Tales of the #Tweed

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

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

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

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

To view more of @outdoorfergie’s images please visit scottishhorizons.co.uk

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.

Stronachlachar

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: The Monumental #RiverTay

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

Ben Lui

Ben Lui and the Allt Coire Laoigh, the source of the River Tay

The River Tay may be unique to all of Scotland’s rivers in that its source lies many miles from where its course, as the River Tay, actually begins.

A small lochan at the head of the Allt Coire Laoigh, some 700 metres up on the southwest slopes of Ben Lui near Tyndrum, is regarded as the source.

Yet it takes over 18 miles for the rivers Cononish, Fillan and finally the Dochart to reach Loch Tay and then another 14.5 miles (the length of Loch Tay) before the River Tay makes its first appearance when it spills from the eastern fringes of Loch Tay at Kenmore.

Cutting its sinuous course the River Tay eventually reaches the North Sea a few miles east of Dundee with its mouth bounded by Buddon Ness in Angus and Fife’s Tentsmuir Point.

This 120-mile journey makes it Scotland’s longest river and the 7th longest in the UK. It is an immense river in every respect.

As well as its length, the River Tay’s carries the largest volume of water of any river in the UK with its catchment area extending over 2000 square miles. Upon reaching the 23-mile long Firth of Tay, it carries more water than the Thames and Severn collectively.

Consequently the River Tay flows through a wide-ranging landscape initially characterised by dramatic wild mountains and steep sided glens.

When it crosses the Highland Boundary Fault Line at Dunkeld the landscape softens, reaching its upper tidal limit at Perth, and continues onward into fertile countryside, containing some of the richest farmland in Scotland, to conclude at the coast.

River Tay

The River Tay at Dunkeld

The River Tay’s two cities, Perth and Dundee, are both delightful urban environments to explore.

The river was recorded by the Roman historian Tacitus as Taus, during the 1st century AD, then by the Egyptian geographer Ptolemy as Tava. Later the Roman title was possibly Tamia. However its present day derivation of strong, silent or flowing seems to stem from the Brythonic Tausa.

Over the centuries the earliest Stone Age and Neolithic hunter-gatherers exploited the River Tay in search for food with more definite roots being planted during the Iron Age – the clearest evidence of how people lived during this period can be seen when visiting the superb Crannog Centre at Kenmore.

Around 1500 years ago the Picts built several hill forts along the Tay, the best example adorning the summit of Moncrieffe Hill on the outskirts of Perth.

In AD83, as the Romans slowly edged their way north through Scotland, they paused at the confluence of the River Tay and River Almond and established a fort called Bertha, the precursor of Perth, which would subsequently grow a little down river.

The Romans also headed some 20 miles east where they utilised the panoramic vantage point of Dundee Law.

The River Tay is definitely a sum of all its parts, its wild mountainous terrain, coastal and woodland fringes and urban settings, all adding something to its magnificent journey.

Broughty Ferry

The outflow of the River Tay near Broughty Ferry

 

#Cornwall: An Inspirational Landscape

Piskies Cove

Piskies Cove

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

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

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

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

#Lismore – Gardener’s World

Lismore is an idyllic island that stands out on Loch Linnhe and a short distance across the Lynn of Lorn from Port Appin in Argyll.

A short passenger ferry journey (bikes are also allowed) transports you onto the island at Point and into a more peaceful, laid-back world. Achnachroish (where the Oban car ferry docks) and the idyllic Port Ramsey are the island’s main settlements and much of its history can be discovered in the superb Lismore Heritage Centre.

Lismore’s name derives from the Gaelic lios-mor, meaning ‘the great garden’ and its fertile landscape is due to its Dalradian limestone geology, which has helped nurture an abundance of wildflowers including primrose, bluebell, wood sorrel, dog violet, purple and common spotted orchid, silverweed, tormentil and meadowsweet. Hen harrier, buzzard, dunlin, oystercatcher, shags, guillemots and migrating common and arctic terns is a selection of birdlife.

There is also a very good chance of spotting golden eagle and white-tailed sea eagle when on Lismore as it lies under what is thought to be an eagle ‘highway’, one that travels from Mull in the west to the Tay Estuary in the east near Dundee. Successful introduction of both species has taken place in both locations in recent years.

Lismore’s industrial history lies firmly in its limestone quarrying. Much of it took place at Salean, on the island’s north coast, and the remains of this small, industrial centre can still be seen here. The stone was quarried and shipped out on locally owned smacks (a traditional fishing boat) for agriculture and building mortar between 1826 and the 1930’s.

Many of the buildings date from early days of the quarry, including a manager’s office, workers cottages, a shop and a cottage on the pier. It is a very atmospheric, evocative spot, hemmed in on its southern side by the quarry and with some lovely sea views.

Port Ramsey Bay, Lismore

Port Ramsey Bay, Lismore