Category Archives: Scotland

What to do in Scotland; attractions in Scotland and the best places to visit in Scotland.


Review of Holiday Inn Express Glasgow Riverside

I managed to bag a room at Holiday Inn Express Glasgow Riverside for a stay on Saturday 8 January 2011, for only £20.12. Rooms at this price were only available for one day (20 December 2010) on the Holiday Inn site, to publicise that they are one of the sponsors of the 2012 Olympics in London.

Holiday Inn Express Glasgow Riverside

Holiday Inn Express Glasgow Riverside

The hotel is a perfect location for a Glasgow short break. The hotel doesn’t have its own car park but I saw a car park close to the hotel which advertised all day stays for £5. We managed to find free on-street parking close to George Square (chargeable hours are Monday to Saturday 8am-6pm). It takes around ten minutes to walk to the hotel from either Queen St or Central rail stations. The hotel is a two minute walk from the St Enoch Shopping Centre and Argyle Street. The hotel is by the River Clyde, and Glasgow Green park (home to the People’s Palace) is just along the river.

Holiday Inn Express Glasgow Riverside

Doulton Fountain in Glasgow Green

Although the hotel is by the riverside, only the two rooms at the end of the corridor on each floor have full river views. It may be worth checking in early to try to get one of these rooms?

We were allocated room 523 on the top floor. Our room was at the front of the hotel facing the street, so there was some traffic noise, made more audible by the fact our window was missing one of its catches, so wouldn’t close properly.  I have to admit that I always find it noisy in city centres, as it’s very quiet where we live.  I did hear a bit of door banging and some loud voices during the night, but nothing too bad. The room was fairly comfortable but the bed had an inclination to roll together in the middle.

There was free wifi in the lobby which had a reasonable signal, although it struggled to upload a short video to Flickr.

Holiday Inn Express Glasgow Riverside

Lobby at Holiday Inn Express Glasgow Riverside

Continental breakfast was OK but the fruit juice tasted a bit watery and one of the hot drinks machines was low on supplies, so my hot chocolate appeared as watery hot milk. However the croissant and fruity cereal were good.

Holiday Inn Express Glasgow Riverside

Continental Breakfast Buffet at Holiday Inn Express Glasgow Riverside

Overall, I’d recommend the hotel as a good budget option for a Glasgow short break, with reasonable rooms, free wifi in the lobby and breakfast included, as I’ve noticed more and more hotels with room only offers. 

Keep It Real Travel Review - No FluffKeep It Real Travel Review – No Fluff

There are plenty of opportunities close at hand to sample three of the reasons to visit Glasgow, restaurants, music and food. You can also read our tips on things to do in Glasgow.

You should also check out room prices at the Holiday Inn Express Glasgow Riverside on the HotelsCombined price comparison site.



25 Unusual & Fun Things to Do in Scotland

I love Scotland but then I would say that as I’m Scottish. However, I’m sure you can appreciate why, once you’ve read about some unusual and fun things to do in Scotland,  selected from posts about Scotland written by the Europe a la Carte blogging team. If you want to explore beyond the major Scottish cities, you’ll need to hire a car, as there’s isn’t much public transport in rural areas.

North of Scotland

Admire the Beauty of St Ninian’s Beach, Shetland Islands

I visited the Shetland Islands for the first time in May 2010 and they are absolutely beautiful.  My favourite spot was St Ninian’s Beach, which was recommended to me by the taxi driver who picked me up at the airport. Which just goes to show it’s always worth asking locals for tips. If you stay in the Shetland capital Lerwick, you can explore the main island from there and/or take day trips to some of the smaller islands.

Things to Do in Scotland

St Ninians Beach, Shetland Islands

Go North at Dunnet Head

Andy visited Dunnet Head, which is the most northerly point of the UK mainland and not John O’Groats as popularly believed.

Things to Do in Scotland

Dunnet Head by ifry

Get in Touch with Your Mystical Side at Callanish Stones, Hebrides

Andy also wrote about his visit to the Callanish Stones, a stone circle on the Island of Lewis in the Hebrides. I’ve been to the stones on a misty morning when no-one else was there and it was a really mystical experience. 

