New Lanark is a UNESCO World Heritage Site situated on the banks of the Falls of Clyde in Lanarkshire. The restored 18th-century cotton mill was revolutionary at the time it was built and it is now a popular tourist attraction featuring guided tours of the mill buildings, a hotel, restaurant, shops and much more.
Review of New Lanark World Heritage Site
New Lanark World Heritage Site is situated on the banks of the Falls of Clyde close to the small town of Lanark in Lanarkshire, and not only is it a UNESCO site of worldwide importance but it’s also a superb tourist attraction that will keep both children and adults entertained during their visit.
The story of New Lanark begins with Robert Owen, the 18th-century philanthropist and entrepreneur who realised that the short lives of mill workers could be vastly improved if the mill owners would provide them with a decent standard of living.
Owen understood that by providing clean and warm housing along with an education system and fair rights he could increase production in his wool mills while improving the lives of his workers, and so the most ambitious and forward-thinking urban planning experiment in the history of the developed world began here, in this remote corner of south-west Scotland.
The mill complex is situated alongside the River Clyde and the power of these torrents once turned the massive wheels that powered machinery to convert vast quantities of cotton fibres into sheets of cotton that were sold the world over.
Although much of this machinery now lies dormant you can explore the buildings and see some of this machinery in action when you take a tour of New Lanark World Heritage Site.
Things to do at New Lanark World Heritage Site
There’s so much to see and do at this attraction that it’s almost impossible to get bored, whether you’re just roaming through the streets of the old mill buildings or walking along the River Clyde and admiring the views of the forest on the other side of the bank.
There are mill workers houses to explore which have been faithfully restored to how the mill workers would have lived in them in the 1820s and 1930s and there’s even a village store that sells delicious 1900s sweets (check out the vanilla fudge – yum!).
But it’s the mills themselves that are the highlight of a visit to New Lanark World Heritage Site and you won’t have to make your journey through the faithfully re-created mills on your own as you’ll be guided by the ghostly spirit of wee Annie McLeod.
Your journey begins in a motorised carriage that whisks you through several of the most important rooms in the mill where Annie will tell you all about the living conditions she had to endure in her lifetime as well as telling you a few stories about the mill workers who lived on the site.
It’s interesting stuff and it really sets the scene for how the old cotton mills operated, and at the end of the ride you can step out and explore the remainder of the working museum for yourself.
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There are multilingual commentaries included for international visitors and an induction loop has also been thoughtfully provided for the hard of hearing.
Other activities include an exhibition that explores cotton production and working conditions in the 18th and 19th centuries and you can view the cotton-producing machinery that’s still in operation today.
While they don’t actually produce cotton at New Lanark anymore they do make some fine quality wool using the original machines, and this wool can be purchased from the on-site gift shop along with other historical-themed souvenirs.
If you want to take a breath of fresh air perhaps the best place to head to is the visitor centre rooftop garden which offers lovely views across the entire mill site and out towards the surrounding forest and river.
This garden is the one of the largest of its kind in Scotland and is full of flowers and shrubs, and there’s even a giant water feature in the middle which makes a great place to stop off for a picnic.
If you want to sample some decent local cooking then I can recommend the Mill Café which has a very good selection of quality food, and the coffee’s not bad either. All in all this attraction makes a great family day out.
The history of New Lanark World Heritage Site
While the New Lanark cotton mills were actually founded in 1786 by entrepreneur David Dale, it was Robert Owen, his son-in-law, who was to become the mill manager that revolutionised the industry.
Like many of the cotton mills of the time, when New Lanark initially began producing cotton it utilized the services of around 2,500 workers from the poorhouses of Glasgow and Edinburgh, and these workers were forced to live in fairly terrible conditions.
The accommodation was overcrowded and dirty and the worker’s children were uneducated with little chance of ever improving their lot in life.
David Owen realized that education was key to a successful workforce and so he began a new system of social welfare plans that included the building of a nursery and a school for the 500 children living at New Lanark, and each family was given clean accommodation in the newly built tenement blocks close to the main mill buildings.
