Planning a day out? Here's a few of our favourite Scottish places to visit with a camera.
Below you'll find a few suggestions of fantastic Scottish locations to visit with your camera.
All reviews are based on the personal experiences of ourselves here at pfg-photography. We don't claim to be experts or to have any special insights, we just want to share our opinions on some of the best photography locations in the country.
The reviews are arranged geographically, feel free to browse the whole page or simply click a link below to go to the relevant articles.
The Northern Isles and Outer Hebrides Highlands and Moray
Aberdeen, Angus and Dundee Perthshire
Argyll, the Isles, Loch Lomond, Stirling and Trossachs The Kingdom of Fife
Edinburgh and the Lothians Glasgow and the Clyde Valley Ayrshire and Arran
Dumfries and Galloway Scottish Borders
The Northern Isles and Outer Hebrides
Highlands and Moray
Newtonmore Wildcat Trail
The Wildcat Trail is a series of linked paths forming an orbit around the beautiful Speyside village of Newtonmore. It can be tackled either as a complete unit or in stages, each stage forming a complete 'mini' trail of its own.
The best place to start the trail is at the Wildcat Trail Centre on Newtonmore high street. Here, for a very small fee, you can purchase a set of maps and trail guides to help you on your way. The trail can of course be completed without these but they are an invaluable aid in my opinion, making sure you keep on the right track and providing a good deal of information on the route. If you choose to finish your walk back at the trail centre you can also get yourself a wee certificate to show off to your friends!
The trail takes in a variety of terrains leading the walker through woodlands and farmlands, heather strewn moorland, wildflower meadows and along the shores of the River Spey. Along the higher ground above Newtonmore there are the remains of hut circles dating from Pictish times as well as later stone built crofts.
The varied habitats along the way make for the possibility of spotting a wide range of wildlife; deer, buzzards, grouse and mountain hare are all common sights and at the right time of year the wildflower meadow is a riot of colour and insect life. The eponymous wildcat itself is a very rare sight these days, there may once have been wildcats along the trail, but nowadays the area is likely too heavily used by humans; it must be remembered that the Scottish wildcat is one of the most endangered animals in the world, much rarer than any tiger species. If you keep a sharp lookout however you may find some unusually coloured and patterned cats on your walk... Dozens of lifesize wildcat models have been painted in a variety of weird and wonderful ways and dispersed in secret locations all around the village and the trail - why not see how many you can track down!
Photography wise there are several areas where panoramic views over Newtonmore and the Spey Valley are available as well as chances of photographing the aforementioned wildlife. There are also many opportunities for more intimate landscape shots of photogenic points around the trails such as the wildflower meadow, the waters of the River Spey, the wild heather moorland and streams flowing through the rugged countryside as well as shots of Newtonmore itself.
The full trail is 6 miles long and is generally easy going along maintained paths made up of grass, gravel, loose stones and tarmac in places; keep your eyes open for the wildcat markers and you can't go far wrong. There is one fairly steep but mercifully short climb to get above Newtonmore, and of course an accompanying descent later, but for the most part the trail is pretty flat. Parking and refreshments are available in Newtonmore.
The Highland Wildlife Park, Kincraig
An absolute gem of a place, a little off the beaten track but well worth the visit, easy to get to straight off the A9 or from Aviemore.
Owned by the RZSS (who also operate Edinburgh Zoo) the park has undergone a transformation in the last few years moving from a focus on purely Scottish wildlife to one based on animals which can be found in Mountain and Tundra biomes throughout the World.
As part of this change many new species have been incorporated along with several brand new modern enclosures. Notable amongst these are those containing Amur Tigers, Japanese Snow Monkeys and Red Pandas. Amid much publicity Mercedes, the UK's only Polar Bear was moved here to her new home in Europe's largest (and the UK's only) Polar Bear enclosure in late 2009. Mercedes has unfortunately passed on now, though a new Polar Bear, Walker, one of the stars of the BBC's Frozen Planet documentary series has now made the park his home.
For photographers the park has many attractions; two hilltop viewpoints give stunning views across the park and the Spey Valley for those who enjoy their landscapes. Most of the animal enclosures are reasonably accessible for photographers, especially the newer ones, one case in point being the fabulous new Red Panda exhibit; You'll never get closer to these lovely animals and the enclosure is well designed from a photography point of view with only a waist height physical barrier in sections meaning no bars, wire or glass in the way. The wolf enclosure allows full frame shots of the wolves heads with a modest 300mm lens; other animal highlights include Snow Monkeys with their own loch, Arctic Foxes and Beavers. Again the photographer is well catered for with close and unobscured views available.
The forest animals section is challenging for photographers, being sited in amongst the trees with very little light, but here can be found one of the most reliable locations in the area for photographing (semi) wild Red Squirrels and native birds at the feeding stations and in the surrounding trees.
The park also includes a drivethrough 'safari' section where the animals are very accustomed to cars and will approach to very close quarters and pose for their photo; here can be found Buffalo, Moose, Reindeer, Przwalski's horses and Yak amongst others. Also in this section are the Red Deer - magnificent in the Autumn.
The park is becoming increasingly popular due to the new attractions but is still rarely hugely busy due to its location so it is usually possible to get yourself into a good position for your shot. Weekends are of course busier so it may be an idea to go on a weekday for maximum effect.
Quite apart from the animals the park can be appreciated for its location, nestled below the surrounding mountains it can be an enjoyable place just to go for a walk around enjoying the scenery.
The staff are generally very knowledgeable and friendly. There is a small gift shop and cafe serving soup, sandwiches, panninis etc and good toilet facilities.
One caveat to remember is that the drivethrough section of the park sometimes has to close in early summer to eliminate ragwort, a plant which is lethal to grazing animals. At this time of year it may be advisable to call ahead or check their website for details.
Located just outside Kingussie this is a beautiful site to spend a few hours if you're in the area. Several wildlife hides along the edge of the marsh make it a good place to head for in inclement weather though you'll likely need a long lens for photography. Roe Deer, Lapwing, Harriers and various wading birds are regularly seen from the hides.
Insh Marshes RSPB Reserve
In addition there are several woodland walks which wind their way through the trees and along the hillsides above the marsh. For me these walks are the highlight of the location and the perfect place to enjoy a stroll on a nice day. The paths aren't strenuous and are generally easy going, though rough in places - they can also be quite slippery underfoot in very dry or wet conditions, one member of pfg-photography, who shall remain nameless, slid down a path here and did some severe damage to their... umm... well lets just say they didn't want to sit down for a while! Keep your camera ready for the small birds flitting through the trees as well as Dragonflies, Frogs and wild flowers for those who like their photography up close. There are also clearings offering good views across the marshes.
The site is unmanned and entrance is free.
Located in the Rothiemurchus estate the 'Loch of the Island' is, in this writers opinion, the jewel in the crown of the many beautiful sites to be found in Speyside. This is hardly a unique view, the location frequently appears in visitor polls and tourist competitions to find Scotland's 'best view' or 'favourite picnic spot'. Loch an Eilein
One of the loch's more unusual features are the ruins of a small stone castle situated on an offshore island. Once connected to the shore by a causeway, this was lost to rising water levels in the 18th century. The castle has a colourful history; once infamous as the lair of the notorious 'Wolf of Badenoch', Alexander Stewart, who terrorised the Highlands in the 15th Century, it was also besieged by the Jacobites in 1690. More recently the castle was colonised by a family of Ospreys who nested on its walls, though unfortunately they have not done so now for many years. There is some evidence that the loch was also used by cattle rustlers, Rob Roy himself amongst them. In more mundane times the area was a centre for the logging industry and there is a preserved limestone kiln available to visit. There is a small visitor centre and museum next to a beach with picnic tables at the top of the loch.
The loch is now encircled by a wide and well maintained path and there are few better ways to spend a summer's day than a walk around its heavily forested shores with or without a camera. Wildlife is abundant, the local area is full of Red and Roe Deer and the loch and surrounding streams are home to Otters. Red Squirrels are everywhere in the trees overhead - on a recent visit we were alerted to their presence when they began dropping pine cones on our heads only a few feet from our car. The forest is home to a myriad of bird species; Long Tailed Tits, Greater Spotted Woodpeckers, Treecreepers and the ubiquitous Chaffinch to name but a few. This is also a an excellent site to try and spot one of Britain's rarest birds the Crested Tit, found only in Strathspey, and Scotland's only indigenous bird species the Scottish Crossbill, found nowhere else in the world outside the Scottish Highlands. At certain times of the year Ospreys can also be seen fishing the waters of the loch.
