Leaning tower of the North makes a move on Pisa

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The Independent Online
Edinburgh is the `Athens of the North' and now Scotland has grounds to make a claim for an emerging `Pisa of the North'. Stephen Goodwin, Heritage Correspondent, reports on a monument on the move.

Before the authorities closed the Leaning Tower of Pisa seven years ago, ascensionists on the internal spiral staircase constantly bumped the impending wall as they tried to remain upright. Sadly, this curious sensation is denied the Blairistas who now flood Tuscany.

But Pisa has a pretender to its crown. Standing by the banks of Loch Shiel, in the west of Scotland, the 182-year old Glenfinnan monument to the clansmen who died for Bonnie Prince Charlie is leaning 10 inches to the west.

Talk of closure would be alarmist. None the less, the monument's guardian, the National Trust for Scotland, is about to appoint a structural engineer to monitor the angle over the next 12 months.

"We had a good look at it a couple of months ago and it is safe enough," said Donald MacAskill, the NTS regional building surveyor. "There are no fissures or cracks showing in the structure."

The Bonnie Prince's Jacobite standard was raised at Glenfinnan in 1745. The NTS visitor centre which tells the story attracts about 60,000 people a year, of whom more than half go up the 65ft monument.

Like Pisa, the tower has an internal spiral stair. However, the lean is nowhere near as dramatic. The top of Pisa's 179ft tower is a giddying 17ft off perpendicular. In 1929 the Glenfinnan monument was recorded as leaning three inches to the east. Now its lean in the opposite direction is just becoming visible to the eye.

It will be up to the pounds 8,000 monitoring and survey programme to determine the precise cause of the list but it seems to be due to subsidence of the sandy peaty soil and flooding. The monument is only 35ft from the loch and storms have eroded the bank.

Glenfinnan will no doubt be able to take the extra notoriety it is stride. It is not the first time the granite tower has been embarrassed. The sandstone figure gazing from its battlement down Loch Shiel is supposed to be the Bonnie Prince. But the sculptor, John Greenshields, mistakenly modelled the work on a portrait of young George Lockhart of Carnworth - who served in the prince's army - and a chap now inclining increasingly to his left.

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