20 historical sites and how they shaped Scotland

Picture: Monument for the Battle of Bannockburn
Picture: Monument for the Battle of Bannockburn
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FROM ancient castles and bloody battlegrounds to striking monuments and world-renowned architecture, we take a look at 20 historic sites in Scotland and how they shaped our country.

National Monument of Scotland, Edinburgh

Aerial of the National Monument ('Edinburgh's  Disgrace') on Calton Hill Edinburgh in September 1976.

Aerial of the National Monument ('Edinburgh's Disgrace') on Calton Hill Edinburgh in September 1976.

Intended as a national symbol of gratitude to the hundreds of Scots who fell in the Napoleonic Wars. the twelve pillars of “Edinburgh’s Folly” stand tall over Calton Hill.

Despite honouring a conflict against the French, it was decided to imitate the style of the Parthenon in Greece in homage to Edinburgh’s reputation as the “Athens of the North”.

Famous names, including Sir Walter Scott, helped to secure funding for the project and the foundation stone was laid in October 1822.

By 1827, work on the project had ceased due to lack of funding - with ideas of catacombs for Scotland’s valiant fighters never released.

Picture: Depicition of the Battle of Stirling Bridge

Picture: Depicition of the Battle of Stirling Bridge

Less-polite names for the failed monument include ‘Scotland’s Pride and Poverty’, ‘Scotland’s Disgrace’ or ‘Edinburgh’s Shame’.

Stirling Bridge, Stirling

Stirling Bridge has been described as “second in importance only to Bannockburn in the Wars of Independence” by Scottish historian Sir Tom Devine.

The Battle of Stirling Bridge ended in one of the greatest victories for the Scots. Although outnumbered, Scottish forces managed to gain victory against the much larger army of Edward I of England with the help of Wallace and Andrew De Moray.

Picture: George Square, Glasgow

Picture: George Square, Glasgow

Wallace and Moray attacked the opponent and cut off their escape route back across the bridge leaving knights, bowmen and foot soldiers trapped.

Englishman John De Warrene had the bridge set on fire and cut down in order to keep the Scots from following as he retreated back to Berwick, leaving it as a shell of its former self.

As a consequence of the success, Wallace went on to lead raids on Northern England which frightened the English army and stalled their advance.

Following a few rebuilds, the bridge still stands as a reminder of a battle than changed the course of Scottish history.

Picture: The Callanish Stones

Picture: The Callanish Stones

George Square, Glasgow

Located in the middle of the thriving city of Glasgow, George Square has been at the heart of Scottish history. The square was the location of the Battle of George Square in 1919, which also became known as Bloody Friday.

The battle was a culmination of frustration and anger at the suffering the city endured after the First World War.

In response, the Clyde Workers Committee called for a ‘40-hours strike’ to improve conditions and remedy some of the rising numbers of the unemployed. Protesters flooded George Square to hear speeches from their leaders but the protest soon turned into a riot with 10,000 troops, tanks and machine guns sent by the government.

As a result of the riots, the government postponed major cuts to health, welfare and housing spending which changed the course of history for Scottish people.

In the following general election, the country elected a number of Labour MPs including the 40 hour strike organiser, which led to the first Labour government coming into power. Bloody Friday not only shaped the everyday lives of Scottish workers, it directly influenced government decision making which changed lives across the country.

Torpedo tubes, generators and turbines from German battleships which were scuttled at Scapa Flow are landed on the quayside at Leith, Edinburgh

Torpedo tubes, generators and turbines from German battleships which were scuttled at Scapa Flow are landed on the quayside at Leith, Edinburgh

Scapa Flow, Orkney

Long favoured by the Royal Navy on account of its easy access to the Atlantic Ocean and North Sea, Scapa Flow is one of Scotland’s most significant historical military sites.

At the close of the First World War, the German High Seas Fleet was escorted to Scapa Flow for internment. Predicting the British intention to sieze the fleet, the Germans scuttled every ship. Of the ships that were successfully raised, the wrecks of seven German boats lie at depths of between 12 and 45 metres under the surface of the water and are popular with recreational divers.

The murky waters are also home to the protected war graves of HMS Royal Oak, which sank in World War II after being torpedoed by U-47 and HMS Vanguard, which perished after suffering an explosion onboard.

As a result, the Churchill Barriers were built by Italian PoWs to block off access from the east. They survive to this day and provide transportation between the islands with the road built on top of them.

