You can tell a lot about a country by the quality of its buildings and the stories behind them.
Historic Environment Scotland commissioned five popular writers to bring together Who Built Scotland, telling the story of the nation in an off-kilter way.
Between them, the authors have picked 25 buildings from across the nation, but don’t expect them all to be obvious choices.
So while the Forth Road Bridge, Auld Alloway Kirk, Glasgow Cathedral, Edinburgh Castle and Stirling Castle all feature – it wouldn’t be an accurate portrayal of Scotland if they didn’t – there are also some more obscure yet fascinating tales to be told from constructions the length of the country.
And it’s not all about the hustle and bustle of our main cities.
The writers have travelled across the country, visiting abandoned islands and lonely glens, and have picked out a series of diverse buildings, old and new.
Alexander McCall Smith tours the wondrous, macabre Surgeons’ Hall and sets foot on the sacred ground of Iona’s ancient abbey. Alistair Moffat discovers a lost whisky village in the wilds of Strathconon, and climbs up through the vertiginous layers of history at Edinburgh Castle. James Robertson goes from the standing stones of Callanish to the humble cottage of Hugh MacDiarmid, via the engineering colossus of the Forth Rail Bridge. James Crawford experiences the change from a packed crowd at Hampden Park to an off-grid eco-bothy on the Isle of Eigg.
Kathleen Jamie searches for the traces of our first family hearths in the Cairngorms and makes a midsummer journey to Shetland to meet the unlikely new inhabitants of an Iron Age broch.
But one story that will pull at the heartstrings is her essay on Maggie’s Centre, a support facility which opened in Kirkcaldy in 2006.
It highlights the plight of Maggie Jencks, who was told that her breast cancer had returned five years after treatment, and had spread throughout her body.
Her vision was for the creation of a home-from-home for cancer patients who could leave the confines of their own residences and go somewhere peaceful and relaxing to talk to others.
Who Built Scotland is a fascinating alternative take on the country’s social, political and cultural histories. Moving from Neolithic families, exiled hermits and ambitious royal dynasties to Highland sheiling girls, peasant poets, Enlightenment philosophers and iconoclastic artists, it places our people, our ideas and our passions at the heart of our architecture and archaeology.
While the buildings are the focus of this book, the stories of the people who built them and use them are what really stay in the mind.
It’s easy to think of buildings as inanimate but this book demonstrates the life behind them.
The people of Scotland have helped to shape the buildings, but in turn, the buildings have helped to shape us.
Who Built Scotland, by Alexander McCall Smith, Alistair Moffat, James Crawford, James Robertson and Kathleen Jamie, published by Historic Environment Scotland, £20
Scottish Field rating: *****
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