip Cessford, you make up  for at least half the time lost if you choose to do Jedburgh Abbey

Photo Alert: Great Photo ops here

Sheep Alert: N/A

Parking Alert: Adequate public car park

Kid Alert: N/A

Next Destination:  Drive Time: 

Next Destination: Mary Queen of Scots House Drive Time: 2 minutes


Queen St, Jedburgh TD8 6EN, UK

FREE TO VISIT or  £1 for an audio tour (it’s worth it)

A weird yet wonderful place in which Mary may have never actually stayed. Nevertheless, worth checking out. Opened in 1987 on the 400th anniversary of Mary’s death, this house belonged to the Kerrs of nearby Ferniehirst Castle, which is probably where she may have been cared for instead. The house has an interesting feature, a left-handed staircase built for the Kerrs (who were left-handed) in the 16th century, to enable them to wield their swords more easily.

Photo Alert: Not a top photo site.

Parking Alert: N/A

Kid Alert: Kids may be bored by this

Toilets: I’m pretty sure there are toilets there, if not there should be some close by

Additional Information: 45 minute tour is extremely interesting

Note: Be careful not to enter the Mary Queen of Scots BnB into your GPS

Next Destination; Cessford Castle – Drive Time: 20 minutes


4) Cessford Castle – Cessford Castle

Kelso TD5 8EG, UK

FREE TO VISIT

Atmospheric ruin of a formerly massive L-plan castle, entrenched in history. Rising to three storeys in the main block and four in the wing. Confirmed from the 15th century and likely earlier. There remains a portion of the large courtyard wall. It is deemed dangerous to enter, but people still do. Although the address says Kelso, this location adds 40 minutes to your trip and was not one of my favourites.

Photo Alert: Fabulously photogenic. Numerous great selfie spots

Parking Alert: Off road car parking only. Do not block anyone or park in a designated passing place.

Kid Alert: A lot of open space to run around, but the castle is an unstable ruin

Toilets: Nothing close by

Additional Information: N/A

Note: Visit and enter at your own risk

Next Destination: Kelso Abbey  Drive Time: 20 minutes


5) Kelso – Kelso

The ancient and simply sublime burgh of Kelso has been the focal point of painters since the 1600’s and remains as quaint and lovely today. A welcoming market town, the drive to Kelso is stunning. Worth stopping for a bite to eat or pre booking a place to stay during your road trip to Edinburgh.

40-44 Bridge St, Kelso TD5 7JD, UK

FREE TO VISIT

Scottish monastic architecture is unique and Kelso Abbey, is a prime and earliest example of style. It was one of Scotland’s largest and wealthiest religious houses. Founded by monks invited over by King David I in 1128

The abbey was founded by monks invited by King David I. Nothing remains of the actual monastery, but what remains of the church is considered to be one of the greatest architectural achievements in medieval Scotland.

The little burgh of Kelso is absolutely gorgeous, hence it is well worth the visit. If you’re interest in seeing absolutely everything on this road trip route, booking a place in or near Kelso would make a great middle point.

Photo Alert: Gorgeous photo ops at every turn

Parking Alert: Free parking in Kelso Town Center

Kid Alert: N/A

Toilets: At the visitor center

Additional Information: 

Next Destination: Dryburgh Abbey Drive Time: 20 minutes


6) Dryburgh Abbey – Dryburgh Abbey

St Boswells, Roxburghshire, TD6 6RQ

This abbey is a bit off the beaten path and not as popular with tourists. Hence why I like it so much. Found in a rather secluded forest. A wonderfully quiet and contemplative place. Established in 1150 by Premonstratensian canons in 1150. It is a lovely spot and worth the drive, since it is much less frequented by visitors than the other abbeys on this road trip route.

Photo Alert: Endless. Start looking for photo ops as you near the site.

Parking Alert: Small car park

Kid Alert: N/A

Next Destination: Melrose Abbey Drive Time: 20 minutes


7) Melrose Abbey – Melrose Abbey

Abbey St, Melrose TD6 9LG, UK

Not quite as obscure as some of the others on this journey. Yet right along the way and a really lovely place to have a look and see. A need to see if you are a Scottish history buff or a fan of romantic feeling architecture and lore.

Founded as a Cistercian monastery in 1136… and then the English … Rebuilt in the 1380s. Its active end came at the Protestant Reformation of 1560, the building is remarkably unmolested by the test of so very much time.

It is believed that the heart of Robert the Bruce’s is buried here. fabulous Medieval object collection in the Museum.

Photo Alert: Great photo ops

Sheep Alert: It’s the Borderlands expect sheep to show up anywhere and everywhere

Parking Alert: Pay and display public car park 75m from the abbey (Scottish Borders Council). On-road parking nearer the site. Free parking in Winter.

Kid Alert: N/A

Additional Information:  Watch your step. Steps into the castle are steep. This location can get quite busy

Toilets: At the visitor center

Next Destination: Traquair House Drive Time: 35 minutes


8) Innerleithen – Innerleithen

Innerleithen, a prominent golfing community and simply a lovely, if not quirky little town. Originally mostly an agricultural village. In the early 19th century, the sulphurous “healing” springs known as St Ronan’s Wells began drawing people to the area. The resulting Spa and Resort saw visitors such as Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott. Scott helped to popularize Innerleithen with his novel Saint Ronan’s Well. As St Ronan’s Well’s popularity grew, the need for a golf club became obvious. St Ronan’s (golf) Club started in 1827 with the first St Ronan’s Border Games that continue to this very day. The Innerleithen Golf Club was formed in in 1886.

3 Wells BraeInnerleithen EH44 6JE

Quirky little visitor center offers information on Innerleithen history, as well as the story of the wells. Situated on a hillside, overlooking the Leithen valley with pleasant gardens.  Here you can sip from the well or purchase bottle of water its water.  An interesting stop for those that enjoy quirky, historic and quaint. I love the entire area.

Photo Alert: Plenty

Sheep Alert: any sheep in the area appear to be fenced

Parking Alert: Plenty of parking

Kid Alert: Kids may like this funky little place.

