IN this latest column, the fifth in a 12-part series about Scotland’s built heritage, I will be writing about monuments, both ancient and relatively modern, across Scotland.

I am taking the word in its widest sense with my definition being that monuments are about remembering people and events. Proving their worth as part of our built heritage, many of them have become landmarks visited by locals and tourists alike.

As I wrote in part one, we are truly fortunate to live in a beautiful country and for the most part we humans have added well to the beauties of nature.

I would contend that the monuments of Scotland have, for the most part, added greatly to Scotland’s attractions, but in writing about the best of these – it would take 10 Nationals to mention them all – I will make my own choice of the best and most important.

As I have often explained, I do not believe you can tell the history of a nation without knowing about its built heritage, and by their very nature, memorial monuments are the stuff of the context of Scottish history.

Again, I don’t expect every reader to agree with my choices today, but they all have a story to tell, and all make their contribution to our history. Apologies in advance if I have left out your favourite, but e-mail me at and I’ll choose the best examples.

Think about this: there are literally hundreds of thousands of monuments across Scotland.

They are in the form of memorial headstones in graveyards and cemeteries and in their simplest form they are historical – they tell of a person and usually when they lived and died. The trade of monumental sculptor is practised across the country and their products can vary from the basic to the truly ornamental, sometimes with tributes to the dead person.

There is only one which is inscribed with a poem to his father by our national bard Robert Burns.

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On the gravestone of his father William in Alloway Kirkyard it states on one side “Sacred to the Memory of William Burns, farmer in Lochlie, who died on 13th February, 1784, in the 63rd year of his age” and on the other side this epitaph is written: “O ye, whose cheek the tear of pity stains, Draw near with pious reverence and attend!

"Here lie the loving husband’s dear remains, The tender father, and the generous friend: The pitying heart that felt for human wo!

"The dauntless heart that fear’d no human pride!

"The friend of man, to vice alone a foe, For ev’n his failings lean’d to virtue’s side.”

A uniquely magnificent tribute to his father by Burns whose words can be found on many a headstone, all of them being memorials for people.

The most ancient monuments in Scotland were created – modern science has mostly decided – as aides-memoires for astronomical purposes. The 5000-year-old standing stones at Calanais on Lewis and, possibly, the similarly ancient Ring of Brodgar on Orkney Mainland were erected by our forebears for reasons we still do not fully understand, though their usage as pointers to seasonal sun or moon measurements seems plausible.

They are among hundreds of official ancient stone monuments scattered mainly across the north of Scotland and the Isles, and all of them at one time or another were vital additions to the landscape.

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My particular favourites are the mysterious Pictish stones which we still don’t fully understand – the huge Sueno’s Stone at Forres erected by the Picts in the ninth century is a must-see for anyone enthralled, as I am, by the history such as we have of the Pictish people.

I will be dealing in a future column with church buildings and will show how many of them have become monuments in themselves, but I’m keeping things secular this week, and as it is defined as an ancient monument by Historic Environment Scotland and Unesco’s World Heritage Committee, the near 1900-year-old Antonine Wall is a good place to start.

The National: A walker pictured on the Antonine Wall walk on Croy Hill, North Lanarkshire. The Antonine wall walk is part of the new John Muir Way, a new long distance path that runs from Dunbar in East Lothian to Helensburgh. The John Muir way opens in April 2014...

BUILT as the northernmost edge of the Roman Empire between 142 and 156AD, the 39-mile-long wall stretched from Old Kilpatrick on the Clyde to Carriden on the Forth. It was abandoned after only eight years and its troops removed south to Hadrian’s Wall as those pesky Caledonians just would not stop attacking it. What’s left of it stands as the biggest memorial to the Roman occupation of Scotland.

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There are hundreds of cairns, brochs and what remains of forts scattered across the Highlands and Islands and many of them are scheduled as ancient monuments. Caithness alone has dozens of brochs and sites of what might have been brochs and I pay tribute here to the Caithness Broch Project, a charity which is aiming to promote the built heritage of the ancient county of Caithness.

The largest Iron Age broch – usually a fortified roundhouse – in Caithness is Achvarasdal between Thurso and Reay which has been made accessible by the project and which is a scheduled monument. You get a really good idea of what broch living was like at Achvarasdal.

Yet brochs and cairns are not just northern phenomena. Another scheduled monument is Edins Hall Broch which is near Duns in the Scottish Borders and which dates from the 2nd century. It is one of the largest brochs in Scotland at 28m in circumference. The well-kept remains suggest that it was not as tall as Caithness brochs, but again you get a great idea of broch living just by standing inside it.

