With a short trip to Spain coming up, to enjoy some World Heritage cities and beautiful medieval villages, it made me think of which villages and towns would make a sort of My Top 10 at home. I love old villages and great architecture and Europe of course, is full of both. But here in Scotland, we have some truly lovely towns and villages, often enhanced by their overall setting as much as notable architecture.Many are so small that if you blinked as you drove through, you would be out the other side with a ‘oh, was that such and such?’ Others have a bit more substance to them of course and are well on the tourist trail.
I will probably add to the list below over time as more come to mind – and please suggest any to me which I have not listed, if these places interest you too, as I am always on the look out for new spots to explore.It is not a definitive list by a long way but might be a useful ‘starter for 10+’ .Some pruning is required to whittle it down to a true top 10 but I really don’t know where I would start. They are all lovely and make me feel very glad to be on this planet.
I will write each up in a bit more detail with more photos and links.(Not all the photos are mine in this post.)
Alloway (Ayrshire) ALLOWAY (Ayrshire)
Very small and dominated by ultra pretty (and highly interesting) Rabbie Burns’ thatched cottage, where the great man was born and lived his early life. The excellent Visitor Centre is a must for Burns’ fans.Oh and it serves great scones. The village is a wealthy little enclave of fine houses close to the sea with an ancient bridge – The Brig o’Doon (my parents, like many others when sweethearts, carved their names on it) and the spooky, atmospheric Auld Kirk made famous in the poem ‘Tam O’Shanter.’ First class permanent Art Exhibition by Alexander Goudie depicting the poem in oils, in the nearby Rozelle Gallery.
Applecross (Wester Ross)
A small string of traditional white washed cottages lines the unspoilt shores of Applecross Bay in a simply beautiful setting of mountain and oak woodland.Dominating all, is the very welcome Applecross Inn with its excellent food and cosy fire.A welcome refuge amidst softer scenery after driving through the impressive mountain grandeur of the Pass of the Cattle route, rated one of the world’s Top 10 drives. For more detail, please see : APPLECROSS
Arinagour (Isle of Coll, Inner Hebrides)
Another string of tiny traditional cottages overlooking the Hebridean sea on the beautiful island of Coll.Boats bob on the swell, wildflowers dot the verges and nooks and crannies and all seems very well with the world, especially when enjoying some excellent food in the village hotel (from where this photo was taken.)
Ballater (Royal Deeside/Cairngorm National Park)
A handsome Victorian village of granite houses and shops, frequented by the Royal family whose main abode is a short drive away at Balmoral Castle.With a wide whisky coloured river, the Dee, flowing through and pretty shops and cafes, it’s a fine place to while away some time and recover from more strenuous walking escapades in the neighbouring hills.
Minuscule and a short 10 minute drive from the pretty town of Melrose, the village sits below the Eildon Hills and is picture postcard.Soft rolling Borders countryside all around.We were fortunate to stay at stunning Bowden House and would make the trip (2 hours from Glasgow) for that purpose alone.Peace comes dropping slow here……
Braemar (Royal Deeside, Cairngorm National Park)
Small, with beautiful Victorian stone architecture and a tumbling rushing river flowing through it, Braemar is surrounded by heather clad mountains and some of the most beautiful Scots Pine forest I have ever seen.A fine little castle sits nearby too and The Bothy serves excellent food all day. The Art Gallery is always worth a browse.
Overlooking the North Sea, sitting on a low cliff, the higgledy piggledy line of cottages were the inspiration for artist Joan Eardley’s atmospheric seascapes and village scenes. A tiny stone harbour sits below.
Corrie (Isle of Arran)
Another favourite of artists, with two stone harbours, pretty cottages and the Goat Fell mountain range as a backdrop.Seals bask offshore and children play on the rocky shore and pink sand beaches.
Corran, (Skye and Lochalsh)
Literally at the end of the road, a cluster of white washed traditional crofts with the most beautiful, craggy mountain backdrop and lapped by a turquoise sea.Skye sits on the horizon.Absolutely nothing to do but stroll and breathe in the tang of the sea air and listen to the waves crash softly on the rocky shore.
