Road trips are some of the best ways to travel through a new destination. Around the world there are some amazing sights to see and the freedom that a road trip provides you with is ideally suited to exploring everything on offer. So get adventurous, fly over to a new country hire a car from the airport & get exploring.
1: Lands End To John O’Groats in England & Scotland
This is the longest road trip you can take in the UK, at only 874 miles, this trip may not be as long as some of the other trips in this guide, but going from the Southernmost point in England to the Northernmost point in Scotland is quite the trip, it would only take 17 hours to complete thee trip flat out (which is why it’s also popular for cyclists ), so we’d recommend stopping in some of the many cities on the way & exploring all the sites places like Edinburgh, London & Brighton have to offer.
2: Salar de Utini in Bolivia
So, this one isn’t technically a road, but you can drive across it and it’s truly amazing. The world’s largest salt flat is a white ocean of salt surrounded by the Andes Mountains. While you’ll have to rough camp during your time here, it’s worth the experience to see this part of South America for yourself. Just remember to take precautions against altitude sickness as the salt flats lie at 12,500 feet.
3: Transamazônica in BrazilThis is the longest road in the Amazonian region and it follows the river for much of the journey too. While it no longer passes any pure rainforest, the route is still worth it to see colonial towns, local vaqueiro driving cattle herds and beautiful countryside. Brazil has some spectacular sights and this route gives you the opportunity to really immerse yourself in the culture. Along the way, stop off at Bernardo Paz’s Inhotim arts part where you can wander the grounds and witness the amazing artistic creations.
4: Along The Coast Alicante To Barcelona - Spain
Spain is a country famous for it’s beautiful Mediterranean coastline, with quiet villages and crazy party towns along the way. There’s not much to this trip, but there’s 500km of road from Alicante to Barcelona, there are hundreds of beaches, vineyards and much more to explore, so fly over, find a hire car in Alicante and get rolling towards Barcelona (you can even catch a football game at Camp Nou).
5: Avenue of the Volcanoes in Ecuador
This road through Ecuador is truly exciting and a must for anyone travelling by car. It runs through the Avenue of the Volcanoes in the Andes and past the most famous, Cotopaxi, which is one of the highest active volcanoes in the world. Beginning in Quito and ending in colonial Cuenca, you’ll pass the Devil’s Nose switchback railway, Mindo’s incredible landscapes and wildlife, and Banos’ hot springs and hiking spots. Ecuador is home to some amazing experiences and vistas and it makes for a really interesting and memorable road trip.
Now you have some Routes to look at road tripping on, you need to get everything prepared, so check out this infographic about tips & tricks for taking a road trip & get everything ready for your journey.
Andrew P. Sykes' third cycling travel book sees him tackle 7,700km across 8 countries, from Spain to Norway. It is a detailed account of the cycle route, the scenery, towns and people that he meets along the way. The writing style makes you feel that you are right there, doing the route with Andrew. There is plenty of humour and interesting experiences to make this book a great read.
This is the first of this author's cycling books that I have read. Most cycling travel books are one-offs where an author goes on a grand adventure, but Andrew P. Sykes has written about three different trips. If you like his writing style it means that you currently have three books to dig into. His writing is a mixture of factual details about the journey interspersed with dry wit and light humour. The jokes are not always laugh out loud, but they always brought a smile to my face. If you are planning to go on a similar trip from Spain to Norway then this book will prove invaluable for inspiration and practical tips and if you simply enjoy dreaming of taking these trips you are sure to love this book.
It is not just about the bike and the cycling, but also about the destinations. Andrew takes several rest days during his journey and uses these to explore some of the towns along the route, so the book gives a good idea of what these places are like from the author's sightseeing experiences. You also get a good impression of the differences in the countries that he passes through because he records his observations, including what the cycling infrastructure is like. This is also a book about people as Andrew meets many other cyclists and locals along the way. He stays in a mixture of campsites and hotels, the former giving more of an opportunity to engage with fellow travellers. He also uses the Warm Showers website, a resource for cyclists to find free accommodation offered by other cyclists.
I liked the honesty of the author. When he has a bad day he tells you about it, he is upfront about the fact that cycle touring is not always brilliant. That said, he does have an excellent time for most of the journey and it is hard not to want to repeat his journey when you read the descriptions of the landscapes and idyllic campsites. I thought his writing about the experience of cycling through Norwegian tunnels was excellent. He really captured how scary this can be and I could feel myself shudder at the thought of the passing trucks.
What really comes across is that Andrew is not one of these one-off around the world adventure cyclists, but someone who just loves to explore the world by bike and keep doing it. He doesn't pretend to be an adventurer and that's the kind of writing that is going to inspire the rest of us to try this because it comes across as accessible and something that we could all give a go.
You can buy the book from Amazon by clicking on the image below:
Melrose was rated the best place to live in Scotland in the 2018 Sunday Times Best Places to Live guide. I have been to Melrose several times and this came as no surprise to me as I find this town to be one of the most charming in Scotland. It has a fine selection of independent shops, places to eat and a magnificent Abbey to visit. Let me take you on a walk through the town...
Getting to Melrose
The Borders Railway, Scotland's newest railway line, makes it much easier to visit Melrose. The last stop on the line, Tweedbank (around 55 minutes from Edinburgh), is about 1.75 miles from Melrose. There is a cycle path to Melrose directly opposite the station. It is such a short cycle ride that you might prefer just to walk there.
There is a brilliant food and coffee kiosk at Tweedbank station. Born in the Borders is a champion for produce from the Scottish Borders region. You could pick up a nice souvenir from here, like the delicious tablet that I bought. There is even an app that allows you to pre-order your coffee so that it is ready for your arrival!
Tempest Brewing Co. is located in an industrial estate next to the station. They have a shop so that you can stock up on some of the best craft beer in the country. Read about the brewery in my blog.
Don't miss the standing stone that commemorates the opening of the railway in 2015 by the Queen. It pays tribute to the community effort involved in restoring a rail link to the area after an absence of 46 years.
Great Shops and Railway Heritage
A wander around Melrose is like stepping back in time when all of Britain's towns had shops that catered to every need. The shop fronts have elegant facades that are so perfect you would be forgiven for thinking you had stepped onto the set of a film set in the 1940s.
It is immediately noticeable that Melrose is lacking in the unfortunate characteristics of so many of Scotland's town centres- empty shop units, peeling and unloved buildings and a general lack of atmosphere. Melrose has none of this and is beautifully looked after with immaculate buildings, bright flowers and a genuinely interesting selection of stores.
There is a good selection of antique shops in Melrose. One of them is down an alleyway and was selling bird boxes made from recycled wood, displayed outside. Inside there was classical music on the radio and lots of fascinating curiosities to tempt me.
