Celebrate St Andrew's Day

27 January 2017

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In 2006 the Scottish parliament officially made St Andrew’s day a bank holiday. Since then, on the 30th November every year, or the nearest Monday if that falls on a weekend people across the country will be celebrating with traditional Scottish food and of course a ceilidh. The day is also seen as the start of Scottish winter festivals season that also includes Hogmanay and Burns Night. It’s a great time of year to visit Scotland, it’s when locals let their hair down and relax after a hectic season, visitor attractions are quiet and thoughts start to turn to Christmas.

Historic Scotland manage over 360 properties throughout the country. As part of St Andrew’s day celebrations a huge number of these properties offer free entry all weekend if you book your tickets in advance. If you are interested in Scottish history or have been putting off that visit then now is the perfect time to check out some of the most fascinating and scenic places in the country without spending a penny. These are some of our favourites.

Caerlaverock Castle in the borders is a unique moated triangular castle that dates back to the 13th century. This imposing medieval fortress is as daunting today as it would have been when used to defend the area against English invaders. There is a playpark for children and a nature trail and café for refreshments and the castle often plays host to events demonstrating the tactics of siege warfare. Craigie Knowes is just along the coast, a Victorian villa with modern luxury and a view over the Solway Firth.

Tantallon Castle is a splendid, atmospheric ruin balanced on a steep cliff overlooking the Firth of Forth. This formidable stronghold dates from the mid-1300s and has a fascinating history of sieges, the last by Oliver Cromwell’s forces damaging it irreparably. Enjoy a fantastic view from the battlements, admire wild flowers in season and soak up the history of the last of Scotland’s grand medieval castles. Denfind House is also close to the firth and is an ultra-modern luxury contrast to such medieval harshness.

Historic Scotland is not all about ancient castles, for an attraction with a more recent history then why not check out Dallas Dhu Distillery in the heart of Speyside. This distillery operated between 1899 and 1983 but is now a fascinating museum dedicated to our national drink. Visitors to this unique time capsule can see and hear how whisky was made as there is an audio-visual presentation and free audio guide – you can even sample a dram. East Cottage is just a short journey away and has amazing views of the surrounding mountains where you can relax with your purchases from the well-stocked distillery shop.

Melrose Abbey is a magnificent ruin on a grand scale, with lavishly decorated masonry. It was founded in 1136, as the first Cistercian monastery in Scotland and continued in use as an abbey until the Protestant Reformation of 1560. The exterior is decorated with some of the most beguiling sculpture to be found on any medieval church building including demons and hobgoblins, lute-playing angels, cooks with ladles, and of course the famous bagpipe-playing pig. The abbey is also the burial place of Robert the Bruce’s heart, which is marked with a commemorative carved stone plaque and visitors can visit the museum which houses a display of artefacts found within the abbey. Ashiestiel is only a few miles away and is the perfect choice for those wanting a luxurious break in the Borders in a famous historical house – once the home of Sir Walter Scott.

The Blackhouse at No. 42 Arnol is a unique and precious relic, a traditional, fully furnished, Lewis thatched house that provides a unique insight into traditional island life where man and beast were housed under the same roof. Beside the Blackhouse, a furnished 1920s whitehouse offers some contrast. There is also a visitor centre with interpretative displays that explain the history and significance of the site and a selection of locally-made crafts for sale. For a perfect blend of old fashioned style and modern comfort then Tigh Bhisa Blackhouse in nearby Tolstachaolais is the place to stay. It has been renovated to the highest standard but still retains fascinating original features such as its six foot thick stone walls.

In addition to all the free tickets available on St Andrew’s day weekend there are numerous offers for those looking for outdoor activities such as two-for-one surf lessons with Coast to Coast surf school in Dunbar, kids go free canoeing in Lochgilphead and a two-for-one offer on Segway Safari tours in Loch Lomond. So what are you waiting for, get out and explore this weekend.