Here we are with this second part of “Scotland and Scottish Highlands: a 4-day road trip itinerary”. In this second bit, we will discover the easterner coast of Scotland from Dunnotar Castle to Callendar House, Falkirk. Click here if you miss the first part.
9. Dunnottar Castle
Dunnottar Castle is a fortified ruined cliff-top fortress that was once the residence of the Earls Marischal, one of Scotland’s most powerful families.
It had only two entrances and exits during its active period. The first was through the remarkably well-defended main gate, which was set in a cleft in the rock and open to assault from all sides. The second route was through a rocky creek that led to a cave on the rock’s north side. A steep path led up the cliff to the postern gate, which was well guarded.
Given Dunnottar’s obvious defensive qualities, it is no wonder that fortifications of some kind have been present for much of the last two thousand years, if not much longer. The word “dun” means “fort” in Pictish, and it is thought that St Ninian visited Dunnottar in the late 400s, converting the Picts to Christianity and establishing a chapel.
In 900 the Vikings took and destroyed the castle, and as of the 1100s, it was taken and lost several times from Scots over the centuries.
Cromwell conquered the castle in May 1652 after an eight-month siege, but his men were unable to locate the “Honours of Scotland”, the Scottish Crown Jewels, which were held there. They had been smuggled out, right in front of the English army’s eyes.
There are a few different stories of how the Honours were saved. According to one version, Mrs Grainger, the wife of the minister at Kinneff, a few miles down the coast, was permitted to enter the castle on compassionate grounds. Mrs Grainger then carried out the Honours under her skirts.
According to another version, the Honours were lowered down the cliffs in a basket to Mrs Grainger’s serving maid, who pretended to be gathering seaweed by the shore. The maid then concealed the Honours in a dulse-covered creel and brought them out under the noses of the English troops.
Either way, they were secretly buried in the church at Kinneff, under the floor near the altar, after being concealed at the bottom of the Grainger’s bed. The minister and his wife dug up the Honours every few months and aired them out before a fire.
In any case, the English, understandably enraged, wreaked havoc upon the castle.
Dunnottar’s darkest hour came in May 1685, though, when 167 men and women were marched to Dunnottar and imprisoned in the Whig’s Vault underneath one of the Quadrangle’s buildings for refusing to recognize the new prayer book and acknowledge the king’s spiritual dominance. Some died of hunger and disease, while others were killed while attempting to flee. After two months in the fortress, the survivors were transported to the colonies as slaves where the majority died of fever.
The castle was sold to the Cowdray family in 1925, who began a systematic consolidation and repair program. The castle has remained in the family since then and is open to tourists.
Dunnottar Castle is a fascinating location for modern visitors. They can see the ruins of the chapel and Earl’s hall, as well as the stables, smithy, storehouse, barracks, and the early stone keep, or tower house. The Whig’s Vault and a restored Drawing Room are also available for viewing. Given how much the castle has been through, the remains are very substantial! Except for the restored Drawing Room, almost all of the houses are in ruins and without roofs.
Admission fee: 8£/ 9.3€ / 11.3$.
10. Arbroath Abbey
King William I founded this abbey in 1178 for a group of Tironensian monks, and, on his death in 1214, his body was buried in front of the high altar in the still only partially completed Abbey Church. The church was eventually consecrated in 1233, although there are indications that it may not have been finished even then.
In April 1320, Arbroath Abbey reached a pinnacle in its existence when it supervised writing the “Declaration of Arbroath“, widely regarded as the most significant and influential document in Scottish history. This was a letter written on behalf of Robert the Bruce to Pope John XXII, and signed by the majority of the great and good of early 14th-century Scotland, requesting that the Pope put pressure on Edward II of England to recognize Robert as the rightful King of Scotland and to lift Robert’s excommunication.
The Declaration is famous for one phrase in particular: “For, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself“. The suggestion elsewhere in the declaration that the King of Scotland could only rule with the consent of the people of Scotland was much more historically important. It was the first time anyone had ever considered royalty in this light.
Robert Bruce’s excommunication was lifted as a result of the Declaration of Arbroath and the (since lost) parallel letters from Robert the Bruce and the Scottish Bishops to the Pope. It also resulted in Papal interference, which culminated in the Treaty of Edinburgh & Northampton of 1 March 1328, under which English King Edward III recognized Scotland as a fully independent nation in exchange for money. Although the peace only lasted five years, many consider the Declaration of Arbroath to have had a much longer effect, influencing the US Declaration of Independence.
If 1320 was Abbey’s high point, its low point came on 24 January 1446 (or, according to some sources, 1445) with the “Battle of Arbroath” fought for the delegation of the non-religious functions, powers and privileges of the Abbot, and whereas many as 600 people are said to have been killed.
The abbey was used as a quarry for building stone by 1580. In 1606 Parliament granted the abbey estates to James, Marquis of Hamilton, who had converted to Protestantism as the last Abbot of Arbroath. Conservation work began in 1815.
After Abbey’s collapse, parts of it, such as the Abbot’s House, were repurposed and are still in excellent condition.
Visitors may explore the abbey church’s sacristy or climb to a viewpoint high on the south transept wall. There is another viewpoint above the west doorway, through a route that also gives access to the upper floor of the gatehouse. The lower floor of the gatehouse is accessed from the south and housed an exhibition tracing the similarities between the Arbroath Declaration and the United States Declaration of Independence at the time of our visit.
Admission fee: 9£/ 10.4€ / 12.5$.
11. Broughty Castle Museum
Broughty Castle is a historic castle on the banks of the River Tay in Broughty Ferry, Dundee. It was completed around 1495, although earlier fortified in 1454.