In addition to walking around Loch an Eilein it is possible to extend your walk to take in the adjacent Loch Gamha, with the bare Creag an Fhitheach, 'Crag of the Ravens', rising behind it. This will add about an hour to your walk but it is well worth the trip. Be aware the going is much rougher here than around Loch an Eilein and the path is indistinct in places; stout footwear is recommended. Adding this route to your walk gives you a much 'wilder' experience than that found on the main circuit and is very rewarding. Both paths are thickly forested along most of their length so light levels can be difficult though both have wide open spaces where a good panoramic view can be found. As you walk remember and take time to appreciate the towering pines of the Rothiemurchus Forest, one of the last remnants of the ancient Caledonian forest which once stretched right across Scotland and one of the most important wildlife habitats in Britain.
The loch has its own car park for which a small fee is charged, however it is possible to walk from the nearby Rothiemurchus Estate visitor centre. The area is owned and maintained by the Rothiemurchus Estate who can also arrange such things as bike or even pony hire.
Coming Soon! Loch Garten RSPB Hide
Aberdeen, Angus and Dundee
In mediaeval times Red Kites were so valued that they were protected by royal decree - the punishment for killing one was death. Times and attitudes change however and by the 19th century persecution by farmers and gamekeepers was pushing the birds to the brink; the last bird in Scotland was killed in 1879 and the British population was reduced to a handful of survivors in remote areas of Wales. Later genetic analysis would show that all the surviving birds in the 1930's were descended from a single female. The Kites were persecuted as it was assumed they killed lambs and game birds, however modern research has shown this to be a false belief, the bird's diet being almost exclusively carrion, supplemented by worms, insects and the odd vole or mouse. As fearsome as Kites look they are actually far too slight a bird to take prey any larger. Argaty Red Kites
Even once they gained official protection the predations of 'traditional' gamekeepers, egg collectors and environmental poisons inhibited population recovery and prevented the birds expanding their habitat out of Wales. In 1989 the decision was taken by the RSPB and SNH amongst others to attempt a reintroduction programme in Scotland and England with birds from Europe.
The chosen location in central Scotland was at Argaty, on Lerrocks farm just outside the village of Doune in Perthshire only a few miles from Stirling. From humble beginnings the project has now become a major success with 74 chicks born in 2009 and hopes for even more in 2010 - there are even enough chicks being born here to permit some to be captured and released at a new site in Aberdeenshire.
Red Kites fill the same evolutionary niche in Europe as Vultures do on other continents, this is great news for visitors as it means the birds gather in large numbers to feed on carrion, our guide for the day informed us that his record was seeing 47 of the birds in the sky at the same time over the comfortable and well equipped viewing hide. On our visit we were lucky enough to see more than a dozen birds hanging like - predictably enough - kites in the sky as they scanned the ground for food and swooping down to grab chunks of venison which had been scattered a couple of dozen yards from the hide.
For photographers the site could hardly be better. Kites are large birds - larger than Buzzards and similiar in size to Ospreys - and their slow, energy efficient gliding flight makes them a perfect target for cameras. Their vivid orange/red feathers and hooked beaks make for fantastic images and their habit of wheeling in mid air to dive on the food left for them with their talons outstretched makes for some incredibly dramatic shots. The best advice here would probably be to pre-focus on a likely looking piece of venison and keep your finger poised on the shutter waiting for the birds to come in. Kites don't land when feeding, preferring to eat their catch on the wing so you'll only have a split second to take that shot, fortunately the sheer number of birds means you'll likely get more than one chance. A 300mm lens will likely be about ideal - we were actually told that at least one photographer in the past had complained because the birds were too close to the hide for his 500mm lens!
The hide itself is a large wooden structure capable of holding about 30 people. The best time to visit is in the winter as this is when the largest numbers of birds will gather for food, but they are resident year round so its worth going along at any time of year. The birds are fed every day in early afternoon and at these times there will be a guide present in the hide who will pass on his knowledge and experience of the kites and may be able to help out with access to binoculars and spotting scopes. It is well worth timing your visit to coincide with this talk and it is of course also the best time to see the birds. The hide and guides are very photographer friendly and will do their best to help you get the shots you're after. One caveat to remember however is that these are wild birds, only a very small amount of food is put out by the hide and the kites are in no way dependent on it, it is possible they may choose not to put in an appearance.
There is a dedicated car park and a small visitor centre with tea/coffee and toilet facilities at the farm and a small fee is charged for access to the hide. Visitors are reminded also that Lerrocks is a working farm and as such it will sometimes be necessary for the hide to close, its a good idea to check the project's website in advance of a visit or even to phone ahead and book a spot at busy or quiet times of the year.
Situated just outside Dunkeld, the loch is a 98 hectare wildlife reserve maintained by the Scottish Wildlife Trust. There is a well run visitor centre with helpful staff providing informative and interesting talks on the local wildlife.
Loch of the Lowes Ospreys - Scottish Wildlife Trust
The highlights of the location are of course the Ospreys - be aware these migratory birds are only resident in late spring and summertime, spending the rest of the year in Africa. The nest is situated about 150 metres from the visitor centre and is well covered by viewing areas and CCTV cameras. There are however many other wildlife attractions, our correspondant being lucky enough to spot Woodpeckers, Red Squirrels and Roe Deer on their last visit. A huge wallsized window combined with feeding stations gives the opportunity for close up views of many small bird species as well as the aforementioned squirrels.
In early winter up to 3000 Greylag Geese roost on the loch alongside many other waterfowl including Goldeneyes and Great Crested Grebes. Pine Martens are also regularly seen in the area. There are wildlife hides for views of many of these species though you'll still need a long lens to get close up shots. The visitor centre has spotting scopes available for public use, not content with this it also incorporates some more state of the art wildlife watching aids with HD cameras recording much of what is going on outside and displaying it on the large wall mounted LCDs for comfortable playback and review.
There is a small entrance fee for the visitor centre and the site is generally open from 10am - 5pm - it is best to check the Scottish Wildlife Trust website in advance before making a long journey to visit.
Sources conflict over the exact meaning of the name Dunkeld, but it is likely to refer either to the 'fort in the wood' or 'the fort of the Caledonii' the Caledonians being the local tribe in Roman days for whom the whole of Scotland was named by those Italian interlopers. A settlement has likely stood here since the late iron age but the current village dates from post 1689 when Jacobite and Government forces clashed here shortly after the Battle of Killiecrankie. In the vicious house to house fighting that followed most of the village was effectively destroyed with the exception of the Cathedral whose walls still however bear the scars of musket balls. Dunkeld and Dunkeld Cathedral
The town was rebuilt and now must be regarded as one of the most beautiful 18th century towns in the country. The old fashioned white painted buildings and quiet streets make it a fabulous place to take a walk with the narrow side alleys providing delightful glimpses of the river and surrounding parklands.
With its magnificent situation perched amongst mature trees on the banks of the River Tay the highlight of the walk for most will be Dunkeld Cathedral. A religious building has probably stood here since the time of St Columba, indeed some even believe that relics of the Saint, including his bones, were once interred here. The Western end of the building is in ruins and makes for some wonderfully atmospheric scenes and photographs with gravestones standing amongst the ruined walls. The bell tower at this end can still be entered, whereupon the visitor will be greeted with the sight of several carved Pictish standing stones - our guide for the day insisted that one had been used as a sacrificial altar, citing some carved grooves for channeling blood as evidence! Your correspondants were not so easily convinced however, and it is perhaps worth going along for a viewing to make up your own mind!
The Eastern end of the Cathedral is still in use by the Church of Scotland and its interior is equally interesting in its own fashion. Here amongst the well maintained pews can be found the last resting place of the Wolf of Badenoch, complete with stone effigy, alongside a memorial to the 42nd Highland Regiment, the Black Watch. The staff are very friendly, extremely knowledgable and clearly very proud of their building, its well worth taking time to strike up a conversation here before exploring the rest of the site - don't forget a wee donation to the upkeep of the building afterwards!
