Coco is an Edinburgh chocolatier producing high quality luxury bars. I was particularly interested to try this bar because of its use of sea salt from the Isle of Skye.
Opening this chocolate bar is like unwrapping a Christmas present. The outer layer is beautiful paper that has the illustration of choppy waves inlaid. It is almost too beautiful to rip open. The next layer is a crispy wrapper. The whole experience of getting inside this bar screams 'luxury'.
The squares of chocolate are very small and delicate, another sign of luxury and quality. The overwhelming taste is of dark chocolate with a gentle crunch from the hazelnuts. The nuts have been chopped very finely, rather than being chunks or whole nuts, so they are quite discreet.
The sea salt taste is also discreet, just a tinkle on my tongue at the end of each bite. I think I would have preferred the salt to be a little more prominent, particularly as the bar is championing a unique Scottish product. On the Coco website it states 'flakes of Sea Salt gathered around the pristine waters of the Isle of Skye.' What a wonderful image this conjures.
This is delicious chocolate and worth seeking out during your travels in Edinburgh and Scotland. It is a luxury product with a price point of almost £5 per bar, so don't eat it all at once!
Coco has shops in the Bruntsfield and Stockbridge areas of Edinburgh. Their chocolate can also be bought from several retail outlets across Scotland. These are listed on their website and you can also buy the product online.
This 24 mile cycle trip takes you from Elgin to Duffus Castle in Moray. The castle's collapsed tower gives it a unique look and makes it an exciting place to explore. Along the way there is the opportunity to sniff out some whisky and reach the shores of the North Sea.
Highlights of this Cycle Route:
Take a Train to Elgin
Journey time is around 40 minutes from Inverness, around 1 hour 30 minutes from Aberdeen and up to 4 hours and 30 minutes from Edinburgh or Glasgow. There is a map at the bottom of this blog that shows the cycle route.
A Whisky Miniature
Glen Moray whisky distillery is slightly over 1 mile away from Elgin train station, so you might as well take a look.
You cycle through the suburbs of Elgin on roads that are fairly quiet. It does not feel like somewhere you would come across a distillery, but there it sits, on a narrow patch of land with a modern housing estate on one side and hills and fields on the other side. I tell you what, I wouldn't mind living in one of those houses and getting to smell that sweet malt everyday.
It is the scent of the spirit steaming out of the distillery chimneys that will mark your arrival here. I delighted in breathing it in.
I have been on several distillery tours and they can be similar, so I did not do the Glen Moray tour. There is, of course, a shop and I purchased a miniature bottle to enjoy later.
Scotland's distilleries can be beautiful buildings, but Glen Moray has more of an industrial look. It is not one of the prettiest to look at, but I liked the stone buildings and the the blue painted arched doorway.
Road to Burghead
It is about 9 miles from Glen Moray to Burghead where the scenery is a mixture of farming lands and forests.
During my ride the weather turned nasty for a while. Hail stones pattered on my helmet and onto the fence posts of the fields. The stones hit the side of my face and made it painful and numb with the cold. It was almost unbearable and I felt like screaming. I held up my gloved hand to shield my face.
As I entered Burghead a wheelie bin blew down in front of me. The streets were littered with fallen down wheelie bins. The sea was choppy and I took shelter in the visitor centre.
I learned that Burghead was once the site of a great Pictish fort from the 5th century. Stones with an intricately carved bull were found at the site and two of these can be seen in the visitor centre. The bull carving has become a symbol of Burghead and it features on the welcome sign into the village.
Watching the Body-snatchers
I took the B9012 coastal road and had glimpses of sea through rows of houses. The freezing hail and gales was now replaced by bright sunshine. The fact that you can get such different conditions in a single day is one of those things about Scotland that never ceases to amaze me. It just goes to show that even if the clouds look threatening it is still worth getting out on your bike because there might just be sunshine around the corner.
I took a right turn to Duffus and on to the idyllic St. Peter' Kirk. A burst of blue and white crocuses beautifully framed the ruined church.
A church has been in this place since 1190, built around the same time as the nearby Duffus Castle.
There are some interesting things to discover here. One is a medieval mercat cross from a time when markets were held in this churchyard. I had a look at the gravestones where many are carved with the symbols of mortality, like skulls and crossbones. Reading the stones I noticed that farming is the most prominent profession, although I found one that was a military auditor in Calcutta.
