Travel Review: Shieldhill Castle, Biggar

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IT’S a good thing its called Biggar. Why? – because for such a small town, it has a big number of museums and if the locals get their way, it will become bigger sooner than later.

This beautiful market town is only an hour’s drive from Glasgow and Edinburgh and it may appear sleepy when you arrive, but it is buzzing.

It boasts lots of museums, a choice of accommodation and a good range of locally owned shops and restaurants.

My son Ruaridh (five) and I decided to visit, after all it boasts a Victorian puppet theatre and Scotland’s last remaining Gasworks Museum.

We stayed a couple of miles out at Shieldhill Castle Hotel, which dates back to 1199 and has 16 ensuite bedrooms, as well as a converted stable block, which accommodates another 10 rooms.

Recently renovated by its owner Mary Yuill, the romantic castle looks the part from the outside and has you guessing on the inside as to whether you will see the “Grey Lady’’, the ghost of a daughter, wrapped in a grey cloak and one of the Chancellor Lords. The castle has been in the Chancellor family for more than 700 years. The building still has original features such as engraved family crests and shields, chimney pieces, the Old Keep and the spiral staircase linking the hall to the library.

Biggar is steeped in history, it has links with William Wallace and a notable victory of 1297, Bonnie Prince Charlie, 19th century Prime Minister Ewart Gladstone and writers John Buchan and Hugh McDiarmid.

And for such a small place, it has lots to do. The puppet theatre is a must for little ones as they step back in time to a Victorian Toy Fair.

The Biggar Museums Trust oversees six museums (with more planned if the enticing banner over the deserted garage promises, ie do you want more museums in Biggar?)

There’s the Moat Park Heritage Centre which gives the history of the area and Gladstone Court Museum, which takes you back in time to streets from the past and was opened by poet Hugh McDiarmid.

Just out of town is Brownsbank Cottage, home of Hugh McDiarmid and his wife Valda. Both have now died, but the cottage provides a good insight into their lives and has been home to writers in residence Matthew Fitt and James Robertson.

Greenhill Covenaters’ House is a 17th century house, which was rescued from its original location 13 km away in Wiston and moved to Burn Braes, Biggar in 1975.

Biggar Gasworks Museum is the only remaining gasworks in Scotland and gives the visitor an insight into how it provided gas and lighting for locals.

Nearby is Holy Trinity Chapel at Lamington, which was built in 1857 and was the private place of worship of the Baillie Cochrane family.

Once the sightseeing is over, the visitor can enjoy a stroll through the town, its pleasant parks and enjoy its lively pubs and restaurants, proving the bigger picture is the one to watch!

Factfile: For more information on Biggar, visit: www.visitscotland.com/info/towns-villages/biggar-p237141/overview-t2029

Accomodation: Visit www.shieldhillcastlehotel.co.uk for prices and availability.