Outside the fruit shop there was an impressive display of delights, like raspberries, plums and rhubarb. I walked inside the secondhand bookshop and it had that wonderful musty smell that makes you want to spend hours exploring the shelves.
I made my way up to the old train station. It looks more like a Victorian manor house than a station, with its grand frontage of bay windows The new Borders Railway did not make it this far, but I could swear that I heard a steam train puffing. For a second I believed that a steam locomotive was on the platform until I discovered that the noise was from the extractor fan of the Italian restaurant that is now in the station.
Despite the station's new usage there are plenty of reminders of the railway's golden age. The platform still has a white picket fence, station sign and bench with a station nameplate. The canopy has vintage advertising for products like Lyon's Tea, Capstan Medium Cigarettes and Rodine ('kills rats and mice').
Take a look at the lamp posts on the platform- the stems have lovely flower motifs. A beautiful little detail that perfectly illustrates the care and attention that was once lavished upon station design.
There is something quite sad about a station no longer fulfiling its purpose; its platform now marooned alongside the busy A6091 instead of train tracks leading to Edinburgh. However, there is hope for Melrose station as there is a strong community and political desire to extend the railway here and beyond.
Amazing Ice Cream and Award Wining Pies
Dalgetty's Tea Room is the perfect place to enjoy that stepping-back-in-time feeling that Melrose creates so well. This bakery business has been around for over 100 years and the counter is loaded with an immaculate display of cakes and bread. They use tradtional ovens which are over 120 years old.
For ice cream lovers Simply Delicious is the shop to aim for. When the sun comes out there is an almost constant stream of customers. I tried the apple crumble flavour and it was amazing. There were little pieces of baked apple inside, so it perfectly replicated the taste of the dessert that it was named for. This is also an old fashioned sweet shop with shelves brimming with jars of candy delights that are measured into paper bags.
Down by the River Tweed
When you travel to the Scottish Borders it is almost impossible to avoid its mighty river, the Tweed. Melrose is situated right next to the river and one of the best places to take a look at it is from the chain bridge.
This bridge opened in 1826 and you once had to pay a toll to cross it. It feels like you are entering a castle via a drawbridge because of the iron suspension chains and the tower with the arched doorway.
The bridge still has the old signs with the list of byelaws 'by order F.P. Smart, Clerk to Joint Commitee.' There rules included no more than 8 people on the bridge at one time, not crossing in a heavy gale and not deliberately swinging the bridge. You could end up in prison for these offences!
The bridge is a good vantage point to take in the Eildon Hills, the distinctive peaks that give Melrose its attractive backdrop.
Gardens of Melrose
In the town centre there are two gardens that are havens of tranquility. Harmony Garden is free to enter and the venue for the Borders Book Festival.
The gardens belonged to a wealthy joiner, Robert Waugh, who owned a pimento plantation in Jamaica. He named Harmony House (1807) after the variety of pimento that he grew. The design of his Melrose home was also inspired by his West Indian property. Take a look at the staircase up to the front door of the Georgian House- this replicated the stairs to the front of the plantation house where they were designed to keep wild animals at bay.
You cannot visit the house, but you can rent it as a holiday home. The gardens are not huge, but they are a joy to walk around because of the beautifully presented flowers and views of the ruined abbey.
The only sound was chirping birds. The sweet scent of the huge variety of flowers delighted my nose. In one corner raspberries, substantial and juicy-looking, were thriving. A peek through the windows of a glasshouse revealed peppers, tomatoes and chilles.
Priorwood, also free to enter, is the other garden in the centre of Melrose, adjacent to the abbey. Its high walls hide it from view, so it is somewhat of a secret garden and easy to miss. The entrance to it is through a visitor centre and shop where you can buy dried flowers and apples from the gardens.
Priorwood is dedicated to cultivating flowers for the purpose of dried flower arranging. There is also an orchard with about 70 varieties of apples. I loved that you could walk among the trees and take a good look at the growing fruit. One of the apples is called White Melrose and is thought to have been grown by the monks of Melrose Abbey.
This place is so tranquil and pretty that it is crazy to think that it was going to be turned into a car park in the 1970s! Thankfully the National Trust stepped in to save it. Amongst the apple trees there is a bronze sculpture of two doves.
Melrose Rugby Football Club
Rugby has been played at The Greenyards since 1877. It is a lovely ground located right in the centre of the town. It does not have a massive stand and high fences, so you could easily watch some of a game as you wander down the street. Melrose is one of the most prestigious clubs in Scotland; this is where the Rugby Sevens tournament was invented.
The entrance to the club is turned out smartly with yellow doors and window frames, complimented with flower displays.
Famously the home of Robert the Bruce's buried hear, Melrose Abbey is the main visitor attraction in the town. The abbey church, dating from the late 1300s, is a magnificent piece of architecture where the height of the ceiling is immense and difficult to stop looking up at.
The scale is breathtaking, perfectly illustrated by the incredible size of the blocks of stone on the columns.
The detail of the stone carvings is spectacular- the most famous piece is a pig playing bagpipes, but there are plenty of others to look out for.
There is a spiral staircase with a rope banister to grasp. It leads to a viewing platform that allows you to take in the roof of the church and the surrounding countryside.
Melrose is much more than its visitor attractions and it topped the list of best places to live in Scotland because of good schools, transport links and community spirit.
Melrose is also brilliantly situated for nearby attractions that make for great day trips and I will be writing about these in future blog posts.
I am interested to find out if you liked Melrose as much as I did, so please leave a comment below.
There are lots of things to look forward to when you go on holiday, not least the culinary delights. Trying new dishes that you’ve never heard of, sampling the local wines and not worrying about your diet for the next 10 days is always a winner in our eyes! We’ve selected some of the most unique dining experiences worldwide for you to feast your eyes on (see what we did there?). Bon appétit!
1. Secret Dining- Maldives
Stay at the 4* Plus Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort and Spa and discover their dining experiences in the resort’s secret locations – whether it’s dinner beneath the banyan trees, a dinner in the meditation pavilion overlooking the ocean or an in-villa romantic dinner for two, all of the ingredients are locally sourced and prepared in the Chef’s Garden. At the Shangri-La’s Villingili Resort and Spa you can also have menus tailor-made for a truly unique experience.
2. Cacao cuisine – St Lucia
The 4* Plus Boucan By Hotel Chocolat is in a unique location within the cocoa groves of St Lucia’s Rabot Estate and 1,000 feet above the Caribbean sea. Their exclusive Cacao cuisine uses the superb local produce which has made Boucan one of St Lucia’s most popular foodie hotels. Sip a Cacao Bellini as the sun sets and explore the natural sweet and savoury delights of cocoa, with everything from fresh seafood to crisp salads and plentiful fruits.
