11 June 2012
We have been travelling the country with the Torch Relay, following the Flame and Torch Bearers all the way from the South West, through Wales, the West Midlands, across the sea to Northern Ireland, and finally north to Scotland. The next couple of days the Torch will travel down Scotland, from its most northerly point on the Hebrides Islands, and we will be descending with it to discover the best places to visit across the country.
The Torch sets off from Stornoway, the main town on the Isle of Lewis, the most northerly of the Hebridean Islands. Stornoway and Lewis are steeped in thousands of years of history, and the contrast of ages and cultures can be experienced all over the island. One of the best ways to view the past on this ancient island is a visit to the Blackhouses at Gearrannan. The buildings and their construction methods date back several thousand years, with the houses featuring stone walls and thatched roofs. The examples at Gearrannan were lived in until the 1970s and show a range of different dwelling types.
The Torch Relay then moves south through Scotland and visits the town of Aviemore, deep in the Cairngorms National Park. The Park covers about 3,800 square km, almost half of which includes sites of important natural heritage. It is home to a wealth of archaeological evidence, including hill forts and traces of early farming settlements. The Park also has 25 per cent of Britain’s threatened bird, animal and plant species, such as the elusive red squirrel, and there is a host of wildlife thriving in the Park, such as reindeer, snow hare and ptarmigan. After watching the Torch go by in the morning it is worth spending the rest of the day exploring as much of the Park as you can.
The Torch Relay will take an afternoon break at Crathie, so why not explore the nearby Abergeldie Castle and look for the ghost of ‘French Kate’ in the meantime. ‘French Kate’ is the ghost of a French woman who was wrongly accused of being a witch and burnt at the stake. Her ghost has apparently been seen in the castle cellars, where she was imprisoned before her execution. The castle was built in the 16th century in a tower house style. In 1848 Prince Albert obtained a long-term lease of the castle for future generations of Royals to use as a summer home and the castle has since been restored to its original condition.
The day ends in Aberdeen, after the Torch and its bearers have travelled quite a distance across Scotland. However, if you are still keen to learn more about the area, head to the Aberdeen Maritime Museum which tells the story of the city’s important relationship with the sea. The museum houses a unique collection covering shipbuilding, fast-sailing ships, fishing and port history and gives visitors spectacular views of the busy harbour.
After starting the day in Aberdeen, the Torch Relay moves further south to Stonehaven. If you have been inspired by the Relay runners and fancy a bit of exercise, this might be a good moment to try the Dunnottar Castle Walk. The coastal circuit extends southwards from the harbour at Stonehaven and the highlight of the walk is Dunnottar Castle, one of the most spectacular of all ruined coastal fortresses, perched high on a rocky outcrop that is almost detached from the mainland.
A few stops further along the Relay route, the Torch stops at Scone Palace. Far from a ruined coastal fortress, Scone Palace holds a unique position in the history of Scotland. Scone Palace was once the crowning place of the Kings of Scots, including Robert the Bruce and Macbeth, and it is a beautiful place full of power and mystery. It is regarded as a national treasure and is revered as the historic jewel in the crown of Scotland. It houses an outstanding collection of antiquities, paintings and rare artifacts and has beautiful grounds. It is a historically potent place, as the palace of Scotland’s ancient founding fathers.
The day ends in the city of Dundee, Scotland’s fourth largest city. Dundee has a history of scientific activities, so why not visit the RRS Discovery, the ship that took Captain Scott and his crew to Antarctica to explore its unchartered wilderness. The ship was built in Dundee and was the first vessel to be specifically constructed for scientific research. As one of the most heroic voyages of exploration ever undertaken it is a fascinating tale, and definitely worth taking some time away from the Torch Relay to find out about the crew’s hardships and triumphs.
Day 26 starts out in the ancient university town of St. Andrews. The area is filled with history and there are many places to stop near the Torch Relay, where you can find out more about Scotland’s cultural heritage. One of the heritage gems near the route is Dunfermline Palace and Abbey, which was founded in the 11th century by Queen Margaret. The Abbey Church is the last resting place of many Scottish Kings and Queens, including Queen Margaret and Robert Bruce, providing an interesting contrast to a visit to Scone Palace on Day 25. Moving away from Scottish history and focusing instead on some of the other nations competing in the Olympic and Paralympic Games, just a short distance away from the Torch’s stop in Falkirk is the village of Culross, where a Latin American hero, Thomas Cochrane, was born. Admiral Cochrane played a crucial role in the fight for independence in Peru, Chile and Brazil, and a memorial to his achievements stands near Culross’s Townhouse. Visitors can also take a historic walk from Culross along the Coffin Road (an important heritage pathway), following in the footsteps of past residents walking to church or making their last journey to be buried at West Kirk.
The Torch finally makes it to Scotland’s capital, Edinburgh, for an evening celebration. Full of cobbled streets, narrow alleyways, towering tenements and medieval lanes, this World Heritage city has an array of historical and cultural attractions, with something suitable for every type of Torch Relay follower. Simply wandering the streets is enough to keep you entertained for a full day. If you are a fan of the unusual you could try the newly reopened National Museum of Scotland, which now holds over 20,000 exhibits, including a Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton, ancient Egyptian mummies, and specimens collected by Charles Darwin.
We hope you’ll enjoy the next few days discovering more about Scotland’s history, heritage and beautiful landscapes. We will be back on Thursday for more places to visit in Scotland and the North East of England.
Post by Hannah, Discovering Places team.
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