Sunday, March 26, 2017

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).

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