In the stunning settings of Callendar Park, in Falkirk, central Scotland, sits the grand Callendar House. The earliest parts of the building date from the fourteenth century, with expansion occurring up until the eighteenth century. The park itself is a World Heritage site; the Antonine Wall, and a gallery dedicated to the history of the Romans in this area. The exhibition, Gladiators: A Cemetery of Secrets is the Park’s first exhibit to charge entry to visitors. The Scottish premiere of this exhibition will take place across two floors. The Park Gallery will show the remains of six men found buried in York in 2004/5, dating from the early second century to the late third century. The second floor gallery will counteract the sober nature – with an engaging hands-on area depicting a Roman market. I think the prices for the exhibition are reasonable:
£5 for an adult
£3 for a concession/child
£15 for a family
If you just want to explore the House, then it is free to visit! You can wander in any day between 10am and 5pm, except a Tuesday (when it’s closed). Falkirk itself has two railway stations connecting you to the main cities in Scotland – Falkirk High and Falkirk Grahamston. There is also easy access to Falkirk from main motorways. Car parking is free on site, and there are disabled parking spaces at the front of the House, if required. There are also bicycle racks – if you can travel this way, I highly recommend it. Falkirk has some beautiful scenery, especially around the canals, and the park itself is beautiful and has lots of paths to explore. You can even sunbathe in the grassy areas out the front of the House, if you’re lucky enough to get some Scottish sun! There is also a playground on site, to let kids use up some of their energy.
As well as disabled parking spaces, there are other provisions in place to make visits easier for those who have different access needs. All public areas are wheelchair accessible, and there is a level entrance just to the left of the main door. There is also lift access to the upper floors, and adapted toilets can be found on each of the floors. An induction loop is installed in the reception area. Guide dogs and hearing dogs are also more than welcome in the building.
The reception area doubles as the gift shop, where there is always something relating to the history of the House and Falkirk on sale. (They also have particularly lovely Christmas decorations for sale, at that time of year) There, you can also pick up a map of the House, and there are maps available at various points around the House, in case you suddenly need one.
Walking past the reception, you are immediately greeted by one of the grand staircases. From here, you have a few choices: to explore the museum, or to go to the newly refurbished Tea Room. If you choose to explore the museum first, there is a pretty obvious route around the displays. The permanent displays in the House are: the Story of Callendar House; the Antonine Wall: Rome’s Northern Frontier; and Falkirk: Crucible of Revolution, 1750-1850. The second floor gallery normally hosts temporary exhibitions, as does the Park Gallery – both of which are being taken over by the Gladiators exhibition until 6th October 2019. There are also a 60s’ record shop and a print room, which sometimes have staff inside demonstrating how different pieces of equipment work, and playing records such as The Beatles from the store.
The best part of the House, in my opinion, is the Georgian Kitchen. Dating from 1825, this is a must visit of the House. As you enter through the door into the kitchen, a bell rings out. You are immediately greeted by the heat of a large wood fire, burning at the opposite end of the room, and the smells of something freshly baked. As you are contemplating all of this, a staff person dressed as a scullery maid appears from a doorway to the side of the fire - her garb is a floor length dress, with an apron. She will regale you with tales of life as a maid in this house, and how well-treated they were with respects to servants elsewhere at this time. She will tell you about everyday life in the kitchen, and point out fascinating objects: from butter pats, to jelly moulds, to an ice-cream maker. There are copper pots of varying weights on one of the stoves, and you can try your strength in lifting them (trust me, the biggest one is very heavy, and that’s when it is empty – imagine it full of potatoes?!) There is usually also something for you to taste, all baked in the scullery next door, and based on Georgian recipes. The shortbread is always a favourite! At Christmas, they have been known to roast a turkey on the fire, to make the whole experience quite authentic. If you go later in the afternoon, in the autumn and winter months, the spacious kitchen will be lit only by candle light, with mirrors behind to reflect the light out further. And if you are an Outlander fan, you might recognize the kitchen from the show.
If your taste of shortbread, or whatever treat was available that day, has whetted your appetite, you can pay a visit to the Tea Room on the first floor. Recently renovated, the room is spacious with lovely views of the woods and land at the back of the house. The coveted seating is obviously that closest to the window. But wherever you sit, you can’t help but admire that splendor of the room. If you do visit, I can fully recommend the scones. There is also provision to have afternoon tea, in a room leading off from the Tea Room itself. I haven’t had the pleasure yet, but, again, the room you are hosted in is light and spacious, with those stunning views from next door.
If it is of interest, Falkirk Archives are located on this floor, hosted in the oak-panelled former library. This is open free-of-charge to all researchers (although there is a small fee for copying). The opening times for the archive are: Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday – 10am – 4pm. They are closed between 12:30pm and 1:30pm (presumably so the archivist can get a lunch break!)
The House itself is just a joy to wander around. With stunning interiors and grand staircases, there is always a hidden nook or cranny to find (normally with something on display in it). When most people think of Falkirk, they mostly think of the Falkirk Wheel or the Kelpies (both marvellous feats of engineering) but I think more people need to consider Callendar House as a heritage site equal to both of these.
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Louise lives in central Scotland, and loves nothing more than visiting museums and heritage sites. An independent researcher (who focuses on disability and the First World War), she has years of experience volunteering and working in the cultural and heritage sector. You can find her on Twitter at @LouBell