A short drive south-west of Edinburgh takes you through rolling hills and agricultural landscapes, nestled in which you can find New Lanark, one of Scotland's six UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
It showcases a particular aspect of Scotland's industrial heritage, and as such is worth a visit to glimpse an alternative to the more immediately readily recognised aspects of Scottish history - such as the Jacobites, Mary, Queen of Scots, or the Highland Clearances...
So here's my brief introduction to this intriguing, accessible and important heritage site.
New Lanark became a vital part of Scotland's journey through the Industrial Revolution, a period roughly spanning the years 1760 to 1840.
In this time the mechanisation of manufacturing, farming and commercial processes - which had previously required significant numbers of hand labourers - saw the transformation of the UK's urban and rural areas, as factories and mills grew up to harness the new forms of power which allowed business to boom.
The town of New Lanark was initially established in 1785, to provide housing and accommodation for the workers at the new cotton mill which had been set up by David Dale on the edge of the River Clyde. At its mouth in Glasgow the Clyde would become one of the UK's most important trading ports and shipyards, but further inland the water was a valuable power source, harnessed by developers like Richard Arkwright, who had invented a device which could spin raw cotton into usable fibres, using the power of water.
By the 1790s Dale had around 1,400 people working in the mills at New Lanark, producing cloth and fibre that could be exported across the UK and abroad - it was big business, and Dale became wealthy from expanding his business interests with other mills across Scotland. Workers at New Lanark would work 13-hour days.
Despite how this sounds today, quality of life at New Lanark was considered to be better than at many other industrial centres around the UK at that time, and the welfare of children in particular was something that was noted - it was this aspect of life at New Lanark which would come to the fore when Dale sold the site to his son-in-law Robert Own in 1799.
Owen was renowned as a businessman and entrepreneur, and at New Lanark he saw the opportunity to develop a kind of industrial reform - later known as utopian socialism - which explored the possibility that commercial success didn't have to come through the exploitation of workers.
Under Owen's leadership the village of New Lanark grew to around 2,500 people - including around 500 children, for whom he opened the UK's first infants' school.
Children were educated to the age of 12, as well as being employed in the mills from the age of 10, and all workers paid a small portion of their wages into a welfare fund that would support those in the village who were sick or unable to work for brief periods.
Owen reduced the number of hours worked by his employees to 'just' 10.5 hours a day (!) and he believed in the importance of a pleasant environment for people's happiness and welfare - allotments were provided for villagers to grow their own vegetables.
The increased cost of Owen's welfare vision was opposed by his business partners, and so in 1813 he bought out the other investors in the mill operation in order to be able to operate on the principles that he felt were important.
Many of the buildings at New Lanark still serve as housing for local people, but one of the properties has been opened to give visitors a sense of the living conditions for people in the 19th century.
Entire families would be accommodated in just a single room, with children sleeping in beds that could be stored under the adults' beds to save space. Some were lucky enough (eventually) to have indoor toilets... New Lanark wasn't connected to the National Grid - providing homes with a reliable supply of electricity - until 1955.
Owen also lived on-site with his family, although as mill owner his home was rather more luxurious than that of the workers, with an office and library space, separate dining rooms and lounge spaces, a kitchen on the lower floors, and separate bedrooms above.
But the heart of New Lanark are the original mill buildings, where it is still possible to sense what daily life might have been like for the people who toiled here.
Visitors can enjoy a short multimedia ride which introduces Annie Macleod, a young girl who describes what life was like for those who lived and worked at New Lanark.
One of the buildings still operates as a functioning mill, creating wool which is shipped out and sold, and if the clatter of the modern machinery is anything to go by, the noise in these cavernous floors, filled with machinery and workers, must have been deafening.
Visitors can access a new roof garden at the very top of the mill building, where the views along the river and into the wooded areas on either side of the valley create a tremendous sense of the rural isolation in which New Lanark was established. A cafe offers refreshments and there's even an on-site hotel for those who want to experience modern luxury with a hint of industrial heritage.
Robert Owen sold New Lanark in 1825, but the mills continued commercial operations until 1968. Despite being scheduled for demolition in the 1970s a heritage trust was established to preserve New Lanark as a historic space, and it was formally inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001.
