See all stories
19 Jun 2024

Five senses of summer

A bee perches on a purple, thistle-like flower head
The sound of bees buzzing wafts through the air on summer days | Image: Shutterstock
As the summer sun graces us with its warmth, we are treated to a beautiful array of sensory delights. The air is alive with the gentle hum of bees, the vibrant dance of butterflies and the sweet scent of blooming flowers. Some of our team members reveal their favourite sensory experiences across the Trust this summer.


Sophie Torrens, Visitor Services Supervisor, The Hill House

Imagine this: you’re strolling through the pathways of the Hill House, a true treasure trove of architectural brilliance, for the very first time. The sheer magnificence of the building, with its countless angles, is a visual delight. From this vantage point, it almost resembles a dollhouse, a small-scale masterpiece crafted by Mackintosh. As you take in the surroundings, it’s impossible not to be amazed by the fact that this house, constructed in 1904, was a bold departure from the conventional Gothic architecture of its era. Today, it stands even more prominently, a living testament to its one-of-a-kind design.

Constructed in 2019, the Box was a bold decision to encase an architectural icon in a chainmail. This daring move has preserved the Hill House and created a new and exciting way for visitors to engage with the property. The Box, which captivates everyone from architecture enthusiasts to young adventurers eager to walk on top of a house, provides an inclusive and immersive experience. It stands as a testament to its innovative design, igniting curiosity and cultivating a greater admiration for the architectural wonder it safeguards.

The Box provides an amazing viewpoint. On a clear day, you can look across to Arran from the top of the walkways. My favourite fact about the Box is that the chainmail hoops were designed to be large enough for bees to pass through and pollinate the plants growing inside.

Mackintosh was a visionary, always in pursuit of new and innovative approaches. He would likely be enthralled by the uniquely modern approach to conservation and would undoubtedly appreciate that, 120 years after he completed the house, people are still able to admire his design in fresh and exciting ways — a testament to his lasting legacy.

A view looking down on the Hill House from one of the rooftop walkways inside the box


Andrew Painting, Conservation Officer, Mar Lodge Estate National Nature Reserve

Spring and summer come late to Mar Lodge Estate, but when they finally arrive, they do so with a bang, as thousands of birds return to the estate to breed.

By late May, birdsong can be heard across the estate, from the wailing curlews around the Quoich Flats to the chuckling red grouse on the open moor and the wonderful ring ouzels in the high mountains. But the best sound of all is the dawn chorus in the estate’s Caledonian pinewoods and birchwoods.

Come early in the morning in June, sit quietly in a patch of pines and birches, and settle in for a concert. You will hear the usual songsters, like the beautiful song thrush, the mournful mistle thrush and the ubiquitous chaffinch. These birds are joined by migrants who have travelled thousands of miles to breed here: cuckoos, redstarts, tree pipits and spotted flycatchers. Their songs might mingle with the bizarre calls of lekking black grouse or the mewing of a distant buzzard.

The concert has two standout acts. Crossbills are best known for their bizarre, curled bills, but they also have a beautiful song: a complex array of tweets, twitters and flutey lyrical flights of fancy. Look out for bright red males singing from the tops of the highest granny pines. But for sheer numbers and melody, the star of the dawn chorus is the willow warbler. These tiny birds sing a haunting descending tune, like water flowing down a burn. Get your timing right, and you may hear dozens of them singing away simultaneously in the young birches and pines; a riotous celebration of life!


Ruth Wardle, Head Gardener, Castle Fraser

The garden at Castle Fraser is a sensory delight, filled with a variety of captivating scents. Upon entering through the garden gate, visitors are immediately greeted by a vibrant showcase of colourful nicotiana, emitting a fragrance reminiscent of incense that grows more intense as the evening approaches. These flowers guide the gaze towards a spacious herb and culinary border, brimming with an assortment of mint, fennel, thyme and lemon verbena. They have a heady mix of herby aromatic smells that rise up as they tumble over the path and are brushed past.