They were also given fair wages and free health care (unthinkable for other mill owners at the time), and it’s this forward-thinking that prompted UNESCO to designate the mill as a world heritage site in order to preserve this important piece of industrial heritage.
This radical thinking was completely contrary to how business was ordinarily conducted in the 18th-century and many of his peers believed Owen would go bankrupt.
However, to their astonishment not only did his business survive, but it flourished to the point where statesmen and royalty from across Europe would regularly come to New Lanark to see for themselves the brave new way of working that benefitted both the mill owners and their workers.
It has been said that all modern workers rights descend from the efforts made by Owen and his colleagues to improve the living conditions of the poor, and the newly refurbished visitor centre at New Lanark goes some way towards honouring the man and his incredible mill village that was to become the model for worker’s living conditions across the globe.
Discover more historic attractions with my Historic Places to Visit articles.
- The restored mill offers a fascinating glimpse into the lives of cotton mill workers 200 years ago.
- It’s a unique attraction that’s both fun and informative and the facilities are excellent, especially the on-site café.
- The carriage ride with Annie is great for kids and adults will find the restored machinery fascinating.
- If you visit on a sunny day take a look at the rooftop terrace garden.
- There’s an authentic traditional sweet shop in one of the old tenement buildings. It’s easy to miss but it’s well worth visiting.
- There’s a nice walk through the woods if you follow the circular path at the southern end of the mill buildings.
New Lanark World Heritage Site,
Photo gallery and video
Things to do near New Lanark
- Lanark Museum. 29 Broomgate, Lanark ML11 9ET. 6-minute drive. An independent museum that aims to educate visitors about rural life and the heritage of Lanark. There are artefacts and informative displays that depict the region’s rich industrial heritage.
- Clyde Valley Nature Reserve. Lanark Rd, Lanark ML11 7RB. 8-minute drive. A reserve consisting of six ancient woodlands, one of which is Cartland Crags that has easy access from the A73. The River Clyde is a short walk south which has a number of riverside paths to follow.
- Craignethan Castle. Blackwood, Lesmahagow, Lanark ML11 9PL. 28-minute drive. Historic Environment Scotland-managed castle that was built in the 1530s and is partly in ruin. Nethan Gorge is nearby as is Nethan Water which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
- Clyde Valley Family Park. Clyde Valley Family Park Crossford, by, Carluke ML8 5NJ. 15-minute drive. An amusement and theme park in Carluke that features a miniature railway and an animal petting area. The park is within walking distance of the River Clyde.
- Nethan Gorge. 2A Lanark Rd, Crossford, Carluke ML8 5QG. 15-minute drive. One of the last remaining natural woodlands in the Clyde Valley. The area is home to a variety of wildlife including woodpeckers, otters and badgers. The gorge slopes are quite steep but there are footpaths through the lower areas around the River Nethan which winds its way past Craignethan Castle.
More places to visit in Strathclyde
- Ben Cruachan Dam – Argyll & Bute: Complete Visitor GuideA visit to Ben Cruachan (which isn’t actually a mountain – it’s a Munro) rewards walkers with some of the finest views in the Southern Highlands, especially if they make it to the very top of its summit and gaze down at the multitude of rocky satellites below it.
- St. Conan’s Kirk – Argyll & Bute: Complete Visitor GuideSaint Conan’s Kirk is situated on the banks of the beautiful Loch Awe and it’s widely acknowledged as having some of the best views in the Highlands.
- McCaig’s Tower, Oban – Argyll & Bute: Complete Visitor GuideIf you’re planning on visiting Scotland’s west coast islands by ferry you’ll inevitably travel from the terminal at Oban. While you’re there, take the time to look across the town and up at the hilltops surrounding it.
- Oban Travel Information – Complete GuideOban is a resort town within the Argyll and Bute council area of Scotland which is the unofficial capital of the West Highlands. It’s well-known for its ferry services to the Hebrides which has given the town the nickname ‘The gateway to the Isles’.