3. Dine with the fishes – Dubai
The definition of luxury is the Burj Al Arab where multiple, impressive dining locations are on offer. Experience a stunning floor to ceiling aquarium, which sets the backdrop for some of the finest dining you will ever experience. Colourful sea life will swim past your table, as the team of award-winning chefs prepare some of the most delicious dishes in the Middle East. Or alternatively, why not enjoy Tapas on the 24th floor whilst sipping on cocktails created by in-house mixologists.
4.Dine By design – Maldives
Located on Bolifushi Island in the South Male Atoll of the Maldives, the 5* Jumeirah Vittaveli offers a spectacular personalised dining experience at a breath-taking location. Whether you want to dine on a private sandbank or breakfast as the sun rises over the horizon on your own stretch of beach, nothing is too much trouble and the menu is what you make it.
5. Night Bazaar – Thailand
The 4* Plus Tamarind Village Chiang Mai is conveniently located just a short distance from the famous Chiang Mai Night Bazaar. This sprawling night market provides an authentic Thai shopping experience and sells everything from fried bamboo worms to tasty and traditional Thai cuisine. Why not try ‘kantoke’, a platter of meats, vegetables and chilli dips all displayed on a woven rattan tray.
This is a guest post.
Congratulations everyone – we’ve made it to summer! Swimming costumes have been washed and pressed, beach bods have been perfected, and now it’s time to sit back, relax, and enjoy.
That being said, no summer is ever truly complete without a handful of sun-inspired drinks to impress your friends with. With that in mind, here are our four favourite tipples for summer 2018.
1. Moët & Chandon Ice Imperial
At the top list of our best drinks for this summer is Moët & Chandon Ice Imperial champagne. Presented in elegant white, this is the first-ever champagne created primarily to be served over ice, especially when you’re at a summer picnic, barbecue, or garden party. It is a sweeter, lighter, sparkling style of champagne with less dense bubbles that goes down smoothly, providing the perfect refreshment on your summertime.
The champagne is expertly made up of the best Pinot Noir to give it structure and density, Pinot Meunier for a richer and milder mouthfeel, and Chardonnay to add a little touch of refreshing acidity.
To get the most out of this fun and fresh drink, we recommend serving it on a lot of ice or with chopped plums and summer fruits. If you forget to bring the ice along to your summer picnic, don’t worry one bit as you can also drink the champagne as long as it is very chilled to give it the full fruity flavour. And that’s why Moët & Chandon Ice Imperial is a perfect summer drink!
2. Dom Perignon 2009
Dom Perignon is one of the most celebrated champagne brands worldwide, and they have a unique 2009 vintage designed for summer lovers. Well, the Dom Perignon 2009 is an iconic champagne —the first ever vintage to have been released out of a chronological order, meaning it hit the market even before the 2008 vintage.
The 2009 Champagne vintage was created using mature ripe grapefruits, finely chiseled to give a silky texture and one of a kind freshness. It offers a vivacious nose of guava and grapefruit with stone fruits that often burst from your glass right after you’ve poured the drink. We are talking about the white peach and nectarine! Take a sip and you’ll be amazed at the absolutely refreshing taste sensation of this rich fruity tipple as soon as it hits your tongue.
We love this drink because you can partner it with seafood, fish, hard cheese, fresh and citrus salads.
3. NYETIMBER NV Rosé Brut English Sparkling Wine
Nyetimber is a true pioneer, with over 25 years of experience in making some of the finest English sparkling wines you can find on the market today. They’re the first English producer to make sparkling wines exclusively from the popular sought after grape varieties — Pinot Meunier, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay. NYETIMBER NV Rosé Brut English Sparkling Wine is one of their best, which spent 3 years in the fine lees and includes 2009 as well as 2010 vintages.
It’s one of the delicious wines you’ll ever taste this summer. The wine is made from hand-picked grapes, which are at their peak ripeness. The magnificent character emerges as soon as you open that bottle. On the nose, you’ll be greeted with a superb aroma of red fruit flavours with floral notes anise and lavender. The palate is amazingly creamy with a silky texture and refreshing cherry flavours to retain that sense of tension.
4. Zymurgorium Pink Grapefruit Gin Liqueur
We end our list of the best drinks for this summer with Zymurgorium Pink Grapefruit Gin Liqueur, which is full of flavour& colour and also excellently designed with a balanced tangy taste. Well, the manufacturer uses juniper and 20 other British botanicals along with a dry, crisp gin to produce liqueur that has a well-balanced pink grapefruit taste.
This bottle of gin liqueur can be taken either with or without crushed ice. And for those that love partnering, you too can never go wrong with Zymurgorium Pink Grapefruit Gin Liqueur. It is delicious when partnered with tonic, prosecco, lemonade, or cocktail simply by adding fruitiness.
There you have it! And we wish you a truly happy summer adventure.
Cycling holidays are one of the best ways to see a new destination and really soak up the atmosphere. There are no hot and stuffy vehicles to worry about, you can avoid the traffic and you can explore at your own pace, whether you’re stopping off to join a wine tasting or you want to enjoy the local cuisine. Whether you’re new to the sport or you’re a hardcore cycling enthusiast, these are some of the best countries to check out when planning your summer cycling getaway.
Italy has gorgeous scenery, dotted with coastal views, in-land vineyards and charming villages. The Aeolian Islands are a volcanic archipelago off the coast of Sicily where you can ride the verdant green hills of Lipari, or you may prefer to explore the Dolomites – a mountain range in northern Italy with a varied terrain and unforgettable views. If you don’t mind going uphill, the village of Corvara is well worth a visit which offers up the Sellaronda loop and its selection of elevated passes.
Spain is incredibly popular for cycling holidays as the geography of the country lends itself well to a mix of long climbs and flat-riding for the in-between rest days. It’s a very varied country with several smaller islands to add to the list of possible locations, such as Girona, Calpe and Mallorca. The Costa Blanca and Alicante region is particularly great for cycling – it has a warm year-round climate and a range of lengths and gradients to suit all abilities. Why not look into car hire in Alicante airport to make navigating and exploring easier on your rest days between cycling?
The stunning scenery in South Africa really sets it apart from many other locations and the roads that wind through it are well documented for being great for cycling. Not to mention, the weather makes for a great getaway during the summer months. There’s plenty of sightseeing to take in while you’re in Cape Town, from Table Mountain to the penguin colonies on the beach, as well as coastal cycle routes which offer up vineyards, fruit farms and breath-taking vistas.