The Cathedral is jointly cared for by Historic Scotland and the Church of Scotland. Entrance is free and there is a large car park in the village - complete with what must surely be the most pleasant toilets in Scotland!
Vane Farm is an RSPB centre set in the heart of the Loch Leven National Nature Reserve near Kinross. Loch Leven has been a nature reserve since the 1960s and is internationally important for its wild bird populations, especially waterfowl. Up to 25,000 Pink Footed Geese overwinter here every year finding the freezing waters of Scotland more palatable than that of Iceland and Greenland. It must be a close run decision if you ask me! RSPB Vane Farm
The RSPB has a very well equipped visitor centre including a shop, cafe and hides on the site. The cafe is well worth a visit for its commanding views over the loch and the surrounding countryside. There are several spotting scopes and binoculars arranged along the large windows allowing you to watch the wildlife from the warm comfort of your seat, scope in one hand, coffee in the other!
If you fancy being a little more daring then a small fee (free to RSPB members) allows you to walk out into the reserve itself. A short well maintained track passing via a tunnel under the road above, leads you to a series of hides set amongst wetlands on the loch shore. From here you can get fantastic views out over the loch and get yourself that wee bit closer to the wildlife. The first hide you come to is large and well appointed with very big windows, the next two are slightly smaller but possibly a bit less busy, many people never make it beyond the first. All three hides are cold in the winter when the sun isn't shining so wrap yourself up warm!
From a photography point of view there's plenty to see and do. All three hides provide ample room for a tripod and have ledges by the window to rest a beanbag, only the smaller hides have fully opening windows however meaning you'll have to shoot through glass in the main hide. As usual in wildlife hides you should make an effort to keep as quite and unobtrusive as possible especially when entering and exiting, though you'll usually find the people inside friendly and happy to chat - and describe all the rare and exotic species that just left five minutes before you arrived!
The main hide has a series of birdfeeders nearby giving good opportunities for close shots of a variety of woodland and garden birds. Outside here you'll also find a couple of ponds which are alive with dragonflies and mini-beasts in the summer - much fun to be had chasing them about! There is a large population of Buzzards in the area and its possible to get some pretty close views but in general you'll need a large lens to catch these guys - Buzzards
love to move just as you've got them lined up and are about to push the shutter! There are usually many Swans, Herons, Lapwings, Curlews and other wading birds wandering about just in front of the hides. In Summer you may also find this a good spot for skylarks, sometimes nesting only yards away. The aforementioned Pink-Footed Geese are here in vast numbers in the winter but tend to stay fairly far out on the Loch in my experience. Foxes are a common sight round the loch even in daylight and deer are always a possibility. The star attraction for 2009-2010 however has to be a newly arrived population of White Tailed Sea Eagles. The Eagles are Britain's largest raptors and are a hugely impressive sight as they soar over the Loch dwarfing the Buzzards who often mob them. Lastly I have to mention my personal favourite visitors, the Swallows and Swifts who make this area their home in the summer months. They have been provided with many artificial nest platforms round the visitor centre and its fabulous to watch them streaking in and out of their nests - how they avoid collisions I'll never know! In the past there have even been a couple of birds nesting in the visitor toilets, remember and hold the door open for them on your way out!
Leaving the centre behind it is also possible to walk from Vane Farm round the edges of the Loch to Kinross, some 8 miles distant. This is a pleasant walk offering some fabulous views out over the water, town and surrounding hills.
Argyll, the Isles, Loch Lomond, Stirling and Trossachs
Just outside Stirling in a car park behind what looks like an abandoned 1960's era school stands a monument to possibly the most famous battle in Scottish history. Somewhere near here in 1314 Robert the Bruce and the flower of Scotland sent proud Edward's army homewards to think again. The actual site of the battle is lost to history, most likely buried beneath the modern parts of the town of Stirling, but there seems little doubt that the Bruce and his followers would have made use of this commanding height overlooking the Roman road and the surrounding waterways to observe the English army as it approached the battlements of Stirling Castle. Bannockburn
If those gallant Scots of yesteryear had known what a poor attempt future generations would make at commemorating the event they might not have bothered! To be fair the memorial builders had the best of intentions; when the commemorative stone and timber rotunda along with its immense flagpole, stone cairn memorial and magnificent statue of Robert astride his war horse were built in the 1960's they were no doubt an impressive sight. The passage of time however, along with shrinking maintenance budgets, have left the site looking pretty sorry for itself. The whole area is in desperate need of some funds and some TLC - perhaps we could start by all saving up together and buying a new proper sized flag to replace the tea towel they appear to have left flying up there?
Having said all that, there are actually a fair few photographic gems to be found here. The approach to the rotunda is framed by an avenue of trees giving nice lead in lines. Stay far enough back here and you should be able to hide the poor state of the rotunda itself. The flagpole is impressively large and shots of its banner flapping against a blue sky could be good - if only someone would fork out for a decent sized flag to go on top! Further on you'll find a larger than life bronze statue of big Rab and his horse both in full armour which is definitely worth spending a bit of time with. Landscape shots of the surrounding area are certainly possible though perhaps a bit dull with no real focal points. The castle can be seen in the distance but is probably just too far away to use.
The National Trust for Scotland operates a visitor centre in the building at the car park with extensive information and visual displays about the battle and a small gift shop. Access to the memorial is free though there is a charge for the visitor centre.
A small but perfectly formed bay where the river Duror empties out into Loch Linnhe. Popular with locals and holidaymakers for its sandy beach and clear waters perfect for paddling and boating.
The dramatic location with the hills of Argyll rising steeply on three sides and with several islands just offshore make this a perfect location to try out your tripod and grab some stunning landscapes. A walk out over the heather - watch your footing, it can be boggy in places - will allow several alternative viewpoints as well as giving access to some fantastic bonuses in the shape of crumbling stone walls and fencelines making for great foreground interest and lead in lines. A working stone built fishery cottage right on the shoreline is worth spending some time over; with its nets strung out to dry next to the building, it almost cries out for black and white. If thats not enough then the beach itself has almost limitless possibilites for both landscapes and detail pictures of the sand, seaweed and pebbles.
More properly the Clachan Bridge, the 'Bridge over the Atlantic' was designed in the 18th century by the famous engineer Thomas Telford. As its name suggests the bridge does indeed span the Atlantic Ocean, albeit for only the few metres of it represented by the Clachan Sound seperating Seil Island from the mainland. A very impressive single span, single carriageway, humpbacked bridge, it stands almost 40 feet high - making for a very steep hump when driving over! In times past reasonably large boats could comfortably pass underneath. The bridge is cared for by Historic Scotland and there is ample parking on the Seil side. Bridge over the Atlantic - Seil Island
Once on Seil the main village itself lies a couple of miles further down the road. A former slate mining settlement it was used as a backdrop for parts of the film 'Ring of Brightwater'. It could hardly be in a more beautiful setting, the few traditional looking white painted cottages nestled between a towering cliff on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. A heritage centre provides details of the village's history.
Shots of the cottages themselves are an absolute must and there is plenty of interest to be found in the surrounding hillsides and water. A fairly popular tourist destination there's certainly opportunities for candid shots of the tourists, especially as they exit the local 'tartan tat' shop clutching their bags of 'see you Jimmy' hats, tartan tea towels and 'authentic' clan memorabilia - just try and close your ears to the folk music. Look out also for the 'seafari' boats returning from their whale watching trips with their cargo of sightseers looking slightly green around the gills!
Finally no trip to Seil is complete without a competitve round or two on the 12 hole putting green - loser has to file all the photographs when you get home!
There is a large car park in the village itself.
Surrounding the village of Kilmartin, some distance South of Oban, Kilmartin Glen is considered one of the most important Bronze age sites in Europe. Partly this is down to the sheer density of sites in the area, within a few miles of the village there are more than 350 ancient monuments. 350. Think about that for a minute. Some places have grown famous off the back of Kilmartin Glen one stone circle - in Kilmartin its possible to get annoyed because all the monuments, mounds and stone circles are getting in the way of your landscape shots. Kick over a stone on your walk through the Glen and its quite possible you'll have made a major archaeological discovery - though its doubtful anyone will ever notice. I'm not going to attempt to describe everything here I'll just take you through a few of my personal highlights - go discover your own, you won't be disappointed.