As well as exploring the village and mill buildings, take a walk along the winding pathways beside the banks of the river to view the Falls of Clyde, a series of spectacular waterfalls including the falls of Corra Linn which were painted by JM Turner and visited by the likes of Walter Scott, and Dorothy and William Wordsworth. It's a great way to get a sense of how the natural landscape has been colonised by the human experience.
Because of the rural location it's not easy to get to New Lanark without a car - it's about an hour's drive from Edinburgh, making it a good option for an afternoon trip away from the city.
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As the British royal family's official residence in Scotland, the Palace of Holyroodhouse has seen its share of kings and queens throughout the centuries. But Edinburgh itself has also been shaped by its royal connections, both from the time when the Scottish royal line was distinct from the English monarchy, and since 1603 when both nations have been ruled by the same monarch.
Many visitors to Edinburgh like to feel they're walking in the footsteps of monarchs and princesses, so here's my rough (and roughly chronological) guide to some of the structures and features of the city which come with royal approval...
Ruling Scotland from 1124 to 1153, David was the eldest son of Malcolm III (aka Malcolm Canmore, meaning 'big head') and Queen Margaret of Scotland, and the grandson of Duncan I who was killed by Macbeth.
One Sunday morning in September 1128, David was hunting on his land around what is today Holyrood Park and Arthur's Seat when his horse was startled by a stag. Thrown to the ground and finding himself at the mercy of the stag, it is said that David saw a crucifix manifest in the air between the stag's antlers - as David reached for it, the stag ran away.
David took this is as a sign from God that on a Sunday he should be at church instead of hunting, and he established the Holyrood Abbey on the site where the stag surprised him. This abbey took its name from the religious feast of the Holy Rood - or holy cross - which is how the area is still known today.
Both David and his mother, Margaret, would later be recognised as Catholic saints.
Edinburgh only became the capital of Scotland in 1437, following the murder of King James I in Perth - his son, James II, inherited a nation which was in social turmoil, and one of the tasks to which he applied himself was constructing the first of the defensive walls which surrounded the southern side of the Old Town.
The King's Wall, as this first wall was known, was built in the middle of the fifteenth century, and two sections of it survive as testimony to the city's need for defence at protection at this time. One section of the wall runs down the side of Tweeddale Court, and features in my Royal Mile and Old Town fixed route walking tour. The only other surviving section can be found down a lane between the Grassmarket and Edinburgh Castle.
MARY OF GUELDERS
In 1449, James II married Mary of Guelders at Holyrood Abbey. They enjoyed just eleven years of marriage before James died in 1460, at which point Mary became regent of Scotland, ruling the nation while their son, who became James III, was still a child.
Mary established a church in her husband's memory - the Trinity College Kirk was located in the town of Calton, which lay outside of Edinburgh in the valley where Waverley Station is today. In the 1840s, when the land was sold for the development of the station, Trinity College Kirk was dismantled stone-by-stone and was rebuilt a short distance away around 20 years later.
In that intervening period, much of the stone of the church had been taken for use in other buildings, so Trinity College Apse, as it is known today, represents all that remains of Mary's original church, and of the town of Calton itself.
The church structure can be found on Chalmers' Close, off the Royal Mile.
It was the father of Mary, Queen of Scots, who established the palace at Holyrood, adjacent to the abbey which by that time had been standing for just over 370 years. Construction on James's palace began in 1501, although the oldest part of the palace which survives today dates from a little later, around the 1520s.
It is this tower - on the left of the palace complex as visitors approach the building - where Mary, Queen of Scots stayed during her brief time in Edinburgh in the 1560s. Visitors can pass through the bedroom she would have slept, and where Mary's secretary, David Rizzio, was murdered in March 1566.
Later kings would add to and extend the palace, most significantly during the reign of Charles II, in the 1660s.
MARY, QUEEN OF SCOTS
Mary herself would add little to Edinburgh's infrastructure, although she gave birth to her son inside Edinburgh Castle itself. One building in the city has her name, and it's the small ruin in the grounds of the palace - known popularly as Queen Mary's Bathhouse.
