Clans, Culture & History Insider Tips

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Robert Ballantyne - Battle re-enactor

Robert is a proud Scot, passionate about Scottish history and heritage, and it is this passion that brought him to his profession today as a living history presenter. Robert has been involved in battle re-enactments for many years, bringing to life the most important events in Scotland’s rich and fascinating history. He also runs educational programmes for visitors and schools; he takes great pride in donning his medieval tabard and chainmail and sharing his extensive knowledge, as well as explaining the historical significance of the various aspects of his costumes. Many of his fascinating and elaborate costumes, ranging from medieval battle armour to Jacobean costume were made by his own hands.

Robert Ballantyne
Antonine Wall
The Antonine wall

Antonine Wall - Robert recommends a visit to the Antonine Wall, which was once the most northern frontier of the Roman Empire in Britain. Robert considers this a historic “hidden gem”, to be discovered while enjoying a walk through Scotland’s countryside.

Stirling Castle
Stirling Castle

For Robert, no trip to Scotland is complete without a visit to one of our many historic castles. Stirling Castle is one of Scotland’s largest castles, and visitors can experience the history of the castle coming to life with costumed guides and actors.

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Sheila Fleet - Jewellery designer

Sheila has forged a career as an award-winning jewellery designer, inspired by Scotland's historic natural landscapes. Her designs reflect the beauty of the sea, the sky, the trees and the colours of the landscapes of her home island of Orkney. Perhaps her greatest source of inspiration is the rich heritage and archaeology of the island, especially the Neolithic Heart of Orkney World Heritage site including the mysterious Ring of Brodgar and the surprisingly well-preserved Stone Age village of Skara Brae. Sheila's creations incorporate symbols from over 5000 years of Scottish history, from the Neolithic through the Pictish era and the times of the Vikings and Celts.

Sheila Fleet
Orkney's history
Orkney, far north of Scotland

For anyone interested in Scottish natural history, Sheila Fleet recommends the coast from Stromness to Yesnaby on Orkney. "It is a window into the geological past. You'll see fossils and various rock layers which correspond to different periods of history", she explains.

Spiritual discoveries on Oronsay
Oronsay

The Isle of Oronsay is only an island at high tide. It is separated from Colonsay by "The Strand", a one mile long mud flat, which serves as a causeway two hours before and after low tide. Oronsay is tiny, but a visit to the island with its beautiful abbey ruin is always worthwhile. On the way back, you might even find yourself forraging seafood for your dinner!

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The oldest house in Northern Europe
Papa Westray, Orkney

Knap of Howar, on Papa Westray, is the location of one the oldest buildings in northern Europe. Farmers were active here even before the Egyptian pyramids were built. In the Middle Ages the island gained great religious significance and the church of St Boniface, one of the oldest places of Christian worship in the north of Scotland, served as a place of pilgrimage and an outpost for missionaries.

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The prehistoric village of Skara Brae
Skara Brae, Orkney

Sheila Fleet recommends a trip to Skara Brae on Orkney, an incredibly well-preserved Neolithic settlement, which is older than the pyramids of Egypt and one of the most important monuments in Europe. The neolithic archaeological sites of Orkney are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Jamie Barr - Highland Games athlete

Jamie is a man of few words. At 6ft 3in and 265lb, he prefers action. Competing in the world's elite Strong Man competitions, he has won Scotland's Strongest Man, Great Britain's Strongest Man and Europe's Strongest Man, to name but a few. However, his passion is really for Highland Games. "To pull a truck is hard. To toss a caber, however, requires much more than just strength." Jamie is rightfully proud, not only of his numerous titles but also of being a part of this living tradition.

Jamie Barr
Pitlochry makes history

The Pitlochry Highland Games were the first to be re-introduced in Scotland in 1852. Don't miss this annual event that takes place in September where you can watch cabrs being tossed, hammers being thrown and see demonstrations of traditional Scottish bagpipe music and Higland dance.

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Braemar Gathering
Braemar Gathering

Visit the Braemar Gathering held annually in early September and experience a fantastic programme of Highland games, music and dance - plus you might catch a glimpse of the Queen!

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Dunfermline Abbey in Fife
Dunfermline Abbey, Fife

Visit Jamie's home region of Fife. "You should visit Dunfermline Abbey, which dates back to the 12th century, at some point," he suggests. "Many Kings of Scotland, including the legendary Robert the Bruce, are buried here."

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Highland Games in Blairgowrie
Blairgowrie Highland Games

September is the culmination of the Scottish Highland Games season. Visit the annual event in Blairgowrie, Perthshire where you'll find a mixture of fun and drama on the first Sunday of September.

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The History of Loch Leven Castle
Lochleven Castle, Fife

For over 300 years, Loch Leven Castle in Fife has played a major role in Scottish history. For the historians among you, Jamie recommends a trip to the castle, where Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned for nearly a year.

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Duke of Argyll - Chief of Clan Campbell

The relatives of the Duke and Duchess could easily populate a small country. There are estimated to be around 5 million members of Clan Campbell worldwide and the 13th Duke of Argyll is the Clan Chief. He is also a whisky ambassador and owner of Inveraray Castle, on Scotland's west coast. During the summer, the estate employs a staff of 150 employees. Despite their busy schedule the Duke and Duchess enjoy their work: "For us, our work is both a gift and a responsibility."