The prettiest of the East Neuk fishing villages.All crow-stepped gables and red roofs and a tidy wee harbour with bobbing boats. Another artists’ favourite and no wonder.
Cromarty (Black Isle, Easter Ross)
A handsome village and the birthplace of Hugh Miller, one of the great Scots of the 19th Century.We passed a seagull on her eggs, sitting quite the thing beside the coastal walkway, oblivious to the people strolling about.Surrounded by the rich farmland of the Black Isle and close to the cold North Sea.Dolphins are common.
A truly intact late medieval village with exquisite houses – it really is like walking into the 16th century.All is dominated by the wonderful Culross Palace, an ochre coloured building with terraced gardens filled with scented roses and herbs.A unique village, with a winding cobbled street that leads up to the ruins of ancient Culross Abbey.The village has been used in the filming of ‘Outlander.’
Dirleton (East Lothian)
Only 40 mins or so from Edinburgh, a wealthy, pretty hamlet with a fine Kirk (church) and a beautiful castle bordered by gardens and lawns and looking every inch how you imagine a ruined castle should look.The sands of Yellowcraig beach are a flattish walk away.
A gateway to the Highlands, the small town of Dunkeld is set beautifully on the famous salmon river, the Tay and is reached over a handsome stone bridge.There is a fine Cathedral set back from the river and a cluster of early 17th century houses, in the care of the National Trust.Nice shops to explore – and tea rooms (I always feel a scone coming on, arriving here.)
Another major ‘Outlander’ village, Falkland is a wee beauty and overlooked by one of my favourite castles – or more accurately, Falkland Palace, home of the ancient Scottish Kings.Lots of small Art Galleries to explore, cafes and an Inn amidst rolling Fife farmland.Behind, the shapely Lomond Hills offer nice walking.
The village’s small line of pristine thatched houses would not look out of place in the Cotswolds.The lovely Fortingall Hotel lies at the heart of it all and beside that, is an old churchyard with reputedly Europe’s oldest living tree, anywhere from 3000 – 9000 years old.Sheep and pheasants graze in the fields, there are standing stones too and a minute’s drive beyond, lies mountainous Glen Lyon, one of Scotland’s most beautiful glens.
Gifford (East Lothian)
Another wealthy little enclave not too far from Edinburgh, a neat, tidy village with a fine church.I have only visited once, but was very taken with it.I do love old churches and this one was beautiful.
Baile Mor, Iona (Inner Hebrides)
I think this is one of our loveliest places , a line of traditional cottages overlooking the crystal clear, emerald green waters of the Sound of Iona.Pretty gardens everywhere, and overlooked by the famous Abbey itself built of pink stone. Iona was at the heart of Western Christianity with the arrival of St Columba in the 6th century.Despite the day tripper crowds making for the Abbey itself, the island seems to absorb them all and remains a very peaceful place.A beautiful island, a joy.
Inveraray( Loch Fyne)
The white washed houses of the town can be seen a long way off as you drive by the shores of Loch Fyne. Sitting out on a small spit of land and surrounded by fine hills, no wonder this scenic area became the home of the Dukes of Argyll.The current Duke’s fairy – tale castle is a short walk away and the 18th century George Hotel offers an atmospheric place to eat or drink.
Killin (Loch Tay)
Quite spread out but elevated to ‘ favourite’ status by the presence of the lovely Falls of Dochart which rush through the centre of this mostly traditional village.Hills all around and Loch Tay itself is a short drive away.
Kirkcudbright (Dumfries and Galloway)
An absolute gem of a small town. 16th century Maclellan’s Castle sits at its heart and the famous Scottish artist E. A Hornel’s house and garden is a must see – oh, those scented roses! Some of the neat, pastel coloured town houses are now small Art Galleries, testament to its position as one of the most favoured artists towns in Scotland.
Kirk Yetholm (Borders)
Another once-only visit but I was very taken with this small village, on the St Cuthbert’s Way. Lovely rolling Border scenery all around.