Whilst it is thought likely the building tiself dates from Mary's time, there is no archeological evidence to support the idea that it was a bathhouse. More likely, it is thought, the building served as a pavilion or summer house in the area where tennis courts would once have been laid out. Mary was a keen tennis player, and so may indeed have spent time at (or in) the building, though probably not as a bathing chamber.
A small Catholic chapel on the Cowgate, the Magdalen Chapel, was built in the 1540s, partly to celebrate Mary's birth - her mother, Mary of Guise, led prayer sessions in this chapel during the time she ruled Scotland regent while Mary was in France.
The next British monarch to have a physical impact on Edinburgh was George III, who came to the throne in 1760. At this time, plans for Edinburgh's New Town are being discussed and conceived, and George would give his name to this side of the city - George Street is for him, Hanover Street for his family line, Princes Street for his sons, Queen Street for his wife...
What is called Charlotte Square today was originally to be St George Square, but the interim development of another square to the south of the Royal Mile being named George Square made this potentially confusing.
Although George was consulted in the planning of the New Town - he made objections to the intention to name one of the main roads St Giles Street, for example, on the basis that St Giles Cripplegate in London at that time was a run-down and overcrowded space, and he didn't want such associations to tarnish to the grandeur of Edinburgh's New Town - he never was able to visit the city, dying in 1820, before the project was completed.
George IV visited Edinburgh in 1822, becoming the first British monarch to do so in nearly 200 years. As well as being one of the princes in the name of Princes Street, he would also have another thoroughfare named for him - George IV Bridge, in the Old Town.
The bridge was built between 1827 and 1836. George himself wouldn't live to see the bridge completed, having died in 1830.
VICTORIA AND ALBERT
The reign of Queen Victoria was, at the time, the longest of any British monarch, and extended through a period of history that saw incredible changes to society.
As such, Victoria is probably the monarch with the most significant impact on the city of Edinburgh - Victoria Street was named for her, having been built as part of the development of the city during the early years of her reign, and the foundation stone of the National Museum of Scotland was laid by Prince Albert just weeks before his death in 1861.
I have a whole other blog post dedicated to Victoria and Albert in Edinburgh...
The late queen was notable for securing the longest reign of any British monarch in history - having celebrated over 70 years on the throne shortly before her death - and was known to be fond of Scotland and, in particular, the Balmoral Estate in the Highlands (which had been bought by Queen Victoria in 1840).
There are several locations in the city with direct connections to Elizabeth, including St Giles' Cathedral where her coffin lay at rest in September 2022, on the journey from Balmoral to London.
The Queen's Gallery at Holyrood was opened to mark Elizabeth's Golden Jubilee in 2002, commemorating fifty years on the throne. It occupies a building built for the Holyrood Free Church in 1850, which fell out of use as a church in 1915.
Nearby is the Canongate Kirk, the official church of the royal family when at Holyrood. Just inside the gates, on the left as visitors face the church, is a cherry tree planted by Elizabeth on the first morning of her first official visit to Edinburgh as queen back in 1952.
At Leith, visitors can still visit the former Royal Yacht Britannia, which served as the royal family's 'floating palace' between 1854 and 1997.
So there are royal associations all across Edinburgh, stretching back nearly a thousand years to when the city would have looked (and felt, and smelled) very different to the way it does today. But still, the sense of walking in the footsteps of these monarchs is palpable.
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Despite being only just over 50 miles away from Edinburgh by road, St Andrews is a surprisingly difficult place to get to, making it a rewarding day out with a real sense of having gone somewhere!
Thanks to the mainline train routes being curtailed in the 1960s there's no direct rail link between Edinburgh and St Andrews itself - the nearest station is Leuchars, a few miles further up the coast. This could still be the fastest option for getting to St Andrews, however, as the road from Edinburgh is long and winding, and can be prone to traffic delays and hold-ups.
But once you get to St Andrews you'll find a whole medieval town to discover, bursting with shops and restaurants, and with some prime historic features as well as a major golf course and Scotland's first university.
Here's my introduction to four historic features of St Andrews...
