Focus On: The #RiverDee

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Braeriach, the source of the River Dee

Braeriach, the source of the River Dee

The landscape surrounding the River Dee is one of extremes. It is bounded by some of the highest mountains in Britain, where the plateaus and tops can be benign one minute before being blasted by ferocious winds and blizzard conditions the next.

It plummets from these mountain slopes but then decelerates as the landscape softens and the gradient eases, finally culminating at Aberdeen.

With the possible exception of the River Spey, the River Dee may well travel through the most diverse, iconic and scenic landscape in Britain. It certainly has the highest source of any river in the British Isles, beginning at over 4000 feet above sea level on the colossal mountain summit of Braeraich.

It then travels for another 87 miles, tumbling down gorgeous waterfalls, through remnants of the great Caledonian Pine Forest, along by lochs, and through historic towns and villages such as Braemar, Crathie, Ballater and Banchory to reach the North Sea.

The Cairngorms and the River Dee from Morrone

The Cairngorms and the River Dee from Morrone

The landscape and weather have also been critical in determining the extraordinary array of wildlife that live both in and around the River Dee, a list that includes otter, water vole, golden eagle, osprey, dotterel, ptarmigan, pine marten, red deer, red squirrels, and the Scottish crossbill (the only bird unique to Britain).

The meaning behind the River Dee is a complex one. Its derivation from its Gaelic name Dé, is god whilst its Celtic origin is from Deva, meaning female divinity, a connotation also shared with Aberdeenshire’s other great river, The Don.

It was The Picts who were most successful in laying down roots in the region and, along with the Gaels, were the dominant race in the northeast and many of the subsequent hill and place names along the River Dee reflect both the Pictish and Gaelic languages. Aber translates from Pictish as ‘mouth of the river’ and so Aberdeen or Abergeldie have their roots in the Pictish language, whilst Gaelic can be seen in the likes of Ben Macdui, Clachnaben, Ballater and Banchory.

Tourism has certainly benefited the prosperity of the people and places along the River Dee, but nothing would have such a profound effect on the local economy than the discovery of oil, off the Aberdeenshire coast, in the early 1970’s.

The North Sea at Aberdeen

The North Sea at Aberdeen

However oil is not Aberdeen’s first big industry. Granite quarrying, which has been used to striking effect in many of Aberdeen’s buildings, has taken place for several centuries whilst both fishing and shipbuilding grew from the 15th century onwards. Aberdeen Harbour is regularly referred to as the oldest business in Britain.

Aberdeen is a beautiful city and provides a fitting journey end to the magnificent River Dee. Both the urban and coastal setting of Aberdeen sit in sharp contrast to the mountainous and rural scenery along much of the River Dee’s length, simply emphasising the incredible diversity of landscape it flows through.

#Duncryne: #TomWeir’s Favourite Dumpling

The late, great hillwalker and broadcaster Tom Weir lived much of his life in Gartocharn, which sits near the southern edge of the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park.

The little hill of Duncryne rises above Gartocharn and Tom climbed onto its summit almost every day (and sometimes at night). He described the view as the best from any small hill in Scotland.

Loch Lomond from Duncryne

Loch Lomond from Duncryne

Known locally (and perhaps a little disparagingly) as ‘The Dumpling’, due to its profile, Duncryne means ‘the rounded hill-fort’, and when on the summit it is not difficult to understand why it was once used as a defensive site. However Duncryne’s history dates back some 350-million years when it was formed through volcanic activity.

From its 146-metre summit Gartocharn nestles comfortably below amongst its rural confines, where fields spread northwest to reach Loch Lomond, its full width and many of its islands on display.

Surrounding the loch is the great beacon of Ben Lomond, the distinctive ridge of Conic Hill and the rounded Luss Hills, scored with deep glens. Beyond, the Cobbler’s iconic profile and the brawny Arrochar Alps draw the eye to a great procession of Southern Highland mountains. To the east the lowland landscape is broken by the long line of the Campsie Fells.