This strategic stronghold on the Tay aimed to aid in the defence of Scotland’s shores against the expanding English navy. There’s plenty to learn about the people, landscape, culture, and wildlife of Broughty Ferry at the castle museum, which features everything from ancient battles and sieges to galleries of paintings and artworks.
From just outside the castle, walk along Broughty Ferry Beach, which has beautiful views of the sea and lush golden sands to explore. Climb the grassy dunes that surround the beach, make a few sandcastles, keep an eye out for dolphins playing in the surf, or dip your toes in the cool water.
12.1 The McManus Art Gallery & Museum
Since 1867, the McManus Art Gallery and Museum has housed a museum and art gallery with a collection of fine and decorative art and a natural history collection in a Gothic revival-style building in the heart of Dundee.
Journey through 400 million years to see how a small town developed into the busy city we know today, from the city’s jute, jam, and journalism age and industrial times to fine art paintings. Don’t forget to look up when you are in the History Hall! The entire preserved skeleton of a humpback whale that made an appearance in the River Tay in 1883 hangs from the ceiling.
The McManus maintains a collection of works by 19th- and 20th-century European masters as well as well-known local artists such as James MacIntosh Patrick. Local history displays from ancient times to the present day are also interesting. Some especially fascinating objects from ancient Egypt can be found in the archaeological department.
Dundee’s natural history collection is also included, with displays focusing on the biodiversity of the Lowlands and Highlands, as well as environmental and nature themes.
From there, take Commercial Street, and turn right onto High Street. Your next stop will be on your left.
12.2 St Paul's Episcopal Cathedral
St. Paul’s Cathedral is an Anglican cathedral that, although smaller than its counterpart of the same name in London, is also worth seeing.
Situated on the rock that was the site of Dundee’s medieval castle, this Gothic Cathedral is instantly recognisable for its 213ft-high (65m) tower and neo-gothic design. The nearby Howff graveyard is also a great place to explore.
The foundation stone of the Cathedral was laid on 21 July 1853 and it was completed in 1855.
13. Scone Palace
Scone Palace, built of red sandstone with a castellated roof, is one of the finest examples of the late Georgian Gothic architecture in Scotland.
Scone was once the site of an early Christian church, which was later replaced by an Augustinian priory. Scone Priory was granted abbey status in the 12th century, and Abbot’s residence – an Abbot’s Palace – was built as a result. The new structure still bears the name “Palace” because of this.
The Abbey became a secular Lordship within the parish of Scone, Scotland, in 1600, after surviving the Reformation. For over 400 years, the Earls of Mansfield have called the Palace home.
The Palace was extended in the early 19th century, recasting the late 16th-century Palace of Scone where Scottish monarchs were crowned and restored as a Georgian mansion of great elegance and luxury.
Outside, peacocks shriek and strut around the beautiful grounds, which include woods, a butterfly garden, and a labyrinth, each named after a monarch.
Admission fee: 20£/ 23.3€ / 28.3$.
We started visiting Perth with a stroll along the River Tay on Tay Street.
14.1 St Matthews Church of Scotland
Thanks to its imposing height and prominent position on the banks of the River Tay, Perth’s most famous landmark, St Matthews Church of Scotland, is often captured in city photographs.
There are beautiful examples of stained glass inside the church.
From there, go back through Tay Street, and turn left onto High Street. Turn right onto St Jonh’s Street, and, then, left onto St Jonh’s Place. You will find the next stop on your left.
14.2 St John’s Kirk
The oldest and most significant building in Perth is St John’s Kirk. It is a rare example of a medieval Scottish kirk, having been built in 1126.
After John Knox preached a strong sermon there in 1559, St John’s Kirk played a crucial role in the Scottish Reformation. The speech sparked protests in the streets, and Catholicism was removed from St John’s Kirk.
In 1286, the heart of Scottish king Alexander III was also buried here.
From there, take St Jonh’s Place, turn right onto King Edward Street, and, then, left onto High Street. Finally, turn right onto S Methven Street, and you will find Perth Cathedral on your left.
14.3 Perth Cathedral, St. Ninian
St Ninian’s, named after Scotland’s first saint, was founded in 1849 and is part of the Scottish Episcopal Church.
The Cathedral was the first new Anglican cathedral constructed in the United Kingdom since the Reformation, and it stands on land that once belonged to the House of the Blackfriars, one of Perth’s four monasteries and friaries.
15. Callendar House
Callendar House has hosted many great historical figures over the centuries, including Mary, Queen of Scots, Oliver Cromwell, and Bonnie Prince Charlie, through battles, rebellions, and the industrial revolution.
This 14th-century mansion is located in Callendar Park, a 170-acre historic designed landscape with a history dating back to the building of the Antonine Wall in 142AD, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Costumed interpreters create a thrilling immersive environment in the restored 1825 kitchen, with samples of early-19th century food adding flavour to tales of working life in a large household.
The Park Gallery on the ground floor hosts a rotating program of modern visual art exhibits, while the 2nd Floor Galleries temporary exhibition room explores various facets of cultural heritage.
A Tearoom with breathtaking parkland views serves a variety of breakfast, lunch, and light snack choices at Callendar House.
An Arboretum, Ornamental Gardens, and a family Mausoleum are among the historical features of the woodland and gardens. A three-par golf course with nine holes, a large children’s play area and several seasonal outdoor activities are also available.
Scotland countryside is one of those places where you cannot have enough of, one of those that you always wish you had more time to explore and know more about, one of those you always crave to come back to sooner or later.
We knew that Scotland was incredibly wonderful, but, honestly, we did not believe it until we saw it with our own eyes. Scotland is a land people into history, castles, nature cannot miss for everything in the world. Now we know it first hand.
P. S. Subscribe to my newsletter to make sure you don’t miss any of my next travel posts!