A dream for end-to-end cyclists, Vietnam is a beautiful mix of palm-fringed beaches, rolling green landscapes, ancient imperial cities and fantastic cuisine. This is one for cyclists who are looking for a more of a challenge – heading from Ho Chi Minh City to Hanoi is an experience you’ll never forget. From visiting the port town of Hoi An to taking in the spectacular views of the inimitable Halong Bay and Hanoi’s old quarter, Vietnam is a place that will ignite all the senses.
Situated to the west of Spain, Portugal is becoming increasingly popular for cycling holidays thanks to the range of terrain, great climate and culture to be found here. Cycling through Portugal is the perfect way to get to know this interesting country, particularly the less built-up areas, so you’ll get to experience the vineyards, enchanting villages and fresh Mediterranean cuisine in all their glory.
This is a guest post
Just a 25 minute train journey from Edinburgh and you are deposited onto quiet country roads that feel much further from the city than they are. A four mile cycle and a short hike brings you to a wonderful castle in an isolated location.
Highlights of this Cycling Route:
Take a Train to Gorebridge
Gorebridge is a stop on the Borders Railway. It takes about 25 minutes from Edinburgh Waverley.
When I got off the train I found a small station garden with spring flowers. Nearby is the 'Station Garage' that has a vintage-style sign. It made me imagine that it was the 1930s and there were cars, like Austins and Morris', inside being attended to by mechanics wearing peak caps. Another mark of Gorebridge's past was the house, in the village centre, with the faded 'dairy' sign on it.
Gorebridge has all the hallmarks of a commuter town. It was very quiet because everyone was at work in the city. I cycled passed housing estates, several under construction, presumably to take advantage of the new rail link.
Into the Countryside
It was not long until I found myself on single-track roads, surrounded by fields and views of the Pentland Hills. There were daffodils brightening the verges and sheep in the fields. I sat on the side of the road and ate a croissant. It was utter peace; not one car passed me. I loved it here. Such a short distance from the capital and it was possible to be alone like this. Who would have thought it?
This area has a little network of farm roads that you can explore, so this is great for a quick fix of biking escapism.
A word of warning- there are a lot of hills, but these are compensated for by fun descents.
Speeding to the Castle
One of those descents happens when you get first sight of the castle. You reach the top of a hill then drop down and all of a sudden the majestic castle comes into view, on the right-hand side (check out my video that features this fast descent). It sits in a valley, surrounded by a barren, grassy landscape. The downhill is incredibly fast and you will zoom past this castle view unless you pull the brake levers and slow it down.
The road ended at a field of yellow rapeseed where I turned right to reach the castle. The bike must be left behind as the final approach to the castle is by foot, about 600 meters.
This castle looks mightily impressive and I couldn't stop staring at its imposing walls, turrets and windows. I suppose all Scottish castles look pretty amazing, but there was something about this one that really struck me. It had presence. When you dream of a ruined Scottish Castle it probably looks something like this and you presume it to be somewhere deep within the highlands, not this close to the capital city. This isolated location, so close to Edinburgh, makes this a special experience.
I walked up to the walls and put my hands on them. They felt sturdy, but soft. This is sandstone and is easier for stonemasons to carve. The stone carving is one of the standout features of this castle.
In the courtyard the columns supporting the archways are stunning and look like something you would find in an abbey cloister. The most distinctive feature is the diamond-carved wall that looks like something you would see in a 1970s shopping centre, but was actually very stylish in the late sixteenth century. It was installed by the Earl of Bothwell who had seen an Italian palace with a similar design.
The castle has a very special staircase. It is straight. 'Big deal!', I hear you say. Well, look at the stairs in any Scottish castle and the chances are that it is spiral. Crichton was the first castle in Scotland to have a straight staircase.
When it comes to Scottish castles there is one question that always comes up. Does it have a connection with Mary Queen of Scots? And, yes, Crichton does! She attended a wedding here.
The castle was first built by the Crichtons in the 14th century. They were an influential family- William Crichton was Chancellor of Scotland. When ownership of the castle passed to the Earl of Bothwell this is when the extravagances like the diamond wall were added. He was also responsible for the building that is adjacent to the castle.
I thought that this other building was a chapel, but I was surprised to discover that it is a stable. It is so elegant that it is hard to believe this was a mere home for horses. Look up at the horseshoe shaped doorway. Have you ever seen such elaborate decoration on a stable? The Earl of Bothwell wanted the world to know that he was wealthy enough to lavish attention on his stables.
Crichton Collegiate Church
At the start of the walking path that leads to the castle there is a gorgeous church, also built by the Crichtons. Collegiate churches were commonly established by devoted wealthy families in order to have a team of priests praying for their souls. There were about 40 such churches in Scotland. In 1449 the Crichton family built this church and paid for a provost, eight priests, two choirboys and a sexton to work in it.
There was beautiful cherry blossom in the churchyard and the door to the church had ironmongery in the shape of a thistle. It was locked, but a man appeared and invited me in. "The choir are about to start rehearsing, but come in."
I was immediately impressed by the windows, "Yes," said my host. "It's very well endowed with stained glass for a church in the middle of nowhere."
The height of the ceiling is incredible because I did not expect this from how small the church looks from the outside. It gives it the stature of a cathedral.
The kind man gave me a newsletter to take away, "this is what we're about." I read about the services and concerts, including one that was part of the Edinburgh International Festival. There was also a visit from one of Britain's leading lichenologists who had discovered 160 different species of lichen on the church and the gravestones!
Coffee at Vogrie Country Park
There is no cafe at Crichton Castle, but there is a place nearby. Vogrie Country Park is just 2.8 miles away. I took the road back the way I came, so this meant a steep uphill then a howling downhill. I used the single-track roads as far as I could to avoid using the the B6372. This meant more uphills, but the views of the Pentland Hills were simply stunning. I saw a rabbit scamper across the road and a deer hiding in the trees.
The cafe is inside Vogrie House. This is a magnificent Baronial building and there are some original architectural features to lookout for whilst you have your coffee, such as the carved faces on the roof beams.
The park and the cafe are very much child friendly, so be prepared for lots of noise! There is a children's soft pay area in the cafe. There is a good menu and I have to say that the Malteser slice was the best I ever tasted- it had a layer of caramel goo that was spectacular.
I had a walk around the park. There are ponds, woods and lots of bright flowers. There is even a miniature railway (open only on Sundays).
There was a short, heavy rainfall, but afterwards it felt so fresh and the sun came out. I love that after rain feeling, like the place has just had a good clean. I think it is a similar feeling to crawling into a bed with brand new clean sheets.
Leaving the park I cycled 3/4 mile down a forest trail to Newlandrig. The trees and plants sparkled like silver after the rain. It was magical. This path meant that I could avoid the B6372 road for a bit, but once on this road it was fine. The traffic volume was average, but newer cyclists may not be comfortable with this road. It is about 2 miles to get back to Gorebridge Station from the park.