Therefore it is hard to disagree with Tom Weir’s view.

The Campsie Fells from Duncryne

The Campsie Fells from Duncryne

Focus On: Beauty and the Industrial Beast – The #RiverClyde

Watermeetings and the source of the River Clyde

Watermeetings and the source of the River Clyde

To see a selection of this month’s ‘Focus On’ images please click here

If you ask a good proportion of the Scottish population what imagery the words ‘the River Clyde’ conjure up, then a river dominated by shipbuilding and heavy industry may well be the overwhelming response.

But industries such as shipbuilding and coal mining are a relatively recent addition to the annals of the River Clyde’s fascinating story.

Its history dates back many thousands of years and it is a river that flows through a remarkably varied and beautiful landscape.

The River Clyde is born at the confluence of the Potrail and Daer Waters, a little north of the scattering of houses at Watermeetings in South Lanarkshire. The Clyde’s Burn joins slightly further up stream and it is generally accepted (although not definitive) that this modest burn bestows its bigger cousin with its distinguished moniker.

The word Clyde comes from the Cumbric ‘Clouta’, which in all probability translates as ‘The Cleansing One’, and illustrates an association with washing or purification.

The River Clyde flows for over 100 miles (it is the 3rd longest river in Scotland and the 9th longest in Britain), initially through a rural landscape, passing by some fine historic settlements such as Biggar and Lanark, and only hitting urbanisation when the towns of Hamilton and Motherwell are reached.

It then moves on, passing through Glasgow, reaching the Clyde’s upper tidal limit near Glasgow Green. Onwards the river widens and deepens as it passes Dumbarton and Port Glasgow before flowing into the Firth of Clyde at Greenock and Helensburgh.

It was the Romans who were the first to really leave their mark on the River Clyde. They crossed it at Elvanfoot in AD80 and went on to build significant highways, particularly near Crawford where there was also an important Roman fort. Along the Clyde a fort was built on Arbory Hill, Tinto Hill was used by the Romans as a signal station and, further upstream, at Strathclyde Country Park another fort was built and today the superb remains of a Roman bathhouse are on public display.

But it appears to have been during the Middle-Ages that people began to realise the economic potential of the River Clyde; major settlements like Dumbarton, Lanark and Glasgow started to flourish, sea trout and salmon fishing in the Clyde began around the 12th century and it is thought that shipbuilding commenced as early as the 15th century.

Evidence of the Clyde's industrial past at Glasgow

Evidence of the Clyde’s industrial past at Glasgow

However it wasn’t until the 19th century that the River Clyde was firmly placed on the international map. Shipyards at Govan, Renfrew, Clydebank, Dumbarton, Port Glasgow, and Greenock prospered and names such as Denny’s, Fairfield’s, Yarrow’s and John Brown’s were soon recognised the world over.

Many great ships including the Cunard Liners, the Cutty Sark and HMS Indomitable were built on the Clyde and at its height over 100,000 people were employed in shipbuilding on the River Clyde.

Over the last 50 years many things have changed along the River Clyde but it is still essentially the same river it has been for the last 200 years; it is still both a rural and urban river; agriculture, horticulture and manufacturing, are all still there but just on a smaller scale although tourism has begun to take on a larger role within the economy of the communities along the river.

The River Clyde from the Kilpatrick Hills

The River Clyde from the Kilpatrick Hills

Focus On: The #Lothian and #East Lothian Coast

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The Firth of Forth from Arthur's Seat

The Firth of Forth from Arthur’s Seat

Scotland’s eastern seaboard is seen, by many, as a poor relation when compared to its west coast cousin. Yet its history, wildlife and scenery are very much on a par to Scotland’s more renowned western fringes whilst the geology along the east coast is possibly the most significant in the country.

This is certainly true of the Lothian and East Lothian coasts, which stretch from the Forth Estuary, a few miles west of Edinburgh, to the Scottish Borders at Cockburnspath.

