When I first moved to Helensburgh, I explored a lot of the local area and thought I'd discovered most interesting places around. Turns out I was wrong.
Today I went on a rather unique hike from Cardross (only two train stops from Helensburgh) around the Kilmahew Estate. To be honest, I'd never even heard of that place, but hey, a hidden castle ruin in the woods? A magical waterfall? A peaceful glen? Sign me up!
Even better: there's an audio guide you can download in advance of the walk, together with a route description. I'm used to having to do my own research about whatever ruins I stumble across, so this is a complete luxury.
I started off at the train station and made my way up some roads until I reached open fields. It had been zero degrees overnight and a lot of the puddles were frozen over (one of the best sounds in the world is the cracking of a frozen puddle).
The first ruin I saw wasn't the castle, but the remains of a lodge part of the Kilmahew Estate. The estate covers around 140 acres and its name is derived from the Gaelic word cille, monk, and Mahew, a sixth century monk who came to Scotland from Ireland to spread Christianity.
On I go following a narrow and muddy path along a ravine, the gurgling sound of a small stream accompanying me until I reach the castle. If I hadn't known where to look, I would have never found it. Perfectly camouflaged by the surrounding colourful autumn trees, it blends into the landscape.
The castle's history is a little peculiar. Originally a 16th-century five-storey tower house, it was remodelled in the 18th century, adding details like large gothic windows. There's also a very pretty arch that looks like it should have led to another building but never did (can you be in love with an arch? If so, I am!). The theory is that the owners planned to convert the tower house into a country house or large villa, but never completed their work.
I stayed at the castle for a while, soaking in the atmosphere. I've always loved ruins, especially abandoned ones. As much as I like big, well looked-after castles like the ones in Edinburgh or Stirling, this felt a little more...magical.
The audio guide said that a barn owl nists on top of the castle, but sadly it didn't fly down to say hello.
When it got a little too cold, I continued on along a very overgrown path (cue me kneeling on the ground to duck beneath some fallen trees, getting my brand new walking trousers muddy) to a waterfall called Spottie's Linn. According to local legend, a will-o’-the-wisp lives here, a woodland sprite who likes to tempt unwary travellers off the beaten track. Sadly, Spottie was in no mood to talk so I continued on without temptation.
Next up was more water, this time a little lake, Swan Pond, with an artificial island in the middle. It was part of the estate's pleasure gardens. The pond was frozen over completely and the sound of ice gently cracking under the midday sun filled the air. Yes, I'm feeling poetic.
The next stop was one I intend to return to next summer: a rhododendron tunnel. I've seen some of those before, but never one as long. I can't imagine how beautiful it must look when the rhododendron is in bloom - one for next year's to-do list.
Normally, the route would have led me to St Peter's Seminary, another ruin, yet one that's a lot younger than the castle. After the Second World War, the Catholic Archodiocese bought the estate and with it, the mansion house. They transformed it into a seminary to train priests, remodelling the building completely. Sadly, the architects didn't take into account the Scottish weather and the seminary closed in 1980, the building leaking all over the place. Since then, it's decayed quickly and is now a modern ruin. It's still being used occasionally for peculiar things such as a rave and an art installation, but sadly, I never got to see it because the entire area is fenced off for building works.
Since I still had a couple of hours of daylight left (I should get up this early more often), I returned to Cardross and took a bus to the Ardardan Estate (I would have walked had there been a pavement along the busy main road leading there). It's a farm, complete with a farm shop, cafe and garden nursery, perched at the top of a peninsula that I can see from my living room window.
With the sun gone, I decided it wasn't the right time to walk around the peninsula and went into the warm and cosy tea room for some afternoon tea (amazing!) instead. And then filled my backpack with cheese and other goodies from the farm shop.
All in all, a lovely winter's walk with lots of nature and history. Now, with my brain refreshed and my stomach happy, it's time to write some magical stories...maybe about a sprite who kidnapped an author?
Ho! Ho! Hot! The first-ever reverse harem advent calendar is here!
I've got together with other authors to put together twenty-four first chapters from bestselling reverse harem novels, perfect to fill up that reading list for the holidays. Get a taste of books you haven't discovered yet and be inspired to re-read the ones you know already.
Plus, exclusive behind the scenes insights about your favourite authors. How do they come up with ideas? How do they spend the festive period? You'll get answers to those questions, as well as fun titbits about pets, unruly characters and the craft of writing.
Make yourself a hot drink, cuddle up on the sofa and get ready to open your first door... it's about to get hot.
The ebook is free, but if you prefer a paperback (I certainly do) to physically open one chapter a day, all proceeds from sales go to the charity Doctors Without Borders.
There are good aliens and bad aliens.
The ones you want to be abducted by and the ones you'd run from until your feet bleed.
Unfortunately, not everything is black and white... and not all good aliens are benevolent.
I'm so excited to announce my latest series, Between Rebels, a sci-fi romance trilogy featuring hunky aliens, danger and despair, and a strong female lead who's allowed to be vulnerable from time to time. The series begins with Stolen By Them, which releases on the 9th November.
Between Rebels is part of the Planet Athion universe, a shared world that four other authors write about. Here the aliens are sexy, the humans are hot, and there's plenty of action for everyone. All trilogies can be read on their own, but it can be fun to read them all in order (starting with Their Invasion by Marissa Farrar).
To celebrate the release of Stolen By Them, I take a look at some of my favourite Planet Athion books. Many of the existing trilogies are complete, so prepare for many hours curled up on the sofa with steamy stories of aliens, space and true love.
My friend/co-author/soulmate Bea Paige and I have put our Infernal Descent trilogy into one pretty box set. Now you can read all three books in one go without having to waste time on finding the sequels. And even better, it's cheaper than buying the books individually.
What are you waiting for...
Read the complete Infernal Descent trilogy in one volume for the very first time. Hell just got a whole lot hotter...
The devil has taken Ciera's sister. To save her, she has to travel through all nine circles of his domain, filled with demons, monsters and sinners.
Luckily, she's not alone.
Accompanied by a fallen angel, a werewolf and a hellhound, she ventures further into the lands of the dead than any human ever before. But there's a reason the living are not supposed to be in Hell, and with every circle, there are more enemies to overcome.
With the devil out to stop them, Ciera and her men need to hurry before it's too late for both her and her little sister...
An action packed fantasy adventure based on Dante's Inferno, but with a kickass heroine instead of a lovesick old poet, and a reverse harem romance that'll make you swoon.
Scottish storyteller. Tea drinker. Cat tamer. Highland walker. Believes in unicorns and happily ever afters.