We’re sleeping in a jail tonight! But that’s another story to be told later, so you’ll just have to wait.
Today we spent nearly the entire day at Stirling Castle and it’s definitely on the top of our list of favorite castles. We stayed in the town of Stirling last night in a cute little B&B that had a perfect view of the William Wallace memorial. We didn’t drive up the hill to see the memorial, but we did learn more about the hill it stands on from our funny and informative tour guide, Sandy, while at the castle.
So, let me start at the beginning…see that arched bridge in the above right hand photo? That’s the bridge that caused all the trouble around Stirling Castle. That bridge was the only link between the north (Scottish) and the south (English) in medieval times because the river was spread out much more than it is now, and because much of the valley was full of bogs and marshes making it nearly impassable. So the saying goes that whoever holds the castle holds the bridge and whoever holds the bridge holds the keys to Scotland. That’s how important that little piece of real estate was!
There is a ton of history about Stirling Castle and all the battles that were fought here, and I won’t try to pretend that I understand it all. I did grasp though the story of the battle for Scottish Independence called…The Battle of Stirling Bridge. A brief synopsis from the web…”The Battle of Stirling Bridge was a battle of the First War of Scottish Independence. On 11 September 1297, the forces of Andrew de Moray and William Wallace defeated the combined English forces of John de Warenne, 6th Earl of Surrey, and Hugh de Cressingham near Stirling, on the River Forth.” In the process Andrew de Moray was injured and died soon thereafter leaving William Wallace as the Guardian of Scotland, thus the memorial on the hill. That hill in the photo was also an integral part in the strategy used by William Wallace to defeat the English army.
It’s so funny to hear the Scottish historians talk about Mel Gibson in the movie Braveheart. As it turns out the movie doesn’t tell the true story at all and has so many historical errors that the Scots really hate it. They do call Mel Gibson the hero of Scotland though, since for the years before the movie came out Stirling Castle had about 100,000 visitors a year. The year after the movie that jumped to more than 300,000 visitors and has remained in those numbers ever since!
“During a long and bloody history Stirling Castle has been attacked or besieged at least 16 times. Three battles have been fought in its immediate vicinity, two of which were turning points in Scottish history: and a fourth equally important battle took place just a few miles to the north. A number of Scottish Kings and Queens have been baptised, or crowned, or died in or near Stirling Castle. At least one King was murdered nearby: while another committed murder within its walls.”
The palace underwent a huge restoration and now looks as it would have in the 1500’s when it was recently decorated. The work that went into the restoration is really amazing and incredibly detailed. They used the same Russian oak that would have been in the original palace, the carvings, wall frescoes and furnishings have all been researched and recreated to match the originals. It was fantastic to see the vibrant colors in the huge tapestries that had been intricately hand-woven based on designs pulled off the original tapestries. We were even able to see the work going on for the final section and speak to one of the weavers. When I mentioned that I was a weaver she perked up and came over to us to chat for a while, what a treat! The weavers spend an entire day on a section about 4 or 5 inches square, it’s that detailed.
Another part that stood out were the ceiling panels, or the Stirling Heads as they’re called. These are the carved and painted wooden panels in the ceiling of the King’s Inner Hall. They are absolutely magnificent. We learned that the bright colors as well as the scenes in the panels themselves were all done to show a visitor the wealth and power of the king. In that era, color was very expensive and the colors used on the panels were made from paint created from things like Afghanistan Lapis Lazuli for the bright blues, South American bugs for reds, etc, etc. This also showed how far-ranging the Scottish were going to seek out knowledge and trade. It’s all very involved and very interesting!
The ceiling in the Great Hall is the original from when it was built and is made of huge oak beams that all fit together using only wooden pegs. The structure is incredibly strong and also incredibly heavy, and it is designed to support itself resting only on small stone outcroppings set into the wall.
We really enjoyed the Stirling Castle, and it was made even better by the great guides they have working there. We went on a tour with Sandy, a true Scotsman, who fed us history with a spoon and a great sense of humor so that we could grasp it, and we also met up with other guides in period dress throughout the rooms. Sometimes exhibits like that can be pretty hokey, but these people weren’t trying to be someone in the past, they were just full of a wealth of knowledge about their subject and enjoyed sharing it! I even asked about the strange appendage on the men’s costumes which turned out to be authentic right down to the stuffed codpiece attached to their leggings! I got a funny explanation that had the whole crowd laughing.
After touring the castle all morning….or as we discovered later…most of the day, we headed down into the old town of Stirling. Toured the Argyll House, and saw how noblemen would have lived in the day, then stopped at Nicky Tams Bar and Bothy for a pint and a nosh. The perfect sit down after hours of wandering.
After our victuals we headed back up and I do mean UP the hill to the castle, stopping along the way to walk through the The Church of the Holy Rude. I finally found an explanation for the term “rude or rood” as it’s used here; “Holy Rude” or Holyrood as in Edinburgh, means “Holy Cross” and refers to the crucifixion.
The church was founded in 1129, burned down in 1404, and rebuilt in 1414. The church as it stands now has the same oak timbered roof that was put on in 1414 and it’s magnificent. It’s the same style as the one pictured above in the great hall of the castle and is held together with wooden pegs. The oak is said to have been grown in Russia or the Ukraine where the weather is colder so that the oak is stronger. They would plant the oak trees in lines between faster growing trees so that the oaks had to stretch straight up to find the sun. This made for beautiful straight grain trees. Amazing.
I’m sure I’m boring you to tears with all this detail, but I’m writing this for me too, so that I won’t forget all the fun facts and details. These places are so beautiful and so full of history. The smoothed stone steps never cease to grab me, thinking of all the people who made history with their blood sweat and tears who walked the same paths and looked out over the same valley.
Our final stop last night was arriving in the tiny village of Aberfoyle. It’s a one street town and it’s adorable. We are staying in the best B&B we’ve chosen so far, and happily we’ll be here two nights. The house we’re in used to be the police station, and our room housed the jail. The walls are thick and the door is small, and it’s perfect! We can’t help but have memories of our days as Innkeepers and it’s been funny to make comparisons along the way.
We walked into town and stopped at a couple of pubs, listened to our first Gaelic speakers, heard the f-bomb dropped very loudly by the waitress when a glass was broken, causing us to laugh out loud with her. Then chatted with various people from town – so fun! We went to The Forth Inn for a small bite and had a dram of whiskey for desert. This one did give me the Scotch face though..phew..too potent for me!
Well, time to hit the road again – we’re heading to Loch Katrine today to go for a boat ride in the Trossachs…it’s a sunny day and should be another great day of vacation from vacation!