For more cycle journeys in Midlothian head to my Edinburgh and Midlothian page.
For many cyclists, Glasgow is considered to be one of the most cycle-friendly cities in the world. Using bike routes like the Red Tunnel, more people are navigating the city on two wheels and getting healthier at the same time. If only its infrastructure could finally catch up with the growing number of regular cyclists in the city, then we would see a huge shift in how people travel. But although Glasgow still needs to build more bike paths, there are already large swathes of the city that can be comfortably traversed on a bike.
For instance, the Strathclyde Business Park cycling route to Hampden Park takes you through scenic and safe roads that run through the heart of Glasgow. As with many bike routes, it’s best to start in the morning, especially since that means there are less cars at the route’s starting point. From here, it’s a moderately difficult ride to Hampden Park, a 10.25-mile journey that takes around an hour.
From Strathclyde Business Park, head southeast through Phoenix Crescent and turn right just before the exit to the Bellshill Bypass – a busy road that you definitely do not want to bike on. Instead, take the wide path to the right, just before the bypass. This part of the route offers great views of Glasgow’s green suburban city centre. Head south until you hit the roundabout, from there keep heading south via James Street and Melford Road, past the industrial estate until you reach New Edinburgh Road.
Once on New Edinburgh Road, follow it for several miles to the west. To the left you will see some wonderful views of Glasgow, while on the right the small hills of the beautiful Viewpark Gardens. Another advantage of the westbound bike ride in the morning is that for most of the ride you will face the same direction as the sun. This area is where you’ll bike across many of Glasgow’s hidden gems. Head west until the A721 becomes the A74 through Glasgow’s residential neighbourhoods, and then turn left onto the A763.
From there go south under the M74 and through Buckingham Park, after which take the Clydesmill Road to the west, past views of the River Clyde, and under a railway bridge until you hit Main Street. Keep following this road west until it becomes Prospecthill Road, and from there you will be able to see Hampden Park to the left, the historic 50,000-seat venue is also the Scottish national football stadium. Hampden Park has a rich history that makes it one of Europe’s major sporting stadiums, and it’s surrounded by bike-friendly paths, local restaurants, and lots of views of Glasgow’s best architecture. It’s without doubt the perfect place to end a cycle ride.
Glasgow has a public hire scheme that provides bikes at 53 locations across the city. For anyone who wants to see Glasgow at its finest, on a bike is the best way to go.
Book Review: Only In Edinburgh. A Guide to Unique Locations, Hidden Corners and Unusual Objects by Duncan J.D. Smith
When exploring Edinburgh by bicycle, foot, bus or any other means then this book is the ideal companion. It reveals many of Edinburgh's secrets and hidden gems, so is much more interesting than a standard guide. There is a lifetime of exploring contained within these pages. The text is highly engaging and full of fascinating facts.
My initial impression of this book was that it was quite text heavy compared to the usual guide book format of recommendations, listings and maps. However, the text is highly readable and full of riveting information about Edinburgh. It keeps you turning the pages and wanting to know more. What comes across is that there is so much more to Edinburgh than the castle, Princess Street Gardens and the art galleries. Even if you have lived in Edinburgh for many years there are things in this book that will be new to you.
The book has 103 experiences. It does cover some well-known attractions, like the castle, but it explores the lesser-known items, the hidden gems within these attractions. But the main focus of the book is on places and experiences that are more unusual and will take you off the beaten path. Some of my favourite experiences are the entry on Victorian swimming pools, the historic pub crawl, the tour of Edinburgh's independent bookshops, the story of Edinburgh' Jews and a visit to the home of the world's first millionaire (Lauriston Castle).
There is an almost endless number of adventures that this book will take you on, including a search for the replica of an American Wild West Street, seeking out a Cold War-era bunker on Corstorphine Hill or admiring 'Edinburgh's Sistine Chapel'. You could plan your weekends around discovering something different in the city and easily plot a cycle route to get there.
Each entry in the book will have you admiring the level of research that must have been involved and you will love sharing your newfound knowledge with friends and family.
Although this book is largely about places to see, I loved the fact that it also provides suggestions of places to enjoy food and drink. And these are not the standardised listings that you get in run-of-the-mill guidebooks, but, again, unusual and unique. For example, entry 14 is titled 'Sustenance in Strange Places' and informs the reader about a number of restaurants located in buildings with notable histories and/or interiors. Another entry gives the lowdown on the cafes that J.K. Rowling visited when writing Harry Potter. There is even a page about the former police boxes that have been turned into takeaway coffee outlets. Or how about going for a deep-fried haggis supper from Ian Rankin's favourite takeaway?
'Only in Edinburgh' is a great example of turning the guide book format on its head and making it into something much more readable and inspiring. The author (Duncan J.D.Smith) is The Urban Explorer and has given a similar treatment to books about many other cities, including Berlin, Paris and Prague.
For those who are exploring Edinburgh by bicycle the book brings a new twist to your journeys. You could pick a selection of the experiences and then use Google maps to plot your cycle route and don't forget to include one of the eating or drinking places so that you have somewhere for refreshments.
Some of the entries in this book feature in my blog: 10 Hidden Gems in Edinburgh
You can buy this book from Amazon by clicking on this image:
I think that this is the most beautiful station in Scotland, perhaps it could even be the most beautiful railway station in the world. There are some buildings that stop you in your tracks. Wemyss Bay is one of them. It is not a station to rush through. Allow plenty of time to slowly take it all in.
Wemyss Bay is on the Firth of Clyde, in West Scotland. It is about 50 minutes by train from Glasgow and if you are heading to the Isle of Bute this is where you come to catch the ferry.
The station was built in 1903. The architect was James Miller who had designed about 70 Scottish stations, including Glasgow Central. There was a fascinating array of materials used in its construction, including local sandstone, white pine from the Baltic and Quebec red pine, chosen for its robustness in situations where rot was likely.
The outside of the building has gables and timber framing and looks more Tudor England than West Coast Scotland. It also features a sixty-foot clock tower that is a landmark for the area and can be spotted from miles away. The outside does not prepare you for what it is like inside.
Inside it feels more like a Victorian botanical garden palm house than a station. This is because the roof is a massive glass canopy and the concourse is decked out with colourful flower displays. On a summer's day the light floods through the canopy and it gets you in the mood for your holidays.
The roof is sweeping and curving. The round ticket office is like the base of a fountain with glass and iron erupting from its roof and shooting out in all directions.
Another striking feature of the building is the curving wooden decked promenade to the ferry. It is a regal walkway that makes you feel like you are a king or queen. And yet, Wemyss Bay station was never meant for royalty or aristocracy. It was built to service Glasgow's working class when they took their annual holiday "Doon the Watter". They would crowd into the station to board the ferries across to the Isle of Bute and the seaside town of Rothesay.
