This is one of my favourite Scottish beers and it brings back many great memories from my first ever cycling trip. It is a dark beer with flavours of coffee, chocolate and figs, and refreshing and easy to drink.
The Orkney Islands are located 10 miles from the north coast of mainland Scotland. My first ever cycling trip was on these islands and a drink of one of the fine creations of The Orkney Brewery each evening was a memorable part of my visit. This was also my first experience of Scottish craft beers and that grew to a determination to seek out locally produced beers on future cycling trips.
Like many craft beer producers The Orkney Brewery plays on its location and island heritage. The bottle artwork of Dark Island features an image of the island's iconic standing stones during a sunrise or sunset. The tagline '5000 years in the making' refers to the fact that the islands have been inhabited for this many years. It gives the bottle a striking look and this design theme is continued throughout their range.
This is a dark beer, which you might expect to be quite heavy, but I find it light and refreshing. It goes down easily and is a pleasure to drink. You get tastes of coffee, chocolate and fig. I tried most of The Orkney Brewery beers on my first ever cycling trip and Dark Island was the favourite. It remains one of my favourite Scottish beers and is easy to find in supermarkets and pubs throughout the country.
"Brewed in Scotland for 4000 years, Heather Ale is the oldest style of ale still made in the world." The bottle label provides a marvelous introduction to this classic of Scottish craft beers. It has a unique and delicious taste.
What could be more Scottish than Heather? And here is a beer brewed with Heather. It smells of flowers. It tastes slightly sweet, a unique taste that is hard to describe. Perhaps something like a healthy smoothie with good stuff, a herbal taste. There is something outdoorsy about it that makes me think of sitting on a hillside among Heather on the edge of a peat bog. It evokes a scottish location, making this possibly the most authentically Scottish beer that I have had.
It is very easy to drink with no strong or overwhelming flavours and virtually no biterness. It is perfectly balanced. I would say that this is a great introductory beer if you are not normally a beer drinker as I think that you would like it. I love it.
Fraoch is one of Scotland's original and best craft beers. The flavours are authentically Scottish and the ancient origins of the recipe give this beer a strong and unique identity. It is widely available, so should be easy to find in pubs, supermarkets and specialist beer shops. Give this a try and let me know what you think.
Gleneagles is world famous for its golf course and 5-star hotel. The train station that serves the hotel had been a shadow of its former grandeur for many years. Then came the Ryder Cup in 2014 and investment was ploughed into the station. It is a delight to arrive at this station and it is now one of the finest in Scotland.
A stay at Gleneagles evokes the elegance of the 1920s. Back then the wow-factor began as soon as you stepped off the train. Gleneagles station was suitably spectacular, but when the glory days of rail travel passed by and more people took to the roads the station declined.
Prior to 2014 I started one of my cycling trips from Gleneagles station. I was saddened to see the train station boarded up. There was still a hint of its former beauty, but it looked neglected and faded. All the windows were boarded up, the doors sealed shut and the paintwork was dull.
Sporting events that attract global audiences always bring investment into the local area and this is exactly what happened to Gleneagles station for the 2014 Ryder Cup. A huge number of spectators were expected to arrive by train, so the station had to be up to the job. 3.5 million was spent on lifts, toilets and infrastructure improvements. But the best thing was the reopening of the waiting room, which meant the beautiful bay windows seeing light for the first time in years.
Inside the waiting room the walls are wood paneled and there are information boards that tell the story of the area, including the history of the hotel and the railway.
The station has also been painted in the colour scheme of the Caledonian Railway, the company that originally built the station in 1919. This reinforces the important heritage of this building. It makes it stand out among other stations in Scotland for not having the Scotrail corporate colours and branding.
It is great to see Gleneagles restored to such a high standard after years of neglect. With the hotel and golf course attracting visitors from all over the world I feel proud that they will be seeing this beautiful building at its best.
The station is in a supberb location for heading off on cycling trips into the area, so it makes for an enjoyable start to days out in the Perthshire countryside.
Make sure to stop by at Gleneagles station and let me know if you love it as much as I do.
