As a Scotland travel blogger that perpetually charges about the country looking for destinations with the most attention-grabbing backstories, visually powerful settings and invaluable Scottish authenticity, the National Trust for Scotland’s places crop up fairly regularly on my hit-lists. Of course I love hiking in Glen Coe and having my heart strings tugged at Culloden but I’d like to share a few places that have been making recurring appearances on my itineraries in recent years. For those in the know, I trust you’ll nod along in agreement and for those looking for 2018 travel inspiration, I hope you’ll get scribbling.
Grey Mare’s Tail
Over the years, this magnificent waterfall has become one of my default retreats if I’m looking for a day trip from my Glasgow base. Just over an hour south of our biggest city, one of Scotland’s key strengths comes immediately to the fore – the ability to simply and quickly escape. Leave the tech and the city congestion behind and head to the hills. It’s my answer to most problems. While Loch Lomond, Perthshire, Argyll and Lochaber will spring to mind for many – I urge you to consider this absolute star in Dumfries and Galloway.
The fifth highest waterfall in the UK, the hanging valley is not only a dramatic spectacle but a perfect challenge for most of us to stretch the legs without busting a gut. A superb effort vs reward ratio. Allow 90 minutes or so for this return ascent to Loch Skeen and expect a multitude of photo opps as you stalk out the numerous layers of the tumbling waterfall, come up close to the local wild goats and ultimately emerge at the beautiful loch. There’s no denying that Southern Scotland simply does not get the hype of the Highlands, but this stretch of the country just east of the pretty town of Moffat could fit right in, even with the likes of Skye.
Speaking of default, go-to outdoor trails, Dollar Glen has been a favourite of mine since I was a wee boy. Superbly merging a serene and luscious walk with the omnipresent, and almost unnerving, proximity of one of Scotland’s finest castles, it’s one for outdoors-folk and historians alike. Located in Central Scotland, you are less than an hour from both Glasgow and Edinburgh and, although generally omitted from most of the guide books, the Ochil Hills beg for exploration. Locals know best on that score.
A beauty of a walk from little Dollar in Clackmannanshire, a multitude of route options will see your day quickly consumed. The gentle sound of running water accompanies you throughout and the odd glance at the stunning 15th-century ruin between the trees will allow your imagination to run wild. A stunner in autumnal colours, it’s also worth seeking it out if we’ve had a dusting of the white stuff. There are few steep or challenging stretches and, unless we’ve been recently deluged, this is a safe area for walkers of almost all abilities, including the kids.
Being Glaswegian, the city’s well-merited reputation for impressive architecture has not passed me by. From Victorian sandstone jungles to Gothic spires, the city is one of the most architecturally memorable in Europe but two gents get the lion’s share of the limelight. Charles Rennie Mackintosh needs no introduction and his influence can be spotted throughout town ... but I’m just as taken with Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson.
His Southern European style is also easily identified in numerous structures in Glasgow, but none are more impressive than Holmwood. A custom-built villa in the city’s south side, it avoids the crowds and retains a very personal charm. Dating back to the mid-19th century, this is arguably the jewel in his crown and contains endless subtle hints at genius. The parlour room downstairs shows off the pretty surrounding gardens while the dining room is both intimate and opulent at the same time. Upstairs, a wonderful use of light accentuates the drawing room – and don’t forget to look up when heading back downstairs. A fabulous tribute to one of the city’s great creative design minds, Holmwood is one of Glasgow’s hidden treasures.
Drum Castle, Garden & Estate
My first meeting with Drum came just last summer as part of the Scotlanders’ Jacobite Trailblazer campaign with the Trust, Historic Environment Scotland, National Galleries of Scotland and the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Covering different regions, five bloggers charged around Scotland simultaneously to visit some of the best Jacobite-relevant sites in the land. My travels took me to Aberdeenshire, a castle lover’s heaven.
Going back to the 13th century, ownership was down to the Irvine family. Their Jacobite leanings got them in hot water with the British Government after Culloden and the Laird was hidden in a secret chamber within Drum Castle for several years. A scene fit for Outlander I should say! The opulent interior is at its best in the library, a more atmospheric and evocative room you’ll struggle to find. Now part medieval fortress, part stately home in its appearance, the sumptuous grounds complete the scene. Whatever your interests, Drum’s got you covered and is one of the many outstanding castles in the Trust’s care.
No matter the season, no matter your ability, the Hermitage is a walk for all the family. Anyone asks you what the fuss is about with Perthshire, direct them here. Resplendent in autumn when Big Tree Country truly does live up to its name, you can spend anywhere between half an hour and half a day exploring this fascinating trail.
Originally a Highland retreat for the 18th-century Dukes of Atholl, the forest walk accompanies running water throughout and comes to a head at the booming Black Linn Falls, where a helpful platform at Ossian’s Hall gives you an ideal viewing spot. Continue your walk and see if you can spot Ossian’s Cave and a pretty impressive totem pole (carved from the same Douglas fir trees that surround you) as part of the mapped and pathed route. Embrace your inner Robin Hood and let your imagination loose.
The pretty Perthshire towns of Pitlochry and Dunkeld are nearby, as is an endless list of outdoor opportunities including Killiecrankie and around Lochs Tummel and Rannoch.
Castles, walks, battlefields, glens and more. The options for 2018 with the National Trust for Scotland are endless. Where are you headed next year?
Neil Robertson is a Scotland travel blogger as Travels with a Kilt. An endless explorer of his home country, he can usually be found up a mountain, poking around an ancient castle or sampling the best of Scotland’s national drink. You can follow his travel blog adventures and find him on Twitter and Instagram.