The era of flights and cheap package holidays abroad resulted in a downturn in the station's usage, although in recent years it has undergone major refurbishments to keep it looking fabulous. This ensures that it is still a magical experience to arrive here by train to start your island adventure.
Wemyss Bay station has always been famous for the wonderful flower displays on its concourse. Railway companies used to look after station gardens, but this is no longer a responsibility, so for several years the station was flowerless. Thanks to a group called 'The Friends of Wemyss Bay Station' the flowers were brought back and are here to stay.
The railway company, Scotrail, has an 'Adopt a Station' programme where funding is provided to local community groups who are interested in looking after the appearance of the station.
'The Friends' also operate a second hand bookshop in the former First Class Waiting Rooms. This shop also has a gallery of photos of the station in the old days.
There is a bar and a cafe inside the station. I have not been to the bar, but the cafe has tables on the concourse, so the ideal place to enjoy the architecture with a coffee. I really recommend doing this, rather than rushing straight for your ferry or train. Why not arrive early so that you can take your time exploring this wonderful station? It is one of Scotland's finest buildings.
I used Wemyss Bay station on my cycling trip to the Isle of Bute. Read my travel feature about this cycling trip
I also used the station when cycling to the Isle of Islay. Read my travel feature about this cycling trip
Wemyss Bay is number one on my list of Top 10 Favourite Train Stations in Scotland.
Wemyss Bay station is on the front cover of Simon Jenkins' beautiful book Britain's 100 Best Railway Stations. The author has written a glowing entry about this station and the book features several of Scotland's finest stations. You can buy the book from Amazon by clicking on this image:
Are you looking for that perfect Scottish castle ruin? A place that you can have all to yourself? A place that has magnificent scenery? Morton Castle could be just what you are looking for. And you don't have to travel for miles and miles to get there-it is just a few hours from Glasgow.
Morton Castle is so remote and challenging to find that you will easily feel that you are deep in the Scottish Highlands, but you may be surprised to learn that it is in the south of Scotland, in Dumfries and Galloway.
To get there take a train from Glasgow to Sanquhar. In just 1 hour and 20 minutes you are deposited in this tranquil town surrounded by fine countryside.
Find out more about Sanquhar in my travel feature on the area.
You can use this map to get to Morton Castle from Sanquhar.
This map also includes directions to Drumlanrig Castle which is on the way and worth visiting. From Sanquhar it is 14.5 miles to Morton castle, a bit less if you choose not to visit Drumlanrig. The route is on single-track lanes that are little troubled by vehicular traffic. It is glorious cycling with forest, fields and impressive panoramas of lush, green hills. There is a great variety of scenery within a relatively short distance, making this one of the best short cycle routes that I have found in Scotland.
The final few miles requires the crossing of two A-roads, but at the time of my visit there was no traffic and it was easy to cycle across to the other side.
There is a distinct lack of signage to the castle, so you may feel that you are lost or you have travelled too far. But just keep going and you will find it.
The last stretch of the road is lined with trees, so there is no clue to the magnificence of the landscape that the castle sits in. This means that it takes you by surprise. One minute you are on a straight road, quiet and unmemorable. The next minute you find yourself deposited somewhere with a loch and hills. Is it the Scottish Highlands?
That's the funny thing. The Scotland of the imagination is a place where travel north, to the Highlands, seems the only way to discover glorious scenery and fairy tale castles. The south of the country is somewhat undiscovered, but Morton Castle goes to show that you can find the Scotland of your dreams in this area.
This castle has no visitor centre, cafe or shop. In fact, there is very little to see, but that keeps it free of crowds and probably means you will have it all to yourself.
You can go inside the ruin and have a wander, but it is just a shell with no interior walls or roof.
Little is know about the castle's history. It was probably built around 1300, but nobody knows for sure. There is also no certainty about who built the castle, but it came into the hands of the Douglas family until it fell into ruin in the eighteenth century.
The castle sits on a triangle of land, jutting over Loch Morton with the sweep of the Lowther Hills on the horizon. This setting is breathtaking and the reason that this castle is so special and worth seeking out.
This is the kind of place to bring a picnic and spend a day enjoying the peace and quiet. It is so easy to get here from central Scotland that you could easily do this as a day trip and that makes it a perfect escape from city life.
Spend longer in the area and visit Drumlanrig Castle or cycle to Scotland's highest village at Wanlockhead.
Liverpool is one of the most famous cities in England for a number of reasons. Gothic cathedrals and the old docks speak to the city’s expansive history, and of course it’s also known as the birthplace of The Beatles (as well as a few modern attractions that have to do with the band). Additionally, Liverpool FC has long been among the most successful and renowned professional British football clubs – and, at the time of this writing, happens to be vying for a Champions League title!
But as is the case with a lot of the biggest and most famous European cities (including Edinburgh, which we’ve covered before), there’s more to Liverpool than the front pages of a guide book might tell you. These are some of the city’s hidden gems you might want to check out if you have time.
1. Red Rocks
Near Hoylake shore on the outskirts of the city, Red Rocks is a gorgeous seaside area. Its name comes from the ground, which is literally made up of red-hued rocks and sand dunes. It’s not a place for laying out or swimming, but it’s striking to behold and it’s known for being an excellent place to watch the sunset.
2. Williamson Tunnels
The Williamson Tunnels are actually fairly commonly recommended as off the beaten path spots in Liverpool, so perhaps the secret’s out! Either way, these 19th century tunnels built by local businessman Joseph Williamson are mysterious and fascinating. We don’t actually know their purpose, though rumor has it Williamson had them built simply to employ the workers during a recession.
3. Kazimier Gardens
One step into the garden, said one publication, and it feels as if you’ve stumbled on some sort of secret paradise. That’s certainly a nice way to describe this venue, which combines food and drink, live music, and a beautiful, off-beat setting to make for one of the coolest places to hang out in the city.
4. Thurstaston Beach
Located just by Wirral Country Park, Thurstaston Beach is another unexpected, pretty outdoor area where you can just relax or take a walk. The beach is made of of a mix of sand and shingle, so it’s not the most comfortable spot to lie down, but it’s wonderful for a stroll (or bike ride) on a nice day.
5. The Bombed Out Church
The Bombed Out Church – properly called St. Luke’s Church – is not exactly hidden. But it is certainly an unusual attraction. Bombed in 1941 during World War II, the church essentially has a single tower and its exterior walls still standing, with the middle having been hollowed out. Now it’s something of a natural garden climbing about stone ruins – almost like something out of a fantasy novel.
