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Loch Lomond

Where to go – Breaks and things to do in 2021

Travel restrictions have reduced our options but the desire to get away for weekends and enjoy dining out is strong. We explore the best places to experience the glories of the Scotland during the pandemic. The accommodation, restaurants and cafés go the extra mile to be COVID safe and still make their guests feel relaxed.

Usually we’re best known for our range of lambswool socks or our bedsocks, but in this guide we’ll be demonstrating that we’re just as knowledgable when it comes to what to do and see across the UK.

Up-to-date information on COVID-19 in Scotland is available at the Scottish Government website. (Updated 19th July 2021)

Beautiful places and safe spaces – featuring the pick of Scotland’s best places to stay, restaurants and cafés that go above and beyond to keep guests safe.

Places to Stay

Easterhoull Chalets, Shetland

easterhoull chalets, shetland

Have you ever been to the Shetland Islands? If not then perhaps 2021/2022 will be the ideal time to explore this beautiful part of the country. We’ve suggested Easterhoull Chalets as an accommodation option within this guide because they’re wonderful – perched on the edge of the sea are 9 self-catering chalets, each with a 3-star award from Visit Scotland. Enjoy the view of the harbour and Scalloway Castle in the distance, as well as the occasional boat lazily passing by your window. These chalets aren’t just gorgeous though, they’re also very comfortable and homely. Each chalet comes complete with a very good wi-fi connection, as well as kitchen and laundry facilities. The only issue you’ll have is that you’ll find it hard to leave!

The Fife Arms, Braemar, Highlands

the fife arms braemar

Already legendary in the few short years since opening. A stay at this reimagined hunting lodge on the edge of the Cairngorms is the ultimate antidote to the lockdown blues. Dressing up for dinner is a must in such a glamorous setting, the perfect opportunity to dust down the glad rags. A magnificent staging post for a host of Highland outdoor adventures. As you would imagine every effort is made to offer guests total reassurance, including temperature checks for guests and staff.

Assynt House, Ross-shire

assynt house ross shire

Assynt House is a stunning 7-bed country house situated in the Scottish Highlands. As a 5-star rated Exclusive Use Venue, the building is unsurprisingly spectacular – a grade II-listed Georgian mansion surrounded by jaw-dropping Highlands scenery that once housed President Roosevelt and his wife, Eleanor, during their honeymoon tour of Scotland. Choose from either a self-catering stay or in-house catering (including either formal dinners or one-pot meals). Be sure to visit the website to see images of the building and the surrounding area, as well as to read the testimonials of very satisfied guests who have stayed at Assynt House since the business was established in 2006. Once we’re able to travel safely, Assynt House would be a fantastic place to visit for a domestic holiday trip.

Alladale Wilderness Reserve, Sutherland

alladale wilderness reserve

It’s great to visit hotels and indoor venues, but after the year we’ve had there is nothing like getting outdoors. Where better to explore the beauty of Scotland than Alladale Wilderness Reserve, a 23,000-acre estate nestled in the Scottish Highlands. It might seem like a remote paradise, but believe it or not the reserve is only an hour’s drive north of Inverness – practically a stone’s throw. There are 4 different lodges on the reserve that you can stay at, and although they’re all stunning, our pick of the bunch would have to be Deanich Lodge. It’s one of the most remote lodges in Scotland, and is probably the ideal location for any city dwellers who have had a bit too much noise recently.

Windlestraw, Walkerburn, Scottish Borders

windlestraw walkerburn scottish borders

Windlestraw is an independently-owned small luxury hotel overlooking the picturesque Tweed Valley in the stunning Scottish Borders. Set within two acres of private, landscaped grounds, Windlestraw was originally built in 1906, as a wedding gift for the future wife of the Scottish cashmere mill owner, John King Ballantyne. Award-winning Windlestraw offers 5 star gold accommodation and an intimate three AA rosette dining experience. Guest numbers are strictly limited during the pandemic, and those lucky enough to bag a room will receive a highly personal, yet sensitively-distanced stay.

Restaurants and Cafés

Archerfield Walled Garden, Archerfield, East Lothian

Forming part of the Archerfield Estate, the 18th century Walled Garden boasts an inviting garden café serving simple family friendly food with an emphasis on seasonality, as well as a gift shop and well-stocked food market. Visitors are encouraged to explore the restored kitchen gardens, the extensive estate grounds and to follow the Magical Fairy Trail through the woods.

Born in the Borders, Lanton Mill

As the name would suggest, there’s a distinctly Scottish feel and lot of warmth and humour to everything produced under the Born in the Borders banner. The menu at the Lanton Mill restaurant is pure no-nonsense scran, the wall murals are a brilliant pop art mash-up of Scottish icons, and the beers from the brewery, simply lip-smackingly good. A great lunch spot for families with plenty of space for kids to run around safely.

