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Issue 79 - 10 Best Historic sites

Scotland Magazine Issue 79
February 2015


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10 Best Historic sites

The very best places to visit in Scotland

1 The Eildon Hills
Scottish Borders

The unique form of the Eildon Hills dominates the bustling Scottish Borders town of Melrose. Local folklore suggests that their distinctive shape was created by the legendary wizard Michael Scot who split the one hill into three using his mysterious powers. The Romans named them Trimontium, literally translating as ‘the Three Mountains’, when they occupied the Eildon Hills around the third century AD and, due to the far-reaching views from the summits, built a signal station to send long distance messages. However locals utilised this unique little range of hills as a place of refuge long before the Romans set up camp underneath. The Old English translation simply means ‘Old Hill Fort’ and around the time of the Bronze Age it is thought that up to 2,000 people lived on the Eildon Hills, predominantly on the flat-topped North Hill. Each summit rewards the intrepid with an exceptional panorama, extending across much of the Scottish Borders landscape.

2 New Lanark
South Lanarkshire

New Lanark’s status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site is due to the legacy left by Robert Owen and David Dale and their pioneering socialist ideals of the 19th Century that provided the workers, particularly women and children, at New Lanark’s cotton mills with proper working and welfare conditions.
David Dale was already a successful businessman when he built the cotton mills
in 1777. In 1799 Dale’s daughter married Robert Owen, who subsequently bought the New Lanark mills from Dale in 1800 for £60,000. Throughout his life Owen’s raison d’être was to improve the health, education, and rights of the working class. Along with
his father-in-law, he was one of the founders of the cooperative and socialist movements of the early 19th Centuries. During his 25 successful years running New Lanark, Owen created a model community where children under ten couldn’t work in the mills, free medical care was provided, as was a comprehensive education system for both children and adults. Many of the original buildings are open to the public and can be visited throughout the year.

3 Dumbarton Castle
West Dunbartonshire

At 240 feet (73 metres) in height, the volcanic plug of Dumbarton Rock dominates the town of Dumbarton. Built into its steep slopes is Dumbarton Castle, which was constructed by Alexander II of Scotland in 1220 as a defensive fortification because of the threat from Norway, whose kings ruled the Hebrides and the Clyde islands. Until the end of the Middle Ages Dumbarton was a major British political centre (it was the capital of the Ancient Kingdom of Strathclyde until 1018), and this is illustrated in its translation from Gaelic as ‘Fort of the Britons.’ During this period Dumbarton was also the River Clyde’s principal port, holding a strategically important position dating back to the Iron Age. Dumbarton was granted Royal Burgh status in 1222 with its castle gaining Royal status. Although Dumbarton Castle’s political importance subsided somewhat over the subsequent centuries Mary, Queen of Scots sheltered secretly here as a five year old en route to France and it was involved in military action during World War II.

4 Cathedral Square

Much of Glasgow’s history can be discovered at Cathedral Square; Glasgow Cathedral, Provand’s Lordship, The Barony and St Mungo’s Museum all stand within its confines. Glasgow Cathedral dates from 1124 when John Achaius, Glasgow’s first bishop, began its construction on the site of St Kentigern’s church. King David consecrated the building in 1136 although fire destroyed it in 1192. The present cathedral was built between the 13th and 15th Centuries and is one of Glasgow’s finest buildings. St Mungo’s Museum tells the fascinating and, at times, troubled story of the religious beliefs and culture that have shaped Glasgow and the West of Scotland throughout the centuries while across Castle Street is Provand’s Lordship, the oldest house in Glasgow. Built in 1471 as part of the adjacent St Nicholas's Hospital it is one of only four medieval buildings to survive in the city. The Barony opened in 1800 with its south front modelled on Dunblane Cathedral and the interior based loosely on Gerona Chapel in Spain. It was purchased by Strathclyde University
in 1986.

5 The Old Town and New Town, Edinburgh
Edinburgh’s Old and New Towns form a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Old Town developed around the 12th Century with its tightly packed streets, wynds and closes bounded by high tenements. During the 16th and 17th Centuries rapid growth meant it was bursting at the seams; violence permeated through the streets, as did high levels of pollution and disease, giving rise to squalid living conditions, and consequently the name Auld Reekie. However today these once foul-smelling streets draw millions of visitors every year who visit the Royal Mile, Edinburgh Castle and the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Sitting in sharp contrast is the grandeur and open spaces of the New Town. It is nearly 250 years old and was built for Edinburgh’s aristocracy. Stimulation came from the likes of ancient Rome, and many of these neo-classical symbols were incorporated into its architecture. The chief designer was the Edinburgh-born James Craig – work on his designs began in 1767 and was completed in 1850. Royal Circus, The Georgian House and West Register House highlight the New Town’s exceptional architecture.