Its probably best to start your visit in Kilmartin village itself where you'll find
Kilmartin House Museum which may give you a head start on trying to decide what you want to see. There are guided walks available here in summer for those who'd like some expert company. The village also contains an impressive fortress like parish kirk and castle which anywhere else would be worth a visit on their own.
The most obvious place to head first is into the glen itself. The so called '
linear cemetry' consists of a line of cairns and burial mounds running for three miles south west of the village. There are five remaining cairns here though there is evidence that there were once many more. Each cairn has interpretation boards provided by Historic Scotland though much of the detail is by neccessity only guesswork. Walking down the glen looking up at the surrounding hills and scenery you inevitably find yourself trying to get inside the heads of the enigmatic builders of these structures, trying to work out what they were thinking, what they were trying to express with their constructions. You can almost begin to see meaning in the line of mounds, a kind of defiant cry to a harsh, unfeeling universe that 'we are here, and we are capable of great things' I could imagine a neolithic traveller from another area coming across the valley and being awed by what they saw below them... I always did have a vivid imagination!
Another highlight of the area is
Temple Wood, consisting of a small area of trees surrounding two - technically three - stone circles. The larger of the circles consists of 13 stones (though there were more in antiquity) and is about 40feet in diameter, its interior is made up of fist sized river smoothed pebbles. In the centre stands yet another stone circle surrounding an ancient burial site. The oldest of the stones here are believed to date from around 3000 BCE though the site was in use and added to for probably a thousand years afterwards. The surrounding trees are a Victorian invention, added as it was believed they gave the area a more mysterious ambience. Those crazy Victorians! Personally I think this one of the most mysterious and spiritual places I've ever been, with or without the trees.
Ballymeanoch - probably from the Gaelic for the 'middle settlement', it consists of an avenue of two parallel lines of standing stones leading to a stone circle and burial cairn. The stones are heavily inscribed with many cup and ring marks - a feature of many ancient Scottish structures whose purpose is not understood today.
This list barely scratches the surface of what is to be found in the surrounding area, the best way to explore is by foot, leaving your car in Kilmartin village. Going yourself is the only way you'll appreciate just what the glen has to offer. The going is easy with clear waymarked paths and a great deal of information provided by Historic Scotland. Entrance is of course free. As to what to photograph - well its more like what
not to photograph!
To the South of Kilmartin can be found the remains of the great fortress of the Scots at Dunadd, once the capital, and seat of the kings, of the Iron Age kingdom of Dalriada. Legend has it that this was the original home of the Stone of Destiny, the ancient stone upon which Scottish and later, supposedly, British kings were crowned. From this imposing hilltop stronghold the Scots slowly spread Eastwards eventually incorporating the existing Pictish kingdoms. Pressure from Viking raiders forced the capital to move further inland to Scone around the mid 9th century AD. Kilmartin - Dunadd
Of course not much remains of the fort itself, however it is still possible to trace the line of its spiralling defensive walls as you follow the path through them up towards the summit following in the footsteps of its bygone defenders... ok my imagination is running away with me again! At the summit however you'll find a footprint that is all too real; carved into the rock is a timeworn imprint of a human foot and a small depression filled with rainwater. It is easy, and perhaps overly romantic, to imagine this as the very spot where those long ago kings placed their foot to be crowned. Place your foot into this carving where once the ancient kings of Scotland stood and I defy you not to feel a shiver of history running down your spine! (it'll be a fake shiver though, in actuality this is a fibreglass replica sunk into the rock, the actual print is nearby but covered with perspex, being deemed too fragile to withstand all those tourists trying to fit their hiking boots into it!). Nearby can be found a beautiful line drawing of a boar also carved into the rock and some original stones of the fort's walls still stand. This is one place where you can
feel the weight of history all around you.
The Site is cared for by Historic Scotland and entrance is free. There is a well marked path though it is very steep in places.
Coming Soon! The Isle of Mull
Coming Soon! Torosay Castle and Gardens
Hidden away down a bumpy forestry track off the main road between Salen and Tobermory is the only official White Tailed Sea Eagle hide on Mull. If you're visiting Mull you'll be made well aware by the everpresent 'Mull Eaglewatch' signs all over the island that the locals take the care and protection of these iconic birds very seriously. It is illegal to approach their nests or disturb the birds for any reason without a licence and the police, aided by the public and wildlife charities, quite rightly enforce this ban vigourously. Mull Sea Eagle Hide
Once the birds established themselves on Mull after their release on nearby Rum however it quickly became apparent that they were a major tourist draw. Many people were coming to the island in the hope of spotting them and unwittingly putting themselves at risk of breaking the law. In response to this various groups, inlcuding the police, the RSPB, SNH, the Forestry Commission and local volunteers got together to establish an official hide where members of the public could, for a nominal fee, observe the Eagles and their nests from a safe distance.
The site chosen for the hide is on Forestry Commission property above Loch Frisa - the exact location actually changes from year to year as the hide is moved to gain the best possible viewing position over each new nest. Sea Eagles can often build several nests, only choosing which to use at the last moment so the few weeks building up to the first eggs being laid can be an exciting time for the volunteers as they try to second guess the eagles and get themselves into a good spot! In 2009 the hide's situation could not have been more picturesque right at the head of the Loch and with a spectacular view out over the water and surrounding forest. Where it'll be next year is anyone's guess, only the eagles know!
The hide itself is a substantial structure, designed to accomodate groups of up to about 30 people. It is a long wooden structure with large picture windows running along one wall. A dozen or so pairs of binoculars and bird books are provided - though if you want guaranteed access its probably best to bring your own. There are also several spotting scopes pre-trained on likely spots where the birds may be hanging out. When you visit the hide you'll be greeted by volunteer guides who give a detailed talk on the birds and their local history. These guides are invaluable for their knowledge of the local birds and their many anecdotes, take the opportunity here to pump them for information on local wildlife! The hide is also equipped with a tv showing both CCTV and more professional film of Sea Eagles in the local area. There is also a small RSPB gift shop.
From a photographers point of view the site is a little limited. You're not going to be taking pictures of the birds nesting or perching unless you're digiscoping. A more likely bet is shots of the eagles soaring over the Loch however even here you'll be best aiming for landscape shots including the birds rather than close ups which will require a very long lens unless you get very lucky! The loch itself is very beautiful and well worth a look however available visiting times mean that the sun will likely be high in the sky while you are there. Another option is to ignore the eagles and concentrate on the feeding stations situated in front of the hide which are often covered in smaller birds. Peregrine Falcons, Buzzards and Golden Eagles can also be frequently seen from the hide though getting a shot will be purely down to luck. This is maybe an occasion to just sit back, relax and see what happens!
Unfortunately on our visit the Eagles were a no-show, having apparently left just ten minutes before we arrived. I can honestly say however that we weren't disappointed by our visit even so, it really is a wonderful place to spend a couple of hours - though we had perhaps been spoiled by having spotted several Sea Eagles before visiting. Spend even a short time on Mull and there's a very good chance you'll spot one of these 'flying barn doors' from the comfort of your car!
Visits to the hide must be pre-booked via a dedicated phone line - ask at the Tourist Information Centre or just look out for one of the many signs providing the number. Depending on the time of year there will be one or two viewing sessions every day. In 2009 the price was £3 for an adult giving you a couple of hours in the hide. You'll need your own transport or stout walking boots as the hide is a couple of miles down a forestry track - though it'll likely have moved by the time you read this!
