With the New Year well under way we thought it’d be good to take a look at Scotland from a fresh perspective. When discussing the county it’s easy to start talking up the countryside and talking down our towns. Whilst the ski slopes, lochs and hills are well worth the attention, there are plenty of lesser known man made miracles sitting right on our doorstep. Whilst we couldn’t detail all the great structures of Scotland here, we’ve narrowed down a select bunch, both obvious and less obvious, which offer us a glimpse of Scotland’s past and present and have over the years given visitors and locals cause to stop and stare.
Aberdeen University (Aberdeen)
Aberdeen has long been famed for its Old University. Situated up the cobbled Spittal, the old campus nestles in amongst the new build additions. Towers, courtyards and impressive halls all combine to give the area an identity far removed from the hustle and bustle of the city centre. It’s especially atmospheric at either dusk or dawn by the tomb of William Elphinstone.
Abernethy Tower (Abernethy)
Nobody is sure whether this ancient building was a lookout post or a bell tower to call the townspeople to prayer, but whatever it was it represents one of the few ancient round-towers to remain standing in Scotland. Situated slap bang in the centre of town, this slender 70ft tower offers amazing views of the area and remains a big draw despite the uncertainty of its purpose.
The Armadillo (Glasgow)
Perhaps the most famous of Scotland’s ‘new’ buildings, the Clyde Auditorium (to give it its proper title) is also the most iconic. Lying alongside the river that made the city rich, this multipurpose venue is one of the major catalysts behind the regeneration of the Queen’s Dock area. Often likened to a mini-Sydney Opera House, it’s as decent a venue inside as it is outside. Since its completion in 1997 few Scottish buildings have gone on to inspire the same kind of respect and admiration.
Baird Hall (Glasgow)
Built back in the 1930s this Sauchiehall Street landmark is just one of dozens of impressive art-deco builds that have helped shape the modern Glasgow cityscape. Still elegant and ageless, it should provide inspiration to the designers of today when they look at making functional but affordable additions to Scotland’s city centres.
Carloway Broch (Lewis)
On the far west of Lewis sits this brilliantly preserved watchtower built about 1000 years ago. Unused for at least 800 years, this ancient stronghold offered its garrison an impeccable view of the surrounding lands and ocean. Still impressive today, it gives visitors an real feel of what Lewis would have been like during the Iron Age.
Cawdor Castle (Nairn)
Famous as the fictional home of King Macbeth it might be, but there’s more to this northern outpost than a nonexistent tie to the Shakespearean favourite. Big, bold and handsome this mid-1400s castle is crammed with interesting period features. Amongst the strangest things on display is an ancient holly tree deep in the bowels of the cellar. Long since dead it’s believed that the 3rd Thane of Cawdor built the original castle round the tree thinking it had magical properties. Holly trees – the must have for every medieval home.
Dunrobin Castle (Golspie)
Dunrobin is one of the most picturesque of Scotland’s castles. Situated north of Inverness, this fairytale building was built at a time when the residents were more concerned with pleasure than protection. With its pointed towers and impressive garden it feels more French than Scottish – though the architect responsible for it was the acclaimed English designer Sir Charles Barry (also responsible for designing the British Parliament).
Edinburgh Castle (Edinburgh)
Edinburgh Castle’s inclusion is a real no-brainer. Sternly overlooking the city from an extinct volcano it dominates the centre of Edinburgh and acts as a focal point for the city. Since the 12 century the castle has seen more than its fair share of English occupation, Scottish liberation, political machinations, murder and heroism. These days things might be a bit less intense, but if you can beat the crowds you can really soak up the stunning scenery both inside its great halls and outside on the battlements.
Eilean Donnan Castle (Near Kyle of Lochalsh)
When dewy-eyed Americans with tenuous links to Scotland picture their distant ‘homeland’ they don’t picture the sodden streets of Glasgow they picture Eilean Donnan. Initially built as a stronghold to protect the populace from Viking raiders, it has since found itself under siege from film crews and photographers instead. It’s not till you see it for yourself that you truly appreciate why.
Elgin Cathedral (Elgin)
Once one of the UK’s most important and impressive religious centres, things took a turn for the worse for the building when dubious knight The Wolf of Badenoch decided he’d like to burn it to the ground in 1390. Much of the building remains to this day and despite the damage, it’s still easy to see why it was labelled ‘The Lantern of the North’.
Glasgow Cathedral (Glasgow)
A survivor of the Reformation thanks to the protective populace, this monolithic beauty can be spotted from numerous points across the city. Easily recognisable, it stands as a testament to the power of the city and the pride the residents have in their buildings. From the sturdy spire to the impressive stained glass of the front of the cathedral, there’s plenty here for your eyes to enjoy.