Luss (Loch Lomond)
A favourite half day trip for us from Glasgow as it’s only 50 mins drive away.Tiny, picture postcard cottages with flower filled gardens and right on the shores of Loch Lomond.What’s not to like? Well, the crowds maybe, but a reviving cup of coffee and gigantic scones in the Coachhouse Cafe always revive the spirits. The Luss hills look over all, Beinn Dubh behind the village, itself providing a fine short hill walk and superb loch views even part way up.
Moniaive (Dumfries and Galloway)
Small village in deepest bucolic countryside where the sound of sheep meh -ing is pretty much it.And all the better for that.
The most handsome of the Border towns, dominated by its wonderful Abbey where Robert the Bruce’s heart is buried.Nice shops to wander, handsome architecture and the Eildon Hills to slog up if inspiration suddenly grabs you, as it often does in Melrose. Abbotsford House, once Sir Walter Scott’s beautiful abode, lies serenely close by on the River Tweed.
A smart little Victorian town of handsome stone houses , many with roses round the door and bordered by the silvery Tay. Always busy, lots of tourists and touristy shops but also some very fine and interesting shops, so I still enjoy a stop here and a wander.Beinn Vrackie looms behind, a very pleasant hill walk amongst heather moorland.
Plockton(Skye and Lochalsh)
Made famous in the ‘Hamish Macbeth’ TV series, the picture postcard village is lined with palm trees (yes, palms!) which are a wonder given the rugged backdrop and the fact that this is the North West Highlands.Thank you, Gulf Stream! A pleasure to be in, a gem,with some nice eating options .Often Highland Coos wandering down the main street, as they do.
Port Charlotte (Isle of Islay, Inner Hebrides)
The prettiest village on the island with pristine traditional croft houses overlooking Loch Indaal , a sea loch.Dolphins come in close at times and the Bruichladdich Distillery is within walkable distance. Sunny summer days always feel best in the Hebrides!
Stromness (Orkney Mainland)
Have only visited once, but was impressed with the incredible atmospheric cobbled streets behind the less attractive harbour area.Tantalising views out to the cold waters of the North Sea, a fine local history Museum and lovely Art Gallery.George Mackay Brown wrote so evocatively of this, his home village which was also a stopping off point for the North West Passage explorers and whalers of old.See Stromness, Orkney
Shieldaig (Torridon, Wester Ross)
It’s certainly a fine little village set on the stunning shores of Loch Torridon and surrounded by the most amazing scenery we have. The Upper village has never appealed so much but down here is attractive.Only one small shop, a couple of eating options and a cafe, Nanny’s, which does home baking.Sea eagles have nested on close-to-shore, pine covered, Shieldaig island.
Stenton (East Lothian)
Tiny, pristine , all red pantiled roofs and gorgeous sandstone.Small Art Gallery. A once – agricultural village from the 1500s, with remnants of Mercat scales and posts.
Tarbert (Isle of Harris, Outer Hebrides)
A bit higgledy piggledy and not pristine as such but that’s all part of its charm.With its backdrop of rock-studded Harris hills and the wild seas which surround it (and which you have just crossed to arrive here, safe and sound) there is a real feeling of being out on the edge. And – you are.Gaelic spoken frequently amongst locals in the shop and some nice places to eat.Watch the big Calmac ferry leave and be glad you have remained! Harris is stunningly beautiful.
Tobermory (Isle of Mull, Inner Hebrides)
A multi coloured small town, with plenty interesting wee shops and cafes (a Chocolate Cafe!), fine dining and the famed Mishnish Inn with its cosy fire and seafood.Seagulls cry and the town buzzes with small children whizzing their parents about as they check out the parts of the town used in the BBC TV series, ‘Balamory.’
Another ‘once only’ visit here but I took to it immediately. What a location – what a series of white sands, just a short drive away! The two small hotels looked very nice (and were so popular that I couldn’t squeeze a room in May, mid-week, in either.)Nothing much else to the place , a pretty white church, but I want to go back.Stunning.