Scotland is full of surprises – whether you’re visiting for the first time or holiday here every chance you get, you’re never far away from an exciting new discovery. In the Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology 2017, the annual Doors Open Days gives visitors the key to some the country’s best-kept secrets, offering access to places that are often closed to the public.
Organised by the Scottish Civic Trust, this month-long festival sees hundreds of architectural gems, fascinating museums, historic sites and other hidden treasures open their doors to the public on Saturdays and Sundays throughout September, with different regions revealing some of their finest buildings each weekend. You’ll also find expert tours, guided walks, exhibitions and other activities on offer, all completely free. Please note, booking in advance is recommended for many of the guided tours, and opening dates and times should be checked before you go.
Here are a few highlights to look forward to:
Weekend One: 2 – 3 September
- Did you know guide dogs have been trained in Forfar for over 50 years? At the Guide Dog Centre in this Angus town, take a look at the kennels and learn about how these hard working, helpful pooches are trained.
- Inglis Memorial Library in Edzell, Angus, is a beautiful original Victorian library that was gifted to the village by Lieutenant Colonel Robert William Inglis in 1898. Visit and find out how the library has served the people of Edzell.
- Auchinleck House in Ayrshire is a restored mansion house dating back to the 13th century, with ruins of a castle and the ‘Old House’ still standing within the estate. The mansion is a category A-listed building, nowadays used mostly for holiday lets.
- Want to know what happens day-to-day in a fire station? Then head to the state of the art Kilmarnock Fire and Rescue Station to see vehicles, training facilities and more. The site has a fascinating history; the fire station was built on the spot where Riccarton Castle once stood, which is where Alan Wallace, father of William Wallace, was born!
- Plan a walk along a section of the Fife Coastal Path and make a visit to the pretty St Monans Windmill where you’ll learn about former salt production in the area, and more.
- Standing on the site of the medieval castle close to the banks of the River Ness is Inverness Sheriff Court. Get a glimpse inside and see the impressive central stair, which sits under a panelled vaulted ceiling, and original furnishings, including a Tudor gothic canopy.
Weekend Two: 9 – 10 September
- Step inside the contemporary architectural wonder of the Maggie’s Centre in Aberdeen – free tours are available. As well as the chance to admire this stunning building, you’ll experience a warm welcome from the caring staff.
- Climb into a hidden bunker at Skelmorie Royal Observer Monitoring Post Museum in Ayrshire. Built in 1965, the facility was designed to report on nuclear explosions and fall out in the Firth of Clyde. (Friday 8 September)
- Animal lovers shouldn’t miss the chance to check out Mossburn Community Farm near Lockerbie in Dumfries & Galloway. The building dates from the 18th century, but the charity has been looking after neglected animals since 1987.
- In East Dunbartonshire, discover the beautiful Cadder Parish Church and its wonderful stained glass windows. In the graveyard, you can see a mort safe and a watch-hut, designed to discourage grave robbers.
- Enjoy a day trip on the banks of Loch Lomond and climb aboard the Maid of the Loch, a historic paddle steamer ship which dates from the 1950s. Located at the family-friendly Loch Lomond Shores, it’s a great place to take the kids.
- See the historic Dysart Town Hall and Tolbooth in Fife and find out about the village as it was in days gone by, including its former industries, and its harbour which has featured in the hit TV series Outlander.
- Join Roger Guthrie of the Alexander Thomson Society for a guided walk around Cathcart Cemetery in East Renfrewshire to see gothic tombs, Egyptian temples, and Greek, Romanesque and art nouveau designs.
- Making beverages from locally cultivated and foraged fruits, leaves and flowers is Perthshire’s Cairn o’Mohr Winery. Their site includes old farm buildings dating back 140 years ago and there’s a vibrant ranch style shop, café, and play area to explore.
Weekend Three: 16 -17 September
- See an early 19th century mill, complete with working water wheel, at the Mill of Benholm, Kincardineshire, as well as the former miller’s house, former byre, old grain store and community garden.
- Get to know more about the work of the brave lifeboat crew on a visit to RNLI Stonehaven to see the station crew shed. In the boat shed, see where the lifeboats are kept – this building is as old as the harbour itself!
- Going to an office building may not sound exciting, but District 10 in Dundee isn’t your average office block – it’s made of shipping containers and is highly sustainable. This innovate space is used predominantly by start-up creative industry companies and was commended in the Scottish Design Awards.
- Or, see one of Dundee’s oldest and most treasured buildings, Dudhope Castle. In the 1680s it was home to John Graham of Claverhouse, Viscount of Dundee, a key figure in the first Jacobite uprising of 1689.
- Constructed to house the town’s bell and clock, as well as containing temporary lockups, is the Falkirk Steeple. Ascend the stairs and see the two original prison cells, complete with their original reinforced doors.
- Get a look inside the projection box and hear fascinating talks at the Glasgow Film Theatre. Dating from before the World War II, it’s considered to be Scotland’s original independent cinema.
Weekend Four: 23 – 24 September
- One of Scotland’s finest examples of Brutalist architecture is St Peter’s Seminary in Cardross, Argyll, but after having lain empty for many years, it was considered to be an iconic modern ruin. Now, steps are being taken to ensure it’ll be preserved as one of Scotland’s great cultural landmarks. Take the chance to explore the building in its raw, abandoned state.
- Take a ferry to the Isle of Bute to see Rothesay Pavilion, named as one of Scotland’s favourite buildings. You can join a hard hat tour of this Art Deco building, which is currently undergoing an extensive project of renovations.
- Make an appointment for a guided tour of the magnificent Hill House in Helensburgh. This architectural treasure was designed by the famous Scottish architect and designer Charles Rennie Mackintosh in 1902.
- See where amateur actors have tread the boards at The Coach House Theatre in Alloa. Home to the Alman Dramatic Club, the 63-seat performance venue was originally built in the early 1900s as a coach house for the Patons of Inglewood. It later became a garage for the family’s cars and stood empty for a number of years.
- Chill out in Alva Ice House in Clackmannanshire, restored as part of the Ochils Landscape Partnership programme. Dating from the early 1800s, the ice house is of an elaborate design, with its long entrance passage and heptagonal corridor.
- Step inside the once-forgotten Leith Theatre in Leith, Edinburgh. Unused since the 1980s, the theatre is being brought back to life and will become a vibrant cultural centre for performance, visual arts and community events.
- Leith’s important shipping history can be discovered at Custom House, an impressive building once used to oversee the payment of duty for importing and exporting goods through the Port of Leith.
- Just down the road, Edinburgh Printmakers on Union Street was originally a washhouse for the local community. It’s now one of the city’s busiest print studios.
Of course, there are many more amazing places opening their doors across Scotland, with events taking place during the whole month of September. Please always check the Doors Open Days website for further details and always check dates before you visit.
Have you been busy unlocking some of Scotland’s secrets? Don’t forget to share your discoveries in September using #DODSCOT.