There is a watch house in the churchyard. This would have accommodated a guard who prevented body-snatchers from stealing freshly buried corpses to sell to medical schools. It was a common problem in Scotland and there are many surviving watch houses across the country. This one has a stone inscription with 'Watch House 1830'.
Although St. Peter's is a very peaceful place there was a constant deafening sound of passing military jets. This is from nearby RAF Lossiemouth. It is a sound that you will have to get used to when cycling in this part of Scotland.
The Falling Down Castle
This is an extraordinary-looking castle. With its fallen tower it appears that it must have come under attack. I wondered if it had been hit by canon balls and collapsed hundreds of years ago. I was looking for tales of a great battle.
The reality is that there was no battle and the tower simply collapsed through subsidence.
The castle is surrounded by a moat and sits on a mound so you must walk uphill to get inside.
The very first castle on this site was made of wood in 1150 by a Flemish man called Freskin. He was granted land by King David I as reward for his loyalty. In return Freskin was expected to maintain order, in the name of the King, in this part of Scotland. The construction of the castle was to aid Freskin in this mission. In later year the castle was replace with the stone version, but this act of building on top of an old structure is what made the ground unstable and caused the collapse of the tower.
During my visit there was only one other person at the castle. He was using the extensive grass lawns to train a collie.
To return to Elgin it is a 6 mile cycle on a minor road.
The Cycle Route
This is a 24 mile round trip on a mixture of B-roads and minor road. Traffic volume is not heavy and there are no major hills. When you are travelling from the distillery to Burghead you must cross the A96, which can be a busy road. You are only on it for a short distance and there is a pavement, so there is always the option to walk along the pavement.
The world-famous Edinburgh Castle is not the only castle in the city. There is another one, less well-known and without the crowds. Craigmillar Castle is only 3 miles from the centre of Edinburgh, but feels like you are deep within the countryside because it is surrounded by extensive parkland that was once royal hunting grounds. The castle is great fun to explore with a network of staircases and nooks and crannies. Make sure to get onto the rooftop where the views are among the best in the city. It is easy to reach the castle by bicycle.
How to get to the castle
Follow the cycle route from Edinburgh to Musselburgh on my blog. This has directions and a map. At the point where the route crosses Duddingston Road West you turn right onto this road and continue straight on for 1 mile to reach the castle.
The road's name changes to Craigmillar Castle Road and goes through a housing estate. Just at the end of the housing estate there is a cycle path that heads into Craigmillar Castle Park, so that you can avoid the rest of the road. The road is not heavy with traffic, but it can get busy at the junction with Peffermill Road.
Patch of Countryside in the city
The location of the castle is incredible. It is surrounded by parkland that creates the impression of being in a rural location, certainly not within a city.
You will find an information board with a map of Craigmillar Castle Park showing just how extensive it is. The map has a picture of a kestrel and a rabbit, creatures that you can spot in this park. If you want to feel that you have left the city for some tranquility and countryside you don't have to go far.
It is worth walking around the outside of the castle as this provides the best views of the structure and allows you to appreciate the surprisingly large amount of parkland in this city location.
The castle can be dated to the early 1400s with the building of a tower house by the Preston family. One of the most interesting items in the castle grounds is the remains of an ornamental pond in the shape of a 'P', believed to stand for Preston. The ultimate status symbol. It once had two islands in the loop of the 'P' that were planted with hawthorn trees.
When Mary Queen of Scots stayed at the castle she would have spent time in the gardens around the pond, enjoying her hobbies of archery, horse riding and hawking.
The way into the castle is through a doorway in the outer wall which takes you to a large grass lawn that leads up to the impressive bulk of the curtain wall with its towers. Aim for the arched doorway and this will take you into the inner courtyard.
The inner courtyard is a wonderful place to walk into because of the yew trees growing there. They come as a bit of a surprise among all this stone. Sun makes the leaves golden and songbirds bring music to this tranquil space.
In such peaceful surroundings it is difficult to believe that a murder was once planned in this castle. The 'Craigmillar Bond' was a plot to kill the husband, Lord Darnley, of Mary Queen of Scots. It was signed at the castle in 1566.
Where to go to next?
There are several doorways leading off the courtyard. Choose your door and enjoy exploring.
