Sunday, April 15, 2007

Culzean Castle & Country Park

Another nice Sunday and off we went down the coast to Culzean Castle and Country Park. It's only about an hour's drive from Glasgow and we usually visit it a few times a year when the weather is nice enough.

The grounds are huge and there are loads of woodland and clifftop walks, a large pond, formal gardens, a walled garden, a deer park and a small beach with loads of rock pools and some interesting caves under the castle as well. There's also a decent sized visitor centre and adventure playground for the kids so it does get pretty busy on days when the weather is nice. If you're feeling fit, you can stroll over to the larger beach at nearby Maidenhead Bay, although that also gets pretty busy if the weather is good. Of course, you can wander round the 18th century castle as well as it's open to the public but we've done it before and the weather was too nice to stay indoors.

Culzean Castle

We usually take a pack lunch/picnic and just lie on the grass by the Swan Pond and watch the bird-life. There are usually swans, ducks and moorhens as well as a motley selection of gulls and terns on the pond and a fair number of wee tits and sparrows all diving around looking for a few crumbs to eat. There are a couple of picnic tables for the more genteel visitor but the grassy area here is usually swarming with people, some even organized enough to bring barbecues. If you don't fancy that, then there is a restaurant and coffee shop, which are always good for tea and a scone later in the afternoon.

The gardens aren't at their best at this time of year but the Daffodils, Tulips, Rhododendrons and Azaleas are blooming well so there was a good splash of colour around. We had lunch by the pond and then had a good walk around the gardens, grounds and cliffs. After that, we headed over to Maidenhead Bay for a laze on the sand as it was quite a nice day.

The Swan Pond, Culzean

We had a few hours lying around on the beach and pockling about in the rocks pools and then it was time to head back to civilization; sigh!

All of my Culzean photographs can be viewed here.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Sunshine - "If the sun dies, so do we!"

With all the TV ads and positive reviews doing the rounds for Sunshine, we thought we'd go see it. Here's the short summary of the storyline…
It's 50 years in the future and our sun is dying. With the Earth slowly freezing, mankind's only hope is to try and restart the star by detonating an enormous nuclear bomb at its heart. With the first attempt having failed when the Icarus I mysteriously disappeared with all hands seven years ago, the Icarus II and its crew of eight are now 16 months into their mission and approaching Mercury.

Suddenly they pick up a distress call from what can only be the ill-fated Icarus I and it's emanating from a point very close to the sun and not far off of their planned trajectory. What do they do? It's been seven years so can anyone possibly have survived and, even if they have, can they justify jeopardizing what is basically humanity's last shot at avoiding extinction of the species to save just a few souls?

I quite liked this movie. Danny Boyle really captures the feeling of what it's be like to live in such cramped quarters for almost a year and a half with seven other people. It's been a long time and their nerves are starting to fragment, resulting in arguments, squabbling and violent outbursts among a few factions. Cabin fever is setting in nicely.

The science-fiction is pretty reasonable as well and I really liked the ship designs, hiding behind a massive thermal shield. However, the science-fiction angle is only a backdrop to the main story here as it could easily have been set in a submarine or a snowed-in arctic station, etc. It's about a group of people making decisions and trying to survive the consequences of those decisions, with all the psychological interplay involved. There's also the mystery of the Icarus I but I'm not saying anything more about that here.

Character development is a bit light but the story centres mostly around the mission physicist Capa (Cillian Murphy), as the only one that can arm and detonate the bomb. The only other names I recognised in the cast were Chris Evans (Mace), who played Johnny Storm in Fantastic Four, and Michelle Yeoh (Corazon), who was Yu Shu Lien in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

Not a great movie but not bad at all and worth seeing.

Genre: Drama, Science Fiction.
My Rating: 7/10

Monday, April 09, 2007

An Easter Break In Montrose - Day 4

It was the last day of our break in Montrose so, after breakfast, we headed up to Edzell to have a look at Edzell Castle and then take in some stops on the way back down the road on the way home.

Edzell Castle

The castle is maintained by Historic Scotland and we were the first visitors of the day. We had a bit of a chat with the caretaker, who was very helpful and suggested what looked like an interesting walk near Edzell.

Edzell CastleEdzell Castle

The castle itself is ruined but has been restored enough to allow access to some of the upper floors of the tower, which gives some good views of the walled gardens, which are patrolled by some gorgeous looking peacocks and have an interesting array of bas relief murals along the walls. There's also a well restored summer house at the end of the gardens. After spending an hour or so wandering around, we went back to Edzell and had some lunch in a small café.

