Wandering the pretty, cobbled streets of Culross (pronounced Coo-riss) is a beguiling experience. As you explore the picturesque wynds with their chocolate box pretty houses, you’d be forgiven for thinking that you were on a film set. And well … you’d be right! For this gorgeous, 16th century heritage site has taken on a starring role in many a well-kent series such as Outlander in which it’s known by its stage name, Cranesmuir. Does this market square ring any bells?
Yes, indeed ’tis the very place where the wee thief is nailed to a post by his ear outside of Geillis Duncan’s house. Only for Jamie Fraser to come along and gallantly set him free … *sigh*
A Wee Spot of History
Outlander asides, Culross is a fascinating place, steeped in history and lore. Don’t be fooled by its size and serenity as it was once a bustling Royal Burgh, in league with Edinburgh and Aberdeen. In its heyday, as many as 170 ships could be anchored off its coast at any given time. Salt and coal were the main commodities traded here thanks to Sir George Bruce’s innovative off-shore coal mine located deep underneath the River Forth. This was the first of its kind and much of the town’s success was built on it, as well as helping George build his stunning mansion house, Culross Palace. The palace and its beautiful terraced gardens are closed during winter and open between 1st April and 31st October, so be aware of this when planning a visit.
A wander and ponder through the village’s various wynds, neuks and closes is where the really interesting stuff is though. The characterful, winding Bessie Bar Steps is named after Sir George Bruce’s niece and Cat’s Close is an intriguing wee break between two boundary walls that leads to a lovely, winding path through a verdant passage.
From the Mercat Cross, hike up the (very) steep Tanhouse Brae – Kirk Street which leads to Culross Abbey and the remains of it’s Cistercian Monastery. These ruins date back to around 1200, sections of which are remarkably well preserved with beautiful, vaulted ceilings. Ripe for exploring/ playing hide and seek in!*
*delete as appropriate
Behind these ruins and just up the hill a short distance is the main abbey. Interesting things you need to be on the look out for in here are:
1. ‘The Green Man’ carving – this is above the entrance to the tower. A pagan symbol which turns up in many a site across Scotland. You will find another one in Rosslyn Chapel, Midlothian and in the mysterious and sacred Dunino Den in east Fife.
2. The tower has a chamber above its vestibule where in the 17th century, women accused of being witches were kept!
3. One of the stained glass windows features the emblem of Glasgow’s patron saint, St Mungo or St Kentigern as he was originally known, who was said to have been born in the parish.
4. The alabaster Bruce Aisle commemorating the aforementioned Sir George and his family is located in the northern aisle of the abbey.
5. The Argyll Tomb (1450) and sarcophagus was found under the chancel and pre-dates the church building by many years.
6. The Celtic Cross to the left of this originally stood outside the Culdee Church which preceded this current building. The carvings on the stone are thought to be no later than 10th century.
Places to eat, drink and be merry
The Red Lion Pub – cosy, local institution and server of fine ales and food. We considered having a sesh* here, but forwent this in favour of the more wholesome pursuit of attending a shinty** match back in Edinburgh!
The Biscuit Cafe – cute, wee crafty cafe serving delicious sandwiches, soup, drinks and sweet treats. Also has a lovely gift shop downstairs which is worth having a keek at.
Bessie’s Cafe – lovely cafe with a convivial atmosphere. Great quality food is served here with an emphasis vegetarian. They do a great scone and their coffee is mighty fine too!
*Scottish term for imbibing lots of drinks and enjoying the banter/ craic
** Shinty – Scottish sport related to Irish hurling, played with sticks, a ball and lots of attitude. Like a game of hockey … played by psychos and with goalies dressed like hooligans. It’s brilliant.
Fancy seeing it for yourself? You can find out how to get there here.