Much of this gorgeous journey is punctuated by soft, sandy beaches and low-lying dunes but as the coastline turns south from Dunbar it becomes increasingly rugged. Queensferry, the Port of Leith, Portobello, Musselburgh, Aberlady, Gullane, North Berwick and Dunbar are a selection of the attractive towns and villages along the coast.

The Lothian and East Lothian coastlines offer a clear window into the age of the earth. Whether this be the remains of volcanic activity or tangible proof of rocks dating back an incomprehensible amount of time then this is the place to be.

Several very important fish fossils have also been found on the outskirts of Edinburgh, at Newhaven, which are thought to be over 400 million years old. Volcanic activity is apparent when climbing the likes of North Berwick Law and Arthur’s Seat, which rises above Edinburgh’s city centre. Both were formed around 350-300 million years ago and today grant the finest views along the coast.

Humans have been exploiting the coastline for several thousand years, particularly along the more sheltered south bank of the Firth of Forth.

Discarded hazelnut shells were found on Cramond Island and carbon dated to 8,500BC when Mesolithic hunter-gatherers fished the waters of the estuary and hunted in the surrounding woodland. What’s more, a house from this period was excavated near Dunbar in 2002.

The estuary and coastline aided transport for our earliest ancestors and small communities built up along the coast and on the low-lying hills over the course of the next few thousand years.

The East Lothian coastline from Gullane Hill

The East Lothian coastline from Gullane Hill

Saltpanning, shipbuilding, mining, mills and agriculture have also played a key role in the development of communities over the past few thousand years. Today many of these industries have gone or play a far less significant role in the local economy.

Now the more contemporary industry of ‘the outdoors’ is a focal point for an ever-burgeoning tourism and recreation sector with the likes of cycling, sailing, wildlife watching and walking, now playing an increasingly important role.

Throughout the scenery is never less than compelling but it is the wildlife that can be spotted throughout the year that really raises the Lothian and East Lothian coasts onto another level and wherever you are walking the diversity of flora and fauna is remarkable; whooper swans, wild geese, little egret, whimbrel, greenshank, oystercatcher, sandpiper, dunlin, knot, curlew, ringed and golden plover, kittiwake, skylark, meadow pipit, shags, fulmars, herring gulls, puffins, frogs, toads, butterflies, damselflies, wood anemone, wood sorrel, red clover, red campion, sea pinks and common spotted orchid is just a selection of what can be seen.

Tantallon and Bass Rock

Tantallon and Bass Rock

Focus On: North #Argyll

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Mull from McCaig's Tower, Oban

Mull from McCaig’s Tower, Oban

Sitting with the boundaries of North Argyll is a spectacular portion of Scotland’s renowned west coast (including several beautiful and easily accessible islands), scenic countryside, wildlife rich woodland, forestry and gardens, several iconic hills and mountains, and a litany of beautiful lochs and rivers. The biggest conurbation is the bustling fishing port of Oban, where many of the iconic Caledonian MacBrayne ferries that service the islands sitting off the Argyll coast are caught. Oban is also a fine place for a wander.

Add to this the Crinan Canal, described as the most beautiful short cut in Scotland, a truly exceptional array of flora and fauna and some of the most important historical sites in Scotland and you have a beautiful and fascinating walking destination.

Argyll means ‘Coastland of the Gaels’, referring to the early Gaelic speaking Scots, who populated much of Scotland’s western seaboard. It was where Irish settlers, known as the Scotti, arrived in the 6th century AD, and these people eventually gave their name to Scotland.

300 years later and the Gaels of Dál Riata amalgamated with the Picts of eastern Scotland and established the kingdom of Alba, after which the control and influence of Dunadd rapidly weakened.

The Argyll landscape and its relationship with human beings were inextricably entwined even before the Scotti arrived. Kilmartin Glen, near Lochgilphead, contains several burial cairns and standing stones constructed around 4-5000 years while the rock carvings at nearby Achnabreac are believed to date from the same time.

