Thursday, October 21, 2010

Stirling: Ancestral Home of the Stewarts

OK, this is the entry on castles I promised. It never occurred to me, in the American landscape, to think anything about castles except they are generally old and people lived in them, long ago. When we got to Scotland, we found that, first of all, castles were defensive structures. Armies and people ran to castles at the first sign of trouble, i.e. Someone Else Coming After Us. In this day and age of vehicles, it just didn't occur to me that a building spot for a castle would be the most difficult spot to get to as the builders could find.

The builders usually picked the highest hill in the area. Edinburgh Castle in sitting on the very top of an extinct volcano. It is totally inaccessible except along "the Royal Mile," the road built up to it. Which IS a mile long and straight up as could be made. Historic Scotland, one of the institutions created to protect and promote the historic sites in Scotland (surprise) keeps all vehicular traffic as far away from anything remotely considered historic as it can. And, forgive the pun, everything in Scotland that is historic is remote. Your tour bus lets you off at the farthest possible point and you walk uphill until you get to something interesting, like a castle.

The first we saw was on the way to Skye, Eileen Donan. It was restored to it's original glory in the 1920's by a wealthy manufacturer and is simply stunning. It looks every bit as castle-like as an American could want. It was also an interesting commentary on how modern plumbing was viewed in the '20's. The guest rooms had a bathroom sink beside the bed. I am presuming this was a deluxe item. We never found any toilets in Eileen Donan or any room built for the purpose of  serving as a garderobe. Wiki has this to say, "In its euphemistic meanings, a garderobe is either a close stool or a medieval or Renaissance lavatory or toilet.[1] In a medieval castle or other building, a garderobe usually was a simple hole discharging to the outside. Such toilets were often placed inside a small chamber, leading by association to the use of the term garderobe to describe them. Depending on the structure of the building, garderobes could lead to cess pits or moats. Many can still be seen in Norman and medieval castles and fortifications. They became obsolete with the introduction of indoor plumbing."

We did see a garderobe in Edinburgh Castle, which was updated by Henry VIII, but the room was so small it was hard to see how an adult could fit in it. The toilet had a velvet seat, which brings on pictures I would rather not think about. It was right off the dining room and nobody but the king could use that one, (not a surprise.)

Eileen Donan was not difficult for us to get to: we walked right over the bridge. But scaling the walls would have taken some sherpas and modern mountain climbing equipment. Or a crane. Or a very large slingshot.

Stirling Castle was accessible from a road as well. Standing on the castle wall, it was a long, long way down. The back and sides of the castle were sheer drop-offs looking down to the valley below. We could see for miles across the countryside. Another notable point was the wind. The wind is eternal in Scotland, from the ocean, the north, the south, etc. Standing on a castle wall, the wind was in a fair way to carry us back to the U.S. free of charge. Small children would have to be anchored. You would have to have chain mail on, just to keep you in place.

Stirling and Edinburgh Castles were extraordinarily complete, in a country where most castles are now lumps of moss, or grassy rocks standing on the edge of a cliff. Another fun fact is the size of the fireplaces. You could have parked a jeep in any one of them. It made us realize what a small, nouveau firecracker American fireplaces are. Ours are made for a few decorative pieces of wood. Castle fireplaces where made to cook a herd of deer in.

Stirling was a lovely town, with a row of historic houses built along the road to the castle. It was prime real estate, and probably slowed some armies up on their way to the 'Big House.'  We were supposed to visit Lainey, a friend of Marc's, while in Stirling, but our schedule was thrown off by a day of feverish shopping in Inverness. Marc has managed to cultivate friendships all over the world. If we had traveled to Antarctica, some scientist would have popped out of a snowbank, yelled his name, and asked him how the dogs and horses were doing.

In Edinburgh, I had another surprise for my brother. I had booked us a room on the 2nd floor of a B & B. And told him that. He didn't realize what we considered the 1st floor is considered the 'ground floor' in Scotland. THEN, the 1st floor, etc. It became less funny when it became apparent that the staircase was so small and winding that our luggage might have to be airlifted in through the windows. Still less funny than that, we could go to the bathroom if we put the luggage on the bed. And we could open the luggage if no one was in the bathroom. But sitting on the bed, looking in the luggage, and having access to the bathroom at one time was not possible. If the room had been any smaller, we would have had to coordinate turning over at night.

And silly us, in our feverish haste to celebrate our birthdays in Scotland, we didn't realize we would be touring Scotland's largest city and capital on the weekend of Easter Sunday. It was a bit like Scottish Disneyland. After spending a week being the only tourists for miles and marveling at the lack of population, we were inundated with people, mostly sticky children. 

My hamstring gave out on my last climb back up the Royal Mile. We had been walking on cobblestones straight up and down hill for a week. Marc got me to a cab station, because you can't hail a cab off of the street there, and packed me off to three flights of stairs where I spent the rest of the day renewing my acquaintance with the pound of fudge I had bought my sister-in-law, and which never made it home. I gave the poor man my credit card and told him to have fun.

Next: Critters of Scotland

No comments:

Post a Comment