What is it about Scotland that made it one of the countries finding a place on most people's bucket lists? Not difficult to think about that one, is it? You only have to close your eyes when someone mentions Scotland to recall the beauty of the countryside: rolling hills, glens and castles, whiskey, golf, lochs, shortbread and men in kilts – and that is only to name a few attractions!
Yes, they are all there, but if that is what you think makes up Scotland, you're making a big mistake. Scotland has so much more to offer than what I've mentioned.
People pop into Edinburgh to walk down the Royal Mile from Holyrood Palace to the Castle and take a walk through Princess Street Gardens. Then jump on the motorway or a bus or train, maybe to take in Glasgow's rich culture before a brief stop at Wallace's Monument and Stirling Castle then travelling down the motorway to find Nessie in the scenic beauty of the Highlands. Some may take in a whiskey tasting or two along the way or play a round of golf. That is all fine but there are so much more than the obvious.
If you go to Scotland next time, do yourself a favour, take the M9 motorway to Glasgow or Stirling but instead of rushing by, take a couple of days to explore one of Scotland's best-kept secrets, Falkirk. Better yet, make Falkirk your base to explore the central region. The town lay in the beautiful Forth Valley, 23.3 miles north-west of Edinburgh and 20.5 miles north-east of Glasgow, just to be precise.
Falkirk, you may ask? Why? For some, the name may sound vaguely familiar. You may remember somewhere in one of those historical movies they spoke about the battle of Falkirk. South Africans may remember that years ago our popular black cooking pots used for cooking our 'potjies' over the fire, all had the Falkirk sign on it. The ironworks also used to make the drain covers which were found all over the UK and other commonwealth countries.
The district of Falkirk includes not only Falkirk itself, but also Stenhousemuir, Denny, Bo'Ness and Grangemouth. Nearby Bo'Ness is a beautiful town on the banks of the River Forth, steeped in history and folklore. It is home to the Bo'ness and Kinneil Railway, the Bo'ness Motor Museum, the beautifully restored Hippodrome Cinema and Kinneil Estate are just a few minutes away from which you can access parts of the Antonine Wall. Then there is Grangemouth, packed full of local history and memorabilia which is well worth a visit, especially Zetland Park, Jupiter Urban Wildlife Centre, Polmonthill Snowsport Centre (on the outskirts) or the Spitfire Memorial.
This already gives you an indication that there is so much more to Falkirk than you could've imagined.
I'm concentrating on Falkirk in this article, as it was where I've spent most of my time. (Falkirk is the Dude's hometown, and his mother still lives there in a retirement village.)
Falkirk played an important part in the history of Scotland. The town gave its name to two local battles. The First Battle of Falkirk occurred on 22nd July 1298 between the armies of William Wallace and Edward I of England. Sir John de Grahame, Wallace's right-hand man, is buried in the Parish Churchyard. The Second Battle of Falkirk took place on 17th January 1746 and is significant as the penultimate battle of the period known as the Jacobite Risings. The battle was witnessed by locals from both the church and town steeple. This was the last battle won by the Jacobite army, led by Bonnie Prince Charlie against the Government forces before the Battle of Culloden.
Falkirk is also the town where Scotland's most popular drink was first ever brewed. And it was not whiskey! Irn Bru was developed by the Barr company and named after the ironworks which had been the reason for Falkirk's existence in the early years. Sadly, both Barr's and the ironworks are closed and so has MacGowan's Toffees, which had its factory in Stenhousemuir, a village within Falkirk District.
But more about the town and what you can expect to find.
The town has a historic town centre with a traditional high street. It is fully pedestrianised with several retail shops, restaurants, coffee shops, bars and bistros. The town centre heritage trail and Falkirk Town Hall will also keep you occupied.
You can follow the Heritage Trail which links 25 sites of interest near the town centre. Each has a plaque with details of the location and its historical importance. The plaques are not numbered and can be visited in any order. There are also many interesting buildings on the routes which do not have plaques and visitors are recommended to look out for the many architectural gems which grace the town streets and wynds. There you will also find Tolbooth Street (second photo in the Galery), as recorded in the Guinness Book of Records, as the smallest street in Britain. It stands alongside the Steeples and is only 58 feet.
I'm only going to highlight a few of Falkirk's attractions, but you should visit the town's website listed in the info at the end, to get more details.
The Steeple has been a landmark in Falkirk since 1814, it is over 140 feet high and 22 feet square at ground level. Previously used as the town lock-up. It has been part of Falkirk town life and community identity for generations, overlooking countless market days and Hogmanay celebrations.
Callendar House is a 5-star visitor attraction, a stunning 14th century, French chateau-style house, complete with working Georgian kitchen, visitor tea room and kids play park. Set in the nationally important historic landscape of Callendar Park which contains a section of the Roman Antonine Wall, a UNESCO World Heritage site. There are lovely walking trails and is one of the sites where you can catch the autumn leaves in Central Scotland.
The Falkirk Wheel
Scotland's most interesting example of 21st-century engineering, The Falkirk Wheel is the World's only rotating boat lift - lifting boats 115 ft which links the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal. Boat trips and Woodland Walks which take in parts of the Antonine Wall a World Heritage Site and Roughcastle Roman Fort.
The Kelpies tower a colossal 30 metres above the Forth and Clyde Canal and form a dramatic gateway to the canal entrance on the East Coast of Scotland. Created by Scotland's leading sculptor Andy Scott, The Kelpies are a monument to horse powered heritage across Central Scotland.
You can either drive the short distance from the Kelpies to the Helix or walk there. The Helix is a pet-friendly green space with walking paths, cycleways and watersports.
Blackness Castle is a 15th-century fortress, near the village of Blackness, Scotland, on the south shore of the Firth of Forth. It is shaped like a ship and situated on a promontory which juts out into the Firth of Forth. The castle is known as 'the ship that never sailed'.
And for those movie buffs, there is something for you too. Both Blackness Castle and Callendar House were recently used as a film location for the hugely popular Outlander TV Series. The castle stood in for Fort William in series one of the show.
There are, of course, many other attractions to Falkirk but I am going to stand with these.
The public transport is excellent, and the town is served by two train stations, namely Falkirk High and Falkirk Grahamstown. Regular bus service and taxis are available.
Accommodation is plenty. You can choose from staying in an Airbnb, a cottage, a houseboat or choose from several guest houses and hotels. Or why not stay in a castle? (http://www.visitfalkirk.com/accommodation/airth-castle/) Or what about a pineapple? http://www.visitfalkirk.com/accommodation/the-pineapple/
23.3 miles north-west of Edinburgh and 20.5 miles north-east of Glasgow
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