Scotland’s Living History

2017 is Scotland’s year of History, Heritage & Archaeology. Where to start? We’re running a series of Blog features to showcase some of the very best places to discover and explore our country’s living heritage. This Blog features our industrial heritage …

Scotland has no fewer than six UNESCO World Heritage Sites: these divide (roughly) into …

Islands & Archaeology:

  • St. Kilda off the north west coast: bequeathed to National Trust of Scotland in the 1950s, the remote Hebridean islands – together with the surrounding marine features – became a World Heritage Site in 2005. They’re also a Biosphere Reserve and a National Scenic Area. The islands were listed as they provide a cultural record of a lost crofting community that once lived on what has been described as “the edge of the world”. The remoteness of the islands – 64 kilometres west of the Outer Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland – together with limited human interference over 5 millennia means St Kilda represents a highly authentic example of a way of life, now lost.
  • The Heart of Neolithic Orkney: managed by Historic Scotland, the site was inscribed in 1999 and gives a graphic depiction of life some 5,000 years ago. It covers the chambered tomb of Maeshowe, two ceremonial stone circles – the Ring of Brodgar and the Standing Stones of Stennes – as well as the ancient settlement of Skara Brae.

Buildings & Architecture:

  • The Antonine Wall: we’ve all heard of Hadrian’s effort. The Antonine Wall is the remains of a defensive line that was 20ft high – made of turf – and ran for 37 miles between the the Firth of Clyde and the Firth of Forth. Built around 139AD, it included 19 forts and is included as a World Heritage Site together with sites in Austria, Germany and Slovakia as ‘Frontiers of the Roman Empire’.
  • Edinburgh’s Old Town & New Town: recognising the city’s outstanding architecture and its influence – it is managed by the Edinburgh World Heritage Trust – and includes the medieval Royal Mile, Edinburgh Castle, the Palace of Holyroodhouse and the neo-classical development of the new town that includes squares, crescents and circuses.


But for the Blog, we’re interested in our Industrial & Working Heritage – and Scotland boasts two outstanding World Heritage Sites as well as a host of incredible visitor attractions – large and small – that piece together Scotland’s industrial past …


New Lanark

A restored 18th century cotton mill on the River Clyde in South Lanarkshire – now a World Heritage Site and rightly so. Built by the enlightened Robert Owen, it was his experiment to create a utopian society. He provided decent homes, fair wages, free health care, a new education system for villagers and the first workplace nursery school in the world. The restoration – managed by the New Lanark Conservation Trust which formed in the 1970s – has created a living community, which welcomes visitors from all over the world.

You can travel back in time on the Annie Mcleod Experience that features mill girl, Annie, who reveals the amazing story of her life in New Lanark in 1820. There’s an historic classroom to visit, mill workers houses and – of course – the beating heart of the mills that employed hundreds of people when New Lanark was one of the world’s greatest cotton mills. They thrived on the Clyde – and its water that powered so much of Scotland’s industrial revolution – can be enjoyed in the beautiful surrounds at the Clyde Falls. Corra Linn is the highest, with a fall of 84 feet. Bonnington Linn (a fall of 30 feet), Corra Linn and Dundaff Linn (falls of 10 feet) are all above New Lanark and located within the Falls of Clyde Reserve managed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust, a national nature conservation charity. You can enjoy walks within the native woodlands, spotting wildlife and wondering at the flora & fauna all around them. Look our for kingfishers, otters, deer and badgers!

For more information – including booking tickets – follow this link. Check out the excellent visitor reviews on TripAdvisor.

You can find much more – including more lovely photos on New Lanark’s Facebook page.



The Forth Bridge

Scotland’s latest addition as a World Heritage Site was inscribed in 2015. It is an iconic design – recognised the world over as an industrial masterpiece. Its three diamond-shaped towers form a 1.5 mile cantilever bridge that, when it opened in 1890, was a modern wonder of the world. Innovative in style, materials and scale, the Forth Bridge marked an important milestone in bridge design when railways dominated long-distance land travel.

