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Issue 60 - 10 Best Attractions

Scotland Magazine Issue 60
December 2011


This article is 6 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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10 Best Attractions

Keith Fergus gives us 10 of the best places to go and see.

The Falkirk Wheel Forth & Clyde and Union Canal, Falkirk
The engineering of Scotland’s canals are incredible examples of our design, architectural and industrial heritage. The Falkirk Wheel, at the confluence of the Forth & Clyde and Union Canals, provides contemporary evidence of Scotland’s continuing design and engineering legacy. The world’s first, and so far, only rotating boat-lift was opened in 2002 and restored navigability between the two canals of Central Scotland, a link that had been broken since 1933.

The Falkirk Wheel contains around 1200 tonnes of steel, 15,000 bolts, as well as another 600 tonnes of weight when you add the gondolas and 500,000 litres of water.

Robert Burns Birthplace Museum Alloway, Ayrshire
The Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, which reopened in December 2010, after a major £21 million refurbishment, has finally given Scotland’s greatest literary figure the museum he deserves.

Such is the draw of Robert Burns that many visitors will look at a visit to the museum as almost a pilgrimage whilst his popularity seems to be continuing to reach a younger audience with a lot of children finding Burns equally fascinating as their parents. The fantastic new building is now home to an incredible array of artefacts and memorabilia including Burns’ writing quill and inkwell and the pistols he carried with him when working as an excise man. The museum is set amongst 10 acres of beautiful countryside.

Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum Glasgow
The striking red sandstone and elaborate façade of Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is quite possibly the finest building in Glasgow. What can’t be denied is that it holds an incredible collection of art, collections and exhibitions – and entry is free.

First opened in 1901, the museum had a reputation for displaying some of the world’s finest art, including Salvador Dali’s magnificent Christ of St John on the Cross and a selection of the famous Glasgow Boy’s paintings. However it wasn’t until the multimillion pound refurbishment in 2006 that an incredible 8000 exhibits (almost double what the museum held previously) could be displayed, the diversity of which is superb and has something for everyone – from Creatures of the Past to French Art. Internally the design of the building is as impressive as the exhibits themselves.

7Stanes Glentress Peebles, Borders
If mountain biking is your thing then Glentress Forest, deep in the heart of the gorgeous Tweed Valley, is quite possibly the place for you. Part of the world renowned 7Stanes cycling network, Glentress offers a selection of mountain bike trails; from short, family friendly routes, to the mammoth and exhilarating 30km V Trail. There is a great café and bike shop with shower and changing facilities on site. If two feet is your preferred mode of transport then there is also some great walking in and around Glentress, through the forest, along the banks of the Tweed, or over the higher hills, and with the towns of Peebles and Innerleithen just minutes away.

Edinburgh Zoo, Edinburgh
Situated a few miles west of Edinburgh city centre, Edinburgh Zoo was opened in 1913 and, following a visit by King George VI in 1948, was granted a Royal Charter, a status unique of any zoo within the UK.

Owned by the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, Edinburgh Zoo is home to over 1000 rare and endangered animals such as the Amur Leopard, the Sumatran Tiger, and the Bali Starling. Edinburgh Zoo is also one of Europe’s leading centres of conservation, education and research. 600,000 visitors a year can enjoy seeing some fantastically named species including Double-Wattled Cassowary, Grey-Legged Douroucouli and the Cochin-Chinese Red Junglefowl as well as other perennial favourites.

Glenfinnan Highlands
Glenfinnan, sitting on the banks of Loch Shiel, beneath some rugged mountains on the famed Road to the Isles, has enjoyed huge visitor numbers over the years because of the Glenfinnan Monument, which was built in 1815 to mark the spot where Bonnie Prince Charlie raised the standard at the commencement of the 1745 Jacobite uprising.

However these visitor numbers have risen inexorably since a little known film called Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets utilised the spectacular Glenfinnan Viaduct and the Jacobite Steam Train (the Hogwart’s Express in the movie) to incredible effect. The bridge (which was built in between 1897 and 1901 by Sir Robert McAlpine) and surrounding landscape has since gone on to be, along with the Glenfinnan Monument, one of Scotland’s most photographed landmarks.

Glencoe Visitor Centre Glencoe, Highlands
Sitting amongst some of Scotland’s finest scenery the Glencoe Visitor Centre provides an enthralling insight into the history, wildlife and landscape of Glencoe including the surrounding mountains, which attract around 200,000 visitors a year - in fact it could be said that Glencoe, as a whole, is as good a place to spend a day than almost anywhere.

But the visitor centre will allow everyone to acquire, via its exhibition, viewpoint and outlook station, a sense of Glencoe’s grandeur, wildlife, landscape and its past.

Glencoe’s future is in safe hands as much of the area is under ownership of the National Trust of Scotland, who purchased the land in the 1930s.

The major benefactor was Percy Unna and it was Unna, along with the other donors, who spelt out a clear set of principles that were to be strictly adhered to including unrestricted access to the landscape at all times with the land to be maintained in its primitive condition for all time.

Rothiemurchus, Cairngorm National Park
Situated within the heart of Cairngorm National Park, Rothiemurchus Forest, a remnant of the great Caledonian Wood that used to cover much of Scotland, is simply stunning. It was also recently voted Britain’s best picnic spot. Covering around 30 square kilometres, Rothiemurchus is, reportedly, home to 10 million trees with aspen, birch, rowan, willow, cherry and juniper just a selection to be found amongst the gorgeous Caledonian Pine, some of which are over 300 years old. An astonishing variety of wildlife also call Rothiemurchus home including red squirrels, capercaillie and the Scottish crossbill and by utilising the extraordinary paths and tracks that travel through the forest the sights, sounds and smells of hundreds of flora and fauna can be appreciated within a stunning landscape.

Culloden Battlefield, Inverness-shire
The calmness that surrounds Culloden Battlefield today is in sharp contrast to the smells, sounds and impending doom of the Battle of Culloden, which took place on the 16th of April 1746, lasting for all of one hour. It was the final conflict of the 1745 Jacobite uprising with Charles Edward Stuart’s Jacobite Forces opposed by the Duke of Cumberland’s British Government army. So far it is the last battle to be fought on British soil.

A magnificent visitor centre plays host to a series of exhibitions and artefacts relating to this most famous segment of Scottish history. The old Leanach Cottage, which survived the battle, provides a real insight into Highland life but it is a walk over the exposed bleakness of Culloden Moor that really raises the hairs on the back of the neck; the Memorial Cairn, Well of the Dead and the Cumberland Stone being obvious examples.

However it is the headstones marking the spot where those who died in battle were buried that really makes you stop and think.

Up Helly Aa Lerwick, Shetland
Up Helly Aa, the largest festival of fire in Europe, takes place in the last Tuesday in January every year marking the end of Yule season and is steeped in history. Planning for the next Up Helly Aa begins almost immediately after the current year’s festival stops with the Guizer Jarl and his Jarl Squad planning much of the day and its events.

The festival has run almost every year since its inception in the 1880’s and today sees thousands of visitors descending onto Shetland to witness the various marches through Lerwick, culminating in the breathtaking torch-lit procession and burning of a galley. But the celebration doesn’t stop there as performing and dancing take place well into the wee small hours. You can almost be sure that Lerwick, and the rest of Shetland, will be a much quieter and sleepier place the next day.