Drift, North Berwick, East Lothian

Operating in the current conditions is especially challenging for a small gem like Drift that plies its café trade from an up-cycled shipping container perched on the cliffs facing the Bass Rock. Hats off to the whole team for making it work, and keeping everyone safe in a way that retains all that makes this place so special. In addition to the new adapted layout inside, there’s the #DRIFTaway trailer for those who prefer their brunch, coffee and cake al fresco.

Loch Fyne, Cairndow, Argyll

Let there be no pretenders. This is the place to indulge a fancy for seafood, Loch Fyne’s original oyster bar is home to great heaps of sweet briny oysters, langoustines and Tarbert lobster. An old Scottish institution with a loyal following that will always welcome new faces – entirely trustworthy and steadfast in uncertain times. Somewhere that the new normal can almost feel like the old normal. If you get a chance, make sure you visit the Kintyre Way while you’re in the Argyll area.

Restoration Yard, Dalkeith Country Park, Midlothian

Set in the glorious grounds of Dalkeith Country Park, near Edinburgh, Restoration Yard is the perfect place to meet outdoors to enjoy a crisp winter walk followed by a restorative visit to the Kitchen to enjoy brunch or lunch in the beautifully restored 18thcentury stables. The Larder is also open for takeaways, just enough of a nibble to refuel before visiting the eclectic selection of clothes, homewares and gifts in the fabulous Store. Younger visitors will be delighted to know that the adjacent Fort Douglas adventure park is open for fun and frolics.

 

Places to visit

Coldstream Museum

olympus digital camera
© Copyright Kevin Rae and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Coldstream Museum

The Coldstream Museum is situated right in the centre of Coldstream, in the Market Square (pictured above). The town is well-known for being the home of the Coldstream Guards regiment in the British Army, and the history of the area is well explained within the museum. However what we love about this museum is that it doesn’t just detail the history of the local region, it also includes an exhibition programme that offers a variety of historical artifacts and stories. The museum itself is great to visit, but there is also a indoor children’s play area and a courtyard that you can sit within. Once this museum reopens it’ll be a great place to visit for a history lesson!

The museum will reopen on July 29th.

 

Hawick Museum

fountain in wilton lodge park geograph.org.uk 754819
fountain in wilton lodge park geograph.org.uk 754819

Hawick Museum is the oldest museum in the Scottish Borders and a 4-star attraction baaed in Wilton Lodge Park. This 18th century mansion was converted into a museum in the early 20th century, and many of the exhibits and artifacts outline the fascinating history of the local area. However this is not just a museum about Hawick – the museum has a global history section too that is well worth a look. The museum is especially popular with motorcyclist enthusiasts as it has exhibitions about Jimmie Guthrie and Steve Hislop, 2 motorcycle champions from the local area.

There is little information about when the museum will reopen currently, but we will update this page as soon as we have more information.

Old Gala House

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© Copyright James Denham (geograph.org.uk)

The Old Gala House is a 16th century building based in Galashiels. Once home to the Lairds of Galashiels, the building is now used as a museum and gallery packed with information about the local area and the people that lived there. The history of the town is explored via interesting exhibits and artifacts, and helps to shed light on the textile heritage of Galashiels. It’s all presented beautifully and within a building that has really stood the test of time.

While you’re there you can enjoy art from varied sources including local and international artists.

There is little information about when the museum will reopen currently, but we will update this page as soon as we have more information.

Callander Kirk

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© Copyright David Dixon and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Callander Kirk is a church based in the lovely town of Callander near Stirling. First opened for worship in 1844, the church is a staple of the town and a beautiful piece of architecture. Church services are held on Sunday mornings and evenings every week, and even during the pandemic they’ve been running online services. Hopefully, we’ll all be able to visit again soon to enjoy the beautiful interior and the uplifting services.

Only a stone’s throw away is Trossachs Church, situated on the shores of Loch Achray, a small freshwater loch located just below Ben A’an. The views across the water are stunning and it is a popular wedding venue for this reason. This church opened 5 years after Callander Kirk and has a similar design and interior.

We’re not sure when we’ll be able to visit these great churches again but we will update this page as soon as we have information.

Balgonie Castle

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Wikimedia Commons

Situated on the south bank of the River Leven sits Balgonie Castle, a 14th century castle that Rob Roy MacGregor once captured in the 18th century. At less than 4km away from Glenrothes, the castle is in a bit of strange location – it doesn’t seem like there is much to Glenrothes when you visit, but Balgonie Castle is a great example of what you can find within touching distance of the surrounding area. The castle itself is semi-ruinous doesn’t draw hundreds of visitors every day, but the castle is beautiful and has quite a bit to see, including the occasional reenactment. Plus the area surrounding the castle is great for walks and simply enjoying.

