Author Archives: Karen Bryan

About Karen Bryan

Hello, I'm Karen Bryan, I created Europe a la Carte in 2002 to highlight the best places to visit in Europe with travel tips, photos and no fluff reviews. I’m also an artist; my artworks are often inspired by my travels

Exploring Culzean Country Park

On my return journey from Dumfries and Galloway in August, I planned to make Cluzean Country Park, in Ayrshire, my first stop.  I have visited Culzean Castle in the past, so decided to spend my time exploring the grounds, before heading to my next port of call, Dumfries House.

I normally avoid popular attractions on good weather days at weekends during the school holidays, but as I was passing and it’s a bit of a long drive from Stirling to Culzean for a day trip. I planned to arrive just after opening time of 10am, in the hope of avoiding the crowds.

As National Trust for Scotland member, I didn’t have to pay the adult entry charge of £11.50 for the country park. If you also wish to visit Culzean Castle, the price is £16.50.

I drove straight to the Walled Garden. I was relieved that the car park and the garden were fairly quiet. I took my flask with me to have a hot drink in the Walled Garden. I found a bench in the shade. The shade was provided by cascade from a flowering bush planted behind the bench.

The large Vinery greenhouse in the Walled Garden was undergoing renovation, which meant that there were ugly no-entry barriers along the front of the structure.

I spent quite a bit of time walking around the garden admiring the flowers, plants and trees.

There was an interesting circular hedge.

The wooden garden house was wallpapered in a botanical theme.

The rockery had a stone arch.

I was amazed that there were no toilet facilities at the Walled Garden. It looked a bit far to walk to the nearest facilities at the Swan Pond, so I drove.

Well it was mobbed there, even the overflow car park was pretty full. There was a wonderful adventure playground for kids and some event laid on by the local commercial radio station.

There was a long queue at the ladies toilet. Since I was in the vicinity, I decided to have a walk around the Swan Pond.

That walk vindicated my usual policy of avoiding popular places at peak periods. The path was quite narrow and crowded.

The cafe at the Swan Pond had a lovely garden.

Next, I walked up to the Pagoda.

There are a few activities for kids inside.

I liked the boat sticker on the window of the Pagoda.

I headed back to the Walled Garden to eat my picnic lunch in the relative peace and quiet. I sat in the same shady seat in the orchard to do some work on my Chromebook.

Then I walked down a path heading south for a coffee from my flask by a small pond.

On the drive to the exit, I stopped at the car park fairly close to the Castle, as according to the map, there were toilets next to the car park. I couldn’t find them, there was only a shut up shop, so I had to walk up to the Castle.

Fountain Court garden, beneath the Castle, was looking beautiful.

  

There were lots of people sitting on the wall close to the Castle, admiring the sea view. making it hard to take a photo.

There was an art gallery. I had a quick look inside.

There were great views of the sea from the outdoor seating at the Old Stable Coffee House

In the stables, there was a boat carriage.

Again, there was a long queue at the ladies toilet in the castle. No wonder, with one of the two cubicles out of order. I can’t believe that the toilet facilities are so poor at Culzean. At a busy attraction, with a fairly steep admission fee, surely adequate toilet facilities should a priority.

I enjoyed myself at Culzean Country Park so much, (despite the crowds and the woeful toilet facilities), that I ended up spending most of the day there, without even having time to walk down to the beach or visit Home Farm.

Review of V&A Dundee

I visited the V&A Dundee in mid October 2018, around three weeks after the museum opened. As a Dundonian, I was expecting great things of the V&A Dundee.

I’d seen the construction progress during visits to the city over the last couple of years. I thought that the building looked like a large dark ship jutting out on the Tay Estuary. I really liked it.

It was cloudy morning, with heavy rain forecast for later, when I arrived in Dundee. Therefore, I started off my visit with a good walk around the exterior of the V&A Dundee, in the hope of avoiding the heavy rain.