ST ANDREWS CATHEDRAL
The settlement on this corner of Fife's north-east coastline has existed for the last 6,000 years or so, and its earliest recorded name was Cennrigmonaid.
The association with St Andrew - one of Jesus's apostles - dates back to the mid-eighth century, when a number of relics (Andrew's arm, kneecap, three fingers and a tooth...) were brought from Greece by a monk after having a dream in which an angel told him to establish a church for St Andrew at the furthest edge of the earth. After being shipwrecked off the coast of Fife, the settlement where St Andrews stands today was the recipient of the relics, and the associated church.
That monk was St Regulus, or St Rule, and around 1077 CE a church was built in his name. Part of that original church survives - still named St Rule's Tower - and was later incorporated into the grounds of St Andrews Cathedral itself.
St Andrews became a destination on the pilgrim trail, with people travelling up to 400 miles and walking through historic towns like Culross or using services such as the ferry established by Queen Margaret from South Queensferry to visit the reliquary of St Andrew, recognised as the patron saint of Scotland since at least 832 CE.
The cathedral itself was built from around 1158 CE, and became the largest single building in the whole of Scotland, approximately 119m long, 51m wide, and 30m high at its tallest point.
For 400 years it was the religious centre of medieval Scotland, until the Reformation in 1560 made the celebration of the Catholic Mass illegal, and the cathedral building was ransacked by mobs and its interior features destroyed. The building fell into ruin, with its stone being taken and recycled into other structures around St Andrews as its walls and towers collapsed over the following centuries.
Today only portions of the cathedral's east and west towers and some of its walls survive intact, but the sense of scale and grandeur of the original building is still impressive.
ST ANDREWS CASTLE
The castle on the rocky promontory grew up alongside the development of the original cathedral, from the twelfth century.
As with many Scottish fortresses, St Andrews castle itself was periodically destroyed and substantially rebuilt as it changed hands between the Scots and the English forces, and the foundations of the version that survives (albeit in ruins) today date from around 1400 CE.
Cardinal David Beaton, whose house in the sixteenth century stood on Cowgate in Edinburgh's Old Town, was executed at St Andrews castle in 1546, after ordering the torture and execution of Protestant reformer George Wishart, who has burned at the stake in front of the castle earlier that year.
The castle finally fell into ruins in the middle of the seventeenth century, and little sense of the grand residential fortress that it once was survives today.
What can still be seen, however, is the original 'bottle dungeon', which was a notorious prison space cut into the solid rock beneath the fortress, as well as the mine tunnels which were carved in the 1540s when efforts were made to attack the castle by tunnelling beneath it to place explosive beneath its foundations.
UNIVERSITY OF ST ANDREWS
The university at St Andrews was founded in 1413, making it the oldest university in Scotland - 150 years older than the University of Edinburgh - and the third oldest in the UK. It is made up of 18 academic schools, split into four faculties - Art, Science, Medicine, and Divinity - across three colleges.
Home to just under 12,000 students (along with staff they make up around a third of the total population of St Andrews), the university routinely features in 'best of' rankings for academic institutions both within the UK and around the world. Unique to St Andrews university is its system of classification of students by year - first years are Bejants or Benjantines, second years are known as Semis, third year students are Tertians, and in their fourth and final year they become known as Magistrands.
The university is spread between a number of buildings and campus areas across St Andrews town centre, including historic structures and more modern faculty spaces.
Subjects studied by students range from medicine and theology, to classics, art history, mathematics, biology, film studies and computer science, and the university is considered one of the most selective in the UK in terms of entry requirements. Typically students accepted to study at the University of St Andrews would be expected to get three grade A results at A-levels (in the English school system), or four As and a B in the Scottish Highers system.
THE HOME OF GOLF
The fourth feature that defines St Andrews is its historic (and economically advantageous) connection to Scotland's national sport - golf!
The Old Course at St Andrews has claims to being the oldest in the world, established in the early fifteenth century (although the course at Bruntsfield Links in Edinburgh has been active since around the same time, and remains free to play).
The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews, who have the large club house overlooking the course, are just one of several clubs with permission to utilise the course, although the land itself is common ground owned by St Andrews town council.