There are so many nooks and crannies to discover. In most of the rooms you will find not just one, but several doorways from which to choose from. It takes a while to cover all of the routes and make sure that you have seen everything.
In many of Scotland's castles there is only one single direction you can go and not many rooms to see, but Craigmillar is an exception. This makes it one of the best castles to visit in Scotland.
Some of the rooms have magnificent fireplaces that are a clear indication of the wealth that was once on display in this castle. The quality of the decorative stone carving at these fireplaces is particularly impressive.
Although the rooms of the castle are now bare and empty they would have looked very different in their heyday. Instead of bare stone walls the place would be alive with colour in the form of wall-hung tapestries and painted ceilings.
The highlight of the castle is the view from the top. Edinburgh is famous for its beautiful skyline and there are many viewpoints to see it from. Craigmillar Castle is one of the best. You can see all of the city landmarks and out to the waters of the Firth of Forth.
After you have finished with the view come back down and walk around the outside of the curtain wall where you can get close up views of the towers.
There is also a fascinating little device that was used to capture rain water for the castle's occupants- a simple overhanging stone well on the outside of the wall.
Craigmillar Castle is a great place to spend a few hours. With it being so close to the centre of Edinburgh it would be a shame to miss it. It is cheaper than Edinburgh Castle, less crowded and the views just as good.
Why not include a visit to the castle as part of a cycle ride to Musselburgh?
The castle can be reached via a one mile detour from the Edinburgh to Musselburgh cycle path. The cycle path is mainly traffic-free and follows an old railway line, the Innocent Railway, for much of the way.
Read more about this cycle route
Have you ever wondered what it is like to be a cycle courier? This book provides a fascinating and highly readable insight into the life of a cycle courier.
Emily Chappell tells the story of how she became a London cycle courier and exactly what it is like to do this kind of work. On her first weeks on the job she had to get to grips with finding her way around the complicated streets of London and the equally complicated process of finding her way inside office buildings to collect and deliver packages. This was something she had to work out for herself- there was nobody to teach her and there was no training manual.
If you thought that being a bicycle courier is a dream job then you may just change your mind after reading Chappell's account of her first winter:
"The first shock of cold is the hardest, and then, as long as you keep moving, you're okay for a while. Then you start to notice how the chill has crept into your bones and muscles, slowing you down, blurring your coordination and your judgement, making you clumsy and stupid."
Chappell is completely honest about her life as a courier and although she loves the job she is upfront about the downsides. Constant exhaustion goes with the territory as does sweat, dirt and pollution. In fact, there are almost 3 pages devoted to the subject of sweating. The author tells of several shocking road rage incidents where she was subject to truly horrible aggression from drivers and pedestrians. These incidents left her feeling shaken to the point of tears.
There are also wonderful things about this job, including the courier 'scene' with its camaraderie and cast of characters that populate the pages of the book. The buzz of negotiating heavy traffic and having to take risks is a major draw for couriers. The book is also a love story to London, particularly the hidden corners that few people know of. Couriering brings Chappell into secret gardens and courtyards where she can rest between jobs in peace and quiet. It is an intimate portrait of London, as seen from a bicycle saddle.
This book is very well written, sometimes beautiful, and anybody who loves cycling will enjoy this.
You can buy it from Amazon by clicking on the image below:
Glen Esk is a beautiful place of mountains, forest, wildlife, peace and fantastic cycling and walking opportunities. It is located in the Angus region of Scotland, around 40 miles south of Aberdeen.
This is why you must visit this special place:
1. Mountain Scenery
Glen Esk is at the foot of the Cairngorms National Park so everywhere you look there is a vista of lush green Scottish mountains.
2. A beautiful road into the glen
A 16 mile single-track road from the town of Edzell is the only way into and out of the glen. The road has very low volumes of traffic and is glorious for cycling.
3. Queen's Well Walk
It is the strangest thing to see this crown shaped monument, with nothing but hills and sheep in the vicinity. It was built by local people to commemorate a visit by Queen Victoria. You can reach it on a spectacular walk where purple Heather blooms in the summer months.
4. The Three Churches
For such a remote area with a low population it is quite amazing to find three churches in Glen Esk. All of them have their doors open so you can look inside and enjoy their tranquility, Maul Memorial Church is substantial with a tower, stained glass and high ceiling. Lochlee Church is tiny. In the yard there is an unusual gravestone, shaped like an anvil, that was created for the village blacksmith who had lived to the age of 90.
