Great Tapestry of Scotland's new home is one of the nation's must-see attractions – Brian Ferguson
A striking new building shone like a welcoming beacon through the rainy gloom in Galashiels.
Inside, it was something of a revelation to realise that the Borders town is now home to one of Scotland' s must-see attractions, one of the best new additions for the tourism industry anywhere in the country and one of the best places to learn about Scottish history under the one roof.
I had read and heard about the Great Tapestry of Scotland for years without ever actually seeing it for myself.
It is an incredible eight years since the vast work of art was unveiled at the Scottish Parliament in all its 143-metre-long glory.
Instigated by the author Alexander McCall Smith and designed by artist Andrew Crummy, it was seen in whole or in part across Scotland in subsequent years, but has finally found a permanent home.
Built on the site of a former Poundstretcher store, the new attraction has cost £7.1 million to create.
But there is little doubt that Galashiels has ended up with something pretty special which should be the envy of every town in Scotland.
The tapestry is essentially the story of the nation, from 8,500 BC to modern-day Scotland, told through 160 panels painstakingly stitched around the country.
Any preconceptions that the tapestry would have little appeal are dispelled almost immediately by the scale and variety of the stories told in each panel.
Some sections were so mesmerising that it quickly became obvious that one viewing of the tapestry would not be enough. I must have wandered round three times before reluctantly dragging myself away.
The over-riding impression was of a terrific starting point for anyone looking to learn more about Scotland, regardless of where they are from.
I discovered more about my own country in the space of several hours than in anywhere else I’ve visited previously, particularly about the number of groundbreaking innovations that were developed in Scotland and largely forgotten episodes of history.
It is hard to imagine anyone viewing the tapestry would not feel a tug on the heartstrings.
Particularly poignant were the panels dedicated to the Massacre of Glencoe, the Iolaire disaster off the coast of Stornoway in 1919, and the arrival of Irish immigrants in Scotland following the potato famine.
Inevitably, the representation of culture in its broadest sense caught my eye, from the foundations of Edinburgh’s festivals in 1947, a tribute to Hugh McDiarmid, to commemoration of comedy icons like Sir Billy Connolly, Chic Murray, Stanley Baxter and Francie & Josie, and celebrations of “Scotland at the Movies” and pop and rock pioneers like Lulu, Donovan, Alex Harvey and Lonnie Donegan.
It’s hard to imagine there’s anywhere else in the country where John Knox, Burke and Hare, and Bonnie Prince Charlie are commemorated alongside Archie McPherson, Desperate Dan, Sir Sean Connery and The Rezillos.
I was somewhat sceptical when I was warned in advance to set aside a few hours for a visit to the Great Tapestry in Scotland. Instead, I can’t wait to go back to see what I missed the first time round.