You can visit the castle now but a few of the areas have been closed for the moment, we’ll update this guide when we learn more.

Bradford National Science and Media Museum

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Wikimedia Commons

This is an underrated museum based in Bradford, with plenty to see and do. We’re big fans of Bradford as it was once known as the ‘wool capital of the world‘, but nowadays the city is better known for attractions like the national science and media museum. Keep an eye out for the Wonderlab, an interactive gallery that explores light and sound.

Isle of Purbeck Walking Festival

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© Copyright Phil Champion and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Once we’re able to travel safely, Dorset is one of the best places in the UK to visit. Last year we saw thousands of people flock to Dover during the summer, and if you’ve been there yourself then it’s no surprise to learn that.

One of the best areas of Dorset is The Isle of Purbeck, a small peninsula that is bordered by water on three sides. Hopefully in September 2021 you’ll be able to enjoy the Isle of Purbeck Walking Festival, a 3 day walking festival that includes a variety of walks led by local experts.

This unassuming peninsula is a walker’s paradise. You’ll have to book your own accommodation for the 3 day event, but most of your time will be taken up with walking and getting to enjoy the beautiful area. The festival crosses a range of territories, from the beach in Victorian Swanage to the Jurassic Coast (which is a UNESCO World Heritage site). It helps to have some walking experience if you plan to do all 3 days of the festival, however you can pick and choose what walks you want to participate in.

All walks cost a fixed fee of £3.50 per person and are limited to 15 places, so it’s best to book early if possible. We’ll update this page as soon as we learn more about the walking festival plans for late 2021.

Glenbarr Abbey

glenbarr abbey
Wikimedia Commons

Glenbarr Abbey is an 18th-century residence based on the Kintyre Peninsular. The historic house was built by Col. Matthew Macalister, 1st Laird of Glenbarr, and was then gifted to Clan MacAlister in 1986 by the 5th Laird, Angus C. Macalister. The house now operates as the Glenbarr Abbey Visitor Centre, as well as the MacAlister Clan Centre. This includes a museum and a gift shop, as well as lots of outdoor space to explore.

Glenbarr Abbey is constructed of locally quarried old red sandstone, and retains a fantastic and quirky medieval look. It really is a very photogenic building both from the outside and once you enter. Extensions added to the house in the early 19th century gave the house a Gothic Revival style in certain parts.

It’s important to remember that this is a real house where the family still live, so being respectful of the space is important. Luckily the MacAlister family are very friendly and have created a tourist-friendly experience for anyone who wants to see genuine Scottish history.

The building is currently closed due to maintenance and remodeling work, but we hope to see it open sometime soon in the near future. Before the closure, entry costs were free for anyone under the age of 16 and £5 for anyone over. We’ll update this page as soon as we hear more about Glenbarr Abbey reopening.

Castle of Park, Banff

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geograph stephen bowden

The Castle of Park in Banff is described as a rambling mansion that incorporates a 16th-century tower house. The site of the castle has been built on since the 13th century, but most of the existing building was built in the 16th century. The Castle house has since been extended and repaired significantly up to as recently as the 19th century. The building was originally owned by the Gordons, but the property was eventually forfeited and acquired by the Duffs. It has a pinkish hue which is very attractive and is based in a luscious green estate around 4 miles northwest of Aberchirder and only a short drive from MacDuff.

The exterior is gorgeous, but the interior really is something special. It is furnished with an eclectic variety of art and antiques. Visitors have access to all the reception rooms which including the great hall and the library.

We’ll update this page once we have more information about visiting Castle of Park later in 2021.

Ackergill Tower

ackergill tower exterior
Wikimedia Commons, Sian Abrahams

Ackergill Tower

Ackergill Tower is a 16th-century castle located on the coast of Sinclair’s Bay, about 17 miles away from John O’Groats. It was once available to hire as a wedding venue (during which time it had a 5-star rating) but is now privately owned and no longer able to visit, however you can still admire the building from a distance.

The building is category A listed and really attractive. A walk along the Reiss Beach (at the south of Sinclairs Bay) is the perfect spot to walk down if you want to see the tower. It’s a beautiful white sand beach, and you might spot some surfers. Some people have reported that the ghost of a young woman called Helen Gunn, who was kept there against her will back in the 14th century and apparently jumped from the tower to escape her captors, can still be seen. Keep an eye out!

