Day 14- Small Town Scotland

On the morning of the 18th, we were up and on our way to the town of Stirling, less than an hours drive from Edinburgh. Those of you who remember your Scottish history (via Braveheart, natch) will remember that it was the Battle of Stirling Bridge where my ancestral kinsman, Andrew de Moray, teamed up with his friend William Wallace to defeat the English forces in 1297.

To begin our tour in Stirling, we braved some small winding streets that were under construction to climb a steep hill where upon sits Stirling Castle. The castle was far more stark than some of the others we visited, but there were also fewer visitors which is always a plus in my book. Many of the buildings that are currently standing come from the 15th and 16th centuries, though there are some earlier areas. This castle is where many Scottish monarchs were crowned, including Mary, Queen of Scots in the mid-1500s.  Of course there was an audioguide, but this one was fairly wordy and I found myself fast forwarding through certain parts as I made my way through the chambers and halls.

approaching Stirling Castle

approaching Stirling Castle

where the gardens used to be

where the gardens used to be

Ready to eat?

Ready to eat?

Many of the rooms in the central castle were restored to what they may have looked like in their heydays.

Many of the rooms in the central castle were restored to what they may have looked like in their heydays.

Part of the kitchens, I loved walking around in here.

Part of the kitchens, I loved walking around in here.

After spending the grey morning wandering the castle turrets and kitchens (my favorite part), we ventured out to the William Wallace Monument, a 19th century tower that stands in honor of Scotland’s favorite son. When you get to the monument park area, you take a small minibus up to the monument itself where you then climb 246 steps up a very narrow spiral staircase to the top of the monument. If you are smart, you stop on each of 3 landings that offer small mini-museum exhibitions on Wallace and his life. They even have artifacts, including William Wallace’s sword on display. Fun fact: William Wallace’s sword stands a whopping 5’4″, nearly as tall as moi! It really was huge. Once you make it to the top of the monument, you are greeted with 360 degree views of the stunning Scottish country side.

This is your view of the monument at the Visitors Center.

This is your view of the monument at the Visitors Center.

The monument overlooks the battlefield of Stirling Bridge, where Wallace saw his greatest victory.

The monument overlooks the battlefield of Stirling Bridge, where Wallace saw his greatest victory.

In stead of taking the minibus back down to the visitors' center, we walked through the woods on a hiking trail. It was steep but lovely.

In stead of taking the minibus back down to the visitors’ center, we walked through the woods on a hiking trail. It was steep but lovely.

Leaving the Wallace Monument, we headed just out of town to visit a small Scottish village called Dunblane. Dunblane’s cathedral is a parish church whose oldest parts date from the 11th century. Just some of the claims to fame for Dunblane Cathedral include its being the final resting place for King James IV’s mistress Margaret and her sisters (all of whom were believed to be poisoned) and having choir stalls that date from the 1400s. It was a brief visit, but this is the stuff I love to see- those off-the-beaten-track places where it’s you and two other tourists just appreciating the hundreds of years of history that this place has seen.

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The 15th century choir stalls

The 15th century choir stalls

The Scottish Thistle.

The Scottish Thistle.

The lower bell tower dates from the 11th century.

The lower bell tower dates from the 11th century.

From there it was on to Doune Castle. Doune Castle is known largely for its prominent use in several movies and TV shows, including Monty Python’s Holy Grail. In fact, the audioguide here is narrated by one of the Monty Python cast members who sidebars into scenes from the movie while telling you about the history in various parts of the castle. The main forecourt of the castle was closed off while we were there because of recent filming of the television series, Outlander. The castle seems to get a lot of modern use for a building that is in ruins! Much of what stands of the current castle dates from about the 14th century, although there had been a castle on the site for over a hundred years earlier.

approaching the castle

approaching the castle

looking up at the tower from the courtyard

looking up at the tower from the courtyard

part of the kitchen where servants could pass food

part of the kitchen where servants could pass food

I strongly desire a home with a wall-to-wall fireplace.

I strongly desire a home with a wall-to-wall fireplace.

The Great Hall, complete with central hearth fire basket.

The Great Hall, complete with central hearth fire basket.

Bedroom. Looks cozy doesn't it?

Bedroom. Looks cozy doesn’t it?

Privy.

Privy.

The river that flows by the castle

The river that flows by the castle

A view from the ramparts, nothing but Scottish countryside and sparking blue skies.

A view from the ramparts, nothing but Scottish countryside and sparking blue skies.

