Hop Scot

Scotland is filled with small towns. Sometimes the towns have multiple sights to see, and sometimes only one sight, but each town has plenty of character to offer: streets of old stone buildings in the Scottish baronial style, winding cobblestone streets lined with two-story row houses with gables or turrets (sometimes both,) small shops offering groceries, pastries, bread or meats, and ruins of abbeys and churches. The pubs and taverns that seemed to be on every corner each boasted that here, Robert Burns recited his poems, drank heavily, and flirted with beautiful women. After a while, it became obvious that only some of these were true, and other establishments simply didn’t let historical fact stand in the way of a good story. I could have stopped more often, happily spending a week, sometimes several weeks, in each place I stopped.

By now you know that two of my main interests in travel are history and literature. Scotland is a bottomless well for both. Not knowing when I could ever come back, I wanted to cover as much ground as possible, plus, I was still searching for a whiskey distillery that was open!

Even so, as much as I was enjoying seeing Scotland at ease, it was late August now. It had rained during the last couple of weeks, shifting quietly from warm-ish thunderstorm-rain to steady, drizzling rain with a slight chill in it. My plan for this trip was supposed to include Scotland and England, and be back in the U.S. for Christmas. I was dawdling. I needed to move a little faster – I still had places I wanted to see. Scotland is a small country if you count square miles, but a huge country if you count regions, geography, and history.


Dunfermline, like Dunblane, is an easy day trip from Edinburgh. The train crosses the Firth of Forth via the Forth Bridge.

Dunfermline is a short way from Edinburgh.

Dunfermline, population 49,700, has two claims to fame besides charm and age. The Dunfermline Abbey was founded by David I in the 12th century as a Benedictine monastery. There was a church there before the abbey, where Malcolm III (pre-1100 AD) had married the Saxon princess Margaret. That church was incorporated into the abbey’s church. Both Malcolm and Margaret were buried in the early church. Later, in 1329, Robert the Bruce was buried beneath the pulpit.

Dunfermline Church, nave portion.
Robert the Bruce is memorialised by the tower of Dunfermline’s abby church, which was added between 1560 and 1760.
All four sides of the tower are devoted to King Robert the Bruce.

Next to the abbey is the Dunfermline Palace that began life as the abbey’s guesthouse, but was converted to a royal residence for James VI of Scotland (James I of Great Britain,) whose ill-fated son was born here in 1600. The son later became Charles I, and was beheaded by Cromwell during the English Civil War.

Remains of the palace.

In 1560, the Scottish Reformation destroyed virtually the entire abbey. Between 1560 and 1760, the tower, steeple, and buttresses were constructed, and the church became a functioning parish again, belonging to the Church of Scotland. The church was closed because of pandemic restrictions when I was there, but it is still in use during normal times.

The Abbot House, built in the 15th century, was the only domestic building to survive the “great fire” of Dunfermline in 1624. It’s now a heritage center. (Notice the iron gate!)

Dunfermline is also the birthplace of Andrew Carnegie. In 1835, Carnegie was born in the tiny house and workshop that still stands in Dunfermline. His parents were weavers, and the house is furnished as it was when they lived there. At age 13, Carnegie came to the United States, and by the late 18th century, he was – according to the museum that exhibits the life and work of Carnegie – the richest man in the world.

A loom for weaving jacquard cloth. Andrew’s father was an accomplished fine linen weaver, but it was still not a rich life.
One of the rooms upstairs, where the family lived. The ground floor was taken up by the looms.

The exhibits about his life were inspiring – Andrew Carnegie must have been a very dynamic person. He was single much of his life, but married at age 51 to Louise Whitfield, and they had one child, a daughter named Margaret.

Also according to the museum, Carnegie gave away 90% of his wealth to build libraries, universities, and schools all over the world. His birthplace also benefited – Pittencrieff Park next to the palace was a Carnegie donation.

Carnegie funded over 2,800 public libraries all around the world. This was the first, which opened in 1883. He was affectionately called the “Patron Saint of Libraries,” whose motto was “Let there be light.”


