Scotland 7: Day 27

03.28.19 | Edinburgh, Scotland | 23:55

One thing I failed to mention about yesterday’s visit to Aberdour Castle: When the girl sold me that ticket to get into the castle, she actually talked me into buying a five-day pass. This means that even though you may be sick of learning about castles or seeing pictures of castles, I chose to take a quick trip up to Stirling so that I could see that castle as well. Yes, I did see it three years ago, but it was time for another visit.

I happen to be enjoying learning about all these old kings and queens at the moment. I am finally at a place in my life where I am starting to remember historical facts. It’s not by any means a photographic memory or anything like that, but at least I have a desire to figure all this stuff out. It’s fascinating to learn about the rise and fall of these people!

Stirling is one of the towns that I feel like I could totally be happy living in. There are a few places like this- I visit and it just has an “at-home” feel. How cool would it be to relocate to Scotland? I probably shouldn’t hold my breath while waiting for my airline to start flying here. Still- a guy can dream, can’t he?

It is now time for you daily history lesson! If it’s too much to bear, feel free to just skip down to the castle picture.

The rock of Stirling was the key to medieval Scotland. Sitting astride the narrow waist of the Central Belt, it commanded the upper reaches of the Forth as well as guarding access to the Central Highlands. In medieval times, Stirling Bridge was the lowest practical crossing point over the Forth. All invading armies had to come to the rock of Stirling if they wanted to enter Scotland’s hinterlands; Stirling Castle was rightly described as ‘a huge brooch that clasps Highlands and Lowlands together’. It suffered sixteen major sieges as a result. Legends link a citadel it’s Stirling with King Arthur but the first records of a castle there date from the reign of Alexander I who died there in 1124. Control of Stirling Castle was also demanded by Henry II before he would release the captive William the Lion in 1174.

William regained the castle before his death there in 1214, but Stirling fell into English hands again in 1295-96 when Edward I tried to annex Scotland. William Wallace briefly liberated the castle following his decisive victory at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297 but an English governor, Sir John Simpson, was back in command in 1298. Simpson found himself besieged in turn the following year and called on Edward to send reinforcements. When these failed to arrive, the castle was surrendered and its Scots constable, Sir William Oliphant, raised the lion rampart over its battlements once again. Edward finally arrived in force in July 1304 having crossed the Forth downstream using a fleet of pontoons. At this point in the Wars for Scottish Independence, Stirling was the last major stronghold in Scotland still under patriot control. After three months of siege, Oliphant and his starving men marched out. Edward accepted their surrender but ordered the garrison back into the castle while he bombarded it with stones from his siege engine, the War Wolf. 

Stirling was still in English hands in 1314, when it was among the few fortresses not under Bruce control. Failing to take the castle by siege, the King’s younger brother, Edward Bruce, parleyed with the English castellan Sir Phillip Mowbray. They  agreed that the castle would be handed over to the Scots if it had not been relieved by Mid Summer Day. This committed both Robert the Bruce and Edward II to the climactic battle that was fought on the plain below the castle along the Bannockburn that summer. Once back in Scottish hands, Bruce damaged Stirling severely so it could not be held up by future invaders. Despite this, after Bruce’s death in 1329, the forces of the puppet King Edward Balliol and his sponsor Edward III captured and rebuilt Stirling on 1333, and held it until 1342. 

With is the stability of the Stewart Age, Stirling flourished. Money was lavished upon the castle, to turn it into a symbol of royal authority. The Great Hall of 1500 and Gatehouse of 1510 built by James IV, and the Royal Palace of James V of 1540, were designed to protect the dynastic identity of the Stewart kings. The exterior of the Great Hall Who is even painted in a bright golden wash so that it could be seen for miles around. Stirling was the effective capital of Stewart Scotland, where the family preferred to hold court and carry out their business. The infant monarchs James V and Mary were both crowned in the Chapel Royal. The baptism of Prince Henry Stewart in 1594 was celebrated by a banquet of gargantuan proportions, even by Renaissance standards. The highlight of the feast was procession into the Great Hall of an eighteen foot galleon with masts forty feet high from which servants dispensed seafood to the guests.  Darker deeds were done at Stirling too. In 1452 James II took the first step towards bringing the power of the house of Black Douglas whose wealth and privileges rivalled those of the Crown. Negotiations between James II and the Earl of Douglas came to a sudden end when the king plunged his dagger into the throat of the magnate. Douglas had been promised a safe conduct but his corpse ended up being thrown out of a castle window onto the rocks below. The Scottish Parliament exonerated the king and put the entire blame for the incident upon the dead noble who had some clearly been guilty of treason.

