Now that spring is finally here and Historic Scotland’s properties are swinging into top gear, it is the ideal time to get out and explore. Here’s travel writer and HS roving blogger Robin McKelvie with his Top 5 Family Days Out in Historic Scotland this spring.
My young family are massive fans of Stirling Castle and it is easy to see why. From the moment you pass the equestrian statue of Robert the Bruce on the esplanade and go through the gate, little minds are set spinning with rambling ramparts, hulking cannons and lots of little nooks and crannies.
There is plenty of space to run around, which comes in very handy with the wee ones, and they make a real effort here to bring history alive too – last time I was at the castle they had free falconry demonstrations.
Daddy is also a big fan of the recently restored Royal Palace of James V. I love the fact too that you can gaze out over the battlements at Scotland’s old strategic heartland taking in the Wallace Monument and the sites of various seminal battles that have shaped the Scotland we live in today. All my family are fans of the castle’s Unicorn Café too. I’d go back for the haggis, neeps and tatties pie alone!
I’m ‘fae’ West Lothian and Cairnpapple has always held a special place in my affections. This five millennia old burial site and fallen stone circle sits atop a hill that for me offers possibly the best effort to reward ratio in Central Scotland – park the car and within ten minutes you will be peering out over swathes of the Central Belt. They say on a good day you can see both Bass Rock and Ailsa Craig, but I never have!
My kids love spotting local landmarks like the Forth Bridges and rambling around the ancient stones. You can delve down into the burial chamber itself, which is a lot of fun though I’d be extra careful with really wee ones. Afterwards the bountiful cafes of Linlithgow await with a ramble around the loch and maybe a visit to another Historic Scotland shining star, Linlithgow Palace.
This is the archetypal fairytale castle so it is no wonder that families enjoy it. My wee girls love the water filled moat that swirls around this unusual triangular fortification. Indeed it is the only triangular castle in the UK, its sturdy red sandstone hulk unmistakable. Caerlaverock is no mere pretty confection, though, as it was besieged more than once during its turbulent history. This is the beauty of sites like this – kids can enjoy it on one level, while the grown-ups can garner what they want from the experience too.
Given its rugged heritage it is no surprise that Caerlaverock is home to a siege warfare exhibition that is a winner especially with little boys. Other family friendly features include a children’s play area and a nature trail that sneaks off into the woods in search of the site of an old castle. Afterwards a café is on hand for a wee treat for all the family.
Does Urquhart Castle look familiar? That might be because it was one of the inspirations behind the Disney-Pixar blockbuster Brave. One of the grand tower houses still stands proud as a reminder of just how mighty one of Scotland’s largest castles once was. There is plenty of space to ramble around and my wee ones enjoyed snaking around the old stones. They also loved the Discover Explore missions that are specifically designed to get young minds inspired and thinking about history, with prizes at the end too.
Urquhart Castle’s setting is, of course, one of its draws, for me one of the most spectacularly located castles in the UK. Hills and glen vault all around, while it also overlooks the silvery waters of Loch Ness. My girls minds’ boggled when I informed them that Loch Ness has more fresh water than all the lakes in England and Wales combined!
A major part of the experience at Castle Campbell is the spectacular walk up and down Dollar Glen to get here. As a kid I was often taken to Dollar and loved ascending what at the time I thought was the biggest mountain in the world! Be careful bringing wee ones up and everyone should take the usual precautions when ascending the steep glen on the paths and steps, but it really is a lovely walk – trees tower above and water gushes all around as you battle upwards. The reward at the end is one of the best-preserved 15th century tower houses in Scotland and a somewhat unusual Mediterranean style loggia.
For mummies and daddies there are swathes of history to explore, including one episode that surprised me: religious firebrand John Knox once addressed a congregation here in 1556 in the ‘John Knox Pulpit’ in the garden. There are guided tours in season too, which reveal more of this fascinating castle’s history.