Scottish Bucket List for 2019
The ‘Bucket List’. A phrase for some that could inspire great action and the incentive needed to kick start the time in their life known as ‘the great adventure’.
For others it can be daunting, especially for those people who struggle to stick to the easiest of lists, such as a shopping list, a chore list, a “books I need to read this year” list. Whether its excitement or fear, The ‘Bucket List’ is the flashing cursor of our autobiography, the blinking reminding us that if we don’t put pen to paper or finger to key, the story won’t be written. Those as of yet unexplored places waiting patiently to be documented in the blueprints of your life, unwritten, question why? Perhaps you have encountered a block, blocks that build a wall of all the things that you should, or could, be doing. So what do you do? You write a list: a one step at a time list, that will carry you one rung at a time up and over that wall. A to-do list of extreme experiences and instagram vistas to tick off, to help us make the most of every single day.
A big undertaking indeed! So lets start close to home. Scotland plays host to the most extraordinary locations, of history and culture dating back thousands of years, to views so breathtaking they are hard to beat anywhere in the world. When you experience the dramatic mountain landscapes climbing to the heavens, or the sea and sky interchangeable on the sunset horizon, or the heady, breathing heart of the pine forest, take a deep breath and drink it all in. Because life doesn’t get much better than this.
Fairy Pools, Isle of Skye
Known by the Norse Vikings as the ‘Winged Isle’ or by Scots, romantically, as ‘The Misty Isle’, Skye was recently voted the 4th best island in the world to visit by National Geographic Magazine. It is the second-largest of Scotland’s islands but surely the most beautiful. A perfectly formed patchwork of mysterious moors, fractured mountain peaks, deep lochs and towering sea cliffs, Skye has captured the imagination for centuries. Crossing the famous Skye Bridge gives views of Skye’s Cuillin Mountain range in the distance, and with The Sligachan River flowing majestically from the Black Cuillin Mountains, it’s a beautiful backdrop that sets the tone for a visit to this other-wordly Island, a land of Faeries and Giants. References to fairies are dotted all over Skye: The fairy Bridge, the Fairy Glen and perhaps most famously, The Fairy Pools. This etheral sprite features in the history of Clan Macleod, and local folklore tells of a Macleod cheif who married a fairy but sadly, after 20 years she had to leave him and return to her world. They said their final farewells at Fairy Bridge close to Dunvegan, and gave him a flag as a parting gift. The fairy then promised that if the flag was ever to be waved in times of danger or distress, help would be given. However, whilst the flag has the power to save the MacLeod clan, whoever waved the flag itself would later be dragged away from this world by an invisible being, never to return.
The fairy pools of Skye are not to be missed. Cast aside the fact that it will be busy in peak season (this can be fairly reduced with either a very early of very late visit) and take a walk through stunning scenery down across heather and grassland bogs teeming with water boatman to climb the foothills of the Black Cuillins, where the River Brittle cascades down, spilling crystal clear waters into a variety of pools, small shallow ones to deep, green ones, connected by multiple waterfalls flashing blue and green. Occasionally you will see a swimmer brave the chilly waters, for even in summer they don’t get warm, but it is worth it. Talk about a swim (or a dunk!) with a view! The 20 minutes stroll from the car park to the largest and closest of the pools is ideal for spotting red deer, rabbits, and sheep – and birds aplenty, so keep an eye out. It is not surprising that a location with so much beauty will attract visitors from all over the world, and at times on Skye you question just where all these people can possibly come from. Still, people could not diminish the majesty of the Fairy Pools waterfall phenomenon, it is a site to behold.
Bealach Na Ba, Applecross
If we have one word of advice (speaking from experience) for those travelling the Bealach Na Ba, it would be this: don’t do it in a car that has a tendency to overheat, or load that car with four adults, three bikes and a canoe. Not only will you take over 3 hours to climb the 626 meters over 8.9km (factoring in the time for each overheating breakdown), you will anger many a fellow driver in the process which will seriously diminish any enjoyment. Also, don’t do it on a foggy day – the reward at the top is a layby with other disappointed, and yes a bit sheepish, toilers.
That said, there is no greater, nor more challenging, road in Scotland. The Bealach Na Ba, meaning the Pass of the Cattle in Gaelic, connects Applecross in the West to Loch Kishorn further east. It was used in earlier days to drive cattle from Applecross and surrounding settlements to other parts of the Highlands. The third highest road in Scotland has some of the most scenic driving vistas in the whole world, with the single track curving recklessly through hairpin bends switching back and forth with gradients approaching 20%. The road is so narrow that there are several ‘passing places’, allowing a place to stop when a vehicle comes from the opposite direction (or in our case, to rest up when the car breaks down). On approach to the summit, you will encounter some of the steepest sections, and with the zone prone to heavy mist it can be dangerous in low visibility conditions. That said, sensible careful driving using the passing places to relieve quicker drivers will enable you to take your time, enjoy the challenge of the climb and make it a drive to remember. The dramatic, and seemingly endless, landscape either side of the road makes the Bealach Na Ba a drive of kings. The views over Loch Kishorn towards Plockton are absolutely stunning, and from the summit the vistas overlooking the hairpin bends winding down the mountain to Applecross are simply breathtaking. Panoramic views across much of Wester Ross, the whole of Skye, and the Islands of Rum and the Outer Hebrides, a snapshot of the joys to be explored, the invitation to come hither, makes this location one of the best that Scotland has to offer.