Glenfinnan, Scottish Highlands

Glenfinnan is known for the Jacobite uprising of 1745, the events following the uprising scarred the course of Scottish history forever.

The site is where Prince Charles received word of support from hundreds of men from the Clan Cameron and Macdonnells which gave him enough support to mount his rebellion.

After the show of support, Charles climbed the hill at Glenfinnan and raised his standard. This was followed by a brief ceremony where brandy was handed out in celebration. The moment had a domino effect on Scottish history led to rebellion which ultimately failed during the Battle of Culloden in 1746 and brought in a new way of life for the Highlands. A monument to mark the rising of the standard was created in 1815 when the Jacobite rising had receded far enough into history.

Forth Bridge, Lothians

Stil in daily use after 125 years, 2015 saw the Forth Rail Bridge granted UNESCO World Heritage Site status in July 2015. The cantilever structure is over 1.5 miles in length and it is the second-longest span of its type after the Quebec Bridge in Canada was built in 1917.

With over 100 trains per day crossing the waters of the Forth, the Sir John Fowler and Sir Benjamin Baker-designed structure survived German bombers targeting Rosyth in the Second World War and is now in the ownership of Network Rail. It was extensively restored and repainted in the early 2000s and has appeared on the 2007-issue Bank of Scotland £20 note, as well as being parodied in the Rockstar Games-developed title Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

READ MORE: Irn-Bru lights up Forth Bridge to mark iconic campaign

Glamis Castle, Angus

The home of the Earl and Countess of Strathmore and Kinghorne has been inhabited by the family since the 14th century. As one of Scotland’s most famous castles, the country house has been the setting of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and the childhood home of HM Queen Elizabeth.

Adding to the mystery behind the castle’s metre-thick walls is the legend of “Earl Beardie”, who dared to play a card game on the sabbath. The rumour goes that the irate earl was doomed to play cards forevermore by a stranger who appeared and engaged him in a game; commonly understood to be the Devil. His mystery is one of many to surround the castle which continue to intrigue visitors.

Nowadays, the castle is a popular tourist attraction famed for its majestic turrets and spacious grounds, including the Italian Garden and Pinetum Walks.

The Antonine Wall

The Antonine Wall was the north-west frontier of the Roman Empire. It ran for 40 Roman miles from modern Bo’ness on the Firth of Forth to Old Kilpatrick on the River Clyde. Despite never being a stone wall, it was a symbol of the Roman Empire’s power and control in Scotland. The site represents the most northerly frontier of the empire and was the most complex frontier ever constructed by the Roman army.

As Scotland’s largest historic monument, the Antonine Wall plays an important part in shaping the country’s landscape and maintaining its Roman history. One of the wall’s most clearly visible structures is the Roman bathhouse at Bearsden. The foundations of its hot and cold rooms are now overlooked by a block of flats,

Callanish Stones, Lewis

Calanais (or sometimes Callanish) is the site of extensive Bronze-Age archaeological remains, located on the west coast of Lewis. The site consists of a circle of 13 large standing stones forming a cruciform pattern. Thought to have been designed and used as an astronomical observatory and gathering place, the stones have been a popular destination for visitors from around the world.

Speaking on the stones, archaeologist Caroline Wickham-Jones said: “The construction of a monument like Callanish was a skilled and time-consuming job. Five thousand years later it stands as a credit to its builders. It has been the subject of much study to unravel its mysteries, but though we have some strong hints we can never be sure what was in the minds of the prehistoric people of Lewis.”

Dumbarton Castle, Dumbarton

Dumbarton Castle was previously known as Alt Clut, ‘Rock of the Clyde’, before later being referred to as the Gaelic name Dun Breatann, ‘Fortress of the Britons’ from which the name Dunbarton is derived.

During the Wars of Independence, it’s thought that William Wallace may have been held prisoner here for a short time before being taken to London for execution. It’s location minimised its inclusion with the political heartland of the country but made for a good back gate which rulers could come and go with comparative ease. Mary Queen of Scots once sheltered under its roof until a ship could take her to safety.

It’s position was hotly contested in my power struggles which characterise 14th to 16th century Scottish history. Under its roof is sites for gun batteries, a magazine for ammunition, a prison used for French prisoners during the Napoleonic Wars and the Georgian governor’s house. It was last used in the Second World War but the restriction of its location made it difficult to adapt to modern military needs. It’s importance and reliability in the years before, however, cannot be faulted.