Things to Do in Scotland

Callanish Stones by luxpim

Marvel at the Cliffs on Staffa, Hebrides

Andy thought that the hexagonal basalt cliffs on the island of Staffa look like they’ve been sculptured but it’s all natural.

Things to Do in Scotland

Staffa by wjmarnoch

Go Underground at Smoo Cave, Durness, Highlands

Durness is the most north westerly village on the UK mainland. Taking a boat trip into Smoo Cave is the best way to see the interior.

Things to Do in Scotland

Smoo  Cave

Be Amazed You’re so Far North at Inverewe Gardens, Highlands

Inverewe Gardens, located on the west coast close to Poolewe in Wester Ross, lies in a sheltered bay warmed by the Gulf Stream. I’ve been there twice and it’s hard to believe that you’re in the north of Scotland.

Things to Do in Scotland

Inverewe Gardens

Be Wowed by Colour at the Biblical Garden, Elgin

The very colourful Biblical Garden in Elgin contains all 110 plants mentioned in the Bible.  The sculptures around the garden are based on characters in various parables including the Good Shepherd and the Prodigal Son. You can see all my Biblical Garden photos on Flickr.

Things to Do in Scotland

Biblical Garden, Elgin

Click here for the lowest prices on Elgin hotels

Imagine Watching Horse Racing from Pitfour Observatory, Aberdeenshire

Pitfour Observatory was constructed by a rich Lord to get a good view of the race track he had specially made, so he could indulge in his hobby of horse racing while still on the grounds of his estate.

Things to Do in Scotland

Pitfour Observatory

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Central Scotland

Visit the Queen Mother’s Birthplace at Glamis Castle, Angus

Andy asked if Glamis Castle is Scotland’s prettiest castle.  I’m not sure about that as it’s got some stiff opposition and it didn’t make my three favourite Scottish Castles. It was the birthplace of the mother of the current UK monarch, Queen Elizabeth II.

Things to Do in Scotland

Glamis Castle by Andy Hayes

Imagine Yourself in Antarctica at Discovery Point, Dundee

Board the Antarctic explorer Captain Scott’s ship at Discovery Point in my city of birth Dundee, where the ship was built. You can buy a joint admission ticket for the Verdant Works which tells of the history of Dundee’s jute industry. Here are my recommendations for hotels in Dundee.

Things to Do in Scotland

Discovery Point, Dundee

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Meet Robert Burns at the Birks of Aberfeldy, Perthshire

The Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote the Birks of Aberfeldy after taking a walk up to the Mo’ness Falls. The sculpture was unveiled in 2009, in honour of the 250th anniversary of the birth of the Scottish poet.

Things to Do in Scotland

Robert Burns Sculpture at the Birks of Aberfeldy

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Explore Two Follies at the Hermitage, Dunkeld, Perthshire

The Hermitage was created as a landscape garden for the local Duke, complete with two follies, Ossian’s Hall overlooking the Falls of Braan and Ossian’s Cave.

Things to Do in Scotland

Falls of Braan and Ossian’s Hall at the Hermitage, Dunkeld

Click here for the lowest prices on Dunkeld hotels

Walk for Miles along West Sands Beach in St Andrews, Fife

Although St Andrews is synonymous with golf and the University where Princess Diana’s elder son William studied, there’s a lot more to this lovely historic town.  There are two beaches, West Sands (pictured below) and the smaller East Sands and a very tempting ice cream shop.

West Sands, St Andrews

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Go Back in Time at Culross, Fife

Step back to into the 17th century in Culross, with its palace and abbey.

Things to Do in Scotland

View from Culross Palace Garden

See Pictish Cave Art at Wemyss Caves, Fife

In the Wemyss Caves you can see several drawings believed to date from over 2000 years ago.

Things to Do in Scotland

Trident in Jonathan’s Cave

Explore the 14th Century Alloa Tower, Clackmannanshire

Alloa Tower, renovated in the 1990s, is the largest surviving medieval tower house in Scotland.

Things to Do in Scotland

Alloa Tower

Click here for the lowest prices on Alloa hotels

Discover History at the Old Town Cemeteries, Stirling

On the way up to Stirling Castle it’s worth spending some time in the cemeteries. The Old Kirkyard has headstones from as early as the 16th century.

