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Lanark from kings to covenanters

Lanark's strategic location was first exploited by the Romans who built a fort in the area known as Castle Hill, a site that has been reused and fortified many times over the centuries. In 978AD the very first Scots Parliament meeting was held in Lanark by Kenneth II and in 1140, David I granted Royal Burgh status on the town, making it one of the oldest in Scotland.

Lanark Castle, built in the 12th century was used by David I and William the Lion, although during the Wars of Independence it was under English control. It was here that local resident William Wallace sparked off the wars after killing the English sheriff William Heselrig who had murdered Wallace's wife Marion Braidfute whilst trying to capture the outlaw Wallace. Robert the Bruce, who was made the Sheriff of Lanark in 1303, destroyed the castle after it had been retaken from the English in 1310 as part of his policy to prevent strongholds being used by the enemy. The site of the castle was eventually levelled in the middle of the 18th century and is now used as a bowling green.

A famous ruin in the town is the church of St Kentigern, which was built around 1180 on the site of an earlier church. It is believed that this was the church where Wallace was married. Also in the town at the time was a small chapel, now the parish church of St Nicholas, built in 1774. Today only a few of the original carved stones survive. There is a stone plaque across from the church which states: "Here stood the house of William Wallace who in Lanark in 1297 first drew sword to free his native land." Inset into the steeple of St Nicholas' Church at the foot of the High Street is an 8ft statue of Wallace. This is where the Lanimer Queen is crowned during the week-long festival held every year in early June. The statue of Wallace was created by the famous Carluke sculptor Robert Forrest in 1817.

As a market town, Lanark had its own Mercat Cross where the burgesses congregated to make important decisions. The earliest record of the Cross was in 1488 and it was here in 1666 that a massive affirmation of allegiance was made by 3000 Covenanters (those who opposed the interference of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland by the Stuart kings' belief in the Divine Right of the Monarch). The Mercat Cross was demolished in 1785 but the foot of the High Street is still known as the Cross.

When the railway arrived in 1855, improved communications greatly increased livestock trade and allowed the development of a tourist industry based on the beautiful scenery of the surrounding countryside. Hotel keepers, tour operators, vehicle hirers and photographers all benefited. The improvement in transport links with Glasgow and Edinburgh also allowed Lanark to become a commuter town. Despite these advances, Lanark escaped the worst of the industrial revolution as the area had few minerals to be exploited. However, the manufacturing industry played a significant part in the area with the building of the world-famous New Lanark cotton mills from the 1780s, harnessing the power of the Falls of Clyde. Other products in the area included shoes, gloves, knitwear and Mauchline Ware (box-work).

Visitors to the area shouldn't miss the New Lanark World Heritage Site which comprises a beautiful 18th century cotton mill village, award-winning visitor centre and hotel. The village is the gateway to the Falls of Clyde nature reserve where you can enjoy beautiful riverside walks, following in the footsteps of poet William Wordsworth and artist Joseph Mallord William Turner, take in three waterfalls and perhaps see peregrine falcons.

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Last updated 27 January, 2017

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