Travel Jottings

Celebrating the best bits and bobs to be found while exploring Britain, Ireland and beyond. Much is inspired by real outings, whether they were walking, cycling or photographic in nature, while virtual blundering in the name of planning them has turned up some gems too. Regardless of how they were found, I hope that they keep coming so I can continue to share new things with you.

Exploring Some of Scotland's Cities

Inverness Castle, Inverness-shire, Scotland

The inspiration came from a recent bout of updates to the photo gallery following a flying visit to Inverness. That set me to thinking about various outings to the city before my mind got to wandering more widely about the country, recalling my encounters with other cities. Apart from Paisley or Dundee, I seem to have been in most of them so I should have some observations and reminisces to offer.

Edinburgh

To some observers, it might seem twee to begin with Scotland's capital but I lived there for around four years so I should have the most to say about the place. As it happens, I also continue to have a soft spot for the city where I ended my university days. If it weren't for the need to earn a living, I might never have left.

Having lived on Dalkeith Road, on West Mains Road and in Bruntsfield, you might see that the city's southern parts were my main stomping ground and I hardly ever went north of New Town while I lived there. Areas such as Costorphine, Gorgie and Dalry were frequented from time to time as was Holyrood Park and thereabouts. Very oddly, thoughts of exploring the Pentland Hills or those around Peebles never entered my head, omissions that I only set to rights in the years since I left the place. Leith's Shore, Cramond, Dean Village and the Botanic Gardens were other later corrections.

Some may title Edinburgh derisively as a collection of villages but that emphasises not the history of the city but also the green spaces that it has, of which there are many. Add in the various monuments that dot those places and it is easy to see how the name of "the Athens of the North" was acquired, especially if you gaze upon Calton Hill. Add a castle situated atop a volcanic plug in the middle of the city and you guarantee its photogenicity. Plant Scott's Monument and the National Galleries into the mix and those eyes could be very busy.

The thing with Edinburgh is that there is some to see in a small area with the Royal Mile, the Grassmarket, Holyrood Palace and the Scottish Parliament all within walking distance of each other. Then there's the former Royal Yacht out in Leith too if that's you kind of thing. All of this might sound as if it is going to be continually busy but pick your time of year and things may be quieter than you expect.

Of course, having things to see is one thing but having things to do helps too. Towards that end, Edinburgh has various festivals going on throughout the year. The climax of this is in August with the International Festival, the Fringe, the Military Tattoo and the Book Festival. The Film Festival was also about this time but I think that's now in June. In March, there's the Science Festival and the Hogmanay celebrations are famous the world over.

Having lived there year round, I am well acquainted with peaks and troughs in activity. The frenzy of August is in marked contrast with the calmer months of July and September. Add in the comings and goings of students together with busy shopping periods like before Christmas and a fuller picture builds. You can get quietness and frantic activity depending on when you come. Just pick your time according to what you want.

Glasgow

It's 48 miles west of Edinburgh so there's a certain rivalry between the two cities. There are certain similarities in city centre architecture though Glasgow lacks the scenic situations that draw people to its eastern neighbour. However, it has its grandeur too as a visit to George Square will prove. If you're into your shopping, it might pip Edinburgh as your choice of destination and there are ample pedestrianised precincts to ensure that traffic concerns can be left after you in parts.

For me though, it has only ever acted as a staging post for the West Highlands with its having good transport links with Argyll, Lochaber, Skye and others. It is not without it nearby hilly haunts either with the Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park not at all far away. For walkers there's the Allander way leading to Milngavie where the West Highland Way sets off on its merry northbound trajectory. The hills of Arrochar and Crianlarich are also within easy reach while the quieter Cowal peninsula is there for anyone wanting some peace. After that, there's the Campsie Fells so hill wandering and using Glasgow as a base may work well together. While I did play with the idea at one time, I cannot state that I ever made anything of it.

Inverness

It scares me now to think that my first ever visit to one of Scotland's newer cities was over a decade ago. That was before it acquired city status as part of the Millenium celebrations in 2000. The weather on the day of that initial visit did the place few favours with its grey, damp and dreich aspect; Scotland's weather had a north/south split to it on the day and guess who went too far north? The fact that it never dawned upon me to explore its more pleasant parts upstream on the River Ness didn't help impressions either. As it happened, I did pop out to Urquhart Castle on the banks of Loch Ness near Dromnadrochit to snatch some dryness before the rain set in for the evening and I returned to Edinburgh again.

Just over a year later, I saw the place with a sunnier aspect. That was on a return from a short multi-day stay on Skye, the precedent for those longer summer visits to Scotland that now tend to happen every year. A grabbed hour while awaiting a bus connection to Edinburgh helped to alleviate some of the photographic deficit those the fixed lens on my Ricoh compact wasn't of much use for excluding distracting and undesirable elements from any photos. The location of Eilean Donan castle on Loch Duich near Dornie visited earlier that day offered much easier pickings.

Subsequent encounters were similar in feel but being armed with an SLR and a zoom lens helped photographic exploits. In 2002, I scarcely left the bus station such was the tightness of my onward connection on a reprise of a Skye-Inverness-Perth-Edinburgh journey, albeit with a damp start in Skye and showers about for the rest of the day with sunny spells too.

A mad May Day bank holiday dash around Scotland's Highlands that took in Fort William and Pitlochry also allowed me a short spell in Inverness but any hope of meeting an open TIC was dashed, much to my surprise and disappointment. Thankfully, VisitScotland's phones were open on Sundays in those days so all was set in order. Snowy summits could be seen to the north but their registration on any photos was scarcely noticeable afterwards.

Most recently, another weekend itinerary had me embarking on a walk along part of the West Highland Way from Glen Coe to Kinlochleven before travelling onward to Inverness for an overnight stay. That allowed me a greater opportunity to stroll about the place again, find it more medieval parts, marvel at how many churches line the banks of the River Ness, wonder at the presence that added suspension foot bridges across the river and meet up with its greener side about the Ness Islands. In summary, I ventured into places hitherto unseen by my eyes that completely changed my assessment of the city. There are plenty of quieter green spaces where you can relax and there's the Great Glen Way and other walks along the banks of the Ness and the Caledonian Canal to occupy your time too. Quite why I hadn't found them before amazes me but that's how it is.

Aberdeen

The Granite City may only have received one visit from and that was during the week after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. The reason for my being there was an RSC annual conference that I was attending. However, I ended up making a better job of finding Aberdeen's leafier spots at my first go than was the case with Inverness after it. The University of Aberdeen's being in the older quarter of the city helped but sights were on hand a mere stone's throw away from its main street helped too. I may not have returned since but I came away with photos that were as good as could be for me at the time. They may not pass muster with my more exacting eyes these days but that only goes to show how things have changed. Naturally, a few bits and pieces masquerading as souvenirs came away with me too. Thinking about it now, a return may be in order. One possibility would be to fit it in as part of a visit to the Shetland Islands by overnight ferry (the same service also calls to the Orkney Islands but they are sufficiently close to the Scottish mainland that shorter sea journeys are possible and perhaps more sensible).

Stirling

This is another of Scotland's new cities and I have to admit to passing it more than spending any time there. In 2002, I stayed a night in Bannockburn and took a stroll about its centre, passing its castle too. The next day, I popped out to Callander as part of journey capture any opportunities that were available until rain advancing from the east caught up with me on Skye. Thinking about it now, it probably deserves more than a single visit with its history (a monument to William Wallace can be seen from far and wide) and its proximity to hill country such as the Ochill Hills and the Trossachs. For one thing, I used to know someone who earned her hillwalking spurs while attending the city's university.