Coming Soon! Iona
Coming Soon! Oban
"A fringe of gold on a beggar's mantle", so said King James VI when describing the Fife coastline and its a description thats as apt to modern photographers as to ancient monarchs. There's no definitive definition as to the exact limits of the East Neuk but for me the highlights are the small fishing villages dotted along the coast. Each village has its own charms and offer a variety of subjects for the camera. A coastal path links them all allowing great shots of beaches, rocks and shoreline along with some good wildlife opportunites, particularly seabirds and a plentiful seal population. The East Neuk
is famous as the birthplace of Alexander Selkirk, the inspiration behind Robinson Crusoe, and a walk through its streets will provide numerous reminders to this most famous son. Look out for his statue built into one of the buildings. This is probably the best village for close ups of boats as it lacks the raised harbours of other villages; these will tend to be small pleasure craft rather than the fishing boats found elsewhere however. A tidal waterway snakes back through the town from the shore with a railway bridge high above making for some spectacular scenes. Lower Largo
There is also an incredible sandy beach running for several miles from here to Shell Bay outside Elie. Look out for Deer, Foxes and an almost infinite variety of wading and sea birds - the Gannets are particularly photogenic as they wheel through the sky. Watch out also for sporty types engaging in 'parasurfing' just off shore. An interesting feature are the WW2 concrete tank traps set up to deter invasion forces.
Approaching Elie along the Fife coastal path takes you up onto the cliffs giving stunning views across the Forth towards the Isle of May, Bass Rock and Edinburgh. There are several abandoned WW2 gun emplacements and bunkers making for some fantastic photographic opportunities. Further along the path winds its way down the hills above the golf course and town with beautiful views on a sunny day. The path is generally well maintained and passable but care should be taken throughout this clifftop section as rarely a year goes by without someone injuring themselves or requiring helicopter rescue! Elie
The village itself (technically two villages including Earlsferry) is very picturesque, take advantage of the old fashioned stone built houses, many with a colourful coat of paint. Look out for architectural details such as loft doors and pulleys once used for storing fishing nets. Elie has a couple of beaches; on the West of the town you'll find Victorianesque beach huts lined along the shore and walled gardens running right down to the sand. On the East a raised sea wall protects the houses and can provide stunning shots of waves crashing up over it on wilder days. When the tide is out the wide curved beach is perfect for reflective shots of the pools of water and wading birds as well as landscapes of the beautiful beach itself with either the town or the harbour providing a backdrop. If you're there at the right time look out for the annual beach cricket game for classic sporting action.
Just outside town you'll find the Ruby Bay picnic area which has a short walk over wild grassland to the beautiful Lady's Tower, an 18th century tower built on the shoreline to provide a changing room and resting place for Lady Janet Anstruther between bathes in the Forth. Also along this path you'll find a photogenic lighthouse and views back towards Elie. Look to the seas here and you'll almost certainly spot one of the local grey seals - sometimes at very close quarters. Herons are plentiful in the rock pools and look up for the skylarks above your head whilst walking through the grassland - this is an important breeding site for these ground nesting birds so please stay to the paths and keep dogs on a leash.
The next stop along the coast is St Monans. Possibly of chief interest to the photographer here are the architectural features. The 14th century church is a beautiful mediaeval building nestled right on the shorefront with a walled graveyard. To the West of the town can be found a stone windmill once used to power the saltpanning industry and the romantic, atmospheric ruins of Newark castle standing a lonely vigil on a clifftop above the Forth. The narrow winding streets give many opportunities for architectural shots within the village. St Monans
Pittenweem is perhaps the best location for shots of the area's many fishing boats, the busy harbour offers many opportunities although it can sometimes be difficult to avoid the more industrial aspects. Watch out for boats unloading their catch for shots of fishermen hard at work and their boxes of fish destined for the fishmarket; keep an eye out also for photogenic lobster pots, and colourful nets. Signs of the town's fishing heritage can be found in many of the buildings along the harbourfront. The steep winding streets leading up to the main part of the village from the harbour are also ripe with photographic potential. Special note should be made here of Pittenweem's hidden gem, its chipshop - possibly the finest to be found anywhere! Perfect for a wee break from all that camerawork but beware the queues that can sometimes snake down the street! Pittenweem
The largest of the local villages, Anstruther has perhaps the most modern feel however there are many beautiful old buildings especially down towards the seafront. The main street with small terraced shops on one side and the large harbour on the other provides absolutely classic "seaside town" opportunities. A walk out on the paved harbour walls allow views back over the boats towards town. The harbour itself is usually bustling with activity, fishing and lobster boats mixed in with a wide variety of pleasure craft, from dinghies to luxury yachts, providing a wealth of inspiration. Watch out for boats passing out the narrow stone harbour entrance into the open waters of the Forth. There is also a large RNLI installation here giving the possibility of shots of the lifeboat launching down the slipway. Here also you'll find boats offering trips out to the Isle of May in the Forth. Look for candid shots of the many tourists promenading along the seafront or tucking into their chips from the famous Anstruther chip shop. The Scottish Fisheries museum is also located within the town with many interesting exhibits related to the regions fishing heritage. Anstruther
The last stop on our tour of the East Neuk, Crail posesses possibly the most photogenic of all the areas harbours. A path along the clifftop allows stunning views down over the harbour and surrounding village. The harbour itself is small but perfectly formed and perhaps the most 'untouched' by modern times with beautiful stone buildings and harbour walls, making for almost the perfect 'picture postcard' fishing village. The town itself has a slightly different feel to it with wider streets than the norm. The beach and cliffs are famous for their fossils, including a large fossil tree on the beach and myriad tracks of ancient creatures snaking through the rocks - these are an ever diminishing resource and its asked that you photograph but don't touch these delicate structures. Further west along the shore front can be found the isolated ruin of a cottage right on the waterfront and some caves complete with ancient graffiti left by christian missionaries. Crail
Located near Leuchars, just North of St Andrews, Tentsmuir beach and forest is one of Fife's absolute highlights but is a little bit of a well kept secret. Trapped between the North Sea on one side and a mature pine forest on the other, the area's big draw is the seemingly limitless expanse of beautiful white sandy beach which is exposed at low tide and stretches North to the River Tay estuary. T entsmuir National Nature Reserve
The beach is simply amazing and seems to stretch forever both along the coast, and when the tide is out, out to sea. Keep your wits about you here and watch the tide, it is very possible for it to come in quickly behind you and cut you off from the shore. If you can't manage a beautiful beachscape picture here then maybe its time to try another hobby! Its not just people who love the beach, this is a popular site for dog walkers so keep your eye out for candid shots of dogs playing in the surf and trotting along with their favourite stick. Between the beach and the forest is an area of sand dunes and vegetation. This is a very delicate and beautiful habitat and well worth an examination for photographic potential. Why not take along your ND filter and try some moderately long exposures of the grasses moving in the wind amongst the dunes.
Tentsmuir is a paradise for wildlife, At certain times of year the beach is frequented by thousands of (common) gray seals and hundreds of (rare) common seals. Both species use the beach for breeding and pups can be easily seen at the right time of year. If you are careful and patient it is possible to get very close to these animals but please be aware of their needs and keep a respectful distance if they appear to be upset by your presence. At breeding times it is especially important to avoid stressing the mothers as they may abandon their pups if spooked - dogs should be kept on a lead and well away at these times. There are information panels provided by SNH nearby the more popular seal hangouts which give advice on how you should behave around these magnificent animals, but the jist is always be prepared to back off and come again another day.
Low tide is perhaps the best time for viewing, check newspapers or the BBC website for tide details and be careful of that tide coming in behind you!
Tentsmuir boasts a large avian presence, with thousands of seabirds calling the area home, either permanantly or on a migratory basis. In the forest can be found both roe deer and red squirrels which are always a treat to spot in the treetops. Look for them in autumn when they are likely to be most active gathering food. A slightly less wild encounter can be had with the resident herd of shaggy red highland cows which are employed by SNH to stop the forest encroaching onto the delicate sand dunes by the simple expedient of eating everything treelike in sight!
Keep an eye on the skies whist walking, the beach is very close to RAF Leuchars, home to 111F squadron and their complement of Tornado F3 fighters, the last still operating in the UK. The Leuchars air show is an annual event which brings many more exotic aircraft to the area from all over the world. Further evidence of the area's military links can be found with the lines of abandoned concrete tank traps which were erected in 1941 to provide a hindrance to German invaders. That these defences are now being slowly subsumed by the sea shows how much the shifting sands have altered this area of coastline since.
There are both foot and cycle paths through the forest, and a small car park amongst the trees at the Southern edge of the beach. Entrance to the car park is controlled by an automatic barrier for which there is a £1 charge (as of 2009). At busy times of the year it is possible that the car park will be closed to alleviate congestion, watch out for signs on the route informing you of this.