Glasgow University (Glasgow)
The main building of Glasgow University is one of the most attractive academic structures in the UK. Its tower dominates the area whilst the old courtyards and attached buildings offer up a glimpse of the city’s past. Whilst lectures and hangovers might dampen the scenic surroundings for practicing students, visitors have been wowed by the area for decades.
Glamis Castle (Near Forfar)
A huge sprawling castle, Glamis was once home to the Queen Mother as well as a whole host of supernatural nasties (if you believe that kind of thing). Ornate and laden with decorative towers it’s a fine example of the transition many Scottish castles went through as they became less like fortresses and more like stately homes.
Kelvingrove Art Gallery (Glasgow)
As stunning on the outside as the finest artworks housed on its inside, this beautiful building is Scotland’s most prominent cultural hub. Finished in 1901, it highlighted the massive advances Glasgow had made over the previous century. Now one of the UK’s biggest tourist attractions it is as important today as it was on its completion. It even has its own urban myth surrounding the fact it was supposedly built back to front.
Marischal College (Aberdeen)
Had the Fuhrer managed to successfully invade Britain, this massive grey granite building was on his shortlist of sites which could have ended up as his home. The transition from seat of academia to UK wing of an evil empire might not seem like an obvious one for most buildings, but there’s something so grandiose and stunning about Marischal College it’s possible to envision innumerable purposes it could fulfil. Doubtless Aberdeen council saw the same thing in it as Hitler did, as they’re set to make it their new home.
McCaig’s Folly (Oban)
As bizarre as it is this aptly named half-finished tower is a real national landmark. Built on top of Battery Hill by philanthropist John McCaig, the impressive skeleton dominates Oban’s skyline. McCaig had plans for the tower to include various amenities – and naturally a great big statue of himself. None of this came into being however as he passed away a couple of years before completion.
Melrose Abbey (Melrose)
Ruins can be as beautiful as buildings untouched by age or struggle and this is one such example. Founded in 1136, Melrose Abbey quickly became Scotland’s most important place of worship. Visitors unimpressed by the fact King Robert the Bruce’s heart is buried here may be more easily moved by the dozens of intricate carvings, statues and figurines which have survived the centuries of trauma.
Mount Stuart House (Bute)
When the 3rd Marquess of Bute decided he has going to build himself a new house he didn’t muck around. Mount Stuart House was the result, an all singing all dancing neo-gothic uber-mansion. Complete with servants quarters, swimming pool and chapel, this ultra ambitious country pad is a not only an architectural treasure but also hints at the mindset of an ostentatious 1800s millionaire.
The National Museum of Scotland (Edinburgh)
Built with Moray sandstone the modern half of this impressive museum is almost fortress-like in comparison with the older tamer Royal Museum building next door. Still the connection between the two works well and does much to promote new design in the sometimes overly-sentimental centre of the capital.
The St Machar Cathedral (Aberdeen)
Tucked away in Old Aberdeen, the St Machar Cathedral is a real architectural oddity. Constructed with two huge solid spires, this house of God was one built with battle in mind. Not that you could blame its designers. Various churches and incarnations of the St Machar fell victim to raids and ransacking over the ages. Now slightly less threatened, the St Machar is no less impressive.
The Scott Monument (Edinburgh)
Of all Scotland’s famous sons Sir Walter Scott would perhaps have been the most pleased to find himself honoured by a timeless memorial tower in the centre of the country’s capital. Built shortly after his death, this grandiose gothic tower is a constant magnet for tourists. After braving the narrow steps to enjoy the view at the top it’s difficult to argue with their logic.
The Scottish Parliament (Edinburgh)
A massively controversial construction it might be, but the Scottish Parliament is one of the country’s most important and ingenious architectural additions of the last hundred years. Elegant and modernist this award winning building designed by Enric Miralles might not convey the mix of Scottish landscape, people and culture in the way he had intended, but it’s at the very least a forward thinking home for what we all hope will be a succession of forward thinking parliaments.
Stirling Castle (Stirling)
Whilst Edinburgh Castle might be ingrained on the national psyche, this similar fortress is equally as imposing, important and interesting. Always a key military position, Stirling through the ages has long had the need for a formidable castle. As a result this fortification has been added to and expanded as the centuries have progressed – offering a snapshot of various different periods all in one place. Views from inside and out are spectacular.
The Wallace Monument (Stirling)
When it comes to striking you can’t really beat this handsome tower. Situated on top of a volcanic crag it offers stunning views over the Forth Valley and beyond. Built back in the 1800s at a time when Scotland was forging its own national identity within the Union, the project required donations for it to be completed. The graceful crown at the summit sits easily with the more stark militaristic architecture of the lower four floors and is an excellent example of the beauty and brutality of Scottish architecture. Inside isn’t dull either with a suitably ridiculous looking sword allegedly belonging to William Wallace himself on display.