Well hey History-buffs, Life Enthusiasts and Travel-Addicts alike,
If you’ve been ‘kicking-around’ in Edinburgh this last month you would’ve bear-witnessed the crazy-awesome-intensity of the Edinburgh International Fringe Festival. And if you’re reading this you absolutely survived the madness.
This however is not all that is being celebrated in Scotland this Summer.
Did you know that 2017 was the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology? I hear crickets… well hey it’s news to me too!
Although it’s hard to believe Scotland could be any more awesome, what with it’s abundance of tradition, cultural experiences and endless tartan… I have something to tell you!
Away from all the impressive landmarks, there’s other hidden gems…
Here’s the Scoop-
Back in April of this year Scotland’s Six World Heritage sites were celebrated over six separate events, and it was a lot of fun… but it also got the organisers ‘Dig It! 2017’ thinking about other hidden-less-known gems glistening around the country –
You know how England has Stonehenge? Well without disputing – it’s wickedly impressive and famous no doubt – BUT there are other stone circles on the same level as cool and just as mysterious – but we rarely hear of them compared… Try Castlerigg Stone Circle, near Keswick? Much less known but equally impressive.
All the same, a campaign was born: with the intention to establish those gems – the campaign would be called ‘Scotland in Six – Hidden Gems’ beginning in June. What do we do though when it’s 2017 and we need a vote taken? Well forget the days of postal votes, we use social media of course! 1 Facebook ‘like’ was used as 1 vote for the 28 sites that were chosen across the country. The sites would include castles, fortes, stones, old buildings, churches and more. Amongst them were nominees such as Braemar Castle and Burghead Forte. If you’re interested in the 28 sites, you can check them out here. Voting lasted two months and the top six were decided!
Drum roll… brrrrrr…..
And.. the 1st place winner goes to…
The ‘Govan Stones’, who snagged 1st place with a whopping 2,472 Facebook likes.
Credit to Photographer – Billy MacDonald.
I believe it was voted as Scotland’s favourite historical gem because of the history and preservation of the stones… and part of the limited remains of some of Scotland’s coolest medieval eras: The Vikings.
You can find the Govan Stones in Glasgow City, the Govan Old Church hosts the last remaining 31 monuments, carved between the 9th and 11th century by the Vikings. There were originally 45 but would be wiped out as recently as the 1980s by demolition in the area.
The Stones were used as a way to celebrate the power held by the rulers of the Kingdom of Strathclyde. In the collection of 31 there are grave stones, ‘hogbacks’ and a unique sarcophagus.
They are unique and are carved with many different kinds of patterns by the Vikings. Patterns that would truly reflect the Viking era and the symbols that resonated with them during such time. Symbols varied from crosses to cross shafts, Celtic symbols and ancient warriors.
None of these pieces are by any-means small – five of the Hogbacks are made of sandstone blocks and the smallest still weighs 500kg. Speaking of those Hogbacks, they were found exclusively in the South of Scotland and North of England – and are by far the largest in the collection.
The Govan Sarcophagus is the prized piece (from AD 900), carved completely into solid stone.
Overall, no two stones are alike, each with a unique mix of carvings and shape.
There is literally nothing else like it in Scotland.
The church has announced free entry for the next 3 years to celebrate it’s win. Worth the look – it’ll ROCK’ your world.
Here’s the quick list of the winning six!
1. ‘Govan Stones’
2. Ardrossan Castle.
3. The Howff.
4. James Watt Cottage.
5. Campbeltown Picture House.
6. Lincluden Collegiate Church.
The winning six – image thanks to DigIt2017!
Let’s explore the 5 runners up a bit more shall we?
In 2nd place was – Ardrossan Castle. (2,039 likes)
I love a legend as much as the next person and this one has a lot!
Ardrossan Castle Ruins.
The Castle was built in the 12th century, had a moat and was originally titled ‘Castle Crag’ which overlooks the town of Ardrossan and the Firth of Clyde.
What’s left from those days now are the legends, the stories and the very much HAUNTED medieval ruins! That’s right haunted – by two historic figures ‘Sir Ferugus Barclay’ and the infamous ‘Sir William Wallace’.
According to the legends Sir Fergus would make a deal with the devil that saw him gain exquisite equestrian skills via a magical bridal – in exchange for his soul. But when Fergus decided he didn’t want to give that up- the Devil would become enraged and curse him, attacking the castle and leaving ‘hoof-prints’ in the sides & would be sentenced to death for allegedly murdering his wife.
Note to self – this is why we don’t do deals with the devil, okay gang?
In 1292, history would show that the English took claim over the castle, this was not taken lightly by William Wallace who would storm the grounds with his troops and take it back in the year 1296. Any remaining English survivors were thrown into a dungeon where they would be left to die horrible deaths. The event was known as ‘William’s Larder’. The English ghosts still haunt the ruins of the chambers, or so they say… William was later betrayed & executed in 1305.
Along with the ghosts of Fergus and the dead English, visitors have also reported seeing a tall bearded man that many believe to be Sir William Wallace.
Ruins and ghosts – what an awesome combination!
3rd place went to – The Howff. (946 likes)
The Howff Cemetery.
So right away I was impressed by that name – The Howff – it almost sounds like some kind of spooky Dracula reference – but no – it is actually a Scots word for ‘meeting place’. Located in Dundee the cemetery here was erected on land which was formerly the medieval ‘Greyfriars Monastery’. The infamous: Mary Queen of Scots then gave permission for it to become a burial ground for the Dundonians in 1564. As mentioned previously, it was also used as a meeting place for the nine Dundee Incorporated Trades.