5. Glen Esk Folk Museum
This museum has a giant willow sculpture of a stag on the lawn. There is a collection of artefacts, costumes and reconstructions of what Glen Esk houses were like in the 1850s. This is the place to learn about the people of the glen and what their lives were like. There is also a cafe with excellent home baking.
6. Blue Door Walk
Open up the blue door and on the other side there is a special world of forest paths, rock pools and a fast flowing stream. It is a real life secret garden! The water is incredibly clear, providing a flawless view to the river's floor of pebbles.
7. Loch Lee
Loch Lee is located at the very end of the Glen Esk road. It is completely enclosed by mountains so has a feeling of great remoteness. There is a rough track along the shore which is great fun to cycle.
8. Invermark Castle
Also at the end of the road is Glen Esk's castle. It is a ruin and you cannot go inside, but looks great, so is ideal for your very own Scottish castle postcard photo.
9. Wildlife Spotting
Glen Esk is teeming with wildlife. There is a good chance of spotting a Golden Eagle, deer and red squirrels. One of the best viewing spots for squirrels is from the dining room window of the House of Mark guesthouse.
10. Stay in the House at the end of the Glen
House of Mark is the only accommodation in the glen. There are no hotels, pubs or shops. This makes it a unique and peaceful place to stay overnight. The interior has been kept true to its Georgian roots making you feel like you have gone back to a simpler and more elegant time. There are special touches like rooms scented of smoke from the fireplaces and a dinner table set with crystal glasses and white napkins. There are no televisions, but conversation with fellow guests and the hosts is much more entertaining.
Read my review of House of Mark
Getting to Glen Esk
It is about 30 miles from Montrose to the end of Glen Esk. If you travel from Laurencekirk the distance is around 23 miles. There are train stations at Montrose and Laurencekirk.
For more details about cycling to Glen Esk read my travel feature.
Try a beer from Scotland's oldest working brewery. Belhaven is located in Dunbar, a town, 20 miles from Edinburgh. St Andrew's Amber is inspired by the game of golf and has gorgeous fruity and malt tastes.
This goes down so well. There is a nice carbonation with a subtle fruity and malt taste. These are not strong flavours, but really delicious. It is definitely a thirst quencher, as claimed on the rear label.
This ale has a lovely amber colour. The colour really stands out on a supermarket shelf against other beers and it is good that the bottle label allows you to see this colour.
The label states that the ale is inspired by the game of golf and there is picture of a golfer with a mustache swinging a club. The design is perhaps a bit old fashioned when compared to the current funky design trend of other producers, but I like it. And it is what is inside that counts and this is a great tasting ale and one of my favorites.
Belhaven was established in 1719. It is Scotland's oldest working brewery. It is located in the East Lothian town of Dunbar. They offer brewery tours and have an extensive range of beers that are widely available across Scotland. In particular, Belhaven Best is Scotland's best-selling ale and you will find it on tap in most pubs.
Lochs are one of most famous scenic features of Scotland. Whether it is Loch Ness, Loch Lomond or Loch Tay these mesmerising places are a must-see on any itinerary. This coffee table book will inspire your travels to these lochs with its fine photography and engaging text that explores the history, nature and outdoor pursuits that you can discover at these lochs.
This is a beautifully presented book with large photographs of breathtaking scenery on every page. It is a large book that will sit nicely on a coffee table.
The book contains over 30 lochs and explores their history, wildlife and myths and legends. It will come as no surprise that monsters get a few mentions!
Each chapter begins with a map showing the location of the loch and providing statistics about its length, depth, water volume and so on.
The author provides information about walking and cycling opportunities at each loch, so the book makes a good companion to help you to plan cycling trips to these lochs. There are also details about waters sports, angling and boat hiring.
The text is engaging and you are sure to learn lots of new things about Scotland's lochs and perhaps even discover lochs that you have never heard of.
The photography that is splashed on each page makes the book a joy to leaf through and it easily inspires you to visit these places.
You can buy the book from Amazon by clicking on the image link:
At Inveresk Lodge Gardens you will enter a haven, an escape from the city, a place to sit and clear your head. As soon as you walk through the entrance gate your nose will be delighted by the sweet scents of flowers, plants and herbs. There are immaculate lawns, staircases and pathways to lead you through this gorgeous place. It is only an 8 mile cycle from Edinburgh.