Stirling was little used by royalty after 1603 but it witnessed blood again in 1651 during a siege by Monck’s Roundheads which badly damaged the castle. Its continuing strategic value was highlighted by the devastating Jacobite victory at Killiecrankie less than sixty miles to the north in 1689. Stirling became an important base for the Hanoverian army and its defenses were stiffened by modern artillery platforms. More was done to strengthen Stirling after the aborted invasion of 1708 when the Old Pretender sailed into the Forth with a French Fleet. In 1745, Jacobite forces bypassed the castle and only fired a few desultory shots at in on their way back north. The castle suffered badly in its years as an army base; the Great Hall was converted into a barracks and the Chapel Royal was used as a store. The army finally left in 1964 and after over thirty years of conservation work, Stirling Castle has now been restored to its Renaissance grandeur and magnificence.

Scottish Castles & Fortifications – Richard Dargie

When I got back to Edinburgh, I went to the cinema to see Mary, Queen of Scots and it was quite fascinating, especially because she is one of the people that I’ve been learning about on these castle visits.

Scotland 5: Day 15

03.15.16 | Stirling, Scotland | 07:51

Just before I went to bed last night, the receptionist announced that there had been an infestation of bedbugs, so my room had recently been “de-bugged”. Luckily, It appears that I was not bitten in the night! Also, a sleep report: I did sleep incredibly well, even though I ended up with three roommates. Now I’m sitting in bed, getting ready to have a shower. I hope this place still has hot water left!

Earlier, I was looking at pictures on Instagram, and I spaced the fact that yesterday was National Pie Day! I guess it’s ok since I don’t know where I can buy a pie in Stirling yet. I have seen meat pies here but don’t know this area. If I see one when I’m out and about, I probably need to buy it.

08:56

Breakfast was right around the corner. I forget the name of the pub, but I ordered eggs with smoked salmon. It was so delicious! I’m not sure what they seasoned the eggs with, but there was some creme in them.

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I just tried to get into the Old Town Jail, but there was a sign on the front to let me know that it wouldn’t be open again until June. This is a classic example of “off-season traveler prejudice.” Yes- that’s a real thing, and it’s way too familiar! It’s my entire platform when I run for POTUS against Kanye. I’ve chosen the slogan, “Make America Sexy Again!”

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21:08

I continued up the street, looking for Stirling Castle, and I came across an ancient and very medieval-looking church. I wished it was open to going see inside, but nobody was there on a Tuesday morning. Next to the church was, of course, a cemetery. This piqued my interest as they tend to do. I spend the next 30 minutes or so walking around reading the names.

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Next, I climbed the hill to visit Stirling Castle. I lucked out by getting there just as a free tour was starting. The tour lasted just under an hour, and it was so cool to hear all the stories that the tour guide shared. I wish I could go back in time, as a shadow, unseen, to witness these people and events first-hand! I don’t want to be visible, though- I’m sure I’d get myself killed.

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After walking for quite a while, I made my way back to the hostel and tried to take a nap. If I did fall asleep, I don’t remember, and it wasn’t very long. I think I had too much on my mind to relax. For dinner, I found an Italian restaurant called Mama Mia. It was excellent food! I got there just after 17:00 when they first opened the doors, so I was the first one there. The gentleman showed me up a flight of stairs to the dining room, and I had the entire place to myself. It was kind of nice.

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As you can see, today was a great day- I probably put in a few miles of walking. I look forward to getting a great night’s rest tonight, and even though I have to leave Stirling tomorrow, at least I’m off to my next stop tomorrow.

Scotland 5: Day 14

03.14.16 | Stirling, Scotland | 20:21

As I was leaving the Glasgow hostel this morning, I noticed it was remarkably sunny outside. I cold tell that it was going to be a perfect day. When my train arrived in Stirling, it was still just as sunny. Not a cloud in the sky. Today was indeed perfect!

The hostel is only about a five-minute walk from the train station and seems to be smack in the middle of this small city. My room is pretty small but they somehow managed to fit three bunk beds in it. So far I’ve met two roommates, one is an older gentleman who is from Dumfries in the south of Scotland. He is here to attend a lecture at Stirling University tomorrow morning. The other one is a man who is originally from Ukraine but has since moved to Greece. I don’t know what industry he works in, but that is how he has ended up in Stirling for the time. Both roommates seem to be really nice.

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After getting settled in, I needed to walk and see The National Wallace Monument. This is something I’ve wanted to see for so many years! By the time I got there, I was regretting wearing a coat and scarf. Scotland is funny, especially this time of year. Always be prepared for at least three different seasons.

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A very old bridge. This isn’t the original bridge in Stirling (where a famous battle involving William Wallace was fought). That bridge was wooden, and located about 25 meters upstream.

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The National Wallace Monument

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Looking Up From The Base

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The stairway leading up to the top is very narrow!

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This is the actual sword of William Wallace!

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I have always loved stained-glass windows!

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The beautiful view from the top of the tower. The dark spot you can see is Stirling Castle.

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After walking back to the hostel, I needed to rest for a few minutes. That hike was a hefty one, thanks to all the steps in the monument. I think there are just under 300 steps!

I have the surname ‘Wallace’ in my ancestry. They came from Scotland. Though there’s no record of William Wallace ever having children, I like to think that there’s a connection. What with my valiant and brave spirit and all.

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