Clan Napier itinerary

Clan Napier is one of Scotland's smallest clans but is also amongst its oldest. An exploration of your Napier heritage will take you to the central belt of Scotland with the ancient capital city of Edinburgh as your main focus.

The name itself is almost certainly derived from the term 'napper', the Keeper of the Linen in a royal or lordly household. Discover your clan routes by following this four-day itinerary.

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  • Edinburgh Castle and the Ross Fountain, Princes Street Gardens
    Edinburgh Castle and the Ross Fountain, Princes Street Gardens
  • Looking through the trees to the National Wallace Monument, Stirling
    The National Wallace Monument, Stirling
  • Looking over to the outside of the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh
    The Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh
  • The crown spire of St Giles
    The crown spire of St Giles

Arrive in Edinburgh, Scotland's magnificent historic capital, where you'll be spoilt for things to do and places to visit. A good starting point is the National Museum of Scotland in Chambers Street where you'll find the history of Scotland from early geological times through to the present day.

If time allows, call in at the nearby Scottish Genealogical Society library in Victoria Terrace and discover a wealth of genealogical information and guidance, as well as plenty fellow travellers and enthusiastic researchers. Appointments are not necessary but there is a small fee for non-members.

On your first day in Edinburgh, you might like to relax and enjoy one of the excellent bus tours of the city, which can be boarded at various stops across the city (including outside the National Museum) or take a stroll through the elegant Georgian streets of the New Town.

Perhaps the most famous branch of the family is the Merchiston Napiers, whose estate stretched from Gorgie Road in the north of Edinburgh to the Jordan burn in the south. The Merchiston Tower was built in the middle or highest part and has now been restored as part of the Edinburgh Napier University campus. It can be visited by prior arrangement with the University.

The Napiers of Merchiston had a long and distinguished career occupying many important positions in the city. William de Napier was governor of Edinburgh Castle in 1401 and his son was Provost of Edinburgh in 1437. From the battlements of Edinburgh Castle you can enjoy commanding views out over both the New and Old Towns of Edinburgh. Remember that where you see the New Town today, your ancestor William de Napier would have seen only fields.

Starting at the castle at the top of the Royal Mile, walk downhill and enjoy the sights and sounds of this historic area. The family vault of the Napier family can be found at St Giles Cathedral. The impressive cathedral is Presbyterianism's Mother Church and contains the Chapel of the Order of the Thistle (Scotland's chivalric company of knights headed by the Queen).

Continue down the Royal Mile and stop by the Museum of Edinburgh at Huntly House where carved stones once the property of the Napiers of Wrichtishousis can be found. The Palace of Holyroodhouse at the end of the Royal Mile forms a fitting end to this historic walk.

The single most famous Napier was possibly John Napier (the 8th Laird of Merchiston) who is known as John of Logarithms. He was born in 1550 and matriculated at St Andrews University when he was only 13 - but did not graduate! In inventing logarithms, he made a considerable impact on the study of mathematics for many centuries.

It's time to leave your exploration of Edinburgh for now and make the short journey north to St. Andrews to visit his old place of learning. As well as its academic fame, St. Andrews is also known as the home of golf, so don't forget to bring your clubs and play on historic fairways like the Old Course or King’s Course.

Alternatively, why not head west through the green landscape of Fife and on to Stirling, so closely associated with Scotland's turbulent past and the scene of one of the most important battles in the Wars of Independence.

As well as a stroll around the battlefield at Stirling Bridge, marked by the imposing National Wallace Monument, time should also be made for a visit to the impressive Stirling Castle, a royal retreat favoured by the Stuart dynasty and the childhood home of Mary, Queen of Scots. One of your ancestors, John Napier of Dumbarton, assisted Edward I in the defence of Stirling Castle in 1314.

Continuing west through the rich farmland of west Stirlingshire, an area with a close association with the Napiers, you will arrive at the ruins of Kilmahew Castle on the north side of the village of Cardross, just four miles from Dumbarton.

The Kilmahew Napiers were the direct ancestors of many of the Napiers presently in the United States. Near to the castle lies a chapel believed to date from early Christian times. The chapel was renovated in 1955 and rededicated in 1997 during a service attended by Colonel John Hawkins Napier III from Alabama. The chapel offers a chance to pause and reflect on your ancestral heritage.

The Kilmahew Napiers produced many eminent men in marine engineering during the 19th century. Robert Napier, popularly known as the father of Clyde shipbuilding developed innovative new steam engines for ships and from 1840 to 1865 his firm provided the entire Cunard fleet with their engines. The engine he designed for the 1823 steamship PS Leven can be seen in Dumbarton opposite the Denny Tank building at the Scottish Maritime Museum.

Travelling east, you’ll arrive in the cosmopolitan city of Glasgow, Scotland's largest urban centre and a popular destination for a short break. Glasgow's fine museums and galleries are complemented by the Mitchell Library, one of the largest public reference libraries in Europe and home of the city archives.