With a very affordable ticket from Euston to Glasgow, we set off on our 5.5 hour train ride up through the west side of England, through Cumbria and into Scotland. The last long train ride we took was the sleeper from Toulouse to Paris, and I must admit, that whilst I didn’t sleep terribly well on the night train, I did not suffer the travel sickness I felt on the bouncy Virgin train. Both of us looked a little pasty at one point. That aside, it was a smooth journey with increasingly dramatic landscape to look at.
Arriving in Glasgow Central train station, we had a short 5-minute walk to Glasgow Queen Street. Up a pedestrianized street with cafes, friendly and helpful police (do we really look like lost tourists?) and some young street performers who look like the fell off the back of the truck from ‘O brother where are thou?’ Another 30 minutes on another train and we arrived in Linlithgow.
The name, Linlithgow, is derived from the Old British lynn llaith cau meaning “lake in the damp hollow”. There is a lake, next to the palace (birth place of both James V and Mary Queen of Scots) and the grounds were having a festival of sorts. Folk etymology ties the name back to the Gaelic liath gu – “grey dog”, and the burgh arms sport a black bitch. St. Michael is their patron saint, with the motto: kinde to straingers… not something that appeared to have been embraced by the locals we met on our passage. Any way, I digress. We took a cab to our final destination of Bo’Ness.
Borrowstounness is a coastal parish. Sitting on a steep hillside, it has lovely views across the Firth of Fourth to the northern hills. This name is derived from the Old English Beorn ‘warrior/man’ or ‘bear’ + weard, ‘warden, guardian, keeper’ + stun ‘town’ that later morphed to Borrowstoun, and now, contracted to Bo’ness.
The Antonine Wall, representing the northernmost frontier barrier of the Roman Empire, starts at Bo’ness and stretches between the Firth of Forth and the Kirth of Clyde to Old Kilpatrick on the west coast of Scotland. But what 7 year old cares about that?! There’s the oldest surviving purpose-built cinema in Scotland, the hippodrome. Opened in 1912, this is the oldest surviving cinema, now showing Captain Underpants, but more importantly, we have the Bo’ness and Kinneil heritage Railway Museum.
Operated by the Scottish Railway Preservation Society, the Bo’ness and Kinneil Railway Museum operates a total of over 5 miles of track. Round trip was about 1-hour with a couple of stops that you can get off at if you want to roam around. It has largest railway museum in Scotland with three large buildings containing lots of locomotives and carriages that you can wander around and in to, including a Royal Mail sorting carriage.
The museum is also home to the No. 1 Lord Roberts (Neilson Reid 0-6-0T) – better known as Thomas the Tank Engine. This engine was built in 1899 in Glasgow and was withdrawn from service in 1968. After being donated to the SRPS, its restoration was completed in 1996 when it became a fully licensed Thomas replica for events. With a museum admission price of a fiver for adults, and free for kids under 16 (with an adult), this was a perfect option for my little man. The train ride was a bit more.
The Explorer Pass. But how can you come to Scotland and not go and see the Castles?! And what a lot of Castles to see… in various states of ruin and grandeur. The Explorer Pass provides access to over 70 locations (entry to Stirling and Edinburgh castles alone exceed the cost of the explorer). Valid for three days (over a five day period), there’s a decent amount of flexibility to get around.
Stirling Castle – One of the largest and most important castles in Scotland, the first record dates from around 1110 when Alexander I established the chapel and royal center here.
Placed at the top of Castle Hill, three sides of the castle are surrounded by steep cliffs. There are still a few structures from the fourteenth century, but the outer defences fronting the town date from the early eighteenth century Before the union with England, Stirling Castle was one of the most used of the Scottish royal residences, being a palace as well as a fortress. Mary Queen of Scots was crowned here in 1542.
Most of the buildings that we walked around were constructed between 1490 and 1600 when the Stewart kings, James’s IV, V and VI, developed Stirling as a principal royal centre. The Stewart Dynasty, eager to flaunt their international style, prowess and ambitions, used an eclectic mix of English, French and German architectural influences. Mary of Guise, married to James V, also brought her tailor from France to ensure she would be appropriately and fashionably dressed.
On the palace façade, there is a strategically positioned sculpture of James V looking towards his carefully selected other statues, Ganynede – cup bearer to the gods, Venus, Saturn, and Abundance! All representative of the greatness he would bring to his rule.
On the South Wall, more sculptures include one that is thought to represent Sir James Hamilton of Finnart, obviously a very busy man given his role in the architecture, design and reinforcements of several other castles we saw.
Above the Royal Palace rooms is a gallery dedicated to the original oak Stirling Heads – these impressive metre-wide 16th-century oak medallions were hand-carved with images of kings, queens, nobles, Roman emperors and characters from the Bible and Classical mythology. The faces are quite extraordinary as they distort on the far side of the flat. The medallions have been replicated to re-decorate the ceiling of the King’s Inner Hall.