To get here by bicycle follow my Edinburgh to Musselburgh route guide. When you reach the path alongside the River Esk continue along this until you see a passageway on the right hand side that leads uphill on gravel. It is probably a good idea to push the bike up most of this because it is quite steep and the gravel difficult to get a grip on.
At the top you turn right onto a road that goes through the village of Inveresk. You will be immediately struck by the grandness of some of the properties, some in bright colour tones. It feels like a lovely place to live.
It is only about one minute of cycling through the village before you spot the sign for the gardens, which are located on the right.
Inside the entrance there are some handy bike racks, so you can park up before heading through the gate into the garden.
The first thing you will see is an immaculate lawn with perfect vertical stripes. It makes you think that someone bent down with a pair of scissors to get it looking this good. Facing this is the house, Inveresk Lodge, built in 1683. This white house is not open to the public, but interesting to note that its first owner was Sir Richard Colt, Solicitor-General to King Charles II. I took a peek through a window and could see a grand wood paneled room with an antique rocking horse.
Adjacent to the house there is an Edwardian conservatory where you can step inside and have a look at the potted plants and enjoy the wonderful aromas. There is also information panels that explain the history of the gardens.
Leaving the conservatory you will find a terraced walkway that is crammed with a variety of colourful flowers and plants. This is a joy to stroll along. From up here there are impressive views of the distant Pentland Hills. It is almost unbelievable that you are just a short distance from built-up urban areas. You are reminded of this by the background din from traffic on the A1 road, but the bird song triumphs over this.
As you wander around you will come across many interesting features like the sundial at the centre of the garden, dating back to 1644. There is a water feature with a gentle trickle, a decorative urn and a wooden staircase leading you through thick foliage.
There are plenty of benches dotted around the gardens, so lots of opportunities to have seat a take a few moments to appreciate the surroundings.
The lower garden consists of a large meadow and a pond, bordered by woodland. The singing from blackbirds, wrens and thrushes is particularly prominent in this area.
My video gives an excellent impression of what you can expect on a visit to these gardens:
How to get there
Start in the Meadows in Edinburgh and follow the National Cycle Route One signs. A full description of the route can be found in my Edinburgh to Musselburgh route guide.
Follow the route until you reach the wooded path by the River Esk. Turn left along this path and look out for the uphill gravel path on the right-hand side. This will take you up to the village of Inveresk. If you don't fancy cycling back you can use the train station at Musselburgh.
House of Mark is a unique and unforgettable guest house experience. This is because of a spectacular location at the end of a 16 mile single-track road, friendly hosts and a house full of character that makes you feel like you have gone back to a different era.
House of Mark is the only accommodation in Glen Esk, a glen on the edge of the Cairngorms National Park. It is located 16 miles from the village of Edzell. This road is perfect for cycling and the views of hills and mountains completely stunning. The house is close to a ruined castle and a loch. For tranquility the location is hard to beat. There are no shops, no pubs and no traffic.
The interior has been kept true to its Georgian roots with fittings and furnishings appropriate to that era. Original wooden floors and a minimal decor of traditional furniture make you feel like you have gone back to a simpler and more elegant time. The crispest of white sheets and a thick duvet makes sleep come easy after a day in the fresh air.
A cooked Scottish breakfast includes bacon from House of Mark pigs and eggs from the guinea fowl that live in the garden. You can make an advanced booking for dinner, which is a good idea because the food is excellent. I was served duck legs in a sweet red wine sauce with braised cabbage followed by a gorgeous lemon and orange cake.
There are special touches like rooms scented of smoke from the fireplaces and a dinner table set with crystal glasses and white napkins. After dinner you can retire to the lounge for coffee and sink into a leather armchair in front of the fireplace. There are no televisions, but conversation with fellow guests and the host, Ian, who has led a colourful life, is much more entertaining.
During breakfast I watched red squirrels feasting at a bird feeder. The area is rich in wildlife such as red deer, mountain hares, and golden eagles.
House of Mark is a great base for the spectacular walking in the glen. The Queen's Well walk takes slightly over one hour return. A path lined with purple Heather and framed by mountains leads to a stone well that was constructed by locals to mark the occasion of a visit by Queen Victoria.