Edinburgh and the Lothians
Owned by Historic Scotland. Blackness Castle is situated in West Lothian just outside the village of... Blackness, surprisingly enough! Built in the 15th century and extensively added to in later years it was one of the most advanced artillery fortifications in Britain in its time, serving also as a state prison, army barracks and amunition depot at various points in its history. Blackness Castle
Local legend has it that its builder suffered from sea-sickness and a terrible fear of water, so when he was made an Admiral in the Scottish navy by James II he determined to build his king a ship that couldn't be sunk and the castle was the result! The castle's position overlooking the Forth means that dependant on tides it can sometimes be surrounded on three sides by water and when this is coupled with its general ship-like shape you can see where the story came from.
The castle's interior is much like any other to be honest, though maybe more complete than many ruins. Lots of beautiful exposed stonework of course and some good opportunities to catch the yellow stone glowing from the light filtering in the narrow windows. It is possible to get into some of the turrets allowing fantastic views across the river to Fife. The exterior is perhaps even more interesting with the curved seawall at the base of the structure juxtaposed with the geometric precision of its artillery proof defences. The shoreline here is very rocky adding more drama to the scene - though be careful of the tides and the slippery seaweed if venturing out onto the rocks. In late summer it is possible to get some beautiful shots of the sun setting behind the castle and its pier. Dolphins have occassionally been spotted here and seals are pretty much guaranteed so its always worth a look out over the water.
The local area is also worth a look, Blackness village has a small harbour usually with several pleasure boats in attendance. In the other direction the shore curves round towards the Forth bridges allowing some nice, if distant, shots. Behind the castle is a small area of woods and grassland which is generally alive with wildlife and plants. Just across the Forth is the former Royal Naval Dockyard Rosyth, and good views can be had of any Navy ships in for refitting - beware, paying too much attention to this site may result in a visit from the local constabulary!
There is some parking available in Blackness which is only a short walk away but parking is very limited at the castle itself. Check Historic Scotland for entrance fees and times though of course access to the exterior of the castle via the shore is free of charge. The castle is used for weddings and private functions so access can be limited at times.
Growing up I was always told that the huge rock formation that is Binny Craig (likely a local corruption of the word 'crag') was once part of Arthur's Seat Edinburgh's extinct volcano and was blown into its current position by a massive eruption in ancient times. Like many cool stories from my youth it turns out this isn't actually true and it was in fact formed in situ by glacial action. Looking at its rocky structure though you can see where such a story got started, it looks so incongrous, suddenly jutting up from the gentle rolling hills and farmland of its surroundings. Standing more than 700ft high the peak is easily accesible via a short, though badly maintained, path through the surrounding fields. Its a short climb but a pretty steep one and there is no path right to the summit so be prepared to rough it a little! Binny Craig
Once at the top the view over the surrounding Forth Valley is amazing, the bridges are clearly visible and there are great views over Edinburgh with its castle just visible below the imposing Arthur's Seat in the distance. To the North is the Forth and then the hills and fertile valleys of Fife and to the south can be seen the peaks of the Pentlands. There is also a good view down over the nearby town of Broxburn with its bright orange spoilheaps, 'bings' in local parlance, hinting at its past as a centre of the Shale Oil industry. Also visible are the local farms usually bustling with activity.
Nearby a path through some overgrown woodland leads to a mausoleum cut into the very rock of the Craig. Now sadly overgrown this gothic structure must once have been an impressive sight. Dating from the 19th Century its likely occupants are the former landowner Captain Stewart and his wife who is said to have declared that '
on the great day of resurrection I intend to arise from my own property'.
A path heading back to the road leads through a local nature reserve of immature saplings and shrubs amidst the grassland running alongside a small stream. Look out for the ubiquitous sparrowhawks, kestrels and buzzards which call this area home - there have even been sightings of peregrine falcons here in the past. Rabbits are a certainty, hares and foxes a distinct possibilty and there is always the chance of deer or even badgers.
There is no parking directly at the site - though you could risk a short stay in one of the laybys - however the town of Broxburn/Uphall is only a pleasant walk away on a sunny day and it may be possible to park at the local golf club if you're careful and quiet about it!
Situated in the West of Edinburgh, Cammo Estate is a fascinating addition to the range of photographic opportunities available in the Capital. Once the site of a stately home and all the plethora of outbuildings and features that came with elegant 19
th century living the estate is now run by Edinburgh City Council as a wilderness park. Little remains of the grand 17 th, 18 th and 19 th century structures that once graced the estate bar the odd stone built shells buried in the undergrowth or marooned amongst the furrows of fields now firmly under the plough.
The estates fortunes reached their zenith during the 19
th century but were gradually allowed to fade throughout the 20 th with a succession of owners unable to halt the decline - or the vandals who set fires and sprayed graffiti with abandon. Little of the former grandeur of the site remains but it has been replaced with a different sort of beauty. There is joy to be had here in the exploration and discovery of sights that once upon a time would have been reserved for only the privileged few. Though nothing bar a few bricks and a lonely doorway may remain of the big house you can still feel the ghosts of its former occupants all around you as you retrace their footsteps along the carriage drive to the glorious remains of the classical stable block; or take a wander along with the ladies of the house to the overgrown banks of the once fashionable formal canal. Although the original planting design has long since been allowed to run wild you can still see hints of it wherever you look, perhaps no more so than in the spring when snowdrops still flower in circular displays on what was once a formal lawn, now gone to ruin, stirring the imagination to consider the thoughts and toils of the many gardeners who must have once laboured here. Exotic specimen trees compete for space with sycamores, beech, ash and oak; on the wide lawns trees which once would have shaded elegant picnics now shelter dog walkers, children and squirrels.
For the photographer, Cammo has almost everything you could want, the site teems with wildlife of all kinds with the remnants of the designed landscape providing a variety of habitats and niches. Though there is a fair amount of human (and canine) traffic through the area this serves to familiarise the wildlife with people allowing the photographer who's prepared to stand quietly and out of the way the chance of getting very close. The remnants of the buildings are hugely atmospheric with their air of decay and hints of past glories, the incongruous sight of structures like the still intact water tower providing the chance of some really unusual and quirky views. The best preserved buildings are perhaps those of the stable block which is well worth seeking out, the mix of classical design and the attentions of graffiti artists making an interesting contrast. The river Almond is only a short walk away and the flightpath for landings at Edinburgh Airport runs very close behind the estate if low flying aircraft are your thing! The estate is covered in wildflowers but it is perhaps in springtime when it looks its best, those snowdrops carpeting the ground especially in what remains of the walled gardens which seem buried under a blanket of snow-white blooms.
Entrance is free, there is a ranger service provided by Edinburgh City Council though there is no permanent ranger presence.
Built for, and still occupied by, the Hope family the history of Hopetoun House stretches back to the last days of the 17
th century - though some parts of the grounds have a much older story to tell. The house itself was designed for the Hopes by Sir William Bruce in 1699 and later hugely extended by William Adam from 1721 onwards. The grounds were laid out by Adam and though some of the more formal elements have been lost they are still maintained in line with his vision. Hopetoun describes itself as 'Scotland's finest stately home' and it is hard to argue with this description when you are met with your first view of the house as you come up the long drive through the 'plains'. The house has a cunningly designed ha-ha which allows sweeping vistas without necessitating intrusive walls to keep the livestock and peasants out of their lordships lawn. This initial view is probably one you'll want to photograph and is easy enough to capture, once you've parked your car its only a short stroll to the edge of the royal drive and its flanking sphinxes which will provide you with a handy lead in line. Unless there's royalty driving along it of course!
In the field by the car park you'll often find a flock of black St Kilda sheep, this is an ancient and hardy breed and definitely worth stopping to point your lens at when the lambs are out in spring - if you really like the look of them then a trip to the Hopetoun farm shop will allow you to bring one home for tea...
Once you get closer to the house you'll struggle to get the whole structure in so now's the time to start hunting for detail shots amongst the colonnades and the towers. The front of the house and the interiors are mainly Adam's work, look out for the tigers heads mounted on the walls in the reception area! Inside the house is beautiful - though it has to be said that to my eye the interiors of most stately homes look startlingly similar! On calm days it is possible to get up onto the roof for spectacular views of the surrounding countryside and of the Forth bridges. From up here you may also be able to pick out the faint remaining signs of the formal gardens which once covered the lawn to the houses rear.
