It has been estimated that there were once 3000 castles around Scotland! Today many are left in ruins however some have been under careful preservation and are open to the public. Prior to our road trip we made sure we visited some of the Scotland’s more famous castles including Stirling and Edinburgh, spending the day at each. We spent 4 days driving around Scotland through the mountains and along the seaside stopping at as many castles and ruins that time would allow. We went to St. Andrew’s Castle, St. Andrews Cathedral Ruins, Eilean Donan Castle, Elgin Cathedral Ruins, Urquhart Castle and Stalker Castle.
Stalker Castle was our first stop after spending the lunch hour in Oban, a town built around a distillery in 1794. Oban is a beautiful town right on the water and is knows as the gateway to the Isles, a recommended place to visit from my grandparents. The castle is located 25 miles from the town and is most well known for the murders that had taken place there. I don’t know why anyone wanted to own it to be honest. Most of the time it was the owner who was the one being murdered ever since it was built in the 1440s. It stands out as it sits on a rocky islet know as the Rock of the Cormorants. The Gaelic name for the castle sounds less creepy, Stalcaire meaning falconer or hunter.
On our way to Isle of Skye, we stopped at Eilean Donan Castle, Scotlands most photographed and romantic castle set as the featured image above. It is located where three loch’s meet; Loch Long, Loch Duich and Loch Alsh. There’s simply one word to describe the scenery of Scotland, the backdrop to these castles, and that is majestic. After staying overnight in Isle of Skye we drove to Urquhart Castle in search of the Loch Ness Monster. The castle was built in 1230 and destroyed in 1692. Today only ruins remain and you can still climb the five-storey tower.
Finally we made our way across to Elgin and St. Andrews where we saw the most amazing cathedral ruins. St. Andrews Cathedral is medieval Scotland’s largest church built in the 12th century. It’s amazing how in it’s ruined state it still stands as a prominent landmark of St. Andrews. The castle here was the official residence of Scotland’s leading bishop.
This year’s annual Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo was in celebration of Scotland’s natural beauty as visitors from all over the world gather around Edinburgh Castle to see a performance unlike any other. Awe-inspiring Massed Pipes and Drums, Massed Military Bands, display teams and dancers from every corner of the globe unite as one for an international performance spectators will never forget.The music reflects the past, reminding us all that the freedom and glory we have today came with suffering and loss from our ancestors. These pipers and drummers are soldiers first and musicians second. Lest we forget.
The Edinburgh Castle’s haunting historical backdrop surrounded by flaring torches sets the tone for the evening, changing with each performance. Projected images and shadow plays were used to enhance displays for each season used in this year’s theme. The lighting throughout the night was impressive as each step marched by the soldiers and danced by the dancers is perfectly timed out, adding another dimension to the show. Imps Motorcycle Display Team took you to the edge of your seat as their stunt team drove backwards on their bikes and created pyramids. They were all under the age of 16 with the youngest performer aged 6. One of the life-sized horses used in War Horse also made an appearance throughout the evening.
As the evening comes to a close all performers take their places and a single spotlight shines upon the Lone Piper. Fireworks conclude the evening as the crowd sings ‘Auld Lan Syne’, holding the hands of the person next to them. All bands exit playing Scotland the Brave as the crowd claps along. If you are visiting Scotland during August I hope you have the chance to experience this incredible event.
My Grandma and Grandpa have always talked about the pantomime (panto) shows in Scotland. They remember the interaction with the crowd, how one of the female leads is always a man or one of the male leads a woman and most of all how the shows give you a true sense of Scottish humour. David and I went to a local panto in Rutherglen Town Hall featuring Real Radio’s host Steve McKenna as the Jester in Sleeping Beauty. Luckily for us we had my cousin Susan and aunt Etta with us explaining most of the ‘inside jokes’ about some of the local towns. I’ve never seen a show like this before where every single kid was booing the wicked witch, laughing and helping out Chester the Jester and remaining engaged throughout the show. Check out the video below to see some of this interactivity from the crowd. If you’re near Glasgow and want to go you can get your tickets here.
Of course we had to have our snacks for the show. We picked up some sweets from Mr Simms Olde Sweet Shoppe in Stirling earlier on in the day. This traditional candy shop had so many different items to choose from but we stuck with some Scottish classics recommended by Susan. This included: Soor Plooms, Aniseed Balls (do not recommend, tastes like licorice), Toffee Bonbons, Ediburgh Rock and Highland Toffee. David also found some Reese’s pieces here as well.
Later in the night David had his first taste of Irn-Bru. He had it straight from the glass bottle as legend has it it tastes even better this way. Another local treat we had was going to Tunnocks Bakery where we were staying in Uddingston. The shop is on the main street and just behind it is the factory. The factory has been family owned since 1890! The original specialties include caramel wafers, snowballs, caramel logs and teacakes. We stocked up a bit while we were here however I don’t know how long they will last. At least they are available to our family back in Canada after first being exported from Uddingston to Newfoundland, Canada, in 1957.
If you have ever wondered why bedrooms in castles are not necessarily finished I’m here to tell you it is because when royalty traveled they would take every piece of furniture with them, even the tapestries! The Edinburgh Castle is located on an old volcanic rock towering over the city, as you can see from the photo above. While inside the castle it feels as if you have stepped into a village way back when, with traditionally dressed impersonators walking about.
We first went to the great hall in the castle for some Christmas carols, and they echoed throughout the square in the castle. Scotland’s crowned jewels are kept at Edinburgh castle and were once buried after a Treaty of Union between Scotland and England. They were found 111 years later! It’s a ‘proud to be Canadian’ moment when reading the story, and how the plans of where the Honours of Scotland (another name for the crowned jewels) had been hidden. The plans were only shared with four people and one of them was the Governor General of Canada. They are now located in the clock tower, pictured right. The oldest building in the castle is Saint Margaret’s Chapel from the 12th century. It’s amazing how small the doors are considering their dresses were so big. Also in the castle is a Prisoners of War exhibit, Scottish National War Memorial (where one of my relative’s name is displayed) and National War and Regiment museums.
Over in Glasgow, the Glasgow Cathedral is the only medieval church in Scotland to have survived. The building in the photo to the left was built in 1197, has been worshiping God for more than 800 years and is still an active church. The building has never been unroofed, they knew how to build to last! The cathedral is in front of the Glasgow Necropolis, a 37 acre cemetery garden from Victorian times.
Scotland is full of history, and today we experienced part of it. We started the day with a trip to Bothwell Castle, Scotland’s largest 13th century castle. The origins of the castle are from Walter of Moray, who acquired Bothwell in 1242. The castle was built as a display of feudal pride and is considered the grandest piece of secular architecture from the middle ages. This castle is a few minutes down the road from relatives who lives in Uddingston.
From there we went to check out Stirling Castle, the symbol of Scottish independence and pride. The castle changed ownership eight times between 1296 and 1342, known as the Wars of Independence. It started with Edward I of England invading Scotland and ended when his grandson Edward III was driven out. The castle is full of stories about celebrations, love, murders and Scotland’s first recorded attempt at flight in 1507 (it didn’t end well). It was here we learned that the Unicorn is the national animal of Scotland and purple represents royalty as they were the only ones allowed to wear that colour.
Finally we made it to the Wallace Monument just before it went dark (dark by 4pm here). Sir William Wallace is a Scottish hero who challenged King Edward I for peace and freedom uniting the country’s clans at the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297.