Several actors in historic dress were roaming around, discussing life in the time of the Stewarts, and there was also an interactive area for kids, including a dress up area. In the great hall, there is the opportunity to sit at the head of the table, and from the Gardens, you can look over to the William Wallace monument.
Doune Castle – Originally built in the thirteenth century, this castle was damaged in the Scottish Wars of independence before being rebuilt in its present form in the late 14th century by Robert Steward, Duke of Albany, (c.1340–1420), son of King Robert II. The castle was passed to the crown in 1425 and was used as a royal hunting lodge and dower house. By 1800 the castle was ruined (after the Jacobite Risings of the late 17th century and 18th century).
Mary Queen of Scots (reigned 1542–1567) stayed at Doune on several occasions, occupying the suite of rooms above the kitchen up a very narrow spiral staircase. There were two small rooms off the back of the main living area that looked like possible bathrooms. Very drafty, there was a large fireplace and you could imagine heat being generated by the huge Kitchen chimney. The lords quarters on the other wing were slightly grander, but also included the “lords hall” where he would pass judgment on the villagers with a possible sentence that would impose the literal fall from grace, down through a trap door into the cell.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail was filmed around Doune Castle, and more recently, the stand-in for the fictional “Castle Leoch” in Outlander.
But the highlight of the day was a trip to Inchmahome Priory.
Located on the island of Inchmahome in the centre of Lake of Menteith, you have to take a lovely little boat trip – with a maximum of 11 other explorers- to get to the Priory.
The priory was founded by the Earl of Menteith, Walter Comyn in 1238 for a small community of the Augustinian order. Apparently fifteen monks would have lived here – eating, praying, sleeping – together at any given time. Sworn to a vow of silence, the only place they could talk was in the “parlor”.
After splitting with Rome and in order to strengthen alliances, Henry VIII proposed the marriage between his son Edward and Mary (queen of Scots). “We liked not the manner of the wooing, and we could not stoop to being bullied into love” commented George Gordon, 4th Earl of Huntly.
Frustrated and with Scotland’s decline of marriage, England decided to attack Scotland in the war named The Rough Wooing. In 1547, following the defeat of the Scots army at the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh – Mary Queen of Scots, at the tender age of four, was hidden at Inchmahome for several few weeks.
It was a beautiful peaceful place with an eerie sense of ghosts and spirits hovering around. Very special.
Blackness Castle – The ship that never sails… I really liked this castle (referred to as a ship because of its footprint). The garrison fortress dates back to 1440s as home for Sir George Crichton. It also served as and a state prison. I think the prison quarters for one prisoner (eg: Cardinal Beaton) were larger that all my apartments put together! Its dramatic location on the southern shore of the Firth of Forth provided great views and the buildings were full of rooms, passages and stairways to explore.
In 1534-1540, Sir James Hamilton of Finnart – second cousin to James V and expert in artillery fortification, oversaw a program of fortification that included a Caponier … (apparently derived from the French word, capon coop ie: hen house but I cant find this reference in the French dictionary) which is a passage within the external wall of the entrance, allowing the defenders to fire at the backs of any attackers in the entrance area who had breached the gate. There are only three surviving Caponiers in Scotland, Stirling & Craignethan having the others. Who knew. And we have seen them all!
Linlithgow Palace – A royal manor existed on the site in the 12th century, but then this was replaced by a fortification known as ‘the Peel’, built in the 14th century by occupying English forces under Edward I. The location made it an ideal military base for securing the supply routes between Stirling and Edinburgh Castle.
The palace was built in 1424 by James I of Scotland and is apparently considered Scotland’s finest surviving late medieval secular building. It was one of the principal residences of Scottish monarchs in the 15th and 16th centuries. The stonework of the South façade was renewed and unified for James V in the 1530s by the then keeper, James Hamilton of Finnart (the fore mentioned Mr. Artillery/fortification designer.)
Mary Queen of Scots was born here in December 1542 and occasionally stayed there during her reign. Alas, it was burnt out by the English army under the command of the Duke of Cumberland in 1746. Whilst unroofed, it is still largely complete in terms of its apartments. There was a lovely fountain in the court yard, and there were certainly corridors and halls to roam around. We didn’t stay long here, but we certainly got a sense of the former splendor of the palace.
Bothwell Castle resides on the lands that Kind David I of Scotland granted to David Olifard (or Olifant), Justiciar of Lothian, along with the barony of Bothwell, in the mid 12th century. The land then passed to his descendents and by 1252 the barony became the property of Walter de Moravia, or Walter of Moray (morphing into Clan Murray… yes, ancestors of Sir Andy Murray) who had married the last Olifard baron’s heir.