As of 2021 it is still privately owned, but as a 5 storey building, you can appreciate the beauty of the building from a distance. Definitely check it out.

Knockan Crag

640px sculpture on knockan crag
Wikimedia Commons

Knockan Crag is a nature reserve based in the North West Highlands Geopark, approximately 20km north of Ullapool. The formation is stunning to look at and is a great location to visit, but actually Knockan Crag is perhaps best known for being at the centre of a controversy in the 19th century over confusion regarding how some of the rocks ended up there and how old they were. Geologists debated this for decades, and at the time it was known as the ‘Highland Controversy’. It was eventually declared that some of the older rocks in the reserve moved around 70km to the west over the top of the younger rocks due to tectonic action. Much of this story is outlined at the nature reserve via information points which make for an interesting read.

The rocks are impressive and represent the shape-shifting landscape of Scotland, but the reserve is more than just rocks. Keep an eye out for the wildlife and fauna at the location, which includes rarer growth like Mountain Avens and Rock Sedge. The lime-rich soil supports richer vegetation which allows for some interesting growth. The reserve is open at the moment and can be visited, there is a car park and interpretation centre which hosts the information points we mentioned previously.

Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve

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Wikimedia Commons

Spanning almost 5000 hectares, the Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve is an amazing mix of mountains, moorland, woodland and bogs. What we love about the reserve is the variety of ways you can interact with the landscape – the trail networks are well marked and can lead you across varied terrains, or if you simply want to sit and appreciate the beauty of the area then picnic areas and viewpoints are also well placed and ubiquitous. The visitor centre is open from April to October and is based just outside Kinlochewe. There are 3 trails which start from the visitor centre that are open all year and this is a good place to start your walk from.

To really explore the reserve, you’ll need to set aside a day and be well prepared. At the centre of the reserve is the Beinn Eighe ridge which is worth a visit if you’re willing to make the journey – the ridge consists of rugged peaks and slopes that sit between Loch Maree and Glen Torridon. The nature reserve has taken Covid precautions and can be visited safely.

Flanders Moss

bridge on the flanders moss panoramio
Neil Aitkenhead, Wikimedia Commons

Continuing with the theme of nature reserves, we wanted to give Flanders Moss a mention. It is an area of raised bog lying in the Carse of Forth in West Stirlingshire. A bog might not sound like a great day out, but there is plenty to see and appreciate here. The area was formed over 8000 years ago, and it is regarded as an internationally important habitat that is considered to be the largest raised natural bog in Europe.

One of the main joys of the reserve is seeing the variety of flora that the moss supports the growth of. Keep an eye out for round-leaved sundew, cranberry, bog asphodel, white beak-sedge, and the very rare bog rosemary. If you’re more interested in wildlife then you’re also in for a treat. Birds like tree pipit, cuckoos and wood warblers can be spotted near the wooded areas, whereas short-eared owls and ospreys can be found in various locations across the reserve. Adders have also been spotted at the reserve, a good reason to stick to the paths!

The conditions of the bog have also allowed for the preservation of some pretty interesting historical objects – for example, a Bronze Age cauldron made of beaten bronze was found there in surprisingly well-kept condition.

If you want to visit the reserve then there is a great viewing tower that provides you with a panoramic view of the bog.

Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve

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Stanley Howe, geograph, Wikimedia Commons

Another nature reserve, the Muir of Dinnet is a nature reserve near the village of Dinnet up in Aberdeenshire. It actually lies within the Cairngorms National Park, another excellent reason to visit. Like many of the reserves we’ve included in this list, the Muir of Dinnet is a real mix of terrain – wetlands, woods and moors can be found there, leading to a wonderful variety of wildlife and flora. Keep an eye out for Scots pine and Aspen (one of the rarest of Scotland’s native trees).

Although the flora and fauna are a real treat, perhaps the most breathtaking (and fascinating) aspect of the reserve is the historical markings left behind by glaciers over 10,000 years ago. These have taken the form of vast gorges, the most interesting of which might be the Vat Gorge (where the Burn O’Vat flows).  There is a visitor centre here that outlines the history of the reserve, and you can easily head from the centre on a woodland walk around Loch Kinord.

South Loch Ness Trail

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© Copyright Craig Wallace and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Loch Ness has a variety of areas that are well worth a visit and suitable for walking, but the south side of the loch is often regarded as the quieter and more relaxing side for walks. There is a great mixture of forest trails, farm tracks, ancient rights of way and minor road that are ready to be explored along the well-marked 28-mile trail. The trail is situated between Torbreck and Loch Tarff, and is a fantastic way to explore the area. Whether you’re a casual walker or you’ve packed your mountain bike, we recommend giving this trail a visit if you’re heading to Loch Ness. If you plan to walk the entire trail then you’ll want to set aside at least a couple of days, possibly with an overnight stay at one of the hotels (like Whitebridge Hotel) or camping.