6. Goodness Gracious
This is simply a rooftop garden that serves drinks. We can pretty much leave it at that, and add only that it has some truly gorgeous views of the surrounding city.
7. Rossett Park
Liverpool FC is all the rage in town, and with good reason. It’s an historically great club, and one that’s in the mix for the biggest prize in Europe. As a recent match preview put it, Liverpool wouldn’t have assumed it would get as far as it has, but now looks to be among the true European powers once more. Seeing the team at home is special, but you can also head to Rossett Park for a more intimate experience with the semi-pro club AFC Liverpool. It’s a lovely little park and a chance to see quality football up close.
8. Tomb Of William MacKenzie
William MacKenzie was a civil engineer who left instructions to be put into one of the more unique graves you’ll find anywhere. Basically, in place of a tombstone there is a 15-foot pyramid above the grave. There are legends suggesting MacKenzie was entombed sitting upright inside, though one need only read the inscription to learn that he is actually buried, and the pyramid was erected afterward by his brother.
9. Bidston Hill
A short distance outside of town, Bidston Hill makes for a nice place to hike. Basically, it’s 100 acres of woods, land, and old buildings and ancient rock carvings. Its lighthouse is a particularly striking monument, especially since the hill marks one of the highest points on the Wirral Peninsula.
10. Berry & Rye
This is a bar so thoroughly off the beaten path it’s literally difficult to find. But it’s certainly worth looking for. Despite its reputation as being hidden, not to mention somewhat dark and nondescript, it’s been written up as one of the world’s best bars, which ought to intrigue plenty of travelers.
This is a guest post
Looking for a pair of cycling sunglasses? I have been trying out these great value sunglasses from Sunglasses Restorer. They look cool and the lenses provide 100% UV protection and no glare from strong sunlight.
The best feature about these glasses is that they have 100% UV protection, vital for good eye health when you are out on the bike. In this video the lenses are tested for their UV protection and you can see how well they perform:
The lenses are polarized, which cuts glare and reduces eye strain. There were some very bright sunny days in the last couple of weeks, so I was able to test this out for myself. I was riding directly into the sun on several occasions and I am pleased to report that I did not experience any glare. I also felt that the clarity of my vision was excellent in strong sunlight. I was very impressed by the performance of these lenses.
This image explains the advantage of polarized lenses:
The Ordesa frame is made of acetate and incredibly light at only 24 grams. This made them very comfortable to wear. The fit was very good and did not feel too tight or too loose- it was a perfect fit. They also look really smart and stylish.
I have been using these glasses for about 2 weeks now and I have really enjoyed them. They are very comfortable and provide the necessary protection for my eyes and great clarity of vision.
The Ordesa glasses are available on the Sunglasses Restorer website for £22, which is excellent value for the quality of this product. Plus they come with free replacement lenses!
And if you need replacement lenses for your Oakley or Arnette frames then Sunglasses Restorer provides this service. The lenses are precision cut to fit the frames.
This is a sponsored post.
The Cairn o'Mount is one of Scotland's legendary roads for cycling. Legendary for the steep gradient and challenge of climbing it. I used this road when returning from a cycling trip in Royal Deeside. Read on to see how I got on.
Highlights of this Cycling Route
After cycling the Deeside Way from Aberdeen to Ballater you have to consider how you return. Do you go back the way you came? Or do you go back a different way? I decided to take a different route to Laurencekirk train station for the journey home. This is a 36 mile journey, via the famous Cairn o'Mount road.
I left Ballater on a cold and misty morning on the B976. The road was very quiet with hardly any traffic. I faced a steep climb, but it was worth it for the views over forest covered hills.
I passed the Deeside Mineral Water factory, an important place in the history of Ballater. Ballater had developed as a spa town because of the large number of visitors who came to drink the mineral water that was renowned for improving health. The water comes from ancient springs in this location and is bottled by Deeside Water. I had a bottle of the stuff with me and it was proving essential on these tough uphills.
When I reached Bridge of Ess I was taken aback by the charming scene before me. There is a fairy-tale tower and a curving bridge with black painted iron railings. It looked such a romantic place to live with the sound of the river, great views and a little garden.
Another pretty scene was the Butterworth Gallery at Ballogie. Here you can buy works from local Scottish landscape painters. It was closed at the time of my visit, but the outside was a scene of nostalgic village life with an old petrol pump, red phone box and red post box.
Before tackling the Cairn o'Mount road I stopped at Finzean Farm and tea shop. Produce on the menu was named after the person who supplied it- 'Sandy Ingram's bacon' and 'Mrs Hesketh's jam'. It had to be cake and there was a huge choice. I decided to tackle the triple layer coffee cake. There were prints on the walls by local artists, at least 3 featuring Highland cows. Two immaculately dressed elderly ladies were chatting to the staff about the daffodils displayed on the counter. "They're from the garden. Lovely faces on them."
There was an information card on the table about the setting up of the business. It was interesting to read that the owners went against the advice of the feasibility study, which stated that this business was too rural to survive. They had clearly proved them wrong because this place was thriving and I noticed many tables with reserved signs on them.
About 5 miles from Finzean old fashioned AA (Automobile Association) phone box marks the beginning of the Cairn o'Mount Road. It is smartly painted in yellow and black, with AA crests in the gables. At one time there were almost 1000 of these boxes across the UK. They were first introduced in 1919 as manned booths where an AA sentry-man provided mechanical help, directions and even medical assistance.
By the 1920s the boxes were turned into "call boxes." AA members were given keys to them and inside there was a telephone for getting help- all they had to do was give the number of the call box and someone would be on their way. The boxes also contained useful items like maps, oil lamps and fire extinguishers.
Another famous feature of the Cairn o'Mount road is that it has snow gates. In bad weather these gates are used to close the road. This can happen frequently in the winter.
The uphill climb begins immediately that you start the road. A warning sign displays a 14% gradient. There is no gentle introduction to the hills; you have to dive right in.
I will not lie to you; this is tough cycling, even with a good level of fitness. At one point I was overtaken by a road cyclist. "This is supposed to be fun.!" He called out.
I laughed, but thought 'it's okay for you. I am loaded down with panniers.' Yes, if you are doing cycle touring on this route you really feel the weight of your baggage on these hills.
The road began with forest, but later the landscape opens up with a more barren appearance. At this stage I thought the hills were over, but no! There were more. I could see the road continuing far off into the distance and it was going up, up, up. It was not good for morale to see the road going up with no sign of leveling off.
The name 'Cairn o'Mount' comes from the cairn that can be seen on top of the Hill. From a distance it looks very impressive, like a craggy mound on a mountain top.
This cairn has been here for about 4,000 years, added to over the years by passing hikers. It is currently about 3.5m high and 15.5m wide.
