With summer heading our way, and hopefully some wonderful weather to go with it, we’re taking a look at some of the best walks the NTS has to offer.
Firstly Inverewe Gardens. Perfect for a pleasant stroll through gorgeous grounds, Inverewe Garden is a special place on the North West coast of Scotland. Its unique ecosystem allows plants from all over to grow and its home to pine martens, squirrels, buzzards and if you’re lucky even an eagle. There is usually plenty of colour and enough variety to dazzle all the senses. Their Pinewood trail takes just 45 minutes and is perfect for families, plus you can stop off at the restaurant after for a quick pick me up.
Secondly, Culzean Castle and its lovely beach. A classic mixture of sand and rocks this beach lies below the stunning castle and offers a more secluded beach environment than usual. As you walk along you get great views out to sea and, to the south, the granite rock that is Ailsa Craig. You’ll also see caves dotted in the cliffs and, if you fancy, you can join a guided tour taking you into the cave chambers where you can discover tales of smugglers from years ago. http://www.nts.org.uk/Events/Culzean-Castle-and-Country-Park/Explore-Culzeans-Caves/
If you fancy something a bit more adventurous you can head to the Falls of Glomach. One of the highest waterfalls in Britain, with a drop of 113m (370ft), the Falls of Glomach are set in a steep narrow cleft in remote Highland country. The easiest walk is 2.5 miles uphill from the car park at Dorusduain but the rewarding views and atmospheric misty conditions definitely make it worth the effort. This is one of the few walks where rain is actually welcome as the runoff makes the falls even more spectacular.
Rockcliffe, on the other hand, can offer something for everyone. From mudflats to meadows, rocky shore to heather-topped granite outcrops, this area is home to a huge diversity of wildlife and a network of paths gives access to most of the area. One of the highlights is the Mote of Mark which dates back to the late 6th or 7th century AD. This defended settlement is thought to have been the citadel of one of the princes of the ancient kingdom of Rheged. Huge stone and timber ramparts surrounded a large timber hall and some smaller stables and workshops, where bronze jewellery was made. Today you can only see the remains of the ramparts but it is still an impressive site. You can also see Rough Island, a bird sanctuary, where oystercatchers like to nest and ringed plovers are also found. If you time it right you’ll also see the oystercatchers probing for cockles in the soft estuary mud when the tide is out. If that’s not enough though you may catch sight of porpoises in the water as the feed to close to shore or, if you are very lucky, even a peregrine falcon as it hunts on the mudflats and cliffs.
Finally, for more of a woodland walk, we turn to The Hermitage. Here you can follow in the footsteps of notable visitors of the past including Wordsworth, Queen Victoria, Mendelssohn and Turner. The area takes you through spectacular Douglas firs, including one of the tallest trees in the country, and then on to a lovely little folly called Ossian’s Hall which sits overlooking the Black Linn waterfall. With summers long hours if you visit in the evening there is also a chance of seeing bats flying over the river or perching in the trees and you can often here the calls of a tawny owl of two.
Hopefully these walks have tempted you to head out on an adventure. As always please like, tweet, comment, share and keep your fingers crossed for some sunshine.
This week we were chatting and I ended up mentioning one of the staircases at Brodie Castle which I use to takes tours in. Anyway, one thing lead to another and we thought it might just make a good blog to showcase some of the staircases at National Trust for Scotland properties.
So, first and foremost the Brodie Castle staircase it began with. Whilst at Brodie I used to be a tour guide and took people around the castle which was great fun. And, whilst I loved the rooms and the history, it was the sprial staircase that always made me smile and make me feel like an excited child for getting to climb up it.
Brodie Castle, is not really a castle but is in fact a tower house which originally followed the classic Z-plan house design. This meant there were two tower in diagonal corners and the way up these towers was, as you may have guessed, a small spiral staircase. One staircase has since been removed but the other one still lives on and is accessible to guest as you make your way from the Red Drawing Room up to the Gallery. It’s the perfect small space that makes you feel that little bit devilish for going up it and adds that little thrill to the experience.
