From haunting battlefields and mystic standing stones to sacred abbeys and millennia-old trees – Scotland has more than its fair share of historic wonders, so why not make your trip a voyage back in time? Erin McDermott picks her magnificent seven ancient attractions.

 

1. Callanish Standing Stones, Isle of Lewis

The Callanish, or Calanais Stones as they’re called on Lewis, are arguably the most popular of Scotland’s many standing stones. The arrangement reminds us of the tantalising mystery surrounding these monumental megaliths and begs the question of why they were erected in the first place.

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Walking around the picturesque site, particularly in the sunshine when huge shadows loom, can be a magical experience. The site is now managed by Historic Environment Scotland and the group believes the site pre-dates Stonehenge by at least 2,000 years. A visitor centre, café and gift shop are all located near the site.

2. Skara Brae, Orkney

Orkney’s Neolithic settlement of Skara Brae is revered as one of the finest preserved groupings of prehistoric houses in Western Europe. In 1999, the area became one of Scotland’s six UNESCO World Heritage sites.

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When you consider that Skara Brae was constructed around 5,000 years ago and was inhabited before the Egyptians built the pyramids, it’s a truly impressive feat of construction. Since being uncovered in 1850, Skara Brae has offered us unprecedented insight into how our remote ancestors lived from day to day.

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Today’s visitors can explore a replica house while a bespoke visitor centre offers touch-screen presentations and an opportunity to view many artefacts discovered during the excavations of the 1970s.

3. Antonine Wall, Lowlands

The Antonine Wall was built by the Romans around AD 142 to keep the hostile tribes to the north at bay. Constructed on the orders of Emperor Antonius Pius remains of the structure runs from the Firth of Clyde to the Forth – from Old Kilpatrick on the west coast across to Bo’ness in the east.

HeraldScotland: The ancient Roman baths complex at Bearsden, which formed part of the Antonine WallThe ancient Roman baths complex at Bearsden, which formed part of the Antonine Wall

The wall was around 37 miles (60km) long and unlike the stone-built Hadrian’s Wall further south, it was constructed mostly out of layered turf and wood and reached a height of around three metres. Seventeen forts plus additional “fortlets” were needed to accommodate the 6,000-7,000 soldiers who are thought to have been stationed along its path. The Antonine Wall reminds us of the far-reaching might of the Roman Empire, a civilisation that inevitably left a huge imprint and influence on the tribes of Caledonia.

4. Clava Cairns, Inverness

The Clava Cairns, which are located near Inverness, make up one of those fantastic archaeological sites hidden in plain sight. It’s free to visit and open all year round.

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The site is a well-preserved Bronze Age cemetery complex consisting of ring cairns, kerb cairns, passage graves and standing stones in a peaceful leafy setting.

Dating back around 4,000 years, a row of large cairns was built, three of which are still visible today.

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There is evidence to suggest 1,000 years later the site was reused and new burials were placed in the cemetery of some existing cairns. Remnants of a smaller cemetery can also be viewed at nearby Milton of Clava.

5. Fortingall Yew Tree, Aberfeldy

Just eight miles from Aberfeldy, you can find one of the oldest living things in Europe – an unassuming yew tree that sits proudly within Fortingall churchyard. The tree is thought to be between 3,000 and 9,000 years old, and has a strong connection to early Christianity in Scotland.

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The diameter of the yew’s numerous trunks was measured at 52 feet in 1769. Unfortunately, this has reduced over the years and the remains are the relics and offshoots of the tree’s original structure.

READ MORE: Interview: Chris Brookmyre on his Scottish inspirations

6. Iona Abbey, Isle of Iona

On the tiny island of Iona, off the coast of Mull, is one of Scotland’s most sacred historic sites. The site was founded in AD 563 by St Columba and his Irish following.

 

HeraldScotland: Many believe the world-famous Book of Kells was made at Columba’s monastery, along with other great pieces of art. Despite being the target of many a Viking raid, the monastery survived until the end of the 12th century, after which a Benedictine abbey was founded.

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The abbey museum has a collection of early medieval carved stones and crosses on display for visitors. The abbey continues to be an active place of worship after the Iona Community group went to great efforts to revive the sacred structure.

7. Battle of Bannockburn, Stirling

The Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 was a significant victory in the wars of independence. Robert the Bruce won a famous victory over the English troops of King Edward II, despite the Scots being outnumbered two to one and facing a much better equipped force.

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Now we can experience part of the action at the award-winning visitor centre. Situated just outside Stirling, near the battleground, the centre harnesses fully immersive 3D technology to depict Bruce’s decisive victory.

At the site, visitors can wander through the battlefield itself and admire the restored monuments, including the impressive statue of Robert the Bruce himself.