Things to Do in Scotland

The Valley Cemetery, Stirling

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Be Spoiled for choice by Glasgow Restaurants

I reckon that Glasgow has the best selection of restaurants you’ll find in Scotland. Two of my favourites are the Kama Sutra and Rogano.

Things to Do in Scotland

Rogano Restaurant Glasgow

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Stroll along the Water of Leith Walkway, Edinburgh

The Water of Leith Walkway stretches for 12 miles from Balerno through the city centre, with an Aids and HIV memorial between the exits for the Gallery of Modern Art and Dean Gallery. The river flows into the Forth Estuary at Leith. The Holiday Inn Express Edinburgh Waterfront is located a few minutes walk from the Water of Leith.

Things to Do in Scotland

Water of Leith Walkway Edinburgh

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Follow the Prestonpans Murals Trail, East Lothian

I love the Prestonpans Murals Trail which celebrates the industrial heritage of the village. The cow below is at the site of a former dairy. You can get to Prestonpans by bus from Edinburgh city centre.

Things to Do in Scotland

The cow mural at Prestonpans

Fly 1st Class at the National Museum of Flight, East Fortune, East Lothian

The big attraction at the National Museum of Flight is a Concorde. I was fascinated to learn that the first return crossing of the Atlantic by air was undertaken by the airship R34 which took off from East Fortune in 1919.

Things to Do in Scotland

The Concorde Experience at the National Museum of Flight

South of Scotland

Learn About One of the Fathers of Conservation in Dunbar, East Lothian.

Discover the life story of the conservationist John Muir at his birthplace in Dunbar. You could then walk along the beautiful red cliffs. It’s easy to get to Dunbar by rail from Edinburgh.

Things to Do in Scotland

Display at John Muir’s Birthplace, Dunbar

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Contemplate the Power of the Sea at St Abbs, Scottish Borders

St Abbs is a pretty little fishing village which is now a marine reserve and popular with divers. The Eyemouth Fishing Disaster Memorial in St Abbs portrays some of the anguish caused by the death of 189 fishermen on October 14 1881.

Things to Do in Scotland

Eyemouth Fishing Disaster Memorial, St Abbs

Find Out About 1930s Motorcycling at Hawick Museum, Scottish Borders

Hawick Museum, located in Wilton Park, has a display about the 1930s motorcycling champion, Jimmy Guthrie, who was born in Hawick. There’s a lovely walk along the River Teviot through Wilton Park. If you walk along the river toward the town centre, you’ll find the James Thomson Bridge, opened in 2006 to honour the 19th century local poet.

Things to Do in Scotland

Hawick Museum in Wilton Park

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Take the Waters at St Ronan’s Well, Innerleithen, Scottish Borders

Drink from the Spa in the village of Innerleithen, featured in Walter Scott’s novel, St Ronan’s Well.

Things to Do in Scotland

View from St Ronan’s Well, Innerleithen

Enjoy Threave Gardens, near Castle Douglas, Dumfries and Galloway

Threave Gardens consists of several themed areas; a secret garden, a rock garden, a rose garden and a peat garden. If you’re lucky with the weather, the cafe has an outdoor seating area.

Things to Do in Scotland

Threave Castle Garden

Click here for the lowest prices on Dumfries hotels

Where to stay in Scotland

Find the best deals at hotels all over Scotland with the HotelsCombined price comparison site, which quickly searches through more than 30 of the best travel sites to find the lowest prices for you.

Podcast on Unusual & Fun Things to Do in Scotland


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Europe a la Carte Scottish Destination Guides

More Tips for the UK

We’ve articles on 25 Things to Do in England and 25 Fun Things to Do in the UK.

Click here for the lowest prices on Scottish hotels


Review of Holiday Inn Express Edinburgh Waterfront

I stayed for one night, the 27 of December 2010, at the Holiday Inn Express Edinburgh Waterfront. I booked the room on the morning on 27 December, using the HotelsCombined price comparison site, at a cost of £45 for a double room for 2 guests, including breakfast.  The hotel is in Leith, very close to the Ocean Terminal shopping and leisure centre, which is home to the Royal Yacht Britannia. There is free guest parking at the hotel.

