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.
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.
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.
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.
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.