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Issue 7 - Shining Jewels and Hidden Gems

Scotland Magazine Issue 7
March 2003


This article is 15 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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Shining Jewels and Hidden Gems


Why do people choose to visit Scotland? Perhaps for its history, culture, scenery, golf, family roots; or perhaps its magical, sensual air of romance.

There is something extraordinarily distinctive about the spirit of the place; its stunning untouched beauty: feel the raw, open landscape, breathe the sweet air of the wild, windy hilltops and catch a glimpse of distant islands, silhouetted in the soft mist.

Stroll on empty beaches curving along the rocky coastline beneath an ever-changing sky – from dark, brooding clouds to a rich, pure light with sudden bursts of sunshine.

From around the 18th century, artists, writers, romantic poets and, later on, photographers and filmmakers, have been inspired and captivated by Scotland’s timeless beauty. Even they find it difficult to encapsulate the true experience, that unique and enigmatic sense of place.

Scotland, especially in our imagination, is a rich tapestry of mountains, lochs, glens, forests, islands and moorland, everywhere enriched by ancient castles, abbeys, country houses and gardens.

Travel on to the cityscapes which juxtapose the old, bold grey stone architecture with gleaming modern buildings of glass and steel, each city with its own distinct character and culture.

Scotland’s colourful history and heritage is today celebrated and preserved through such national organisations as Historic Scotland, the National Trust for Scotland and the National Galleries, as well as enterprising local council and private corporate visitor attractions which promote the best of traditional arts, crafts and industry. From the Borders to the Isle of Skye, Perthshire to Orkney, Edinburgh to Dundee, there’s a world of sights and delights to experience. So what are the must-see places when planning where to go?

Why not take the professional advice of Visit Scotland, which has awarded the very best visitor attractions with five-star status? This denotes an exceptional, world-class grading based on excellent facilities and presentation with knowledgeable, welcoming staff.

The following five-star visitor attractions, selected from a total of 41, are also some of the most popular destinations around Scotland.

Edinburgh Castle

More than a million visitors a year trek up to this dramatic 11th Century fort perched above the rugged volcanic rock face, which dominates the city skyline and has stunning views from its battlements, across Princes Street, the gardens and over to Fife. Follow the dramatic story of Scotland’s regal and political past from the tiny St. Margaret’s Chapel and Great Hall to the Crown Room, where the Honours of Scotland are displayed: the crown, sceptre and sword of state, with the beloved Stone of Destiny – the seat on which all ancient kings of Scotland were crowned. It was returned to Scotland in 1996 from Westminster Abbey where it had lain since 1296. The Military Tattoo is held each August on the Castle Esplanade.

Stirling Castle

The name Stirling comes from the word striveling – a place of strife. Many a fierce battle between the English and Scots took place here around the impressive castle high on a rocky crag. For three centuries, until 1603 and the Union of the Crowns, this is where the Stuart monarchy lived and Mary Queen of Scots was crowned in 1543. Tour the Renaissance Palace apartments, Chapel Royal and kitchens where a lavish royal banquet is recreated.

Blair Castle, Perthshire

An attractive whitewashed mansion (dating from 1269), this is the ancestral home of the dukes of Atholl. Refurbished in the Victorian era, there are 30 rooms to explore, each furnished with paintings, tapestries, porcelain, armour, stag heads, costumes and toys presenting a living picture of Scottish aristocratic family life over the centuries. It is the headquarters of Britain’s only private army, the Atholl Highlanders. Stroll in the landscaped gardens amidst the peacocks.

Cawdor Castle, Inverness-shire

This Castle hath a pleasant seat; the air Nimbly and sweetly recommends itself Unto our gentle senses … Shakespeare

This 14th Century fortress is a fairytale castle with a magical name, romantically linked by Shakespeare to the tragic tale of Macbeth, Thane of Cawdor. Still the home of the Cawdor family, the grand drawing and dining rooms display fine portraits, tapestries and furniture. Visit the extensive gardens, Big Wood and nine-hole golf course.

Jedburgh Abbey, Borders

Ten miles from the English border, Jedburgh is the most visited of the Border towns. The abbey was founded in 1138 by David I for Augustinian canons in the grounds of an ancient religious site. Invading English armies repeatedly attacked the abbey, most dramatically in 1523 when it was bombarded and burned. Yet the church and tower remain in good condition and recent excavations uncovered the original cloister buildings.

Johnstons of Elgin

Johnstons are world specialists in cashmere with a tradition of creating luxury knitwear for the international market. At this 19th-century mill in the heart of the Highlands you’ll see cashmere produced from the raw fibre to the finished garment. A guided tour begins with a film presentation (available in six languages) before taking in every stage of textile production. The mill shop sells quality clothing and gifts.

