Drama and melancholy at Castle Campbell

Drama and melancholy at Castle Campbell

As I browsed my Historic Scotland Members’ Handbook (see previous post for full excitement), looking for a May bank holiday activity that didn’t involve shouting at the kids while Errol worked wood, my attention was caught by Castle Campbell. The guidebook said it was poised high in the Ochil hills, caught between two ravines through which tumbled, on one side, the Burn of Sorrow and, on the other, the Burn of Care. How awesome is that?! I love Scotland’s drama and melancholy, it’s so thrillingly depressing. The Book said you had to leave the car in the car park and hike 40 minutes up through the Dollar Glen to get to the castle but you know what? I decided we were up to it. Despite the kids’ complaining that they didn’t want to go out, Errol returning grumpily from an abortive morning’s work and the rain which kept falling I decided to focus on the sun between the showers and simply pack some spare socks. That’s how hardy I am after 18 months in Scotland. Well, my gamble paid off! The glen was extremely pretty, with the two burns rushing down through steep, mossy walls covered with wild garlic, ferns and other bright green vegetation. The steepness was mildly scary with Whingey, who doesn’t really have full control of his limbs, but we made it to the castle in the sunshine and inside just before the deluge. And it doesn’t get better than that up here. The very welcoming chap at reception told us there was a picnic room next to the toilets and indeed there was: a lovely sandstone room...
Craigmillar: a surprisingly good castle

Craigmillar: a surprisingly good castle

In exciting news, I got membership to Historic Scotland, mainly to force us off our backsides (and Errol out of his workroom/garden where he hobbies away) and into exploring our adopted country, seeing as it’s beautiful. So expect many castles to come, because we get in free now to most of them (well, for a bargain price of £7 a month)! Craigmillar Castle is in the suburbs of Edinburgh, with lovely open views to the south side of Arthur’s Seat. It’s set in parkland and from the approach doesn’t look like much – “It’s not a castle, it’s a ruin!” remarked Stroppy – but from closer up it’s pretty well preserved. As you go in through the attractive main door you find yourself in a lovely courtyard with a great, ancient, gnarly yew tree growing in the middle. ‘Ah’, I thought. ‘I might even enjoy this visit as well.’ The castle itself is compact but surprisingly easy to get lost in: did we just come up that staircase? Or was it this one? And the rooms themselves are unusually homely– it could be the warm sandstone colour as opposed to granite, which I believe was the fashion for many castles of the day. It’s easy to imagine Mary Queen of Scots sighing in her chamber over her plan trend the life of her vain and treacherous husband, Lord Darnley. Did she have any regrets as she closed the velvet curtains around her four-poster that night? Probably not, as Darnley had just murdered her private secretary David Rizzio, rumoured to be the father of her child. There are a lot of fascinating...
Snow thanks! How the Pentlands made the white stuff almost bearable

Snow thanks! How the Pentlands made the white stuff almost bearable

  Now, something to understand about snow is: I hate snow. From inside the house, looking at it falling softly past a streetlight, it’s pretty. But I’m already filled with dread at that point – it means I’ll have to go out in it the next day. It’s cold, wet, you need too many extra accoutrements for the kids – gloves, scarves, hats, 20 pairs of socks..and you know they’ll still end up cold and wet. Then there’s the wellies dilemma – they need to wear waterproof boots (not worth buying snow boots for one day a year) but their feet freeze in wellies. The whole thing is annoying. But the fall of snow we had in Edinburgh in January this year was very well behaved. It arrived during the evening, falling gently past the streetlights; the next day was fine and sunny and there was just enough of a covering for a quick sledge…and then it considerately melted away. My parents gave us two sledges when we moved to the wilds of Scotland but so far we hadn’t needed them. Today was the day! Edinburgh, as well as being excellently served in beaches, also has a range of hills – the Pentlands. After a brief Google I settled on a place that had a free car park – Swanston Golf Club – hoping it wouldn’t be too much of a trek from there to find a slope. Well, what a find! Just beyond the car park was a set of slopes, at a decent gradient, but not too scary. The place was perfect and in true Edinburgh style...
Tyninghame: a beach of character

