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Climbing Glenfinnan Monument’s narrow spiral staircase and emerging out through the hatch 18m (60ft) above Loch Shiel will take your breath away.

Standing up there beside the lone, kilted Highlander and enjoying 360 degree panoramic views across water, mountains and Glenfinnan Viaduct is a memorable experience.

Knowing the story behind this striking architectural folly makes that experience all the more poignant.

What is Glenfinnan Monument?

The Monument was built over 200 years ago in 1815 as a tribute to ‘the generous zeal and undaunted bravery’ of those Highlanders who ‘fought and bled in that arduous and unfortunate enterprise’ – the 1745 Jacobite Rising.

Why was it built here?

On 19 August 1745, Prince Charles Edward Stuart rowed up Loch Shiel towards the tiny hamlet of Glenfinnan with a small band of his most loyal supporters. He had called on clan chiefs to muster their men and join him here for a daring quest to restore the Stuarts to the British throne.

When he arrived at Glenfinnan, there was barely a soul to be seen. But in late afternoon, the song of the pipes coming over the hill signalled the arrival of the first of 1,200 clansmen who pledged their allegiance to Bonnie Prince Charlie that day, before setting off to start their campaign.

While the ’45 ended in defeat at Culloden in 1746 and the Highlands suffered punishment and reprisals for years to come, the gathering of clans and raising of the royal standard (or flag) at Glenfinnan that summer was a moment of hope and enthusiasm for many.

Who built the Monument?

The Monument was commissioned 70 years after the events it remembers by local landowner, Alexander MacDonald of Glenaladale, a descendant of those who supported Charles Edward Stuart in 1745. He died at the age of 28 in the year it was completed.

The Monument was an act of extravagance from a young man renowned for living a life of excess and reckless consumption, something we know from legal documents relating to the debts he left behind him.

His own wealth was inherited from his father, Sandy MacDonald, who purchased the Glenaladale estate in the 1770s, on returning to Scotland after making a fortune in Jamaica at the height of the transatlantic slave trade.

The statue of a Highlander was added at the top of the tower in the 1830s and the Monument was acquired by the National Trust for Scotland in the 1930s. It has received a lot of care and conservation since coming to us, most recently in 2016, when its stonework and metalwork were comprehensively restored.

Can I climb the Monument?

Visitors can walk around the outside of the Monument at all times. It’s possible to climb to the top with a ticket purchased from our visitor centre. The hatch at the top is 40cm square and visitors need to pull themselves up and out with handles on either side. Care is required on descending from here. A maximum of six visitors can be accommodated at the top at any time.