British Golf Museum, St Andrews

In a prime site beside the Royal & Ancient Clubhouse and the Old Course in St Andrews, ‘the Home of Golf’, the museum traces the history of British golf and its influence worldwide. Featuring a fine collection of memorabilia, trophies, medals, clubs, documents, books, photographs and paintings, the sport of golf is ingeniously portrayed through hands-on interactive technology, bringing golfing personalities and events colourfully to life.

Royal Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh

This magnificent building is worth visiting just for the Victorian architecture with its spacious atrium, glass-domed roof and tiered floors in Italianate palace style. There is an exceptional collection of archæological exhibits, classical Greek sculptures, American totem poles, stuffed animals, a whale’s skeleton and a hands-on technology section. The Museum of Scotland, located in an impressive modern sandstone building next door, is a treasure-trove of artefacts, telling the story of Scotland through the centuries.

Skara Brae, Isle of Orkney

This, the oldest known prehistoric village in Europe, presents a unique picture of life in Neolithic times. A sophisticated, intelligent community lived here for 600 years – with comfortable accommodation, stone furniture, beds, cupboards, hearths and drains. This 5,000-year-old village was discovered in 1850 when storms blew away the sand dunes. The exhibition centre shows an introductory video before visitors take the ‘Path of Time’ back through the centuries until reaching the ancient, awe-inspiring Skara Brae site – established 2,000 years before the Pyramids.

Duff House Country Gallery, Banff, Aberdeenshire

This fine 19th Century mansion designed by William Adam houses a wonderful collection of art including Ramsay and Raeburn portraits, Flemish, Italian and Dutch paintings, furniture, tapestries and decorative arts drawn from the National Galleries of Scotland and private lenders. The delightful gardens include walks along the River Deveron. Duff House Royal Golf Course welcomes non-members.

Paxton House, Berwick-upon-Tweed

One of the best examples of Palladian country houses, Paxton was designed by the Adam brothers in 1758 for Patrick Home, prior to his marriage to the daughter of Frederick of Prussia. The wedding never took place, but a pair of kid gloves given to Patrick by her is on display. The picture gallery exhibits more than 70 paintings including masterpieces by Raeburn, Wilkie and Lawrence. Also on view is a superb collection of original Chippendale furniture. The grounds encompass landscaped gardens, woodland and the River Tweed. Rare red squirrels, Shetland ponies, swans and birds all inhabit this natural environment.

Bella Jane Boat Trips, Isle of Skye

Below, like some deep dark jewel, the rock bound waters of the loch Pale green at the edges and green black in the depths
R. V. Morton

The best way to experience the peaceful beauty of Loch Coruisk (as painted by Turner) is on a boat trip into the isolated heart of the Cuillin mountains. Skipper Donald MacKinnon will take you on a magical journey past the seal colony up to the loch where you may go ashore or simply relax and appreciate the views.

The Old Town Jail, Stirling

Living History actors take you on an atmospheric tour into the dark jail cells to see what life was like behind bars in Victorian times, when prisoners would be publicly whipped, branded or even hanged, depending on the crime.

Caerlaverock Castle, Dumfries

This romantic mediæval castle still surrounded by a water-filled moat is one of Scotland’s most popular castles. Built by the Maxwell family in 1270, it was their home for 400 years. Triangular in shape, it has a turret in two corners and a double tower at the other. Near the English border, it was an easy target when King Edward I invaded in 1300 with 87 knights and 3,000 men. It was then an English stronghold for the next 12 years.

Discovery Point, Dundee

The RSS Discovery, a wooden three-masted ship, was built in Dundee specifically for the National Antarctic Expedition in 1901 under the command of 33-year-old Captain Scott. The Discovery is the centrepiece of this award-winning visitor centre, where you can explore the ship, experiencing a taste of adventure and exploration with special effects vividly recreating Scott’s epic voyages.

Aberdeen Maritime Museum

Through exhibits, multimedia displays and reconstructions, learn about the history of life and work in and around the North Sea, including true-life stories and archive footage of shipbuilding, clipper ships, Rattray Head Lighthouse and local fishing communities. Take a simulated helicopter flight 150 miles to an isolated platform out at sea as experienced by offshore oil workers today.

Our Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh

This stunning, white, tent-like building beneath Arthur’s Seat houses a state-of-the-art exhibition – a 90-minute enthralling journey through the evolution of our planet. Interactive technology, film projection and live satellite television creates a virtual world of dinosaurs, the ice age, earthquakes, an erupting volcano, molten lava, tidal waves and tropical rainforest. Scotland’s millennium project has been an outstanding success, fun for visitors of all ages.

Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre, Edinburgh

Uisge beatha, ‘the water of life’, is made from three simple raw ingredients: water, barley and yeast. Find out everything you wanted to know about Scotch but were afraid to ask. Why is Scotch so distinctive? Learn about fermentation, copper stills and sampling within the long distilling process. In the Bond bar taste a few drams from a vast range of malt whiskies before purchasing a bottle.

The Famous Grouse Experience, Crieff, Perthshire

The Glenturret Distillery is the oldest in Scotland. This £2.5-million experience offers innovative displays, combining the story of traditional whisky production with contemporary vision; the aim is to create a ‘wow’ factor through a Disney-style approach to inspire, entertain and educate. The show climaxes with a breathtaking 3-D simulated flight over Scotland. The centre is family oriented, with a café, restaurant and shop.

The Royal Yacht Britannia, Edinburgh

The Britannia, launched in the Clyde in 1953, was formerly the private yacht of the royal family for official travel overseas, formal entertaining and holidays. Now moored in Edinburgh’s historic port of Leith, everyone is welcomed aboard to explore five decks, including the bridge, Admiral’s cabin, state dining room, royal bedrooms, laundry and engine room. Entrance is through Ocean Terminal, home to quality stores, restaurants
and a multi-screen cinema complex.


Here is a personal selection of special places and experiences which you may not have come across on your travels.


The Royal Scotsman train
'The most luxurious and indeed prestigious train in the world'
Sir Fitzroy Maclean

The perfect way to appreciate the spectacular scenery of Perthshire, the Highlands and west coast is by choosing a one, two or four-day journey on this truly luxurious train, with escorted visits to castles, smokehouses, distilleries and private estates. Exquisite six-star comfort, service and hospitality recapture the romance and elegance of a bygone era.

The Northern Belle

As the Orient Express of the north, this classic 1930s train offers day trips and shorter lunch and dinner journeys across Scotland. It also conducts a six-night Grand Tour of Great Britain and special Valentines, Burns Night and Christmas events.

The West Highland Line

Take the Scotrail train from Glasgow to Mallaig and experience one of the greatest railway journeys in the world. The 200-mile line hugs coastline and loch shores, meandering north through barren moorland, mountain glens and across the spectacular Glenfinnan viaduct.

The Eisenhower Apartment – Culzean Castle, Ayrshire

You may have heard of Culzean Castle (dating from the 1770s), but did you know that it offers accommodation?

An apartment on the top floor of this majestic clifftop castle was given to General Eisenhower in 1945 on a lifetime tenure. Today, guests may take one of six bedrooms, or the whole apartment for private parties. Gracious aristocratic living, elegant furnishings, fine dining – it is a unique experience.

The National Trust of Scotland offers accommodation in other unusual historic properties such as cottages and lighthouses.

Wester Ross

One of the most dramatic, desolate and unmissable scenic routes is the narrow winding road, the ‘Pass of the Cattle’, west of Lochcarron to Applecross. The highest road in Scotland, it is often closed in winter. Exploring further north, Torridon offers exhilarating hill walking, Loch Maree is stunning and Gairloch and Inverewe Gardens, Poolewe, are also worth visiting.

The Summer Isles, Achiltibuie

This cluster of tiny islands, their rounded womanly shapes shimmering in the mist, embrace changing weather and seasons with a spectrum of pure light, mood and colour. There are cruises from Achiltibuie and Ullapool, or travel by road to Altandhu for the best views. Nearby are the famous mountain peaks Suilven and Stac Polly for serious climbers.

The White Sands of Morar

This breathtaking, isolated, unspoilt beach of the purest white sand on the shores of Loch Morar is a beach lover’s and naturalist’s paradise. Local Hero, Highlander, Rob Roy and Hamish McBeth were all filmed here. It is the deepest freshwater lake in Europe. Visit the charming fishing village of Mallaig for a ferry to Skye.

East Neuk of Fife

After golfing at St Andrews, stay awhile and explore the delightful ancient white-washed fishing villages of Crail, Pittenweem, Anstruther and St. Monans. Enjoy fresh seafood, coastal walks, old smuggler’s inns and art galleries.

Visit the Secret Bunker at Crail – an authentic 1950s Cold War nuclear bunker.

Scott’s View, Borders

Writers and artists have been mesmerised by the lush, green Tweed Valley for centuries. Sir Walter Scott’s favourite view was near St Boswells, which is a panorama of fields, woodland, and the River Tweed with a backdrop of the Eildon Hills.

Out riding Scott often used to stop here for inspiration. As his funeral procession passed by, his own horse immediately stopped out of custom and perhaps respect.

Scott’s house at Abbotsford, Melrose, is a national treasure, untouched since his time.