Walking Through History Series 1

Neil Oliver

Please note, this page is no longer being updated. For information and photographs from the second series of Walking Through History (broadcast November-December 2009), please visit the programme page.

Neil Oliver presents the first in a series of five programmes featuring some of Scotland's most historically rich landscapes.

Episode 5 - view the gallery

Today the location is Edinburgh.

We retrace the turbulent steps of Mary Queen of Scots in the 16th Century. Mary arrived in Scotland in 1561 with her Catholic faith and strong claim to the English throne. Within the week she was inspiring riots, and soon was surrounded by a whirlwind of reformation anger, conspiracy, battles and murder.

The road up from Holyroodhouse to the Castle in Edinburgh contains the sites of her fashionable court in Holyroodhouse Palace, the place where John Knox preached against her, where Lord Darnley drunk in the many alehouses, where she was brought back after a defeat by the nobles and where her son, Jame VI was born.

Episode 4 - view the gallery

Today the location is Finlaggan.

Finlaggan sits at the remote edge of Scotland, but once it was the centre of a great medieval Lordship. The Lordship of the Isles ruled from the Butt of Lewis down through the Hebrides to the Mull of Kintyre until 1493. During this Lordship, Finlaggan was where, every summer, all the great men of the Isles would gather for feasting and decision making.

The National Museum of Scotland's David Caldwell, who has spent seven years excavating the site, is joined by writer and historian Fiona Watson, Historic Scotland's John Raven and the Finlaggan Trust's Donald Bell, to show us around this magnificent remnant of medieval western Scotland. The walk around Finlaggan allows Neil Oliver to present the story of a rise to great power, sea journeys of pilgrimage, extravagant feasts, unique governance, treachery and ultimately downfall.

Episode 3 - view the gallery

Today the location is Cambuskenneth.

800 years ago almost all roads led to Stirling. It's around here that the most famous battles took place during the Wars of Independence. While Stirling Castle was under siege by the English, Robert the Bruce was sounding out support from the Scottish nobles at Cambuskenneth Abbey.

Now it's a ruin, but in its day it was one of the largest monastic complexes in Scotland. Our walk takes us through the old Stirling- the Great Harbour, Crucial Bridge and the extensive ruins at Cambuskenneth. Weaving together the story of William Wallace, Robert the Bruce and a dissection of the great battles is Richard Oram of Stirling University, and writer/historian Fiona Watson.

Episode 2 - view the gallery

The location is Dunfermline, with its story of one of Scotland's most famous historical couples, the warhorse Malcolm III and his wife, St Margaret.

King Malcolm III was the legendary slayer of Macbeth, and was on the throne when England was being rocked by the events of 1066. He led many raids into Northumberland and eventually died on the battlefield. Most of what we know comes from accounts of Margaret's life - she was the "celebrity" in the partnership, not just because she transformed Scottish courtly and religious life but because she is reputed to have performed miracles (she's Scotland's only royal saint). She was an extremely pious woman, and at least one miracle took place during her lifetime. But shortly after her death miraculous healing events began to take place at her grave and the abbey became famous and wealthy, very much on the European religious map.

Malcolm and Margaret had a very real impact on Scottish history, both cultural and also dynastic - they had eight children, three of whom became Scottish kings. Were they 'in love'? That's very much part of the legend, and Prof Robert Bartlett says there are contemporary accounts that suggest they did get on very well, different though they were.

Our walk through the area takes visitors through Malcolm's hunting grounds, round to the Abbey and its church, and on to the remains of Margaret's shrine.


  • Prof Richard Oram, Stirling University
  • Prof Robert Bartlett, St Andrews University
  • Dr Fiona Watson, writer and historian

Episode 1 - view the gallery

Kilmartin Glen in Argyll may be tranquil today, but in prehistoric times it was home to a vibrant community who lived and farmed there for thousands of years. They were spiritual and resourceful people, and when the Bronze Age came to the glen, they made the most of it and became very wealthy. The standing stones, rock art and burial memorials they left behind can still be explored today on foot.

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