One thing I have strived to do with my Scotland travel blog since the beginning is to shine a spotlight on the many villages, towns and regions that are often overlooked by visitors. Bo'ness is one of those places - just a short drive from Falkirk and easily reached from Edinburgh and Glasgow, it has some unusual attractions which make it an interesting place to spend a day or two.
The name Bo'ness is actually short for Borrowstounness which means the Burgh Town on the Ness. Located on the bank of the Firth of Forth, Bo'ness was once the second largest port in Scotland. Today the harbour is closed and the only activity is passing walkers and cyclists enjoying the views across to Fife on the waterfront trail.
The quiet town still retains some interesting old buildings including the yellow painted Dymock's Building, a merchant's house dating back to before 1650 pictured above, and The Hippodrome, a pre-art deco picture palace dating back to 1912 (see below).
Its location next to the Firth of Forth and only a mile from the sprawling Kinneil Estate means you can experience town attractions, coastal views and nature trails all in one day as you can see from my list of recommended things to do in Bo'ness listed below.
If you've not been before, I hope this blog encourages you to give Bo'ness a visit.
My recommended things to do in Bo'ness
Take a ride on the Bo'ness and Kinneil Railway
Who doesn't love a ride on a steam train? I know I do, but for now, a ride along the Bo'ness and Kinneil line remains on my bucket-list as I've only managed to tour the station so far. However, I have received rave reports from the lucky people I know that have enjoyed a steam train trip here so I have to recommend it.
Starring in many TV and film productions including Outlander, the railway is run by volunteers of the Scottish Railway Preservation Society which aims to preserve Scotland's railway heritage and restore railway equipment including historic locomotives.
Book a ticket for one of the regular 70 minute return trips between Bo'ness and Manuel stations on a steam train or heritage diesel train and take in the views as you travel along the Firth of Forth before heading inland towards the countryside. There are also special events held throughout the year and dogs are welcome on all standard journeys.
In 2022 the Museum of Scottish Railways will reopen after major renovation and I can't wait to check that out, hopefully combined with a train ride at long last! I'll be sure to update this blog when that happens.
View movie memorabilia at the Bo'ness Motor Museum
What a hidden gem this place is and I really feel that it should be renamed the Bo'ness Motor and Movie Museum as the movie memorabilia on display here is incredible. The unassuming exterior gives no clue to the astounding collection of exhibits that lies beyond within a Tardis of a building - quite appropriate as there is an actual Dr Who Tardis inside.
From Monsters Inc to Star Wars and Harry Potter to Only Fools and Horses, there are cars and memorabilia from a wide variety of well known movies. James Bond fans in particular will love it here as there is an extensive amount of Bond props. Perhaps the most amazing thing about the place is the fact almost everything you see is the collection of one man, owner Colin Anderson.
There is so much to take in that I'm sure I missed lots of cool stuff on my first visit which means I'll need to go back and have another look.
Catch a film at Scotland's oldest purpose-built cinema
I'm old enough to remember proper intimate cinemas with character before the era of bland (and overpriced!) modern multiplexes. Going to the pictures was a huge treat when I was young and I felt beyond sad when the smaller local picture halls I loved started closing down for good.
When I find a proper old-school cinema I tend to get very excited but it isn't just about nostalgia, a night out to a watch a movie in a beautifully designed building just feels that bit more special and glamorous.
Opened in 1912, The Hippodrome in Bo'ness is Scotland's oldest purpose built picture house and a rare example of pre-art deco cinema architecture - it brings glamour in spades! Although it boasts historic credentials, a 21st century technology makeover has allowed it to stay relevant so the people of Bo'ness don't miss out on the latest blockbusters.
If you're visiting the town, taking in a movie here is quite a memorable experience and I for one am glad that this hark back to the golden age of cinema has survived.
Discover the town's Roman history
Roman history in Scotland is often overlooked but the Roman invasion affected large swathes of the country with the Antonine Wall being the biggest physical legacy that can still be seen today. The replica Bridgeness Roman distance slab in Bo'ness is another reminder of this historic era.
The original slab dates back to approx 142 AD and is on display in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. It is said to be one of the finest pieces of Roman sculpture from Britain and although Bo'ness now only possesses a reproduction, seeing a copy of the stone in its original home is still special.
The marker was designed to commemorate the construction of the easternmost section of the Antonine Wall in the 2nd century and is one of 18 slabs inscribed with the name of the legion that worked on a specific stretch of the wall and the distance they completed.
Explore Kinneil House and Estate
The 16th century Kinneil House is without doubt the star of Kinneil Estate but unfortunately it is only open on select days of the year which means I've not yet managed to view its rare renaissance wall paintings. There is a museum nearby where you can find out more about the house, but again, this was closed on the day I visited so I have also added it to my future 'to do' list.
Once owned by the Dukes of Hamilton, the estate is a lovely place to wander around and there are some other historic ruins worth stopping by including the 12th century Kinneil Kirk and an old cottage used as a workshop by the famous Scottish inventor James Watt.
There are walking and cycling trails to follow so this is an ideal place to visit with your hired e-bike (see below) or download the Falkirk Explored App for audio walking guides. Although the scenery and wildlife are reason enough to venture around the estate, information boards and public art work add some historic background and extra interest to outdoor adventures.
Take a stroll around the historic harbour
A walk around the harbour offers fantastic views of the Firth of Forth and Fife on the opposite bank. The panorama of tidal currents and lumpy hills also provides a nice contrast to the built-up town, but the harbour is about more than scenery, for several centuries it was a centre of trade and employment in Bo'ness until it closed in 1959.
During the 17th century the harbour bustled with sailors, merchants, smugglers and local tradespeople. in the 18th century it became a whaling port and the 19th century saw the North British Railway Dock completed and huge numbers of imported timber pit props stacked around the foreshore leading to the town being nicknamed 'Pitpropolis' The 20th century brought WWI German battleships and saw the harbour converted into a temporary naval base during WWII. However, decline in trade sealed the eventual closure of the harbour.
Today it takes a bit of imagination to get a feel for what it was like here when Bo'ness was the 2nd largest port in Scotland.
Cycle along the Firth of Forth on an electric bike
Thanks to an initiative called Forth Bike, you are able to hire an electric bike next to Bo'ness harbour and explore the local cycle paths, heading all the way to Edinburgh if you like.
You can purchase a pay per ride pass and return the bike to where you started or leave it at one of the other stations in the scheme. As you can see from the photo above, it is a short cycle to Kinneil Estate or slightly longer to Blackness in the opposite direction. I highly recommend taking a tour of Blackness Castle and popping in for something to eat at The Lobster Pot if that takes your fancy.
If you continue on to South Queensferry, you will be rewarded with outstanding views of the Forth Bridges - you can even take a boat tour beneath them which I also highly recommend. There are lots of lovely independent shops and places to eat in the town too.
There is a list of suggested rides on the Forth Bike website if you need some more inspiration for exploring the area.
WHERE TO EAT IN BO'NESS
McMoo's Ice Cream Parlour - This dog friendly café has a great choice of ice-cream and also serves a range of other light snacks and lunch options. I had the most mouth-watering gluten free pancakes here and I'm still dreaming about them!
The Copper Kiln, Richmond Park Hotel - A fab stop for yummy Scottish produce served in a contemporary setting. They also offer an afternoon tea option overlooking the Firth of Forth.
A HANDY MAP OF ALL THE LOCATIONS MENTIONED
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