Another short train ride took me to Kirkcaldy, a small town along the coast of Fife, a region of Scotland that was formerly an independent kingdom. I went there because I wanted to see Ravenscraig Castle. The castle was begun by James II in 1460 for his queen, Mary of Gueldres. James II died. Depending on whose version you read, the castle was finished, or left unfinished, by Queen Mary. Another version gives all the credit to Queen Mary, rather than James, for starting the castle. All versions agree that the castle was given to the Earl of Caithness, William Sinclair, in 1470, with only part of the east tower and wall completed.

The Sinclairs finished the castle, which overlooked the Firth of Forth and the North Sea. They added substantial walls that were 3.5 meters thick, reflecting the impact of gunpowder artillery on castle design. Below is a rendition of what it looked like when complete, and gives some idea of castle life in those days.

Ravenscraig Castle in Kirkcaldy, sign by Historic Scotland.

The castle belonged to the Sinclair family from 1470 until 1898, although it was captured by Oliver Cromwell’s soldiers during the same rebellion that saw King Charles I beheaded. After the rebellion, the Sinclairs had possession again, but the castle deteriorated into ruins. In 1898, it was sold to Sir Michael Nairn, from whose family eventually it went to Scotland as a national property. It’s a ruin still, albeit historical and in a picturesque location.

The entrance, approached now by a small wooden bridge. Through this passageway are the remains of utility buildings – storage, stable perhaps? It’s hard to tell now.
The passageway door to the left, and the utility buildings’ remains on the outcropping. North Sea is to the right and behind me.
The west tower, the residence, is on the left. The east tower sits to the right, barely visible, and extends down the side of the outcropping.


After Kirkcaldy, I took the bus north to St. Andrews because there is no train station in St. Andrews. For golf aficionados, yes, it was that St. Andrews, but, no, I didn’t visit the golf links, not being a golfer myself. I spent my afternoon in the town of St. Andrews, instead, but I will share some of what I learned about golf:

Golf has been associated with St. Andrews for over six hundred years. The game was so popular by 1457 that it was banned by James II because his troops were neglecting their archery practice in favor of golf, a distinctly un-military form of recreation.

The Royal and Ancient Golf Club, founded in 1754, has its own golf course, which sits next to “The Old Course.” The Old Course is the one that non-members can play, and is, as the name implies, the more historical. Several other courses have been developed, which you can book if you aren’t tied to The Old Course.” In pre-internet days, you had to make reservations by the end of August the year before the year in which you wanted to play. Nowadays, you still need to book well in advance, and, like everyone, the pandemic restrictions have thrown “a spanard in the works.”According to their website, the greens fee is one hundred ninety-five pounds, roughly two hundred seventy-five US dollars, not including caddy or gratuities. There is a shorter notice lottery system if you’re feeling lucky (fees are the same.)

Bridge Street leads to newer sections of St. Andrew’s in the distance. Argyle Street leads to a gate in the old city wall, seen below, which now serves as entrance to the older, historical section of the town.
The Argyle Street gate. This older section of the town houses the University of St. Andrew, St. Andrew’s Cathedral, and St. Andrew’s Castle.

St. Andrews was founded by St. Regulus (aka St. Rule,) who came from Greece, bringing with him the bones of St. Andrew himself. St. Andrew eventually became the patron saint of Scotland – their flag is blue with the white St. Andrew’s Cross – but in the meantime, the relics’ presence made the town a major destination of pilgrims and a major ecclesiastical center in Scotland.

St. Andrews Cathedral, an arch with part of the wall.
Part of St. Andrews Cathedral.

All that remains of the once-magnificent cathedral are fragments of walls, an arch, and a single towering gable, but the size is still discernible from these remains, and it was huge. The cathedral was founded in 1160.

The bones of St. Andrew were moved from the nearby Church of St. Regulus, and are interred underneath the altar still, although the sarcophagus is in the museum. The museum, per the guidebook, also houses an “excellent collection” of 17th & 18th century grave slabs and 9th & 10th century Celtic crosses. Unfortunately, the museum was closed. Pandemic.

Like so many Catholic cathedrals and churches, the St. Andrews Cathedral was attacked and much of it was destroyed in 1559 by Reformation believers.

