The Opulent Colorful Spaces: A Scottish Holiday, Day 6

Today we said, “See ye efter!” to Edinburgh and started to make our way north towards a small town called Crief. Along the way, we stopped by a town called Stirling to see Stirling Castle.

What struck us about Stirling Castle, much like Edinburgh Castle, is how high Castle Hill, the crag that the castle is built upon, towers over the town of Stirling. And also much like Edinburgh castle, Stirling Castle itself then towers even higher above that. It’s truly and impressive sight.

Most of the castle dates from the 15th and 16th centuries from during the reigns of the Stewart kings (James IV, V, and VI), with some parts dating from the 14th and 18th centuries. But, the history of the castle dates back even further back to 1110, when Alexander I dedicated a chapel on this site. Alexander, incidentally, died on this site in 1124.

Throughout the ages, not only was Stirling Castle an important Scottish fortress (it was besieged eight times, many of those times during the Wars of Scottish Independence), but it was also used as a palace as well with, most notably, Mary Queen of Scots being crowned here and, also notably, James VI being baptized here.

Considering how often Britons fought over this castle, it’s quite remarkable that it’s in as good a shape that it actually is in. Of course, the Castle Hill, with its cliffs of sheer drops, provides an excellent natural defense and no doubt helped to prevent enemies from causing much damage. The castle itself consists of the Great Hall, the Great Kitchens, the Chapel Royal, the Royal Palace, and the Queen Anne Garden. There is also an amazing wall walk that allows you to see spectacular panoramic views of the Scottish countryside. I definitely recommend you do the wall walk.

The most interesting part of the whole castle is the Royal Palace, and if you have time to see only one thing while at the castle then do make sure to step inside here where you can view the apartments for the king and queen. In 2011 and at £12 million, renovations of the interior of the palace were competed. These renovations restored the palace to its original, colorful, 16th century opulence. This includes seven, giant, handwoven tapestries that now hang on the walls of the queen’s apartments. They depict the Hunt of the Unicorn, and they are so detailed, so expertly woven, and so impressively huge that it boggles the mind the hours and hours of work that was needed to create them. The palace also houses the Stirling Heads. Each head is a giant, oak medallion a meter in diameter carved with images of kings, queens, other royalty, and characters from biblical and classical mythology. They managed to recreate 37 of them, and they now adorn the ceiling of the king’s Inner Hall. It’s really, truly remarkable!

There is also a short video you can watch in a small exhibit that also presents visitors with some of the original Stirling Heads. The video provides an overview of how vibrantly flashy the outside of the palace also was, its various statues colored just as brightly as the Stirling Heads and Hunt of the Unicorn tapestries inside. Today, naturally, the whole palace is an old, faded relic that lacks any hint of color, but the short documentary helped me to appreciate and envision what these old buildings may have once looked like.

Other highlights…

The Great Kitchen has a cute, little setup with lifelike manikins and prop foods that help to recreate what the kitchen might’ve looked like when it was busy with activity as people prepared for feasts. The Queen Anne Garden is, as ever, expertly groomed with alyssums, begonias, marigolds, and other flowers while the lawn is pristinely trimmed. The Chapel Royal is a large, open space, minimally decorated, but nevertheless an impressive space.

Following Stirling Castle, we made our way to a small town called Crief where our lodgings for the night are. We had some standard pub fare at the nearby Meadow Inn. After dinner, we attempted to book our lodgings in Inverness, but it proved quite difficult to find any affordable housing (peak travel season and the weekend, you see). So, we decided to adjust our itinerary (which was very loose anyway) to include Aberdeen instead of Inverness.

Tomorrow we shall first head out to the Croft Moraig Stone Circle and then enjoy a scenic drive through Cairngorms National Park.

Stray Observations:

1. I neglected to mention yesterday that we stopped by a cute little shop on the Royal Mile called Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe, and it was a delightful little shop where I purchased some lovely new Christmas ornaments.

2. For our route from Edinburgh to Stirling, we decided to drive on the A985 rather than the more direct M9. If you want to enjoy a more leisurely, scene drive compete with old stone walls, idyllic villages, and fields of sheep, then steer clear of the larger motorways and find routes that begin with an A or, better still, a B.

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