Why Scotland's a Great Day out; Truly Spoiled for Choice, Ours Is a Beautiful Country Which Is Rich in Both History and Culture

Article excerpt

Byline: Margaret Mallon

SCOTLAND is a rewarding and diverse country as millions of visitors from around the world find out every year.

There are wonderful visitor attractions in all four corners of this small but varied land, making for great days out or weekend breaks.

If you live in Glasgow, why not travel 50 miles along the M8 to see what Edinburgh has to offer?

The capital's chief visitor attraction is Edinburgh Castle, which is visited annually by around one million people - more people than who visit any other ancient monument in the UK except the Tower of London.

This fortress and former Royal residence is not only worth a visit because of its rich history, but for the magnificent 360- degree views over the handsome city of Edinburgh.

The Royal apartments within the castle include a tiny room in which Mary, Queen of Scots gave birth to the future James VI of Scotland and James I of England.

The ancient Honours of Scotland - the crown, sceptre, the sword of state and the Stone of Destiny - are on view in the Crown Room.

The 12th century castle is also the home of the One O'clock Gun, which is fired every day except Sunday. The Castle Esplanade is the venue of the world-famous Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

If you walk down the Royal Mile you'll end up at the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the Queen's official Scottish residence. It's a 17th century palace planned for Charles II and is decked out with oak panelling, tapestries, portraits and decorative paintings.

The oldest parts of the palace, the Historical Apartments, are associated with Mary, Queen of Scots and for the brutal murder by her husband Lord Darnley of her private secretary, David Rizzio, who was stabbed 56 times and dragged through the Queen's bedchamber.

Halfway down the Royal Mile is The High Kirk of St Giles, the sole parish church of medieval Edinburgh, where firebrand John Knox launched the Scottish Reformation.

One of the world's most famous ships, the Britannia, is moored at The Shore in Leith, to the north of the city.

Launched in 1953 at John Brown's shipyard on Clydeside, Britannia was used by the Royal family for 44 years. Leith acquired her after she was decommissioned in 1997.

Begin at the visit centre, the royal barge and a reconstructed sergeants' mess used to display royal holiday snaps and video clips of the Britannia's most famous moments.

Then explore the yacht, roaming through the bridge, the admiral's quarters, the officers' mess and the state apartments, including the state dining room and drawing rooms and the separate cabins used by the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh.

An audio guide reveals that a full Marine Band was always part of the 300- strong crew, that hand signals were used by the sailors as shouting was forbidden, and a special wooden rail was built onto the royal bridge to allow the Queen to stand on deck as Britannia came into port, without fear of a gust of wind blowing up her skirt.

Edinburgh Zoo makes for a great day out. Here you can see more than 1000 animals, including endangered species such as white rhinos, red pandas and pygmy hippos, but the biggest pull is the penguin parade, which takes place daily from 2pm from April to September.

To the northwest of the city lies the dramatic Forth Rail Bridge, best seen by walking across the parallel road bridge, starting at South Queensferry. It was a great feat of Victorian engineering, using around 50,000 tons of steel.

An hour between Scotland's two biggest cities lies New Lanark World Heritage Site - one of Scotland's top visitor attractions which also has an award- winning visitor centre and hotel.

After years of restoration, it is easy to see how people lived and worked over 200 years ago when New Lanark was Britain's largest cotton manufacturing centre and became world famous under the management of Robert Owen. …