The house is surrounded by 150 acres of gardens, mostly comprising mature woodland with many exotic specimen trees mixed in with the more mundane oaks, sycamores, birch, beech and yew. There are some fabulous trees to be found here, many of them ancient ones though the more modern specimens are still often 2 or 3 hundred years old. Look out for a particularly ancient Yew on the North side of the grounds and a Dawn Redwood hidden amongst more mundane varieties of Sycamore on the South. Some of the most impressive trees visually are the many huge Cedars of Lebanon dotted round the grounds, one or two of these were planted by royalty in times past though some of the older ones are sadly beginning to show their age. A great spot for the photographer is the view along Lime Avenue, which does exactly what it says on the tin, providing for great symmetrical structural lines of Lime trees - brilliant in the spring and autumn.
Beyond Lime Avenue to the right is the spot most architectural photographers will be heading for, a large circular pond serves as a perfect reflecting pool in calm weather allowing fabulous reflections of the house in the water. Just watch out for them turning the fountain on! The pond itself is an excellent spot for dragonflies, frogs and toads.
Further into the grounds can be found the scant remains of Abercorn Castle and its defensive bastions. Dating from at least the 15
th century little remains of the castle itself beyond a mound and a damp spot which may once have been a well, but here are to be found some of the most impressive Cedars in the grounds. This is also a fabulous place to stop and look for wildlife, Buzzards frequently nest in the trees here and a quick scan of the cedars will reveal Great Spotted Woodpecker nesting holes. Roe Deer are often seen in this area and of course the ubiquitous Grey Squirrels will soon come to see what you're up to!
The grounds are in fact full of wildlife, this is one of the few reliable spots in the area to see Nuthatch and the woods provide an ideal home for Tawny Owls, Sparrowhawks, Treecreepers, Pheasant and Stoats, alongside the usual garden and woodland birds. The generally light visitor numbers mean that a quiet walk will often pay dividends.
Wildflowers abound too, in early Spring the Snowdrops are out in force, by April the Daffodils are blooming in huge numbers in the Spring Garden and later in the Summer the woods are carpeted in Bluebells. In Autumn the front lawns are regarded as internationally important for fungi with many colourful and unusual specimens to be found - watch out for the advertised guided walks for the best times to see these. There are several marked walks in the grounds and all have their own attractions; the Spring Garden trail is at its best in (of course) Spring, look for some great views back towards the house over the Bowling Green from the highest point - this is also a good place to spot Bullfinches. Hope's walk is one of the quietest places in the grounds and also one of the loveliest, a walk along here is one of the best places to spot the many Fallow Deer in the adjacent deer park and its sunny slopes provide a great habitat for Butterflies, Grasshoppers and Bees, including locally rare Cuckoo Bees. Finally the Sea Walk takes you along the outer walls of the estate with great views down over Blackness Castle, the Forth Bridges and over to Fife - this is definitely a spot for that panoramic lens! Adjacent to the Sea Walk is the Red Deer Park with a large herd of these huge mammals which are usually happy to come in close and pose for their picture.
Hopetoun House is now owned separately from the wider Hopetoun Estates and is run by the Hopetoun House Preservation Trust. There is a Ranger service within the grounds and the house is well served by friendly and knowledgeable professional and volunteer guides. The house and grounds are open from Easter to the end of September and an entrance fee for both applies. There are also occasional guided walks and open days outwith these times.
Hidden away on a back road amongst woodlands southwest of Beecraigs Country Park is the Scottish Korean War Memorial. Opened in 2000 the site is dedicated to the memory of the British servicemen who fell in the United Nations conflict with North Korea in the 1950's. 1109 Britons lost their lives and they are remembered by 110 Korean Pines and 1109 Birch trees planted on the grassy hillside which is supposed to represent a typical Korean forest clearing of the type that would have been familiar to those who fought in the conflict. A path leads to a Korean style pagoda, inside which is a list of the names of those who gave their lives. Other paths lead up the steep hillside giving panoramic views across the local area. The paths are well marked but can be slippery so caution is advised. Korean War Memorial
An unusual and very moving site, there is plenty of scope for wide photographs of the entire hillside, which is lovely in its own right, with its path winding through the trees to the pagoda. Close ups both inside and outside of the pagoda will obviously be worthwhile. A cold winters morning will suit the sites ambience perfectly with plenty of frost detail on the trees and surfaces. Or try visiting in late August/September when the rowan trees are laden with berries and the purple heather cascades down the hillside in a river of colour. The location means that there is the possibilty of a wide variety of wildlife - there are seats around the area so a half hour spent sitting quietly may well pay dividends.
Please remember that this is a war memorial and respect both the site and any other visitors. Cared for by the Scottish Korean War Memorial Trust entrance is free, there is limited parking available in a layby beside the entrance.
Owned by Historic Scotland. Situated in Linlithgow, West Lothian.
Linlithgow Palace - St Michaels Church
Birthplace and occasional home of Mary Queen of Scots, mother of the future King James VI and I. It's strategic position between Edinburgh and Stirling means a royal residence has existed on the site since at least the 12th century, but the current building traces its roots to the 15th century when King James I ordered the construction of a grand palace. The adjacent St Michaels church dates from round about the same time after the original structure was damaged when pressed into use as a barracks/storeroom by the army of the English King Edward I on one of his forays into Scotland.
The first thing most people notice about the palace isn't actually the palace at all. The striking aluminium spiked crown atop its tower which can be seen as soon as you enter the town actually belongs to the church. The church is open to visitors in the summer months and has some fantastic stained glass, you'll generally find some very friendly churchy type people inside who'll be happy to help interpret it for you. Light levels are of course poor in here but with a bit of care some really interesting shots can be obtained.
The palace itself is reached through a stone arch at the top of a narrow sloping street, look out for the colourful and intricate royal coats of arms leading up to the entrance. Once inside the first thing the visitor notices is likely to be the stunning and beautifully carved stone fountain in the entrance courtyard. Recently restored to pristine condition this is well worth spending some time over, both for its aesthetic and photogenic qualities. It is a large structure but the real beauty for me is found in the detail, look for close up shots of the exquisitely carved flora and fauna. During Bonnie Prince Charlie's stay it is said the fountain flowed with wine; these days I'm afraid its only water, and even then only at certain times of the year in order to preserve the stonework - worth checking ahead to see if it will be on.
Several levels of the palace can be accessed and theres some great opportunites for atmospheric black and white shots, during busy times there are often guides in period costume for some old time flavour. The palace grounds aren't too spectacular consisting mainly of lots of grass and a playpark but the castle looks very impressive from the lochside, dominating the local area. The light from the setting sun cast on the walls with the aluminium crown above it makes the whole building positively glow - be aware that this is possibly not an area I'd go to with my camera alone at dusk, its a popular drinking spot for the local youths.
The Loch adjacent to the castle is an area of special scientific interest due to its wildfowl population - lots of geese, swans and ducks! It's also popular with anglers and small sailboats, plenty of opportunites for classic summer day leisure pictures and reflections. There is a path going right round the loch which is worth an explore.
Linlithgow itself is very worth a wander round with your camera, especially the centre - though you have to wonder who gave planning permission for the blocks of flats on the Western end. Classic Scottish old town views with cobbled streets and beautiful buildings with some quirky local shops. A walk under the railway bridge just to the south and up the hill will bring you to the Union Canal where you'll generally find a collection of canal barges and houseboats.
Coming Soon! The Falkirk Wheel
Coming Soon! Beecraigs Country Park
Located near Mid Calder and best approached either from there, East Calder, or nearby Broxburn, Almondell is a 220 acre, mostly wooded country park following the line of the River Almond through West Lothian. There is a network of paths and bridges criss-crossing the river and a visitor centre with a small shop, aquarium and museum. The site is very popular with families and dog walkers and there are the usual collections of picnic tables and bbq areas for all that family fun stuff. Almondell and Calderwood Country Park
It doesn't sound all that exciting but theres actually quite a lot of photographic potential in Almondell. It's possible to get right down to the river at several points where, armed with your trusty tripod, you can explore the potential of the flowing water and long exposures.