However, as I looked at the building close up, I wasn’t so impressed. It appears to be constructed mainly with concrete. You can see the large steel brackets which secure the concrete slabs at an angle.

My disappointment continued inside the V&A Dundee. There was so much space, but so little to see (free of charge). There was the Ocean Liners exhibition, but as it cost £12 for adult entry. I didn’t go in.

On the ground floor, there was an information/ticket desk, a gift shop and a cafe. The cafe become really busy during my visit. There weren’t enough tables and chairs, customers were having to take their drinks and snacks over to the seating at the bottom of the walls.

With a southerly aspect on an estuary, I  expected great views from the museum. But no, there were only some letter box style windows, most of them located well above eye level. Surely, particularly in Scotland, you’d want to let as much natural light as possible into a building?

The best part of top floor which had large windows with views to the estuary and the adjacent Discovery Point, was a restaurant and bar. We attempted to go there for a coffee, but were told that the tables were reserved for those having a meal. So much for the architects claim of of the V&A Dundee being a living room for the city.

Now I reckon that you could easily see the free sections of the V&A Dundee, both located on the top floor, in under one hour

There was an exhibition called the Scottish Design Relay on the landing. Young people throughout Scotland were challenged to co-design a new object, service or artwork.

There was a queue to enter the Design Galleries. There were interesting exhibits such as the Rennie Mackintosh Oak Room, some tapestries, clothing and an interactive display on wellie construction.

I liked Ciara Phillip’s ‘This, looped’ installation beside the queuing area for the Design Galleries.

I thought that some of the best views of the exterior of V&A Dundee were from the adjacent Discovery Point. I was able to enter Discover Point free of charge using my National Art Pass.

My recommendation would be to go into the V&A Dundee when it’s quieter. Either early, arriving at the opening time of 10am, or arriving later around 4pm. There is plenty else to see and do on a trip to Dundee. I recommend the Mcmanus Galleries, Dundee Contemporary Arts and Discovery Point.

With a price tag of £80m, the V&A Dundee should have wowed me. I don’t even blame the architect Kengo Kuma. Architects have their flights of fancy. It was up to the client to say ‘hold on a minute, where are the windows, to let in natural light and expose the views, and the space for the exhibits’? In my opinion, in design terms, as public space, and a as a museum, the building is a total flop. Looking good from a distance is not as important as the interior fulfilling its purpose.

Barholm Accommodation Creetown, Dumfries and Galloway

I stayed at Barholm Accommodation in Creetown on the Friday and Saturday night of the Spring Bank Holiday in late May 2018. Barholm Accommodation has eight rooms a mix of shared and private ensuite rooms.

I was attracted by the low price of £19.50 per night for a single ensuite room and the positive reviews. I was in Dumfries and Galloway primarily to attend the Spring Fling event.

I received a call on my mobile phone from one of the owners on the Friday morning asking me at what time I’d be checking in. I really wasn’t sure. It was a hot day (by Scottish standards) and I wasn’t sure if I’d be feeling like making my planned evening art studio visits. The owner didn’t seem best pleased that I wasn’t willing to commit to an arrival time.

In the end, I did go to one art studio in Ross Bay that evening. I arrived in Creetown around 7.30pm. I found the last available space in the car park at the rear of the building. There is one disabled parking space and one space for charging an electric car.

There was another guest wishing to check in by the locked entrance. door. There was a note on the door with a mobile number to call. Within a few minutes one of the owners arrived to let us in.

I was shown up to my 2nd floor room. It was located at the back of hotel, which meant no view of the estuary. But the view over some cottages and countryside from the large window was pretty.

The necessity of closing the bathroom door when having a shower was emphasised to avoid triggering the fire alarm. The owner explained that a TV had just been installed in the room and set it up.

Personally, I’d rather have had a kettle in the room than a TV. There is a shared kitchen with a kettle. But with 8 rooms, it can be hard to access the kitchen at peak periods. The kitchen had a fridge/freezer, which was great for keeping my food and freezing my ice blocks.

