Celtic Britain: The 7 best sights to visit
From iconic castles to spiritual sites – here are some of the places you should include in your Celtic Britain tour
Edinburgh Castle, Scotland
Proudly perched on its mighty rocky throne in the heart of Edinburgh’s historic Old Town, Edinburgh Castle is the capital city’s centrepiece, and one of the top sites to see in Celtic Britain.
Castle Rock, on which the fortress we see today sits, has been occupied by humans since at least the Iron Age and there has been a castle on the site since the reign of King David I in the 12th century.
A royal residence until 1633, the castle has housed many of Scotland’s famous historic characters, including Mary, Queen of Scots who gave birth to her son, James VI, there in 1566. The castle is also home to the Honours of Scotland, the oldest Crown Jewels in all of Britain, which can be admired on a visit.
Iona Abbey, Scotland
The serene Isle of Iona, just off the Isle of Mull on Scotland’s west coast, is often described as the birthplace of Christianity in Scotland and is home to one of the oldest and most sacred religious places in all of Europe.
When Irish abbot St Columba landed on Iona with 12 companions in AD563, he founded a monastery that became one of the most important and influential in the British Isles. Today, the island and the abbey (which was rebuilt in the 12th century on the original site by Somerled, King of the Isles) remains a site of pilgrimage for Christians the world over.
The incredible vistas and beaches of the island add to the undeniable spiritual atmosphere of Iona, so make sure to explore when you visit.
Calanais Standing Stones, Scotland
In the far reaches of Scotland’s Outer Hebrides, this cross-shaped collection of standing stones on the Isle of Lewis, erected some 5,000 years ago, predates Stonehenge and appears to have been used for some kind of sacred activity, possibly for 2,000 years or more.
Though we don’t know why the stones were erected, one theory is that the Neolithic monument, which forms part of a much larger ritual landscape, was some kind of astronomical observatory. As expected, legends abound, such as the one that says the stones are men who were punished for some unknown crime and frozen for eternity.
Snowdon Mountain Railway, Wales
Undoubtedly one of Britain’s greatest railway journeys, the wonderfully quaint Snowdon Mountain Railway sends you off towards the summit of the highest mountain in Wales. With floor-to-ceiling windows that maximise your views of passing cascading waterfalls, historic old chapels, the occasional soaring peregrine falcon, and the deep valleys and glorious mountains of the Snowdonia National Park, this railway experience is unmatched.
Having undergone refurbishment, the summit station and visitor centre have been closed since 2019, with the train stopping one stop short at Clogwyn. But in May 2023, the service will recommence its journey to the summit. Hop aboard one of the steam-hauled services for a heritage experience like no other.
On the Hebridean island of Islay lies the beautiful Loch Finlaggan, home to the island of Eilean Mòr, on which stand the ruins of Finlaggan Castle and Chapel. One of the most important historic sites in all of Scotland, Finlaggan was once the administrative centre for the medieval Lordship of the Isles and Clan Donald from the 13th-15th centuries.
These Lords, chiefs of Clan Donald, held sway over most of the Inner and Outer Hebrides, as well as parts of the mainland of western Scotland, and were independent of the Scottish Crown.
Finlaggan is also believed to be where new Lords of the Isles were crowned. Today, the site still holds a majestic power, and with its stunning surroundings, is ripe for exploring.
Brecon Beacons/Bannau Brycheiniog
The magnificent Brecon Beacons National Park in Wales covers an area of 520 square miles and includes no less than four mountain ranges. A haven of grassy moorlands, deep valleys and Old Red Sandstone peaks, the park is also an International Dark Sky Reserve.
In April 2023 the park announced that it will only use its Welsh name of Bannau Brycheiniog in the future. The Welsh name comes from the 5th-century King Brychan, who ruled an independent Welsh kingdom in the early Middle Ages whose borders were roughly the same as the park’s now.
Translating as ‘the peaks of Brychan’s kingdom’, the name Bannau Brycheiniog promotes the area’s fascinating Welsh history, culture and heritage.
Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland
A place where myth and science meet, Northern Ireland’s Giant’s Causeway is one of Britain’s most incredible natural wonders. Comprising 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns that descend like steppingstones into the sea, depending on who you believe, the causeway was either formed by an underwater volcano’s geological actions, or, by an Irish giant named Finn McCool who was challenged to a fight by the Scottish giant Benandonner.
In terms of the latter, supposedly Finn built the causeway across the North Channel so that the two could meet. Across the sea, at Fingal’s Cave on the Scottish Isle of Staffa, there are identical basalt columns.
Although scientists say they come from the same ancient lava flow, could it be that they are the remains of Finn’s pathway on the Scottish side?
This is an extract, read the full feature in our June/July 2023 issue of Discover Britain, available to buy here.
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