The historic city of Stirling, once Scotland's ancient capital, in the words of the eminent broadcaster David Dimbleby, has a castle "that rivals Edinburgh's". And so it does. Steeped in history this attractive rural city features in the story's of many of Scotland's and the United Kingdom's most famous historical figures including William Wallace and King James VI and I. James Stewart, known as King James sixth of Scotland and first of England and Ireland was the first king to rule all three nations at once. He spent most of his young life at Stirling Castle which it is thought was originally erected either during or sometime before the 12th century. Stirling is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts with open countryside all around that can be accessed within minutes from virtually anywhere within the city. Our accommodation is located in Kings Park, an affluent Victorian district situated below and adjacent to the old town. You are ideally placed to explore both the town, it's parks and the fabulous woodlands and country lanes nearby. All can be easily reached on foot or by bicycle.
Milngavie (pronounced Mill-guy) is an affluent suburb situated in the north of Glasgow. It's 15 minutes away from Glasgow airport by car and 25 minutes by train from the city centre. Although not a holiday destination in itself considerable numbers of tourists, probably more than 30,000, pass through the town each year. This is because Milngavie is the traditional starting point for one of the world's most famous long distance walking trails - the West Highland Way. Within a 5 minute stroll from the train station lie the gates to this fabulous route. Walkers, cyclists and runners gather here to be photographed before undertaking their great journey.
Although our route barely glances the outskirts of Killearn we felt given its historic significance as the birthplace of George Buchanan that it was worth mentioning. The attractive village sits on the edge of a moor overlooking the confluence of the Blane and Endrick Valleys. A one-time farming village today it serves as an affluent satellite of Glasgow. It’s most famous son George Buchanan, born in 1506, was a prominent Scottish scholar and tutor to King James VI of Scotland who later became King James I of England and Ireland also. James was the first monarch to rule all three kingdoms simultaneously. He also ruled over Wales at this time but technically Wales is a principality. A 31metre tall monument has been erected in Buchanan’s name near the village Kirk and can be seen from miles around. A detour into the village would add roughly two miles or just over three kilometres to your journey.
Drymen is a relatively small village nestling just a few miles from the shores of Loch Lomond. It sits at a crossroads of the ways. The West Highland Way passes through the village while the Rob Roy Way starts here and the John Muir Way passes by only a couple of miles away. Despite it's size, Drymen is a lively wee place, supporting two hotels and numerous bed and breakfasts. With friendly bars and good quality eateries it's a popular haunt for locals and tourists alike.
Aberfoyle, often referred to as the ‘Gateway to the Trossachs’, is a pleasant and peaceful village situated at the foot of the Menteith Hills and amidst the vast Queen Elizabeth Forest Park. The hills are particularly significant because they mark the line of the Highland Boundary Fault which runs through the island of Arran on the west coast to Stonehaven on the east coast and separates the Highlands from the Lowlands. Another prominent feature of the village is the River Forth that runs through its centre before winding its way across a vast flood plain to Stirling and then Edinburgh where it enters the North Sea. The village is busy through the day with day trippers but generally quiet later in the evening. However, there are still enough customers buzzing about to ensure the couple of inns providing food and one or two café/restaurants remain open.
Like Aberfoyle just over the hill, Callander straddles the divide between the Highlands and Lowlands. It sits just beyond the eastern tip of the beautiful Loch Venachar at the foot of the forested Menteith Hills. It’s the largest village in the Trossachs and supports numerous hotels, B&B’s, restaurants and bars and is busy most of the year round. The centre of Callander is distinctly Victorian with many of that eras more substantial villas now operating as small hotels or guesthouses. However, many remain as family homes in this relatively affluent town. The River Teith runs right through the villages’ heart providing a particularly pleasant outlook for well placed residences on its banks and sport in the form of fishing and canoeing. Another great site from the village is that of Ben Ledi, a magnificent looking hill and one reasonably easy as well as pleasing to climb.
