Our great friends the Makay-Daltons were visiting from London and Pip and Lottie decided a day out at Stirling Castle was in order because the last time they had visited, was when they were ‘wee’. Lottie’s Mum and Dad had got married there, Uncle Topher used to get ‘chanter’ lessons from the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, who lived in the castle barracks until the mid-60’s, and the ‘Carpenter Oak and Woodland’ boys, who rebuilt the fabulous medieval roof of the Great Hall, stayed at the chalets during those 6 months. Grandpa Nairn took a toddling Bunty up to the apex of the skeleton roof in a back pack! This meant I had stories to tell when we got there, so off we went!
It was a perfect sunny day but I didn’t expect to enjoy it just as much as I did and partly that’s down to the teenaged girls leading me on further and further in to the many different and fascinating parts of the castle and it’s long history but also because Historic Scotland have spent a lot of money here and it shows in the vibrancy of the place.
The oldest surviving part is from 1381 but it was originally the site of a chapel in 1100, they built on top of buildings that existed because there wasn’t enough room. Perhaps the King that made the biggest visual impact was James the V. Think it’s fair to say he was all about the swag!
We went to the great hall first…a large party were being shown round by one of the many guides. Following through to the Kings Chambers and the amazing Stirling Heads, they now heave their own fascinating exhibition further round the castle which is really fascinating and interactive.
In the bed chambers a character actor stood with various different implements. We asked him about the sticks….3 versions of the first golf clubs (James V loved the golf although allegedly not very good at it) he then played the 15 string lute for us and then we talked with him about the ornate bed and it’s incredible fabrics….again all about showing off as the deep Tyrian Purple dye that the Romans had discovered by boiling snails! Uber expensive so right up James V street! He even sent a stand-in on his wedding day to Marie de Guise, Mary queen of Scots mother….whit a man! However moving onto the Queens chambers and the (reproduction) tapestries that he commission for his wife are really stunning and we all enjoyed looking for the odd creatures semi-hidden by the weavers. And they were among the first to employ Trompe L’Oeil paint technique in Britain.
Walking the castle wall walk you see where a poor, deluded alchemist in James V employ vowed to fly to France. Off the castle walls he went straight into a pile of cow dung! From here you can also observe the Kings Knot below, now believed to have had connections with King Arthurs round table and then there are the many cannons which still feel ready for action!
In the Castle Exhibition it tells of many stories including that of the a discovered burial site from the 1300’s and have recreated the face of a soldier and tell of his gruesome death.
The most surprising part, for our particular party, was the military exhibitions in what was the barracks for they Argyll and Sutherland Highland regiment. We discovered the beautiful, rebellious, feminist Princess Louise, Queen Victoria’s 6 child, but also Duchess of Argyll…hers is a fascinating story.
It took me by surprise that the many children that were there (it’s school trip time) and both the foreign and British groups are all really engaged, the staff are really well trained and work hard, and it has the most extraordinary range of things to do and to suit all tastes really. It is a buzzing place to visit and I highly recommend it for a day out.