I was happy with my room on the fourth floor. It was an adequate size for a double room and had a desk area and a sofa bed.   These family rooms can sleep up to two adults and two children under the age of 18 but it would be pretty cramped with four people in the room.  The bed was really comfortable and there was a choice of soft or firm pillows. The bathroom only has a shower. Unfortunately you have to pay if you want to use wifi in your room, although it’s free in the lobby, for up to 6 hours per day. The signal in the lobby was good enough for me to upload a video.

Holiday Inn Express Edinburgh Waterfront

Holiday Inn Express Edinburgh Waterfront bedroom

My room was at the front of the hotel and the double glazing didn’t quite shut out all the noise from the road below but I wasn’t disturbed overnight by traffic noise.  Several buses stop just outside the hotel, so it’s easy to get to the city centre.

The self service breakfast was good with a choice of cereal, fruit juice, toast, sausage, scrambled eggs, plain yoghurt, pain au chocolat and tinned grapefruit.  There were no croissants and a very limited choice of fresh fruit, apparently due to it being a bank holiday. It did get quite chaotic once it became busy with guests milling around. The two toasters couldn’t cope with the demand.

Overall, if you don’t mind being a couple of miles from the city centre, the Holiday Inn Express Edinburgh Waterfront is a good budget Edinburgh hotel, especially for families (kids sharing with adults stay and eat breakfast free of charge).  The hotel is also a good choice if you are going to Edinburgh by car, as parking is expensive and can be hard to find close to your hotel, if you stay in the city centre.  There’s a good choice of restaurants, cafes and pubs within a few minutes walk from the hotel, either at Ocean Terminal or at the Water of Leith.

Keep It Real Travel Review - No FluffKeep It Real Travel Review – No Fluff

Click here for the lowest prices on Edinburgh hotels


Dunnet Head, Most Northerly Point of Great Britain

Despite what it looks like on a map, the mainland of Great Britain and the Orkney Islands aren’t that far apart. This is the view from Dunnet Head, which is the most northerly point on the British Mainland.

From here, Orkney is only about 9 miles away.  You can’t see it in this photo very clearly, but if you’re a bit further west (such as, say, Scrabster) you can make out the Old Man of Hoy.  On a sunny day, that is.

Dunnet Head is rather unremarkable, but it is a peaceful and enjoyable drive.  From the A836, which runs along the north coast, Dunnet Head is down a narrow road that follows the miniature peninsula that juts out into the sea. There’s of course a lighthouse here, as well as a marker indicating the point (in some references it is called Easter Head).

John o’Groats is another small stopping point to the east.  It markets itself as the “last house north in Scotland” which confusingly makes you take it to mean it’s the most northerly point.  This is where the tourists ferries (pedestrian only) leave from, but this is not the most northerly point – Dunnet Head is.

In 2008, Karen reported on a planned makeover for John o’Groats.   Unfortunately I can report that it is still the same tatty, tawdry, and filthy car park it was two years ago.  If you must come here to catch the tourist ferry to Orkney, so be it, but otherwise avoid it if you can.  Dunnet is out of the way, but if you’re in the area and it’s a clear day, it’s definitely worth a stop for the view.

Photo Copyright Andy Hayes

Edinburgh Airport £1 drop off charge: Another Snatch at the UK Fliers Purse

On the 29th October 2010 Edinburgh Airport started charging £1 for passenger drop offs close to the terminal building.

edinburgh airport drop off charge

Entrance to the new £1 drop off facility at Edinburgh Airport

There is a new free drop off facility at the long term car park with a free shuttle bus running every 10 minutes to the terminal.  That leaves passengers with a choice of either paying the £1 to be dropped off at the terminal or adding another 15-20 minutes to their total journey time from home to the airport, to allow additional time to get from the new drop off point to the terminal.

Edinburgh Airport drop off charge

New Free Drop Off Area at Edinburgh Airport Long Stay Car Park

I’m not convinced that the bus shelter at the new free drop off area is adequate, as I can’t see more than about 12 people with luggage fitting in there. The shelter is also a pay station, so imagine someone who tries to get to the ticket machine when it’s full of people waiting for the transfer bus.

