...and some other places within easy reach

If the sights of Stirling aren't enough to satisfy your taste for tartan, you have the surrounding towns of Scotland's central Lowlands. Everywhere is within about an hour- and-a-half's drive.

Falkirk

Now the Forth Valley's main commercial centre, Falkirk once had the grim honour of being a fierce battleground. It's where the Scots fell to English troops in 1298 and, in 1746, Bonnie Prince Charlie had one of his final victories over government troops. The main attraction today besides the shopping centre, is Callender House, once home to Mary Queen of Scots, Oliver Cromwell, and the Bonnie Prince. Its Georgian kitchens have been beautifully restored and come complete with costumed maid who gives information about life below stairs. The surrounding network of old industrial canals cover what was traditionally a livestock centre, and is a great place for boating, canoeing, and walking.

Five miles west of the city is Bonnybridge, home to Rough Castle. Built in AD 142, this fort was set up as defence for the Antonine Wall. If industrial heritage is more your style then visit the industrial museum in the nearby town of Grangemouth which tells the history of one of Scotland's first industrial towns.

Moving north from Bonnybridge you will find a 45ft high stone pineapple, which is one of the Falkirk's main sights. It was built as a joke in 1770 and tells of a time when sailors would place pineapples on gateposts to announce their homecoming.

Linlithgow

Between Falkirk and Edinburgh lies the ancient royal burgh of Linlithgow. Development in the Sixties stripped the city of some fine buildings, though it still retains most of its original mediaeval layout.

The main reason to visit here is Linlithgow Palace, set on Linlithgow Loch. This stunning 15th century ruin was originally the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots. The inner courtyard with its ornate fountain, and the galleried Great Hall are tourist favourites, as is the cellar brewery which produced 24 gallons nightly during the century. St Michael's Church next to the palace was consecrated in the 13th century, but more recently has had the unlikely addition of an aluminium spire.

The Bo'ness and Kinneil train is Scotland's largest vintage rail centre, and is situated four miles north of Linlithgow in the small hillside town of Bo'ness. Here you can pick up an old steam train to Birkhill a few miles away.

Further down the coast lies the village of Blackness, a former seaport, but known better for (yet another) castle. Built in the shape of a galleon, Blackness Castle gives superb views of the Forth bridges from the narrow gun slits cut into the northern tower walls.

Loch Lomond

Loch Lomond, revered for its scenic beauty by writers such as William Wordsworth and Gerard Manley Hopkins, has some 30 islands to cruise around. The largest stretch of fresh water in Great Britain, though less famous than the Loch which houses the enigmatic monster, it is still well known for the ballad written by a condemned Jacobite prisoner about its "bonnie, bonnie banks".

The tranquillity of its past has been somewhat lost with the overdeveloped west bank sending multitudes of speedboats and pleasure cruises out on to the loch. The heavily wooded east side remains calm, though offering less beautiful views, it makes for the best walking. You can reach the summit of Ben Lomond by taking the West Highland Way footpath which passes through the spectacular wilderness of Queen Elizabeth Forest Park.

The highland village of Luss provides the setting for the Soap opera Take the High Road. To reach these infamous rose-clad cottages take a short drive from the west bank. Balloch Castle country park and Rob Roy's cave are the other key sights also within easy reach

Perth

Perth has grown up in the very heart of Scotland, at the nation's cross- roads on the banks of the river Tay. Its central situation helped it to remain capital city for several centuries, with the parliament of James I meeting here on several occasions.

A fine way to introduce yourself to the city is to walk the slopes of Kinnoull Hill and take the in views Perth and beyond, namely the Perthshire Highlands, the Grampian Mountains, the rolling hills of Fife, and the fertile carse of Gowrie. Salmon fishing has been a traditional pastime for hundreds of years, and if you're a keen golfer there are four courses.

At the hub of the region is the port of Perth, which has seen Scotland's best exports, salmon, whiskey and wool, pass through its waters over the centuries. Today The Fergusson Gallery is the main attraction, exhibiting the works of J D Fergusson, the foremost artist of the Scottish colourist movement.

Sarah Barrell

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