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3 Jun 2020

Inspiring places

Three mountain peaks against blue sky, with fluffy clouds.
Countless artworks take as their inspiration not only the landscape of Scotland, but also its wonderful historic buildings. We care for these amazing places so they can continue to inspire future generations.

Glenfinnan Monument

An aerial view of Glenfinnan Monument, taken from above the viaduct and looking towards the loch and mountains in the background.

Glenfinnan is pretty much a living artwork, with the spectacular Highland scenery at the head of Loch Shiel framing the 18m-high monument. This is where Prince Charles Edward Stuart set off on his ill-fated 1745 campaign, the final Jacobite rising. The views are amazing in every season.

You should also be able to spot the equally impressive Glenfinnan Viaduct, made famous by its starring role in the Harry Potter films and in many railway posters.


Choppy, white-capped waves rush towards the shore of the island of Staffa. The tall rock columns are very clear from the sea.

Follow in the footsteps of J M W Turner, Mendelssohn, Wordsworth and Sir Walter Scott – and fall under the spell of this magical island. Staffa looks as if it has come straight out of the pages of a fantasy novel with its volcanic rock columns, caves and sheer cliffs. Listen to Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture (inspired by Fingal’s Cave) and lose yourself in Wordsworth’s ‘Cave of Staffa’:

[...] stand
Gazing, and take into his mind and heart,
With undistracted reverence, the effect
Of those proportions where the Almighty hand
That made the worlds, the sovereign Architect,
Has deigned to work as if with human art!

Robert Burns Birthplace Museum

Looking across to the village of Alloway and Burns Monument from the Brig o Doon. It is a lovely sunny day and the trees are a bright green.

The best place to get close to Burns and his genius is his birthplace of Alloway, now home to the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum. This wee village inspired much of Burns’s work, most famously his epic poem Tam o’ Shanter.

Kirk Aloway was drawing nigh,
Where ghaists & houlets nightly cry.

Due to his enduring popularity, Burns has inspired countless artists in the last 200 years, from painters and sculptors to Bob Dylan and John Steinbeck.


The sun sets over Loch Torridon and the towering mountains behind, casting an orange light over the hillside and shore.

A magnet for hikers and climbers, Torridon is a place of majestic beauty and uncompromising terrain. At the foot of the mountains, the upper shore of Loch Torridon is a peaceful spot to contemplate the awe-inspiring scenery. We think this must have been where Victorian poet A C Swinburne camped overnight, to admire the sunrise he captured in his ‘Loch Torridon’:

From mountain to mountain the water was kindled and stung to delight.
And the grey gaunt heights that embraced and constrained and compelled it were glad,
And the rampart of rock, stark naked, that thwarted and barred it, was clad
With a stern grey splendour of sunrise

Culzean Castle & Country Park

Culzean Castle seen from the beach as the sun sets. A heron stands on the foreshore.The silhouette of Ailsa Craig can also be seen in the Firth of Clyde.

This 18th-century Scottish castle offers a dramatic cliff top setting, Robert Adam architecture, fascinating history and beautiful surroundings. Packed with antique furniture and furnishings, artworks, porcelain and other fascinating period objects, it’s a superb example of 18th-century high-class living.

Culzean is surrounded by a large estate with lush woodland, landscaped gardens and rugged coastline – all of which must have inspired Georgian artist Alexander Nasmyth very shortly after the castle was completed. This beautiful oil painting now hangs in the Long Drawing Room in Culzean Castle.


Long grass sways in the wind on a large empty moor. A line of trees stand in the background with hills in the distance.

Scotland’s future was changed on 16 April 1746 when the Jacobite army fought to reclaim the throne of Britain from the Hanoverians for a Stuart king. The Battle of Culloden was the last hand-to-hand battle fought on British soil, and resulted in a brutal defeat for the Jacobites.

Visitors today can wander the battlefield and experience the powerfully evocative atmosphere. The bleak aspect across boggy moorland captures something of the experience for those clansmen. Gaelic poet Aonghas MacNeacail has created a series of poetry benches around the field, inspired by his surroundings. The inscription on one reads:

cluinn màrsail, each is gunna, claidheamh
caithream ’s caoineadh, ameasg ceilearaidh

hear marching, horse and gunfire, sword
and drumbeat, weeping, amid birdsong

Brodick Castle, Garden & Country Park

Looking across the bright blue waters of Brodick Bay towards the peak of Goatfell. Clouds just hover above the summit. Sailing yachts are anchored in the bay.

The quintessential Victorian ‘Highland’ estate, the grand Scottish baronial-style Brodick Castle has stunning views over Brodick Bay to the Firth of Clyde, enjoyed every bit as much today as they were almost 200 years ago. Nestled beneath Goatfell and surrounded by woodland, the castle is a favourite thing to spot from the ferry on the journey over to Arran.

The gardens, woodland, waterfalls, bathing pools and bold rhododendrons conjure up an island charm that will beguile children and adults alike.

Landscape artist George Hering was a close friend of Princess Marie of Baden, who lived at Brodick Castle in 1844 after marrying the future Duke of Hamilton. Hering visited Brodick often and painted this in 1857.


Clear turquoise waters and a row of houses on the coast of Iona

This little island of bright white sands and twinkling turquoise waters is an artist’s dream, and inspired a series of works from Scottish Colourists Francis Cadell and Samuel Peploe in the 1920s. The sense of spiritual calm on Iona is enhanced by this natural beauty. The Hebridean folklorist and photographer Margaret Fay Shaw, who lived on Canna, visited a couple of decades later and took a series of photographs that, even in black and white, capture the sense of peace and tranquillity in this special place.


A view looking down a glen, with heavy clouds hovering about the mountains yet rays of sunshine coming through. A river winds down the middle of the glen. Purple heather grows in the foreground.

Towering mountains surround hidden valleys, glittering lochans and some of Scotland’s most-loved wildlife. A change in weather dramatically alters the mood. Scotland’s most famous glen is as much known for its outstanding wild beauty as it is for its tragic past – and both have inspired countless pieces of art. Everyone who visits Glencoe leaves with treasured memories of this remarkable place.

Not wildwood deep, nor mountain gray,
Not this deep dell, that shrouds from day,
Could screen from treach’rous cruelty.
(Sir Walter Scott, ‘On the Massacre of Glencoe’)

The road winds in
Listlessness of ancient war,
Langour of broken steel
(T S Eliot, ‘Rannoch, by Glencoe’)

Preston Mill

Preston Mill is surrounded by grass meadows. It has orange stone walls with a conical roof, that leans slightly to the side.

With its curious Dutch-style conical roof, the mill is an architectural oddity that will beguile visitors as much as it delights painters and photographers. Perhaps currently best known as Jamie Fraser’s mill pond in the hit TV series of Outlander, the storybook nature of Preston Mill also inspired Lady Ailsa in 1909. Her watercolour now hangs in the Eisenhower apartments in her former home at Culzean Castle.


The rotunda at Bannockburn at sunset. The sky is a bright orange to the left, with dark blue clouds to the right. Trees stand silhouetted beside the rotunda and flag pole.

We’ve mostly looked at artists from centuries past, but National Trust for Scotland places remain every bit as inspirational today and continue to play an important role in the modern Scottish arts. When the new Battle of Bannockburn visitor centre opened in 2014, we revealed a very special inscription on the restored rotunda. Written by Kathleen Jamie for the 700th anniversary of this nation-defining battle, it concludes with the lines:

‘Come all ye’, the country says
You win me, who take me most to heart.

Scotland holds such an important place in so many hearts, and it’s thanks to the support of our members, friends and donors that we’re able to protect these special places today, and for generations to come.

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