I was almost out of my Deeside water, dehydrated and feeling sick. I thought that I would collapse if I stopped and would not be able to get back up again, so I kept going.
Finally the downhills began. They were fast and twisty. I arrived at a viewpoint with a car park. I stopped to take photos of the incredible vista. The road, snaking its way across the landscape, was in the middle of a panorama of rolling hills.
Then I let myself sit back and let the bike do the work. I did not have to pedal, just use the brakes a lot. The constant tight turns made this a lot of fun to ride.
The Cairn o'Mount road ends at Fettercairn (or starts there, if you are doing this in the other direction). From there it is a mostly flat run to Laurencekirk train station which provides convenient connections to Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Laurencekirk station is a fine survivor of Scotland's Victorian railway architecture. It was closed in 1967 and in a sorry state until it was reopened in 2009. The restoration has resulted in bringing back many original features like the canopy and waiting room with wood panelling and fire place. I love that the station name signage on the windows is in the colour scheme and typeface that would have been in place in the 60s when the building was last used.
If you fancy tackling the Cairn o'Mount road then Laurencekirk station is the best placed for access. From here it is only about 4 miles to the start of the road. This is also a good way to return from a trip on the Deeside Way to avoid having to go back the way you came.
Train times for Laurencekirk- about 30/34 minutes to Aberdeen, about 2 hours to Glasgow (direct trains), and just under 2 hours to Edinburgh.
Read my Deeside Way travel feature
Edinburgh is full of world-famous attractions. The Castle. Royal Yacht Britannia. The Royal Mile. But what about the lesser known sights? The things that only a local knows about, but well worth seeking out. Here are my favourite hidden gems.
1. Circus Lane, Stockbridge
Away from the crowds of The Royal Mile you can find a tranquil street with cobbles, gorgeous flowers and a view of a church steeple. The cute houses will inspire you to watch for one coming on the market and relocate. Get there for the clock chimes and it will feel even more lovely. Circus Lane is located in Stockbridge, a 15 minute walk or 5 minute cycle from the city centre.
2. Craigmillar Castle
Commonly referred to as "Edinburgh's other castle", Craigmillar is actually one of the most exciting castles in Scotland. It is awash with staircases, passages and turrets that provide endless exploring. It is also set in extensive parkland that feels like the middle of the countryside, but is only 3 miles from the city centre. Despite this the castle never gets crowded and many of those jostling around Edinburgh Castle will be blissfully unaware that Craigmillar exists.
Read my blog about Craigmillar Castle and how to cycle there
3. Swanston Cottages
Thatched cottages in a capital city? Who would have thought it? The ten white cottages at Swanston date back to the 1700s and they are clustered in a tranquil wooded setting on the slopes of the Pentland Hills. Do not miss the free range hens whose eggs are used in the nearby Swanston Brasserie. From the cottages there are marked hiking trails into the hills. Swanston is about 6 miles south of the city centre.
4. The Doors of Warrander Park Terrace
When you are on a city break you usually come across apartments that seem to be the dream place to live if you moved to that city. In Edinburgh, Warrander Park Terrace is that place. These are noticeably grander than the typical Edinburgh tenement with elegant doorways, some with a distinctive stone rope archway. They also boast magnificent views across the Meadows to Edinburgh Castle. Take a walk along Warrander Park Terrace and you will dream about living here.
5. Highland Cows at Mortonhall Estate
You don't have to travel all the way to the Highlands to see a Highland Cow. You can find them right here in Edinburgh. The Mortonhall Estate is only 5 miles from Edinburgh city centre, but is home to this iconic Scottish beast. The Estate is also a wonderful place for walking where there is a chance of seeing a variety of wildlife, including hedgehog, roe deer and fox.
6. Debenhams Staircase
The gallery of Jenner's Department Store, particularly at Christmas, is probably the most famous Princess Street interior. However, head inside Debenhams and walk right to the back of the ground floor cosmetics department and you will find a magnificent staircase. This dates back to the building's former life as the Conservative Club. It has a stained glass window featuring Benjamin Disraeli, a 19th century Prime Minister. My favourite feature of the staircase is the brass lions that appear to be spitting out the banisters. There is a cafe on the landing of the staircase so that you can enjoy it with coffee and cake. Also seek out the Library Room, which was a part of the Liberal Club, and features mahogany bookcases.
7. The Lodge Coffee House
It always surprises me that this gorgeous little cafe does not appear on blogs listing the best places for coffee in Edinburgh. It is located inside the former lodge house of Old Hermitage House. There are lovely original features like the fireplace, wooden doors and window shutters. The coffee is great and you can order sweet or savoury crepes. For sunny days there is a large outdoor seating area. The Lodge is the place to come after a Sunday walk in the Hermitage of Braid, a stunning area of forest trails. You will find it in Morningside, around 3 miles from the city centre.
8. The Secret Chocolate Shop
Edward & Irwyn is a chocolate shop that opens just once per week, on a Saturday. It is a magical experience venturing inside the small space, which is basically a kitchen for making the chocolates, where there is a cute display of sweet delights. You can also get a free sample! The flavours are unusual and you will find nothing like this in a standard chocolate shop- scots pine, juniper and smoked salt. Try the honeycomb chocolate, made from Scottish honey or the dark chocolate with Icelandic black lava salt. The shop is located on Morningside Drive, so you could combine this with a visit to the Lodge Coffee House.
8. Colinton Dell
The village of Colinton is around 5 miles from the city centre. It is a beautiful place to go for a weekend walk because of the extensive woodland paths running alongside the Water of Leith. If ever there was a place to shake off the noise and grime of city life this is it. Look out for the former mill buildings and cottages, which are unbelievably photogenic and will have you pondering how you can make this your home. Also look out for the old railway tunnel which is fun to walk through. Colinton Dell is easily reached using the traffic-free cycling route along the Union Canal and Water of Leith.
10. Dr Neil's Secret Garden
For years I had heard locals talking about Dr Neil's Garden and read about it in books, but I didn't think it sounded special enough to visit until recently. Wow! I wish I had come here sooner. It is utterly gorgeous and I instantly fell in love with it. The gardens are laid out on terraces that face Duddingston Loch. There are water features, bridges and lots of little pathways. You can easily spend several hours here, just relaxing, exploring and enjoying the great variety of flowers. If you only manage to do one thing on this list make it this one. The gardens are just a 20 minute cycle from the city centre.
Some of these hidden gems are included in this brilliant book. It is crammed full of unusual things to visit in Edinburgh, so if you have done the castle, the museum and Princess Street then turn to this book for plenty of inspiration of new things to see a do.
Click on this image to buy it from Amazon:
My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle. Follow my blog on Facebook: