Tales of the #Tweed

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At 96 miles in length the River Tweed is the fourth longest river in Scotland – a portion of its journey also crosses the border into England.

It is this close proximity between the two countries that has bestowed the River Tweed with much of its intriguing history but it was a double-edged sword; trade links were strong but Edward I of England looked longingly at Scotland.

Glensax from Newby Kipps
The Tweed Valley from Newby Kips, Glensax

He arrived with devastating effect in 1296, leaving a litany of destruction in his wake. Major battles, like those at Flodden and Philipshaugh, and the Border reiving of the 16th century, led to a succession of government proclaiming that the Borders was becoming as problematic as the Highlands.

However on the flip side the gorgeous rural countryside that the River Tweed travels through means the scenery, wildlife and sense of tranquillity is on a par with the celebrated Scottish Highlands, which the lowland landscape of the Scottish Borders has always been unfairly judged as a poor relation.

The term ‘lowlands’ is essentially a misnomer as the Border country has an abundance of high ground granting some superb walking, panoramas and wildlife. The stunning Glensax Horseshoe and the iconic Eildon Hills are two such examples.

The Eildons, above Melrose, were home to a community of around 2000 people for many years. The Romans too were attracted to their shapely outline and when Julius Agricola led his army across the border in AD79 they paused near Melrose at Newstead (reputedly the oldest inhabited village in Scotland) and ended up staying for the next 150 years, setting up their fort of Trimontium at the base of the Eildons.

Eildon Hills
The Eildon Hills

The derivation of the name Tweed is vague but possibly stems from the Brythonic tau or teu, which mean strong, silent or flowing, unquestionably three words that could be applied to this amazing river.

It rises amongst the untamed moorland backdrop of Tweed’s Well, near to the Scottish Borders and Dumfries and Galloway border. It is a lonely setting and a number of little burns trickle down from the surrounding hills to join the infant but ever burgeoning Tweed as it travels north and then east.

Several significant rivers, such as the Teviot, Ettrick, Yarrow and Lyne, then flow into the River Tweed, eventually entering the North Sea at the magnificent walled town of Berwick-upon-Tweed.

En route the Tweed runs through bustling and historic towns and villages such as Peebles, Melrose, Dryburgh, Gala and Kelso and through a landscape that has been lived on and exploited for several millennia.

This exploitation reached its peak during the Industrial Revolution when the River Tweed provided the source to a remarkable economic expansion along its banks.

Although the Borders were far removed from the heavy industry of Central Scotland, the textile industry proved to be an unqualified success, employing thousands of people and putting many of the towns along or near to the Tweed, such as Peebles, Galashiels, Innerleithen, and Selkirk, on the map.

Over the centuries writers and painters like Sir Walter Scott, James Hogg and JMW Turner all depicted the River Tweed in a favourable light, drawing tourists into Scotland’s southeast corner and this continues to the present day.

Royal Border Bridge
The Royal Border Bridge and the River Tweed, Berwick Upon Tweed

Today, like much of rural Scotland the Scottish Borders has used the landscape to boost its economy and create jobs. Fishing plays an integral role (the Tweed is one of Scotland’s great salmon rivers) while activities such as cycling and walking have made the region a major draw for outdoor enthusiasts.


The Restless #RiverSpey

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The River Spey is a restless river, one filled with salmon and sea trout, bounded by vast tracts of woodland, backed by several of Britain’s highest mountains and surrounded by a staggering diversity of wildlife.

Garva Bridge
The River Spey and Garva Bridge

Its voyage results in an ever-changing landscape as each year the river, swollen with snow melt, unleashes a massive volume of water, which subsequently carves new channels and islands, generating its own course and one that is perpetually evolving.

Lonely little Loch Spey, which sits above Loch Laggan in Lochaber, beneath the big, rounded Monadhliath, marks the beginning of the River Spey and a wild and wonderful 107-mile journey.

Scotland’s fastest and second longest river quickly descends alongside General Wade’s historic road then underneath Garva Bridge, the oldest bridge spanning the Spey.

It then carves its course through the scenic splendour of Badenoch & Speyside, one dominated by the remarkable barrier of the immense Cairngorm plateau.

The hills reduce in size as the River Spey enters Moray, renowned the world over as whisky country.

From here the backdrop is more understated as the river twists and turns towards the coast, eventually spilling into the North Sea at Spey Bay, in-between Lossiemouth and Buckie.

Creag Bheag
Speyside from Creag Bheag above Kingussie

It has taken a long time for the River Spey to find its path – four ice ages, or several hundred million years, to be a little more precise. Over this almost unimaginable timescale the river system has slowly weathered and moulded its course over a bed of schists, gneiss, granite and sandstone and this amalgamation of rock types makes the River Spey one of the cleanest in Scotland.

As it hits the wide alluvial plain of Strathspey the riverbed is looser with the Spey pushing soil and sediment along. When Spey Bay is approached the river begins to pick up speed, dragging enormous amounts of shingle with it, altering its shape and route to whatever the Spey decides.

The derivation of the name Spey is unclear with several suggestions as to its meaning, including Hawthorn river or, perhaps more pertinently, Vomit or Gush. Certainly the speed at which the River Spey travels means this may be the appropriate label.

Like much of Scotland the Bronze and Iron Ages saw people lay down more definite roots and by the time the Romans marched northwards around the 1st century AD, several small settlements existed.

It was The Picts who were most successful in settling in the region, particularly in the great Caledonian pinewoods of Rothiemurchus and Abernethy. Along with the Gaels they were the dominant race in the northeast and formed a redoubtable force against the Roman advance.

Many of the hill and place names along the River Spey reflect the languages of the Picts and Gaels. Aber translates from Pictish as ‘mouth of the river’ and so Aberlour and Abernethy have their roots in the Pictish language, whilst Gaelic can be seen in the likes of Braeriach, Meall a Bhuachaille, Craigellachie and Buckie.

Whisky has become synonymous with the river and pumps millions of pounds into the local economy annually, and Moray is its spiritual home.

The River Spey
Spey Bay

Originally hailed for its medicinal qualities whisky has now become one of Scotland’s major exports and fundamental to the survival of the towns and villages along much of the River Spey, particularly when it travels through Moray.

The mild climate, pure, clear spring water and abundant supplies of fragrant golden barley provide the ideal ingredients for the ‘water of life’.

The Spey supports a plethora of whisky distilleries (over half of all the distilleries in Scotland) including Glenfarclas, Cardhu, Aberlour and Craigellachie as well as Glenfiddich and Glenlivet, the 2 biggest selling whiskies in the world.

In the Heart of #TheTrossachs

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Loch Katrine and Loch Arklet, which both sit in the heart of Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, have been the source of Glasgow’s drinking water since 1914.

Loch Katrine
Above Loch Katrine

They are separated by a wild expanse of moorland where tangible evidence of this engineering marvel exists and a fantastic walk links both bodies of water.

The route begins from Stronachalacher (which translates from Gaelic as ‘The Stonemason’s Point), on the banks of Loch Katrine (itself possibly meaning ‘The Dusky Loch’), only a couple of miles away from Glengyle.

Here, in 1671, one Rob Roy MacGregor was born. He was involved in the Jacobite uprising of 1688 and became a folk hero, chiefly because of his feud with James Graham, 1st Duke of Montrose. Rob Roy died at Balquhidder in 1734.

In 1817, 7 years after writing his epic poem, ‘Lady of the Lake’, Sir Walter Scott published ‘Rob Roy’, a somewhat exaggerated account of Rob Roy MacGregor that romanticised his life. Just like ‘Lady of the Lake’, Scott’s book contributed greatly to the popularity of The Trossachs.

Leaving Stronachlachar, a private road runs above the loch, soon crossing an aqueduct. This flows from Loch Arklet and was opened in 1914 to provide extra water for Loch Katrine, which had supplied Glasgow’s water since 1859.

The 34-mile Loch Katrine/Glasgow aqueduct was an incredible feat of engineering, as it required no pumps, the water’s flow wholly driven by gravity.

Loch Arklet
Loch Arklet and the Arrochar Alps

The road provides easy walking for a further 3km where it reaches a waymarked footpath on the right. Yet it’s worthwhile keeping on for another 100 metres to the striking Royal Cottage. This was built as accommodation for Queen Victoria when opening the water scheme in 1859.

However a local story states that a 21-gun salute smashed all the windows and therefore she couldn’t stay overnight.

Walk back to the waymarked path which climbs away from Loch Katrine. Continue over moorland, passing a ventilation shaft, a legacy of the aqueduct’s construction. Turn right at the next shaft, following a narrow path to the walks highest point.

This spot has a wilder air and presents a superb view to Ben Lui’s magnificent profile, while to the southwest rises Ben Lomond.

Back at the main path continue as it traverses beneath Tom Ard, eventually descending to a forestry track. Turn right and follow this to a path on the right, just before the B829.

A wonderful section of the walk continues across moorland, following the route of the Statute Labour Road that once ran between Aberfoyle and Inversnaid.

Walking along the old Statute Labour Road

The paths and roads alongside Loch Arklet have been used for centuries. The old Military Road (which the B829 runs along today) was built around 300 years ago to serve the Inversnaid Garrison. Soldiers were stationed here to guard the road and keep control of local rebels and cattle thieves, who would have had superb knowledge of the local topography for their illicit deeds.

In due course a stunning view across Loch Arklet and the Arrochar Alps grabs your attention and once at the B829, an easy walk returns to Stronachlachar.

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: #Glasgow, Our Dear Green Place

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The River Clyde and Glasgow at sunrise
The River Clyde and Glasgow at sunrise

Glasgow’s modern history dates back to the 6th century when St Kentigern (also known as St Mungo, Glasgow’s patron saint) established an ecclesiastical centre on the banks of the Molendinar Burn. At this point the foundations of Glasgow (or, to give its original Cumbric moniker, Glascau, ‘the place of the green hollow’) were born.

The town began to grow around streets such as Gallowgate, High Street and Stockwell Street with construction of Glasgow Cathedral beginning in 1238 on the site of St Kentigern’s original church.

Over the course of the next few hundred years a number of trades (under the auspices of the Trades House) worked within the city, and a burgeoning export market (including tobacco, sugar and rum) to the USA and West Indies, saw Glasgow establish itself as a major port.

At its centre was the River Clyde, which, during the 18th century, was dredged, allowing larger vessels to navigate to the Broomielaw – this expansion led to Glasgow’s golden age of heavy industry, one that would put it on the world map.

The industry boom saw Glasgow’s population explode. Immigration from the Highlands, Ireland and Eastern Europe provided much needed cheap and unskilled labour with Govan the beating heart of the industry – at its peak, before World War 1, shipbuilding directly employed a staggering 70,000 workers in 19 yards.

Engineering and the locomotive industry also thrived, helping Glasgow to become one of Europe’s richest city’s and this wealth was reflected in the construction of a number of elaborate and ornate buildings including museums, art galleries and libraries.

Yet despite these riches parts of Glasgow, particularly the East End, were considered slums, where overcrowding and deprivation led to sections of the city garnering a violent reputation. With the massive decline of heavy industry during the 1930’s, high unemployment and a huge population caused much social disparity and after World War II Glasgow had a major housing crisis.

This led to many of its famous tenements being demolished, replaced by high-rise tower blocks. In the late 1960’s a number of neighbourhoods disappeared altogether under the construction of the M8 but rather than helping with Glasgow’s issues it only exacerbated them, with many new communities feeling socially excluded.

However the 1980’s brought a sea change (particularly a cultural renaissance), one that began Glasgow’s regeneration. The 1988 Glasgow Garden Festival started the rebirth, which in turn led to Glasgow being designated European City of Culture in 1990 and the 1999 UK City of Architecture and Design. The city’s recent transformation culminated in it hosting the massively successful 2014 Commonwealth Games and today Glasgow is hailed as one of the world’s top tourist destinations.

Having said that, Glasgow, like any major city, will never be problem free – it still has the lowest life expectancy of any UK city for both males and females (72.6 years and 78.5 respectively) while problems such as social deprivation, alcohol and drug abuse, and sectarianism are still prevalent.

The ‘No Mean City’ tag has been hard to shake off and is Glasgow’s well-worn cliché but its veneer is slowly being scratched away.

Glasgow has made enormous leaps forward in recent years and while its residents are rightly proud of their history and heritage, they are now very much looking forward. It is a fascinating, beautiful and convivial city to explore and there is much to be discovered when walking its pavements and paths.

The entrance to Merchant City
The entrance to Merchant City

#Queensferry – Royal Crossing

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The coastal town of Queensferry, standing on the south bank of the Firth of Forth just a few miles west of Edinburgh city centre, is perhaps best known for the iconic structures of the Forth Road and Rail bridges, which span the Firth of Forth, linking Edinburgh with Fife.

However there has been a crossing here for centuries. When Queen Margaret (wife of Malcolm Canmore, King of Scotland) established a church at Dunfermline during the 11th century she paid for a ferry service to transport pilgrims, on their way to St Andrews, across the Forth Estuary at its narrowest point. Subsequently the village of Queensferry began to grow.

The monks of Dunfermline Abbey initially operated the ferry service and a variety of ferries ran for several centuries. During the 1950’s the Queensferry service was the busiest in Scotland with four ferries annually carrying 1.5 million people, 600,000 cars and 200,000 goods vehicles by 40,000 ferry journeys. However the opening of the Forth Road Bridge in 1964 effectively ended the ferry service and when opened it was the longest suspension bridge in Europe, utilising 39,000 tons of steel.

Preceding this was the Forth Rail Bridge, one of the finest examples of engineering in the world. It took 4000 men seven years to build at a cost for £3.2 million and when opened in 1890 it had required over 54,000 tons of steel and 6.5 million rivets yielding a length of over 8000 feet.

The Queensferry Crossing will open in 2016 to carry motor-cycles, cars and heavy goods vehicles, relieving the pressure on the Forth Road Bridge, which will continue to take public transport, cyclists and pedestrians.

Queensferry Harbour has also long been a focal point to the town and already existed when the town achieved Royal Burgh status in 1641.

Several industries have since taken place in and around its confines including fishing, whisky distilling and soap making. Herring used to be gutted, salted and packed here before being exported to Scandinavia and the Netherlands.

The island of Inchgarvie, which sits a little out on the Firth of Forth is named after the garvie, a local name for the young herring that brought wealth to the town.

The 18th century saw brandy being smuggled into the harbour while Queensferry’s first whisky distillery, Glenforth, was established in 1828.

During the 17th century Covenanters, rebelling against the introduction of Bishops into the Presbyterian Church by King Charles I, were forced to hide in the attics and cellars of the houses around Queensferry Harbour before taking the towns fleet of ships at high tide and embarking on a journey to the more tolerant Low Countries where they could freely practice their faith.

The Forth Road Bridge
The Forth Road Bridge
The Forth Rail Bridge
The Forth Rail Bridge