Next Destination:  Traquair House & Brewery Drive Time: 10 minutes

Traquair House the Scottish Borders Rootless Routes Scotland 2017
Traquair House, long connected to the Stuarts. Innerleithen Scottish Borders Scotland Rootless Routes

Visit Traquair House | Just Do It!

My entrance to Traquair House began with stumbling on completely unperilous rocks on a flat driveway, resulting in landing flat on the ground on top of my iPhone. I entered the grand historic property, covered in mud, with ripped knees, bleeding and clinging to my disemboweled iPhone. The staff were kind and in return helpful. They all seemed sincerely concerned about my well being, upon seeing my disheveled state.

Traquair House is the oldest still inhabited house in Scotland and I absolutely love this place. The drive through Innerleithen is… “Holy crap!” amazing. The roads tight, with high stone walls on either side, make it an interestingly challenging drive for US Americans.

The history of Traquair House, especially pertaining to the Stuarts (later the Stewarts) is just about as rich with Scottish history as it gets.  Lived in for over 900 years. (Gosh, 900 years? I’m American. We think older houses were built in the 1950s.) With a quirky and extremely knowledgeable staff that all love the house and its historical background. I spent hours chatting with various staff members about obscure historical facts with glee.

  • Traquair House History

Gifted to James Stewart in 1491, who became the 1st Laird of Traquair. The famous Bear Gates were closed in 1745 after the Bonnie Prince rode out and the 5th Earl promised him they would never be opened again until the Stuarts gained throne. Consequently, they were never opened again.

Catherine Maxwell Stuart continues to call this extraordinary place her home and her recorded revelries in some of the rooms are just fantastic. The brewery is well worth the visit as well. Do not miss this hidden gem. I’d move in, if they’d let me!

Photo Alert: Limitless photo ops

Parking Alert: Nplenty of well signed parking

Kid Alert: I think Kids will enjoy this.

Food: Cafe and Tea Room

Shops: Bought a great handmade celtic not ring here.

Toilets: Bathrooms on site

Additional Information: Self designed tour and guides on premises to answer questions are just awesome

Note: Maybe go to the brewery first so you have time to walk it off

Next Destination: Neidpath Castle Drive Time: 20 minutes



9) Neidpath Castle – Neidpath Castle

Tweeddale, on A72Peebles EH45 8NWNeidpath Castle

Mostly utilized for films or as a wedding venue, but luckily, they were setting up for an event when I drove up. I was permitted to look around, but did not meet the owner or get a tour. If you call the owner they will set up a private tour, which is likely well worth it. Sadly my camera battery had died and I had just crushed my iphone at Traquair House so I was unable to take photos. Picture courtesy of the Neidpath Castle site.

Photo Alert: Holy crap, this location is fantabulous. You can get great pictures of the castle from the hill across the way

Sheep Alert: I did not notice any

Parking Alert: There is a car park there

Kid Alert: It’s pretty cool, I think kids would enjoy it

Additional Information: 

Next Destination: Edinburgh Drive Time: 50 to 60 Minutes depending on traffic and where in Edinburgh you are headed.

10) Edinburgh – Edinburgh

Read more about visiting Edinburgh below!

Edinburgh Above & Below:

Less Touristy, Obscure & Free Things to Do & See in Scotland’s Capital

Walking Edinburgh

Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle upon a bed of volcanic rock.! Photography by Elizabeth Whitener 2017 aka januarymoon.

End of trip

Driving On Skye – What To Know Before You Go

Uig Scotland Rootless Routes Scotland 2018 photo by Elizabeth Whitener
Uig Scotland Rootless Routes Scotland 2018 photo by Elizabeth Whitener
One track road at the Fairy Glen. Driving on Skye is not easy, but it is magical. Rootless Routes Scotland 2018 photo by Elizabeth Whitener

Should You Drive on Skye?

Driving on Skye is not for everyone. It can be more challenging than driving in other parts of rural Scotland. Although driving on Skye may be the easiest and possibly best way to tour this eilean, it is important to understand the semantics and expectations of taking on such a task. Knowing the challenges involved with driving on Skye before you get there and understanding that it may not be the best choice for you, is key.

If driving on the island stresses you out, makes you nervous and takes your focus away from best experiencing the trip, then what’s the point? It can put you and your travel companions, put others on the road in danger as well as diminish your experience. If you are not a confident left side of the road driver, you should not be driving on Skye or any part of Scotland.

Shocked Scottish sheep. Rootless Routes Scotland 2017 photo by Elizabeth Whitener
Sheep shocked by the dreadful driving skills of tourists driving on Skye. Scotland 2017 Arnisdale / Glenelg by Elizabeth Whitener Rootless routes

Me… I’m a driver. Give me a driving challenge and it is just as exciting to me as is the place I am visiting. Mastering the roads and learning to drive up to par with the locals, is as big an adventure for me as is the actual trip. I love to drive. LOVE IT! I much enjoyed driving on Skye. Yet it had its challenges. Many of which were the poorly driving tourists.

Navigating my way around without much assistance. Feeling as if I have not only taken in all of the new things around me, but have in some small way become a part of it. these tings heighten my travel experience. Driving in new places does not make me nervous, it invigorates me and in the end, I feel I have achieved something. As if I understand it better now that I can navigate it with confidence.

If you are hesitant on the roads in your country. Then driving on Skye is certainly not for you.

There are plenty of alternatives. Private tours, public transportation, smaller mini-coach tours. Or Heck, just call me. For the price of a plane ticket, food and a couple of adult beverages here and there, I’ll drive ya wherever and whenever you wish to go. (I’m not kidding either)

Scroll to the end of this post to find more information on tours and transportation alternative to driving on Skye yourself.

Mealt Rootless Routes Elizabeth Whitener Isle of Skye 2018
Mealt Falls and Kilt Rock Isle of Skye 2018 photo by Elizabeth Whitener Isle of Skye 2018 Rootless Routes

Skye is loaded with ethereal landscapes. Rich with history, teaming with waterfalls, wildlife, all  sprinkled with a fair amount of fairy dust. If you have decided you are indeed driving on Skye. The next step is to decide where to go.