St. Andrews Castle is mainly ruins. It was built around 1200 AD as a fortified home for the bishop of St. Andrews.

Although the ranking clerics of St. Andrews were housed in a castle, it wasn’t enough to save Cardinal Beaton. George Wishart (1513 – 1546) was a Protestant preacher and was betrayed to Cardinal Beaton. Beaton had Wishart brought here and locked him in the sea tower. Wishart was condemned for heresy and burned at the stake, March 1, 1546. Wishart’s friends plotted against the cardinal. On May 26th, 1546, the conspirators entered the castle, killed Cardinal Beaton, and hung his body from the battlements. While still in the castle, they together formed the first congregation of the Protestant Church in Scotland.

One of the gates to the University.

St. Andrews University, founded in 1410, is a collection of beautiful buildings. The older ones are organized into quadrangles, and entered from the streets of the town through arched gates.

The place where Patrick Hamilton, the first martyr of the Scottish Reformation, died, February 29, 1528.

Patrick Hamilton, a member of the University, was born into a rich family and was related to the king. He studied on the continent for a time, and was greatly influenced by the teachings of Martin Luther. When he returned to St. Andrews, Hamilton began to teach Lutheran doctrines. He was tried, found guilty of heresy, and burned at the stake, aged 24 years. His initials, PH, mark the place where Hamilton became the first martyr of the Scottish Reformation.

Fortunately, times have changed, and religious differences are tolerated. The streets of St. Andrews are friendly and beautiful.

Holy Trinity Church in St. Andrews, Fife, Scotland

Across the street from this church, i.e. where I’m standing, taking the photo, is the dry cleaning shop of a very nice man. I really didn’t want to lug my suitcase around the town – even on wheels it had gotten heavy, and it was awkward on the cobblestone streets. I looked in the window of the shop, and saw that he not only provided dry cleaning services, he made duplicate keys, and repaired shoes to boot (so to speak.) I went in and explained that I wasn’t staying overnight and therefore didn’t have a place to stash my suitcase, would he mind awfully if I left it with him for a while? He said he would, with the understanding that he had to leave promptly at four o’clock to pick up his daughter at school, and the shop would close. I promised that I would return timely, and I did – half an hour early, just to be sure. I also asked if he would allow me to buy him some refreshment by way of thanks, and left him with a ten pound note. I was happy to have walked around town unburdened, and he seemed happy, too.

The old Town Hall.
Relaxed diners in the open air, a common sight during 2020.


My next stop was Dundee, a seafaring city from the word “go.” Located on the north shore of the Firth of Tay (east of Perth and north of St. Andrews,) Dundee was once a major center of the shipbuilding, whaling, textile, and railway engineering industries. “Dundonian” businesses owned and operated most of the jute mills in India, making rope and sacks. It was a cosmopolitan city. At one time, Dundee had the highest per capita rate of millionaires in all of Scotland.

I arrived in the afternoon, but had enough daylight to check into the Best Western Queens Hotel, and zip over to the V&A Waterfront and tour the HMS Unicorn, moored at the Victoria Dock. It’s the oldest ship in Scotland, and one of the six oldest ships in the world.

The Unicorn was built in Dundee and launched in 1824. It was at the end of the Napoleonic Wars, so the ship was never rigged, not ever, so it cannot move without being towed, even today. HMS Unicorn was used mainly as a depot ship, and became a museum ship in the 1960s.

HMS Unicorn, photo from the Unicorn’s Museum website.

She was designed to be rigged as a Leda-class frigate, for those of you who follow these things, and it was just a twist of fate that left her without rigging. As a museum, she is used as an example of her design – showing the construction, the sailors’ mess and bunks, the officers’ quarters, and her cannon.

On the gun deck. I thought the two-dimensional gunners were a good addition.
The officers’ mess
The crew’s mess
Passing the time aboard


What I found most interesting, however, were the other stories that were told here, especially the story about WWII convoys and the animals who served.

The United Kingdom declared war on Nazi Germany in 1939, when the Nazis invaded Poland, and WWII began. In the next two years, the Nazis advanced, and invaded the Soviet Union in June, 1941. As the Nazis moved toward Moscow, they blockaded the ports of the USSR, disrupting supply routes.

