Heart-Racing History

This Valentine’s Day ditch dinner and flowers and follow in the footsteps of past lovers… seeking out the wild, dramatic places, private hideaways and locations steeped in folklore

Isle Maree

Breathtaking Loch Maree, the 2km strip of water that runs between the foot of the hump of Siloch and the Beinn Eighe nature reserve, is dotted with small, tree-covered islands. One of them, Isle Maree, is home to a haunting and tragic love story. A Viking prince called Olaf fell in love and built a tower on the Isle so he could be near his princess. They lived together happily until Olaf had to go on a big expedition. When he left, fearing that he would be killed, the princess had him agree, on his return, that his ship would fly a white flag, if he were alive, and black, if he were dead. However, when Olaf did return, his white flag flying, the princess tormented by his absence, decided to test his love and lay on her own boat flying a black flag.

When Olaf saw this he was devastated and plunged his own blade into his breast. Stricken, she took the knife and ended her own life. It’s believed the stone slab graves on the island mark these lovers.

Sweetheart Abbey, Dumfries

Sweetheart Abbey is located in the village of New Abbey, Dumfries and Galloway, part of the South West Coastal 300 route. An abbey called Sweetheart is bound to have a story, and this is one to twang the heartstrings. In 1268, after her husband Lord John Balliol died, Lady Dervorguilla of Galloway, had his heart embalmed and placed in an ivory casket, which she is said to have carried everywhere. She also set up the Cistercian abbey of Dulce Cor (sweetheart in Latin) in his memory.

After her death in 1289, she was laid to rest in front of the abbey’s altar, clutching her husband’s heart. A sixteenth-century effigy of her remains – and, although its head is now gone, there is still that heart clasped tight to its chest.

Sweetheart Abbey

Clava Cairns, Inverness

These cairns were a place of wonder and mystery before Diana Gabaldon told the world about the way they inspired her Outlander series, but fewer people visited. Now the 4000-year-old complex is a hot spot on the tourist trail, and Gabaldon’s story of Claire Randall, falling through a ring of Stones, Craigh Na Dun, and being transported back to 1743, and Jamie Fraser, lures lovers and Outlander fans to its mysterious rings.

Dunnottar Castle, Aberdeenshire

Perched on a craggy outcrop of rock just south of Stonehaven, stark Dunnottar is one of the most photographed castles in Scotland. Few locations are more broodingly dramatic, which is probably why it has been featured in many movies, from Hamlet to Victor Frankenstein. But part of the romance of its history, the fact that this place has seen it all – Viking attack, storming by William Wallace and canon bombardment by Oliver Cromwell in a bid to take the Honours of Scotland, and daring rescue of the jewels – and it’s still standing.

The Vennel, Edinburgh

“Observe, little girls, the castle!” says Miss Jean Brodie in the 1969 film version of Muriel Spark’s story, as she stands at the top of the Vennel. This route, taking the walker down from the remnants of the medieval Flodden walls to the Grassmarket, is often cited as one of Scotland’s most Instagrammable. You could call it the crème de la crème, mostly because of the view that it affords of the castle.

For those keen to find more full-blown romance, in the nearby car park there is also the Lovers Touch plaque, put up as part of a contemporary art project. It commemorates the story of Nobunaga-Ventreven and Mlates gi Dunhuira, who, the instant they met, were Losana, or soulmates. The staircase was renamed The Jean Brodie Steps in 2018 Remember, as you descend to follow Brodie’s advice and “Walk with your heads up, up! Like Sybil Thorndike, a woman of noble mien.”

Glen Affric, Highlands

Beautiful Glen Affric is home to ancient Caledonian pinewoods and offers a truly magical sense of ancient history and romance.

Glen Affric, home to the third largest area of ancient Caledonian pinewoods in Scotland, is a place where time seems to have stopped, where the human presence is less felt. So, where better to go if you want to feel awe at nature, and that there’s only you and your lover in all the world? This is the setting of Landseer’s painting Monarch of the Glen. You can even support the work done by Trees for Life who have helped conserve this area, by planting a tree on one of their sites, in honour of your love.

Huntingtower Castle, Perth

The blocky form of Huntingtower Castle is the half-remains of a dramatic and romantic story. For, before the late Seventeenth Century, it was one of two towers, standing less than three metres apart. The tale told is that Dorothea, the daughter of the 1st Earl, had been in love with a servant at the castle, and would meet him in secret in the eastern tower where the servants slept.

One night, her mother, having discovered what was happening, tried to catch the couple, and rather than face her, she made her way to the roof and make a daring and successful leap between the battlements of the towers. That space between the buildings became known as the ‘Maiden’s Leap.’