Edinburgh Airport drop off charge

Bus Shelter at the new Free Drop Off Area at Edinburgh Airport

What annoyed me most was the previous free drop off area is now being used as a taxi drop off point and was almost deserted when I was there in early November 2010.

Edinburgh Airport drop off charge

Deserted Former Free Drop Off Area outside Edinburgh Airport Terminal

In my opinion, Edinburgh Airport could have either left the former free drop off arrangements in place or allowed  a couple of minutes of free access at the new £1 drop off area.  I live in Berwick upon Tweed, 60 miles from Edinburgh Airport and if I have an early departure or late arrival, it’s just not possible for me to get to and/or back home from the airport by public transport.

It seems to me that UK fliers are viewed as cash cows; paying to be dropped off at the airport, paying ever increasing APD and being forced to buy expensive bottled water after they have come through airport security, as many airports either don’t have drinking water fountains or they are not clearly signed and hard to locate.  Edinburgh Airport does have two drinking water fountains (next to each other) on your left as soon as you come out of security.  It would be useful if there were more in various locations after security.

Edinburgh castle EALC

Scary places in Europe – Edinburgh

As we celebrate Halloween in the US, it’s all about the candy, parties, kids, and fun. However, many people like the ‘scary’ aspect of Halloween and indulge themselves in haunted houses, ghosts, and the thrills of being frightened.

Photo of Edinburgh castle (Flickr: boreitos)

In Europe, one of the most haunted places for many is Edinburgh.  With its famous castle and  history of the plague and witchcraft, there is a darker, scarier side to Edinburgh than some people may be aware of.

While Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde may have been written about a lawyer in London, the inspiration for Scottish born Robert Louis Stevenson may have come from the city of Edinburgh itself.  For a more real life drama, William Wallace, aka Braveheart, is remembered here in his fight for freedom.  While fictional and non fictional stories are a part of the mystery of Edinburgh, there is also a haunted side as well.

Edinburgh Castle is said to be haunted by quite a few suspicious characters.  While it has been visited by millions, it has also seen its share of scary visitors such as a phantom piper, headless drummer, prisoners of several wars, and even the ghost of a dog.

In the city itself, Edinburgh has a bit of a painful and scary past.  Old vaults under some of the bridges were dark and scary.  When the great fire came, many people were burned alive inside of the vaults.  To this day, many people believe strange and creepy things happen inside these vaults.  Take a tour of them and see for yourself.

Edinburgh has been home to a seedier side of life as well with its share of criminals, characters, and witches.  A number of ghost tours are offered within the city to share the scary, ghoulish stories of real life people on dark side of the streets.  Witches, crimes, and torture are all part of Edinburgh’s history and offer a haunting view of the city many may not know about.

While there are many scary places in Europe, Edinburgh evokes a darker, mysterious, and sometimes, ghostly side to this beautiful capital of Scotland.  Whether it’s the home of author Robert Louis Stevenson with his scary fictional work like Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde or the real stories of ghosts and witches, it’s a perfect place to explore the scary, frightening side of European history.

For a fun read about the darker side of Edinburgh, check out Edinburgh’s Dark Side.

Find the Lowest Prices for Edinburgh Hotels

Click here to find the best deals on hotels in Edinburgh using the HotelsCombined price comparison which quickly looks at more than 30 popular travel sites to find the lowest prices for your stay.

Craigmillar: Edinburgh’s Other Castle

Edinburgh Castle is the most visited attraction in Edinburgh and in Scotland.  It’s a beauty, and a must-see Edinburgh attraction.  But if you’re a castle lover and have already seen it (how can you miss it), I’ve got another Scottish castle suggestion for you:  Craigmillar Castle.

Craigmillar is just a few miles south of Edinburgh, perched on a hill that offers great views back into Edinburgh from a perspective few tourists see.   It was a private castle, built in the 14th century by the Preston family.  It passed on to the Gilmours in 1600s, and then in the 18th century it was abandoned.  The Castle is now owned/maintained by Historic Scotland.  Despite having been abandoned, Craigmillar is one of the best examples of medieval construction – it was never attacked, perhaps because of its little known status.