Lunan Bay

The road down to Lunan Bay is pretty windy and seemingly endless but it's worth the time and trouble as this is definitely one of Scotland's best beaches. Mind out for the sleeping policemen bumps in the road as you go through the farmyard near the bottom of the road as they're lethal at any speed.

Lunan BayLunan Bay

There's a good sized car park among the dunes and the beach stretches for over two miles of lovely sand and it's popular with surfers as well. It's a pity there no amenities like public toilets or anywhere to get some refreshments but I suppose it'd lose some of what makes it so attractive if it was descended on by hordes of day-trippers.

In the centre and overlooking the bay is the old ruined, 12th century Red Castle, once the haunt of King William I "The Lion" of Scotland, who had it built to fend off attacks by Viking raiders. We walked along the road from Lunan and found the path out to the castle for a wander around and you get some nice views out over the bay from where it perches so it's worth the short trek. It's possible to wander in and around the ruins but they are in very poor repair and it looks ready to collapse at any moment.

Red CastleRed Castle, Overlooking Lunan Bay


Auchmithie is a small fishing village a few miles North-East of Arbroath and is reputedly the origin of the Arbroath Smokie. It sits perched on top of a cliff and there's a steep path leading down to the beach and harbour. The 19th century harbour is pretty dilapidated and crumbling away but there are were a few pretty blue boats pulled up on the grass.

AuchmithieA Natural Arch At Auchmithie

There are some caves within easy reach when the tide is low enough, although we did spot some numpty trying to get over to them as the water was coming in. The best part was the view of some natural arches along the shoreline to the North; definitely worth the steep walk down and back up again.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

An Easter Break In Montrose - Day 3

Montrose Basin and The Lurgies

Our third day started out with a walk called The Lurgies, which is a path around the edge of a part of the Montrose Basin, starting from Old Montrose Pier and ending at the Bridge of Dun. As usual, we missed the turn off for the little car park at Old Montrose Pier and ended up parking beside the Bridge of Dun and doing the walk the wrong way (and back again).

Montrose BasinImage produced from the Ordnance Survey Get-a-map service. Image reproduced with kind permission of Ordnance Survey and Ordnance survey of Northern Ireland.

Montrose Basin is a popular haunt of "twitchers" as it is rich in bird life such as Sedge Warbler, Pink-footed Goose, Knot, Oystercatcher, Redshank, Mute Swan, Grey Partridge, Lapwing, Shelduck, Wigeon, Reed Bunting and Eider and it is a designated Local Nature Reserve.

Montrose BasinMontrose Across The Basin

The Lurgies path is an easy stroll along part of the bank of the River South Esk and along the edge of the Basin along to the pier. I'd advise sticking to the path though as it's easy to wander off of it and end up having to back-track to get round water obstacles. There are some very good views to be had across the Basin to Montrose and you can also see the House of Dun from the path.

House of Dun

Once we'd "done" The Lurgies, we headed up to the House of Dun, in the hope of getting a bit of lunch. The beautiful Georgian House was designed by William Adam for David Erskine, the 13th Laird of Dun in 1730 and it also has very nice Victorian gardens overlooking the Montrose Basin.
House of DunThe House of Dun

We passed a few hours touring the house, gardens and woodland walks. The gardens were quite busy as they'd organised an Easter Egg hunt for the kids.

Scurdie Ness

It was still early so we headed out for walk out to look at the Scurdie Ness lighthouse. Parking at the end of the road in Ferryden, it's an easy walk out along the road to the lighthouse and you have the option to go past on on along the grassy banks for a ways on the other side.

The wind was whipping up a bit and there was a good surf rolling in towards Montrose.

Eating Out

Back in Montrose for the evening, we fancied a Chinese meal and of the two we found on the High Street, the Shanghai looked the far better choice. They offered a buffet, but nothing like any buffet we'd ever come across as there was nothing laid out for the diners to pick and choose from.

What they did was basically let you order anything off of the menu as you wanted it. It was a bit odd but it worked okay as they brought us a selection of starters all at once. We tried several main courses as well so it seemed to work okay for them and the diners and it saves using up valuable seating space with a buffet selection and you get freshly cooked dishes too.

The food was very good as well so I'd definitely recommend it.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

An Easter Break In Montrose - Day 2

It's Saturday and the second day of our break in Montrose.

Glen Clova

We got up early and, after a decent breakfast, headed off to Glen Clova as the assistant at the museum/tourist information office said there were some good walks in the area and we'd found what could be a half-decent walk up at the very top of the glen, around Ben Tirran.

