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Issue 82 - 10 Best Visitor Attractions

Scotland Magazine Issue 82
August 2015


This article is 3 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 Visitor Attractions

Keith Fergus chooses the best for 2015

1 Kelvingrove Art Gallery & Museum, Glasgow 

The striking red sandstone and elaborate façade of Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum is quite possibly the finest building in Glasgow and one of Scotland’s most popular visitor attractions. Internally the museum holds an incredible array of art, collections and exhibitions – and entry is free. Opened in 1901, it was thought that Kelvingrove was mistakenly built back to front and the subsequent suicide of its architect has entered urban mythology – on the contrary the intention was always to build it facing Kelvingrove Park. The museum has continually had the 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 Boys' paintings. However, it wasn’t until the multi million pound refurbishment in 2006 that an incredible 8,000 exhibits (almost double what the museum held previously) could be displayed, and now has something for everyone.

2 The Riverside Museum, Glasgow

Since opening in 2011 the Riverside Museum has unlocked many happy memories for some and presented a whole new world to others. Over 3,000 exhibits now display Glasgow’s renowned transport, shipbuilding and engineering legacy. Also berthed here, on the River Clyde, is the historic Glenlee, the tall ship, which is beautifully reflected in the museum’s glass façade, and provides an arresting focal point as you arrive. But it is the amazing array of artefacts inside the museum that is of real interest to those visitors who have travelled near and far. These include the recreated streets, the much loved vintage trams and trains, the wonderful scene of classic cars struggling up the infamous Rest and Be Thankful, a selection of bikes racing around an inverted velodrome or the exhibits detailing the halcyon days when Glasgow was the shipbuilding capital of the world. The majority of exhibits will also throw up countless questions for an enthused younger generation.

3 Edinburgh Castle, Edinburgh

Standing proud on Castle Rock, Edinburgh Castle provides a striking focal point for tourists visiting Scotland’s capital city from across the globe. Although a stronghold and Royal residence had existed here for centuries it wasn’t until the 12th Century that construction began on the Edinburgh Castle we see today (as was St Margaret’s Chapel, today Edinburgh’s oldest building). Edinburgh Castle has commanded such a powerful strategic position that it has changed hands many times over the centuries, including being captured by Edward I in 1296 and Oliver Cromwell in 1650, who also put Charles I, the last Scottish Monarch to sleep in Edinburgh Castle, on trial for treason. The Jacobite Uprisings of 1688 and 1745 tried and failed to recapture the castle. The 19th and early 20th Centuries saw Edinburgh Castle slowly restored with part of it turned into the Scottish National War Memorial. Today, it is Scotland’s most popular visitor attraction with over one million visitors every year.

4 Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, Ayrshire, Alloway 

The Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, which re-opened 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 consider a visit to the museum as a pilgrimage whilst his popularity seems to be continuing to reach a younger audience with a lot of children finding Burns as equally fascinating as do their parents. The fantastic 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 exciseman. The museum is set amongst 10 acres of the beautiful countryside that so inspired Robert Burns throughout his life with Burns Cottage (where the poet was born in 1759), Alloway Auld Kirk (where William Burnes, Robert’s father, is buried) and Brig o’ Doon, which was the location of Tam O’Shanter’s nail-biting finale, and possibly Burns’ finest work, all worth visiting.

5 Loch Lomond, Stirlingshire 

Loch Lomond forms the focal point to the Loch Lomond & The Trossachs National Park, which became Scotland’s first National Park in 2002. A good road and public transport infrastructure means it is only an hour’s journey from much of the central belt while attractive villages such as Balloch, Luss and Balmaha offer a great base to explore the loch’s environs. The loch is the largest body of freshwater in Britain and its 24 mile length runs across the Highland boundary fault Line. Overlooking Loch Lomond is Ben Lomond, Scotland’s southernmost Munro while nearby the likes of Conic Hill, Duncryne Hill and Beinn Dubh provide lower but equally alluring vantage points. Much of the landscape enveloping Loch Lomond comprises ancient oak woodland (as well as birch, rowan, willow, beech and alder) where deer, red squirrel, otter, osprey, coot, moorhen, mallard, black grouse, bluebell and wood sorrel, form just a small selection of the wildlife that may be spotted.

