Nothing To See Here: A Guide to the Hidden Joys of Scotland out now

Nothing To See Here: A Guide To The Hidden Joys of Scotland

The first (and possibly only) Nothing To See Here book, a guide to Scotland is out now. Published by Pocket Mountains it's a neat volume containing some articles from the website (linked below) plus some new pieces, all with lots of photos. Here's what's inside:

  1. The B7076/7078
  2. Blessed St John Duns Scotus, Glasgow
  3. Carfin Lourdes Grotto
  4. The Carron Fish Bar, Stonehaven
  5. Clootie Well, Munlochy
  6. Cramond Island, Edinburgh
  7. Cultybraggan Camp
  8. Dumfries Museum and Camera Obscura
  9. Dunbar’s Close, Edinburgh
  10. Earthquake House, Comrie
  11. Easdale Island
  12. Ebenezer Place, Wick
  13. Electric Brae
  14. Forsinard Flows
  15. The Fortingall Yew
  16. Footdee, Aberdeen
  17. The Gem Rock Museum, Creetown
  18. The Giant Angus MacAskill Museum, Dunvegan
  19. Gladstone Court Museum, Biggar
  20. Glenfinnan Station Museum
  21. Glenkiln Sculpture Park
  22. The Hamilton Toy Collection, Callander
  23. The Horn Milk Bar
  24. India of Inchinnan
  25. The Italian Chapel, Orkney
  26. John O’Groats
  27. Keir Mill
  28. Kelburn Castle
  29. Leadhills and Wanlockhead Railway
  30. Little Sparta, Dunsyre
  31. Lower Largo
  32. Meikleour Beech Hedge
  33. Museum of Scottish Lighthouses
  34. Pennan
  35. The Pineapple, Dunmore
  36. Robert Smail’s Printing Works
  37. St Cecilia’s Hall and Reid Concert Hall Museum of Instruments, Edinburgh
  38. Samye Ling Monastery and Tibetan Centre, Eskdalemuir
  39. Scotland’s Secret Bunker
  40. Scottish Vintage Bus Museum
  41. Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre, Glasgow
  42. Spa Pump Room, Strathpeffer
  43. The Stewartry Museum, Kirkcudbright
  44. Storybook Glen, Maryculter
  45. Surgeon’s Hall Museum, Edinburgh
  46. Tam Shepherd’s Trick Shop, Glasgow
  47. Titan Crane, Clydebank
  48. Torridon Deer Museum
  49. Tunnock’s Factory, Uddingston
  50. Ukrainian POW Chapel, Hallmuir
  51. Victorian Toilets, Rothesay
  52. Voltaire & Rousseau, Glasgow
  53. Whaligoe Steps
  54. Whitelee Windfarm
  55. World’s Shortest Flight, Orkney

The book will be in bookshops over the next few weeks, but if you'd like one for Christmas please order direct from the Pocket Mountain website. Type NTSH into the discount box to get 20% off. Thanks and happy travels.

The Band Room, North Yorkshire Moors

The Band Room, North Yorkshire Moors

Situated in the remote hamlet of Low Moor in the North Yorkshire Moors National Park, The Band Room is an unlikely concert venue and well off the beaten track. Built in the 1920s for The Farndale Silver Band it holds one hundred people. However, recent visitors come to enjoy more modern music from a small but carefully selected list of international visitors, giving the Band Room the reputation as “the greatest small venue on earth”.

On our journey the roads got smaller and the surroundings more beautiful as we drove into the valley of Farndale. It was the building itself that originally interested me and seeing it 'in the flesh' wasn't a disappointment - a charming small corrugated iron structure with porch and red roof, the Yorkshire Moors sitting high on the hills behind it. The interior is as lovely as the exterior, white washed wooden panelled floor and ceiling with a strikingly simple red lit stage edged with white fairy lights.

We navigated through the small crowd and sank happily into the laid back atmosphere sitting on the floor near the front with the local kids surrounded by their pop and crisps. The band came on stage. Citay, the six piece from San Francisco, were obviously delighted to be there, "why can't every day be like this?" asked their lead singer. The small stage and friendly people gave the venue a wonderful old fashioned charm but as the band started up with four electric guitars the place was brought alive.

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Kelburn Castle, Ayrshire

Kelburn Castle Graffiti Project

Kelburn Castle is no ordinary castle, not on the surface anyway. For years it was a perfectly standard Scots Baronial castle which didn’t stand out in a country full of them. But when the owner, The Earl of Glasgow discovered that the render covering the building needed to be renewed, his son David, an architect, persuaded him to send it out in style. The Graffiti Project was born.

In May 2007 four Brazilian graffiti artists, Os Gemeos (identical twin brothers Otavio and Gustavo Pandolfo), Nina, and Nunca transformed the south façade of the castle into one huge mural. The grey castle wall has become an amazing piece of art designed to both delight and to challenge people’s prejudices against graffiti.

The mural covers one wing of the castle, turrets, chimneys and all. Each artist has their own distinctive style, but their work interweaves to create a strange and magical tableau. The blank-looking yellow fellows with spindly legs are an Os Gemeos trademark. The big-eyed wistful looking creatures surrounding by nature are by Nina, and Nunca’s indigenous South American people join the crew, all living in magical harmony.

What’s great about the graffiti project is that it’s so audacious. There is a lot of public art in Scotland and plenty of murals around, but this is different. The sheer size is remarkable but the way that it’s so colourful and unconventional is very fresh. It won’t be to everybody’s taste of course, and allegedly the owner hates it but hey, it won’t be there forever. The harling covering the castle walls will be renewed at some point (no set date at time of writing) so this wonderful piece will disappear forever. Catch it while you can.

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Margate Shell Grotto, Margate

Margate Shell Grotto

Margate is a town in the throes of attempted gentrification, hoping to shed its tacky image with a new art gallery and renovated heritage theme park planned for 2011. Yet little is made of an existing attraction which is little known but simply astonishing. I can’t help but echo the Victorian novelist Marie Corelli who blamed its “plebeian” location for a lack of recognition:“[i]f the curious and beautiful subterranean temple … existed anywhere but at Margate, it would certainly be acknowledged as one of the wonders of the world”.

The Shell Grotto was discovered in 1835, prior to which date there are no maps, records or any indication of its existence, whomever may have created it and why they hid it again. It remains a mystery, with estimates of its age varying from 200 years to 2,000 year, with guesses ranging from it being a Masonic Sun Temple from the Middle Ages, to having been created by Roman soldiers. It has proved impossible to carbon date the shells due to contamination by soot from Victorian gas lighting. The material used to attach the shells, too, has been unable to shed any light but is similar to Roman cement, and seems to have been used to affix the shells while still alive.

Regardless of its origins, the Shell Grotto is an incredible place. 4.6 million shells cover almost every available space, their natural colours now covered in a patina of black and grey. Victorian damage is visible not just in the lack of colour, but in occasionally visible antique graffiti marking the shells. Finding shells with 19th century names and dates only adds to the Grotto’s charm.

A lengthy tunnel leads to a circular Rotunda passage, from which a further tunnel leads to a rectangular room known as the Altar Chamber. The images in the Grotto are open to interpretation although religious and ritual interpretations are the most common, with most seeming to pertain to fertility, birth, death and the sun. At the centre of the Grotto is a dome open to the sky which recent research has found to function as a solar calendar, forming a dramatic pattern at noon on the summer Equinox. While the mystery surrounding what ceremonial uses the Grotto may have once held are fascinating, the Shell Grotto stands alone, and would be no less intriguing if it were simply what it also appears to resemble, a work of outsider art.

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Something To See Here

You Are Here

Apologies for the fact that there has been literally nothing to see here for a few months. A combination of work pressures, computer mishaps and excess travel meant that while NTSH is very much a going concern, there was little to show for it.

2011 is a new year however, and a new start. Computers are behaving again, a new work routine has been established and the maps dusted down for new adventures. There's a backlog of amazing places making their way through the internal travelator so stay tuned.

You can also find us on Facebook, Flickr and Twitter.

Going anywhere nice this year?

The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum, Guadelest

The Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum, Guadelest, Spain

As you wander around the Salt and Pepper Shaker Museum (or Museo de Saleros y Pimenteros) in Guadalest, you can’t help but smile at the display of fat chefs, ruby red tomatoes and, guardsmen in bear skins. What’s more, there are Beatles, Santa’s feet sticking out of a chimney, pistols and potatoes and, a copy of the salt and pepper shaker cufflinks that Lady Diana wore. Fortunately, they are sealed, or their contents would have sprayed everywhere when she shook hands.

The twenty thousand pairs on display are only half of the collection of Andrea Ludden. The rest are on display in another museum in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. The collection was started by the simple purchase of a pepper mill at a garage sale – but it didn’t work! So Andrea bought a couple more and neighbours thought she was building a collection – the last thing on her mind at the time. Eventually she had about 14,000 on shelves all over the house, even in the bedrooms, so the family decided to create a museum.

“It’s amazing the things you learn without expecting it.”, says Andrea. “For example, the word salarium, salary, comes from the fact that Roman soldiers were paid part of their income in salt. It’s also thought that the word ‘soldier’ itself comes from the Latin sal dare, to give salt. If you look at common phrases such as ‘the salt of the earth’, he’s not worth his salt’, ‘below the salt’, etc. you get an idea of how important salt was.

It wasn’t until the 1920s, when Chicago-based Morton Salt added magnesium carbonate to their product, that it was possible to pour salt from a sealed container.

Morton’s development was the beginning of the salt shaker but it was the automobile that lead to them becoming collectable items. Because people could travel more freely, either for work or on holiday, the souvenir industry came about. Salt and pepper shakers were cheap, easy to carry, colourful, and made ideal gifts. Imagine you lived in an isolated village somewhere and your son or daughter brought you a set in the shape of the Buckingham Palace when they came on their annual visit home. It wouldn’t get used, it would be carefully kept as a decorative item. That’s how many of the early collections began.”

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Easdale Island, Argyll and Bute

easdale-island.jpg

There are many islands in Scotland, over 790 at the latest count. Easdale is the smallest permanently-inhabited one in the Inner Hebrides, lying just off the west coast near Oban. To reach it, get the ferry from the small settlement of Ellenbeich (also known as Easdale) on Seil Island (not actually an island). The ferry is no CalMac behemoth, but a 12-seater motor boat which nips over to the island as and when required. Just push the button in the waiting room to summon the ferryman. How’s that for personal service? A quick zip over the water, with plenty of spray in your face and you’re there.

Easdale is an island of two halves. At one end there is a tight-knit community made up of a few small cottages, a community hall, one restaurant and a museum. The further you get from the hustle and bustle (what there is of it), the more Easdale’s past reveals itself. There is slate everywhere – in the walls, on the roofs, on the beaches and sitting in great piles all over the island. In fact, it’s pretty hard to spot anything that isn’t made from slate. Remote and rocky, it suddenly feels like landing on another planet.

On the western edge, where the Atlantic batters off the rocks and sea foam flies everywhere, derelict buildings are all that remains of Easdale’s busy slate-mining industry. It’s hard to believe but at one time Easdale was the centre of Scottish slate production with over 500 residents employed in up to seven quarries. Slate from Easdale and the other Slate Islands – Seil, Luing, Lunga, Shuna, Torsa and Belnahua – built settlements locally and across the world until the last slate was quarried in the mid 1950s.

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