Glen Clova is just under 40 miles from Montrose but the weather had brightened and it was looking like it was going to be a nice day so it seemed worth the drive, even if a fair bit of it wwas on small and narrow roads. There was a large car parking area beside the Clova Hotel so that made things easy too, especially as the route started just behind the hotel.

Image produced from the Ordnance Survey Get-a-map service. Image reproduced with kind permission of Ordnance Survey and Ordnance survey of Northern Ireland.

The path was marked as "Footpath to Glen Effock" and it was very clear and easy to follow. All you have to do is follow it all the way up to the bottom end of Loch Brandy at the base of The Snub. We wandered down to the loch for a relax and some lunch while watching a couple of anglers casting. They didn't hold out much hope of catching anything though as the water was still very cold. To make matters worse for them, a couple of girls arrived with three dogs, one of which decided it'd be fun to try and catch splashes so it spent at least 10-15 minutes up to it's knees in the water, smacking the surface with one paw and trying to bite the water that splashed up. Definitely mad but hilarious to watch!

Loch BrandyLoch Brandy

After a wee rest, we headed on with a steep climb up The Snub and around the top rim of the corrie above the loch and over to Green Hill and then back down to the loch again. There were some good views at the top of the hill, with Lochnagar to the North and Mount Keen over to the North-East.

Eating Out

After a long day on the hills we fancied a curry and the only place we could find in Montrose was Indian Cottage on High Street. But it was very busy and we had to wait for a table (did that in the pub across the road) so it must be a popular place with the locals.

The service fast and friendly and the food was very good and reasonably priced so if you fancy a curry in Montrose, it's definitely worth a visit.

Friday, April 06, 2007

An Easter Break In Montrose - Day 1

We'd been planning on going away for a few days over the Easter weekend as we had the Friday and Monday off of work but, as ever, we left everything to the last minute as the weather forecasts looked a bit changeable. The memory of the few days we spent in Mallaig a couple of years ago, almost constantly waterlogged with the continuous rainfall, are still with us.

Anyway,we got up on Friday morning and checked the weather for the next few days to see if anywhere looked like being reasonable enough to warrant going. The North-East coast looked like it was going to be sunny and Montrose is only a couple of hours drive from Glasgow so then it was time to hunt for somewhere to stay. A quick check on the Scottish Tourist Board site gave us some options and the first one we tried from our short list, The Limes, had a vacancy, so ten minutes later we were booked and getting ready to set off.

Scurdie Ness Lighthouse From Montrose

The first thing we did when we arrived was to have a stroll around looking for the Tourist Information office to see if we could pick up any leaflets on walks or other attractions around the area. Trouble was, they'd moved it from where it was on the maps and, even when we found it in the local museum, it wasn't really geared up to handle queries as the move had just happened. Still, the girl on duty was quite helpful and we left with a few ideas for the next few days.

We went for a walk down to the seafront and watched the North Sea surf pounding along the shore. We also got a good view of the lighthouse over at Scurdie Ness, across the bay.

Eating Out

Having walked round the town, noting where the eateries were, we ended up in Carlton Hotel on High Street, which looks a bit odd from the street level as you have to go though a close and up stairs at the back to get into it. That said, the food was excellent and very reasonably priced with good sized portions.

Lorna had Chicken Ajo, which was chicken, stuffed with garlic and mushrooms, in a white wine sauce and I had a really tasty steak and ale pie. I'm sure we had a starter and sweet as well but I can't remember what except that we really enjoyed the lot. The staff were very friendly as well and we retired to the bar afterwards for a drink, then went back to our room and collapsed.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

300 - "Spartans, tonight, we dine in hell!"

300 is based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller, and is a retelling of the famous Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. It's a tale well known to anyone of a military bent and one I learned as a schoolchild many years ago. Here's a summary of the plot…
When the Athenians and Spartans reject King Xerxes' (Rodrigo Santoro) request for "earth and water" (their submission) and to join the Persian empire, he sends his mighty Persian army of over five million men to conquer them. Unfortunately, his troops have only one way to go; through the "hot gates" of Thermopylae, a narrow pass of land between the cliffs and the sea.

And that is exactly where King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) of Sparta decides to "draw the line" and hold off the Persian invasion while waiting for reinforcements from home. For three days, that small army of 300 Spartans and about 700 Thespian volunteers held off the vast Persian force and allowed the rest of the Greek states time to regroup and mount a serious defence against the invasion.

