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Issue 29 - Getting out and about

Scotland Magazine Issue 29
October 2006


This article is 12 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Getting out and about

In the third part of our series looking at how you can get around Scotland by train, Mark Nicholls uses Glasgow as a base

As a vibrant cultural city, Glasgow has much to detain the visitor.

The reopened Kelvingrove Museum, the architectural fascinations of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, a transport museum, the Hunterian Gallery, shops, theatres, museums and atmosphere in abundance.

But as Scotland’s second city, it is a prime location from which to explore a large tract of southern, western and central Scotland by train with good connections and stations at many points of interest.

Whether that is the coast; down to the English border at Gretna or Dumfries; racing at Ayr; inland to Falkirk and its fascinating boat lift; or historic Stirling, the train is a fine way of getting around.

Using First ScotRail train services you can visit some of the most famous spots in the vicinity of Glasgow. Trains depart regularly from Glasgow Central and Queen Street stations.

Sitting virtually mid-way between Glasgow and Edinburgh, half an hour from each, Falkirk has some fascinating attractions.

There are Roman remains from the Antonine Wall, the magnificent Callander House and park and the engineering marvel that is the Falkirk Wheel, the world’s first revolving boat lift.

Measuring 115 feet, The Falkirk Wheel is used to connect the Forth & Clyde and Union canals in central Scotland.

Constructed to 21st century, state-of-the-art engineering, it was designed to replace a series of lock gates built in the 19th century and is the showpiece of the Millennium Link project where coast-to-coast navigation of the canals has been re-established for the first time in more than 40 years.

Meanwhile Lanark, 45 minutes from Glasgow, is set in the Clyde Valley and worth a visit is the New Lanark World Heritage Site, a restored 18th century cotton mill village.

North of Glasgow, 30 minutes out of the city in the heart of central Scotland, is Stirling. An ideal base from which to explore Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park, it has a fascinating old town, a vibrant centre and the castle, which was built during the reign of James IV (King of Scotland 1488-1513), is one of the country’s finest.

A number of decisive battles were fought within sight of its walls and it now houses the excellent Regimental Museum of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.

Numerous sites across Scotland recall the heroics of Wallace but few more so than the memorial that towers 220 feet tall at Abbey Craig, the base for his army at the decisive Battle of Stirling Bridge.

The imposing Gothic tower, completed in 1869, has 246 steps to the top and houses reconstructions of Wallace’s battle for freedom, the story of his life and his famous sword. There are also displays on other Scottish heroes and from the top of the monument there are magnificent views of Stirling and the Ochils.

Wallace started the bid for freedom by winning the Battle of Stirling Bridge, but it was Robert the Bruce (king of Scotland from 1306-1329) who won the decisive victory at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. That is recalled at the Bannockburn Heritage Centre two miles south of Stirling.

From Glasgow you can also get trains to Gourock, Wemyss Bay, Largs and Ardrossan, all with ferry links to the Western Isles.

But if you head out of the city, on a line that takes you to Stranraer where the ferries depart for Ireland, trains call at places such as Troon and Ayr.

Troon is famous for the Royal Troon Golf Club and its Open Championship course, last held there in 2004, but there are also beaches and a picturesque harbour.

Ayr, 45 minutes from Glasgow, shares similar coastal attractions and the historic town is also famous for horseracing with regular meetings.

Scotland’s national bard Robert Burns was born near Ayr in the village of Alloway, where The Burns National Heritage Park has been established. It incorporates the family’s restored cottage along with a museum with artefacts.

Further away from Glasgow by train is Dumfries and Galloway, an area described as the “inspiring corner” of Scotland with its miles of coastline along the Solway Firth, historic castles, wildlife, gardens and attractive villages. The area has more Burns and Bruce connections.

Robert the Bruce’s family seat stands in Annan and the isolated cave above the River Kirtle near Gretna is where he retreated in 1313 and is famously said to have been inspired to take on the English by the determination of a spider climbing the wall.

The poet Robert Burns spent much of his adult life in and around Dumfries, dying there aged 37 in 1796. The town has a Robert Burns Trail and you can see his home in Burns Street and other landmarks associated with him. The Robert Burns Centre tells the story of his latter years in Dumfries and contains many original manuscripts and belongings.

Just north of Dumfries is Ellisland Farm, where Burns lived for three years with some of his bestloved nature poems inspired by the setting. It is now a museum and visitor attraction.

Dumfries and Galloway Tourist Board area director Delia Holland said: “Hopping on a train from Glasgow into Dumfries couldn’t be easier and only takes just under an hour, giving you the perfect opportunity to gaze out the window at the beautiful countryside around you.

“Once in the area, find time and space for yourself among dramatic landscapes and a sweeping coastline, combine this with a visit to a vast array of attractions throughout the area; such as galleries, museums, castles, abbeys, towers and churches.

“If you love nothing more than getting out and about in the great outdoors, then you’ll find no better place to play a round of golf, trek through a forest to take advantage of an outstanding view or travel downhill on a mountain bike.

“Or you can fill your day with gentle pursuits; a stroll along the beach; a fine meal; or watch the sun sink beneath the horizon. Dumfries & Galloway offers a fantastic mix of opportunities at any time of the year.” And then there is Gretna. Virtually on the border with England, the blacksmith’s shop at Gretna Green is probably the most famous wedding venue in the world, where runaway brides and grooms fled from England to take advantage of the more relaxed marriage laws north of the border.

Nowadays, couples can still marry over the anvil, but must give advance notice. There is a visitor centre and other attractions linked with these marriage customs in Gretna and the famous old blacksmith’s shop still survives.

Where to visit

First or tel: +44 (0)8457 550 033 for tickets, timetables and more information or for details on all inclusive travel and entry packages to various tourist attractions.

Freedom of Scotland Travelpass allows for any four out of eight consecutive days travel for £96 or any eight out of 15 consecutive days travel for £130 and is valid on some coach and ferry services. However, you can check fares and plan individual journeys locally.

The pass is valid on all scheduled daytime passenger trains for journey wholly within Scotland and also includes GNER and Virgin trains, plus 10 per cent discount on Caledonian Sleeper Standard fares when travelling to and from Scotland.

With a Central Rover you can visit some of the most famous spots in Scotland's central belt for any three out of seven consecutive days for £31

New Lanark World Heritage Site tel: +44 (0)1555 661 345
Falkirk Wheel tel: +44 (0)1324 619 888
Ayr Racecourse tel: +44 (0)1292 264 179
Royal Troon Golf Club tel:+44 (0)1292 311 555
Burns National Heritage Park tel: +44 (0)1292 443 700
Dumfries and Galloway Tourist Board tel: +44 (0)1387 253 862
Ayrshire and Arran Tourist Board
Scottish Heartlands

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