Sunday, March 26, 2017

Ending in Edinburgh Castle

Our last stop in Scotland was to visit Edinburgh Castle in Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. Not one of my favorite castles, but definitely worth a visit. It was well fortified and stood upon a cliff of granite rock high above the city. However, the city (like you would expect from a capital city) surrounded the castle. I think what I was missing was gardens and greenery.

The castle walls were definitely thick and the castle itself was made to provid for a long seige- unlike Buckingham Palace or the Hapsburg Palace. Wonder if that is the difference? A castle is a place for royalty that is fortified and a palace is a place for royalty that is not fortified. Hmm... Must consider.

Anyway, being close to the North Sea, they also have the one o' clock gun, which fires everyday (except Sunday) at 1 o'clock. The purpose of this is to let the sailors know which time zone they have entered (and so they could determine their location based on speed of sound). There are only a few such guns (used for telling time) around the world.

Not all the weaponry there is used for "telling time", in fact Mons Meg is a huge cannon capable of firing a 330 pound cannon ball 2 miles.

Brian used his foot to show the scale of the cannon balls.

And of course there is the Half Moon Battery, which guarded the entrance in case you made it near or inside the portcullis gate.

We also sent to St. Margaret's Chapel, which is said to be the oldest building in Edingburgh. It was actually built before the castle, who was the mother of King David I of Scotland. She was actually a Saxon Princess who fled during the Norman Invasion and married King Malcolm III. She is the only royal Scottish saint.

Funny story, apparently, Queen Mary of Scots actually had St. Margaret's head placed in a gilded cage and brought to her during the birth of her first and only son- King James IV. Interesting baby shower gift.

We also got to see the Crown Jewels of Scotland, but like in England- no pictures. There was also the Stone of Destiny. The Stone of Destiny (a really big freaking rock with metal rings on the side for carrying the thing), was first used to crown the monarchs of Scotland. Later when Edward the Longshanks (Edward I- King of England) took over Scotland, he had the rock taken over to Westminister Abbey), where it was placed beneath the coronation chair for all the English monarchs. Recently, Queen Elizabeth II (who also used the Stone of Destiny at her coronation), ordered that it be sent back to Scotland where it belongs- but will return to England for future English coronations.

We went inside the castle to the Great Hall with a wood beamed roof.

And then into Mary Queen of Scot's bedchamber.

Another funny story- Mary Queen of Scots gave birth in her closet- not in a nice comfortable bed. Nope- a chair. Wonder where she put St. Margaret's head in this small space?

During the 1700s and 1800s, the English used Edinburgh Castle as a prison for enemies, you could view where they housed them. What they ate, where they used the bathroom (yuk), and what they did with their time there. If you look closely you can see prisoners names carved into the door. Also the mini ship was made of wood shavings by a very bored prisoner.

Other museums there for Royal Scottish military units. While we had opportunities to take pictures here I didn't do much of that- it was mostly a collection of weapons, uniforms, stories, and pictures of Scottish military units. However, I did take a picture of the gas masks.

And I also took a picture of a statue of General Haig.

Why General Haig was made a hero was beyond me. Not a fan. Really don't know why?  Well, I think this Blackadder video sums it up nicely for those people who aren't very educated in World War I.

After our trip to the castle, we did a bit of shopping. We almost bought a kilt for Brian. Yeah, he would have looked really nice in one. However, no we didn't buy one. Because I was informed it might only be worn once and even that was not a guarantee.

On our way back to England we drove along the North Sea coast. It was very scenic. I kept trying to convince Brian to let me take some sheep back to Texas. Unfortunately, we did not bring back a sheep. Or 2 or more.

And that is pretty much our whole trip. I actually have more pictures and more stories to share, but as for all of our "tourist stops" and even some of our incidents- we've really given you the highlights. However... don't stop reading now... we plan to cover maps, our stay in 2 castles, our spreadsheets and any tips we think that might be helpful for planning a trip like this yourself- should you be interested. This trip took a LOT of research and planning before our flight landed in Berlin. And most of that work is due to Brian. I did a lot of the fun stuff saying the places we "need to go", but he was the one who made it all happen so that way we could accomplish so much within 16 days.