The bridge replaced a roll-on/roll-off train ferry – the world’s first – than linked Granton and Burntisland and operated successfully from 1850. The man behind the ferry was Thomas Bouch – a railway engineer. He’d submitted plans for the Forth Bridge and had his designs accepted: they’d even started on the build in 1878 – one of the piers still remains at the site. Then Bouch’s Tay Bridge collapsed in 1879 killing 75. His design was scrapped in January 1881. The bridge we see today was designed by the English engineers Sir John Fowler and Sir Benjamin Baker and built by Sir William Arrol & Co. of Glasgow. It took seven years and, at its peak, more than 4,500 workers worked on its construction.

It was completed in December 1889 and those responsible for the bridge undertook two months of testing before it was formally opened on 4 March 1890 by the then Prince of Wales, later King Edward VII. He hammered home the final rivet – gold plated of course!

These images are from the very helpful Forth Bridges Forum site. They also have a 360 Tour you can view.


There are plans for a visitor centre and even proposals for bridge walks, but these have yet to happen. Today, you can enjoy an array of different views of the bridge …


By Andrew Shiva / Wikipedia: CC BY-SA 4.0


Another wonder – this time of today’s industrial world – is a short journey from the Forth Bridge …


The Falkirk Wheel

The Forth & Clyde and Union Canals were linked by a staircase of 11 locks; it was a feat of engineering and took barges almost a full day to travel up or down it. The rise is rail travel and the resulting decline in canal usage saw the locks importance fade – and they were dismantled in 1933. As part of an £83.5m Millennium project, plans were drawn up to re-open the canals – the largest canal restoration anywhere in the UK. Just as many had submitted ideas for the Forth crossing in the late 19th century, so the Falkirk project attracted designs of all shapes and sizes: rolling eggs, tilting tanks, a giant see-saw and overhead monorails. The concept of a wheel as a boat lift was one – inspired by a Celtic double headed spear, a huge turning propeller of a Clydebank built ship, the ribcage of a whale and the spine of a fish!

It was constructed in Derbyshire and transported – kit like – in 35 trucks before being bolted back together and craned into position. The wheel – 35m tall – is made with 1,200 tonnes of steel and is held together with 15,000 bolts matched with 45,000 bolts holes. More than 1,000 people were involved in its construction … and each bolt was hand tightened. The 600 tonne gondolas hold 500,000 litres of water yet – and this is the genius of the design – it uses just 1.5kWh of energy to turn: that’s the same amount as it would take to boil 8 household kettles.

The world’s first and only rotating boat lift was opened by Her Majesty, The Queen, in 2002 – reconnecting the Forth & Clyde and Union Canals for the first time in over 70 years since when more than 5.5million visitors have enjoyed time out at this unique wonder of industrial design. If you plan to visit – and you should – there’s a wealth of things to see and do … and you are also a short distance from another ‘wow’ attraction: the Kelpies at The Helix.


Water, water everywhere …

Water has played a vital role in Scotland’s industrial heritage. We’ve mentioned New Lanark – but there are other mills well worth a visit.


Stanley Mills

Just north of Perth, you can enjoy a hi-tech visitor experience – interactive displays telling the stories of those who worked here and the products they made. Hear the clamour of the factory floor. Learn how engineers harnessed water power. See the machinery that turned raw cotton into products that were exported from Scotland across the globe.

Stanley Mills is one of the best-preserved relics of the Industrial Revolution of the late 1700s. The cotton mill harnessed water power at a hairpin bend in the River Tay – a spot where immense water power was available. Machinery was powered initially by waterwheels, and later by electricity from water-powered turbines. Built in 1786, Perthshire merchants set up the mill with support from the English cotton baron, Richard Arkwright. Arkwright was a world-famous pioneer of the Industrial Revolution and Stanley Mills is the best-preserved of all the mills in which Arkwright had direct involvement.