Born in the Borders Brewery was founded in 2011. It is part of a food and drink company that champions the produce of the Scottish Borders. They have several outlets across the region where you can go shopping or enjoy a drink in a cafe or a pub. Foxy Blonde is a straightforward golden ale that is refreshing and balanced.
The big selling point of this brewery is that they are the only microbrewery in Scotland to grow their own barley and make beer from it. Foxy Blonde is easy to drink with citrus flavours, some sweetness and a bit of malt and bitterness coming through. There is no single dominate flavour which makes it a good one for new beer drinkers and anybody who just wants a straightforward and refreshing beer. This does mean that it is not a distinctive taste and you may find it to be similar to many golden ales on the market.
If you are looking for a beer to have after your cycling ride in the Scottish Borders then this is definitely one to try.
On a sunny day a walk in these gardens will make you feel like you are in the grounds of a French Chateau. They are breathtaking and easily reached by cycling 10 miles from Gleneagles station. Read on to find out more...
Highlights of this route:
Begin at Gleneagles station
This route begins at Gleneagles station which was beautifully restored in 2014. You can read more about it in this blog.
3.5 miles from Gleneagles station you come to a chapel that was built by one of the wealthiest families in Scotland. The Murray's founded Tullibardine chapel around 1446 as a place of private worship and burial. In those days it would have been richly decorated, but today you find a building that is rather austere.
Originally the interior was divided in two by a screen. One one side, the priests conducted their services and the public stayed on the other side.
Some interesting things remain, such as the roof beams, fine stone construction and carvings. One of the carvings has a skull and hourglass- a reminder of death, meant to encourage people to live good lives and not sin.
The outside of the chapel is a cheerier place. On my visit trees rustled in a gentle wind and in the fields there was an occasional cow feasting on grass
5.5 miles of cycling on a minor road brought me to the pretty village of Muthill. I loved the community garden with the children's wellington boots filled with flowers
The Post Office and village store is equally resplendent in floral decorations and has antlers above the door.
There is a ruined church and bell tower in the village. In the 1100s a monastic community, called the Culdees, once lived here. There is not much to see, but it is a pleasant site to walk around and admire the substantial stone construction.
To the Castle
From Muthill it is only 2 miles to Drummond Castle Gardens. A small part of this is on the A822, which can have fast moving traffic. but during my visit vehicles were infrequent.
The castle entrance is by means of a long, narrow, uphill driveway. It is a bit of a slog and felt like it went on forever and ever.
"Where is this castle!" I said this to myself many times.
On the plus side it is a really beautiful road, tree-lined, peaceful and filled with birdsong. It is worth pulling over for a rest so that you can enjoy this magical stretch of tarmac.
Tickets and Ice Cream
Ticket purchase takes place in the imposing castle gatehouse. They also sell ice cream from local producer, Stewart Tower Dairy. I thoroughly enjoyed my small tub of chocolate and hazelnut flavour, which hit the spot after climbing up that driveway.
Once you come out of the gatehouse the first sight of the gardens is incredible. There are many turning a corner moments in Scotland that make you go 'wow' and this is one of them.
Everything is so neat. The layout of the hedges, trees and flowers is sheer perfection. It makes you want to get down there and explore.
You can walk down the grand stairs, passing statues, to walk the paths and take a closer look at the flowers and decorative hedges.
From the gardens there are fine views of the castle. You cannot visit the castle as it is still the home of a Baroness. The window blinds were down, so it was not even possible to have a peek inside.
I discovered greenhouses with tomatoes and peppers grown for the castle kitchen.
My favourite thing here, by far, is the mushroom shaped tree. There is a bench underneath it and that makes it one of the best seats I have ever come across.
Considering that it was a warm sunny day I knew exactly where I was going next. Less than 5 miles down the road is the rooftop terrace cafe of The Famous Grouse whisky distillery. It is an excellent place for a refreshment. In particular, a bottle of Ginger Grouse, a ginger beer with a nip of The Famous Grouse whisky. It is fizzy, sweet, zingy and ideal to quench your thirst. The sound of the gently flowing Barvick Burn is pretty much the only sound from this terrace.
"Honour and duty were the guiding stars of his destiny: Piety and charity the leading characteristics of his mind. He felt no jealousies. He harboured no resentments." Part of the inscription on The Baird Monument
On my road atlas I spotted something intriguing- The Baird Monument. This is my surname, so I had to see what this was all about. General Sir David Baird appeared to be perfect in every possible way from the glowing description on the side of the monument. It is written with typical Victorian gusto and this makes it all the more bizarre to find it in this location.
