Visit Falkirk recently invited us to spend 24 hours in the Forth Valley town to find out what makes it a great visitor destination. We love Falkirk, so jumped at the chance to visit.
We’d follow a dog-friendly itinerary, which would give us an immersive visitor experience – taking in attractions, walks, eateries and finishing with an overnight stay.
Callendar House & Park
The first stop on our Visit Falkirk itinerary was Callendar House – a stunning French-style chateau set in 170 acres of parkland. The park is open to the public and free to visit. It’s a tranquil green haven and a lovely spot for a wander. It’s dog friendly, although Callendar House isn’t.
The boy was in his element, with so much space to explore. We were too. The sun was shining, the birds were singing and we’d be spending most of the day outdoors.
We stopped at a small lake in the park to watch a family of swans gliding elegantly on the water. There were mallards and coots too – all eyeing us expectantly, to see if we had food.
By 10am the park was busy with dog walkers, families with children and exercise enthusiasts. Spotting a cool Roman themed play area, I secretly longed to be five-years-old again.
I’d make do with a tour of Callendar House and some Roman history instead.
The Story of Callendar House
In 1345, King David II granted the Callendar Estate to the Livinston family. They lived on the land for 400, event filled and often turbulent years.
Thirty seconds into my self-guided tour of Callendar House, I uttered the words “Oh wow, medieval people”.
The medieval people were 15th century tomb effigies of Sir Alexander Livingston and his wife.
In July 1651 Oliver Cromwell’s army, led by General George Monck, attacked Callendar House, razing it to the ground.
The Livingstons’ rebuilt the house, but their loyalty to the Stuart Dynasty would eventually see their ownership of the estate come to an end. The failed Jacobite rising of 1715, saw the 4th Earl of Callendar forced into exile. His estate was forfeited and sold to The York Building Company. Lady Anne Livingston leased her family seat from them in the late 1720s. In 1745 Lady Anne and her husband the Earl of Kilmarnock, entertained Bonnie Prince Charlie at Callendar House. The Earl of Kilmarnock was later tried for treason and executed.
In the late 18th century, William Forbes, an Aberdeenshire merchant bought the estate.
The Georgian Kitchen at Callendar House
One of the highlights of a visit to Callendar House is the Georgian kitchen – the largest of its kind in Scotland. The cast iron fireplace, bread oven and stove were all made locally at the Carron Ironworks. The fireplace is amazing – once lit, the heat rises and triggers a mechanism that turns to spit roast meat.
I met one of the volunteers who work at Callendar House, in the kitchen. She was incredibly knowledgeable and really brought the Georgian kitchen to life for me.
The kitchen was used as a filming location in Outlander Season 2. It’s where the Duke of Sandringham met a grizzly end. There are lots of Outlander (and other) filming locations in Falkirk and neighbouring West Lothian. So much so, that Falkirk Council and West Lothian Council collaborated on the Film on Forth project to create four itineraries (two Outlander themed), featuring local filming locations.
A history of Falkirk
The upper floors of Callendar House contain a museum and gallery space, which tell the history of Falkirk.
There are Napoleonic War cannons, made locally, recreations of old shops and Roman artefacts. Just when you think Callendar House couldn’t get any more interesting, you discover a Roman wall (more on that later) passes through the grounds.
I loved my visit to Callendar House (Mr G did too). It’s easily one of the best museums I’ve been to.
The Steeple and Falkirk’s Old Town
After leaving Callendar House, we headed to Falkirk town centre for a wander before lunch. A landmark known as ‘The Steeple’ dominates the skyline in the heart of the town. It was built in 1814 and towers 140 foot above Falkirk High Street. The lower floors of the building once housed a shop and jail cells.
Running off the High Street are a number of closes (narrow alleys), which really give you a flavour of what the town once looked like.
Lunch at The Corner Cafe
After spending the morning on our feet, we were ready for lunch. We had a table booked at The Corner Cafe, just off the High Street. The cafe is one of a number of dog friendly eateries in Falkirk.