Furthermore Castle Dounie, near Crinan, and Dun a Cuaiche, above Inveraray, hold the remains of Iron Age forts. More recently the landscape has been moulded by humans for the benefit of agriculture, fuel, timber and tourism.

The landscape of North Argyll has many facets; great muscular mountains like Ben Cruachan, low-lying agricultural plains along its centre and little islands cast adrift from the mainland yet only requiring a short ferry journey into a more peaceful, timeless backdrop.

The elongated sea lochs of Etive, Fyne and Linnhe bite into the coastline while their freshwater cousins, including Loch Awe and Loch Avich, puncture huge swathes of forest and woodland.

Loch Fyne, Inveraray

Loch Fyne, Inveraray

North Argyll is also home to some of the finest remnants of the renowned oak woods that used to cloak much of Europe’s Atlantic seaboard. Superb examples can be found at Crinan, Dalavich and Glen Nant. The history of these woods date back some 9000 years when oak, along with birch, elm and hazel, began to colonise this rough, rocky setting, aided in no small part by a warm, moist climate.

It is a landscape full of wildlife; dipper, kingfisher, pied flycatcher, redstart, woodpeckers, red squirrel, guillemot, tern, redshank, ringed plover, turnstone, golden and white-tailed sea eagle, lichens, mosses, bluebells and orchids just a tiny proportion of what may be seen.

Therefore, wherever you are in North Argyll you travel through history, making walking here an intriguing, enthralling and beautiful prospect.

Loch Etive from Ben Cruachan

Loch Etive from Ben Cruachan

#Cornwall: An Inspirational Landscape

Piskies Cove

Piskies Cove

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Cornwall’s extraordinary landscape has inspired generations of artists and writers, including Dylan Thomas, Sir John Betjemen, Daphne du Maurier, Barbara Hepworth and Stanhope Forbes, all of whom have been stimulated by the region’s coastline and countryside.

And it is easy to see why – Cornwall’s rugged shoreline, gorgeous sandy beaches, turquoise waters, meandering rivers, attractive woodland and wide open countryside all combine to form one of the UK’s finest and beautiful regions.

Many of the cliffs that form a barrier along much of the Cornish coast are between 250 and 500 million years old. Within these rocks can be found the tin and copper that have shaped much of Cornwall’s economy for thousands of years.

For the last 12,000 human beings have exploited Cornwall’s rich resources. Around 10,000BC Mesolithic hunter-gatherers settled along the coastline around Lizard and the higher ground of Bodmin. 4000 years later saw a marked increase in population and consequently many fortified settlements and monuments were built, along with important developments in agricultural techniques.

The Rumps

The Rumps

Agriculture, fishing and mining became the dominant industries and over time Cornwall was known as Cornovia, Cornubia, Cernyw and Kernow with the language eventually evolving into Cornish.

However, perhaps the key moment in Cornwall’s history came in 1201 when King John granted the tin miners of Cornwall a charter, which allowed them special privileges (such as not paying the normal rate of tax), known as a Stannery Parliament.

At its peak mining employed about 30% of Cornwall’s male workforce and in the early 19th century the region was the greatest producer of copper in the world. However when tin and copper prices plunged during the early 20th century many miners had to emigrate to find work. In 2006 Cornwall’s mining areas gained World Heritage Site status.

A number of the beautiful towns and villages strewn across Cornwall (including St Ives, Mousehole, Gorran Haven, Port Issac and Mullion Cove) were built around their harbours, underpinning the value of Cornwall’s other key industry – fishing.

The 17th, 18th and 19th centuries were boom time, with millions of fish caught (especially pilchards) and ports flourishing at the likes of Falmouth, Fowey, Looe, Padstow, Penzance and St Ives.

Such were the amounts of fish caught that it couldn’t last and trawlers had to land mackerel, cod and hake when the pilchard industry crashed during the 20th century. There are still many working harbours along the coast today but on much a smaller scale.