Despite being on the top floor my room was cool on a rather warn evening.  It was good size for a single room. Some single rooms are more akin to a broom cupboard. The towels were thick and fluffy. The mattress was a bit soft for my taste. There was no desk space at which to lay my Chromebook.

I didn’t get a very good WiFi signal in my room and my mobile phone signal was patchy. But on both evenings by the time I arrived at the Barholm Accommodation, had something to eat and a shower, I wasn’t too bothered about no getting online.

In my opinion, Barholm Accommodation was excellent value for money at £19.50 a night for a single ensuite room. The room was very clean.

Click here to check price and availability at Barholm Accommodation.

Making the Most of the Glasgow International Festival

The Glasgow International is Scotland’s largest festival for contemporary art. In 2018 it ran from 20 April to 7 May. The festival runs every second year.

With 268 artists work on show at 90 exhibitions and more than 80 events over 78 venues. I found it really hard to decide what to attend and then to organise an itinerary.

The Glasgow Internation 2018 website was very user friendly. It allowed you to search by dates, geographic location, artist, exhibition, event or date.

Part of my quandary was on several days, there were events which I fancied on at the same time. Then the dispersed venues meant that I might not have time to travel between venues if an event end time was close to another event’s start time.

In order to make the most of the Glasgow International you do have to be super organised. You need to double check the opening hours and days of venues. I thought that I had done this, but I still managed to arrive at the Glasgow Sculpture Workshop around 11am, when it didn’t open until noon.

Then work out the best way to get between the venues. I did a mix, taking the train from Stirling to Glasgow Queen Street and then walking around the city centre and Southside one day. On another day, I drove to Glasgow, parked at our son’s flat and then walked around the West End.

The other four days, mainly weekends, I took the car to drive around dispersed venues. I managed to be in the East End on a day when Celtic were playing at home, when the roads were jam packed and it was hard to find a space to park. I was on my way to see Carla Scott’s Stretch/Pulled/Inked exhibition at Impact Arts. I am so glad that I persevered in looking for a parking space, as I loved Carla’s work pictured below.

I wanted to achieve a balance of seeing several events and exhibitions per day, without dashing around like a headless chicken. You should also beware of sensory overload. You might get more out of doing less.

The Pipe Factory exhibition was spread over four floors. I arrived there with only 45 minutes until closing time at 6pm. I wish that I’d spent a lot longer there. The annoying thing was that I had spent around 40 minutes getting to and from another exhibition in the East End which I didn’t appeal to me. But then how long should you allow to see each exhibition? It’s so hard to know until you get there.

There were several exhibitions at SWG3. My favourite was Judy Blame’s.

I liked the rope sculpture at the Briggate, formerly Glasgow’s fish market.

There were some interesting pieces at the Savoy Tower.

I really liked the ceramics at the nearby Savoy Centre.

The dome in The Savings Bank was beautiful I went there to see Michelle perform Keener, but unfortunately she had to cancel the performance due to vocal cord issues.

I visited Lauriston Arches on the first day of the Glasgow International. Some artists were still in the middle of setting up their work. I didn’t have time to return to that venue to see all the exhibitions.

It would be fab to live in such a colourful house as portrayed Duggie Field’s show at the Modern Institute in Osborne Street.

The multitude of coloured loaves at the David Dale Gallery was eye catching.

I enjoyed Linder’s talk at the Glasgow Women’s Library. Linder was commissioned to create a flag and a short film for Glasgow Women’s Library.

One of the highlights of the Glasgow International was Necroplis Action performed by XSexcentenary.

I also had a great time at a workshop offered by the Glasgow Open Dance School (GODS) at the Old Barn in Pollok Park.

I’m looking forward to Glasgow International 2020.

Broughton House and Garden Kirkcubright

Broughton House and Garden is located in the town of Kirkcubright in Dumfries and Galloway, in the south west of Scotland. It is managed by the National Trust for Scotland.