Regardless, Craigmillar has witnessed plenty of history.  Queen Mary of Scots spent some time here, and the “Craigmillar bond” was an agreement to have her husband murdered.  As well many of the kings of Scotland had dealings here – some of them good and some of them not-so-good.

Admission is £4.20 and the castle is open 7 days a week (closed Thurs/Fri in winter). For more information, including maps to plan your visit, check out the Craigmillar page on Historic Scotland.  Craigmillar isn’t known as one of Edinburgh’s best neighbourhoods, but I do think while you visit the castle you should spend some time exploring the grounds – it’s peaceful here, and the view is superb, even on a cloudy day.

Photo Credit: c.m.chang

Is Glamis Scotland’s Prettiest Castle?

During my recent world domination tour of the Highlands, I saw more castles than I’d care to count.  Castles on mountains, castles on cliffs, castles in films, ruined castles, remodelled castles, hotel castles, castles castles castles!  It was enough to make one go mad.

But after all that castleization, there was really only one that stood out in my mind:  Glamis Castle in Angus.

Photo Copyright Andy Hayes

Glamis History

Glamis (pronounced “glams” – the i is slient) is no stranger to your average Briton, as this was where the Queen Mother spent much of her childhood and where Princess Margaret was born, and indeed the Royal Family maintains a connection to this royal estate.  In Scotland, you’ll see Glamis on a daily basis because it’s the castle featured on RBS’s ten pound note.  Go ahead, I’ll wait for you to look in your wallet.

Glamis was originally a hunting lodge, so the original structure was quite small and very perfunctory, and though the building dates aren’t exact, there was a religious site nearby as far back as the 700s.  The castle you see today is largely the result of refurbishments in the 17th and 18th centuries to make the castle more “liveable” – as it slowly left its status as a lodge and drifted more into the territory of royal residence, the royals of each period left their mark, and as you expect, the furnishings are grand and over the top from start to finish.

Glamis sits on an exquisite set of grounds and gardens.  During our visit, we didn’t get to see a lot,  because there was a festival going on in part of the grounds – but this highlighted just how big the estate is because we couldn’t even see the end of it.

They say Glamis is one of the most liveable and prettiest castles in Scotland.  I’d say I have to agree.  While the interiors range from luxurious to outright ‘posh, there’s still something cosy and comfortable about this place that you just don’t feel in other castles of this period.

Visiting Glamis

Glamis is only available to visit via a guided tour (£8.75 for adults) – which is kind of expensive, but I found out tour very enjoyable and the guides humorous yet informative, so well worth the visit.  They’re open 7 days a week, but careful as the last tours start about 4:30PM.

Be sure to walk around the grounds before/after your visit – great views of the castle and a very tranquil place.

Have you been to Glamis Castle?  What did you think? You can read about Karen’s “Favourite Scottish castles” (Glamis not included).

whaligoe steps

Wick’s Whaligoe Steps in the north east of Scotland

If you find yourself in the remote corner of north east Scotland, I’ve got a sightseeing tip for you.  It’s just south of the town of Wick, one of the larger settlements in the area.  The sight is the Whaligoe Steps.  These stone steps were laid into the side of a very, very vertical cliff next to a narrow bay on the coast.

The story is that the wives of fishermen built these steps, tired of having to bring the fish up the hill from the husbands who’d bring their boats into this cove.  I’m not sure how on earth one could get up this cliff without the stairs, just walking, let along with a basket of fish on your head!

The view on a sunny day, though, is well work the walk down and the walk back up.  There’s no tourist information centre, gift shop, toll booth, or cafe.  Just some old steps with an interesting story.  Which, for me, is just fine.

The are lots of standing stones and other megalithic sites in the area, so you can definitely make it an afternoon of sightseeing if you find yourself in Wick for the day.

Finding The Steps

It’s strange/annoying that the Whaligoe Steps are a Wick attractions on the first page of Visit Scotland’s brochure guide to the area, but Visit Scotland doesn’t have a signpost indicating the turn.  The car park is behind some houses, so it is next to impossible to find it – but we found these directions to the Whaligoe steps really useful and accurate (including the ‘turn left at the phone box’).