The Mcleod Stone, Harris
Is there anything more mesmerising, or awe-inspiring than Neolithic standing stones? Take a moment to think about who put them there, how they did it and why. There are many unanswered questions that surface when standing in the shadow of these towering stones. Scattered across Scotland you will find numerous standing stones, from the circular ring of Brodgar in Orkney, to the humbler Mcleod Stone in Harris. Humble indeed, but worth a mention. For this particular stone has some of the most isolated and beautiful surroundings on the Isle of Harris. With its blue sky, turquoise crystal clear waters and miles of white sandy deserted beaches, Harris is the Bahamian paradise of Scotland, just with much colder seas! The only thing that may dampen the day is the weather. Scotland is undoubtedly moody, and will likely cause you problems with a wild and hoolie day here and there, but we’d expect nothing less from a celtic lass!
Walking the ten minutes from the dunes to the stone, this is an impressive and dramatically situated monolith, on a grassy slope above a perfect and the usually empty Hebridean beach, Traigh Iar. 3 meters tall, with the packing stones at the base visible; it is 150cm wide but only 40cm thick, and so presents two flat faces which draw the eye out over the sea. Although the stone is well worth a visit in its own right it is the scenery which captivates you, beautiful horizons stretching all the way to Taransay. Erected more than 4,500 years ago, its purpose is now unclear but it may have been part of a calendrical system or it may just have been a navigational aid to guide boats into the bay. It has also been suggested that this stone was erected by prehistoric man as part of a calendrical system: “at the equinoxes the sun sets exactly due west over St Kilda, as seen from the stone.” It was later named after the local clan chief and was possibly a rallying point for the clan. Harris is an island full of extremes. The west coast beaches surely match the finest on earth, yet on the east and in the north, the landscape is barren and rocky. The neolithic stones question our understanding of what was here thousands of years before, with the out worldly nature of this location resonating within you long after you leave.
Argyle Forest Park, Argyll
The quiet and secluded Argyll Forest Park is the oldest forest park in Britain covering a large part of North of Cowal. A land of craggy peaks and hidden glens, peaceful sea lochs and rushing rivers, the park stretches from the Holy Loch, an inlet of the Firth of Clyde, to the jagged peaks of the Arrochar Alps. Established in 1935, it’s Britain’s oldest Forest Park. With rugged mountains and dramatic sheltered glens, great forests and open moorland, tranquil lochs and tumbling rivers, Argyll Forest Park is one of the reasons why Cowal is a land of beautiful contrasts. It owes its rugged scenery to being at one end of the Highland Boundary Fault, the great crack in the Earth’s surface that marks the line between Lowland and Highland Scotland. With so diverse environment this fabulous natural playground is perfect for gentle walks, challenging climbs, cycling as well as wildlife spotting and adventure sports. The park has some fantastic cross-country mountain biking routes. There’s a whole network of trails from Ardgartan, including a circuit round the peninsula that makes a thrilling day out. Although it’s only a short distance from Glasgow, it’s easy to find wild places here. Head to Ardentinny for relaxing, easy trails along a river and through bluebell woods, or Glenbranter to watch red squirrels. Just next to the holiday resort of Dunoon, Corlarachis a great place to get away from it all and perhaps glimpse red deer. Finally, a note of interest for all the botanists and the conservationists among you, in addition to the extensive plantings of conifers, some original native woodland still survives in places such as Hell’s Glen and Glen Finart – a real walk back in time.
McCaigs Tower, Oban
Oban, on the west coast of Scotland, stands unchallenged as the capital of the western seaboard of Scotland. It was a late starter, existing only as a small fishing and trading village until the steamers of the early Victorian era started arriving in ever greater numbers. These days Oban is a busy place being the gateway to the Western Isles, but the bustle adds to the atmosphere. It has a great deal to offer visitors, whether they are simply passing through or wanting to stop a while, with churches, independent shops, and even a distillery. If you are lucky enough to arrive in Oban by sea, then one of the first things to strike you is the skyline on the summit of Battery Hill. You would be forgiven for being decidedly confused that a small, west coast fishing town should echo the architecture of ancient Rome, but this impressive structure that overlooks the town, with its arched double tired widows and circular frame echoing that of the Colosseum in Rome, does just that. This notable feature is McCaig’s Tower, sometimes (and more descriptively) called McCaig’s Folly, the fortress like building never fails to impress visitors to the town. This prominent landmark in the was built in 1897 by local banker John Stuart McCaig, an admirer of Roman and Greek architecture, with the intention to provide work for local stonemasons during the winter months and to be a lasting monument to the McCaig family. Unfortunately his death brought an end to construction with only the outer walls completed. Today, it stands proudly over the town, with the gardens inside the tower providing a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of town life in Oban. Perched on the summit of Battery Hill, the climb up from the town center is well worth the effort, with undoubtedly some of the best views in the area from the top. From the west side viewing platform there are magnificent views over Oban, Kerrera, Mulland the Firth of Lorn, with panoramic vistas across Oban Bay to the Atlantic Islands. The sunset is truly breathtaking from this location, and with the help of clear sky, you feel as though you are close to heaven as the dusk settles in.