The first thing to mention is that this is a pretty violent movie. The second is that it's a really violent movie. Surprisingly, Miller and director Zack Snyder have kept the storyline pretty much true to the original historical records of the battle. There are a few deviations and embellishments but nothing that detracts from the primary focus; the fact that, facing insurmountable odds, those few Spartans dealt a massive blow against Xerxes that united all of Greece against the Persian invasion.

All of this is told in Miller's graphic style and the visuals have been very carefully set up to reflect how it would look in a graphic novel. The colour palette is tuned to use lots of sepia and red hues, the costumes and backgrounds are perfectly detailed, the action scenes are astounding and there are more six-packs on view than you'd find in the Tennants brewery. As for that action, the fight scenes are rife with "moments of slowness", where everything goes at slow speed and there's lots of slowly moving blood globules and severed limbs and heads tumbling across the screen.

It's not all blood and gore though as there are some scenes set back in Sparta covering the political machinations at work. The Spartan council of elders are the ones who control the army and there are those, such as Theron (Dominic West), that don't want to aid Leonidas to suit their own ends. There's also a good introduction and we get to see Leonidas growing up and being inducted into the Spartan way of life.

The acting's not bad either and there are good performances from Gerard Butler, a Glasgow born boy, and Lena Headey, who plays his wife, Queen Gorgo. There's also good support from Dominic West (Theron) and David Wenham (Dilios).

If you like big screen action battles, then this is one not to miss.

Genre: Action, Historical Drama, War.
My Rating: 8/10

Monday, April 02, 2007

Glen Lednock Circular

Glen LednockThe sun came out at last on Sunday so we headed up to Comrie in deepest Perthshire for a walk in Glen Lednock. Comrie, whose name derives from the Gaelic for conruith meaning "confluence of streams", is a quiet little village lying at the junction of the rivers Lednock and Ruchill where they join to become the River Earn, which flows East until it runs into the Firth of Tay. The River Lednock itself runs out of Loch Lednock, a man-made reservoir about seven or eight kilometres North, and tumbles down the glen to Comrie.

There's plenty of parking so we parked near the school and walked along Dundas Street until it turns sharply into Burrell Street. At the corner, if you head straight on instead, you'll see a sign for the Circular Walk and it's pretty straightforward from there. What you get for your shoe-leather is a reasonable, four-mile walk up a wooded glen beside the river and with some detours off the main path to view a few interesting landmarks.

The first detour takes you down a wooden walkway to see the Wee Cauldron, a smallish waterfall plunging into a deep pool in the river. The second is similar but the walkway is longer and suspended in places and leads down to the Deil's Caldron, a much larger waterfall spouting out of a gash in the rocks as the river forces it's way down through a very narrow gorge. Legend has is that the Deil's Caldron, or Slocha'n Donish in the Gaelic, was the favourite haunt of a brownie called Uris-chidh who enticed its victims down into the huge natural pothole where they would drown (obviously).

Shaky BridgeShaky Bridge

Just up the glen a bit from the Deil's Caldron, there's a steep path off to the left leading up to the top of Dun More with its 72' high Melville Monument. The monument was built in 1812 in memory of Henry Dundas, the first Viscount Melville, who was once the Home Secretary and Keeper of the Privy Seal of Scotland, among other offices. It's worth the climb as the views over Comrie, Strathearn and the Ochil Hills are very good as well as the views up the glen towards the peaks of Ben Vorlich, Ben More and Stob Binnean. If you don't fancy the steep path, then there's a much gentler route to the top about a mile or so up the glen. It's certainly the easy way down as well and once you're back on the road, you'll see a path leading off down towards the river, which is where you cross over and begin the return journey down the other side of the water.

The bridge across the Lednock is called the Shaky Bridge, one end of which passes through, and is wholly supported by, a huge sycamore tree. It's not very shaky though and I suspect the name derives from Comrie's old nickname of Shaky Toun because of its lying on the Highland Boundary Fault and being subject to the various earthquakes and tremors common to that area. If fact, the world's first seismometers were set up in Comrie in 1840.

A TreeOne Tree All Alone

The walk back down the glen passes through open fields, with a few trees dotted around, and then into Laggan Wood and on back down to the town. There are some good views of the Melville monument from this side of the glen as you wander downstream.

With some time to spare we headed into Crieff for a walk along the banks of the Earn but we got a bit lost trying to find somewhere to park and by the time we'd got sorted out, our motivation had gone. I suspect we'd have been better off driving up Glen Lednock instead as it looks as if you can park just beneath Loch Lednock and walk up to the 133' high dam. Maybe next time!

I've compiled a collection of the route and waypoints on Windows Live Maps (see link below).

Windows Live Collection: Glen Lednock Circular Walk