Millions of Russians were faced with starvation. The USSR asked the Allies to help, and so the plan was born: supply ships would travel from bases in Scotland and Iceland, across the treacherous waters of the Arctic Sea, evading German battleships and U-boats, to deliver supplies to ports in northwest USSR. The Scottish base was Skapa Flow, a body of water where the town of Stromness is located in the Orkney Islands.

These convoys continued between 1941 and 1945. Over one hundred Royal and Merchant Navy ships were lost to enemy ships and rough seas.

Animals, such as Bamse the St. Bernard, who rescued a man overboard, and Pollyanna the Naval Reindeer, a gift from the Russians, and served in the North Sea.

My favorite story was about Winkie the Carrier Pigeon. “In February 1942 an RAF bomber was shot down in the North Sea. The crew found themselves in the icy water and unable to radio their position. Their only hope was to release the on-board carrier pigeon, a little hen named Winkie. Winkie flew 120 miles home to Broughty Ferry and was found by her owner, who immediately alerted RAF Leuchars. The RAF were able to estimate where the aircraft had crashed, and a rescue mission was launched. The entire crew was saved and Winkie was awarded the Dickin Medal.”

His Majesty’s pigeon, Winkie, about to set out on her mission, 1942.

The RRS Discovery is very nearby the HMS Unicorn, and is reached easily by walking through the V&A Waterfront building.

When viewed from another side, it looks very much like a ship!
The chart room of the RRS Discovery. “RRS” stands for “Royal Research Ship.”
Captain’s Quarters.
Officers’ dining room
On the deck of the RRS Discovery, the V&A Waterfront building and the Firth of Tay in the background.

The museum next to the ship has a really, really excellent exhibit about the Discovery, the preparations, the mission, and what transpired. I spent a couple of hours in there, it was fascinating and so well-done.

The main downtown area of Dundee is up the hill from the waterfront. It’s a lively city of about 150,000, and the downtown is filled with shops, restaurants, and a lovely museum depicting the history of Dundee, among other collections. Nonetheless, the biggest photographic attraction is “Desperate Dan,” a beloved cartoon character with his own bronze statue in the city square.

Desperate Dan, Dawg, and Minnie

Desperate Dan is a character from the comic book “Dandy” published by DC Thomson comics since 1937 in Dundee. While many businesses – textiles, engineering, shipbuilding, et cetera – have moved away, DC Thomson is not just surviving, but thriving. The “Beano” and “Dandy” comics continue, and DC Thomson owns several regional newspapers. For a while, DC Thomson was the largest employer, but they’ve been overtaken by some of the newer industries attracted to Dundee.

Desperate Dan with Dawg and Minnie in the city square.
Queen Victoria, demonstrating proper regal demeanor in Albert Square.

Located in Albert Square is the McManus Museum, a gem of a museum in a beautiful building.

McManus Galleries, Albert Square, Dundee

The collections in McManus Galleries focus on the city, from the Iron Age to modern times, as well as other cultures around the world. There has been so much activity during the city’s lifetime that there is plenty of material to work with and it was an enjoyable time, wandering through the life of Dundee and the countries they visited.

In the Albert Gallery are indigenous artwork collections from the continents – Dundee’s ships traveled the world. This is a “curing mask or demon mask” from 19th century Sri Lanka. This mask represents the demon Kola-Sanniya and his 18 servants or “yakku.” Sri Lankans believed then that illness was caused by demons, and masks like this were used in ritual ceremonies to pacify the demons and restore the patient’s health.
From the gallery of historical Scottish paintings, 1750 – 1920. The Late Victorian group is a much-admired collection. This painting is of the also much-admired Highland cattle!
Who remembers Dundee’s orange marmalade? Dundee marmalade was invented by Janet Keiller in the late 18th century. Her son founded the famous Keiller jam factory, and it lived in Dundee until 1988, when it was taken over and moved to England.
Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots: “Queen Mary was a benefactoress to Dundee, having gifted by charter valuable property for the church and the poor.” Others memorialized in similar panels were William Wallace, the Scottish hero we’ve met before, and David, Duke of Huntingdon, who went with Richard on the Crusades.
In the droll tradition of the United Kingdom, a satirical look at the United States’ Uncle Sam, the door-to-door salesman, trying to peddle weapons as if they were candy, to the stereotyped (per the artist) Scotsman, dressed in kilt and wearing Glengarry beer cans on his belt.