When visiting, you can explore the mill buildings to discover the many changes that took place over two centuries, get an insight into the lives of the mill workers – mostly women and children, enter the Bell Mill, one of the world’s oldest surviving factories, which is largely unchanged, visit the Mid Mill, built in the 1820s during an era of expansion and see the lades – a network of waterways used to channel the power of the River Tay. Planning a trip? You can buy tickets online via this link.


Knockando Woolmill

We’d hazard a guess many know the terms ‘weaving, ‘spinning’ and even ‘plying’ … but ‘carding’, ‘warping’ and ‘hanking’? Knockando Woolmill continues an unbroken 200 year old tradition, producing woven fabric on historic looms in a beautiful setting, deep in the Spey Valley. Listed as the ‘Wauk Mill’ in parish records from 1784, the mill has since maintained its traditions of spinning and weaving through generations of families and has always been at the heart of the local community.

It grew as the mechanisation of textile production developed, but Knockando is not the large, industrial mill of the Scottish Borders. It is a living version of 18th century farm diversification. When times were good, the Woolmill would buy a new – usually second hand – pieces of machinery, extending the building just enough to keep the weather off the machine! The result is a somewhat ramshackle but wonderfully rustic collection of what are now Category A listed buildings that contain original textile machinery acquired over the centuries.

Spinning and weaving went hand in hand with agriculture at Knockando. There would be little work carried on in the Woolmill during sowing or harvest time but after shearing, local farmers would bring in their fleeces to be processed and take them away as blankets and tweed cloth. Many communities had their own local district woollen mill, but the majority of these disappeared between the two World Wars. Somehow, Knockando survived. In 2000, The Knockando Woolmill Trust was formed and set about raising £3.5 million needed to restore the buildings and machinery.They succeeded – and completed the work in 2014. The Trust now owns the mill building and the Woolmill is now open to the public.

Throughout the year, the Mill runs events and tours are offered for visitors. There’s a great cafe on site selling delicious, home made produce – and if you want to buy produce from the Mill but can’t make it to Knockando, they’re online with a wide range of scarves, throws and crafts. Need more? Keep up to date with them on Facebook. They also share some great images via Instagram.


Barry Mill

Finally in our showcase is the 19th century Barry Mill, near Canousitie in Angus. Now one of only a tiny handful of mills still powered by water where visitors can still see the traditional way of milling. You are transported back in time – enjoy the splash of the 4.7m-diameter overshot water-wheel – and the sound and smell of grinding corn. The wheel works for all visitors although actual milling takes place (normally) on Sunday afternoons – and for pre-booked parties. Grain from a local farm is stored in jute sacks, moved vertically using the water-powered sack hoist. The grain is then milled using a pair of French burr stones made in Edinburgh in the late 19th century. In its heyday, Barry Mill was alive with the rumble of the machinery. It was the heart of a small rural community, providing work and opportunities for local people. It was still hard at work as late as 1982 – the last of its kind in Angus.

Barry Mill is a magnificent example of Scotland’s industrial heritage, set in a secluded area beside the Barry Burn where there are walks to enjoy and explore. Throughout the open season they offer guided tours (not obligatory) and explain the process of milling grain into oatmeal in the traditional manner, from storage, drying and cleaning to milling & sieving. Today, the property is managed by the National Trust of Scotland. Visitors are welcome to walk and picnic in the grounds at their leisure all year round.


We have given just a flavour. We’d love to know your favourite places to discover Scotland’s industrial heritage.

Please share with us on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram.


And finally …

On this Blog’s featured image, Dalmeny House is shown in the foreground. Used as a location for films ranging from The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie to The Little Vampire, the house is open to the public at selected times. A fabulous 4.5 miles shoreline walk – open all year – passes through the Dalmeny grounds. The walk begins in South Queensferry and heads east to Cramond, It is full of interest throughout with beautiful and ever changing views over the Forth to various islands and the coastline of Fife.