The Duke of Argyll
Spectacular Falcons at Dunrobin Castle

During your visit make sure you see one of the two falconry demonstrations held daily. The main attractions in these shows are spectacular golden eagles and peregrine falcons. Those who dare to should even try holding and feeding one of these wonderful birds of prey themselves, as well as letting it fly.

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Visit the fairytale castle of Dunrobin
Dunrobin fairytale castle

Dunrobin Castle is the most magical fairytale castle in Scotland and one of the oldest inhabited buildings in Britain. The stairs, which have numerous portraits hanging on the walls, are reminiscent of a Harry Potter movie. A visit to the castle is worthwhile, especially on sunny days when you can leisurely stroll through its magnificent French gardens.

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The Gardens of Inveraray Castle
Inveraray Castle

The Gardens of Inveraray Castle extend to six and a half acres of manicured lawns, flower beds, gardens and woodland. "I have lived in this castle since I was born," explains the Duke, "but the gardens' beauty and variety of colours surprise me anew every year! The rhododendrons, primroses and bluebells are an amazing sight."

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Howie Nicholsby - Contemporary kilt designer

Howie always wears a kilt, rides a bike year round and is always smiling. The secret to his good mood is a typically Scottish attitude: "You have to have a good backbone, enjoy everyday life and not let things stress you out too much!" Over 10 years ago, Howie began to approach kilt design differently and opened his shop "21st Century Kilts". Today, his creations adorn the legs of men worldwide.

Howie Nicholsby
Pagan fire in Stonehaven
Stonehaven Fire Festival

You're no doubt aware of the famous Scottish New Year's Eve party Hogmanay in Edinburgh, but what about Hogmanay in Stonehaven? "In Stonehaven the custom is to welcome in the New Year with a pagan fire, where you swing balls of fire over your head", says Howie.

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Magnificent Tantallon castle
Tantallon Castle

A few miles east of North Berwick are the beautiful ruins of Tantallon Castle, built across a narrow isthmus guarded on three sides by steep cliffs. Nature lovers can witness a sea of wildflowers in bloom in season and history buffs will delight in the reproduced cannon. Just the thing for a dose of history druing your trip!

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Hazel Campbell - Painter

Hazel finds inspiration on her doorstep since her favourite subject is the landscape of Dumfries and Galloway. "Look around you, art is already there, all you have to do is to get it onto canvas!" Southwest Scotland has inspired many renowned artists - for example, Hornel, one of the Scottish Colourists, who helped establish the town of Kircudbrigh's reputation as "The Artists' Town". As with the works of her predecessors, Hazel's paintings reflect a fascination with the variety of colours through the changing seasons, the play of light and the unique atmosphere of her home region. Hazel is an enthusiastic participant at the annual Spring Fling Arts Festival, where studios and art workshops open their doors to inquisitive visitors.

Hazel Campbell
The fascinating history of Iona
Iona

Iona is only 5km long and 3km wide and there are more sheep living there than people - however, the island has held a special place in the history of Great Britain. For several centuries, it has been a place of pilgrimage and for over 1400 years a place of Christian worship. Stroll across the machair and discover the sparkling white sands of the northern beaches.

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Adrian Shine - Loch Ness expert

Adrian is a man on a mission: to unlock the secrets of the depths of Loch Ness. As head of the Loch Ness Project, he has published books on the scientific, biological and archaeological importance of the famous loch. He has collaborated with researchers from over 20 universities and developed new, innovative research tools and techniques. After visiting the award-winning Loch Ness Exhibition, designed by Adrian, everyone is excited about what is probably hidden down there in the depths of the lake. Solving this mystery has become Adrian's life's work. "I came to conquer its secrets, but the place has captured me instead."

Adrian Shine
Myths and monsters of Loch Ness
Loch Ness Centre

To discover what Adrian and his colleagues have found out about another mystery, you should visit the Loch Ness Centre. Here you can learn all about this famous loch and the stories of its most famous resident - Nessie! Adrian designed the advanced multimedia presentation and is the scientific expert at the centre."

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Urquhart - a castle with a view
Urquhart Castle

Adrian often takes the boat to the ruins of Urquhart Castle beside Loch Ness. "From the castle tower you can enjoy a magnificent view of the lake. Countless mysterious objects have been sighted in the lake from there, and the visitor centre with its fascinating exhibitions gives you a glimpse into the past."

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Lady Claire Macdonald - Scottish food ambassador

Lady Claire has a very busy schedule. She is the author of several best-selling cookbooks and holds lectures around the world. She appears in numerous television and radio broadcasts, delivers cooking courses and is also the chef at the award-winning Michelin-star Kinloch Hotel on the Isle of Skye, which she runs with her family. Despite all this success, the mother of four has kept her feet firmly on the ground. "With all the fabulous Scottish natural produce, it doesn't really take much to prepare some delicious dishes and I want to share the experience with people."

Lady Claire
Magical Kelso
Floors Castle, Kelso

Kelso is not to be missed. "You have to visit the Borders! Kelso is such a charming little town. It is a little way away, but, as Walter Scott once wrote, one of the most romantic, if not the most beautiful place in Scotland. And when one of our best poets says something, then you can believe it!" says Lady Claire.

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Welcome to Islay and Jura
Islay and Jura

From April to October, every Monday the Visitor Welcome Evenings provide information about life on Islay and Jura. You can learn interesting facts, for example about the wildlife of the islands or Finlaggan, the former stronghold of the Lords of the Isles. You also enjoy performances by local singers and dancers, sample a good wine. The evenings are free and last for about 2 hours.

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