So, the big question is, why is this graveyard the Bronze winner?
This is not any normal graveyard. 3 whole centuries of Dundee life and death have been sprawled across the gifted land. The headstones- all carefully decorated with Scottish symbols, creepy skull & cross bones and… the haunting scripture which details the incredibly hard lives of those that lay beneath the surface. If you ever wanted to time travel, this can be your opportunity (minus the DeLorean)- as there have been no alterations made to the site, you find yourself stepping back into 19th century Scotland. The last official burial took place here in 1878. Welcome to the portal.
The Howff is the owner of most important collection of tombstones in Scotland and has rightfully claimed a Certificate Of Excellence from Trip Advisor.
For some extra uniquely-eerie photographs, go at dusk – pack a stake and some garlic.
4th place winner – James Watt Cottage. (847 likes)
This another Gem I am especially impressed with.
The Birthplace of The Watt Steam Engine, Image courtesy of ‘Don’t Blink Photo’.
If we rewind time for a moment a cottage was built in 1769 on the grounds of Kinneil Estate. The cottage was built by a man named Dr. John Roebuck, here he would spent countless hours with an up and coming inventor: James Watt. Away from the invasive eyes of Bo’Ness, James had visions of creating new and improved steam engines that would transform the world. And that is what the two would do – work on and test out prototypes for steam engines.
This now ‘roofless cottage’ became a workshop in secret. Over two years the engines would be worked on. Funded by Dr. John Roebuck in exchange for the brilliant workings of James Watt’s mind, the two would work away in secret and developed something that literally changed history.
In a later stage Dr. Roebuck would become bankrupt and the project was taken over by another party.
James Watt would go on to be a famous inventor and create a legacy. This cottage is thought to be the only remaining building that is linked to his work and life. And these improvements made away in secret would see a huge impact on the Industrial Revolution. Dr. Roebuck’s initial part in the story should not be discredited either, it saw a wonderful invention come to life – The Watt Steam Engine. James Watt Cottage is the birthplace, go check it out!
5th place to – Campbeltown Picture House. (781 likes)
Campbeltown Picture House.
Coming in at #5, the Campbeltown Picture House is the baby of the family. The Picture House began it’s life rather recently in 1913, playing host to Operas, plays and films. It was originally designed by architect Albert V Gardner and has kept it’s ‘heavy-weight’ title as the Longest Running Cinema in Scotland. Though the local’s still call it ‘Wee Pictures’, don’t let that emasculate the building, it is BIG and wise. The historic auditorium would be briefly remodeled in 1935 and would go without major work done until it’s close in 2014, pretty much straight after celebrating it’s 100th birthday. The Queen better have produced a letter with those kind of digits! Jokes aside – this was thought to be the last cinema of it’s kind still used as a running cinema.
Buildings these days, are more often- than not, torn down and instead new modern buildings or classic shopping centers take their place. Well that didn’t happen thankfully! It has been closed for the last 3 years to see it refurbished and is expected to reopen shortly and will be used as a Picture House once more. #happydays
Lastly, in 6th place is – Lincluden Collegiate Church. (758 likes)
Once upon a time, around the year 1400 in the outskirts of Dumfries a church would be constructed called the Lincluden Collegiate Church. Formerly Benedictine Nuns would be found pottering the halls of the building as it was previously a Nunnery. It would be improved to make way for a larger grander structure. It worked, and would be seen as grand – Princess Margaret was entombed here after her death in 1450.
Though, the era called ‘The Reformation’ occurred and would change Scottish history forever: the END of the Roman Church’s 500 year domination. Presbyterian Protestantism instead took over in 1560 in efforts to destroy every piece of art, sculpture and architecture that could be associated with the Pope. Therefore, Lincluden Church – which was badly damaged as a result.
Repairs were made and many hands were to own the Church but inevitably it was abandoned in 1700 and deteriorated into ruins. The site is now taken care of by the Historic Environment of Scotland.
The best reason to see this Gem is a) it’s free to be seen all year round, b) it boasts the best of Gothic Architecture in Scotland & c) seeing it evokes something very confronting from witnessing the ruins by a war of religion.
Scotland’s Six Hidden Gems are impressive to say the least!
As usual Scotland’s Top Hostels have you covered for accommodation in the areas.
Our hostel in Pitlochry is close to The Howff, with a little over an hour’s drive.
In Edinburgh we have 3 wonderful hostels to choose from: Castle Rock, Royal Mile and High Street- all of which are close enough to do an easy day trip, out to the sites: James Watt Cottage, Lincluden Collegiate Church and The Govan Stones.
The hostel in Oban is nice and close to both Campbeltown Picture House and Adrossan for half-day trips as well.
Thankfully, the madness of August is over but now it’s September and it’s also Scottish Archaeology Month! So why stop the fun now?! Take a trip out to see the sites to celebrate, they have arrested my attention so far and I will be checking some I haven’t seen- myself.
I like to think that you don’t often find the ‘gems’ of a country, in a city.
No, these gems are not as likely to ‘pop-up’ in your Instagram feeds, BUT there really is something magical in jumping off the beaten track and discovering places that glisten out of the spotlight.
So embrace a piece of the past and discover a new & untouched story.
Written by Court Jeremiah.
STH Blog Writer.