Today tourism has become Cornwall’s contemporary industry and vital to its economy. St Ives, Truro, Falmouth and Newquay remain the most popular destinations for the many millions of annual visitors drawn to the outstanding natural beauty, mild climate, distinct culture and history.

And you can add an astonishing array of flora and fauna; gannet, fulmar, cormorant, shag, kittiwake, razorbill, guillemot, puffin, Bottlenose and Common dolphin, porpoise, Manx shearwaters, chough, teal, greenshank, dunlin, bar-tailed godwit, curlew, oystercatcher, wigeon, heath spotted orchid, birdfoot trefoil, yellow primroses, pink sea thrift and purple heather are a fraction of an almost endless list of what can be seen at different times of the year.

St Ives

St Ives

Focus On #Ayrshire: Burns, Bruce and Battles

Turnberry Lighthouse

Turnberry Lighthouse

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Like much of the British Isles, evidence shows that there has been human activity in Ayrshire for many thousands of years. However it was not until the early part of the 12th century that the county of Ayrshire, with borders stretching from Inverclyde in the north to Galloway in the south, was established.

The ancient districts of Kyle, Carrick and Cunninghame were amalgamated at this time to form the county and Ayr became (as it still is today) the main county town. Prior to this Carrick belonged to Galloway while Kyle and Cunninghame were, surprisingly, part of Northumbria.

Going back even further to the 2nd century, southern Scotland was home to people known as the Damnonii, although there is very little historical record about them.

Largs, at the northern end of the Ayrshire coastline, played a momentous role in Scotland’s development when the Battle of Largs was fought on the outskirts of the town on the 2nd of October 1263. The encounter was crucial in bringing to an end the Scottish-Norwegian War and settling disputed lands along much of Scotland’s western seaboard, which had been in Norwegian possession since the 12th century.

Ayrshire also lays claim to being the birthplace of both Robert the Bruce (in 1274 at Turnberry) and William Wallace (in around 1272 at Ellerslie), although both Dumfriesshire and Renfrewshire (the Bruce and Wallace respectively) have always contested this.

What is definite is that much of the early lives of these two national heroes were played out in Ayrshire. The Bruce held the first meeting of the Scottish Parliament at the Church of St John in Ayr, the year after his famous 1314 victory over Edward II’s English army at Bannockburn. Wallace torched an English garrison at Ayr in 1297 in what has since become known as the ‘Burning of the Barns of Ayr’.

During the early 13th century much of the land along the Ayrshire coastline was owned by the Kennedy Clan, which had separate factions including the Bargany and the Cassillis Kennedys. The history of the clan is a hostile one, with much bloodshed over the centuries.

The 15th and 16th centuries saw Ayrshire under control of its churches and abbeys, but with the 1560 Reformation the ownership of land came under the control of local lairds, giving rise to the Covenanters and leading to more infighting and many deaths.

Agriculture, mining, fishing, steel-making, shipbuilding and the manufacturing of textiles, such as cotton and cloth, have all played an important part in the development of Ayrshire in recent times. Having said that, with the decline of heavy industry within the region (and more recently the closing of the Johnnie Walker whisky plant in Kilmarnock) it has relied somewhat on ‘20th century’ industries like computing and chemicals.

Fishing Trawler and Ailsa Craig

Fishing Trawler and Ailsa Craig

Another industry that  has come to play a major role in Ayrshire’s economy is tourism, one that is aided by a particular sport and one man.

The sport is golf. Ayrshire is the only county in Britain to contain three golf courses that have hosted The Open Championship, with Prestwick holding the very first in 1860 (it subsequently held another 15). It has since been taken out of the tournament’s rotation while Turnberry and Royal Troon both remain choices for the organisers.

And the one man who has created a cottage industry in his own right is Robert Burns. Born on the 25th of January 1759 in Alloway, near Ayr, our National Bard, and is incredible body of work, is renowned worldwide. He has become a cultural icon for Scots, both in Scotland and in the many expat communities around the world.