Sandwiched between Loch Torridon and Loch Maree is some of the most spectacular mountain scenery in Scotland.
The Torridon Hills may not make it onto the list of the world’s highest mountains, but it’s worth bearing in mind that they rise up virtually from sea level to over 3,000ft, and as far as I’m concerned that makes them mountains rather than hills.
Overlooking the tiny village of Torridon are three mountains that form the bulk of the high landscape – Beinn Alligin (3,230ft), Liathach (3,456ft), and Beinn Eighe (3,310ft), all of which are a magnet for climbers. Not being a climber myself, I can only imagine what the views must be like for those that are.
Situated between the Torridon Hills and the Isle of Raasay, the Applecross Peninsula isn’t the easiest place to get to but getting here is all part of the enjoyment.
As long as you don’t have a large motorhome or caravan, the scenic route will take you over the infamous Bealach na Ba (Pass of the Cattle) from Tornapress near Loch Kishorn to Applecross village. This road, which was built in 1822, climbs over 2,000ft in 5 miles around hairpin bends before descending into the village and is frequently cut off by snow in the winter months, just as it was for us in March 2016.
The alternative option involves taking the coastal route via Shieldaig, which obviously takes longer, but if you had come here before the 1970’s it wouldn’t have even been an option at all, and at least it gives you the opportunity to visit the picturesque village of Shieldaig.
“One of the wildlife wonders of the world” is how Sir David Attenborough once described the Bass Rock, and if you take the short boat trip out from North Berwick you’ll see why.
This volcanic lump of rock that sits just off the southern coast of the mouth of the Firth of Forth has the world’s largest colony of Northern Gannets.
The latest count estimates that there are 150,000 of these birds that make ‘The Bass’ their home during the summer.
During June, July and August the numbers are swollen with the arrival of a new batch of chicks, and September sees the birds start to leave for the Bay of Biscay and West Africa. By the end of October most of them have gone, and then start to return again at the end of January.
A half-hour train journey from Waverley along the East Lothian coast will bring you to the smashing little seaside town of North Berwick.
The first time I came here I immediately fell in love with it. Little did I know at the time that it was one of the most expensive seaside towns to live in Scotland.
It doesn’t have an outward appearance of wealth or anything like that, in fact it’s quite an unassuming sort of place in many ways.
It doesn’t have much in the way of seaside attractions in the conventional sense, but more in the way of natural attractions. A conical volcanic hill known as North Berwick Law overlooks the town, its beaches and small harbour, but its location overlooking a handful of small islands in the Firth of Forth is what makes it a bit special.
Looe Island is just a mile offshore, but the short boat journey from the quayside at East Looe will transport you into what seems like a totally different time and place.
The island is owned and managed by the Cornwall Wildlife Trust and access is usually only permitted by using the authorised boat that runs from Buller’s Quay. The boat runs from Easter to September, two to three hours either side of high tide, and of course, weather conditions permitting.
The boat trip costs £7 return per adult and there’s also a landing fee of £4 per adult (July 2018).
Iddesleigh is one of those delightful little cob and thatch villages that lies hidden amongst the rolling hills of the West Devon countryside.
It’s not somewhere that you just stumble across, and even in this modern age where everywhere is near somewhere, thanks to the ever-increasing ability of motorists to seek out the most obscure places, it still takes a bit of finding – but it’s worth the effort.
The home of less than 200 people, Iddesleigh has a church and a pub but not much else, and were it not for a nearby farm I don’t suppose too many people would bother to seek it out at all.
Between 1830 and 1836 Parsonage Farm was the home of the Reverend ‘Jack’ Russell, the curate of St James’ Church. He was the first breeder of the terriers to which he gave his name, but this isn’t the reason why people come to take a look around the farm. They come here to find out more about another animal – Joey the War Horse.
Mention Lympstone to anyone, and they automatically think of the Commando Training Centre for the Royal Marines – but this small, attractive village on the River Exe is worth a butchers if you fancy a change of scenery on the journey between Exeter and Exmouth.
If you’re travelling by car it’s just a short detour off of the A376, but you can also travel by train using the single-track Avocet Line, which will give you the option of stopping in The Swan or The Globe for a drink and a bite to eat without worrying about the breathalyser.
Goodrington was another village, like Preston, that was swallowed up by Paignton, and covers the coastal area from Roundham Head to Broadsands, but just like its counterpart across the other side of town, has grown inland as well.
It has to be said that there’s not much for the ardent historian to seek out here because Goodrington primarily attracts families who just want to enjoy the beach, park and water flumes. That said, it also manages to juggle the appeal of family fun with some important conservation as well.
As I pointed out in Old Paignton, this used to be a wet, marshy area, and it’s not difficult to see why it was looked upon in years gone by as an area that needed to be tamed, but these days we treat nature with a bit more respect (sometimes) and work with nature rather than against it.
Topsham is a village/small town on the eastern bank of the River Exe just 4 miles or so from Exeter’s city centre.
Since 1966 it has officially been part of Exeter, but its distinctive character makes it feel very different from its larger neighbour.
It started out as a Roman settlement and developed as a port which grew in importance following the construction of the weir at Countess Wear. Even with the arrival of the canal in 1566 it still prospered as trade boomed with the Dutch who came for Devon wool.
The Dutch influence can be seen all over Topsham with gable-fronted houses, some of which were built with the bricks that were used as ballast for their ships.
The port is no longer vital to Topsham’s prosperity as it has now become a desirable place to live for people who like to live near the city but not in it.
The River Exe and the surrounding marshes have an abundance of birdlife, and places like Bowling Green Marsh are protected habitats for the large flocks of waders, geese and migratory birds that also make Topsham their home.
Exeter has a perfectly good river on its doorstep so why was there a need for a canal you may ask. For the answer to that we need to go back to the late 13th century when the Countess of Devon, a member of the Courtenay family, built a weir across the river just upstream from Topsham in order to power her mills on either side of the river.
Up until this point the river was navigable up to the city walls, but the weir made it difficult for boats to reach the city even though the Countess left a gap in the middle of the weir. Worse still, in 1311 her cousin, Hugh de Courtenay, blocked the central section, effectively forcing the ships bound for Exeter to unload at his quay in Topsham.
The Courtenay family were very influential and Henry Courtenay, the 1st Marquis of Exeter, was a close friend of King Henry VIII, which was just asking for trouble if you ask me, and the Marquis unsurprisingly ended up losing his head on Tower Hill in 1539. Falling out of favour with the King meant that all his lands were confiscated and the city of Exeter was eventually granted the right to tear down the weir. Unfortunately, it was all a bit too late as the river had silted up, and to overcome the problem it was decided to build a canal linking Countess Wear (!), as it became known (and still is), to the city.