Meanwhile, Fyvie Castle has a slightly larger version. Considered one of the finest stone-wheel staircases in Scotland Fyvie’s staircase was built by the First Earl of Dunfermline and is an impressive ten feet wide. There other examples around including Glamis Castle but unlike theres Fyvies central post is not hollow but a solid cylinder. The staircases goes up three floors and is again fully accessible. If you’re good you’ll also notice pits in the stairs where it is said some rather drunken men rode their horses up the stairs.
If you ever get a chance to see these staircases or indeed most old spiral stairs you may notice that most will tend to put your right hand side in the centre as you ascend and on the outside of the stairs as you descend. This was actually done for tactical reason in the times when enemies were a concern. Any enemies coming up the stairs would find their right had, traditionally their sword hand confined and therefore they would be unable to wield their weapon. Those coming down to protect the castle would however be free to move their right hand and attack any men approaching from below. Very convenient.
If these staircases are a little far north for you have no fear; just a few miles outside of Glasgow there is the little gem of Holmwood House. The National Trust for Scotland managed to save the property from development plans in 1994 and is a prime example of conservation in action with restoration of the villa ongoing so there is always something new to see. This unique house has been described as Alexander ‘Greek’ Thomson’s finest domestic design and its staircase is gorgeous. Known as the star staircase the stairs are lined with beautiful mahogany carved bannisters before culminating under a magnificent cupola.
And finally we couldn’t make this list without input from the stunning Culzean Castle. The castle is a great example of high-clas 18th Century living and the main staircase is no exception. A Robert Adam masterpiece, the Oval Staircase lies at the heart of Culzean Castle. It is famous for its soaring colonnades, grand oil paintings and dramatic carpet. And of course the glass cupola above which floods light into the space below. It’s so glamorous you can even get married on the staircase.
So, that’s our top picks for staircases, hopefully you’ve enjoyed it and as always please tweet, like, comment, share and try not to get to worn out thinking of climbing all those stairs.
Last weekend on the 23rd August I joined our Property Manager Andrew on his attempt to cycle around 10 National Trust properties in one day. Suffice to say I was not cycling, instead I was in the support car and over the course of ten hours we managed to cover nine properties and over 155 miles!
Once the sun came up, a mere five hours into the ride, the day was gorgeous from the car with brilliant sunshine but on the bike the relentless winds and afternoon heat were a little more challenging. Now, I can’t comment on the ride because firstly I didn’t actually do it and secondly I am not a cyclist and therefore would talk about nothing remotely technical or interesting to any cyclists. So, instead I decided this week to write a blog about the places we visited.
The great thing about the National Trust for Scotland is the variety of places it looks after. Some people think the NTS is all about castles, but this is totally wrong. Our trip took us to a garden, two mountain areas, a cottage, one countryside estate, an island, a towering gorge, a battlefield and yes a castle, but one is allowed.
We started at Kintail which is spectacular. It hosts the Five Sisters – a mountain ridge incorporating three Munros – and the Falls of Glomach, Britain’s second-highest waterfall, as well as lochs, glens and coastline. It also has two Scheduled Ancient Monuments: the site of the 1719 Battle of Glen Shiel, and Cill Fhearchair, a 2,000-year-old standing stone and burial ground. All very impressive, unfortunately, when we arrived it was midnight and pitch black so all we saw was a vague outline of the mountains around us. We did however take photos with the bikes with the flash on and laughed about the reaction we would get if anyone came across our strange group and at how crazy we all must be.
Just down the road from Kintail we headed through Blamacara Estate which is a traditional Highland crofting estate and covers some 2,550 hectares. There are 84 registered crofts on the estate, using traditional crofting agricultural methods such as rotational cropping and cattle rearing which are directly supported by the Trust through its Traditional Croft Management Scheme. The towns of Drumbuie, Duirinish and Plockton are exceptional examples of traditional croft management and if you get the chance you should definitely stop and talk a wadner along some of the woodland walks. Whilst we didn’t stop we certainly enjoyed the drive. With the cool night air speeding us along and very few cars to get in the way we were able to enjoy the winding roads without the normal worry of encountering the dreaded motorhome coming the other way.
