What makes Scotland great?

Date Posted: 20/02/2012

Dramatic landscapes, magnificent castles and a unique heritage are just a few of the things that make Scotland so appealing, writes Jeannine Williamson.

With its sweeping scenery of lochs, mountains and glens, inspiring city destinations and a dramatic history there is so much to captivate groups north of the border. Many attractions, such as Loch Ness, need little introduction and in addition to the tried and tested favourites there are many exciting new things to see and do in 2012.

Be creative

Scotland is a thriving hub for arts and cultural activities and the Year of Creative Scotland 2012 will showcase its artistic and imaginative diversity. Celebrating talent from around the country,  a full programme of special events will take place throughout the year ranging from vibrant theatre and dance productions to beautiful art in unusual locations, architecture in the heart of cities, and the opportunity for groups to enjoy the work of literary greats. GTOs can organise trips to coincide with special events such as Speed of Light, when the hillside of Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh will be illuminated by energy powered by runners and walkers in August.

Of course groups can enjoy Scotland’s culture at any time by visiting heritage sites, attending a concert in Glasgow, a UNESCO City of Music which hosts more than 100 events every week; or taking home a unique souvenir of the textile industry such as a Harris Tweed jacket, Paisley shawl or something made from a colourful tartan. The latest information and a full programme of events for the commemorative year can be found on the VisitScotland website.

National Trust news

With more than 90 castles, gardens and historic attractions, 2012 group prices pegged at 2011 rates and cafes offering traditional Scottish baking with group menus available, the National Trust for Scotland provides plenty of attractive options for group visits. The trust has a dedicated team to help with group bookings and itinerary planning and the trade section on the website lists special offers and latest news.

New attractions include a permanent sculpture park at Threave Garden near Castle Douglas in Dumfries and Galloway. The gardens are famous for more than 200 varieties of spectacular springtime daffodils, an informal rose garden and walled garden with its wonderful temperate glasshouse collection. The principal rooms of the Scottish baronial style Threave House are now open to groups and have been fully restored to the way they were in the 1930s. Groups with gardening enthusiasts may also be interested in new special guided tours at Arduaine Garden, south of Oban, where the head gardener takes visitors on a journey of discovery across the plant world from aquatic flora to enchanting woodland and floral displays.  And surely your party will not be able to resist taking photographs of the family of Highland cows? They are the latest arrivals at Culloden, Scotland’s most famous battlefield which has an interactive visitor centre that vividly recreates the story of the conflict.

Secret sites

Groups can delve deep into the past and discover one of Edinburgh’s most intriguing and best-kept secrets. Recently reopened after a period of closure, Gilmerton Cove is a series of chambers and passageways hewn from the bedrock sandstone that lie hidden beneath the streets of Gilmerton on the city’s Southside. Accessed through a visitor centre adapted from a traditional mining cottage, the site remains an archaeological mystery that has baffled investigators for over 300 years. Various theories claim it was a drinking den, witches coven or secret meeting place for the Knights Templar and your group members can decide for themselves on one of the twice daily tours.

Visits can be combined with a trip to the 15th century Rosslyn Chapel, which has links with the cove. The ornate medieval church, six miles south of Edinburgh, is shrouded in enigma and rumoured to be the final resting place of the Holy Grail. Featured in Dan Brown’s best-selling thriller The Da Vinci Code, even if no-one has read the book or seen the film, they should still be fascinated by the intricate carvings and intriguing history surrounding the chapel and may well want to pick up a copy of the novel for the journey home.

Famous faces

Come face to face with some of the most famous names in Scottish history at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh which reopened last month following a two-year closure and £17 million refurbishment. The project has revealed far more of the architecturally beautiful building than ever before and many more works from the extensive collection can be put on show.

Paintings, drawings, prints, sculptures and photographs are displayed in 17 exhibitions telling the fascinating stories behind both the sitters and their artists. Scotland has been at the centre of the history and development of photography since the 1840s and there is a dedicated photography gallery. Famous names on show at the gallery include Bonnie Prince Charlie; Flora Macdonald, who famously helped him evade capture in the aftermath of the Jacobite defeat; and Scotland’s national bard Robert Burns. Entry to the gallery is free and special guided tours, where charges apply, are available for groups.

Track down the new Hunterian

After almost two years of closure Glasgow’s Hunterian Museum recently reopened and unveiled its new Roman Frontier Gallery. Through a fascinating collection of artefacts dating back 2,000 years, and many on display for the first time, it tells the fascinating story of how the people of Scotland interacted with the occupying Roman army.

The renovated museum has new opening hours, including Sunday, providing you with increased opportunities to visit during a trip to Glasgow. Founded in 1807, the Hunterian is Scotland’s oldest public museum and home to the largest permanent display of works by artist James McNeill Whistler and the largest single holding of the work of influential Glasgow architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Admission is free.

Paddle or plunge

For adventurous groups, and those with youngsters on board, Dunbar’s Coast to Coast Surf School in East Lothian has launched stand up paddling tuition, a combination of surfing and paddling. The school offers coastal, surf, river and loch lessons to groups.

And for the daredevils among you the UK’s very first permanent static bungee jump has opened in Perthshire. The Highland Fling bungee jump platform is attached to Garry Bridge, some 40 metres (131 feet) above the Pass of Killicrankie.

Five great group attractions

• Bannockburn: Immortalised in history by Robert the Bruce’s victory in 1314, groups can embark on evocative costume guided tours of the famous battlefield in the company of Bruce’s general Thomas Randolph.

• Floors Castle: Said to be the largest inhabited castle in Scotland and home to the Duke and Duchess of Roxburghe, the State Rooms are filled with priceless European paintings, tapestries and furnishings enhanced with family photographs and plants grown by the estate gardeners.

• Glencoe: With its spectacular landscape of mountains and lochs, a trip through this Highland area is a ‘must see’. Stop off at the award-winning visitor centre and capture the perfect shot from the panoramic viewing platform.

• Glenfiddich: One of the many whisky distilleries that welcome groups, visits begin with a film about the history of the Speyside distillery followed by an illuminating tour and all important tasting. 

• Scottish Mining Museum: One of the finest examples of a Victorian colliery in Europe, just nine miles south of Edinburgh, groups can find out exactly what life was like for the miners and their families.

Five fascinating film locations

• Balmoral Castle: The highland home of the Royal Family since 1852 provided the authentic backdrop for the Oscar-winning 2006 film The Queen starring Helen Mirren.

Blackness Castle: The dramatic fortress on the edge of the Forth estuary has had many starring roles including the Ivanhoe television series and the 1997 version of Macbeth with Jason Connery and Helen Baxendale plus 1990 film Hamlet with Mel Gibson.

• Falls of Dochart: The spectacular waterfalls featured in the classic 1959 thriller The 39 Steps and 1967 Bond film Casino Royale.

• Glenfinnan viaduct:  This striking landmark featured in the Harry Potter adventures and 2001 wartime film Charlotte Gray. Groups can embark on their own magical train journey on the Jacobite steam train.

• Loch Lomond: The television series Bad Boys, 1999 film The Beautiful Game and 2002 production The Last Great Wilderness were all shot at one of Scotland’s most scenic lochs.

Useful contact:
0845-225 5121

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