When driving on Skye, a well pre-planned driving route is a must.  Skye is a very popular destination, it gets very busy. Yet it remains an extremely rural location.

Navigating rough, pothole ridden,steep, often unmarked roads is easier when prepared. Knowledge of what and where you plan to go and do, helps when navigating unfamiliar territory, and allows a better chance of taking in the views.


Preparing for and Understanding Driving On Skye

To get to the the Isle of Skye, you must first cross the Skye Bridge. This spits you out onto the one main road on Skye, A87. The second important road to remember is 855. Both of these roads vary from dual, to single track. Speed limits run around 60 MPH, unless right in the heart of a village then it decreases to 40, sometimes 30 MPH as is usually indicated. If a road is unmarked, the speed limit is usually 60 MPH.

Skye Bridge
The Skye Bridge Chas MacDonald of Spirit of Scotland

You are expected to to drive at the designated speed limit, even on winding single track roads (which as I said is usually 60 MPH).

Preload google maps while you have a good connection. SABRE maps is an interesting UK road mapping system that shows uncatagorized roads. Printing out pre planned routes from Google or SABRE Maps ahead of time, will aid you in finding uncategorized and remote roads even if your GPS is failing.

While driving Skye, I found almost every location with ease. I had a bit of difficulty with the Quiraing pass entrance (it is indeed uncategorized). I saw no sign saying Quiraing (at the time) just a warning sign about potential road conditions. Apparently there is a sign for the route on the other end of the pass.

I am in the process of posting two (2) full day driving routes for the Isle of Skye. These routes offer in depth locational information and should aid you in choosing your stops, and help get to each location safely, efficiently and stress free. You will find further information on these routes, below.


Before You Hit The Road for Skye

SCHEDULING:                                                                                                                                                          Leave early. Be on the island by 7am / 8am if possible. Car parks, roads and trails get insanely crowded. Stops nearest the bridge are unrestricted and always open, beyond dangerous weather conditions. Get them out of the way to beat the crowds. Obviously Castles and Museums have opening and closing times. The Quiraing viewpoint gets packed early. Leave yourself with ample time to enjoy your trip.

DRESS APPROPRIATELY:
Weather on the island is even more unpredictable than on the mainland. As well as colder and windier. Wear water resistant walking or hiking shoes / boots. Even ‘easy to access’ locations can be swampy, rocky and or muddy.  Bring extra clothes, and a hat. Wear sunscreen (even if there is no sun).

BE PREPARED: 
Fill up with petrol, utilize the toilets, make sure you have everything you need before you cross the bridge. It’s a bigger pain in the ass to get to or do any of these things once on the island and often much more expensive. You are advised to eat before you cross the bridge.

If you intend to eat out, I still suggest that you bring snacks and drinks in the car. Make reservations ahead of time.

Input all data into your GPS ahead of time. If you, can pre-download maps. Signal can be very dodgy on the island. Be careful there is The Old Man of Storr (yes!) and the Old Man of Stoer (No).

BE DILIGENT: Sheep roam freely all over the island and there are active hidden driveways and uncategorized roads around blind bends. This is an active rural community. You never know when you’ll rear a turn to find a stopped tractor on the road.

There also tends to be a lot of inexperienced drivers and stupid people walking in places they obviously should not be. Add to this cyclists, bikers, hikers, dog walkers and drunken young people and well… just be careful. See my video of the tourists wheeling luggage along the Quiraing Rd and you’ll get what I mean.

KNOW THE RULES & COURTESIES OF THE ROAD:                                                                                      Passing places are not just for those driving towards you, they are also there so that a slower driver can stop and let those stuck behind them pass.

Make sure you are confident enough to drive extremely narrow, single track, winding, roads that are in bad condition and have a lot of blind spots, at the recommended speed limit. Which is 60 MPH. Not 60 KPH, 60 MPH. This is so very important when driving Skye.

If you cannot drive with confidence at a reasonable speed, you likely should NOT be driving in Scotland, let alone driving Skye. It is actually considered more unsafe to drive under the speed limit there, since it causes great impatience with the locals (and ME), causing them take unreasonable risks to get around you (so that they can get to their destination on time).

Passing Places are NEVER parking spots, so DON’T DO IT! (yea, I am talking to you, the asshole on the convertible red BMW on the Bealach Na Ba last month). Here is more thorough information on Driving in Scotland by ZigZag on Earth


 Driving Routes for Isle of Skye

I have developed two (2) full day driving routes covering every amazing thing I could, given the hours in a day. These driving routes are coordinated to help you best maximize your time on Skye. The itineraries include 20 potential stops on the Island, offering alternatives for various needs, interests, as well as locations for toilet breaks, petrol etc… Make use of the destinations as mapped out on the itineraries, or adjust them according to your interests, time and needs.

(if the links below are not active, I have not completed the posts yet. They will be complete within 2 days of this post, if not earlier)

Isle of Skye Driving Route 1: The Flora and the Old Man in the Skye 

  1. Portree
  2. Old Man of Storr
  3. Tobhta Uachdrach
  4. Kilt Rock
    1. Mealt Falls
    2. Staffin Dinosaur Museum
  5. Quiraing
    1. Viewpoint
    2. Drive
  6. Duntulm Castle
    1. Flora MacDonalds Grave
  7. Skye Museum of Life

Isle of Skye Driving Route 2: Fairies & Lights in Skye

  1. Loch Ainort
  2. Dunvegan Castle & Gardens
  3. Neist Point
    1. Neist Point Lighthouse
  4. Fairy Pools
    1. Coire na Creiche
  5. Eilean Ban
    1. Kyleakin Lighthouse
  6. Eilean Donan Castle (outside of Skye in Dornie)

Skye Tours, Information & Public Transportation / Scot owned Scotland based

Chas MacDonald of Spirit of Scotland offers various private and small group tours with a focus in Clan history, Clan gatherings, wildlife viewing, photography as well as personally curated themes of your choice. He also offers tours by More Gay the Gordon. A unique perspective with a like minded guide that delves into history of gay Scotland as well as LGBT exclusive tours.