There are several bridges across the river, all of which are photogenic in their own way. Look for reflections in the still water below the suspension brige at the visitor centre. Head southwest along the path from here and you'll soon reach a newly rebuilt stone bridge which is probably best viewed by making your way down a slippery path to the river's edge. From the top of this bridge you can also get attractive views of the river and park itself. Perhaps the most impressive of the crosssings however is the old railway viaduct. Built around 1880 to serve the shale oil works in Pumpherston it was closed in 1960 and the railway line itself removed. The stone structure absolutely towers over the river as you approach it and pass underneath. A steep path gives access to the top from where spectacular views of the park can be obtained. It is also possible to walk North East through the park til you come to a stone aqueduct carrying the Union Canal over the river.
The park is also well worth exploring for its natural beauties; in Spring the daffodils can be stunning and in early summer the park explodes into glorious technicolour as the many established rhododendrons and azaleas come into bloom. The park has a varied bird population, including the odd rarity, and the trees are well populated with grey squirrels. There are also bats and badgers though these present some fairly insurmountable photographic challenges for the average visitor! In autumn the trees are stunning as they swap their green summer foliage for bright reds and vivid yellows.
There are several stone memorials within the park, most relating to the former landowners. Perhaps the most interesting however is located just next to a layby on the approach road from Broxburn. Set a few feet back from the road amongst the trees is a large stone bearing the magical name 'Wallace' and the date 1784. Local legend has it that the stone marks the burial spot of William Wallace's favourite horse which died just before the Battle of Falkirk in 1298! Wallace certainly was present here just before the battle and more historical (or boring) minds believe that the stone was erected to mark the spot where the Scots camped and observed the English army.
There is a ranger service in the park and there are occasionally guided walks and talks available. Parking is available til sunset at all the entrances and is free.
I prefer the horse story myself and would like to contend that its name was probably 'Dobbin'. Either way this is possibly the oldest monument to William Wallace in Scotland.
The site is completely unmarked and easily missed, just keep your eyes peeled to the right as you approach Almondell through the trees. Photographic potential is limited but with a bit of imagination its got to be worth a go!
The park adjoins the Calderwood country park on the other side of Mid Calder which is also well worth a visit. Calderwood is much less developed than Almondell and gives a more natural experience, though at the expense of muddier paths!
Glasgow and the Clyde Valley
Recognised by the United Nations as a site of outstanding cultural importance to the common heritage of Humanity, New Lanark is a lovingly preserved 19th century cotton mill. Once owned by the philanthropist Robert Owen, at its height New Lanark was world renowned for its advanced system of social welfare provisions, including Britain's first infants school, all allowing the workers to live in conditions far superior to those of typical workers of the day. New Lanark was also a commercial success and was held up as an example that it was possible to treat workers decently and still make a profit.
New Lanark World Heritage Site
The mills depended on the power provided by their massive water wheels, even today electrical power is provided by a water turbine in one of the mill buildings. To achieve this the river was dammed upstream and water drawn off down into the mill complex. Around 200 people live in restored houses, and there are strict rules enforced regarding the buldings appearances. TV aerials, phone lines and satellite dishes for instance are prohibited as the site is kept as much as possible visually true to its 19th century source.
There is much photographic fun to be had in and around the buildings and streets, it almost cries out for black and white - or even sepia! - for that authentic olde worlde look. Inside the mills look for detail shots of the industrial machinery. A highlight for me is the sight of the powerful river surging right through the centre of the settlement.
The Clyde Walkway footpath passes through the village leading into the Falls of Clyde nature reserve. It is well worth a wee trip along the pathway to a viewpoint over looking the impressive waterfalls. At the right time of the year pushing on further will bring you to a Scottish Wildlife Trust viewing area set opposite a Peregrine Falcon nest site. In the other direction take a walk up the hill towards the church, from here you can cut along a path through some woods back towards the car park above the village. Along here you'll find the village's original graveyard with headstones standing individually and in groups in clearings amongst the trees. This is a perfect site for some really atmospheric shots.
There is a car park with ample parking on a hill overlooking the village with a well paved path leading down the steep hillside, there is some parking available in the village itself but this is only for those with blue disabled parking stickers. It is free to walk around the village and along the surrounding paths but there is a charge to enter the mills themselves.
Coming Soon! Lochwinnoch RSPB Reserve
TheWhangie is... well... weird would probably be the best way to describe it! It consists of a path through a natural 'corridor' between two rock formations below Auchinden Hill. The walls of this corridor are up to 50ft high and in places the gap is barely wider than a person making for quite an eerie experience for those walking through it. The Whangie
Local legend has it that the Whangie - probably Scots for 'slice' - was carved out of the rock by the Devil's tail as he flew over the area on his way to a witches' sabbath. Scientists and the like would have us believe it was created by glaciers or earth movements or some such but these theories are much less interesting and thus can be safely ignored.
The Whangie (I just love typing that word!) can be easily reached by a fairly short - though reasonably steep - uphill walk along a marked path from the Queen's View carpark on the A809. You get up reasonably high as you go and there are excellent views across the surrounding countryside. Stay on the lower path when it forks and follow it til you reach the rock formation. The path continues on here alongside the Whangie but a quick detour up the rocky slope will reveal a 'hidden' entrance allowing you to walk through the Whangie itself. Following the path beyond this takes you up Auchinden Hill, giving great views of Loch Lomond, before continuing back down to the car park where you began.
The whole circuit is about 3 miles and though not particularly strenuous does of course contain uphill sections and can be very muddy at times.
Hume castle is a bit of an oddity, it looks uncannily like a childs drawing of a fort, giving it a little bit of a comedy air; however its position, perched atop a hill on the outskirts of the tiny village of Hume, gives it such a commanding view that its clear that a stronghold here would utterly dominate the surrounding area - making it a deadly serious proposition to any attacker. Hume Castle
A quick look into its history reveals the answer, the current building is a folly, built in the 18th century on the site of a far more ancient fortress, which did indeed see plenty of action in the various border wars with England. It last saw use in the Napoleonic wars and it was from here in 1804 that an overzealous sentry saw the light from charcoal burners on nearby hills, mistook them for signal flares and lit his own warning beacon. The beacon was picked up by similar sentry posts in the surrounding hills and soon a chain of warning fires were glowing right across the region, leading to the 'Great Alarm' as more than 3000 local militia turned out to repel the phantom French invasion.
The castle is accesible via a short, but steep, path from its tiny carpark; take your time on the walk up to enjoy the view, sweeping vistas of the lush borders farmland show why this patch of land was worth fortifying. Once inside the walls there's not much to see, the site consists of little more than its square outer wall. It is possible to get onto the walls to a viewpoint in one corner. The castle is a good location to visit for epic pastoral landscape pictures. Also try crouching down low at the foot of the crenelated walls and shoot upwards for some cool 'castley' type shots.
The site is unmanned and entrance is free, there is a very small carpark at the foot of the hill.
Hidden away on a hillside overlooking the landscape near Dryburgh village is this spectacular monument to one of the heroes of Scottish history. It depicts a kilted William Wallace standing gazing sternly Southwards over the river Tweed, leaning against a gigantic sword with his saltire emblazoned shield at his feet. The carving may be a little simplistic and crude but at over 30 feet in height its hard to think of a more visually impressive piece of statuary in the country. It is however also undeniably cheesy - which can be charming in its own way of course! The poem carved on an urn at its base maybe gives a taste of what to expect...
" Peerless knight of Elderslie."
Who wav'd on Ayr's romantic shore
The beamy torch of liberty,
And roaming round from sea to sea
From glade obscure of gloomy rock
His bold companion call'd to free
The realm from Edward's iron yoke
Not exactly subtle is it?
The statue's size and position makes it a little difficult for photography as there is only a couple of locations from where the whole thing is easily visible. When shooting from directly below its worth trying to include something in the frame to give a sense of scale, perhaps some candid shots of tourists at its base. Its also well worth trying for detail shots, especially of the blue and white saltire on the shield which stands out well against the red sandstone of its construction. A path winds its way down the hillside in the opposite direction to the carpark from where it is possible to get shots of the upper half of Wallace's body appearing above the treeline.
Cared for by the Saltire society, the site is accesible via a short walk through the surrounding woodland from a small car park. Entrance is free.
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