SOME of Scotland’s most sacred buildings and remote religious treasures are to take centre stage in the country’s latest tourism campaign.
A series of new trails will shine a light on little-known historic sites, centuries-old churches, important graveyards and far-flung places of worship.
The charity behind the venture hopes thousands of people will follow in the footsteps of the Celtic Saints and the pilgrimages they inspired in the Middle Ages.
Entitled “Routes of Inspiration”, the trails, which were unveiled today to coincide with the start of Holy Week, are being targeted at history, architectural and outdoor enthusiasts, as well as religious followers.
They have been developed under a project backed by Scottish Enterprise, Historic Environment Scotland, which is responsible for many of the nation’s most important religious sites, and the national tourism agency VisitScotland.
Each route created by the Scotland’s Churches Trust - which was set up to promote the nation’s ecclesiastic heritage - also highlights local attractions, including galleries, gardens, castles and distilleries, as well as cafes, bars and restaurants.
The 60-mile St Andrew trail from Killin to Aberfeldy features Morenish Chapel, which has a striking stained glass window depicting Moses receiving the Ten Commandments and Fortingall Parish Church, which sits on an ancient Christian site beside a tree thought to be one of the oldest living things on the planet.
The 66-mile St Columba route from Inverness to Dornoch takes in the Wardlaw Mausoleum, near Inverness, which features a monument to Lord Lovat, the last man to be beheaed in Britain, and the 13th century Dornoch Cathedral, where Madonna famously married Guy Ritchie in 2000.
A 93-mile route through Dumfries and Galloway takes in sections of journeys by both St Mungo and St Ninian includes Ruthwell Parish Church, which has an eighth century stone cross featuring the oldest surviving text of English poetry.
Other highlights include Sweetheart Abbey, the last Cistercian monastery to be built in Scotland, which was founded in 1273 by Lady Dervorgilla of Galloway in memory of her husband Lord John Balliol. It was given its name after she was laid to rest in 1290 next to his embalmed heart. She had carried it everywhere with her in an ivory casket after his death in 1268.
The Routes of Inspiration campaign - which includes advice for motorists, cyclists and walkers making their way around the trails - has been instigated by the trust to coincide with Scotland’s Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design, the first celebration of its kind.
John Graham, a trustee of the charity, said: “It is about enabling far more people to discover and experience Scotland’s plethora of stunning sacred buildings and the history and heritage that surround them and to connect the country’s past and present together in a meaningful way.
“We believe that Scotland’s Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design is the perfect time to launch the routes, which are not just for people of faith.
“We are hoping that individuals, couples and families will choose to use them as the basis for creating their own pilgrimages and discovering the excitement and sense of awe that can be found through following in the footsteps of a saint.
“The routes traverse some of the most secluded parts of our country and unveil the history and the beauty of many of the churches along the way. Scotland’s churches are precious assets and recent books, television series and films have put some of them on the global map.
“There are, however, so many others waiting to be enjoyed, not only for their religious significance, but also for the architectural beauty and the glimpses of history that can be found in the graveyards that surround them.”
Malcolm Roughead, chief executive of VisitScotland, said: “The launch of Routes of Inspiration is perfectly timed as we celebrate Scotland’s Year of Innovation, Architecture and Design.
“These trails will not only allow visitors to hear the fascinating stories behind this country’s saints and to explore some of these beautiful religious buildings, but they will also benefit the wider visitor economy by highlighting nearby attractions, accommodation and places to eat and drink.”
Dr Jeff Sanders, project manager at the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, said: “Anyone taking part in these journeys will have the opportunity to step off the beaten path, explore new landscapes and uncover hidden history for themselves. Now is the perfect time to start discovering Scotland’s stories.”