Published: May 11th 2010December 30th 2009
Just Like Home
Only nicer. I guess I was up pretty early that morning when I took this picture of the living room in Castlecroft. I was waiting for the kids to come down with me for breakfast while I waited in here. When I learned that they hadn't even showered yet, I went downstairs and met Gail for breakfast.
We had arranged with Laura for breakfast at 8:00. Grandma, Gail and I were there two minutes early. The kids took their sweet time. No problem though because Laura was ready for us and quite happy to put together almost anything we wanted for breakfast. She had printed menus which allowed Tyler and I to order almost everything on the list. Once again we opted for the full Scottish breakfast which gave us bacon, eggs, sausage ( from a local specialty butcher), hash browns, baked beans and toast. I added a broiled tomato and Tyler, really getting into the whole Scottish thing, ordered haggis again. I didn't think it tasted nearly as badly as it sounds ( sheep's 'pluck' [heart, liver and lungs], minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally simmered in the animal's stomach for approximately three hours), but my taste of it back in Edinburgh was enough.
We spent some time talking to Laura while sipping our coffees and my tea. It turned out that she was not the person I originally booked these accommodations with back in February. She had bought the establishment in the interim and returned to Stirling after
Looking Out Onto Royal Pastureland
Just below our lofty perch on the castle mound was this big sheep pasture. Laura told us that it was owned by the Crown and that technically, her Majesty was a neighbor.
returning from spending many years in Canada. We told her of our plans for the day and seemed pleased that we were planning to squeeze in so much history. The fact that we actually knew the stories of William Wallace (Braveheart), Robert the Bruce and Bonnie Prince Charlie shocked her. She offered a couple of suggestions for us to visit if we had time. She informed us that the castle would be putting on quite a show to usher in the New Year. Too bad we were leaving a day too early.
Had the weather been nicer and had we been 25 years younger we might have just left the car parked at the B&B and hiked up the hill to the castle, but... As we walked out to the Passat we got to watch the Scottish postman do his thing. Amazingly he had an arm full of circulars and junk mail.
It only took us a few minutes to get to the castle parking lot. It was pretty deserted except for a bunch of TV trucks and crowd barriers being set up for the New Year's Eve (Hogmanay) celebration. The walk to the castle entrance was wicked
Maybe This Really is Unusual Weather
I took a look outside Gail's ground floor room and was surprised to see a tropical plant trying to survive the snowy winter.
as the wind was gusty at near hurricane force. It wasn't all that cold but the wind made the wind chill almost unbearable.
No need to describe our walk through Stirling Castle
here since my pictures pretty much document every second we spent there. There has been hundreds of years of history at Stirling Castle involving many plots, intrigues, murders and battles, but what it is most renowned for today is the huge Stirling Tapestry Restoration project
. Highly skilled artisans are recreating a set of tapestries that once hung in the palace which depicted a hunt for a unicorn. It takes the artists days just to weave a small section of the massive tapestry. They spend countless hours researching the proper threads, colors and methods of creating these things. Only a handful of people have the expertise to work on this. They aren't expected to finish the project for years. We weren't allowed to photograph in the tapestry buildings.
Needless to say, once again Tyler and I could've spent many more hours here looking around. In the gift shop I was overwhelmed by all the interesting reading I might have bought. Of course, everything was
Another Incredible Breakfast
As you can see the lazy young 'uns didn't make it down for the atrt of breakfast. We proceeded without them.
over-priced so I wrote down a few of the most interesting titles than ordered them from Half.com when I got home. We did find a little mini-tapestry that we bought to add to our travel room collection in our den.
Our next stop was the National Wallace Monument
on the other side of the town and on another hill. The weather was looking a bit nasty now. Sleet fell intermittingly and the wind still howled when we arrived at the monument parking lot. Deciding that we had much more to see that day we decided not to get out and pay the admission fee allowing us to climb to the top of the monument. We had already seen some great views from atop Stirling Castle.
From there we programmed the GPS for Bannockburn
battlefield. It was here that Robert the Bruce defeated a large English army led by Edward II that was marching to relieve the English forces holding Stirling Castle back in 1314. Basically the Scots lured the English into the swamp where their knights on horseback were ineffective. The English were routed and Scotland stayed independent of the English king for nearly four
They Made It
Tyler and I got the full Scottish Breakfast. The kid loved the haggis. Cassie's breakfasts were primarily liquid.
more centuries. The visitor's center was closed for the winter, but the grounds were open. The ladies stayed in the car while Tyler and I took a walk out to the battleground and admired the big Robert the Bruce statue. What we couldn't capture on film was how nearby the castle stood. This spot stood directly in the path of the most direct route through the swamp to the castle.