It’s usually fairly easy to find free parking the Kirkcubright, either on the street or in the car park by the river.

I was keen to visit as Broughton House as it was the home of E A Hornel, one of the ‘Glasgow Boys’ group of artists, in the early 20th century. There are lots of his paintings on display in the rooms of the house.

 

Hornel’s studio was an extension to the original Broughton House.

There’s a lovely view of the garden from the dining room.

The garden at Broughton House is so beautiful.

The seating area was surrounded by tulips.

There are views over the tidal River Dee from the bottom of the garden.

I wish that I could have spent more time at Broughton House and Garden, but I’d arrived around 3.40pm and closing time was 5pm.

Walking Over the Skye Bridge

The main activity which I wanted to do when I stayed in Kyle of Lochalsh overnight was to walk over the Skye Bridge. I had planned to do this on the afternoon of my arrival in Kyle of Lochalsh. However there was a three hour delay in my train journey from Stirling, meaning that I arrived in Kyle in the late afternoon and it was raining. As I wanted to walk over the Skye Bridge in the daylight, and hopefully dry weather, I postponed the walk until the following morning, crossing my fingers for a sunny, dry morning.

My wish was granted. It wasn’t wall-to-wall sunshine. I could see what looked like rain clouds in the distance, but it stayed dry for my walk.

The Skye Bridge is located just over one mile from Kyle of Lochalsh, but there is a good pavement to the bridge and on both sides of the bridge.

There’s a 40mph speed limit over the bridge, but I thought that some drivers were doing well above that speed. I had to take care when crossing the road to take photos from both sides of the bridge,

The first section of the Skye Bridge is from the mainland to the small island of Eilan Ban.

Kyleakin Lighthouse lies under the Skye Bridge.

I recommend a walk over Skye Bridge, but you should try to avoid peak times, as I imagine that traffic can be rather heavy then. You’ll enjoy the walk more if the traffic is lighter.

Review of Di Maggio’s West End Glasgow

There are several Di Maggio’s Italian restaurants in the Glasgow area. I’d previously eaten at the one in Royal Exchange Square, next to the Gallery of Modern Art, many years ago.

Last Saturday, I met our son Simon in Glasgow for lunch. We planned to go the Indian Cottage Indian in Dumbarton Road for lunch. However that restaurant had closed down. This prompted us to have a wander up Byers Road in search of an alternative venue for lunch.

We spotted a sign for Di Maggio’s West End in Ruthven Lane and decided to go to have a look at the menu. I was doubtful that I’d choose to eat there, as I remember the menu at Di Maggio’s in Royal Exchange Square being a bit pricey for me. I’d set a limit of £10 per person for lunch that day, given that lunch at the Indian Cottage was priced at £6 last time that I was there a few months ago.

Fortunately, Di Maggio’s West End were running a Summer Spectacular Menu, which offered a main course and a starter for £10. Unlike many of the lunch offers we had seen in other restaurants in the Byers Road area, the offer was available at lunch time on a Saturday.

We were seated a booth for four people, which meant that we had plenty of space. The interior was nicely done. Unusually for a set menu, there was a wide choice of both starters and main courses.

We decided to share starters of warmed goat’s cheese salad and nachos.

Simon had the pepperoni pizza as a main.

I opted for the verdi pizza.

Neither of us could manage to finish our pizzas, so I requested a take away box.

I thought that the food was beautifully presented and prepared, using quality ingredients. There was a pleasant ambience and the service was good. It was excellent value for money at £10 per person for two courses.

The Summer Spectacular offer at Di Maggio’s runs until 30 September 2018. It’s available all day from Sunday to Thursday and until 5pm on Friday and Saturday. But it’s not on offer at the Theatreland or Royal Exchange restaurants.

