We have wheels! We picked up our rental car on our last morning in Edinburgh and with a deep breath, I (the designated driver) turned the key and off we went – chanting stay on the left, stay on the left… It would have cost twice as much for the rental car to have both of us listed as drivers, so for $400 we decided that one would drive and the other would navigate. We flipped a coin and I got to drive…poor Marty.
Renting a car in Edinburgh might have been a little daring, because getting out of the city was …interesting! Roundabouts, people everywhere, buses, taxis, did I mention roundabouts? Anyway, we got out of the city without any major trauma and finally found a two lane road where we could begin to relax. Our plan is to stay on the small roads and avoid anything resembling a highway, for two reasons – obviously there is the driving aspect, but mostly it’s so that we can find out-of-the-way treasures hidden a long the away.
Our first stop after leaving Edinburgh was at Melrose Abbey. It’s a gorgeous ruin on a gigantic scale that dates back to 1136 when it was founded by David I. There are nooks and crannies everywhere, the history is mind-boggling to follow, the grounds are incredible, AND you can climb to the roof for a view of the river Tweed and the surrounding hills that takes your breath away! Carved stone figures are everywhere, and though the abbey was attacked many times, a few of the statues remain, albeit defaced. It’s easy to imagine the sound of Cistercian Monks as they chanted their prayers and shuffled silently along the chilly stone passageways.
After exploring the Abbey, we then walked all over the town of Melrose. It’s a tidy little town with many cute shops and side streets and I think we covered them all. Add in a stop in the neighborhood pub for a pint, and it was time for bed!
The second day of driving bliss started with our departure from Melrose (stay on the left, stay on the left) and a trip to the Traquair House. What a treat. “Dating back to 1107, Traquair was originally a hunting lodge for the kings and queens of Scotland. Later a refuge for Catholic priests in times of terror the Stuarts of Traquair supported Mary Queen of Scots and the Jacobite cause without counting the cost.”
It’s the oldest inhabited house in Scotland and is still the home of the Stuart family. Traveling around visiting castles and ruins we’re obviously seeing and hearing lots of history, but this place felt so different; intimate in a way and very real. We felt like we’d stepped back in time. Due to the circumstances of its individual history, it avoided being sacked during the religious wars, and by living a quiet rather secret life, the generations were able to maintain the home for 100’s of years. They had priests living in the house on the top floor furthest from the entrance, and the room had a priest’s hole – a secret stairway hidden in the wall where the priest could make his escape down four flights and out an exterior door into the woods. The walls of the home had the original paintings from 1100 and there were some beams that had been exposed during a renovation that showed the bright detailed painting from those first residents. The floors squeaked in true form and the windows were so old there were rivers running through the glass. It’s said too that the first resident used to fish from the windows of the house when the river was high!
We visited their brewery (of course!) and found that the old beer recipes are definitely the best. The Laird of the house in the 1960’s found the old brewing room when doing some renovations, and decided to try putting it back into use. They use the original recipes and put out quite a large amount now, with exports to Russia and the States. We sampled their three main brews and liked them better than any other beers we’ve tried.
Traquair House was a definitely one of those wonderful surprises!
Our next stop was at the Linlithgow Palace. A sidenote to our visit at the Palace was that when we arrived a wedding party was going on, with the bride and her attendants getting their photos taken. The bride was lovely in a formal gown, and the men were all in their kilts and jackets, looking very Scottish and yes, quite lovely too! 🙂
The Palace is actually another ruin that sits at the side of a loch (lake). The intermittent rain showers and the moments of blue sky and sun made for some fun exploring. We climbed up and down the round towers with their stone spiral stairs, down into the lower kitchens and brewery, and up into the towers for an awesome view. All of these old places had brewerys since of course the water might not have been safe to drink. There is a huge fountain in the center of the interior courtyard, a beautiful three-tiered ‘wedding-cake’ structure. Lots of history that I won’t bore you with, especially since it’s all a jumble in my mind, but there were many kings and queens here, and each added to the house to make it a more palatable palace.
After Linlithgow Palace we headed off to find our next treasure, the Falkirk Wheel. When we rented the car we went the cheap rate and didn’t rent the GPS or the automatic, and this next part of our drive placed both of those decisions into the hmmmm category! We have maps, but there are a gazillion teeny roads and even more roundabouts to throw you off course. We’ve found that going around twice on a roundabout is sometimes the best solution..ha! At any rate, after a few wrong turns we finally found ourselves at the Falkirk Wheel.
Going from ancient ruins to 21st century engineering is a jolt! The wheel is beautiful and from what we read, it’s been very controversial as well. It replaces 11 of the little locks along the canals, and simply rotates with the boats in their floating bathtubs to lower or raise them to the next level. It’s ingenious! It reportedly uses very little power and is very quiet and quick. Very impressive.
We’ll tour Stirling tomorrow and no doubt find lots of other treasures along the way. We are LOVING Scotland and it’s a relief to be out of the city and into the countryside. Stopping in little towns and walking around is so fun. More to come!