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On the Edge of the Roman Empire: A Visit to Callendar House and Park

With connections to the Romans, Mary Queen of Scots, the Jacobites, and even the wildly popular television show, Outlander, there is fascinating history that surrounds Callendar House and Park. With its magnificent French-chateau-style architecture, Callendar House as we see it today is much different than how it once looked when it was first built in the mid-1300s.

Yet, the history of the grounds goes back much farther. To the north of Callendar House and part of Callendar Park, are the ruins of the Antonine Wall that was built by the Romans in the 2nd century. What exists now is long stretch of the Antonine Wall ditch.

The museum inside Callendar House has a permanent exhibition about the Antonine Wall with a variety of artefacts from the time of the Romans in Scotland. While many know of Hadrian’s Wall in England, Antonine’s Wall in Scotland is just as important as it represented the northernmost border of the Roman Empire. There is much more history to be shared regarding the Antonine Wall and we will be sure to return to it in a future post.

In 1346, King David II granted the lands of Callendar to the Livingston family who built a tower house. The Livingstons were a prominent family in Scottish politics, and, by the 1600s, held an important role within the ruling Stewart/Stuart family. Alexander, 5th Lord Livingston, was one of the guardians of Mary Queen of Scots. He accompanied Mary when she had to flee to France for safety during the time of the ‘Rough Wooing’ (when King Henry VIII of England tried to force a marriage between his son and Mary). Alexander was never to return to Scotland as he died in Paris. His daughter, Mary, was one of the famous group- ‘The Four Marys’- who were childhood companions and later ladies-in-waiting to Mary Queen of Scots.

Callendar House saw great unrest during the various wars of the 17th century. In a tale that is sadly all too common for many places in Scottish history, Oliver Cromwell’s army attacked Callendar House in 1651 and killed those who tried to defend it.

The Livingston’s loyalty to the Stuarts did not end with Mary Queen of Scots. James Livingston, the 4th Earl of Callendar (a title given to the family by Charles I) was a Jacobite and took part in the 1715 rising to try to restore the Stuart family- through James VII- to the Scottish throne. Unfortunately, this contributed to his downfall as the Jacobites were not successful and Callendar House and estate were forfeited.

Bonnie Prince Charlie

Callendar House and estate was sold to the York Building Company in 1720. Interestingly, they leased the house to James Livingston’s heir- Lady Anne Livingston. She and her husband, the Earl of Kilmarnock, were also supporters of the Jacobite cause and famously entertained James VII’s son- Bonnie Prince Charlie (Charles Edward Stuart)- at Callendar House right before the Battle of Falkirk in 1746. This Jacobite rising was also unsuccessful, and Anne’s husband (Earl of Kilmarnock) was tried for treason and tragically beheaded at Towerhill in London in 1746.

Anne died in 1747, but their son, the Earl of Errol, lived in the house until the 1780s when the York Building Company decided to sell Callendar House and estates. The Earl tried to buy the House but was outbid by William Forbes who bought Callendar House and Estate in 1783. It was during William Forbes’ tenure that the elegant French-style chateau architecture was added to Callendar House. The Forbes family owned it for nearly 200 years.

Falkirk Council took over ownership of Callendar House in 1963 and it was eventually opened as a visitor attraction in the 1990s. However, the Forbes family still own much of Callendar Estate- the land is used for farming and forestry. They also run an Activity Centre and Café, with opportunities for visitors to explore their cycling and walking trails- you can even take a guided tour on a Segway! Check out their website for more information.

Visiting Callendar House Today

Callendar House and Park are in the care of the Falkirk Community Trust. The House is a museum and has permanent exhibitions including ‘The Story of Callendar House’ which covers the history from the 11th through the 19th centuries.

The kitchen at Callendar House is a genuine Georgian delight and a highlight of the tour of the House. According to staff, the kitchen dates from around 1790, and many of the fixtures date from this period or shortly thereafter. For example, the bread oven and kitchen range were installed in the early 1800s. Callendar House is also famous as a filming location for the popular television show, Outlander, with some important scenes filmed in the kitchen.

If you are looking to research local family history, Falkirk Archives is located in the beautifully, oak-paneled Victorian library.

After a thorough exploration of Callendar House, be sure to take a much-deserved break at the Tearoom which serves a variety of delicious treats.

Callendar House Park

While visiting Callendar House is a must, there is also an incredible number of activities offered on the grounds of Callendar Park. During normal seasonal operations, some of the family-fun activities include go-karting, a bouncy castle, and a play trail. There is also a 9-hole golf course situated among the Park’s picturesque woodlands. Callendar Park is also the perfect place to have a picnic while you take in the timeless beauty of the House and your surroundings.

I am thrilled to let you know that entry to Callendar House and Park is free, and we highly recommend you visit this spectacular attraction. Be sure to head over to their website for the most up-to-date information when planning your visit. While you are in the Falkirk region, we also recommend that you also make a stop to Helix Park and visit our old friends, Baron and Duke- the Kelpies.

Until next time- Explore & Discover!


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