St Vigeans Stones & Museum in Arbroath

There was free entry to St Vigeans Museum of Carved Stones in Arbroath during the  Doors Open Days weekend in Angus, in eastern Scotland.

Although I’ve visited St Arbroath many times, but I’d never been to St Vigeans before. The first thing that you seen when your drive into the village is the red church on the mound. There is free on street parking and a large car park at the end of the road by the church hall.

As I arrived during a dry spell on a showery day, I thought that I should have a walk up to church, where there were some interesting gravestones.

The museum is housed a terraced cottage in the main street.

I didn’t have sufficient interest or time, as I was heading to an art workshop at Hospitalfield, to read all the information about the carved stones, but I was impressed by the quality of the workmanship.

The St Vigeans Carved Stones Museum is usually only open by appointment. The next open day is Saturday 29 September 2018.

Les Impromptues: A Breath of Fresh Air Outdoor Dance Performance at Dumfries & Galloway Arts Festival

The reasons why I visited Dumfries and Galloway, in south west Scotland, during May 2018 was to attend the Spring Fling open art studios event. But one event in the concurrent Dumfries & Galloway Arts Festival which caught my eye was the Breath of Fresh Air outdoor dance performance by Les Impromptues.

The first two venues for the performance, Mull of Galloway and Logan Botanic Garden, particularly appealed to me.

I checked directions to the Mull of Galloway Lighthouse on Google ‘Maps. The estimated journey time from Barholm Accommodation was one hour. But I had made the mistake of entering the the nearby village of Drumore as the destination. In fact the /Mull of Galloway Lighthouse is a further 15 minute drive along a single track road.

The performance at the Mull of Galloway Lighthouse was due to start at 11am. I arrived the car park just before 11am and it was a few minutes walk to the lighthouse. When I arrived at the lighthouse I couldn’t see any sign of the dancers. I wondered if I had missed the performance. a Few minutes later, I spotted one of the dancers, recognising the costume from the publicity shots. I asked her and she told me that the performance would start in a few minutes.

Sure enough, a bit later, the three dancers appeared, clutching fishing nets.

I immediately recognised the dance style as being Margaret Morris style. I’ve read a fair bit about Margaret Morris at the Fergusson Gallery in Perth, as the Scottish colourist painter JD Fergusson was Morris’ partner.

It was wonderful to see a live outdoor dance performance.

I left as soon as the performance was finished to ensure that I would be at the next venue,  Logan Botanic Garden, in plenty of time.

Well, given that the performance at the Mull of Galloway had been fantastic, I run out of superlatives to describe Les Impromptues: A Breath of Fresh Air performance at Logan Botanic Garden.

It started off around the fish pond.

Then the dancers moved down to an open grassy space.

Towards the end of the performance, the dancers invited some audience members to participate. I was chosen. Unfortunately, I felt that I couldn’t let myself by totally free. Not because I cared how I looked to the audience. The reasons for my caution were  that the dancer had bare feet, while I had on trekking shoes, so I was afraid that I might stand on her toes. I was also a bit guarded in my arm movements, in case I slapped her in the face.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the Breath of Fresh Air outdoor dance performance by Les Impromptues was one of the best live performances which I have ever seen.

Thornielee in the Tweed Valley Forest Park in the Scottish Borders

I went for a walk at Thornielee in the Tweed Valley Forest Park near Peebles in late Autumn.

There’s a free car park a few hundred metres uphill from the main road. Close to the car park there are a couple of very solid picnic benches were I had a coffee from my flask.

There’s a sculpture next to the benches.

The colours were wonderful, a mix of deciduous trees on which the leaves had turned and larch (a conifer which is deciduous).

There are various paths which you can follow.

As it was quite muddy, I mainly stuck to the road constructed for the timber felling equipment to access the forest. There’s a locked gate preventing cars from driving up the road. There was another picnic bench off the road.

Thornielee seems to be very popular with locals walking their dogs. I had an exuberant Boxer pup jump on the picnic table when I was sitting there.