As we left the Scottish Highlands and headed south to Stirling, I was full of anticipation. Stirling Castle figures into so much of Scottish history. I was dreaming of walking through rooms where Mary Queen of Scots slept and prayed; the spot where William Wallace led the Scots in the Battle for Stirling Bridge; where many of the Stuart Kings resided. It was occupied by the British military during the Jacobite uprising; it is where Alexander the Fierce died; and many others lost their lives during sieges launched to wrest control of the castle.
Stirling Castle alone is well worth the trip to Stirling, but we also had a great time at a local pub. We were looking for someplace close to our B&B where we could get something to eat and drink on a rainy evening. Our host recommended the William Wallace Pub where he and other locals like to have a whisky or an ale. We were welcomed by Ted at the pub who took our drink orders and told us they don’t serve food anymore! Oh no! Not to worry. Ted encouraged us to order food from the café across the road and enjoy it in the pub. And we were glad we did. As we toasted our arrival to Stirling, in walked a group of musicians who proceeded to conduct a jam session of beautiful Scottish music. And our rainy night in Stirling became a little more memorable.
The next afternoon we returned our rental car and boarded the train for the hour long ride to Edinburgh. At the risk of sounding like a broken record when it comes to castles, Edinburgh Castle was the highlight of Edinburgh for me! First stop – a visit to the Honours of Scotland exhibit. My friends chuckled as I stood in front of the glass case, hand over heart, smiling from ear to ear. The Honours are comprised of the crown, scepter, sword, and Stone of Scone used in numerous Scottish coronations, including the baby, Mary Queen of Scots. Here is a brief background of the jewels and stone:
Even in the middle of Scotland’s second largest city, we found ways to work off all of the beer, sticky toffee pudding, and haggis. A two hour hike up Arthur’s Seat, a hill near Edinburgh’s Royal Mile, gave us great views of the city. Next day, a climb up the Sir Walter Scott Tower was heart pumping and a little claustrophobic. I had to take off my small backpack to fit through parts of the winding staircase near the top of the tower. But it was worth the workout to get up close with this unique structure.
The Palace of Hollyroodhouse sits at the opposite end of the Royal Mile from Edinburgh Castle. It was the setting of some dramatic moments from the short reign of Mary, Queen of Scots. Agents of her jealous husband, Lord Darnley, murdered her trusted secretary, David Rizzio, in front of her. Mary married both of her husbands at Hollyrood. Mary’s son, James VI (James I of England), moved here in 1579 at the age of 13.
Hollyrood Palace is the official residence of the British Monarch in Scotland. Queen Elizabeth typically spends a week in June here and carries out official engagements. The palace is closed during her visits. While the queen was not here the day we decided to visit, Prince Charles and Camilla were. Just my luck!
The Royal Mile is brimming with shops, restaurants, churches, street performers, people, and historic buildings. My advice if you are visiting during June through August, wear comfortable shoes to navigate the cobblestone walks, and make dinner reservations. We learned that lesson after our first couple of days. We had our farewell dinner at a restaurant we reserved because they had a good craft beer selection and live music. Once again we were treated to some beautiful Scottish music performed by local musicians. It was a perfect way to end our time in Scotland.
So I say goodbye to my friends – Joan, Mary, Pat – who are heading home, and I continue on to Northern Ireland.
Next – Belfast.