6 The Kelpies, Falkirk

Standing 30 metres tall and looming high above the Forth and Clyde Canal, near Falkirk, The Kelpies have very quickly become a much loved and popular addition to the Scottish landscape. As an engineering structure, it is almost as impressive as the nearby Falkirk Wheel. Opened in 2014, and designed by renowned sculpture Andy Scott (who was also the brains behind the Heavy Horse near Easterhouse), the Kelpies celebrate the horse-powered heritage of central Scotland, particularly during the industrial revolution, where horses were used to tow barges of coal along the canal tow paths. The Kelpies (which in mythology were water-borne creatures with the strength and endurance of ten horses) form the focal point of The Helix, an area of parkland, based around the canal and River Carron, that was developed to link 16 communities in the Falkirk Council area. The two magnificent structures were constructed from steel and stainless steel and weigh more than 300 tonnes.

7 Crarae Garden, Argyll

Crarae Garden, situated 11 miles from Inveraray and 14 miles from Lochgilphead, is amongst the finest to be found in Argyll. The garden is home to an incredible diversity of plants and trees, including several hundred species of rhododendrons and a huge array of ferns, which all thrive due to the benign local climate. Native species include rowan, birch, oak, Scots pine, willow and ash, an ideal home for crossbill, siskin, wrens, squirrel and buzzard. Well maintained paths travel through the stunning Himalayan glen, allowing you to explore this magnificent landscape. The National Trust for Scotland has cared for the garden since 2002 and it is open throughout the year. Crarae began life as a forest garden having been created in 1912 by Lady Grace Campbell. In the 1930s her son, Sir George Campbell, planted 100 plots of exotic trees brought back from all corners of the globe by audacious plant hunters. His aim was to test what species could be useful for forestry in Scotland and in 1956, he presented the land to the Forestry Commission which managed it for over 20 years. No visitor to Loch Fyne should allow it to escape their itinerary.

8 Urquhart Castle, Inverness-shire 

Urquhart Castle, on the outskirts of the village of Drumnadrochit, may lie in ruins, but its distinctive and impressive profile and location above the banks of Loch Ness, continue to draw visitors every year from around the world. An excellent visitor centre opened in 2002 detailing the rich, fascinating history of the castle, which dates back to around the 6th Century when a Pictish fort stood here. Its half a century as a medieval fortress saw Urquhart Castle witness many a battle while a number of clans and kings tried (some successfully, others not so) to claim this strategically important structure for themselves. During the 14th Century Urquhart Castle figured prominently in the Scots’ struggle for independence and came under the control of Robert the Bruce after he became King of Scots in 1306. Although these assaults have taken their toll on its walls, it is still an imposing building, particularly the Tower House, which imparts superb views of the castle and of Loch Ness.

9 Elgin Cathedral, Moray

Sitting a few miles west of the River Spey is the former cathedral city of Elgin. It has a long and turbulent history and is a beautiful place to walk around. This can be seen in the many impressive and interesting buildings standing within its compact town centre, not least the stunning remains of Elgin Cathedral. It was consecrated in 1224 and became known as the Lantern of the North then quickly became the ecclesiastical centre of Moray and was thought to be Scotland’s second largest cathedral after St Andrews. After the Wolf of Badenoch destroyed the cathedral the Bishop of Moray described it as ‘The Ornament of the Realm, the Glory of the Kingdom.’ It was extensively rebuilt during the 15th Century but stood without real purpose after the Reformation of 1560, after which it fell into neglect with the central tower collapsing in 1711. However, Elgin Cathedral is still a splendid sight with the twin western towers and the 15th Century octagonal Chapter House central to any visit. It remains a reminder of the turbulent passage of time.

10 The Cuillin, Skye 

The Cuillin mountain range, on the spectacular Isle of Skye, is one of 40 National Scenic Areas in Scotland due to its outstanding scenic interest. The Cuillin range encompasses the Black and Red Cuillin which bound Glen Sligachan with 17 of the peaks rising to over 2,000 feet in height. Although the Red Cuillin provides some superb hillwalking, it is the Black Cuillin that bestow, for many, some of the finest itineraries in the British Isles, celebrated beyond these shores. Twelve Munro’s (Scottish mountains over 3,000 feet) along the main ridge make a full traverse of the Black Cuillin one of the most challenging routes – although only seven miles in length it can take upwards of 15 hours to complete due to the complexities of the terrain and route finding. It also includes tackling the Inaccessible Pinnacle, which, for many will require the use of a rope to reach its exposed summit. The views from both the Red and Black Cuillin extend beyond Skye to the mountains of Applecross and Lochaber.