Scone Palace, Perth

As the crowning place of the likes of Macbeth, Robert the Bruce and Charles II and the Pictish capital, Scone Palace is one of the most historical buildings in Scotland. The palace has been the backdrop to a number of defining moments in history. The palace was an important religious gathering place of the Picts, the site of an early Christian church and once housed the Stone of Destiny. The Stone has been linked back to an Eygyptian princess who brought the sandstone block, which later became the seat where the Kings of Dalriada were enthroned.

The site now houses a replica of the Stone of Scone, one of the emblems of Scottish nationhood. Its presence is part of the reason why Scone Palace is so important to the story of Scotland and remains one of the most important buildings in the country. Much of our history has featured within its walls. As Category A listed building, the palace was first built in the 1600s. It was rebuilt in 1808 for the Earls of Mansfield by William Atkinson.

Loch Ness, Inverness

The nation’s most infamous loch is characterised by chilly waters and imposing valley walls, as well as the mystery of the beast that is said to live within the 227-metre deep peat-filled waters of the loch. Asides from being the supposed habitat of “Nessie”, Loch Ness is also home to large concentrations of salmon, Arctic char and trout.

On 31 December 1940, the site achieved notoriety as the final resting place of a RAF Wellington bomber which had lost an engine in a snowstorm during a training flight. After relocating the wreck in the late 1970s, the plane was exhumed from its watery resting place and fully restored before being put on show at the Brooklands Museum in England.

After the Second World War, racing driver John Cobb lost his life chasing the world record as the fastest man on water.

Cobb’s ultra-streamlined and jet-engined Crusader vessel was designed to reach a speed of over 200mph, but hit a boat-wake on the normally smooth surface of the loch and tore itself apart. The wreckage of the Crusader was rediscovered in 2002 and a memorial cairn at the lochside marks his effort today.

River Clyde, Glasgow

The River Clyde is home to one of the most important industries from Scottish history - shipbuilding. It’s often said that Glasgow made the Clyde and the Clyde made Glasgow, underlining its significance. Its history dates back as far as the 15th century but it wasn’t until the 19th century that the industry began to thrive and become a real source of commerce for Glasgow.

The Denny shipyard in Dumbarton built over 15,000 ships between 1844 and 1963 including the first steamship that crossed the Channel, the first turbine steamer and the first diesel-electric paddle.

Towards the end of the 19th century the shipyards on the River Clyde were some of the leading supplies of the Royal Navy, with their important contribution still being remembered to this day. One of the lasting legacies of the Scotland’s shipbuilding history is the Finnieston Crane which was completed in 1931 and was used to load large steam locomotives for exportation.

Scotland’s engineers played a fundamental role in the development of various aspects of shipbuilding and engineering which shaped not only Scotland but countries around the world. The engineering advances relating to the Clyde paved the way for Glasgow to become the ‘Second City of the Empire’.

Loudoun Hill, Ayrshire

Volcanic plug Loudoun Hill looks over Ayrshire to the firth of Clyde and the Isle of Arran. It is also the location of several historical battles featuring William Wallace and Robert the Bruce. Wallace was declared an outlaw after which he went on the achieve victory at Stirling Bridge.

In September 2004, a “Spirit of Scotland” statue was unveiled to recognise the historical significance of the area during the Wars of Independence.

After the execution of Wallace in 1305, Robert the Bruce continued the fight against English rule. After suffering defeats at both Methven and Dalry, Bruce was eventually victorious in the Battle of Loudoun Hill which reversed the negative effects of his earlier defeats and stood him in good stead to continue his campaign.

Rootes / Chysler / Peugeot - Talbot Factory, Renfrewshire

A small town outside Paisley was a major political hot potato during the 1970s and 1980s, after a well-meaning attempt to reinvigorate an area wracked by unemployment failed.

With the decline of the shipbuilding industry on the Clyde, the British government loaned Rootes Group the money to set up shop opposite the Pressed Steel plant in the area. The Linwood Car Factory of Rootes (Scotland) Ltd began producing the Hillman Imp, a rear-engined economy car, in 1963.

The plant was designed to produce 13,000 Imps per week, but the Imp’s story wasn’t plain sailing, with several high-profile industrial disputes interrupting the car’s production run. In 1964 alone, there were 31 stoppages with only 50,000 cars produced in a factory capable of manufacturing 150,000 units per year.