Tyninghame: a beach of character

Tyninghame is one of those gorgeous East Lothian beaches between Edinburgh and North Berwick which all seem to have their own character. Tyninghame’s character is fantastical, geological and wild. Getting there: Satnav is not much help. Heading along the A198 from the A1, East Linton goes off to the left and then second on the right, at the Rettie sign, is your turnoff for the Tyninghame car park. The car park is one particularly adorned with plastic bags filled with dog shit, but don’t let that put you off. The walk to the beach goes through Binning Wood, a glorious collection of beech trees planted originally by the Earl of Haddington, felled during WW2 then replanted (yep, I read the information board). Then, suddenly, you stumble onto the beach where a huge, sprawling vista opens up to the right towards the broad sands of Belhaven Bay, and a compact, prettier view is to the left, where Seacliff hides behind the headland. Going left, the beach turns out to be a strange and lovely collection of rocks and pools of strange colours and formations due to all kinds of geological goings on which I will not even claim to know about. It’s like a land from Gulliver’s Travels, where if you were tiny you’d be surrounded by rocky cliffs and lakes, but instead you feel like a giant treading through a fantastical, miniature land. Also, because the forest comes right down to the beach you get the heather and gorse greens next to the dusky pink of the rocks – a particularly lovely colour combo. It was also freezing. Although...
Blissed out at Loch Lomond

Blissed out at Loch Lomond

Often our family days out suffer from either a/ bad planning or b/ bad temper. But I planned this with the help of an actual guide book, and the beauty of the place combined with gorgeous, sunny September weather made bad temper (pretty much) impossible. For a day trip to Loch Lomond with two young children, you could do worse than follow this recommended itinerary: – Pack a picnic. – Leave Edinburgh around 9.30am. – Arrive around 11am at Balmaha, on the quieter east shore of the loch, parking in the free car park. Walk down past the Oak Tree Inn to the Balmaha Boatyard. Ask a boatyard gentleman to ferry you over to the island of Inchchailleach (adults £5 return, under 16s £2.50), without actually pronouncing the island’s name. Feel secretly glad you didn’t hire a boat, which you kind of wanted to do, because it’s a lot easier to sit and be ferried over to the isle, whilst relaxing and enjoying the stunning scenery. – Walk the signposted Summit Path for a gentle climb and more glorious views. About 45 minutes later arrive at a small, picturesque beach with handy picnic tables and an eco-toilet. Eat sandwiches; forbidding children to feed the lot to a group of cute but determined ducks. – Walk back via the lower path, taking in the 13th century burial ground. Learn a bit about the castle-rustling local Clan MacGregor and a convent of possibly mythical nuns. Avoid being wrenched away from exploring burial ground by a small child yelling: ‘I need a poo!’. Remember toilet roll. – Arrive back at the jetty...
Helpie! It’s The Kelpies!

Helpie! It’s The Kelpies!

We struck out: my parents, Stroppy, Whingey and I crammed into our car with me driving, nervously. I’ve never found driving a very natural thing, what with it’s RISK OF DEATH and all, but sat nav is helping quite a lot. Not this time though. It took us to an industrial park in Falkirk and forced me to do all kind of manoeuvres including on a big road. Anyway. We made it to The Kelpies car park eventually (£2 per day), about a 40 minute drive from Edinburgh. In case you don’t know, The Kelpies are two enormous silver horse heads that are visible enough from the motorway to make a person very curious. And being there is even curiouser. They are situated on the Forth and Clyde Canal, which has recently been extended, and the whole area is still being landscaped so there’s a half-finished feel to it, but it will soon be lovely. There are new wetlands with bulrushes and birds and probably frogs; cycle trails and canal boat trips; you can watch barges going up and down the locks and there’s the Helix – an enormous wooden playground great for all ages, with a fountains splash play area. All of that for free. As for The Kelpies themselves you can pay to take a tour, but there’s no obvious information yet about what two great horses heads are doing sitting there in the middle of nowhere (sorry, Falkirk).  Undaunted, we found a friendly shop worker and he told us. Kelpies are mythical creatures who live in water and like to lure people in and kill them....