When we returned to the car we decided that since we still had at least three more hours of daylight left and we were close to the town of Falkirk, we might as well see that battlefield. That battle took place a few years before Bannockburn. In that engagement the Scots were led by William Wallace. He lost the battle to Edward I, but delayed the English enough to allow him to escape and continue to harass English attempts at occupation. In any case, we couldn't find the battlefield listed on the GPS nor did we see any signs for it as we drove into Falkirk. When we saw signs directing us to the Falkirk Wheel
, we decided to heed Laura's advice given earlier that morning and
Raise a Toast to the New Year
Gail and her mother seemed to only eat bread and fruit when these bounteous breakfasts were so readily accessible. Considering how many restaurants had been telling us that they were out of supplies due to the heavy snows, it was amazing that our hostess had such a varied menu. What a great place this turned out to be.
check it out. She explained that the wheel was a feat of modern engineering that allowed boats to move between two vastly different elevations on a local canal. It was basically a boat elevator.
The visitor center was free but parking was not. The visitor center was big and very warm. They had a couple of nice exhibits explaining how the wheel worked. On a normal canal boats move upstream by passing through a number of locks that fill with water thus lifting the boat higher at each successive lock. At Falkirk the difference in elevation is so great that they would have needed numerous locks to get the boats upriver. Instead they built this gigantic ferris wheel that lifts the boat and the water it's in up to the higher level.
Again the ladies didn't want to venture outside. Tyler and I spent some time taking more photos of the wheel from every conceivable angle while trying our best not to accidentally step into the frozen canal. It was even colder here next to the icy water than up at the windy castle. I could've used that furry Russkie hat that I lost the day before.
The Postman Always Rings Twice
Except in Scotland. The Royal Mailman drove in and out of the Castlecroft parking lot that I had no chance to take his picture. He flew out of the van with a handful of junk (or is it "rubbish"?) mail which he dumped in the mailbox and was out of there in seconds.
And since we still had a few more hours of daylight left we decided to see if we could squeeze in one more of Laura’s suggestions. I turned on the trusty Nuvi GPS and saw that Loch Lomond (not the one with the monster, but the one with the bonnie, bonnie banks) was 45 minutes away. We all agreed to head that way. In retrospect, I think the others just wanted to take naps. Once again Nuvi took us over some of the wackiest, narrowest roads I’ve ever driven on. Most of these were at least paved, but in a few spots we had to drive over cinders. In far too many places the roads were still covered in patches of snow and ice from two days before. It seemed to take forever, but we finally arrived in the little hamlet of Luss just as the sun began to set.
We were the only tourists around. The little old man working in the little old gift shop we walked into was very pleased to see us. He offered us little shots of Scotch and some local sweets (candy) that none of us cared for. We bought a few postcards
Up on Castle Hill
We decided to drive the short distance up to Stirling Castle. Good thing we did because the wind would've driven us back to Castlecroft. I had to bundle up and put on my hood when I went to the cliff edge to photograph the Stirling countryside. On that hill in the distance you can almost make out the National Wallace Monument.
and a wallet to help the guy out.
It didn’t feel especially cold or windy until we walked out to the small pier on Loch Lomond. As soon as we got out over the water the temperature plummeted and gale force winds assailed us. I stood at the beginning of the pier snapping pictures of the lake and the resort hotel further up the beach while Tyler stood far out over the lake on the pier taking his pictures. I had a brief period of about ten seconds of major panic when I looked up from my camera and couldn’t see Tyler on the pier. Thoughts of having to dive into the frigid water to rescue him crossed my mind when he unexpectedly popped-up from behind a sign where he was kneeling to take some sort of artsy shot.
When we had enough of numb fingers and toes, we returned to the car and searched for a WC. We found a facility just outside a store that was closing. It was unheated and poorly lit, but it was clean and the ride back to Castlecroft was much more comfortable because of it.
Instead of going back to
Robert the Bruce
There are two great patriots in Scottish history - William Wallace (aka "Braveheart") and Robert the Bruce. Wallace pretty much started the intial war against the English while Bruce finished the job after Wallace's excruciating execution.
the B&B when we returned to Stirling, we headed straight to the big Tesco store we had passed the night before while searching for restaurants. Tesco is a cross between a Walmart superstore and a Sam’s Club. The one we shopped at in Budapest was one of the biggest stores I have ever been in and sold everything. This one in Stirling was only half as big, but crammed an incredible amount of merchandise inside. We naturally migrated to the food department where we were sorely tempted by some fabulous prices on beer and wine. Forsaking that we instead looked for condiments and spices that we can’t find at home. At the Budapest Tesco I bought some paprika paste in a tube that was delicious on grilled burgers. I couldn’t find it here but I did find a chili paste that turned out to be nearly as good.
