… exploring from Edinburgh …

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Sterling Castle, at the start of a day trip from Edinburgh. Pics Sarah Nicholson

DAY TRIPPING …

I DID a circuit from Edinburgh today that took me to the Trossachs, through some of the villages that Mary Queen of Scots frequented, and into the barrel room of a whisky distillery to sample a wee dram of the local drop.

Scottish Blue Badge Guide Ken Hanley and I hit the road early, following Queensferry Street out of the capital, before we reached the pretty village of South Queensferry where Scotland’s Saint Margaret used to catch a boat across the River Forth when she wanted to visit her chapel at Edinburgh Castle.

Two impressive bridges now span the Firth of Forth – including the Forth Bridge that was considered a marvel of engineering when the cantilevered sections were constructed in the 1800s – but the town is still a pretty waterside hamlet that’s been left alone by developers.

Many of the cottages in South Queensferry have red tiles on the roof which are a souvenir from a bygone time when sailing ships would float between the Scottish port and the countries across the North Sea to trade.

The ships would leave home loaded with goods, but travel back from the low countries empty, so the sailors would load the decks with red roof tiles as ballast and then dump the stock when they got back to South Queensferry.

The next stop was Linlithgow and the ruins of the medieval fortress where Mary Queen of Scots was born, before we moved to the village of Stirling which is home to a another magnificent hill-top castle with a rich royal history.

Stirling was built on the spine of a prehistoric lava flow, similar to Edinburgh’s Old Town, and at the top of the main street was the Church of the Holy Rude where Mary was baptised and John Knox delivered some of his most powerful sermons.

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From Stirling we began our climb into the Trossachs, the region an hour from Edinburgh known as “the highlands in miniature”, where those staying in the capital can see a collection of bens (mountains) and lochs (lakes) without spending hours in a bus.

The weather wasn’t the best for touring, a rain storm rolled in just as we were reaching the most scenic part of our drive, but I could see the frozen lakes, manor houses sitting on the banks, and steep hillsides through the mist.

We stopped at Roman Camp in Callander for lunch and enjoyed a big bowl of cauliflower soup and smoked salmon sandwiches while sitting in the stately drawing room beside an open fire.

Roman Camp was a hunting lodge that’s been turned into a boutique hotel and the common areas look just as they would have back in Georgian times with rooms crowded by overstuffed armchairs and couches.

After emerging from the Trossachs we dashed towards Glasgow where we did a tour of the Auchentoshan whisky factory which is just one of a 100 distilleries in Scotland.

Auchentoshan, which was established in 1823, is the only factory that produces a single malt whisky that’s been triple distilled which gives the liquid “smooth, light and sweet characteristics”.

I’m not a whisky drinker, so I can’t comment on the intricate flavours of the drop I tasted, but I do know the wee dram warmed my toes right up and made my knees turn to jelly.

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