The garden, being productive, is also filled with the earthy aromas of the brassicas and alliums; as the potatoes are slowly dug up in their rows, the smell can remind people of being in their own family gardens as youngsters, maybe with older relatives, the scents provoking a sense of nostalgia.

Our cut flower border is brimming with fragrance in late summer. Our beautiful lavender hedge surrounds the border with its delicate, calming scent. The lavender cuttings are collected and taken into the castle, placed on stairwells and in rooms, letting the light, fresh fragrance fill the senses.

Sweet peas are always a favourite for garden guests. We have a stunning display of varieties chosen for their distinctive delicate floral smell. Posies of sweet peas can be bought daily from our garden carts.

We must not forget the true reason for all these wonderful and differing fragrances in the garden, which is to attract pollinators to the plants. This is very apparent when passing the vibrant border and seeing the insects attracted to the Actea racemosa simplex (Atropurpurea Group), with its distinctly sweet smell coming from its impressive branching stems of bottlebrush racemes. I always make time to stop and enjoy it.

I love the garden at the end of the day when the stillness allows the space to fill with its amazing aromas. It’s a calming and restorative place.


Harrie Burney, Inner Hebrides Property Manager

Visits to Staffa are available through local tour boat operators from April–September. The journey out is as breathtaking as Staffa itself, offering stunning views of the Isle of Mull, Iona, Ulva, and on clear days, Jura, Islay, and even the Cuillins of Skye. Dolphins often join the tour boat for a spell and play in the bow wave. Minke whales, basking sharks and seals are often spotted during the journey out.

As you step off the boat onto the Staffa jetty, one of the first things you notice are the textures and patterns of the ancient basalt columns that tower above you. Smooth to the touch, the slow-cooling, hexagonal 59-million-year-old geological formations have been crafted by millions of years of erosion. The sea, weather and even ice sheets have created the unique landscape that we know and love today.

Most tours to Staffa allow an hour, providing time to enjoy both aspects of Staffa. Firstly, the basalt column marvel that is Fingal’s cave. The sun reflecting off the sea glitters off every surface inside the cave, illuminating the ceiling and the underside of the columns above you — it really is magical. Head up the steps to the grassy upper part of the island and follow the path along to the puffins. You can sit peacefully, watch the charming puffins, and enjoy the wealth of other flora and fauna. One of my favourite things about the island is how surprised visitors often are at the diversity there; it’s an incredibly special place.

Two people walk over hexagonal shaped rocks


Anna Hughes, Visitor Services Manager, Gladstone’s Land

The ice cream parlour and café at Gladstone’s Land opened in May 2021, and like every other aspect of the building and visitor experience, it pays homage to the property’s industrious and colourful history. Many early ice cream recipes were developed in Italy, and Scotland’s fledgling ice cream industry was mostly run by Italian families. In 1904, Minnie and Rosa Thomson opened a dairy on Gladstone’s Land's ground floor, which Archibald Ramage took over a few years later and ran until 1936.

Today, Gladstone’s Land showcases a selection of 16 flavours supplied by Equi’s of Hamilton. Among the most popular are Scottish tablet, which offers a true taste of Scotland, and our very special elderflower and lemon curd, which is an exclusive recipe made especially for us based on a historical recipe.

If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, you can also choose from our selection of milkshakes and sundaes. Among our favourites are the Scottish Billionaire milkshake (Isle of Skye sea salt and caramel ice cream, Crystal’s shortbread and chocolate sauce), the Cranachan sundae (raspberry sorbet, double cream vanilla ice cream, raspberries, and whisky syrup), and soon-to-return by popular demand, the Butcher (double cream vanilla ice cream, waf­fle cone, candied bacon, and whisky syrup).

Alongside our ice creams, the café also has a wonderful selection of cakes, pastries, and coffees. If you’re looking for some sweet treats with a side of history, Gladstone’s Land is the place to visit this summer!

Our Big Scottish Summer

Explore, experience and enjoy the best of Scotland this summer.

A mum, dad, boy and girl sit on the grass in a garden. The mum and dad are laughing as the children roll over each other, playing. A vibrant pink rose bed is in the background. >