The conservation village of Comrie sits at the confluence of three rivers in what is an indescribably idyllic setting. Famed for its beauty the settlements history can be traced back to Pictish times with much visible evidence of standing stones in the area. And in 79AD the Romans built a fort here in order to take advantage of the locations strategic position on the edge of the Highlands. Comrie is also of great geological interest due to the fact that it sits along the Highland Boundary Fault. And as a result is the most seismically active place in the United Kingdom recording more tremors than anywhere else. Now an attraction it is possible to visit Earthquake House one of the world’s earliest earthquake monitoring centres.
On the outskirts of Comrie there is an old military camp, Cultybraggan, which was used during the Second World War to house prisoners of war. The site is now owned by the community trust and is used for various things including growing vegetables.
Round and about Comrie there are some great cycling and walking opportunities including a good choice of riverside walks, woodland walks and hill walks and both on and off-road cycling routes. Comrie Croft just over two miles away has its’ very own mountain bike trail and a short hop away Glen Lednock affords walkers access to Ben Chonzie.
Crieff is one of Scotland’s historic spa towns and like near neighbour Comrie sits at the confluence of productive rivers while straddling the Highland Boundary Fault. I say productive rivers because one is currently utilised for whisky production and the other used to power local mills. An affluent market town Crieff first grew rich as a cattle trading centre during the fourteen hundreds and later became a prominent player in the weaving industry. Nowadays it’s a popular tourist destination offering visitors a huge choice of things to do.
Set amidst some very attractive countryside Crieff sits on the boundary between the Lowlands and Highlands. These two contrasting landscapes greatly complement each other while offering outdoor adventurers everything from delightful riverside walks to full on mountaineering. There are two golf courses, a high ropes course, a distillery, quiet back roads ideal for road cycling and some excellent single-track for mountain bikers. Macrosty Park is great for young kids and there’s also a good adventure play area at Crieff Hydro.
Ardeonaig is a pretty little hamlet on the southern shores of Loch Tay. Not much more than a collection of farm buildings, cottages and country houses it manages to boast a hotel that is renowned for its quality. The Ardeonaig Hotel is a four star establishment that serves as a watering hole to walkers, cyclists and day trippers as well as providing comfortable bedrooms for overnighting guests.
Killin is a pleasant Highland village corralled by two attractive rivers that flow into Loch Tay. The Falls of Dochart formed on the river bearing the same name are a wonderful site and draw many visitors to the area in themselves. The River Lochay is a more serene beast that gently meanders around the village, conveniently providing mooring for boats adjacent to properties along its bank. There are several shops in the village including an outdoors shop that hires out mountain bikes and Canadian Canoes. For sleeping, eating and drinking there are also several options in the form of hotels, inns, B&B’s, guesthouses, restaurants and bars.
Bridge of Orchy
The wee village of Bridge of Orchy served by train station and a popular hotel straddles the River Orchy along the main road from Glasgow to Fort William. It’s a popular spot frequented by mountain bikers, walkers and those seeking to enjoy the white water rapids on the river. The West Highland Way, one of Scotland’s long distance walking routes, passes through the village and opposite are two of the country’s most regularly climbed mountains, Beinn an Dothaidh and Bein Dorain. Each is worth climbing on its own but they’re often tackled together due to their proximity.
Residing on the western fringes of Rannoch Moor the hotel at Kings House has been serving outdoor enthusiasts, day trippers and other patrons for centuries. The building dates from the 17th century and is reputed to be one of Scotland’s oldest licensed inns. The inn is blessed with some of the best views in Scotland. It’s a mere stone’s throw from the White Corries of which Meall a’ Bhuiridh (hill of roaring) pronounced meel-a-voo-ree is one and from where we get our name Vurie. Glen Etive and Glen Coe are accessed after a few minutes cycling from the hotel. And one of the most spectacular views of all is that of the Buchaille Etive Mor (big shepherd of Etive), one of Scotland’s most photographed mountains, standing guardian at the entrance of both glens.
Meall a’ Bhuiridh is also home to Scotland’s oldest ski centre. Rebranded Glencoe Mountain Resort in the late noughties, the company have diversified and now offer downhill mountain biking to patrons in summer while still catering to an enthusiastic bunch of winter sports fans when the snow falls. Hikers also make use of the chairlift along with sightseers who’re mostly just after the view which in my humble opinion is pretty awesome.