The castle was built in the late 1200s to guard the strategic crossing point of the river Clyde, and frequently passed back and forth between English and Scottish hands. As such, it was slighted by the Scots in 1314, then again in 1337, after another back and forth and regaining control from the English.
It is pretty much a shell, with the remains of the preliminary building, the large round donjon (not to be confused with the dungeons that we were in fact looking for) to the west (completed in 1296), and the Great Hall that was added later, to the east. The courtyard is enclosed by long “curtain walls” with round towers at the corners.
Craignethan Castle was built around 1530, and is recognized as an early example of a sophisticated artillery fortification. It was designed by our previously mentioned Sir James Hamilton of Finnart, the Kings “Master of Work” (designer of Blackness Castle increased defenses, as well as the renaissance facades of Linlithgow Palace). He had apparently set out to build a showcase at Craignethan to display his talents in both domestic and military architecture
It is built on a beautiful site above a bend in the River Nethan with steep slopes on three sides. But then we actually parked above the castle and walked down to the entrance (I wouldn’t have thought the high ground a strategic military position of strength?!). There is a low central keep, within a rectangular walled courtyard, and several tunnels and rooms to peruse in the old residential tower, but it is a shell of a castle.
The former entrance leads into a large lobby on the first floor, then to the hall and a turnpike stair by the guardroom. The kitchen is also on the first floor, with a serving hatch and the basement is vaulted and contained cellars.
Apparently Mary, Queen of Scots may have spent the night here before the Battle of Langside in 1568. The Hamiltons formed a main part of her army, but they were defeated by the Regent Moray (co-insidently Mary’s half brother fighting on behalf of Mary’s son, James VI??!!) and Mary fled to England. The castle was then slighted, and much of the defenses demolished. 100 years later, the castle was sold to the Hays (1665), who built a house in the outer courtyard.
Inchcolm Abbey and Island – Alas, we did not make it to Inchcolm Abbey and Island. I had got my navigation wrong, and not paid attention to the fact that we needed to access the ferry from South Queensferry. Nor had I anticipated the extra cost for the ferry (£35 for 2 adults and 1 child), nor had I allowed appropriate time for the excursion – you need at least 3 hours.
Edinburgh Castle – “Mighty Fortress and defender of the nation”…
Very impressive, but packed with tourists bustling through. We opted for a quick walk around the ramparts where we touched Mons Meg, the huge cannon. Cutting edge of military technology in 1400s, she was capable of blasting a 150kg gunstone for 3.2km (two miles). She retired around 1550, but fired a gunstone to Wardie Muir in 1558 to celebrate the marriage of Mary Queen of Scots. Then she burst her barrel in 1681.
We went to look at the crown jewels. Mary’s coronation crown was next to the infamous Stone of Destiny, the powerful and ancient symbol of Scottish monarchy. In 1296 Edward I of England took the mystical stone – the pillow of Patriarch Jacob when he dreamed of Jacob’s Ladder – from Scone, near Perth, then had it built into his own throne. Since then it has been used in the coronation ceremonies for the monarchs of England and Great Britain.
St Margaret’s Chapel was lovely. Built around 1130 by David I, he dedicated this chapel to his mother Queen Margaret (later to be sainted). The decorated chancel arch is original, while other features, such as the stained glass windows, are more recent.
Moving on to something totally different… Dynamic Earth
Dynamic Earth is definitely a good place for an inquisitive mind and budding paleontologist!
Going back time to the big bang, we saw stars explode on the other side of the galaxy before encountering the primeval forces of nature that shaped our planet…erupting volcanoes, the ice age, tropical rainforests… Who knew Scotland was so instrumental in the geological discoveries that challenged the idea that the earth was 4004 years old. With an introduction from the Father of Modern Geology, James Hutton, we learned how he evolved his theories on the earth’s formation “through the gradual solidification of a molten mass at a slow rate.” He concluded that the Earth was immeasurably old and could not possibly be explained within the limits of the chronology inferred from the Bible….maybe not the best way to make friends back in the day!
Whilst there are rooms without a set time limit, there is quite a regimented passing through of the experience, with films and narrations moving you along, so the whole experience was less than two hours, but we were allowed to go around again.
Parking was easy (under the space) and also had a discount for Dynamic Earth visitors. Fairly central, we left the car there and walked in to Edinburgh old town and ended up at the Scottish National Museum.
Scottish National Museum – EXCELLENT! What a great museum. Interactive, vast, multiple topics, free (donations accepted!) and just such a beautiful building to have a cup of tea in! Light, bright, beautifully presented artifacts. A match for the London Natural History Museum and the Paris Grande Galerie de l’evolution! We loved it here.