Things to do in Lanarkshire
Key to all that I do as a travel blogger is my absolute focus on fuelling Scotland’s tourism industry. I want to see a country that puts tourism at the genuine heart of its economy in the way that other nations I’ve visited have done. And, based on the last couple of years’ visitor numbers in particular, this is currently being achieved with emphatic success. However, having scored with the core aim of convincing people to come to Scotland en masse (and convincing locals to more fully appreciate what’s on their doorstep), the next tier of challenges awaits. Principally, this is going to involve spreading the love throughout the year and across the whole nation. With that, let me introduce you to some of the top things to do in Lanarkshire and a look at areas that haven’t had as much attention as they perhaps should….
Even the most enthusiastic of castle hunters out there may be unaware that one of the best, and most historically wealthy, castles in the land lives in Lanarkshire. Bothwell Castle is in many ways my version of the perfect ruin. It is powerfully and practically structured, beautifully set and rich in a war-littered backstory that covered Scotland’s most fascinating historical chapters.
Plopped on the banks of the mighty River Clyde and glowing angry red under the sun, the 13th Century ruin struggles manfully to stay standing and I can’t ever recall seeing it without scaffolding. It has a distinctive, massive donjon (keep) to the west and would have made for a fortress that leant itself to defence. And it certainly had need of these defences as siege after siege came calling soon after its construction. Bothwell Castle changed hands several times during the Wars of Independence and Edward’s forces seemed to like using it as a base of operations. Aymer de Valence (the easy-to-loathe bald guy and Warden of Scotland in Outlaw King) had his true base of operations here.
Further south, Craignethan Castle is set in an extremely rural spot where birds of prey have us lot firmly outnumbered. Built as an artillery fortification in the 16th Century, in reality it came too late to the show to see much conflict.
One of the most spectacular natural sights in Central Scotland is to be found within a short distance of New Lanark, the walk to the Falls of Clyde. An astonishing waterfall at Corra Linn marks the end point for most as the Clyde tumbles in stages down 84 feet into a rough gorge that forms a natural amphitheatre. Highland Perthshire sprang to mind several times for me during this walk as the rawness of the landscapes, the thick bodies of trees and the drama and racket of the omnipresent Clyde engrossed throughout.
In North Lanarkshire meanwhile, there are several routes that offer teasers to the more-celebrated walks in the Southern Highlands. Tomtain is a low-adrenaline, high-impact stroll north of Kilsyth that presents stunning panoramas to the Ochil Hills in the east, Perthshire to the direct north and Loch Lomond and the Trossachs to the west. To the south, man-made Scotland spreads in front of you and it seems just daft that this kind of solitude is achievable within 25 minutes of Glasgow. I had total isolation on a crisp, sunny winter’s day, underlining once again the truth depth of Scotland’s magic.
New Lanark leads the line in authenticity when it comes to appreciating the 18th Century impact of industrial growth that powered local and national economies. A timelessly quaint mill village, it provides a thoughtfully-presented window into the hazardous but community-dominated lives of local mill workers. I’ve covered mills before in my travels, most memorably those used for jute production in Dundee, and they delivered a tough way of life to employees of all ages during the Industrial Revolution. Children played a particularly relevant role in cotton mills such as these and mill girl Annie’s commentary is a nice touch on the tour.
New Lanark is more than just a museum and provides a holistic look at the all-consuming nature of the work. Staff would have lived more or less on-site in the village, the neighbouring school classrooms remain to this day and village stores were on-hand too. Allow half a day to do it justice.
With heavy industry in mind, Summerlee Museum in Coatbridge stands as a tribute to one of Scotland’s most important ironworks. Opened in 1836 and lasting almost a century in production, the mechanical sounds, sights and smells are almost tangible within. In its heyday, Coatbridge became known as the ‘Iron Burgh’ of Scotland before demand for steel overtook it in the late-19th Century and decline became inevitable. The remains of the blast furnaces and neighbouring building structures can be observed from the viewing platform. There are also steam locomotives and a tramline on-site.
One of the most fascinating historical buildings in Scotland resides in the busy town of Hamilton, in the form of its distinctive Mausoleum. The private tomb of the powerful Hamilton family, the oddly shaped relic gives just a hint of insight into the lofty view that certain members of the family had of themselves. Constructed in the mid-19th Century, it was created within the grounds of the now-departed Hamilton Palace by order of Alexander, 10th Duke of Hamilton.
Today, the crypt (where 17 members were laid to rest in coffins) holds a chilling aura and the kind of presence you’d expect within ancient Egyptian pyramids or subterranean catacombs. The central tomb will whisk you off to Rome and steal your breath as you stare up and up and up at the vast room consuming you. Alexander was interred here – in an Egyptian sarcophagus no less – in a scene fit for a pharaoh or emperor. It’s all in the details though and, clearly caught up in his sense of self-importance, he’d overlooked the fact that his sarcophagus was created for someone much shorter than his 6-foot plus frame. Various theories exist as to how his legs would have to have been ‘rearranged’….
Until recently, this room held the longest recorded echo within a man-made structure in the world (18 seconds). Its whispering walls will allow you to have perfectly audible conversations with someone on the other side of the room, 30 metres away. A true miracle of sound. Which would have been even more impressive had the stunningly intricate original doors (image above) not been replaced by wooden ones!
Access to the interior is by guided tour only, more details can be found here. Tours are conducted by Peter, and a more enthusiastic and knowledgeable local you’ll struggle to find.
The Antonine Wall is one of Central Scotland’s oldest remaining relics. I say ‘remaining’ quite loosely – precious little still exists in truth – and provides an important nod to the role of the Romans in European history. Almost 2000 years ago, Roman legions stormed across the continent, displaying an unprecedented level of military organisation and strength. Their strategically-conceived plans came unstuck in unconquerable Scotland, however, when the terrain, climate and psychotic ferocity (in my mind anyway) of the locals left them with the conclusion that the easiest thing to do was build a massive wall to keep them locked in.
Both Hadrian’s and Antonine’s Wall were early feats of military construction that have inspired stories even within the likes of Game of Thrones and the latter ran for 40 miles across Central Scotland, was 3 metres high and 5 metres wide. North Lanarkshire and its neighbouring regions can be explored at length for barely-there signs of ancient history, with this map picking out the various highlights.
Cambusnethan Priory was the derelict ruin that really sparked my fascination with these characters last year. Impossibly eerie and dread-enshrining, it’s the very definition of haunted house and yet it seems to hold a non-threatening poignancy at the same time. Built in 1820 for the Lockhart family, it saw service as a hotel, restaurant and mock-medieval banqueting hall – but has lain abandoned for decades. Although the interior is inaccessible, you can walk safely around the perimeter of the ruin and fully drink in its story.
My three days exploring the best things to do in Lanarkshire hopefully show the huge diversity on offer in an area well lived-in, but so little explored. History of all kinds, countless opportunities to escape the bustle of city and commuter life and the odd bizarre local story all add up. While it may have been fuelled on heavy industry in centuries gone, tourism and curiosity can be Lanarkshire’s next chapter. Happy exploring!
I was invited to explore both North and South Lanarkshire by the body responsible for promoting the regions, VisitLanarkshire. My recommendations above are based purely on my very recent personal experiences on the road. Like every single region in Scotland, I believe that it has a huge amount to offer tourists and locals alike and would not recommend it to you good people otherwise.
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