Linlithgow Loch is a Site of Special Scientific Interest due to wildfowl. Linlithgow Palace, seen here, housed 15th and 16th century Scottish monarchs

Linlithgow Loch is a Site of Special Scientific Interest due to wildfowl. Linlithgow Palace, seen here, housed 15th and 16th century Scottish monarchs

Following The Gathering in Ireland in 2013, this year Scotland takes centre stage with an exciting twelve months of cultural events and activities. This overview highlights some of the features of the programme and recommends the things not to miss.

As Hogmanay leads into the month that celebrates Burns Night, this year these annual dates are just the beginning of twelve months of festivities and special events. Designed to celebrate the best of everything Scottish, ranging from food, drink, arts, culture and sport to ancestral heritage and natural resources, Homecoming Scotland is set to bring the world to the land of tartan and thistles. One of the biggest events of 2014 will be the Commonwealth Games, hosted by Glasgow in July. 14 venues will play host to 17 different sports, as the best athletes in the world compete for the prestigious medals. Then in September, the 40th Ryder Cup will be held at historic Gleneagles. Throughout the rest of the year, a diverse and unusual mixture of events will take place throughout the nation.

The Scottish Snowdrop Festival will be one of the first events to kick off Homecoming 2014, with events running throughout February and March. Various locations across the country will open (some exclusively) to showcase lovely snowdrop displays to the public. The diverse range of 53 gardens taking part includes walled gardens, urban retreats, historic castles, churchyards and woodlands. Eight new gardens are joining in this year, including Bruckhills Croft in Aberdeenshire. This traditional croft is surrounded by a beautiful informal country cottage garden and a wildflower meadow with pond. An astonishing 90+ types of snowdrop are arranged in small groups throughout the garden. The Cambo Estate in Fife is another new addition; they hold the national collection of snowdrops, with 70 acres of woodland walks to the sea. A day out here can include gardener-led walks, piglets to feed and drop-in workshops. The annual ‘Snowdrops by Starlight’ experience will take a new format this year, with visitors donning head torches and walking through the enchanting winter woodlands, with kinetic and sound sculptures as well as live music.

The Scottish Diaspora Tapestry has been created by Scots in 25 countries around the world over the past two years. The beautiful, intricate piece of work depicts the experiences of migrant Scots over the centuries and the 200 embroidered panels will start coming together in March before touring the country until November.

A Scottish naturalist and conservationist, John Muir founded America’s national parks, still a vital part of the USA’s landscape today. The John Muir Way is a new national pathway incorporating an older route of the same name, stretching from Dunbar (Muir’s birthplace) in the east to Helensburgh in the west. The trail visits key central Scotland landscapes and the country’s first national park at Loch Lomond and the Trossachs. Taking place in April, the John Muir Festival will celebrate the life and legacy of Muir and mark the 100th anniversary of his death with a number of themed events in East Lothian and at other key locations along the John Muir Way.

In late June, the weekend after the 700th anniversary and the official opening of the new Bannockburn visitor centre, Bannockburn Live will re-enact Scotland’s most famous battle. 45,000 visitors from around the world will witness medieval warfare first-hand in a specially created festival arena. In addition, an array of themed villages will present the sights, sounds and atmosphere of medieval and modern Scotland. Visitors can explore and experience medieval life in the historical encampments before watching Robert the Bruce and Edward II lead their armies into the Battle of Bannockburn. There will also be a programme packed with music, Scottish food and drink, crafts, literature and outdoor activities, with something for all the family.

Highland Games attract spectators every year from throughout Scotland, the UK and beyond

Highland Games attract spectators every year from throughout Scotland, the UK and beyond

Since 1867, Highland Games have been held on the village green in Aboyne and 2014 is expected to see a record turnout. Noted worldwide for the excellence of the traditional disciplines on display, the Aboyne Highland Games also gather together clans indigenous to the north east of Scotland in particular, so this year clansmen and women from around the globe are expected to arrive for the festivities. The Aboyne games always attract excellent heavy athletes who show demonstrations of strength and skill at the shot put, weight over the bar, hammer throwing and caber tossing. At least five tug-of-war teams battle for supremacy and athletes take part in races short and long for all ages, including the testing Fungle Hill Race. Piping and dancing competitions are always a particular highlight, with other entertainment provided by no less than five pipebands.

More than 100,000 people are expected to join in the Forth Bridges Festival, a new event which this year also celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Forth Road Bridge. A ten day programme of events will mark the 50th birthday of a remarkable feat of engineering and one of Scotland’s most recognisable landmarks, connecting Edinburgh and Fife. Running in early September, the festival will include the Forth Bridges House Party, Scotland Welcomes the World to Lunch, the ‘Birthday Boat Flotilla’, a torchlight procession and a dramatic light and firework show.

The Glasgow School of Art library was designed by Mackintosh and perfectly shows his style

The Glasgow School of Art library was designed by Mackintosh and perfectly shows his style

One of Scotland’s most celebrated sons is recognised every year in the Creative Mackintosh Festival. Running in mid- October in 2014, the festival programme will include new artistic commissions in design, visual art and performance as well as a range of exhibitions, talks, tours, films, music, dance and drama performances, children’s activities and workshops. These events will take place in Mackintosh buildings across the city of Glasgow.

The events programme showcases the Mackintosh buildings and legacy, as well as focusing on Glasgow and its creativity, through the work of contemporary artists responding to the Charles Rennie Mackintosh legacy and the themes that fascinated him. Mackintosh’s architecture and iconic buildings will be the stages for much of the programme. Experiences for visitors include listening to or watching a performance, taking part in creative workshops in visual arts, architecture or taking a walk or tour, guided or independently, through Glasgow to see the architectural heritage.