Doors Open

22 November 2016

earthquake house

In September every year the Scottish Civic Trust organises Doors Open Days. This fantastic scheme gives free access to hundreds of fascinating buildings across Scotland. Every weekend you can explore places that are normally closed to the public. Some open up only once a year, for others it is the only time they will ever open to visitors. Discover the fascinating architecture, places and spaces right on your doorstep or explore a new part of the country.

The small pyramid roofed building you can spot in the middle of a field just west of Comrie is called The Earthquake House and it was built in 1874 to house a seismoscope to register earthquake shocks. It was the first purpose-built earthquake observatory in the western hemisphere and attempted to record the ground movements in this part of the world. A modern seismograph from the British Geological Survey is now operating inside the building and tours will include a full explanation of the history and science. This wee gem which is also the smallest listed building in Europe would make a fun trip out from Aberfeldy and Strathlyon Cottage. You could combine it with a trip to one of the other highlights of Doors Open in Perthshire, the Cairn O' Mohr Winery, near Errol. Visitors here will be able to taste the fine range of wines made from berries, leaves and flowers produced on the farm of East Inchmichael, which dates from the 18th century.

Ballone Castle was originally built in 1590 on the cliff edge above a raised beach with dramatic views out across the Moray Firth.  It was bought in 1990 by Lachlan and Annie Stewart, owners of the nearby Anta Pottery, who set about restoring it from a ruin into a family home, creating a fusion of authentic medieval with Anta's 21st century Scottish contemporary aesthetic.  There will be guided tours which don't need to be booked in advance and the garden will also be open. Portmahomack and Wheelhouse Cottage are a short stroll away. For a great day out you could walk all the way round the coast and return the direct way to all the seaside attractions of this popular holiday spot.

One of the strangest buildings you can visit in September would have to be the Inverness Emergency Centre. The entrance sits unassumingly in a quiet suburban street but what many do not realise is that below the ground here lies an underground bunker built for the RAF in 1941. This originally housed a top secret radar tracking station which was then during the Cold War fitted with blast doors to be used to coordinate the recovery of the area in the event of a nuclear strike. It has 60 rooms, generators if there is a power cut and its own radio mast. For those who don’t suffer from claustrophobia and don’t mind climbing a few sets of ladders then it is a fascinating piece of highland history. For a contrast to the austere furnishings of the bunker then a 10 minute drive will take you to Lilac Cottage and its superb coastal location with panoramic sea views.

Brownsbank Cottage overlooks the Peeblesshire hills close to Biggar and was once the home of one of Scotland’s most celebrated writers, Hugh MacDiarmid. The original interior was restored just as MacDiarmid had left it and it now contains a unique collection of memorabilia.  The cottage is now the official residence of writers in receipt of the Brownsbank Writing Fellowship. Past recipients include James Robertson author of Booker prize nominated "The Testament of Gideon Mack". The surrounding landscape had a huge influence on Hugh MacDiarmid, to really soak it all in then a stay at nearby Westerkirk Mains is highly recommended.

One of the most iconic Scottish brands is Irn-Bru and this September will give fans a rare opportunity to see inside the Barr factory where it is made. Located in North Lanark this building is where Scotland’s national drink is still produced to its original (top secret) recipe, first introduced in 1901. Each tour will last approximately one hour and will include the Barr History Exhibition, the Factory Gantry and the High Bay Warehouse. A must for all fans. The Tower of Hallbar is an amazing historic building that makes an amazing place to base yourself while you explore the many attractions of Lanarkshire but it’s such a peaceful retreat you may just want to stay in and relax here instead.