There are a few locations to keep an eye out for – the Fair Haired Lads Pass is the highest point of the trail and a great place to admire the view of Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle. Suidhe Viewpoint is another special viewpoint to keep an eye out for, providing mountain views in all directions.

Culzean Castle

culzean castle house and gardens 01
Wikimedia Commons, Jamesx12345

Culzean Castle is a cliff-top castle overlooking the Firth of Clyde. It is the former home of the Marquess of Ailsa (the chief of Clan Kenned) but is now owned by NTS Scotland. The castle was built in the 18th century but has been added to right up until modern-day as some repairs were necessary. Unlike many of the locations we’ve included in this list, the castle is not ruinous and actually boasts a number of activities and things to do. Gardens, beaches, woods, trails and adventure playgrounds are all there to be explored. Bring your own lunch or visit the castle tea room (‘Fo’c’sle’) and enjoy some cakes and sandwiches.

If you’re not just looking for a fun day out, then you can always stay a little longer at the castle. One of the most interesting things about Culzean castle is that you can still stay in the rooms there – an apartment on the top-floor was presented to President Eisenhower in recognition of his role during World War II, and now anybody who wants to (and can afford to) can stay in that apartment, quite surreal!

Getting to the castle is pretty simple – Culzean is off the A719, 12 miles south of Ayr and 4 miles west of Maybole. The castle is occasionally closed for events like weddings, but typical opening times are 10:30 – 16:30 every day. We’ll update this page if this changes.

Benmore Botanic Garden

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Stuart Halliday, Wikimedia Commons

Set within the Loch Lomond & the Trossachs National Park and the Argyll Forest Park, Benmore Botanic Garden is a large botanical garden that is well worth a visit. The gardens are on the west side of the A815 road from Dunoon, between the Holy Loch and Loch Eck, and include footbridges across the River Eachaig. Spanning across 120 acres, the garden features a world-famous collection of plants from the Orient and the Himalaya to North and South America.

Popular parts of the garden include the Giants of Benmore (an avenue of giant redwoods that marks the entrance to the garden), Rhododendrons in the spring and early summer months, a 450ft high viewpoint that provides views of the Holy Loch and the surrounding mountains, and lastly a wide array of wildlife including red squirrels, sparrowhawks and even the possibility of seeing a Golden Eagle.

Currently, the garden is open daily from 5 April – 31 October, 10am – 5pm. Definitely make sure to visit!

Branklyn Garden, Perth

branklyn garden, perth geograph.org.uk 348247
Wikimedia Commons, Tom Pennington

If a 1920s 2-acre hillside garden based on a historic estate sounds like your thing, then Branklyn Garden in Perth is well worth a visit. It’s only a short walk from the city, but feels like a world away from the noise and hustle of the streets. Planted with seeds from international plant collectors, there is an eclectic mix of flowers and plants to be found there with contributions from across the world. In the springtime you’ll find alpine flowers, dog’s tooth violet and Himalayan blue poppies. But if you’re visiting in the summer then you’ll find magnolias and purple Japanese maple, colourful and beautiful plants that look extra stunning on a sunny day.

The garden is open from 10am to 5pm every day and is pretty simple to get to – it’s in the East of the city. COVID risk assessments have been carried out, but currently there is no requirement to book your visit to the gardens. You can simply turn up and enjoy.

Torosay Castle

torosay castle 02
Wikimedia Commons, Allister Combe

Torosay Castle is a large house situated about 2 miles south of Craignure on the Isle of Mull. The castle is situated within 12 acres of amazing gardens, where you’ll find roses, climbers and perennials. If you’re a fan of the country house aesthetic, this is definitely a location you won’t want to miss – even if you can only admire the architecture from a distance.

Here is an interesting fact – In July 2008 the then oldest bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne was found inside a sideboard in Torosay Castle. The bottle was in mint condition, and was believed to have been in the sideboard since 1897. The champagne is now regarded as “priceless”, no wonder really!

The castle itself is currently closed to the public, but there is a great woodland walk from Craignure through to Torosay Castle Gardens, and often the gardens are open to the public so you can admire the flowers.

Linn Botanic Gardens

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Lynn M Reid, Wikimedia Commons

Linn Botanic Gardens is a gorgeous garden based at the head of Cove Bay, situated to the west of Rosneath peninsula. The gardens were established in 1971 by Dr Jim Taggart and his son, and have since grown into a wonderful place to visit. The garden contains almost 4,000 different plant species, and has been described as the most biodiverse place in Scotland.