There were lots of tasty options on the menu. Having been out in the sun, our first priority was something cold to drink. It had to be milkshakes.
Two cold strawberry milkshakes were gulped down in record time. They were delicious.
We’d cooled down enough to tackle hot food and coffee.
The coffee was excellent and gave us the energy boost we needed for the afternoon ahead.
Food wise, I had a cheese and onion baked potato with salad, while Mr G opted for soup and a sandwich. It was all wonderful.
As we were leaving, we stopped to eye the cafe’s mouthwatering cakes. We’ll definitely be returning to sample them.
The Falkirk Wheel & Union Canal
After lunch, we headed to the Falkirk Wheel. We were booked on a Revolution Tour, but had time for a potter first.
We wandered uphill behind the wheel, where the Union Canal emerges from Rough Castle Tunnel. The bright blue sky was reflecting on the inky, black water of the canal.
Outside the tunnel, the Union Canal passes through a series of semi-circular archways to reach the Falkirk Wheel. On sunny days, they reflect to create perfect circles.
Revolution Tour – The Falkirk Wheel
When it was time for our tour, we made our way to the Falkirk Wheel visitor centre.
There’s a cafe and shop inside the visitor centre. Dogs are welcome inside the shop, but not the cafe.
The Falkirk Wheel is a remarkable feat of engineering. It’s the world’s only rotating boat lift. Before it was built, eleven locks linked the Forth & Clyde Canal and the Union Canal. Passing through them took hours. The Falkirk Wheel completes the task in under five minutes (using the power of eight kettles) – lifting boats 150ft up from the Forth & Clyde Canal, or down from the Union Canal.
This would be our first time on the wheel, so we were a tad excited. The boy was hyper too, charging onto the barge as soon as we were invited to board.
Once aboard, we listed to commentary about the wheel, then the barge sailed into a water-filled trough, known as a gondola. The Falkirk Wheel works on Archimedes principle. Water displaced by an object, always weighs the same as the object it’s displaced by. Even if there was no boat in one of the Falkirk Wheel’s two gondolas, they’d both weigh the same. The wheel can carry a load equivalent to 100 elephants, which is roughly the post lockdown weight of Mr G and I.
Not being a fan of heights, I thought the wheel would terrify me, but it didn’t. It was so smooth, you could barely feel it moving.
From the top, we could see for miles.
Before we knew it, we’d turned 360 degrees and our tour was over. It was informative and lots of fun.
Walk – Falkirk Wheel to Rough Castle Fort
After our spin on the wheel, it was time for a walk. In 2019 Falkirk beat stiff competition from around the UK to win ‘Britain’s Best Walking Neighbourhood’ award. What better place for a walk?
Our walk took us from the Falkirk Wheel, along part of The John Muir Way. The John Muir way is a 134 mile long distance walking/cycling route that stretches from the East Lothian town of Dunbar where John Muir was born, to Helensburgh on the West Coast, where he set sail for a new life in America. Six miles of the John Muir Way pass through Falkirk.
The stretch we walked followed the route of the Antonine Wall, which was built around 142 AD. The wall spanned the Northern Frontier of the Roman Empire, from the River Clyde in the west, to the River Forth in the east. Despite being made of turf, sections of wall still stand, along with the remains of forts which were situated on it. We visited one of the forts on our walk.
Rough Castle Fort is one of the best preserved forts on the Antonine Wall. It can be reached from the Falkirk Wheel, by following a tree-lined path. With the sun beating down on us, we were grateful for the shade provided by the trees.
The foundations of Rough Castle Fort have survived, together with some huge sections of wall, defensive pits and gateways. A visit is a must, for history lovers.
After exploring the fort, we retraced our steps back to the Falkirk wheel.
Coffee stop – The Cafe @ Canada Wood
By the time we reached our car, we were both craving a cold drink. We needed to sit down and cool down for a while.
We’d arranged to meet Tracey from Visit Falkirk at The Cafe @ Canada Wood on the Callendar Estate. There’s a good path network on the pretty country estate, so it’s popular with walkers, cyclists (you can hire bikes there) and wildlife lovers too.