Rabbie’s is a highly regarded small tour operator in business for over 20 years. This seasoned tour company has maintained their top reputation even after great growth.

You can find information on bus services to and on Skye here

Cycling routes and bike maps, in and around Skye.

Hiking routes maps and trails on Skye.

Traveling with kids?

Gay centric tours of Skye.

Splendor on The Isle of Skye Scotland

Waterfall at the Fairy Pools, Isle of Skye 2018 Rootless Routes by Elizabeth Whitener

Isle of Skye Scotland 

An t-Eilean Sgitheanach / Eilean a’ Cheò

The Isle of Skye. Awash with astonishing scenery, enchanting locations and otherworldly landscapes. Skye also holds historic significance in the tumultuous story of the Highlands of Scotland.

Brimming with pure splendor. Packed into a mere 650 square miles of immutable space. Skye is quite simply a wonder.

Driving the magical island is truly a one of a kind experience. Staying there is simply brilliant.

Looking back on the Old Man of Storr
The Storr, taken from Tobhta Uachdrach view point. Isle of Skye Scotland Rootless Routes photo by Elizabeth Whitener 2018

The Island may be compact, but it is filled with resplendence.

And… don’t forget the fairies.

The Fairy Glen near Uig, Isle of Skye Scotland / Scottish Highlands Rootless Routes 2018 by Elizabeth Whitener
The Fairy Glen near Uig, Isle of Skye Scotland / Scottish Highlands Rootless Routes 2018 by Elizabeth Whitener
NC500 Fairy Pools Isle of Skye Scottish Highlands Scotland 2018 Rootless routes by Elizabeth Whitener
Fairy Pools / Glen Brittle / Carbost / Isle of Skye Scottish Highlands Scotland 2018 Rootless routes by Elizabeth Whitener

Skye’s deep connection to fairies, prehistoric archeology and geological anomalies is as entrenched in its heritage and lore, as is its formidable terrain. With such mystical vistas, it is no surprise that Skye is rich in ancient Norse, Celtic and Pagan lore.

Skye’s distinctive topographies are both lush and barren, contained and wild. A perfect analogy for much of Scotland and the Scottish Highlands. Historically, environmentally and geologically.

Abundant in wildlife, including Red Deer, Golden Eagles, Sea Eagles, Gannets, Seals, Whales, Puffins, Otters, Pine Marten and a large variety of birds. The Island offers much to do and see.

It is not difficult to imagine a fairy choosing the Isle of Skye as their home.

Dunvegan Castle Gardens holds the precious Fairy Flag Isle of Skye Rootless Routes 2018
Gorgeous falls at Dunvegan Castle Gardens. Isle of Skye Scotland Rootless Routes 2018 Elizabeth Whitener

Everybody Wants a Piece of Skye

Since the Norse stepped foot on this ethereal land thousands of years ago, the magic of the Island has been a fairly well kept secret. First savoured by the Brits, then by parts of Europe. This is no longer the case.

More than 600,000 vehicles cross the Sky Bridge / Crossing every year. Scotland’s boom in tourism is indeed taking its toll. Its effects can be seen on the environment as well as on the infrastructure. A common plight with which all of Scotland is now attempting to cope.

Isle of Skye puzzle piece like coastline. NC500 route. 2018 Rootless Routes
Water view from Tabhta Uachbrach view point. Rootless Routes 2018 Elizabeth Whitener Isle of Skye

An Enduring Skye

Yet unlike the ever unstable and inimical Quiraing, created by ancient rock crumbling beneath the weight of the invading rock above. The people of here remain warm, welcoming and unremitting. I imagine it is difficult to feel overcrowded with views like this.

The largest, northernmost, major island in Scotland’s Inner Hebrides. Skye has been inhabited since the Mesolithic period. Much like the Orkneys, Skye’s ties run deep with early Norse occupation.

Fairy Glen NC500 Rootes of the Routless
The Fairy Glen near Uig, Isle of Skye Scotland / Scottish Highlands Rootless Routes 2018 by Elizabeth Whitener
Dunvegan Castle NC500 Isle of Skye Rootless Routes 2018
Dunvegan Castle Home of the MacLeods Isle of Skye 2018 Rootless Routes

The Powerful Clans of Skye

Skye’s legacy includes a lengthy ascendancy with Clan MacLeod and Clan MacDonald  and was greatly impacted by the final Jacobite uprising.  You can find Flora MacDonald’s grave site here, as well as fascinating relics of her history in Dunvegan Castle . This ancient fortress and home to Clan MacLeod, is a fantastic visit. I should know, I’ve visited a lot of Scottish Castles. And within the walls of antiquity, this formidable castle, that remains inhabited by MacLeods yet to this day is the prized Fairy Flag

Jacobite Connections

After the the failed rising and the tragic end at Culloden. Flora, dressed the Bonnie Prince in women’s clothing and helped to secret him away and out of Scotland. She is seen by many as a brave Jacobite heroine. Ironically she was not likely a jacobite at all, just a very sweet, nurturing woman who liked to help people. But regardless, she likely saved Prince Charles life and her connection to the Island of Skye runs deep.

Portrait of the Bonnie Prince

The resulting clearances that continued for over 100 years after the uprisings tragic end, resulted in a huge population decline on Skye, the effects of which are still keenly felt today.

Fairy Glen, Isle of Skye NC500 route
Fairy Glen sheep with an attitude problem Rootless Routes Isle of Skye 2018 by Elizabeth Whitener

Most of the land is still owned by those that do not live on the Island. The sheep farms are mostly (if not all) tenant run with little rights over the whims of the land owners. And although the island is teeming with tourists, much of that money does not find its way to the crumbling infrastructure, nor to the people that live there.

Wages on the island are lower than average and rents are much higher (so tip… yes you should indeed tip). Long term rentals are nearly non existent. Nonetheless, the people of Skye seem to maintain an indubitable spirit. As do their sheep.

Visit The Isle of Skye

It is well worth a full day, if not two, to explore this magical place. In fact, you certainly would not run out of things to do or see, if you spent an entire week there. Sky offers endless attractions for young and old alike.