Some of the especially interesting features include a burn with waterfalls, ponds, an open heath for New Zealand plants and a great collection of insect catching plants. There is a cliff at the centre of the gardens which provides views over most of the garden. The collections that tend to garner the most attention are the bamboos, ferns, Magnolias and Rhododendrons.

It’s nice and simple to get there – follow the loch-side road to Cove. Guided tours are available to book beforehand, and typically cost of admission is £5 per adult. The gardens are currently closed but we’ll update this page when they reopen.

Ness Botanic Gardens

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Alan Pennington, Wikimedia Commons, geograph

Ness Botanic Gardens

Another great garden to visit would be Ness Botanic Gardens. Situated on the Wirral Peninsula, the gardens were founded in 1898 and were donated to The University of Liverpool in 1948 by Lois Bulley, the daughter of the founder.

The gardens cover 64 acres and include a collection of around 15,000 different plants, with species from China, the Himalayas, Tibet and Burma. Within the gardens, you’ll find seasonal flowers, shrubs and trees. Keep an eye out for Rhododendrons, Azaleas, a wonderful rock garden and a Laburnum arch – just a few of the standout features. If you’d like guided tours then those can be arranged beforehand, plus the Garden Kitchen Cafe is ideal for lunch or just a small treat.

Ness Botanic Gardens is currently open again and is open all year round, and both visitors and members can access the gardens from 10am with last admission at 4pm.

Duff House, Banff

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Otter, Wikimedia Commons

If you’re within the Aberdeenshire area, then Duff House is another estate house that is well worth a visit. It’s a Category A listed Georgian house based in Banff,  a small seaside town. The house is quite unique in that it is built with ashlar, a fine stone that gives the building a very distinctive look. After the Earls of Fife moved out of the house in the early 20th century, the house has served as a palm court hotel, a sanatorium, a barracks, and even a prisoner of war camp.

Some of the more notable features of the house include a painting called ‘The Pergola’. This was painted by Sir John Lavery, an Irish painter who studied at the Glasgow School of Art. You can also admire the various features of the grounds, and if you’re a fan of Georgian furniture then be prepared to be blown away by some of the pieces in the house.

The house is currently open, but you must book in advance if you wish to visit.

Lainston House, Hampshire

sony dsc
Wikimedia Commons, Pterre

Lainston House is a 17th-century 5 star house hotel based near Sparsholt, Hampshire. It is a Grade II* listed building and we wanted to highlight it because it is really stunning. The hotel is impressive and a very luxurious place to stay, but if you’re interested in history then it’s also worth a visit for that alone.

Lainston House is notable for several reasons – firstly it was known as the home of Charles II and his mistress Louise de Keroualle in the 17th century, and you can still see remnants of 17th-century furniture and architecture within the rooms of the house. Another interesting fact about the house is that the 63 acre grounds are home to the longest line of limes in England (9/10ths of a mile), an impressive sight for sure and a perfect excuse for a long walk or bike ride.

Marwell Zoo and Paultons Park are only a stone’s throw away and worth a visit if you’re stay for a few days. The hotel is currently operating and welcoming guests again.

The Secret Gardens of Sandwich

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pam fray geograph.org.uk

Hidden behind the city walls of Sandwich, you’ll find a very impressive 3.5-acre garden that is one of the absolute must-visit spots in Kent.

The gardens are over 100 years old, and notable features including the White Garden and Bowling Lawn have been recreated, while new features such as the Tropical Border have been added. There is even a tree called a Wollemi Pine, an incredibly rare tree which dates back to over 90 million years ago.

Despite the look of the gardens now, they were completely neglected for over 20 years. In 2003, the gardens were taken over by Dom and Steph from Gogglebox. Their investment and work injected new life into the gardens and made them an attraction worth visiting again.

But even after all that work, there was more bad news to come. In 2013 the gardens were badly flooded under 5ft of water, degrading the quality of the soil massively and killing thousands of worms. But after much time and local help, the gardens were revived.

Nowadays the gardens are still being well maintained and are still a great sight.

Located in the Tropical Border you will find This Lutyen’s designed garden incorporates strong architectural lines with artistic, inventive planting. Come and wander along the tree-lined avenues and flowery borders or enjoy homemade cream teas in our tearoom.

Ashton Court Estate

ashton court estate

The Ashton Court Estate is an impressive area of around 850 acres of land situated around the impressive Ashton Court mansion. The house was once the home of the Smyth family, and is now a historic park just 10 minutes from the centre of Bristol. It was designed by Humphry Repton in the 16th century.