We sat outside on the cafe’s terrace, to make the most of the sunshine.
We ordered ice cream and cold drinks and tucked into them as we chatted to Tracey about local tourism, travel and how fabulous dogs are.
Rest over, we said goodbye to Tracey and were on the move once more.
The Kelpies at The Helix
Our final itinerary stop took us to The Helix to visit Andy Scott’s iconic, equine sculptures ‘The Kelpies’. The Kelpies stand on regenerated industrial wasteland, next to the Forth & Clyde Canal. The site underwent a remarkable transformation in a relatively short period of time. It’s now loved by locals and visitors alike and is always bustling and full of life.
There’s a cafe and visitor centre at The Helix, but the main attraction are the gigantic, glistening beasties that rise 30 metres into the sky.
A kelpie is a mythical Scottish water horse. They’re found in deep, dark pools in rivers and burns. Kelpies like to lure humans onto their backs, before jumping into the water and drowning them.
Falkirk’s kelpies are nice beasts though. They symbolise the horses that once toiled in Scotland’s industrial heartland, pulling barges and transporting heavy loads.
After the Wee White Dug showed us his kelpie pose, we left The Helix to check into our accommodation.
Stay – MacDonald Inchyra Hotel & Spa
After a fun-packed day spent exploring Falkirk, we were ready for an evening of good food and relaxation at the dog friendly MacDonald Inchyra Hotel & Spa.
The following local accommodation providers are also dog friendly:
‘The Pineapple’ (Scotland’s quirkiest building), Airth Castle Hotel, Antonine Wall Cottages, Black Prince Narrowboat Holidays (Falkirk), The Graeme Hotel, Cladhan Hotel, Rosie’s B&B, Spoke ‘n’ Boot, Travelodge Falkirk, Ardtalla B&B, Kesrebrock Cabins and Weedingshall Lodges.
Our check-in at the MacDonald Inchyra Hotel & Spa was friendly and super efficient.
We were delight when we discovered our room was a suite with a lounge, bedroom and bathroom – yippee. After a busy day, we couldn’t wait to spend time relaxing in it.
Slipping into hotel robes and slippers, we settled into comfy chairs in our lounge to chill before dinner.
Dinner – Scottish Steakhouse at Inchyra Hotel
We had a table booked for dinner, in the hotel’s Scottish Steakhouse restaurant. Our table was in a circular booth, furnished with plush velvet seating. It was like being enveloped in a sumptuous cocoon – perfect.
We’d been given a copy of the menu at check-in, so arrived in the restaurant knowing exactly what we’d be having for dinner. We ordered starters, mains and a nice chilled wine and beer.
I had a starter of Stornoway black pudding bon bons with Arran Mustard mayonnaise. It’s more common to find haggis bon bons on a menu, but black pudding bon bons are equally delicious.
Mr G had breaded scampi with lemon mayonnaise. He polished it off in a flash and gave it a big thumbs up.
For my main course, I had poached potato gnocchi and wild mushrooms with Parmesan cream sauce. The mushrooms were meaty and flavoursome and complimented perfectly by the sauce. The gnocchi was light and fluffy, so didn’t leave me feeling like I’d overeaten.
Mr G stuck with fish for his main course and had battered North Sea haddock and fries with tartar sauce. The dish normally comes served with crushed peas, but Mr G absolutely refuses to entertain the notion of eating peas.
For dessert I had a chocolate truffle torte with salted caramel ice cream. It was smooth, creamy and oh, so good.
Mr G had sticky toffee pudding with Arran Dairies ice cream. It’s a dessert he can rarely resist. Awesome was his verdict.
We really enjoyed our meal at the Scottish Steakhouse. Chatting over dinner and drinks in a nice restaurant, was a lovely way to end the day.
Our visit to Falkirk had been wonderful from beginning to end. It’s a fab town and definitely one for the bucket list if you’re planning a trip to Scotland.
This post was sponsored by Visit Falkirk, however all opinions are my own.
Until next time …