The mass recruitment of ex-shipbuilding workers, while technically skilled, would underpin the basis of souring relations between management and workers during this period. In addition, the badly-regulated quality control standards meant that the Imp soon gained a reputation for unreliability with drivers. Linwood was sold to Chrysler and then to Peugeot-Citroen in the early 1980s, who decided to axe the plant and its accompanying steel mill altogether, creating mass unemployment.

Dunnottar Castle, Stonehaven

A desolate military fort overlooking the grey North Sea, Dunnottar’s main claim to fame is that it was once home to Scotland’s Honours during the 17th Century.

As Oliver Cromwell’s army pushed north, the Honours were hidden away in the castle after being smuggled in wool. William Wallace and Mary Queen of Scots have both visited or stayed at the castle, and scenes from the 1990 film Hamlet were shot there with actors Mel Gibson and Glenn Close.

The derelict castle, complete with keep, cellars and outbuildings is a major tourist attraction known for its stunning vistas, dramatic landscape and compelling history. It has even been used as a screen background on Microsoft Windows 7 operating systems and as inspiration for a battleground on the Call of Duty videogame series.

Queen Victoria Statue, Aberdeen

Out of many statues across the UK of the monarch famous for the era that bears her name, the steady westward gaze of Queen Victoria on the city’s Queen’s Cross Roundabout looks towards her country residence, Balmoral.

The bronze statue was raised in time to commemorate Her Majesty’s Jubilee, using bronze obtained from English sculptor Charles Bell Birch. To many Aberdonians, the royally-tinged roundabount signifies the beginning of Aberdeen’s west end, where financial institutions, private schools and the odd family reside in the grand Victorian-era mansions that line Albyn Place and Queen’s Road.

Queen Victoria’s current posting over the intersection of five west-end streets was not the original location of the statue, as in 1964 Queen Victoria was moved as a whole to Queen’s Cross following the construction of a shopping centre on St Nicholas Street in the centre of Aberdeen.

Glasgow City Chambers, Glasgow

Queen Victoria opened the doors of the city’s political home in August 1888 after five years of construction. The imposing building in Glasgow’s George Square has been the home of successive city councils since 1996, while playing a role in the running of the city since its opening.

The Italian-influenced design of the City Chambers is the work of Paisley-born architect William Young, and is intended to reflect Glasgow’s prestige as an industrial import and export hub. Using around £40m oin today’s money for its construction, the Chambers feature the largest marble staircase in Western Europe and a lavish banqueting hall.

Over the years, this hall has been used to grant the Freedom of the City to human rights campaigner and ex-South African President Nelson Mandela and comedian Billy Connolly.

Marischal College, Aberdeen

It should come as no surprise to hear that Aberdeen - a city built on once-vast granite reserves - is home to the second-largest granite building in Europe, after Spain’s El Escorial Palace. Created in 1593, Marischal College became Aberdeen’s second university after the foundation of King’s College in 1495.

While both colleges merged in 1860 to form the modern-day University of Aberdeen, construction of the towering granite structure began in 1835 and finished two years later. Since 2011, the building has been home to Aberdeen City Council following an extensive refurbishment which saw the building’s trademark granite sparkle once more.

King Robert the Bruce on horseback has been erected outside the council building, while Greyfriars Church resides on the south-easternly end of the building.

In recent years, the claim that Adolf Hitler would have used Marischal College as a base for British operations has been revealed to be incorrect and the product of local historian David Webster.


Bannockburn is the site of one of the most significant and well known battles in Scottish history and is the location where Robert the Bruce finally faced King Edward II, the man who had taken everything from him including his wife. The Scots were outnumbered but had carefully chosen Bannockburn as their battleground to enable them to use the natural Scottish terrain to their advantage.

Bruce was successful in pushing back English advances and forced Edward to retreat. The Bannockburn itself was one of the main downfalls of the English as they became penned between the burn and the Scots pike. They were left with no choice but to cross back over the waterway which proved almost impossible.

The Battle established Robert the Bruce as a tour de force as he had defeated what was regarded as the finest army in the medieval world.

Loch Ness Monster - Front Page of Weekly Scotsman on June 1960.

Loch Ness Monster - Front Page of Weekly Scotsman on June 1960.

A barrage balloon tethered at the Forth Bridge near Edinburgh during World War Two.

A barrage balloon tethered at the Forth Bridge near Edinburgh during World War Two.