A spectacular bird of prey, with a wingspan of close to 2 metres. Red kites came close to extinction in the UK, and were re-introduced from Scandinavia.
We visit a red kite feeding station, which supports and monitors the birds. There are often 30 or more birds, swooping for food. They can be very vocal too. This trip includes a talk about red kites and their preservation. http://www.argatyredkites.co.uk
We often see red kites when walking near Crieff. Especially in the autumn and winter.
Doune Castle is, I’m told, the best preserved medieval castle in Scotland. That’s why it’s so popular with producers of films and TV series. It’s featured in “Game of Thrones”, “Outlander” and “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”.
Doune was the seat of “Scotland’s uncrowned king” – Robert Stewart, 1st Duke of Albany and Governor of Scotland. He acquired the castle in 1361. He ruled Scotland while its kings were either incapable or imprisoned by the English.
You can take an interesting audio tour of the castle. It explains the skullduggery that the Duke of Albany resorted to to retain his power, how the castle functioned during the 1300s, and its use as a film set.
If this inspires you, we have the film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” on DVD.
Why not visit Edinburgh during your stay with us? Edinburgh is of course Scotland’s historic capital city. It’s the second most popular tourist destination in the UK (after London), and is an easy day trip from our homestay.
Edinburgh’s medieval Old Town is a maze of ancient cobbled streets, narrow alleyways and hidden courtyards. The Royal Mile leads from Edinburgh Castle (perched on the remains of a volcano) down to the Palace of Holyroodhouse (the Queen’s official residence in Scotland). You can take also take a tour of the very modern Scottish Parliament building, and if you time your visit well you can even listen to a parliamentary debate.
This is also where you’ll find King Arthur’s Seat – an impressive hill in the centre of Edinburgh. If you have the energy to climb it, there are great views, and it’s a good place for a picnic.
There’s a lot to do in the Old Town. You could visit the excellent National Museum of Scotland, Dynamic Earth, or the Camera Obscura and World of Illusions. You can see Greyfriar’s Kirkyard, where the famous small dog Bobby spent the last years of his life faithfully guarding his master’s grave. A statue of the dog commemorates his great loyalty.
Edinburgh is JK Rowling’s home town. Keen Harry Potter fans can visit the Elephant House cafe, where she wrote Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. And you can do some Harry Potter themed shopping in Victoria Street – the street that inspired the magical Diagon Alley.
Edinburgh’s New Town is not so very new – its beautiful streets and squares were built in the 18th and 19th centuries.
It’s a great area just to walk around, and for shopping and restaurants.
My tip for when you visit Edinburgh is to head for Stockbridge in the New Town on a Sunday. Walk along the peaceful Water of Leith river; choose from the delicious food on offer at Stockbridge Market for lunch; enjoy the fun local shopping and wander round the beautiful streets. You could end the afternoon with a visit to Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Garden, with its impressive glasshouses built in the 1800s, filled with plants from around the world. Stockbridge is where you can find my favourite Edinburgh restaurant (it’s already way too popular for me to divulge the name on this website).
The city of Stirling was the site of many a battle between Scots and English, in the centuries before the 2 countries unified, as its bridge over the River Forth was the main entry point to the north of Scotland.
The Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297 was one of the few Scottish victories, as the English armies were inevitably larger and more powerful.
The Scots, led by their great military leader William Wallace, outmanoeuvred the English by splitting the English army in two – with half on one side and half on the other side of the bridge. 5000 English soldiers were slaughtered.
The anniversary of the battle, 11th September, is celebrated every year by the Society of William Wallace, and other supporters of Scottish independence.
Wallace was later betrayed to the English, captured, and tried in London. He suffered a terrible death – on 23rd August 1305 he was hanged, disembowelled, beheaded and quartered.
You may remember him from the 1995 film “Braveheart”.
If you visit the monument on the anniversary of Wallace’s death, you will have the chance to see actors play the parts of Wallace and his English accuser.
There was a competition to design a monument to commemorate Wallace, with over 100 entries. It is 67 metres high and was completed in 1869. It stands on the remains of an ancient volcano.
You can climb to the top of the Monument, visiting several exhibition rooms along the way. From the top, there are stunning views of Stirling, the River Forth and the Ochil hills.