Chauffeur's Corner:

The visit to Edinburgh Castle took place on a stereotypical English Isle day – chilly, damp and overcast/foggy. It didn’t dampen the visit too much though. As Stacey mentioned, the castle is situtated rather perfectly for the area. However, it was also felt somewhat smaller than the other castles on our visit, but that may have been due again to the constant feeling that you were on the pinhead of a rock cliff. It was interesting how the castle was built directly into the mountain rock – which you could easily see the several points where they met.

I again wasn’t very aware of the history of the Edinburgh Castle and it was interesting to learn about the Mons Meg and how it was a technological leap during its time – such that forces would surrender rather than have it used against them (though it was very difficult to transport far and wide).

The entire castle walking areas were covered with pavers, which you can see in many of the pictures – it helped with the romanticism of the site, but with the weather it also made walking adventurous. The Scottish Highlander Regimental museum was a nice surprise, as there were several pieces of military hardware including their uniforms. I believe I recall seeing that the sporran (pouch that sits in front of kilt) was only worn by those of Sergeant and above.

St. Margaret’s Chapel was literally a chapel (unlike many modern-day ones) – measuring roughly 15’ x 40’. Though it was small, it was rather pretty and had a certain amount of sanctity to it, beyond its rich history.

We had not expected to see the Crown Jewels of Scotland, but it compared uniquely to those of England. England’s were clearly more ornate and more numerous. However, Scotland’s display was more soaked in history (and blood) than that of England. The fascinating tie-in was having been to Westminster Abbey where we saw the coronation chair and reading that it was lacking the Stone of Destiny. Then we saw the Stone of Destiny in person, which by itself is rather unremarkable…however, again it has been witness to remarkable human history. I will admit that even after all of the history lessons, I still cannot follow along with all of the lineages and rulers.

The Great Hall was outstanding in its grandeur, however I believe it had been rebuilt, as it had been through several revised uses over the decades. The wood-beamed ceiling was beautiful.

Again Stacey was able to flex her History degree to explain to me about General Haig, which definitely altered our perspective on the presentation of his material at the castle. As we left the castle, we had an important decision to make – drive the short route to the final stay or take the more scenic route which was an hour or two longer. We wisely chose to explore the scenic route along the North Sea coastline.

In case I forget to cover this later, there are some important things about this trip. First was that I actually enjoyed doing research for this trip as I had to look through what I would want to do, research the specifics about what Stacey wanted and the nitty gritty of getting around (rules, train schedules, etc).  Another big thing was that as we worked through the details of the trip, I was fortunate to have Stacey who was willing to do much more (and often cheaper) than most people. This translated to a very aggressive, but a schedule packed full of great things to do. We also lucked out with the timing to make my desire of a 2-3 week vacation a reality. Also, the driving proved to be much more manageable than I had worried about. Other than navigating out of Berlin, Stacey was a great help in traversing the thousands of miles and dozens of sights. 

Escaping into Scotland

After the very long drive to Carlisle, we spent some time visiting with the local hotel staff about the best places to visit Hadrian's Wall. As Brian mentioned previously, the hotel we stayed at actually had uncovered part of Hadrian's Wall had run through the town into the sight of our hotel. The front desk actually contained bricks from Hadrian's Wall. (Brian really does know how to pick good hotels!).

The clerk gave us a map and in the morning, we headed in that direction. Hadrian's Wall is really just a small wall of stones. It didn't used to be, but after centuries parts collapsed or sank into the ground. Hadrian's Wall was constructed in 122 AD and is named after Emperor Hadrian and was meant to keep the Brits, Picts, and Celts out of Roman England. The 73 mile long wall stretching from east to west did a fairly decent job of keeping the Roman Empire secure until the Roman's decided to leave the island in 410 AD.

Surrounding the wall were different forts. And since we were out of the hotel by 7am and along the wall by around 7:30 am the forts were closed. We didn't anticipate really stopping at any of them anyway, but it was kind of nice to park, enter the vacant grounds, and take a few pictures.

And since the wall is long and continous it wasn't a problem for us to find an abandoned part of the road, where we could park the car and then proceed to walk, touch, climb on the wall. (Note- we didn't climb on the wall- but we could have).

I think sometimes our best plans have been to visit things early in the morning.

After leaving Hadrian's Wall, we headed towards Stirling Castle, Most of what I knew about Stirling was from the movie- Braveheart- when Robert the Bruce defeated the English at the Battle of Stirling. The was one of the times my history degree was not so useful on the trip. But I did learn a lot after visiting the castle.

