23 October 2019
Mike Dales presents his hand-picked history highlights along Heart 200, Scotland's new touring route around the heart of Scotland in Perthshire and Stirlingshire.
The Heart 200 website provides a suggested 200-mile route linking Perth, Stirling and Scotland’s two national parks via Highland Perthshire. However the website encourages visitors to use their own imagination, devise their own routes and explore places that are of interest to them.
The beauty of this area is that it contains such a great variety of all the features that makes Scotland so famous: castles, distilleries, mountains, lochs, wildlife, gardens, golf courses and much more. The Heart 200 area also has a fantastic range of accommodation and places to eat and drink.
The tourism infrastructure is in place and visitors can plan their short breaks and holidays around their own personal interests, whether that be based around young families, romantic breaks, short walks, golfing trips, walking holidays or a general mix of everything the area has to offer.
For those interested in the history of Scotland there are the more obvious attractions like Stirling Castle and Blair Castle, as well as the perhaps lesser-known jewels like the Dupplin Cross in Dunning and Balvaird Castle near Glenfarg.
Here are some of the historical highlights around the Heart 200:
The Gateway to the Highlands, Stirling is rich in historical buildings. Take time to visit Stirling Castle, the National Wallace Monument, Old Town Jail, Stirling Bridge and the Beheading Stone. Two miles from the centre of Stirling is the Battle of Bannockburn Visitor Centre.
Doune Castle (pictured above) is a 14th-century courtyard castle, famous for its appearances in the Outlander series and Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
3. Trossachs Pier
For a piece of history that moves, the SS Sir Walter Scott that sails on Loch Katrine is a fine example of a small steamship from the late 19th century. It is named after the Scottish writer Sir Walter Scott, who set his 1810 poem Lady of the Lake, and his 1818 novel Rob Roy, around Loch Katrine. The SS Sir Walter Scott sails from Trossachs Pier at the east end of Loch Katrine.
Rob Roy MacGregor was a famous cattle dealer, swordsman, thief and outlaw who went on to become a romantic folk-hero. Born in The Trossachs, Rob Roy was a supporter of the poor and became a Highland Robin Hood. He was outlawed when his cattle dealing went awry but was eventually pardoned by General Wade. He died in 1734 and his grave can be visited in the churchyard at Balquhidder.
The big attraction at Killin is the River Dochart as it tumbles over the Falls of Dochart and flows under the road bridge towards Loch Tay. Whilst walking around the falls it is worth a wander onto the Island of Inchbuie to see the grave of the Great McNab (1734-1816), last of the great Highland chiefs. Francis McNab never married, but is said to have fathered 90 bairns.
The Scottish Crannog Centre at Kenmore on Loch Tay includes a modern re-creation of an Iron Age crannog. Crannogs were a type of ancient loch-dwelling found throughout Scotland and Ireland, and the Centre at Kenmore tells the story of crannogs and offers a unique opportunity to visit the inside of this amazing wooden structure.
The bridge over the River Tay at Aberfeldy is widely known as General Wade’s Bridge. Built in 1733, the stone bridge has four obelisks flanking the central archway, and these give it a sense of architectural importance and character. It is a mark of its strength that it is still in use today and carries traffic on the B846 towards Weem and Tummel Bridge.
A very popular tourist attraction, the Fortingall yew, to be found in the village churchyard next to the hotel, is reputed to be between 3,000 and 5,000 years old, making it, possibly, the oldest living organism on the planet.
Remembered for all time as the executioner of Jesus Christ – Pontius Pilate is said to have not only been born at Fortingall, but also to have returned here after his exile from Rome. It is a good story, given a new lease of life when a stone burial slab bearing the initials P.P. was unearthed at Fortingall around 100 years ago.
Killiecrankie is a stunningly beautiful river gorge where one of the goriest battles in Jacobite history took place. Legend has it that a fleeing red coat soldier leapt some 18 feet across the raging River Garry to escape the pursuing Jacobites. The site of the Battle of Killiecrankie, including Soldier’s Leap, is now in the ownership of the National Trust for Scotland.