6 Kilmartin Glen
Argyll & Bute

There are few other places in Scotland with such an astonishing proliferation of historic sites than those found in Kilmartin Glen. Within a 10km radius stand more than 800 prehistoric and historic sites. These include the Nether Largie Cairns at Kilmartin, which were built around 6,000 years ago and where bones, pottery, beaker pots, Neolithic bowls have all been found. The wonderful Temple Wood Stone Circle dates from the late Neolithic/early Bronze Age while the Nether Largie Standing Stones were erected about 3,200 years ago. Nearby lies Achnabreac where several carvings provide tangible evidence
of the communities who lived here thousand of years ago. But perhaps Kilmartin Glen’s most famous site is the low, rocky hill of Dunadd (the Fort of Add), which was at
the centre of the ancient Kingdom of Dál Riata, the name given to the kingdoms of Scotland and Ireland. It was where Irish settlers, known as the Scotti, arrived in the 6th Century AD, and who eventually gave
their name to Scotland. Much can be learned about the area at the superb Kilmartin House Museum.

7 Kinneil Estate
Bo’ness, Falkirk

Bo’ness (or to give the town its full name Borrowstouness, the Burgh Town on the Ness) stands on the Firth of Forth and dates back to AD80 when Agricola and his Roman Army invaded. In time Bo’ness marked the eastern extremity of The Antonine Wall, part of which lies within the marvellous Kinneil Estate – the impressive remains of a Second Century Roman fortlet, can also be seen. After the Romans left, Robert I granted the lands of Kinneil to the Hamilton family in 1323 and during the 15th and 17th Centuries Kinneil House was built. This imposing stately home still dominates the estate today and, although it is closed to the public, the estate grounds are open and are fascinating to explore. When here, the remains of Kinneil Church can also be visited. From the 14th Century Kinneil Village grew around the church.

8 Iona
Argyll & Bute

The tiny island of Iona, sitting off the southwest coast of Mull, is known as ‘the cradle of Christianity’ as it was where St Columba and his followers landed in AD563, before spreading the religion throughout much of Scotland – at the island’s southern end lies St Columba’s Bay, where it is thought Columba and his fellow monks landed. Also on Iona is the Hill of the Angels, the setting for many pagan and Christian rituals and traditions – it supposedly also has strong links to the supernatural. St Oran’s Graveyard, the Nunnery and the Marble Quarry are other fascinating places to see when visiting the island but it is Iona Abbey that really stands out. St Columba founded the original abbey but little remains of it today. However the magnificent structure built in its place dates from the 13th Century.

9 Calanais Standing Stones
Isle of Lewis

The extraordinary Calanais (or Callanish) Standing Stones stand on the western side of Lewis in the wild and windswept Outer Hebrides. There are a number of ritual sites within a few miles of Calanais but the most spectacular and largest is Calanais I. This site contains around 50 huge stones, which stand on a prominent ridge, making them visible for miles. They are thought to have been erected around 3,000 BC during the Neolithic period and consist of an inner circle of stones (at its centre is a lone monolith rising to nearly five metres in height) from where a number of stones branch out in four directions, creating a unique shape – some of the stones weigh several tons. No one knows if the whole monument was completed at the same time or in different stages or even why it was erected at all, although a strong association with astrological events (perhaps an astrological observatory) seems the most probable motive. Over the course of several hundred years the stones of Calanais I were partly enveloped in peat and it was not until the mid-19th Century, when the peat was cut, that their true height was once again revealed.

10 Skara Brae

In 1850 an immense storm teared the grass away from dunes at Skara Brae and uncovered a Neolithic settlement, in turn exposing the best-preserved group of prehistoric houses in Western Europe. Situated on mainland Orkney’s western coast, today Skara Brae form’s the centrepiece of Orkney’s World Heritage Site and provides tangible and astonishing evidence of what life was like here over 5,000 years ago – to put that in some sort of context Skara Brae was inhabited before Egypt’s pyramids were built. Each house was constructed using closely fitting stone slabs and comprised of only a single room of around 40 square metres, which were linked by covered passages. A remarkable number of artefacts can also be observed when visiting Skara Brae including stone furniture (such as dressers, box beds and hearths), gaming dice, hand tools, pottery and jewellery as well as carved stone objects, which are thought to have been used in religious rituals.