Thursday, November 28, 2013

Day 24: Stirling

I slept poorly and felt like the dead upon waking. Even my morning shower had little effect. After breakfast upstairs and a phone call to Mum, we walked up to Stirling Castle, bypassing the Old Town Jail, the Church of the Holy Rude and Argyll’s Lodgings. 

The view from just the castle’s car park was fantastic itself. The Wallace Monument rose in a misty landscape that could very well have been a painting because of the ethereal quality it exuded. On the other side, we had a great view of the Church of the Holy Rude and its graveyard.

We bought audio guides and entered the castle whereupon we were immediately given vouchers for a free tour of Argyll’s Lodgings at 11:30am. In the meantime, we visited the castle exhibit (which championed the importance of Stirling Castle - overlooking a still-standing bridge that controlled access to the highlands) then wandered through Queen Anne’s garden. Again, we found awesome views which a film crew also admired. They appeared to be scouting the area - their clapperboard had “The Stuarts” slapped across it. By now, hideously loud school groups were pouring through the gate.

The Inner Gate before the onslaught of school children.

Grimacing, we passed through yet another gate (the Inner Gate, a sign declared) and viewed canons pointing towards the all-important bridge. There were some nooks and crannies to explore (towers, tower ruins, wall walks) which we did before checking out the Great Hall - it was in a building that is a silly creamy yellow eyesore. The building has been restored to its original “King’s Gold” colour which I supposed looked impressive in the 16th century but it’s ghastly now. Cazy defended the colour. Differing tastes, obviously.

People like that colour? Seriously?

The Great Hall was nicely restored inside - the new Stirling heads cheerfully looked down on us from the ceiling in the king’s chambers. We rushed down to the castle entrance and joined the guided tour. Our affable Scottish guide (silver hair in a long ponytail and nose a large long honk) took us past the graveyard and across the road to the pink-washed Argyll’s Lodgings. First built about the same time as the castle, it was modified and expanded in the 17th century.

We trod through the courtyard into the lower hall and inspected the old fireplace before traipsing through the kitchens (one fireplace had the oldest remaining stove of its type in Scotland). Plastic meat, bread and cheese attempted to give the kitchens some extra life. 

We walked up wooden stairs from the 17th century (platform style, not narrow because the wooden hoop skirts came into fashion about that time) into the upper hall (refurbished, but still containing its original cupboards and fireplace - these had been screened off while it functioned as a hospital). We also entered the study (it had three generous windows) and the master bedroom (they had a “thunderbox” - early ensuite? Haha!). A father and son who lived here were both executed at different times.

Burn, baby, burn.

There was a lacklustre exhibition downstairs which we gave a cursory glance before heading for the door. We were stopped by the guide and doorman who wanted us to return the 11:30 slot tickets but we had bent them. Tsk - they should have told us beforehand! :D

I will note here our Argyll Lodging’s guide’s disdain for 17th century townhouses being demolished in the 1950s and 1960s for car parks.

We returned to the castle and attempted the vaults though we were ambushed by cawing children and puerile activities. We browsed the Great Hall’s connected areas - the rooms belonging to both the king and the queen. These rooms had been appropriated for military use until the 1960s.

We then viewed the original Stirling heads in an exhibit (stripped of paint but still just as perverse) before departing via a quick trip to the ridiculously overpriced cafe and the glorious gift shop. I was amused and thrilled to see two of Neil Oliver’s books there - he is Stirling’s favourite son! Pity he’s in Canberra right now. Grrr.

I could totally live here.

We bought “Deluxe Scottish Ice Cream” from a van outside and nibbled the cones as we headed for hotel. Cazy needed to charge his battery and we both needed lunch. We had food and hot chocolates at the Old Town Cafe, which was nice - nicer than most of Old Town. Many shops lie vacant and unloved.

We returned to the Church of the Holy Rude. Photography was allowed inside (for a donation) which was excellent because it was amazing inside. Columns, arches, stained glass windows and a very impressive ancient wooden ceiling. Mary of Queen of Scots worshipped here and this is where her young son was crowned James VI of Scotland. Tattered and frayed banners hang over tourists and worshippers alike.

Mary Queen of Scots looked up at this ceiling!

Not a large church but it was very grand and echoed with the past - and it possessed a talkative and cheerful caretaker who turned any questions about the church into a grand conversation. After buying wares from him, we toured the scenic graveyard (the oldest gravestones date to the 16th century - I did not locate one until much later when I perused my photographs).


We then climbed up Lady’s Hill, a rocky hill opposite/alongside the castle where the ladies of court used to watch heroes-in-training in the tilting yard below - before graves spilled into the gap, of course. A lovely view. I lingered there while Cazy raced (unsuccessfully) to record a clock tower gonging four o’clock. We met by the mercat, spotting a walking tour of two people with a very animated man in costume.

Okay, that King's Gold stands out waaay too much in the background.

We chose the Corn Exchange on the Corn Exchange (how amusing) for dinner which was pleasant though they could have done with less auto-tuned songs in their playlist. We left - I paid the tip in pennies. I also left a pound to soothe any irritation this might have caused. 

Cazy wishes me to record a bad joke I cracked in front of the waitress. My brother remarked, “I don’t know how Margaret Thatcher did it on four hours sleep a night.”

“Heh, she’s getting twenty-four now,” I quipped before I could check myself.

The waitress and my brother laughed. Went back to the hotel and Cazy said that my words were too morbid. 

Anyway, watched TV shows then went to bed.

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