If you’re interested in wildlife then keep an eye out for the deer – you’ll find roughly 110 red deer and 90 fallow deer within the estate. They not tame so don’t expect to be able to feed them or interact with them much – just admire them from afar! The estate was actually initially considered to be a deer park, hence the large number of deer still found there.

Once you’ve admired the deer you can move on to admiring the impressive plant life – old oak trees can be found across the estate and are impressive in both age and size.

There are also two 18-hole pitch-and-putt golf courses, which provide amazing views across Bristol. There is even a miniature railway there for younger visitors, or if you’re more adventurous then Ashton Court is one of the few places you can take off in a hot air balloon or discover the unusual sport of Disc Golf.

Lastly, we should also mention that there are 2 cafés on the estate, both of which are dog-friendly and both of which are packed with delicious locally made food.

At the moment you can visit Ashton Court Estate between 11am and 4pm every Wednesday-Sunday.

Kirkley Hall, Northumberland

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Andrew Curtis

Kirkley Hall is a 17th-century historic country mansion and Grade II listed building based in Northumberland, England. The estate covers more than 190 acres and includes the Kirkley Hall Zoological Gardens.

The Hall is only around 8 miles from Newcastle city centre and just 4 miles from Newcastle International Airport, making it easily accessible by road and air.

An interesting story associated with the hall is the story of the ‘strange robbery’ in 1809. £1,157. 13s 6d was stolen and James Charlton was found guilty then sentenced to death. However, most of the money was found hidden in various locations throughout the garden and Charlton’s sentence was later commuted. The identity of the real culprit remains a mystery!

Once you’ve admired the hall, you can go looking for the out of sight walled garden. It’s a 60 m × 80 m plot that was built with 10-foot high brick walls, and is currently used by horticulture students at the college.

There is a large collection of bedding plants on the estate, and espalier fruit trees also. A menagerie has now opened to the public each weekend, and at other times to school parties. This has been expanded into a tourist attraction in its own right known as Kirkley Hall Zoological Gardens (in 2020, it changed its name to Northumberland College Zoo).

Due to current Covid restrictions, ticket sales are limited and must be purchased in advance through Eventbrite. Sadly the woodland areas, garden areas and also the main campus grounds are no longer open to the public either, and the tickets you purchase will only provide access to the zoo grounds.

Norwood Gardens, Llanllwni

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Norwood Gardens is three acres of landscaped gardens based in the heart of the beautiful Teifi Valley. The gardens are home to a whole variety of different garden types, including alpines, lilies, bamboo, a bog, a Mediterranean garden, and even a small woodland area. In total there are 7 individually themed gardens are set along the central path, featuring a variety of plant life and sculptures.

Each garden has its own character in terms of planting and landscaping – the lower part of the gardens has a much more open feeling with daffodil beds a ‘Dark & Light Garden’.

Well behaved dogs on leads are welcome in all areas except the tea room, and there are seats throughout the gardens if you fancy having a moment of stillness.

It’s worth mentioning that the garden areas are on a slope, but the pathways are either stone chips or grass – most of the garden can be seen from the paths if you’re unable to access them.

Constable Burton Hall Gardens

 

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© Copyright Andrew Whale

Constable Burton Hall Gardens

In the small village of Constable Burton in North Yorkshire you’ll find Constable Burton Hall & Gardens, a grade I-listed 18th century Georgian mansion. The gardens surrounding the mansion include a lake, stream, woodland garden, bog garden and rockery. There is also an annual tulip festival held there, although this has been paused recently.

The area is described by some as a romantic garden, and is surrounded by 18th Century Parkland. The area is perfect for woodland walks, plus there is an interesting collection of alpines and extensive shrubs and roses to look out for. Be sure to explore the stream garden with its large architectural plants and reflection ponds.

Dogs are welcome but should be kept on a lead, and wheelchair access is available.

 

Hirsel Country Park, Coldstream

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Oliver Dixon, Wikimedia Commons

Hirsel Country Park

The Hirsel Country Park is a combination of country estate, formal park and place for casual visitors, and well worth a visit if you enjoy woodland walks and wildflowers. Getting around is straightforward as there is a series of signed, colour coded walks. There is a lake to enjoy where otters are often seen, and you can keep an eye out for red squirrels and in the wooded areas.

Explore Dunglass Wood on the Hirsel estate on the edge of Coldstream before passing the Hirsel itself – a magnificent country house. You may see the estate’s herd of Douglas pedigree Highland Cattle (pictured). Keep a safe distance but take a photo! The estate can be muddy in wet weather but there is some tarmacked road.