The castle is on a huge cliff, which makes it easy to fortify. In the background you can see in the distance a monument tower dedicated to William Wallace. On the grounds of the castle, you can find a statue of Robert the Bruce.

The castle dates as far back as King Alexander I built a chapel here in 1110 AD. Since then many kings and queens of Scotland have occupied the castle. Our first stop was to visit Queen Anne's garden. We got a good view from the cliff as well.

Did you know that near the edge of the garden near the cliff wall is where John Damian attempted to fly? He built a sort of flying contraption made of wings and feathers and decided a good place to see if it works was by strapping himself into his contraption and thrusting himself off the castle. His only achievement with flying was breaking some of his bones. But at least he survived.

There were several kid friendly areas showing off the costumes of the era. This time it was my turn to put on a hat.

One of the exhibits of Sterling is wooden heads carved into medallions. These would grace the ceiling inside the castle.

Next was a Chapel- built by King James IV in 1503. It was in this Chapel that Mary Queen of Scots was baptized as a child- as was her son- James VI (also known as James I of England).

And then we went into the Royal Palace built by James V. Mary Queen of Scots would have spent her childhood here before she moved to France.

We spent some time trying out the royal chairs, they weren't too bad.

Eventually the castle did fall into the hands of the English- first when King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England. And again, when Bonny Prince Charles failed to retake the throne of England. Here is the key to the castle that as eventually surrendered to the English.

This definitely was not an easy place to defeat.

Our next trip was to drive to St. Andrews, where golf was invented.

Brian does pretty well at golf and I enjoy seeing new places- so it met both of our needs. Plus Brian needed to bring back a few souvenirs for his other golfing friends as well. I think my favorite part was the view of the North Sea which was right next to the Old St. Andrew's Golf Course.

While Brian wasn't able to play around of golf here, we did get to see quite a bit of the course as we walked around to the different golf shops looking for clothing, golf balls, and other things.

That was our last stop before settling down for the night. We were nearing the end of our European adventures and had one more day in Scotland before we headed back to the United States and reality.

Chauffeur's Corner:
I won't let Stacey know that I got somewhat lucky on the hotel in Carlisle. It was high rated, had parking and free wifi - sold! It proved to be a nice cultural visit, as we had a bit of food (including some tasty coleslaw) and a good chat with the hotel staff. Before arriving in England, we had some potential visiting spots for Hadrian's Wall, but nothing set in stone. It is nice to see that Stacey actually enjoyed the early mornings...ok maybe she didn't say "enjoy", but she is right that mornings were the time to see. It was very helpful for seeing things that were outdoors and not restricted, so in those cases it helped for driving to those locations (like we did for Dover and Stonehenge).

I wasn't entirely sure what to expect from Hadrian's Wall, but it was roughly what I could have imagined - a decent size wall that would restrict movement of people. More importantly there were the guard stations and forts.

You might be able to tell that we actually soaked up the sunrise while at our first Hadrian's Wall stop. Unfortunately it was rather chilly, so we hurried around a bit. Part of the fun in seeing Hadrian's Wall was the 2-lane country road that weaved throughout the landscape.

Before the trip I knew that there was historical significance of Stirling Castle, but I didn't know much of it. Stirling Castle was easily the most cliche castle that we visited on this trip, which is not a bad thing. Prague Castle was much more of a complex, like a small town, whereas Stirling is much more of the iconic military strategic stronghold. The views were incredible, as you could see for miles in all directions of the valley. There were several parts to this Castle and the buildings the cover the grounds are very well constructed and elegant. Living in those times would not have been the most enjoyable, but it is easy to see how the luxuries at that time would have made life easier.

Again I am glad that Stacey just believes what I tell her, like the "fact" that I am good at golf, ha. Since I knew we would be going to Edinburgh and Stirling, I looked into visiting St. Andrews. Even though I knew about the North Sea from looking at the map, it was shocking to see just how close it is to the course - it really added to the scenery. The golf course was much of what it has looked like on TV, but it was rather unique seeing it in person (especially the Royal & Ancient building and the entire 18th hole and background). I was a bit shocked by seeing people just lounging around on the course as well - people walking dogs on the pathway across the course, people sitting on the grass for a I'm not sure if that is typically allowed, but it felt as though the course was literally just a park in the town.

The only difficult thing about driving in Scotland was that many intersections had odd angles, which made for some very sharp turns at times (and more often missing the GPS directions).