Having completed our sightseeing for the day, we headed back into Stirling to check in to our bed and breakfast for the evening and to grab dinner. In Stirling, we stayed at Ravenswood Guesthouse, owned by the delightfully Scottish Stuart, who is crazy like the Husband and runs marathons and competes in triathlons and the like. The accommodations were fantastic and the house is warm and inviting and the rooms spacious. Breakfast the following morning was also one of my favorites as Stuart makes this thing called Fancy Porridge which is basically oatmeal with honey and nuts and dried fruits… and it may have just been the best breakfast I had on our trip. For dinner, we headed down the street to an Italian diner. Food was good, ice cream desserts were better! I didn’t even know mint sauce was a thing, but apparently it is and it’s really good when served over chocolate ice cream. For future reference! Day 14 was quite a full day of touring some pieces of Scottish history, so we had no trouble falling asleep that night once we were settled in back at the guesthouse.

Days 12- 13: Hello, Scotland

And so on Monday morning, we were up early to hit the road for our drive up north. We decided to stop along the way at Housesteads Roman Fort on Hadrian’s Wall, built in the second century as a guard-space for Roman forces and territories, shielding them from attacks from more northern barbarians. It was a very cool and windy day, but I wish we had had even more time to enjoy the fort and see more of the sites along the wall. Again, on that upcoming backpacking trip (HA!) we’ll be hiking the wall to see some of the sites. Caution for those who visit, it is a long and uphill walk from the parking lot to the actual fort ruins, but it is well worth it to see the foundations of the buildings that remain and to see the views that stretch out over the valley. It’s easy to see why this area was chosen as a defensive spot, but it’s also beautiful to take in as well.

approaching the fort and wall

the view from the fort

walking the ruins of the fort

walking the ruins of the fort

part of the latrine area

part of the latrine area

part of the wall

part of the wall

After realizing that we needed to be on our way if we still intended to visit a couple of border abbeys before finding our Edinburgh hotel, we snapped off a few more pics and made our way back to the visitor center for a quick bite to eat before we headed out. It seemed to take forever before we finally crossed the border into Scotland, marked most unceremoniously by a small “Welcome to Scotland” billboard. But not far past the border, we found our first Scottish stop- the ruins of Jedburgh Abbey.

Jedburgh Abbey was founded by Augustinian monks in the 12th century. The abbey was continuously patronized by various Scottish kings over the years, but as it was in close proximity to England, it was also often the target for attacks from the English and faced destruction many times. By the late 16th century, it had seen it’s better days and was beyond repair. Eventually, the remaining monks were left with a shell of what the abbey had once been. I thoroughly enjoyed exploring the abbey and cloister complex. Again, the Brits and their audioguides did not let me down. This was also the first place we made use of the Scottish Explorer Pass which I recommend to anyone who may be spending more than a couple of days in Scotland. For a small fee, you can purchase the pass and gain free entry into a bunch of sites all around the country. It was a solid plan of savings for us. There is a corresponding English Pass, but that one wasn’t as useful for our purposes, so we didn’t purchase that one.

 

Jedburgh Abbey

Jedburgh Abbey

looking down the roofless nave

looking down the roofless nave

the remains of a 12th century tomb

the remains of a 12th century tomb

remains from a private chapel, tombs

remains from a private chapel, tombs

taken from the second story landing

taken from the second story landing

Back on the road, we headed to Melrose Abbey, another ruined border abbey not far from Jedburgh. Melrose was a Cistercian church and cloister that was also founded in the 12th century. Several early Scottish kings were buried at Melrose and the heart of Robert the Bruce (you guys have all watched Braveheart, right?) is also entombed in what used to be the Chapter House by the abbey. The abbey has a ton of interesting carvings on the tombstones in the graveyard by the church as well as on the church itself in sculptures and gargoyles. Of course, my most favorite depiction is one of Melrose’s most popular, a bagpipe playing pig gargoyle. And yes I did purchase a magnet with Wilber’s likeness on it to bring home. Thankfully, the lady running the shop did let me buy it since we were there until closing and they had started to close up the register a few minutes early. Craziness! Don’t people know I need to spend money on pigs?!  I did think that Melrose was slightly more interesting than Jedburgh. It was a larger church and had a lot to view. You could also climb one of the remaining towers and get some great views of the immediate area. I love climbing ruins!