It was here at St Andrews that the standard golf course length of 18 holes became established, in the 1760s, and the Old Course became the home of the Open Championship, first held here in 1873. It remains the setting for the championship every five years.
One of the most famous features of the St Andrews Old Course is the Swilcan Bridge, a historic stone arch that crosses the narrow Swilcan burn, a small stream which runs through the course and out into the nearby sea.
The bridge is reputed to have been built over 700 years ago by farmers who needed to bring their sheep across the ground.
The bridge features on both the 1st and 18th green of the Old Course, and is a picturesque feature that is uniquely associated with St Andrews.
If you're not able to play a round on the Old Course itself (FYI, par for this particular course is 72...) you might instead want to visit the R&A Wold Golf Museum, or one of the many hotel bars and restaurants overlooking the course, or the multitude of golfing supplies shops to be found in the vicinity.
For non-golfers, St Andrews remains a good option for a day out, with plenty of interesting shops and cafes (Mitchell's would be my recommendation for lunch).
There are lovely views from the walk along the coastal path, between the castle ruins and the back of the cathedral, to the still active harbour area where seafood is brought ashore on a regular basis.
Or wander the narrow lanes of the town, where the buildings routinely date back several hundred years - the picturesque frontages and cobbled streets create a beautiful backdrop for your afternoon exploring.
The beach, famously featured in the 1981 film Chariots of Fire, about Scottish missionary and Olympian Eric Liddell, offers plenty of space for walking (or running... in slow motion!), building sandcastles in the golden sand or - for those brave enough - a dip in the chilly waters of the North Sea.
Beneath St Andrews Castle is a small tidal lido is ideal for casual swimming without the risk of waves, tides, and there's a popular aquarium for you to get up-close with the life aquatic...
So it's safe to say that St Andrews has something to keep you entertained for an afternoon, and offers a vibrant alternative to Edinburgh's city centre. And having enjoyed the scenery, an ice cream, and some fresh air, all you then have to worry about is how to make the journey back to Edinburgh... ;)
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The Old and New Towns of Edinburgh were designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995, creating a requirement for the structures of the city - the built heritage of Edinburgh - to be carefully monitored and maintained to protect their cultural and historical significance.
Although most visitors think naturally of the Old Town as a heritage site, the bulk of the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Edinburgh covers the city's New Town, built from the 1760s as an expansion to the original medieval settlement. Together the two halves of Edinburgh create a historical record of around 3,500 years of human occupation, and I always say that if visitors only explore the Old Town they're only getting half of Edinburgh's story.
But Edinburgh is just one of six UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Scotland, with another three of these culturally protected spaces easily accessible from the city itself.
Here's my introduction to all six sites...
EDINBURGH, OLD AND NEW
Both sides of the city centre are scheduled within the UNESCO World Heritage Site listing, showcasing the two distinct characters of Edinburgh's built heritage.
The Old Town grew up largely organically, filling the space between the two royal residences - hence the Royal Mile between the castle and the palace - with narrow streets growing down from the spine of the rock into the valleys to both the north and the south. It was unplanned, chaotic, evolving to meet the needs of the city as it grew from a humble market town to an urban capital.
Edinburgh's Georgian-era New Town, by contrast, represents the finest example of early coordinated town planning in the UK.
Laid out in 1767 to a plan by James Craig, the city expanded in a series of phases that filled the space to the north of the Old Town with grand residential properties, planned parks and gardens, and geometric streets.
The two sides of the city continue to contrast and complement each other, and even today visitors can still experience the difference in the two halves of Edinburgh.
THE ANONTINE WALL
Once the north-western limit of the Roman Empire, the Antonine Wall is often overshadowed by its earlier (and more substantial) cousin, Hadrian's Wall.
Whilst the latter - itself a UNESCO World Heritage Site - ran for nearly 100 miles across northern England and was built from stone, the Antonine Wall was constructed a generation later, and ran for 39 miles across the central belt of Scotland. The camp at Cramond, outside Edinburgh, was the Romans' largest settlement during the brief time they occupied Scotland.