In the bakery section we spotted some strange pre-packaged party cakes including Top Gear theme and Dr. Who themes. With my birthday the next day Gail asked if I wanted a cake with Clarkson, Hammond and May on it. I wanted more than just a forkful of cake for $20, so
Our Scottish Explorer Passes included entrance to Stirling Castle. We were among the very first people to walk inside that day.
I got a much bigger and undecorated chocolate one.
We needed our first tank of gas and drove over to the Tesco gas pumps. I was very careful to pull up to the diesel pump. After having much trouble trying to get the pump to accept any of our credit cards, I had to go to the cashier and pay cash in advance.
Our choice for dinner tonight was a much less stressful choice. On our protracted drive all around town the previous night we had passed by an interesting looking pub three times. Back in my room later that night I looked through some of the brochures Laura provided and saw that Whistlebinkies
was a very popular spot with both tourists and the locals. The menu looked pretty reasonably priced so we figured we’d give it a try.
It was nice being able to park close to the restaurant for a change. When we walked inside I saw a chalk sign announcing that tonight would be folk music night starting at 9:00. Since it was only 7:00, I figured we’d be done before things got too crowded or loud. Not that I wouldn’t mind
The entrance to Stirling Castle was not as impressive or daunting as that of Edinburgh, but the approaches to Stirling were much tougher. Edinburgh was also on top of a big hill, but the entire East side could be approached from a wide path coming up the Royal Mile. To get to the top of Stirling we had to drive up a twisting road cut through sheer rock.
hearing some music though. It took some maneuvering by one of the barmaids to arrange a table for the five of us. Then we were told that half the selections on the menu were unavailable (just like the Advocate in Edinburgh) because of the weather. No need to tell you what the ladies got - as long as fish and chips were on the menu, you knew what they’d be ordering. But alas, they were all out of fish and chips as well as steak and kidney pie. Gail had to settle for macaroni and cheese. I got the world famous Binkie Burger. And of course Tyler, Gail and I ordered big beers.
Even though we were sitting next to a fake wood stove, it was very cold inside. Our beers helped warm us up and our food arrived nice and hot. As we ate I saw two guys and a girl come into our little corner of the pub carrying their guitar/violin cases. It was only 8 o’clock but I assumed they wanted to eat dinner before doing their show at 9:00. The next thing we knew, they had taken their instruments out and after a short tuning
By "modern" they mean built in the 1600's. The castle was under siege 8 times in its history and never fell. Strangely enough, it wasn't until fairly recentlt than any efforts were made to make it an historic site.
up period, they began to play each other a few bars of different songs. I thought it was pretty cool that within just a few seconds of hearing the one musician try out a new song, the other two caught on and jammed with him.
No sooner did these three get their first beers and start grooving then another guitar player showed-up, puuled up a chair and joined in. A few minutes later an accordion player came in. After that a guy with a wooden recorder and flute sat with them. Soon more violinists showed-up, then a lady with a drum she never played, more guitars and more violins. There were so many musicians in the room that they had to sit with us at our table. If we wanted to get up and leave we couldn’t. It wasn’t a folk music concert, but a folk music club. They weren’t getting paid to do this - they were simply here to have fun. As a guy that still listens to Steeleye Span and Fairport Convention music from the 1970’s I was loving this. The players took turns starting off playing their favorite songs and the others all joined in.
Just Wide Enough to Bring in a Few Necessities
The entrance through this first gate of the catle was just wide enough for gun carriages and supply wagons.
We were right in the middle of a Scottish hootenanny. I think Grandma, Gail and I could’ve stayed there all night, but the kids were totally bored with this old fart music. After torturing them for an hour and a half, we left to the disappointment of the performers. As we walked out they asked whether we liked their music and when we said we did, we found out that a couple of them were actually Americans and Canadians. The only bad thing about the experience was that we were trapped in our little corner and had no way of ordering fresh beers. I later learned that Gail was also dieing to get out and needed a bathroom pronto.
The Fun Bunch returned back to Castlecroft. Once again we just went to our individual rooms and relaxed from a very long day by watching the Big Fat Quiz Show of the Year. I was in bed before 11:00.
There are more photos below