If you are planning to visit Scotland, do not miss out on this stunning place. I suggest you do it soon. For even the most enduring of communities can only bare the weight of such a severely overburdened infrastructure and countryside, for just so long.

Routes for traveling this gorgeous little island will be added to RootlessRoutes very soon and then linked here.

Orkney Scotland Neolithic & Historic Orkneyjar

Mainland Orkney

Orkney Scotland. Known to some as the Orkney Isles, the Orkneys, Orkney Islands or Orkneyjar. Made up of about 70 small remote islands, only of which 20 are inhabited. The string of islands that make up Orkney Scotland are quite unlike the rest of the British Isles. The treeless landscape, local dialect, weather and even local traditions are more like a culture of its very own.

Standing Stones Orkney Scotland
Standing Stone Circle Stromness Orkney Scotland Prehistoric standing stones known as the Ring of Brodgar 2017

An archipelago at latitude 59 degrees north, Orkney Scotland is only 50 miles south of Greenland. Made up of mostly flat lands and some slightly rolling hills, the dramatic sandstone peaks on Hoy, the Mainland and Rousay, as well as a few rugged western coast cliffs stand out in stark contrast to the mostly low lying terrain.

Maeshow neolithic tomb
Ancient tomb, Maeshowe Stromness. Orkney Scotland photo by Elizabeth Whitener

 

Temperate yet atmospheric. Winds are often tumultuous, seas often rough, rain often imminent and then the sun comes out. The surly weather and remoteness of this island chain has allowed it to maintain a treasure trove of prehistoric and neolithic archaeological sites in near pristine order.

Orkney Scotland heralds a history unique to that of mainland Scotland. Due to geographical isolation, wildlife, foliage as well as its unique historical ancestry is somewhat anomalous to the rest of Scotland. Although Scotland’s history as well as its people have been mixing with the Norse for uncountable centuries, the genetic qualities of natives of Orkney Scotland tend to be a higher percentage of Scandinavian and they continue to show a strong indication of their Nordic ancestry today.

Kirkwall
Entering Kirkwall in Orkney Scotland

 

The largest island of Orkney Scotland is referred to as “the Mainland”, having evolved from the Old Norse word “Meginlan”. The Norse or “Northmen” aka Vikings, maintained a stronghold of these Orkney Scotland islands on and off for centuries. Orkneyinga Saga a Nordic text written in the early 13th century, is a perfect example of how interwoven these cultures once were and remain. Relics and ancient sites heralding back to Nordic rule are rampant and much of the dialect, customs and traditions continue in Orkney Scotland to this day.

The Mainland of Orkney Scotland is separated into 13 parishes divided by West and East. The two (2) most populated towns are Kirkwall and Stromness. For the most part the major architectural and archaeological sites on the “the Mainland”, are found in Kirkwall, Stromness Birsay and Stenness. In my next post I will go into more description about visiting these places.

St Magnus Kirkwall
St Magnus Cathedral from the grounds of the Earls Palace Kirkwall 2017 Photo by Elizabeth Whitener

Kirkwall: One could say the most visited town on the island, Kirkwall maintains wonderful ancient buildings to visit, some intact and some in ruins. It has a couple of hotels, BnB’s, AirBnB’s and restaurants and an amazingly cutting edge hospital is being constructed nearby.

  • The Earls Palace: The Earls Palace Built in 1607 by Patrick, Earl of Orkney, one of the most tyrannical noblemen in Scotland’s history. Upon his imprisonment, bastard son Robert rebelled in his name and seized the previously “taken” palace, St Magnus’s Cathedral and Kirkwall Castle. It all went awry, the Earl of Caithness destroyed the palace. Earl Patrick and his son were later executed for treason. (not to be confused with the “Earls Palace” in Birsay)
  • The Bishops Palace: The Bishops Place Built in the 12th century across from St Magnus Cathedral, in the centre of KirkwallOrkneyScotland. Home to William the Old, of the Norwegian Catholic church. The ruined structure now looks like a small castle and is part of the Earls Palace grounds in Kirkwall.
  • St. Magnus Cathedral: St. Magnus Cathedral Built in 1137, by Viking, Earl Rognvald ( Rögnvald Kolsson), in honour of his uncle St Magnus and known as the ‘Light in the North.’ Today the cathedral is owned by the township of Kirkwall and not by the church. (not to be confused with St Magnus Church in St Birsay)

Other interesting sites to see

Tor Ness

Cuween Chambered Hill 

Wideford Hill

Rennibister Earth House

 

Skara Brae
Skara Brae in Orkney Scotland one of the oldest, most complete settlements in the area

 

 

 

Stromness: Wonderful historic town commanded by the sea. Winding roads lead to quaint shops, historic buildings and farms surrounded by neolithic wonders. A surprisingly bustling town at times (at least by Orkney standards) that just celebrated 200 years as a Burgh of Barony. Keep up to date with the latest in the events section of this website.

  • Skara Brae: Skara Brae is Europe’s most complete neolithic settlement. Older than Stonehenge or the Pyramids. Near Stromness on the Bay of Skaill, these eight stone houses, nestled together, were occupied around 3180 BC to about 2500 BC. Skara Brae is an UNESCO World Heritage Site
  • Skaill House: Skaill House  was built in 1620 by Bishop George Graham and has remained within the family to this very day. An intact historic manor house overlooking Skara Brae and the magnificent Bay of Skaill in Sandwick.
  • Maeshowe: Maeshowe is a Neolithic tomb is considered to be architectural genius. Designed for the light of the setting sun at the winter solstice creeps along the narrow passageway, illuminating the chamber inside. There is also graffitti inside or the most hysterical ilk, created by a group of Vikings that utilized the tomb for shelter during a winter storm well over 1000 years ago
  • Barnhouse Settlement: Barnhouse Settlement is a neolithic site by the shore of Loch of Harray, Orkney Mainland, Scotland, not far from the Standing Stones of Stenness, about 5 miles north-east of Stromness. It was discovered in 1984 by Colin Richards. Wikipedia
Other interesting sites to see
Stromness Church

Stenness: A village and on the Orkney Mainland in Orkney ScotlandIt contains several notable prehistoric monuments including the Standing Stones of Stenness and the Ring of Brodgar. (from wikipedia)

  • Ring of Brodgar: The Ring of Brodgar is the 3rd largest, northernmost such circle (in Britain), and only known Neolithic stone circle henge to be truly circular. Ranking with Avebury  and Stonehenge . Yet due to its resistance to carbon dating, the age remains uncertain. Thought to have been erected between 2500 BC and 2000 BC, making it the last of the great Neolithic monuments built on the Ness. A UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Standing Stones of Stenness: Standing Stones of Stenness is possibly the oldest henge site in the British Isles, the few remaining enormous stones are about 19 feet (6M) tall. Found five miles northeast of Stromness. Stane-is in Orcadian dialect, comes from Old Norse meaning stone headland.