If you’re trying to time your visit to see some of the amazing wildflowers, you’ll want to be there in mid spring to see Snowdrops, Aconites and daffodils. Then mid-May for Rhododendrons and Azaleas. There is also toilets and a cafe in the park, so plenty reason to visit!

 

Eynsham Hall, Oxfordshire

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Rob Brewer from Bristol, England

Eynsham Hall, Oxfordshire

Eynsham Hall is a Grade II listed 18th century limestone mansion near North Leigh in Oxfordshire, England. We wanted to include the house in this guide as it is a stunning building to view, even from a distance. Plus, the surrounding area is great for leisurely strolls.

The original house dates from the 1770s, however much of it had to be rebuilt in the early 20th century. The house was used as a maternity hospital rest and relaxation centre during World War II, and you can see some remnants of this past within the house in the form of antiques, photos and paintings. The house is now mostly used as a hotel, wedding venue and conference centre.

The house is surrounded by 820 acres of well-kept parkland, featuring some exotic species of plants. A lake was added in 1866 to provide a water supply to the house, and is now a good place to spot some nice birdlife.

The house is currently closed to the public due to the pandemic but we’ll update this page when it reopens.

 

Casterne Hall, Staffordshire

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John Darch, Wikimedia Commons

 

Casterne Hall, Staffordshire

Casterne Hall, is an 18th-century country house in the Manifold Valley, in Staffordshire. It operates as a B&B but also as a venue for weddings and other events. The gardens can be explored and the area bears remains of iron-age, bronze-age and even stone-age man. It is known that there are Roman remains in the foundations, though these aren’t marked.

The house is still lived in by the Hurt family, who have occupied the house almost continuously since the 15th century.

The house is well-known for appearing in a number of popular tv shows and films, including the Poirot episode “The Mystery of Hunter’s Lodge”. The 80s film ‘Jane Eyre’ was also filmed there.

The house has changed very little since the 1700s, and is still an incredible building to visit. You’ll not hear any traffic, and the farmyard is completely unspoilt and well-kept.

 

Elvaston Castle, Derbyshire

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Wikimedia Commons, Peter Dutton, Flickr

 

Elvaston Castle, Derbyshire

Elvaston Castle is a stately home in Elvaston, Derbyshire. It’s a Gothic Revival castle and well worth a visit if you’re a fan of this architectural style. The surrounding parkland (known as Elvaston Castle Country Park) covers more than 300 acres and is great for exploring. The castle is still undergoing renovation so can’t be visited, but areas of the parkland can be explored.

Some of the must-see areas of the garden include the golden gates, Moorish temple and ha-ha wall – all of which provide a fascinating glimpse of the past. Dogs are allowed too which is excellent.

The castle is thought by some to be haunted, with certain paranormal experts claiming it is home to two ghosts known as The Grey Lady, and The White Lady. The White Lady is can apparently be seen walking the grounds with a white dog. Keep an eye on the windows of the castle too!

Entry to the parklands is free but parking does cost, and there are toilets on the site too.

 

The Medicine Garden, Cobham

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The Medicine Garden

 

The Medicine Garden, Cobham

The Medicine Garden is an excellent garden based in Cobham, Surrey. The garden was originally built in 1845, when it was dedicated to growing produce such as peaches and other exotic fruits for Cobham Park (an estate owned by the Coombe family).

The garden was forgotten and left unattended for many years until 2006 when Paul Studholme stumbled across the garden and decided to dedicate himself to renovating and restoring it. Paul is an expert gardener and along with an amazing team, the garden became a place that could be visited again. Parts of the garden are still being renovated but the work has been staggering.

Approximately one hectare in size, the garden is completely surrounded by the original walls and thirteen of the outbuildings from the original kitchen garden, many of which are still in remarkable condition.

The main garden design is based on an eight-pointed compass, a design typically associated with wisdom traditions across the world. A birdseye view of the garden would show the shape.

The garden is closed at the moment, but there are plans to reopen next year. Opening times are typically Monday – Saturday 09:00 – 17:00 and  10:00 – 16:00* on Sundays.

 

Porchester Hall, London

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Danny Robinson, Wikimedia Commons

Porchester Hall (Porchester Centre), London

The Porchester Centre is a Grade II* listed building in Bayswater, London W2. It has a striking 1920s art deco style, as it was built in the late 1920s, and this style is reflected in the interior and the furnishings. There is a Turkish baths complex within the hall which is now considered to be very rare.

Many famous acts have performed at the hall, such as Ed Sheeran and Amy Winehouse, and the hall is now mainly used for large events and parties. It’s also a popular wedding venue.

You can visit the hall on days when it is not being used as a venue, however you won’t be able to explore the whole hall without hosting an event there.

There is disabled access and capacity is around 450 for dining.