To get there I walked through forest and ferns. The trees were layered in moss and I rubbed my palms across it. It felt like a rough carpet or a sponge. Even though the monument is on a hilltop there was no view because the trees were so tall and thick. Scottish nature was taking over and it all seemed at odds with a military man used to campaigns in India and Egypt.
The monument is incredible, not only for the inscription, but the impressive height and size of the stone blocks. Gone are those days when grieving widows built such structures in remote countryside.
It was only 3.5 miles to get to the monument from the distillery, although I had to use the A85 for some of this journey and this is a road of fast moving traffic.
I parked my bicycle next to a pretty little cottage. I wondered if it had once housed a caretaker for the monument. On a patch of grass opposite the cottage there was a couple having a picnic lunch.
"Don't suppose you have a spare bicycle wheel?" The man with the ginger beard asked.
He explained his predicament. They had a cart with bicycle wheels that contained all of their belongings. They pulled this cart along old drover's trails, but one of the wheels ended up bent. He said that they were part of a travelling circus and walked with their cart across Perthshire to perform shows.
They did not seem too concerned about the broken wheel, "We'll just knock on the door of every house that we pass and ask if they have a spare wheel."
The road that I took to make my way back to Gleneagles station is the kind of thing that keeps cyclists awake at night. When I want to think about my next cycling trip it is likely to be a place like this that I imagine. A place of dense forest, moss covered stone walls and fern jungles. It smelt green and earthy. Give this place a few months of neglect and nature would reclaim the narrow road.
There was nobody else using this route and I felt that I had come across a secret world. Whilst everybody else was driving on the nearby A-roads I was here, on my own, in silence. It does not get much better than this.
There is some steep climbing required, but the reward you get is the stunning views of the hills.
I spotted a deer on this road. You can just about make it out in the picture below:
Further along this road there is a great view over the Loch of Balloch, a small oval shaped loch that is fringed by trees. Stick to these quiet roads and they will take you back to Muthill from where you can retrace your steps to Gleneagles station.
Trains to Gleneagles are infrequent and a bicycle reservation is sometimes required, so this cycle route requires a bit of advanced planning.
This route is around 33 miles in total. It is mainly on quite roads with negligible vehicle traffic, although there are some sections on A-roads. The A822 has to be used to reach Drummond Castle and Gardens, but I did not find the traffic volume to be concerning.
I would not recommend using the A85 unless you are very comfortable cycling with fast moving traffic. I did use it, because I was short on time, to reach The Baird Monument. It can be avoided using quieter roads that run parallel to the A85.
Ossian and Lia Fail are two great tasting beers from Inveralmond Brewery. Both are supremely refreshing and well balanced. The bottle labels have beautiful artwork with Scottish scenery. A great Scottish product to get your hands on.
Inveralmond Brewery is located in Perth and began production in 1997. The brewery has a great reputation and you will find their drinks on tap in many pubs across the country. The beers are also widely available in supermarkets.
When I saw the artwork on the bottle labels it immediately reminded me of vintage railway posters. And this is exactly what inspired the artist, Peter McDermott, from the Isle of Skye. They are beautiful scenes of mountains and lochs that will remind you of your travels in Scotland.
On the rear of the label there is a lyrical description of what the beer will taste like and an explanation behind the name of the beer. Ossian was a Scottish poet and Lia Fail means 'stone of destiny', the coronation stone of the kings of Scotland.
Ossian has a nutty and fruity taste. This makes it refreshing and pleasurable. It is smooth and well balanced, not too malty and not too bitter. This will give it a broad appeal as there is no single flavour that stands out, but this does not make it a boring drink. Far from it. I loved it
Lia Fail is also really refreshing, especially ice cold from the freezer which I did for my bottle. It has a malty taste, but is not overpowering and is just the right amount. This taste lingers nicely on the tongue and keeps you coming back for more. Just like Ossian it is well balanced and will have a broad appeal, but if you aren't so keen on malt then go for Ossian.
Next time you are in Perth or in the Perthshire countryside try to seek out one of these delicious beers.
