Review of 2016 on The Hazel Tree

Above:  Lichen on trees near Achnabreck;   Culross Palace;   Nether Largie South Cairn

As the year draws to a close, it’s time to take a look back at the last 12 months on The Hazel Tree.   I love the way that these posts also reflect the beauty of Scotland throughout the changing seasons – deep snow in Glen Lyon in February, the emerald flush of spring in the hazel woods at Ballachuan, the burnished hills of the Scottish Borders around Smailholm Tower in October.   It’s such a pleasure to cast my mind back and imagine myself at any one of these places, to re-live the sights and sounds, the smells and the atmosphere.   I hope you’ll enjoy it too!

Rosslyn Chapel and Castle

Rosslyn Chapel (4)In January we took a trip to Rosslyn Chapel in East Lothian.   I’d been wanting to see this place for a long time, especially as I’d been so intrigued by all the stories connecting it with the Holy Grail and the Knights Templar.  A cathedral in miniature, but wrapped in so many layers of mystery that you can almost feel it when you touch the walls.  There’s a story to every single architectural detail.  It’s like no other church I’ve visited.  I would, however, recommend that you go there (as we did) in the winter, because the interior merits your full attention, and it’s easier to take it all in when the crowds aren’t so big.

And if you go there, don’t forget to take a walk down the hill to Rosslyn Castle, which sits dreaming away in splendid solitude on a little knoll overlooking Roslin Glen.  Haunting, shadowy, dramatic, this is a quiet place with echoes of sadness.

Adamnan's Cross 22Glen Lyon

February brought us deep snow so we took a drive up Glen Lyon in Perthshire.  I was looking for a wayside stone known as Saint Adamnan’s Cross, and was delighted to find it after only a little bit of to-ing and fro-ing, and also a bit of wading through snow and clambering over fences.   The winter light showed the cross-carving in nice relief, and it made a superb study with the awesome panorama of mountains behind.   Then, as the light began to fail, I noticed an interesting tree-covered mound in a field beside the road, and decided to investigate.   This led me to Carnbane Castle and the wonderful story of Red Duncan the Hospitable, whose welcoming presence I am sure I could feel.  Standing in the centre of the ruined hall and feeling the snowflakes falling on my face is one of my loveliest memories of the last year.

Carnbane 17

Achnabreck (14)Kilmartin Glen

If I had to pick my favourite place in Scotland, my heart would probably say Kilmartin Glen.  There is something about this ancient landscape, and you can feel it so strongly that even driving through there seems wrong – you want to get out and explore it on foot, and soak it up through every pore of your body.   On a sparkling morning in March we walked up to the rock platforms at Achnabreck, decorated many thousands of years ago with patterns of rings, cups and spirals for reasons that our modern logical minds simply fail to grasp.   Later that day we gazed up at the impressive stone rows of Ballymeanoch, walked around the stone circles of Temple Wood, and squeezed into the dark dripping chamber of Nether Largie South Cairn.

Kilmartin JW March 2016 129 (2)

Culross PalaceCulross Palace and Abbey

After the quiet mystery of Kilmartin, the splendour and brilliance of Culross Palace couldn’t be more of a contrast, glowing with the colour of saffron and offering a precious glimpse into the life of a wealthy 16th century landowner and his family.   The whole of Culross village is an enchanting time capsule, with cobbled streets and charmingly quaint houses – it’s easy to see why ‘Outlander’ was filmed here.

Up the steep hill and gazing out across the Firth of Forth is Culross Abbey, an ancient place of worship linked with St Mungo and St Serf, where a Cistercian monastery was founded in 1217.   There’s real tranquillity in Culross, a sense of time-honoured village life, and it was good to see the fabulous conservation work by the National Trust for Scotland.

Ballachuan Hazel Wood

Ballachuan JW 91

Ballachuan hazel wood… ahh, did I say Kilmartin was my favourite place?   Walking beneath the green canopy of emerging leaves, inhaling the sweet perfume of bluebells, listening to thrushes and cuckoos, catching a glimpse of the sea through the trees – this is something that will stay with me forever.  Looking at the photographs transports me right back there to the pure energy of this woodland.  Precious, fragile, yet vital and enduring.  I hope that such landscapes will be protected for centuries to come, because these are the greatest treasures of all.

And on our way home from there, we took a (rather long!) detour past Loch Avich, on which stands a ruin known as Caisteal na Nighinn Ruaidhe – the Castle of the Red-haired Girl.  Can you cope with this much enchantment in one day?  The story I uncovered afterwards, telling the impossibly sad fate of Annir and her lovers Garno and Gaul, is the kind I love most.

Loch Avich JW 8

Innerpeffray Library

Summer ramblings took us into Perthshire again, to visit the exquisite little gem of Innerpeffray, Scotland’s oldest free lending library, where you can actually hold the precious books (with the greatest of reverence!) and study them.   What a fascinating place, a legacy of benevolence on the part of the Drummond family, with a 16th century chapel next door.  If you’re a book lover and you are visiting Scotland, don’t miss this out of your itinerary.  It is a unique and memorable experience.

Innerpeffray 5

kilmorie-jw-7Kilmorie Chapel and Old Castle Lachlan

As summer began to turn to autumn, we ‘discovered’ the moss-covered chapel of Kilmorie by the shore of Loch Fyne, and then walked over the bridge to inspect Old Castle Lachlan, still proudly guarding the ancestral lands of Strathlachlan from phantom foes.

And then in October, as the bracken brushed the hills with gold, I took a close look at Smailholm Tower, still gaunt and watchful as if brooding over the onslaughts of Border reivers.

How can you not be in love with Scotland?   Having journeyed to these places again in such swift succession, I am just so moved by the intangible beauty, the history which is both quiet and grand, the legends and the landscapes.  Join me again next year as I go in search of some more – and meanwhile I wish you a very happy, joyful and peaceful New Year.

Achnabreck (24)


  1. Kilmartin has to be my favourite location… unassuming place yet so much to see (or rather discover as you do feel as if you are taking part in an expedition of discovery). Maybe I just think that way as every time I have visited the weather has been more than just kind. Best wishes

  2. Pauline Dullage says:

    Wonderful. Love all your posts and blogs. Informative plus lots of pretty pictures 😊

  3. Need to see more of Scotland, only live down the road a bit! Lovely photos.

  4. Rosslyn was may favorite blog this year – and has ensured it is on my todo list for 2017 Happy New Year when it comes 🙂

  5. Good New Year, Jo! Wonderful recap of some excellent selections. Please don’t ask me to pick a favorite! 🙂 Looking forward to more of your interesting work in the year to come.

  6. Happy New Year, Jo! I will look forward to reading of your journeys and discoveries in your beautiful country in the coming year.

    • Happy New Year to you too! I’m looking forward to getting out and finding some more exciting places! A spot of snow would be nice to highlight them (possibly famous last words!) 🙂

  7. Beautiful imagines of a beautiful country, thank you Jo, for sharing 🙂

  8. Thank you for sharing some of Scotland’s beauty. I hope to make it there in person some day but in the meantime your lovely blogs keep me inspired and in awe. Happy New Year, Jo!

  9. Thanks for being such a knowledgable and eloquent guide Jo. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to travel throughout Scotland for the last 40 years but you always manage to introduce me to somewhere new and usually in intimate detail. I hope you continue roaming and writing for years to come.

    And it’d be rude of me not to thank you for your support and kind words for my own blog. Happy New Year to you and yours. Lang may yer lum reek.

    • Thank you very much, Steve! I’ve ‘met’ some lovely followers through my blog, including yourself. It’s such a pleasure to find these places, and to share them. Keep up your good work as well, and meanwhile all the very best for the New Year! 🙂

  10. Highlight of 2016 was roots visit to Rule Water between Jedburgh and Hawick on the Borders from whence my Rule forbears came to the United States with favorite niece. We then went on to the Earl of Dundee’s castle on the Firth of Tay to celebrate the 21st birthday of my Great Godniece who attends St. Andrews. The weather was beautiful; Scotland sublime!

    • That sounds like an amazing trip! Really glad to know how much you enjoyed following the footsteps of your ancestors. Scotland is a fabulous place and I look forward to sharing more of it in 2017! 🙂

  11. A lovely soothing meander through some beautiful places. You discovered some cracking hidden gems in 2016. I have a particular affection for Culross but I do love that photo of Kilmorie Chapel. A very happy new year to you.

    • Thank you very much, Lorna! Glad you enjoyed it, and nice to know someone else in Scotland is up and awake this morning! 🙂 I loved finding Kilmorie, as it was such a chance find, and I never expected Culross to be quite so breathtaking. A real little jewel. A very Happy New Year to you and your parents! PS Stand by for Purdey’s PAWS Awards 2017 – she’s busy working on them right now!

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