That’s just a couple of scheduled monument, but you can find an exhaustive list on the website of Historic Environment Scotland (HES) one of whose predecessors was the Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Scotland (RCAHMS). The commission worked over decades to compile the list of monuments which can now be found on the HES website.

Picking favourites

NOW to more modern monuments in their usual sense of memorials. As I wrote, I am going to choose my own favourites and will start with one of the most unusual and neglected memorial monuments in Scotland – the Star Pyramid in Stirling.

Adjacent to the Old Town Cemetery of Stirling – host of monuments in itself – the Star Pyramid is, according to the cemetery website, “a massive sandstone ashlar pyramid which dominates this area, standing on a stone-stepped base upon a shaped grassy mound. Marble Bibles rest on the base of each face of the pyramid, which is also carved with references to biblical texts.”

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It was erected in 1863 by a local man William Drummond who was a surveyor, nurseryman and religious preacher. He commissioned the pyramid from the artist and sculptor William Barclay as a memorial “dedicated to all those who suffered martyrdom in the cause of civil and religious liberty in Scotland,” as it says on the website. It is stark and beautiful in its plainness.

Drummond was a Scottish patriot who contributed trees that were planted around the second of my favourites – the nearby National Wallace Monument.

The hero of the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297 was memorialised in song and poetry but no national monument existed until a revival of public appreciation Scottish history in the 19th century.

The monument website explains: “In the Victorian era there was an increased interest in Scotland’s past and a desire to build monuments to famous Scots. There was talk as early as 1818 about a national memorial to remember Scotland’s hero – William Wallace. The location was also of great debate, with both Glasgow and Edinburgh being put forward. In the end Stirling was chosen as it was the site of Wallace’s greatest success.”

The Rev Charles Rogers proposed the national monument in 1851 and the £20,000 cost was raised by public subscription.

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There were 106 designs entered into the competition to create the monument and John Thomas Rochhead won it – you can see his original designs at the Wallace Monument to this day.

The website states: “It was on Monday 24th June 1861, the anniversary of The Battle of Bannockburn, that the country at last made an effort to atone for its neglect of the memory of Wallace, as thousands of men, women, and children made their way from all across Scotland to witness the laying of the Foundation Stone on the Abbey Craig.”

Who knows if it really is Wallace’s Sword in the monument, which opened to the public on September 11, 1869, the 572nd anniversary of the Battle of Stirling Bridge.

Another massive memorial to a great Scotsman can be found in Edinburgh. The Sir Walter Scott Monument, now in the care of Edinburgh Council, was erected in Princes Street Gardens and has become emblematic of the city where Scott lived and worked for so long.

Again its cost was raised by public subscription organised by leading figures in Edinburgh, but there is a tragic tale to be told about the man who won the competition to design it.

George Meikle Kemp was an obscure son of a shepherd who was inexperienced as an architect when his design for a Gothic memorial won the competition in 1740. He was a master of works on the project when in March, 1844, just a few weeks before the monument was due to be completed, he fell in the Union Canal and drowned.

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The 200ft high monument with its 287 steps to the viewing platform and the statue of Scott by Sir John Steell is now indelibly linked to the great author and poet and is a landmark in Edinburgh’s cityscape.

Another landmark rather to the north of Edinburgh is the Glenfinnan Monument at the head of Loch Shiel, erected to commemorate the clansmen who gave their lives in the 1745-46 Jacobite rising. Now in the care of the National Trust for Scotland (NTS), it is both a surprisingly inspiring but a simultaneously desperately sad place, given all those who died under the standard of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, which he raised at Glenfinnan on August 19, 1745.

The NTS website does not shirk its connection to the slave trade, stating “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.”

Even knowing that connection, it is still a favourite of mine and, like NTS, I believe we should explain all slavery connections on monuments and statues – I’ll be looking at statues next week.

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Coming right up to date, one of my favourite monuments is the Commando Memorial near Spean Bridge in Lochaber, commemorating the fact that the commando force used the local area around Achnaharry Castle for training.

Dating from 1952, it is a simple design – three statues of marine commandos looking outwards to Glen Spean and Ben Nevis, but it is a truly stunning part of our built heritage due to its location.

It has a plaque which states: “In memory of the officers and men of the commandos who died in the Second World War 1939–1945. This country was their training ground.”