"The aim of this beer was to make the perfect summer drink; sweet, fruity and refreshing.The aim of this beer was to make the perfect summer drink; sweet, fruity and refreshing." (Fyne Ales website). They have certainly achieved that with this lovely, fruity concoction. Celebrate Scottish raspberries and Scottish beer all in one drink.
Fyne Ales are located on the shores of Loch Fyne in Argyll and have an excellent range of beers. This is influenced by German wheat beers, with a load of Scottish raspberries thrown in. It smells wonderfully of raspberries. I expected it to be very sweet, but not so. There is more of a sour taste than a sweet taste.
It has the feeling of a soft drink, with a good amount of carbonation and at only 3.8 % it is not strong on the alcohol. This is certainly a drink for a sunny day on the shores of an Argyll loch.
The bottle label stands out from the crowd with its vivid red colour and a joke about the JFK Berlin speech.
I loved this beer and that it uses a Scottish fruit for its flavours. It is yet another innovative craft beer from a Scottish producer.
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The world-famous Rosslyn Chapel, as featured in The Di Vinci Code, is only 7 miles south of Edinburgh. If you are cycling the Edinburgh to Penicuik path you can make a visit to the chapel. There is also an Edinburgh City Council QuietRoutes cycle route. The chapel has one of the most beautiful interiors I have ever seen. Every inch of stone is carved intricately with angels, knights and biblical scenes.
Sir William wanted his chapel to spread God's word and at a time when few people could read this was best achieved by visual messages in the form of stone carvings all over the interior of the chapel.
An army of craftsmen were required to bring this vision to life and the village of Roslin grew to house them. Stonemasons, quarriers, blacksmiths and carpenters were all involved.
Photography is not permitted inside the chapel in order not to disturb other visitors' enjoyment. This is a good thing as it forces people into a slower pace and to take a greater interest in the carvings instead of rushing around to shoot pictures.
There is an excellent free leaflet that shows you the locations of the most notable carvings in the building. It has a map, photos and a short explanation about what the carvings mean.
The best way to learn about the chapel is by listening to one of the regular talks. You can take a seat on a pew and hear all about the incredible history of this building, including its restoration, and the guide uses a laser pen to point out specific carvings.
One of the most extravagant carvings is the Apprentice Pillar. It is said to have been made by an apprentice mason who saw the design in a dream. His master was extremely jealous and murdered the apprentice. Do take a closer look at this, it is magnificent. There are eight dragons at the base of the pillar who have vines sprouting from their mouths.
You might just meet William, the chapel cat. He likes to take a nap on the pews and I sat right next to him, stroking his silky fur whilst he was oblivious to all of the tourists around him. A children's book about the cat, written by the Countess of Rosslyn, can be bought in the shop.
The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown is one of the most popular books of all time and it had a huge impact on Rosslyn Chapel. It featured in the book and the film version brought Holywood to the chapel for a few days. The result was a huge influx of visitors with much needed income that enabled the restoration of the building to be completed.
The modern visitor centre has a shop, interactive exhibitions and a cafe specialising in local produce. During my visit I enjoyed a fruit scone with jam and lashings of clotted cream.
When the weather is good the cafe's outdoor terrace is a choice spot for views over Roslin Glen. The chapel overlooks this area of forest, river and walking trails.
Although the carvings inside the chapel are the highlight of a visit the outside of the building is also impressively adorned with fine stonework.
Adjacent to the chapel entrance you will notice a distinctive yellow building with '1660' scrawled above the entrance. This had been Rosslyn Inn and can now be rented as self-catering accommodation. It had an impressive rostrum of guests, including Robert Burns, William Wordsworth and King Edward VII.
There is something tranquil and spiritual about Rosslyn Chapel. Even if you have no interest in religion or The Da Vinci Code it is difficult not to be impressed by the stonework. It can be a busy place, but, somehow, this does not distract from enjoying the special feeling you get when walking around the building. Some touristy places can be disappointing because they are too touristy, but Rosslyn Chapel is not one of those places.
How to get there
Read my blog about the Edinburgh to Penicuik cycle path
Edinburgh City Council QuietRoutes
My name is Colin Baird and I want to see all of Scotland by bicycle.