Rannoch Station is just that, a train station. It sits in the eastern reaches of Rannoch Moor one of Scotland’s last true wildernesses. It can only be accessed by road from the east and despite having a hotel does not support much in the way of a population other than the occupants of one solitary cottage opposite the hotel. Despite this remoteness you will not be alone in this neck of the woods as other adventurers frequently pass through in search of the solitude that the moor and neighbouring mountain ranges can offer. Roundabout there are various tracks leading into the hills or down to Loch Laidon a popular destination for fisherman and canoeists. These trails can be explored on foot or by bike.
Kinloch Rannoch is a quiet Highland village straddling the River Tummel at the eastern end of Loch Rannoch. It’s most spectacular view is that of Schiehallion, a fine mountain to the south. The scene down the loch is one of tranquillity and one that might be sought by those seeking peace and solitude. Although small Kinloch Rannoch is the largest settlement in the whole valley and can boast two hotels and a shop complete with post office.
Bridge of Balgie
Bridge of Balgie is set amidst the middle reaches of what has been described as Scotland's 'Longest, loneliest and loveliest' valley, Glen Lyon. It is a remote glen perched high above and to the north of Strath Tay. Access is via narrow single-track roads sometimes with steep drops to ravines and rivers below. It’s a wild and stunning location and one that certainly shouldn’t be missed on a trip to Scotland.
There’s little to speak of in the way of the village bar a few pretty private dwellings nestling amongst the trees. That said there is a village eatery in the form of Glenlyon Tearoom that is also a shop and post office too.
Fortingall is a stunning wee village famed for its’ ancient yew tree estimated to be as much as 3000 years old. This would make it the oldest tree in Britain. The village sits amidst lush green meadows a short distance from where Glen Lyon runs into Strath Tay. It is undoubtedly the largest settlement in Glen Lyon but does not boast a shop or post office like Bridge of Balgie. Instead though there is an ample hotel that can satisfy many a traveler’s needs.
Kenmore is blessed with some tremendous views over Loch Tay towards the Ben Lawers group of mountains on the loch’s northern shore. The village itself is pleasing on the eye too with a picture postcard bridge crossing the River Tay. And then there’s the pretty main square with rows of cottages running down two sides and shouldering the Kenmore Hotel on one of the sides. At one end on a promontory sits the village kirk overlooking both loch and square. Opposite is the grand arched entrance to Taymouth Castle Estate. The castle is currently being renovated and its new owners plan to open an upmarket hotel. Guests might even be able to arrive by plane using the loch as a landing strip.
The Highland town of Aberfeldy is a bustling centre of activity. Along the main drag traditional Victorian buildings house shops, banks, hotels, and tea rooms. Step away from here and you’ll find yourself in residential streets full of Victorian terraces and villas many with gardens full of brightly coloured flowers, mature trees and sumptuous hedgerows. At the northern end of town the five arches of General Wade’s Bridge span the River Tay below four sculpted obelisks protruding skywards near the centre of the bridge. It is a simple yet stunning piece of architecture.
Grandtully is a beautiful wee village on the south bank of the River Tay. And despite its size boasts a primary school, chocolatier, hostel, inn, coffee house and a water sports centre. From the inn it’s possible to watch white water rafters and kayakers careering down the rapids below. Less than a minute’s stroll across a bridge adjacent to the inn and water sports centre car park is Grandtully’s nearest neighbour Strathtay, also very attractive. What Strathtay lacks in chocolatiers and inns it gains in a village shop and golf course. And like Grandtully has some fabulous Victorian houses.
Grand hotels, castles and country homes reside alongside impressive examples of Victorian engineering in a truly stunning mountain setting amidst forests of pine and oak and beech and alder and more. With glistening Loch Faskally and the tumbling Tummel River right at the heart of this spellbinding picture, the allure of Pitlochry is patently obvious to see. It’s no wonder that this town is one of Scotland’s most popular visitor destinations outside of Edinburgh. Besides the usual attractions of spas, a distillery, fine restaurants and quality accommodation Pitlochry also boasts a theatre which is responsible in itself for many of the towns’ visitors. The theatre keeps the punters rolling in all year round with many acclaimed productions to see performed by theatre companies from near and far.