Birsay: An amazing little town little affected by the tenants of time. Already rich in neolithic history when the Vikings came to power. Today archeological digs are constant and the people of this tiny village are welcoming and eager to chat about their unique history. St Magnus Church (originally St Magnus Cathedral until the much larger St Magnus Cathedral was built in Kirkwall) with where St Magnus is buried. There is so much to see in this tiny swath of rugged, windy and striking terrain.

  • Brough of Birsay: The Brough of Birsay is an uninhabited tidal island about 13 miles north of Stromness.  At low tide you may cross by walking the ocean floor and visit the excavated Norse settlement then known as “Byrgisey” . In the 7th and 8th centuries it was a significant Pictish fortress, taken over by Norsemen by the 9th century.
  • The Earls Palace: The Earl’s Palace Birsay, Orkney, Scotland, is a ruined 16th-century castle built by Robert Stewart, 1st Earl of Orkney, illegitimate son of King James V and his mistress Euphemia Elphinstone. Managed by Historic Scotland. Not to be confused with the Earl’s Palace in Kirkwall. 
  • St Magnus Church: St. Magnus Church stands partly on the site of a Christchurch built by Earl Thorfinn in 1064 has been in continuous use as a church for almost a thousand years. After Earl Magnus was killed on Egilsay he was buried here and canonized in 1135.

Other interesting sites to see
Broch of Gurness

Dwarfie Stane

 

 

 

 

 

Aberdeenshire: Scotland’s Castles, Other Coast & Hidden Wonders

If you are not from the UK, an archeologist, a paleontologist, an ancient or Celtic history buff or perhaps in the oil industry,  it is unlikely you have heard much about the Aberdeenshire region of Scotland. If you are from England, you likely think it is mostly a grey, dreary, wretched place. In fact it seems a great many Scots think this too.

Sunny Day in Aberdeenshire
A beautiful and sunny day in Aberdeen Scotland Aberdeenshire 2017 photo by Elizabeth Whitener

When I decided to drive around the entire coast of Scotland, shunning the typical “North Coast” route for one of my own making,  I was inundated with information about the route commonly known as the NC 500 . I found little about Scotland’s North East Coast beyond grumbles from my UK friends as to why I would even WANT to drive THAT coast.

The popular North Coast 500 is a lovely drive through my beloved Highlands, but you miss so very much stopping at 500 miles in. Yes you get to see the remarkable Highlands, but you miss out on most of the castles.

Arnisdale - Donan
NC 500 near Glenelg, Scotland Highlands Photo by Elizabeth Whitener 2017

The NC 500 part of my journey was truly spectacular. But Aberdeen and the surrounding area (Aberdeenshire) were equally full of splendor.  So much so, I plan to do it all again next year. All of it!

dsc00578
Kildrummy Castle Ruins (a true castle) Scotland 2017 Photo by Elizabeth Whitener 

Since I am currently writing about my experiences as they unfolded, we’ve now left Edinburgh. I have much more to write about that city, but for now we are about a 3 hour drive Northeast-ish of there.

I only stayed at one conventional hotel during my month long journey. The rest of the time I stayed with friends or at AirBnBs.

I stayed at Kildrummy Park Castle Hotel for two (2) nights. It was at the tail end of the season, so the hotel was relatively quiet and I got a great deal from Booking.com. It was worth every damned dime.

Although rather remote and only accessible via some extremely rural roads, that is the general nature of such a journey anyway. It’s location made access to the numerous wonders in the area fairly easy and the view, service and food were simply stupendous. If you decide to stay there, ask for Fiona.

Kildrummy Castle Hotel
Kildrummy Castle Hotel aka Kildrummy Park Castle Hotel. Picture by Elizabeth Whitener, Aberdeenshire Scotland 2017

The hotel was built in 1900, partially from the ruins of the original 13th century castle that it now overlooks. It was turned into a hotel in 1950. Located near Kildrummy, which is fairly inland from the coast, but nothing in Scotland is really THAT far away (at least not to a road trippin’ American).

In Aberdeenshire, or let’s say the area between Edinburgh and Aberdeen (and a wee bit beyond) it seems one cannot drive more than 10 miles without bumping into an ancient castle. Now I am not talking about Tower Houses like the magnificent Castle Fraser, which is not really a castle at all, see my post about this here–> Tower Houses of Scotland aka Scotland’s Castles I am talking about castles, real Scottish castles!

Fraser full view
Castle Fraser. Magnificently preserved. Built in 1636 Z plan Tower House. Not a castle. Photo by Elizabeth Whitener, Inverurie, Scotland, Aberdeenshire 2017

Don’t get me wrong, there is a seemingly endless array of Tower Houses, Castellated Houses and Baronial House in the area. All well worth seeing as far as I am concerned. Some still in use, some well to moderately preserved and some in ruins dotting the landscape. But let’s talk castles, true castles.

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Dunnottar Castle. A true 16th century courtyard castle. Stonehaven Aberdeenshire. Photo by Elizabeth Whitener 2017

Magnificent Dunnottar Castle. A menacing ruin of a castle jutting up from a huge rock, surrounded by what is often a very turbulent sea. Fortified in the Early Middles Ages, the remaining buildings are from the 15th and 16th centuries.

