Scotland invites you

Date Posted: 18/01/2010

Jeannine Williamson looks at new and traditional ideas for groups heading north of the border.

Scotland’s turbulent history has left an enduring mark on the landscape in the shape of castles, fortresses and towers set against a backdrop of misty mountains, glens and lochs.

From the stone circles of Orkney to cosmopolitan cities, there are so many evocative sights and experiences to tempt your group north of the border. The capital Edinburgh, with its elegant Georgian architecture, enjoys a dramatic location on the edge of the Firth of Forth, and Glasgow has reinvented itself in recent decades and is home to a thriving cultural scene. Other top city destinations, which make for a good base to explore the surrounding areas, are Aberdeen, Dundee, Inverness and Stirling.

Surrounded by sea on three sides, Scotland’s only land border with England is the 60-mile stretch that runs along the line of the Cheviot Hills, which adds to the atmosphere of being in a country with a unique and proud identity. Despite being steeped in history there is also plenty to look forward to in Scotland during 2010.

What’s new?

Perth was the ancient capital of Scotland and this month sees the launch of Perth 800, a year-long programme celebrating the 800th anniversary of the granting of the Royal Burgh Charter to Perth by King William the Lion of Scotland in 1210. An exciting programme on the themes of heritage, sport, arts and culture and the local community will see more than one event a week being held throughout 2010.

Perth Museum and Art Gallery is staging a commemorative exhibition that will run throughout the year and new heritage trails will bring history to life in the old town. One of the highlights of the cultural calendar is Perth Festival of the Arts, from 20th to 30th May, and Perth Late Nights, on 26th and 27th November will enable visitors to see the city in a new light with illuminations throughout. Full information on the programme is available at

The countdown is underway for the opening of the National Trust for Scotland’s Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway. Humanitarian, national hero, poet and musician, lover and international icon, Robert Burns is Scotland’s best-loved son. His legacy contains over 600 poems and songs, including the New Year anthem Auld Lang Syne. Until the opening of the museum this summer the nearby Burns National Heritage Park remains a top attraction for groups, with extensive coach parking, 120-cover restaurant and Burns-themed gift shop.

Ayr we go!

This year marks ten years since Bourne Leisure took over Rank Holidays Division, including Haven Holidays’s Craig Tara Holiday Park located on the Ayrshire coast, overlooking the Isle of Arran. During the winter Haven invested £40 million in its 35 holiday parks and Craig Tara has a new Mash and Barrel lounge, bar and cafe plus improvements to accommodation. With two large show bars, one of Scotland’s biggest indoor pool complexes and flexible meal options, plus self-catering, Craig Tara regularly hosts themed events, such as dance festivals, and can also be used as a base for groups touring Scotland.

Just two miles from Stirling Castle, Bannockburn is immortalised in history by Robert the Bruce’s famous victory (pictured). The National Trust for Scotland is offering coach and tour operators the opportunity to experience a guided tour of the battlefield with a guide taking the character of Thomas Randolph, general to Robert the Bruce. Tours include an interactive medieval weapons display and a new short film depicting the events of June 1314; there is a special introductory rate of £4.50 per person for groups of 12 or more.

The trust is also highlighting Scotland’s ‘hidden gems’, a selection of lesser-known attractions that make an interesting addition to a group itinerary. This year marks the 150th anniversary of the birth of Scottish author, playwright and creator of Peter Pan, J.M. Barrie, and among the treasures waiting to be explored is his birthplace and early home. Situated in Kirriemuir, north of Dundee, your group can see an original manuscript of the story that continues to captivate children and adults, and stroll around the magical garden, complete with a willow crocodile. A copy of the guide, and other e-newsletters, can be obtained by sending an e-mail to And, as an added attraction, the trust is holding its 2010 group rates at 2009 prices.

Active groups will be able to get a different perspective of Scotland at the Go Ape High Wire Forest Adventure course at Beecraigs Country Park in west Lothian (pictured), which is opening in March. Based on a similar design to the 22 courses across the UK, and following the opening of the first in Scotland at Aberfoyle, Go Ape is a giant obstacle course set high up in the treetops. Groups can spend around three hours monkeying around some 40 feet above the forest floor. The course has five separate sections made up of ladders, walkways, bridges and tunnels and each section begins with a rope ladder climb into the treetops, ending with an adrenaline-pumping zip ride back down to the ground.

For another unusual experience your group members can keep their feet firmly on the ground and enjoy spectacular views of beautiful swans, geese and other birds at the Caerlaverock Wetland Centre in Dumfriesshire. The 2010 programme includes the chance to see wild Whooper Swans closer than anywhere else in Britain at the swan feeds that take place each day from October to April. Earlybird groups can thrill to the spectacular sight of wild geese flying against the dawn sky and the most famous of all Caerlaverock’s wild visitors are the vast flocks of Barnacle Geese that arrive each October from an archipelago in the Arctic Ocean and stay until April.

Ten great group attractions

1. Edinburgh Castle: Perched on a rocky hill overlooking the city, and dating back to the 12th century, the castle houses the Honours (Crown Jewels) of Scotland, the Stone of Destiny and the National War Museum of Scotland.

2. Culloden: The emotive site of the bloody 1746 conflict between Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Royal Troops of George II, the last major battle on mainland Britain, has an impressive new visitor centre that really brings history to life.

3. Loch Ness: One of Scotland’s most photogenic castles and one of the world’s most famous monsters make awesome Loch Ness a must on any visit to the Highlands - who knows what your group members might see?

4. Scottish Mining Museum: One of Europe’s finest surviving examples of a Victorian colliery, nine miles outside Edinburgh, your group can marvel at Scotland’s largest winding engine, which hauled men and coal up and down the pit shaft, and retrace the lives of the thousands of miners and their families.

5. Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum (pictured): The largest civic museum and art gallery in the UK, housed within a Glasgow landmark, has undergone a £27 million refurbishment in recent years.

6. Old Blacksmith’s Shop: Follow in the footsteps of thousands of runaway couples who, since 1754, have raced to Gretna Green to marry under Scottish law. Nowadays historical intrigue is married with excellent shopping and great places to eat.

7. Glenlivet Distillery: Established in 1824 in the dramatic setting of Ballindalloch, this was the first legal distillery in Scotland and one of many that welcomes pre-booked groups for tours and a wee dram to follow.

8. Royal Yacht Britannia: Only 15 minutes from Edinburgh city centre, groups can tour the magnificent floating palace that carried The Queen and the royal family on 968 official voyages.

9. Jacobite steam train: Journey back in time with an unforgettable day trip on the train that’s famous for appearing in the Harry Potter films. The 84-mile round trip from Fort William to Mallaig takes in the 21-arch Glenfinnan viaduct that also features in the movies.

10. Dunvegan Castle & Gardens: Located on the Isle of Skye, discover the clan legend at Dunvegan Castle, built on a rocky outcrop on the shores of Loch Dunvegan. The castle has been the ancestral home of the Chiefs of Clan MacLeod for 800 years; groups can also enjoy the beautiful gardens. 

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