Tailored Tours of Scotland

 

News and Events

 

  • Admiral Nelson and the Bonawe Iron Furnace 17th March 2021

     

    The huddle of buildings sloping towards Loch Etive may not proclaim ‘major industrial site’ yet

    here was enterprise on a huge scale in this corner of Scotland. Founded in 1753 the Iron Furnace was in business for more than a century and the site is the most complete charcoal-fired blast furnace anywhere in Britain.

    A partnership from Cumbria were seeking a suitable location to expand their operations. Having pinpointed Bonawe, they settled successful negotiations with the Campbell Earls of Breadalbane, giving them a long lease of the huge swathes of oak woodland in the surrounding glens. The plentiful supply of this raw material was the key to everything. With access to the coast they then shipped in the other materials needed; the all-important iron ore came with them all the way from Cumbria and as you look more at the store houses and other buildings, you may notice the colour

    of the roof slates, which were likewise brought up from Cumbria along with the work-force to build and operate the furnace.

    That’s what my mind dwells on; the men who came up here and took on the back-breaking work of keeping the blast furnace going, churning out its ‘pig iron’ blocks to be fashioned into cannons, cannonball and the like. It was physically demanding for all, not just for the men in the charging house feeding the furnace in searing heat, their clothes, hands and faces stained red from the iron ore but also for those from the local community ( albeit benefitting from this new business ) who laboured for months up in Glen Nant, coppicing the oak and tending the stack kilns that burned to produce the charcoal needed to produce up to 700 tons of iron a year. Two different work-forces from two very different communities. What did the Taynuilt men make of these in-comers from Cumbria and vice-versa, how did the Cumbrians at the furnace communicate with locals, many of whom only spoke the Gaelic ? The workers had their own housing, a school, a blacksmiths even a church and an inn; a whole settlement in itself. Then in time relationships were built beyond the business transactions, no doubt friendships developed and thus the local population would have evolved with its thin vein of Cumbrian blood…. all part of the legacy of the Iron Furnace along with those end-products of canon and canon ball, which made their marked contribution to the successful naval campaigns of Admiral Lord Nelson and his fleet. Indeed the site of the Bonawe Furnace is not the only local memorial to this hero of the seas; on hearing the news of Nelson’s victory  – and glorious death –  at the Battle of Trafalgar in October 1805, the workers at the furnace erected a great slab of stone on a small hill just above the settlement of Taynuilt, commemorating this historic event.

    With around a third ( some 18,000 men ) of the crewmen in the British Navy of the time being Scots, five of Nelson’s ship Captains  also Scots, the jute for sail cloth coming from the mills in Dundee and timber for the ship-building from Scottish woodlands, the pig-iron produced at Bonawe Furnace is just part of Scotland’s legacy to British History.

     

     

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    The Nelson Monument, Taynuilt

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    Bonawe Iron Furnace

     

     

  • Inveraray – A stately historic home on the doorstep 13th February 2021

     

    Approaching from the South along the shores of Loch Fyne, you catch a perfect glimpse of the

    castle, crossing the hump-backed bridge as you reach the Royal Burgh of Inveraray. On arrival a first impression is of part chateau, part fairy-tale castle with its conical turrets at the four corners. Look back to where the waters of the River Aray flow into the loch under the arches of the bridge or up toward the top of Dun na Cuaiche, the hill behind you ; it’s all part of a perfect backdrop.

    Over many years of visiting, a passing thought is sometimes how green the exterior appears; the building stone is indeed a green chlorite schist and depending on the weather the hue is rather changeable. Looking more closely you also notice how the builders have gone to trouble of dressing the front of each cut block of stone.

    Mounting the steps to the front entrance, you pass under the ornate glass & iron-work canopy of ‘Paddington Station’ so named locally for the architect of the grand station building in London, Matthew Digby Wyatt. If you think the entrance hall is somehow modest then you step into the grandeur of the state dining room and the tapestry drawing room. The gilt-wood chairs, the rich tapestry work all shout of the latest French fashion; the finely hand-painted interiors and the splendid Waterford crystal chandeliers all demonstrate the status of the Campbell family. And of course it is the legacy of the architects that lead the eye onwards into the main hall – this lofty space with its matching staircases and gallery being an echo of great houses like Blenheim designed by Vanbrugh who had a hand in the earliest drafts for Inveraray – the truly impressive collection of armoury is displayed on a spectacular scale.

    There is a statement of historical power; not just in the armoury here but in the fine portraits of Earls and Dukes of Argyll by the most renowned painters of their periods, from Thomas Gainsborough to Henry Raeburn and Alan Ramsay. Appearing in contrast to this are the personal artefacts in the Victoria Room. Queen Victoria’s daughter Princess Louise married the son of the 8th Duke in 1871. Take a peek in the China Turret, all but hidden beyond the Beauvais Tapestries, where the fine collection of the finest English & European porcelain is beautifully displayed – see if you can get your voice to magically amplify if you stand in the right spot in the centre of the room… and as you near the end of your tour here to reward yourself with coffee or some great home-baking, don’t forget to visit the Old Kitchens; highly polished copper jelly moulds, huge ovens and those brilliant knife cleaners ! Who needs washing up liquid !