As I said we did hit one castle and this was Strome Castle. I have to admit before this ride I had never been to Strome, terrible I know, but I am really glad I got the chance. Its one of the NTS’s little gems and sits on a little promentary jutting out into Loch Carron making it a beautiful little viewpoint. From here we also visited Sheildaig to cycle past Sheilaig Island. Another little gem the island is almost entirely covered in Scots pine, thought to have been planted over 100 years ago to provide poles for drying the nets of local fishermen.
Finally as the sun began to rise we hit Torridon. This place is gorgeous and offers some of Scotlands finest mountain scenery. Five of the Trust’s 46 munros can be found at Torridon and the site is a magnet for walkers. At this point I feel I should apologise for using so many adjectives but we are really lucky in the Highlands to have adjective worthy scenery everywhere so whilst it may sound like I’m just saying everything is amazing for the sake of it, I’m not, it truly is a beautiful landscape with every corner giving you new and exciting scenery. Driving through as the sun rose was a special way to see the area, even though it was still a bit cloudy, and I think we were all pleased to have the daylight to guide us on towards Inverewe as the winds began to pick up.
Inverewe Gardens is a unique place. Despite the northerly latitude the area is full of colourful and exotic plants. Thanks to the warm currents of the Gulf Stream and the foresight of Osgood Mackenzie, who planted over 100 acres of woodland to shelter the area the garden can grow species of plants from across the world. This was our first major stop of the day so that we could stretch our legs and have some breakfast, which felt very strange considering we had already been awake for hours. Also fun was providing a slip stream for Andrew. I like to think we were really important and also very good at not running Andrew over, though that’s probably because it wasn’t me driving.
From Inverewe it was a big push to Corrieshalloch Gorge. With the traffic picking up and the wind against us all the way it was a struggle to stick with Andrew but what was great was all the encouragement we got along the way. Everyone we spoke to was keen to hear about our crazy challenge and were wishing us luck in reaching Culloden to finish the day. We didn’t actually stop at Corrieshalloch, mainly because from the road you don’t get to see all that much. Instead you have to walk out, preferably onto the suspension bridge, to get a true view of the largest waterfall, the Falls of Measach, as they drop 46m drop the slot gorge.
Our last stop before Culloden was Hugh Millers Birthplace on the Black Isle. This small cottage tucked into the streets of Cromarty celebrates the life of Hugh Miller – a 19th century geologist, writer and social commentator. Here the sun picked up which made for glorious views across the isle and made you wish for an ice cream to cool down, even for those of us not cycling.
I wish I could say we then cycled to Culloden but with the wind still pushing us backwards and the heat reaching 31 degrees we had to admit defeat. It was five o’clock and in ten hours Andrew had cycled over 155 miles. Safe to say it was a massive achievement and even if it wasn’t quite what we had aimed for I think everyone was amazed we’d managed to get as far as we had in one day. So, since we had to finish at Culloden we all got in the car and drove the last little bit to be met by our colleagues who were impressed we were still awake and forming coherent sentences.
Overall the day was great fun and utterly exhausting! Whilst a great effort by Andrew that served to raise money for all the properties we visited the day also highlighted the amazing work the National Trust for Scotland does. I think sometimes people forget that it is a charity and as such only runs because of the amazing generosity of our visitors. As the third largest land owner in Scotland the Trust has a lot of ground to care for but it’s is worth it when you get to see the spectacular scenery that they protect.
Hopefully this little blog has inspired you to see more of the NTS world and as always please like, follow, share, comment, tweet and help Andrew raise even more money by donating at https://www.justgiving.com/TourDeTrust2015/