Dunnottar is a little less than 2 miles south of Stonehaven, and you can make a day of castles and tower houses if planned well.

Castle FraserCraigievar Castle, Drum Castle and Crathes Castle (all actually tower houses by the way) are not so far away. They are all part of the National Trust of Scotland  so give them a call before you go. They are super helpful and every one of these properties have their own unique qualities.

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Crathes Castle & Gardens. The painted ceilings of this castle are wondrous. Built 1596 Banchory Scotland, Aberdeenshire. Photo by Elizabeth Whitener 2017

Check ahead that Dunnottar is open before you go. It is private and not attached to the National Trust. It was NOT open when I was there due to weather.

Also check schedules for events, as well as road closures along your route. Drum closes down to the public for special events and road closures happen frequently. I do not advise it, but I drove around the road closure signs after circling for too long. It isn’t uncommon for detour signs to lead you either in a circle or to nowhere, according to the locals.

Dunnottar is truly a marvel, and is a huge part of not only ancient but more modern Scottish history. This impressive group of structures belonged to the Keiths from the 14th century and was practically impenetrable until the shit hit the fan after the 1715 Jacobite rising. See my short post on the subject here–>  And then the English… 

If you wish to go a bit off of the beaten path, there are the Nine Castles of Knuckle, 2 of which are gone. From west to east, the castles are Dundarg, Pitsligo, Pitullie, Kinnaird, Wine Tower, Cairnbulg, Inverallochy, Lonmay and Rattray

  1. Kinnaird Castle (tower house) now The Museum of Scottish Lighthouses
  2. Winetower (?) – preserved
  3. Cairnbulg Castle (z plan tower house) – private residence
  4. Inverallochy Castle (true castle) – ruin
  5. Dundarg Castle – ruin
  6. Pittulie – ruin
  7. Pitsligo (keep) -ruin
  8. Lonmay Castle (gone)
  9. Castle of Rattray (gone)

True castles in Aberdeenshire to note. Click on them for further info. Some quite obscure.

Cluny Castle – Z-plan Castle – Built 1604 – Private Residence – South of Monymusk

Corse Castle – L / Z plan Castle – 16th Century – Ruin – Three miles NW of Lumphannan

Coull Castle – Fortress –  13th Century – Ruin – South of Coull

Findlater Castle – Courtyard Castle – 14th Century – Ruin – Sandend

Inveralochy Castle – Courtyard Castle – 13th Century – Ruin – Inverlochy Inverlochy Castle Hotel looks like a great place to stay.

Kildrummy Castle – Castle of Enciente – 13th Century – Ruin – Kildrummy

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Kildrummy Castle – 13th Century ruin – photo by Elizabeth Whitener Kildrummy Scotland 2017 (quite a sunny day too)

Lauriston Castle – Courtyard Castle with later additions – 13th Century – Private Residence – St Cyrus (right outside of Edinburgh). A beauty with fantastic gardens and views. Lots of people walking dogs! Lots of wonderful little benches and hideaways.

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View from Lauriston Castle. True 13th century courtyard castle with additions. Private residence. Look, another sunny Aberdeenshire day! Photo by Elizabeth Whitener 2017

Toluqon Castle – Courtyard Castle – Built 1589 – Ruin (Historic Scotland) – Pitmedden

Scotland, ALL of Scotland, has so much to do and so much to see. Plan your journey well and be open to making changes as you go.

Scotland is just a beautiful place. Its diversity is as unique as is its history, its flora and fauna and its people.

Closing yourself off to one part of this country, to me, is like getting a glimpse of a small corner of a masterpiece and calling it a day, never getting a full view of all that you could have seen.

Tower Houses of Scotland aka Scotland’s Castles

“ABC!” he said to the women in front of him, with the tinge of a cockney lilt. We were all standing in little stone room utilized as the gift shop / lobby of yet another of Scotland Castles, Drum Castle, awaiting the tour to begin.

“ABC!!” he said louder to her back and pretty much all of us this time….

He was a handsome guy. Tall, lanky, pasty white. He looked black Irish to me, definitely a Brit. He had that haircut I love on men his age. Shaved on the sides long on the top, reminiscent of a 1930s style. It added to his boyish charm. His tone was playful.

His girlfriend or wife or whatever she was to him had her back to him (and me), but I could tell she was rolling her eyes as she paid the lady at the counter. His brown eyes twinkled, he was complaining but with mirth. The small crowd in the low ceilinged room was silent.

Having paid she slid by him and out the front entrance, leaving him with an audience staring at him in muted suspense.

“Another Bloody Castle!” he asserted, smiled broadly, swept the long piece of hair from his eyes swooping it back over his head and walked out the door to await the tour guide.

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Drum Castle. One of Scotlands oldest tower houses

They call them castles all over Scotland, but actually, they are tower houses. Referred to as castles, pretty much all over these days. Even by the National Trust of Scotland which owns and maintains many of the castles aka tower houses of Scotland today. These fortified estates were built with the defensive nature of castles in mind. If you know much about the history of Scotland, you understand the need of such castle like structures.

They initially appeared in the middle ages, mostly in Scotland and Ireland, later turning up in Spain, Italy and France. Built in more remote or mountainous regions, (which at the time was much of Scotland) where people were often left much to their own devices and raids of one’s home was common place.

Craigievar Castle (tower house) Scotland tower house
Craigievar Castle (tower house). A pink harled structure near Alford, Aberdeenshire Scotland. Photo by Elizabeth Whitener aka januarymoon 2017

The high middle ages was a time of great extremes in Scotland and seriously tenuous relations between many europeans. Great Britain changed allies more often than the king changed his hat. There was a rapid and sudden population increase, a mass exodus from the rural areas to the cities, endless wars, economic strife and then the plague aka Black Death… which is suspected to have killed upwards of 50% of the population. Things were a wee bit unstable. For Scotland, perhaps even more so.