     

     

     

    Lord Gray giving a tour at Inveraray Castle

     

     

  • Deep and Crisp and Even…. 13th January 2021

    Well, Good King Wenceslas has come and gone,The Three Kings have left their gifts and we have arrived in this New Year with all its possibilities, despite the challenges, the anxiety and the normality of life that we sometimes take for granted being turned on its head.

    As with the city dweller who may be so focused on the routine of their journeys to and from office & home that they habitually forget to look upwards and really take in the wonderful jumble of architecture on the skyline so with those of us living in the ‘rural idyll’, we too can forget to slow down in our own way, simply to stand there and take in the majestic beauty of the landscape all around us; And I AM biased, blessed as we are to live in this glorious corner of Scotland. Recently we have indeed enjoyed our share of the deep snow (at least on the mountains); the crisp days of sharp frost; the even stillness and beauty of the cold.

    I still want to travel in Scotland and beyond these shores. I still want to meet new people who have travelled to Scotland and share the experience with them. To share my reflections, ideas, knowledge and experience of this land, its people, its culture, its history then in turn learn about the land, people, culture and history of their own homes.

    The immediate future, in terms of the next few months, looks a little uncertain but I have faith in our health services and scientists so I hold onto the earnest hope that we will see the return of those who have planned to visit this land, this unique and beautiful Scotland.

    Oh yes – if you care to take a look on Instagram you may see my handful of posts, sharing some images of my West Highland surroundings…you should find them under Tailored Tours ( Tour Guide ) I hope these may interest or inspire you to consider a future visit; you won’t be disappointed !

     

     

  • Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness 8th October 2020

    Over the past week or so, the autumnal colours are really coming into their own and so many mornings recently I have woken to a view of the most beautifully still waters of Loch Etive with that layer of mist rising up against the slopes of Cruachan Beinn. We have so much to be thankful for in the blessing of life in this corner of Scotland.

    Well, it’s been a few months since my last missive and of course our friends and colleagues in the U.S.A., Canada and elsewhere among the Scottish diaspora have been unable to make any travel plans so my wagon and I have not seen that much of the Highlands or indeed other parts of the country. I have been for the odd day away here and there, reminding me just why so many Scots call it “God’s own country”.

    Recently I have been reading ‘The Hidden Ways; Scotland’s Forgotten Roads’ by Alistair Moffat (writer, historian and former Director of Programmes at Scottish Television ).  It is a sort of travel diary with a rich history of place and of a way of life that has all but disappeared even in the remoter, rural parts of the country and yet as he traces the various ‘old roads’ with map in hand, it is a fascinating record of those routes, be they droving roads or herring roads, of why they evolved where they did.  Definitely a recommended read !

    Thinking of a way of life that has disappeared, I will leave you with a charming image of yours truly, my best side successfully captured by a lovely client about this time of year in 2018.  It depicts my illustrating a wonderful knife-grinder in the Old Kitchens at Inveraray Castle. These 19th century inventions were handy devices for cleaning and sharpening the steel blades of knives. The blades were inserted between brush-like pads impregnated with fine carborundum then as the handle was turned, the dirt and stains on the knife blades were removed. Who needs fairy liquid and a dishwasher ?!

     

     

    Lord Gray giving a tour at Inveraray Castle

     

     

  • Spring Greetings from Scotland 14th May 2020

    I just want to say a big HELLO from the beautiful West Highlands of Scotland to all my clients past & present, to the great teams at the variety of wonderful travel agencies & specialists with whom I have the pleasure of working.

    In this difficult time, I take much consolation and joy from the stunning surroundings in this part of the world, in which I feel privileged to live.  I’m sure Spring wherever we are brings a bit of cheer but I have to say that we have been truly blessed with some wonderful weather  (  lunch outside in April ! )  that reminds me how fortunate we are to live in this unique corner of the world.

    We are lucky enough to have a large garden much of which is fairly wild. However, like many of you I expect, we are becoming more enthusiastic gardeners. I have been clearing small forests of mature rhododendron, many of which had scarcely been touched in decades. Our walled garden area is looking really tidy and our son ( who had to come home from Glasgow with his job ending ) has been a brilliant help. He has recently dug a large, new bed for vegetables in our little orchard; roll on self-sufficiency !

    I have picked a couple of images, which I hope will give many of you something to smile about.

     

    SONG THRUSH EGGS IN EUCALYPTUS TREE

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    APPLE BLOSSOM ON THE TREES IN THE ORCHARD

     

    I look forward to staying in touch with you and to properly re-connecting when travel restrictions are lifted; and I remain hopeful of arranging some great touring with you later this year. Spring, Summer, Autumn or Winter – it doesn’t matter –  Scotland is a wonderful place to visit !

     

     

     

     

     

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