Scotland’s Central and Eastern regions truly characterize the evolution of Scotland, from when it was first known as “Pictland,” then “Alba,” and now Scotland. This region of Scotland can be classified into four main eras. The first would be the pre-historic period. During the Bronze Age, approximately 4,000 years ago, ancient people inhabited the region near Inverness, creating stoneworks like the Clava Cairns near Inverness. These impressive stoneworks, including standing stones and burial mounds, immediately make you think of “Outlander” (In fact, they are in the series). During the Iron Age, the area was settled by a Celtic tribe called the Picts, who also left stone carvings and engravings.
Next came the Romans. Many believe that the Roman occupation of Great Britain extended only to Hadrian’s Wall along the modern border with England. But actually, another border and fortification called the Antonine Wall was built in the southern part of this region.
Later, in the 10th through 12th centuries, Norse Vikings constantly raided this area. To expel these raiders, the Picts and the Scots united under King Kenneth McAlpine to expel the invaders, beginning the formation of modern-day Scotland.
Last came the fight for independence from England. To give you a frame of reference for the timeline of this struggle, William Wallace defeated the English at Stirling Bridge at 1297. Robert the Bruce again defeated the English at the Battle of Bannockburn near Stirling in 1314. The final battle did not occur until the Jacobites were defeat in the Battle of Culloden in 1746 – about 350 years after William Wallace first defeated the English.
Trying to decide what to include in this post was extremely difficult because there is so much to cover here. It is difficult to narrow it down. When you have so many places of historical significance, like Aberdeen, St Andrews, Pitlochry, and Falkirk, the list can get extensive. So, to keep it manageable, this post will focus on just three areas: Stirling, the Inverness area, and Cairngorms.
The town of Stirling is a must-see for several reasons. First is Stirling Castle. Originally built in the 16th Century, it is where Scottish Kings and Queens have been coronated since Mary Queen of Scots. You can visit all parts of the castle, including the Great Hall and the Chapel, and have excellent panoramic countryside views.
Stirling has always been a strategic military location because it overlooks the surrounding land and its location on the River Forth. It was not a coincidence that both William Wallace and Robert the Bruce confronted the English armies here. Even with superior weapons and manpower, the English could not defeat them here.
Last is the William Wallace Monument. Completed in 1869, the tower stands 220 feet tall, and houses the Hall of Heros. The hall includes the crown of Robert the Bruce and a replica of William Wallace’s sword, which measured over 5 feet long.
Inverness - Clava Cairns
Located near Inverness are the Clava Cairns which date back to the Bronze Age. There are actually three sites here, all of which date back to 2,000 BC, and were burial sites. They were active burial sites for over 1,000 years. All three sites consist of a central stone mound for burials, surrounded by a ring of standing stones. There is an indication that this society believed in the afterlife. Probably the most amazing aspect of these sites is that the entrances of the burial mounds align with the sun at the winter solstice indicating a fairly sophisticated knowledge of astronomy.
Inverness - Culloden Moor
On April 16, 1746, the Jacobites, under the command of Charles Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie), confronted the British at the Battle of Culloden, in an attempt to restore Stuart to the throne. The Jacobite forces were grouped by their clans. Visitors to the site can see where the clans and the British forces were stationed in the battle through a series of stones and flags. There is also an excellent visitor center at the site that has extensive information about the battle.
Cairngorms National Park
Cairngorms National Park is a vast and stunningly beautiful wilderness area located in the northeast of Scotland. It is the largest national park in the British Isles, covering an area of approximately 4,528 square kilometers (1,748 square miles). Known for its breathtaking landscapes, diverse wildlife, and outdoor recreational opportunities, the Cairngorms National Park is a paradise for nature enthusiasts and adventurers. The park is named for the Cairngorms mountain range, with some of the highest peaks in the United Kingdom.
The park is home to a rich and varied wildlife population. Visitors may spot iconic species such as red deer, golden eagles, ospreys, and ptarmigans. The Cairngorms is also one of the last strongholds of the native Capercaillie, a large woodland grouse. Additionally, the park hosts a variety of other mammals, including pine martens, otters, and the elusive Scottish wildcat. The park’s rivers and lochs are teeming with fish, and it provides critical habitats for a wide range of plant and insect species.
Balmoral Castle is located within the Cairngorms National Park. It is situated on the banks of the River Dee, in the Royal Deeside region of Aberdeenshire. Balmoral Castle is a private residence of the British royal family and has been a popular retreat for them since it was purchased by Queen Victoria in 1852. The castle is known for its stunning architecture, beautiful gardens, and its association with Scottish Highland culture. Visitors can explore the grounds and gardens of Balmoral Castle during specific times of the year when the royal family is not in residence
Glamis Castle is situated in the Scottish countryside north of Dundee. Its origins can be traced back to the 14th century, making it one of Scotland’s oldest castles. Glamis Castle boasts a rich and storied past, having been home to generations of the noble Lyon family, including the late Queen Mother Elizabeth, who spent her childhood here. Its architecture is a blend of various styles and periods, with its dramatic turrets, battlements, and courtyards. Stepping inside reveals opulent and exquisitely furnished rooms, each with its own unique tale to tell. Legends and myths further shroud the castle, adding an air of mystery to its already captivating aura.
St. Andrews, located on the east coast of Scotland, is a picturesque and historic town renowned as the “Home of Golf” and is a great place to spend a day. Dating back to the early medieval period, St. Andrews is dominated by the iconic ruins of its medieval cathedral and castle. The town’s prestigious University of St. Andrews, is one of the oldest in the English-speaking world. Surrounded by stunning coastline and pristine beaches, St. Andrews provides an idyllic setting. It is a blend of history, natural beauty, and golfing.
The Kelpies, located in Falkirk, Scotland, stand as monuments to capture the region’s rich folklore and industrial heritage. These colossal horse head sculptures, designed by artist Andy Scott, symbolize the mythical water spirits known as “kelpies” that were believed to haunt the nearby waterways. Towering at almost 100 feet tall, the sculptures are constructed from shimmering stainless steel, that reflects the sunlight as it dances upon their intricate metalwork. The Kelpies serve as a testament to Scotland’s deep-rooted connection to its past, celebrating the powerful role that horses played in the country’s industrial revolution. When you travel on the motorway through Falkirk, you will see this monument.
Ready to Go?
To visit this area, I recommend allowing at least three days. Getting to Stirling is very easy from Edinburgh, and a daytrip from Edinburgh can include further travel to Loch Lomond. Getting to Cairngorms National Park can be reached from either Edinburgh or Inverness, but is closer to Inverness. Culloden Moor and Clava Cairns are very close to Inverness. Inverness and Edinburgh are about three hours apart by car. Visiting the Cairgorms, Culloden and Clava Cairns is best done by car or with a tour group.
Getting to this region is easy. There are flights from major US International airports to Edinburgh and Glasgow daily. Or, you can fly to London and take a train to Edinburgh. The train takes about 4 hours, but traveling through the English and Scottish countryside is well worth it.
All it takes to get you on your way is to schedule a meeting with me to talk about your plans.