I mentioned the Best Western Queens Hotel by name earlier because it had history of its own. It is a historical hotel, and you can tell when you ride the world’s slowest elevator up to your floor. It has seen better days but it was comfortable and well-located for someone like me.

It was well-located for one of my favorite people, Winston Churchill. At the time, Churchill was running for a seat in parliament, and Dundee was in the district. The hotel has preserved a letter that Churchill wrote to his wife, Lady Clementine, while he was staying at the Queens Hotel.

Fortunately, while I was staying at the Queens Hotel, the food was consistently better than the future MP Churchill’s! (I can’t help but wonder if he made it up to amuse Lady C.)

On the Way to Wick

Mid-afternoon, when I arrived at Pitlochry, is the warmest part of the day in the Highlands. It takes a while for the sun to get high enough, and another while to warm things up, but when it does, it makes a lovely day. I turned my face toward the sun to soak myself in it for a minute.

Pitlochry is a tourist town, a popular place to spend a weekend among Scots, Brits, and other tourists because of the outdoor recreation opportunities. This year, however, the pandemic precautions had closed some popular activities early on, and since it was now mid-August, in the Highlands, some of those businesses had written off the season. The advice was always “call first.”

As I walked from the train station to my hotel, it seemed as if there were as many restaurants closed as open, and the same with shops. Smaller hotels, inns, and B&Bs were allowed to serve food to their guests only. Pringle’s, a store selling clothing in traditional plaids, and the Edinburgh Woollen Mill had closed their shops for the duration in many places across Scotland.

Foreigners were staying home, even though Scotland was trying to open its businesses. As a result, there were a lot of Scottish tourists roaming the streets, looking for food, drink, and shopping. The open restaurants were busy. I was able to find a table at Hettie’s after a short wait to have tea and Victoria sponge, and a break before hauling my luggage up hill to the hotel.

The interior of Hettie’s, who serves a killer Victoria sponge. You may be wondering why there’s no photo of the Victoria Sponge. I’d eaten it. I’m not a “foodie” per se, so taking pictures of the food is always an afterthought. This time it was an after-eating-it-all-and-picking-up-the-crumbs-thought. By now I was drinking tea and looking at a “Things to Do” brochure, trying to discreetly take a photo of the shop from inside.
Except during the pandemic. Guests of the hotel only.

I choose hotels, inns, and B&Bs by location, price, and discernible character. As one travel guidebook phrased it, “The less you pay, the more you see.” The Rosemount is a good example. It was comfy, not glamorous, and staffed mainly by the owners. But I enjoyed the twisty-turny, step-up, step-down, hallway that led to my room in the far corner upstairs, where I could look out on real people (not tourists) walking to and from the center of town, since the Rosemount was on a residential street.

The Rosemount Hotel

The husband-owner was feeling expansive while I waited at my table for dinner to arrive that night. They had established The Rosemount years ago in Pitlochry, though they themselves came from Perth. Much of their business was from locals and nearby hotel guests who came to eat or drink here. Pre-pandemic, they had live music on weekends and a lively business. Ah, the good old days. In my mind, I pictured a local watering spot, friends and neighbors including travelers in their revelry, all in the good natured Scots way. They had a bright, lovely room where they served lunch and afternoon tea, and a darker, wood-panelled bar and dining room on the other side of the hall, with space for musicians. He and she were both older now, and the husband’s face, shining bright in reminiscence, lost the shine as he told me that he and his wife had planned to sell the hotel and retire this year, but now they weren’t sure when that would be possible. I didn’t know what to say to reassure him. Dinner arrived, and in the moment, I tried a cheery “We’re all hoping this will be over soon.” It didn’t seem enough.

The dam across the River Tummel generates electricity for about 15,000 homes. It is part of a much larger Tummel Valley hydro-electric network.