10. Blair Castle
Painted in bold, bright white, there is no mistaking Blair Castle. It is a stand-out Scottish castle with a rich history and impressive geographical location at the entrance to Glen Tilt. Blair Castle is surrounded by a remarkable garden which is listed in the Inventory of Designed Gardens and Landscapes of Scotland. Along with the nearby village of Blair Atholl, the castle is close to the main arterial A9 road from Perth to Inverness.
11. Dunkeld Cathedral
The building of Dunkeld Cathedral took place from 1260 to 1501. Something of a long-term project. The real beauty of Dunkeld Cathedral is its scenic location on the banks of the River Tay. As well as marveling at the architecture, just enjoy a pleasant walk along the riverbank and take in the atmosphere of this special building.
12. Glamis Castle
Ancestral seat to the Earls of Strathmore and Kinghorne, inspiration for Shakespeare’s Macbeth and childhood home of HM Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. Glamis Castle dates mainly from the 17thcentury and is one of Scotland’s most distinctive castles.
13. Stanley Mills
An exactingly preserved vestige of the Industrial Revolution, Stanley Mills sits below the village of Stanley, about eight miles north of Perth. The distinctive building houses a cotton mill, first founded in 1786 by Richard Arkwright on the banks of the River Tay. For two centuries, the mill produced textiles thanks to the power generated by the mighty Tay’s current – first created by water wheels, and then by hydroelectric turbines.
14. Scone Palace
Scone Palace is a Category A listed historic house on the banks of the River Tay about three miles north of Perth. The Palace has been home to the Earls of Mansfield for over 400 years. For nearly 1,000 years, Scone Palace was the crowning-place of Scottish kings and home to the Stone of Destiny. Moves are afoot to return the Stone to Scone, so listen out for further news on that one.
Located in Balhousie Castle on Perth’s Hay Street, the Black Watch Museum tells the story of the famous Black Watch Regiment. The castle, which was built in 1631, was bought by the Regimental Trustees in 2009 to become the Regimental Headquarters and Museum. The Museum tells the story of the Black Watch from 1739 to the present day.
16. Balvaird Castle
Balvaird Castle is located midway between Aberargie and Gateside, just off the A912. Built around 1500, this is a fine example of a late medieval Scottish tower house.
A visit to the National Trust for Scotland’s Falkland Palace is a top priority for any visitor. The long history of the Palace dates as far back as the 12century when there was a hunting lodge on the site. As well as the impressive buildings and gardens, Falkland Palace is home to the world’s oldest tennis court that is still in use, with the real tennis court that was built in 1539.
The whole village of Falkland in Fife will be of interest to any historian. No wonder it was used in the filming of Outlander, doubling up as Inverness in the popular series.
18. Loch Leven
A visit to Kinross provides the opportunity to take a boat trip out to Castle Island to see Loch Leven Castle. This is where Mary Queen of Scots was held prisoner for just under a year from 1567 to 1568.
The small village of Dunning in the Ochil Hills has an interesting church that is well worth a visit. Inside St Serf’s Church, built around 1200, is the Dupplin Cross, a Pictish stone that was moved to the church for its better preservation in 2002.
Muthill is particularly well-known for its historic religious buildings, including Muthill Parish Church, completed in 1828 by architect James Gillespie Graham, and the ruins of the medieval Muthill Old Church which date back to the 12century.
The jewel in the crown of Dunblane’s historical attractions is the commanding structure of Dunblane Cathedral. The town’s most prominent landmark, the cathedral has gradually been expanded over the centuries – the lower half of its tower dates from the 11century, with its upper half added in the 15 century, while the Gothic cathedral itself was constructed in the 13 century before the entire building was restored by Victorian architect Sir Robert Rowand Anderson between 1889 and 1893.
Start your adventure on Heart 200 by visiting the website.
Images: Doune Castle © SandroR; Dochart Falls © Neil Aitkenhead; Dunkeld © HartlepoolMarina; Stanley Mills © PaulT; Balvaird Castle © Brian D Osborne; St Serf’s © Mike Dales; SS Sir Walter Scott © George Lanyon; Aberfeldy © PaulT