This book inspired me to get out on my bike and explore Scotland. It opened up a world of cycling adventures by showing how easy it is to plan day trips using train and bicycle. This is the book that got me hooked on travelling around Scotland on a bicycle and I cannot recommend it enough.
Before I bought this book I only ventured out on the Forth and Clyde canal path as it was my nearest traffic-free cycle route. It never crossed my mind that it could be possible to take my bike on the train to access a whole raft of cycling day trips. I was nervous about doing that, but this book gave me the confidence to give it a try. I haven't looked back since.
The book has 40 routes in central Scotland. Most can be done as day trips from Glasgow or Edinburgh and all can be reached by train.
The book is pocket sized so ideal to carry with you on bike trips. Each route guide has the same simple format that opens with a great photo of something you will see along the route, information about the distance, terrain and how much time the ride will take. There is an easy to follow map and a route description that gives precise directions.
The route description also tells you what there is to see in the area. This really captured my imagination and showed me the possibilities of cycle touring- that a bicycle can let you see so much of Scotland and learn about its history, heritage and landscapes.
This is the book that inspired me to explore Scotland by bicycle and this is the book that I recommend to anybody who wants to start out on cycle trips around Scotland. Even better is that there are two more books that cover other regions of Scotland. Book Two covers the Highlands and Islands and Book Three covers the North East. Get all three of these books and you will never be stuck for inspiration for cycle routes.
Buy them from Amazon using the links below:
Entering this shop and café is a wonderful sensory experience that is quite simply the fulfillment of every chocolate lover's dreams. Grab a window seat, order Belgium waffles and enjoy views of Oban Bay.
Oban Chocolate Company is located on Corran Esplanade, about 15 minutes walk from the Ferry Terminal. Inside there is a combined café and chocolate shop. It is impossible not to get excited by the enormous choice of chocolate treats on display. There is a counter where you can select individual chocolates with flavours that include whisky truffle, toffee and orange truffle and lemon meringue truffle.
There are shelves packed full of different chocolate concoctions, such as the chocolate fish n' chips.
I took one of these home and it was delicious. The chips were made of white chocolate and they look very realistic. There was even some newspaper in the bottom of the box!
The café is equally magnificent. The menu states that the management accepts no responsibility for over indulgence and that is certainly a risk here.
The counter has a display case crammed full of cakes and treats. On one visit I tried the salted caramel peanut butter slab. The chocolate topping was unbelievably thick. Whoever made this understands the needs of serious chocolate lovers. It was one of the top chocolate experiences of my life.
Coffee is roasted fresh every week and during my visit it was served with a little chocolate fish resting on the spoon. You can order a tasting plate of truffles to go along with your drink.
Belgian waffles are a star feature in the cafe and you can have them smothered in a variety of toppings. If hot chocolate is more your thing you will be spoiled for choice, including single origin chocolate.
I love that the menu is full of lots of interesting facts about chocolate, including persuasive arguments about the health benefits of chocolate. It states that 2 squares of chocolate have less calories than an apple, but it is doubtful you will be able to/want to stick to just 2 squares during your visit.
Try to get one of the sofas by the window so that you can enjoy the views over Oban Bay or you might prefer to be closer to the viewing window of the factory where you can watch the chocolatiers at work. You can even book your child into one of the chocolate making workshops.
Oban Chocolate Company is a shrine to chocolate. It is one of the best chocolate shops I have come across, not just in Scotland, but in the world.
The world famous Rosslyn Chapel of Da Vinci Code fame has its own ale, available in the gift shop. It is produced by local brewery Stewarts and makes for a nice souvenir of a visit to the chapel.
My first taste was, admittedly, watery but subsequent sips of the beer were nicer. It is not strong tasting at all, so very easy to drink. There are no complex flavours, just a good light, hoppy taste, which is pleasant enough. There are no risky flavours, which you increasingly find with Scottish craft beers. If you just want an unfussy beer and no funky, different tastes this is a good choice. A solid beer.
The rear of the bottle label explains the story of the Baron of Rosslyn and hence the name of the ale. It also states that your purchase of this beer will contribute to the conservation of the chapel:
You can have your bottle of ale packaged up in one of the branded Rosslyn Chapel paper bags:
Stewart Brewing is located just a couple of miles away from the chapel. They have been in business since 2004 and produce a large range of beers, many of which you will find in Edinburgh pubs.
My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle. Follow my blog on Facebook: