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28SPRING 2012PLACES?crunch, then another crunch as if someone waswalking after me but taking steps three or four timesthe length of my own. As I walked on and the eeriecrunch, crunch sounded behind me I was seizedwith terror and took to my heels." Most walkers return with nothing worse thanblisters. It is the second highest mountain in Britain,beaten only by Ben Nevis. Ben Macdui was oncethought to be higher than its Lochaber rival, butthat this proved untrue is a blessing. Every year100,000 people climb Ben Nevis, and the walk is along slog amid a procession of red-faced charityfund-raisers. On Ben Macdui numbers are nowherenear so high, and the experience is generallysuperior. Rainfall is lower than in the west and yourchances of a clear day, with endless views, are good. SMALLESTCaiy StaneJust nine feet high and five feet wide, the Caiy Staneis small in stature but big in appeal, especially forthose who delight in discovering objects of interestin unlikely places. It stands quietly - silently, in fact- not on a windswept hilltop but among the neathedges of Fairmilehead, an Edinburgh suburb.This block of red sandstone may have been put upin the Neolithic period, about 5,000 years ago, tomark a ritual or burial place. Other theories are thatit was a monument to a battle between Picts andRomans, or to a 17th-century battle involving OliverCromwell's army.NEWESTRobert Burns Birthplace MuseumOpened in 2011, the museum has been a massive hitwith visitors and Burns scholars alike. It is a focalpoint for people coming to see the birthplace itselfas well as the other attractions of Burns Country,such as the Bachelors' Club, Souter Johnnie'sCottage and the Burns Monument. But technology,commissioned art and bold design have made themuseum a destination in its own right. Interactiveexhibits include an electronic facsimile of theKilmarnock Edition of Burns poems, and there is aspecially compiled glossary. The museum immersesthe visitor in the world of Burns while feeling highlymodern - nowhere more so than in the café, with itsglass walls and vaulted wood ceiling.HOLIESTIonaThis beautiful island has played a vital role inScotland's Christian story ever since St Columbaarrived here in AD 563 and went on to spread thegospel throughout the country. Pilgrims have visitedfor centuries and continue to do so, worshipping inthe abbey, attending retreats and taking time toVillagers on Hirta, St Kilda, who left theisland in 1930, right;the Robert BurnsBirthplace Museum,centre; sunnyprospect on Iona,below

WWW.NTS.ORG.UK29?reflect amid the calm that prevails. St Columba'sBay, in the south of the island, is reputedly thelanding point and, whether or not that is true, thespot has an atmosphere of its own. There is a veryappealing quality to the light on Iona, whichattracted painters such as Francis Cadell and SamuelPeploe. In more recent years the peaceful mooddelighted Labour leader John Smith, who holidayedhere with his family and was buried on the island, ashe wished, in 1994. The Trust owns 911 hectareshere, though not the abbey or other sacredbuildings.BRIGHTESTPitmedden GardenThe phrase "riot of colour" is rather overused ingarden descriptions - and in any case there isnothing disorderly about the brilliant hues at thisexceptional garden. Pitmedden's 40,000 or sobedding plants, in vivid shades of yellow, red,orange, purple and white, neatly fill the ornatelyshaped parterres bound by five miles of immaculatebox hedging. These annuals are raised in theglasshouses and planted out in May for a spectacularsummer display that is complemented by otherdelights - the roses, the herbs, the apple trees andthe rhododendrons, as well as man-made marvelssuch as fountains, sundials and implements frompast times in the Museum of Farming Life. REMOTESTSt KildaRemoteness depends on your starting point. Buteven if you live on Harris or Lewis, the St Kildaarchipelago is hardly convenient. Reaching itrequires a boat trip of more than 40 miles, takingwell over two hours each way - or, as hundreds ofdelighted Trust members can testify, the islands canbe visited as part of a luxury cruise.The main island, Hirta, was evacuated in 1930 atthe request of the 36 remaining inhabitants, endingat least 4,000 years of human occupation. Thehouses, several restored by Trust volunteers, stand asreminders of a hard life dependent on seabirds andthe Soay sheep that still roam the steep slopes. Intriguing stories abound. In August 1727 a partyof islanders, three men and eight boys, weredropped on Stac an Armin, a jagged rock that isBritain's highest sea stack (another Trust extreme).They expected to spend 10 days gathering feathersbefore being picked up and brought home. But anoutbreak of smallpox ravaged Hirta, killing all theable-bodied men. The stranded 11 endured ninemonths cowering in a crude stone shelter withnothing to sustain them except raw gannet andrainwater that collected in hollows. They had noidea what had happened until rescuers eventuallyarrived and broke the news about their loved ones. Hirta now attracts scores of visitors on a fine day."As I walked on and the eerie crunch, crunch,crunch sounded behind me I was seizedwith terror and took to my heels"The guillemot, left, isamong many speciesthat make St Kilda apowerful attraction for birdwatchers; Pitmedden Garden,right, dazzles everysummer