Our town, Crieff, lies on the southern edge of the Scottish Highlands. Hills and mountains rise up dramatically behind the town, and can be glimpsed from our garden. It is a short walk up into the hills, where there are beautiful views. Here are some photos taken this winter (the castle is Castle Monzie):
A few miles down the road from Crieff, we visit the village of Comrie, which boasts impressive waterfalls and wild Highland scenery.
We also take our visitors deeper into the Highlands. We visit the pretty town of Aberfeldy (great cafes!) with its famous waterfalls walk – Birks’ Walk – immortalised in song by the great songwriter and poet, Robert Burns:
-Bonie lassie, will ye go,
Will ye go, will ye go,
Bonie lassie, will ye go
To the birks of Aberfeldy!
Here is the great Robert Burns himself, sitting next to one of our visitors as he admires the scenery.
And then on to the beautiful Loch Tay, where you may want to visit the Scottish Crannog Centre – a reconstructed prehistoric loch-dwelling. It’s also a good place for wild swimming.
Hogmanay is Scotland’s New Year’s Eve, and it’s quite a big deal in Scotland. For 400 years the Scots weren’t allowed to celebrate Christmas, because it was associated with the Catholic Church. So Hogmanay was their big mid-winter celebration. The traditions date back to Viking times.
Last year we went to Stirling’s Lantern Festival, and then enjoyed a fireworks display at midnight. This year we took advantage of a full house of visitors to put on a murder mystery evening (no-one guessed who the murderers were), and then went to Comrie’s famous Flambards Procession. This was a mixture of ancient and modern. The Flambards – poles which have been set on fire – are carried through the village by strong young men, and then thrown into the river. They are accompanied by bagpipes, and on this occasion by a cavorting Donald Trump figure.
Beautiful weather, stunning Autumn colours, and 2 of the best Scottish festivals – all in one week.
Late October/ early November is also a school holiday in much of Europe.
This year we introduced children from France and Russia to the fun of Halloween (31st October). In Scotland, children dress up as witches or monsters and go “guising” – visiting neighbours to recite a poem or sing a song, in exchange for sweets. The neighbours seemed to enjoy their introduction to Russian poetry, in Russian but with a useful explanation in English. Our visitors also decorated the house with “spider webs” and a skeleton, and carved pumpkins into scary faces, lit up by candles. Then Helena demonstrated the traditional Halloween games of bobbing for apples and (once your face is wet) fishing for money in a bowl full of flour.
5th November is Guy Fawkes’ Night. This festival is unique to the UK. Bonfires and fireworks celebrate the failure of a plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament – in 1605. In the words of the nursery rhyme:
“Remember remember the fifth of November,
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.”
Guy Fawkes was hung, drawn and quartered – not a nice death. 400 years later, we enjoyed Crieff’s massive bonfire and impressive fireworks display.
The popular Rough Guide travel book series has held a vote among its readers – for the most beautiful country in the world. The runners up are Canada, New Zealand, Italy, South Africa and Indonesia. Scotland gained the most votes, and in the words of Rough Guide:
“Who can deny that these wild beaches, deep lochs and craggy castles are some of the most wonderful and beautiful sights in the world?”
Rough Guides has also judged the Scottish Highlands to be the best region in the UK for cycling – so why not add a few days’ cycling to your homestay holiday?
“Wild swathes of largely deserted mountainous terrain give way to clear, well maintained roads perfect for a bike ride, with few cars joining you along the way. The scenery around is astoundingly beautiful, and you’ll find yourself cruising through deep valleys and past inky-blue lochs.”
And Edinburgh is the best place in the UK for architecture. Edinburgh is an easy day trip from our homestay in Crieff.
“Edinburgh Castle’s fairytale towers are a reminder of the city’s ancient roots, while sleek, urban design in the city centre gives the the city a decidedly cool edge. Take an architecture tour to explore the Old Town’s winding Reformation-era streets and the elegant Neoclassical buildings of the New Town. Modern highlights include the controversial Scottish Parliament building and the swirling Edinburgh Landform. When you’ve had your fill of the city from the ground, head to the top of Calton Hill to take in the skyline from above.”