approaching the nave entrance to the abbey

approaching the nave entrance to the abbey

a bagpipe playing pig

a bagpipe playing pig

walking down the nave

walking down the nave

the high altar

the high altar

a small chapel off of the altar

a small chapel off of the altar

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part of the transept; that door that is halfway up the wall once led to the monks’ living quarters and against the wall where there is a change in stone and color is where the stairs that led to that door once stood

looking down on the graveyard from the tower

looking down on the graveyard from the tower

transept entrance

transept entrance

the heart of King Robert the Bruce

the heart of King Robert the Bruce

So, once we had been kicked out of Melrose Abbey, we continued on our merry way to Edinburgh, where we would be spending the night. Edinburgh is delightfully divided between the Old Town (the medieval part) where most of the touristy attractions are and the New Town (the Georgian era part) where most of the beds and breakfasts are. It took us a bit to find out B&B for the evening because there were no signs or markings of any kind on the street or doorway. We were hesitant in our knocking, fearing we would accidentally intrude on some poor Scottish man with nothing on but his kilt, but fortunately we found the right door and were greeted warmly by the daughter of the benefactors of 14 Hart Street. She showed us to our lovely and very spacious room on the ground level and kindly provided us with several recommendations for dinner that evening. We ended up choosing one of her selections, a small bistro just around the corner and had an excellent meal.

The following morning we were up early to have breakfast and venture out towards the Royal Mile, Edinburgh’s main thoroughfare for tourists. We started our morning (after a venturesome hike) at Edinburgh Castle, home to Scottish kings during the Middle Ages, and home to military regiments from the 17th century on. I will admit to not absolutely loving Edinburgh Castle. It was incredibly crowded and not much of the oldest parts of the castle remain. It now relies heavily on its military history which isn’t really my thing. You can, however, visit the Scottish crown jewels, so there’s that.  Oh, and you can visit the room where Mary, Queen of Scots, gave birth to King James. Also fun!

overlooking the city of Edinburgh from high upon Castle Rock

overlooking the city of Edinburgh from high upon Castle Rock

behind the main gain, looking up towards the inner areas of the castle buildings

behind the main gain, looking up towards the inner areas of the castle buildings

There were a LOT of cannons.

There were a LOT of cannons.

One of the restored fireplaces inside the royal apartments.

One of the restored fireplaces inside the royal apartments.

from one of the inner courtyards

from one of the inner courtyards

After visiting the castle gift shop where I picked a lovely set of Scottish teas (Scottish breakfast tea, Thistle tea, Heather tea, Whiskey Flavored tea…), we ventured down the Royal Mile stopping in a couple of kitsch souvenir shops and making our way towards the Palace of Holyroodhouse, the official residence of Her Majesty QEII when she’s in Scotland. Holyroodhouse has been home to monarchs for over 500 years and still houses them from time to time today. We opted out of the tours of the Queen’s art gallery and gardens and instead choose to visit just the palace itself along with the ruins of the abbey on site. Unfortunately they do not allow photos inside of Holyroodhouse, so you’ll simply have to take my word for it that the rooms and apartments are every bit as sumptuous as one would expect in a modern royal palace.

The remains of the 12th century Holyrood Abbey

The remains of the 12th century Holyrood Abbey

part of the abbey

part of the abbey

interior of the abbey... you wouldn't believe how many other tourists were striking sexy poses over the ruins of tombs while we were out there...

interior of the abbey… you wouldn’t believe how many other tourists were striking sexy poses over the ruins of tombs while we were out there…

The abbey predates the palace and ended up being incorporated into the building

The abbey predates the palace and ended up being incorporated into the building

the forecourt of the palace

the forecourt of the palace

more forecourt

more forecourt

On our way back down the Royal Mile, we stopped in some famous whiskey shop that is known for its personalized recommendations based on customer preferences. Of course, the Husband insisted on having a special bottle picked out for him. That done we found a nice Italian restaurant for lunch where we could dine on American Champagne (ie Coke) and people watch the colorful characters out and about. After lunch, we took a tour of the Real Mary King’s Close which basically takes you underground the streets of Edinburgh to the remains of the medieval city that was later built upon. It’s a highly interesting tour which takes you through various living and business spaces where ordinary Scots lived and worked centuries before. This was probably my favorite activity for the day. After a brief respite that evening, we then ventured back out for a ghost tour of Edinburgh by night. Our guide was absolutely fantastic, theatrical and humorous. And the Husband even earned special honors of bringing up the rear of the group wherever we went to ensure that all souls made it through. (He was the tallest living being on the tour afterall.) Having spent time in the underground (haunted) vaults within the city, the Husband and I grabbed some quick take out (after a small hangry episode on the way back to the hotel) and headed back to 14 Hart to rest up before heading out for Stirling the following morning.