Construction on the Antonine Wall started around 142 CE, and took approximately 12 years. From surviving earthworks archaeologists can tell that the wall comprised an elevated road with a wide rampart about 4m in height, and then a deep ditch, studded along its length with 16 forts to provide an armed force to protect the boundary.
The wall was abandoned less than a decade after its construction when the Romans retreated from Scotland in 162 CE. They destroyed all the wall's defensive structures, dismantling or burning the forts - only the physical rampart of the wall itself was left intact.
Much of the line of the Antonine Wall can still be traced across the central belt of Scotland today, with its ditch and earthwork mound running from Bo'ness on the Forth in the east to Old Kilpatrick on the Clyde in the west.
The Anontine Wall was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2008.
These neolithic features are some of the most intensely studied archaeological sites in the UK, and some of the most important historic sites in the whole of Europe. They offer an insight into the lives (and deaths) of the people living around 5,000 years ago, and include a burial mound, a village, and remnants of two impressive stone circles which are among the oldest such sites in the whole of Britain.
Despite its relative inaccessibility Orkney is a popular destination for visitors, and shows another element of Scotland's diverse natural and cultural heritage.
A good reminder that not all World Heritage Sites have to be ancient monuments or structures, New Lanark, about 35 miles south west of Edinburgh, is a mill town established in 1785, during the early years of what became the Industrial Revolution in Britain.
Established as a cotton mill, producing cloth that could then be exported around the UK and turned into a variety of clothing, New Lanark also provided accommodation for the up to 2,500 people who worked there. The care given to the workers meant the town developed as a new kind of philanthropic industrialism, where children were given an education and families were could access innovative social and welfare programs.
The mill's later owner, Robert Owen, met opposition from investors and business partners who didn't care for the reforming principles he espoused.
But Owen was able to demonstrate that it wasn't necessary for industry to exploit its workers in order to be commercially viable and successful. Discipline was maintained without using punishments, and a portion of the mill workers' wages was put into a fund for supporting those who fell sick or needed medical treatment.
By the 1800s New Lanark was the largest mill in Scotland, and one of the largest factory operations in the whole world. The mill evolved and changed over the generations, until it finally closed as an industrial operation in 1968, nearly 200 years after it was first established.
New Lanark was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001, in recognition of the integration of Owen's philanthropy, reform, planning and industrial principles, and now operates as a charity as well as functioning as an active mill with a thriving local village community.
Surrounded by the north Atlantic Ocean, just over 40 miles north-west from the island of Uist in the Outer Hebrides - and 110 miles from the nearest point of the Scottish mainland - this island community was likely occupied as far back at 2,000 years ago, but with a population that never exceeded 70 people. The island was finally evacuated of its final 36 (human) residents in 1930.
St Kilda is one of the few UNESCO World Heritage Sites around the globe which is listed for both its natural and cultural qualities.
THE FORTH BRIDGE
The most recent addition to Scotland's UNESCO World Heritage Sites is the Forth Bridge, once nicknamed the eighth wonder of the world, which was inscribed in 2015.
Opened in 1890, the bridge continues to provide a rail link to the north of Edinburgh, over the Firth of Forth. Its distinctive cantilevered structure, painted in an eye-catching red colour, was deliberately over-engineered following the collapse of the Tay Bridge, a railway crossing outside of Dundee, which resulted in at least 59 deaths of passengers on a train which fell into the water as the bridge collapsed during a winter storm in 1879.
The Forth Bridge bridge connects the towns of North and South Queensferry, and was the first major project in the UK to be built from steel. It has since become an iconic feature that has entered popular culture in a variety of ways.
Like the ancient tale of Sisyphus, eternally pushing his boulder up a mountain, an unending or protracted task is often described as being 'like painting the Forth Bridge' - because by the time they had finished painting the bridge, they immediately needed to start all over again!
Today the Forth Bridge continues to provide a vital transport link into and out of Edinburgh, and can be viewed from either of the towns at its ends, or from a rail journey across its length.
So visitors to Edinburgh can easily tick off another UNESCO World Heritage Site or two during their visit - though St Kilda and Orkney require rather more of an effort to access...
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