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Castle Fraser (tower house). The most elaborate Z plan castle and truly grand inside and out. Located near Kemnay in Aberdeenshire, Scotland

Tower houses were simply large homes, built to maintain the safety of those within, with limited man power or forces. They became popular with aristocrats for obvious reasons, and were often stark and foreboding on the outside while filled with the comforts of the wealthy inside. They popped up all over Italy, England and Spain during times of strife, but today Scotland seems to maintain some of the finest examples of such residences.

Some of the tower houses of Scotland are now owned and managed by National Trust for Scotland. Others remain privately owned. But there are so very many you can visit throughout Scotland that continue to be intact. It is so worth visiting as many as is possible.

Great Britain, Ireland & Colin Farrell (What You Didn’t Know About The UK)

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Johnny Rotten wants to save the Queen

The Union Jack is the flag of the United Kingdom of Great Britain.

That is Johnny Rotten standing in front of said flag… to me he is about as British as one can get. He really has a thing for the Queen. Although he goes by John Lydon these days and he lives in LA. LA is in fact not part of Great Britain.

Now the flag of Great Britain, consists of the English flag

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St. Georges Cross aka The English Flag

The flag of Scotland

Scottish Flag
St Andrews Cross aka The Flag of Scotland

and Northern Ireland’s flag

St. Patrick's Cross
St. Patrick’s Cross aka The flag of Ireland

Wales, you don’t get a mention.

Already united with England when the Union Jack was created, Wales ends up screwed and does not get a represent! (You’d think for stickin’ it out with the imperialist monarchy for so long, they’d at least get a mention.)

GB Great Britain
GB ‘Great Britain’ logo

Great Britain is not a country. Really, it’s not! It is an island consisting of England, Scotland & Wales.

The U.K. (United Kingdom) is a country consisting of four (4) nations or perhaps provinces, that are really also technically countries depending on to whom you speak.

For centuries many Scots have resisted being part of the U.K. and pockets of daring souls have periodically risen up through time against the English to gain their solidarity.

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Kildrummy Castle. Kildrummy prospered for centuries until that little English rebellion bit.

Scottish rebellion against the English pretty much has always lead to the complete ruination of everyone involved including ancient dynasties…

Ireland is NOT a country. It is an island, like Great Britain. It is mostly not part of the U.K., beyond that wee little Northern bit. Many of the Irish had rebelled against English rule for centuries.  The Irish Free State officially gained their absolute independence in 1922 when both parliaments ratified the Treaty, formalising independence for the 26 county Irish Free State. Ireland dropped the “Free State” part in 1937, and declared itself a Republic in 1949. The 6 county Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom.

Map of Ireland
Map of Ireland

Cork is in Ireland and it makes great gin. Colin Farrell is from Castleknock, which is 2.5 hours from Cork and completely irrelevant to this post, but now you know. Remember it! Oh and I’m pretty sure Colin lives in LA. LA is not in Ireland.

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Colin is not a Brit.

Ewan McGregor is a Scot and as you can see, wears a kilt. He is also a Brit. I kinda think he may also live in LA. LA is not in Scotland.

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Ewan is a Brit and a Scot. He doesn’t look unhappy to be in a kilt

I have no fucking clue why Colin Farrell is wearing a kilt. He certainly does not look very please about it.

Colin Farrell in a kilt
Colin Farrell is not a Brit, is not from the UK, is not a Scot.

As mentioned before, Ireland is made up of two (2) provinces or countries, depending on to whom you speak. Northern Ireland is part of the U.K., The Republic of Ireland is not.

Everybody knows this but for Americans. As in those from the United States, not North Americans, because Canadians know this. They learnt it in school. Unlike Texans, who learned Texas history over US history.

Now I’m not sure if Mexicans know this, because I’m American and know little to nothing about Mexicans, even though they boarder us and I’ve visited there a few times.

What I do know is that all of Great Britain and all of Ireland (even those in the Republic of Ireland) and likely even Ewan Mcgregor and Colin Farrell… maybe even John Lydon, drink far too much tea. Not that yummy herbal stuff but that caustic, tannin filled, black, black tea shit you must add milk to or die. They also almost all think Nescafé is actually coffee and not an insult to coffee.

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Coffee; not that very black tea shite and not that crap called nescafe’

That’s real coffee in that enormous I ❤️ Tea cup. Thankfully my Airbnb host in Arnisdale Scotland provided me real coffee, yet also provided the ironical cup.

In much of Great Britain, showers look like this.

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Shower in Great Britain (actually Glasgow Scotland)

< lt; lt; lt; lt; lt; lt; lt; lt; ne dials the power, the other controls temp. And they don’t have clothes dryers. Clothes dryers are made up of clothes lines with clothes pegs (not clothespins)

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Bathroom heater/towel warmer

< lt; lt; lt; lt; lt; lt; lt; lt; ut they do have bathroom (aka toilet) heaters that function as towel racks. Which don’t suck! Many Brits end up hanging their wet laundry bits to dry upon these heated racks. Apparently, dryers are not energy efficient, but turning your heat up so that your knickers dry quickly, is.

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Wine in Great Britain

< lt; lt; lt; lt; lt; lt; lt; lt; hen you order wine in the U.K. they ask you, small, medium or large? I’m not kidding! Order the large. It’s the American way. Oh yeah, they also drive on the wrong fuckin side of the road. And their yield signs say ‘give way’. (how polite)… and you can’t fucking turn right, you must circle first. Once miscounted, you must turn about the fucking circle again. There are rules to this, but no one knows them. They just close their eyes and pray to the Queen. In Inverness a roundabout ends you up at the police station, because it imitates exit number 4, when actually it’s the damned police station. I did it numerous times and shared the experience with confused tourists every time and likely a few Scots as well. But it was Sunday so the police station was closed. Because police stations actually close in the UK. But Inverness is quite lovely, once you’ve found your way out of the damned police station car park.

Glasgow scene
Inverness

< lt;lt;lt;lt;lt;lt;lt;lt;ell so, I’m in Glasgow. Three (3) large wines in, filling the tub as the towel rack warms and have little more to give than this post. Hope it suffices.If not “give way” man. Give way!<<<<<<<<< t;<<<<<<< lt;<<<<<< <<<<<< ;<<<<< t;<<<< gt;<<< ><< p>< /p>