The next day I headed out to the Pitlochry Dam, to see what I could see. Others had made the same decision, but it wasn’t a crowd, and we smiled and nodded and wished each other a “Good morning” as we walked at our respective paces, socially distanced, along the road to the dam. The morning warmed up quickly.

Dams in Scotland are a major source of electricity. The Pitlochry dam alone generates enough power for fifteen thousand homes. The Tummel Valley area was being developed for hydroelectric power in the 1930s, and these early power stations were later integrated into a network. Here, the same water is used to generate power five times as it runs from source to sea.

Scotland invested in hydro-electric power beginning with the Hydro Electric Development Act of 1943. The network created by the Act consists of fifty-four power stations, seventy-eight dams, and one hundred eighty miles of tunnels throughout Scotland.

The Pitlochry dam, as it exists now, was begun in 1947. It was very unpopular with the public because there were concerns about the spa business that had brought visitors to Pitlochry since Queen Victoria’s day, and concerns about the salmon that annually swim up the river to spawn. Sport fishing was, and is, big business in the Scottish Highlands. The dam went forward anyway, and was completed in 1951 despite delays caused by winter flooding and a workers’ strike over the poor quality of food they were receiving.

This dam, like many dams in Scotland, incorporated a fish ladder. It may not be the ideal fish habitat, but they still have salmon. The time to see fish moving through the ladders is between November and April. There is an underwater room to see the fish in the water, although the above water observation deck is supposed to be equally as good, possibly better, according to locals.

Rather than walk back the same way, I saw a path that followed the Tummel River downstream, and chose that. The walk was cool and shady, and a footbridge across a narrow part of the river came into view. On the other side were a few streets with houses that Google maps identified as Port Na Craig. When the footbridge met the side of the river where I was, the path turned left toward the village, and I found myself back in Pitlochry. I wandered a little along the main street before heading back to the Rosemount.

The Pitlochry Church of Scotland

The weather had turned hot and humid, occasionally raining. It didn’t dampen the activity, until late afternoon. While traveling, in Scotland, I had become accustomed to eating dinner early. The hotels could serve food to their guests into the evening, but none of the hotels, restaurants, or pubs that were open could serve alcohol after six p.m., so the restaurants and pubs generally closed up.

It rained a lot while I was in Pitlochry.

I walked down the hill to the Cafe Biba, an Scottish-Italian restaurant on the main street whose menu had looked interesting. I’m not sure why, but the Cafe Biba was below the street level. I stepped down from the sidewalk by two steps in order to enter the building.

The staff was watching the rain, which fell heavier and heavier, and louder and louder. I ordered the scampi provençal, passing by the haggis pizza and the burger and chips.

Lightning flashed as the server brought my dinner, and thunder crashed on top of the lightning. Rain was not just falling from the sky, it was aggressively pelting the village. It was a deluge. I was eating my very good scampi when water started pouring into the restaurant. The water came from the sidewalk and gushed under the doors – the building was old. Time and settling had loosened the fit of the windows and doors.

My bag was already on a chair. I pulled my feet up to escape the water. Luckily the floor drains did their job. In a few minutes, the rain subsided a notch, just enough so it no longer came into the restaurant.

Lightning continued, along with the thunder, while I worked on my glass of wine. I dawdled until the lightning and thunder became more distant, and then walked back to the Rosemount.

The next morning, the hotel had no internet service and lighting came by way of their generator. After breakfast, I went down the hill to the main street, where the situation was the same – little power and no internet. After all the merchant signs that requested “contactless payment,” i.e. by phone or credit card, they could only take cash. This was a problem because most people had very little cash because no one had wanted it because of virus transmission, and now the banks’ systems weren’t working, either, so no ATM service. My African experience, where internet systems worked, but unreliably, had taught me to always keep some cash on hand. Internet service was back by around 5 p.m., though, so at least people could eat.

The violent storm and deluge of water had left mud slides and debris on the tracks going west. Sadly, one train was derailed and the engineer was killed. The train routes would have gone to Perth first, so I decided to go to Perth, which was still intact, and stop there for a day or two.

Train tracks going east were blocked by mud and debris, one train had been derailed, and tracks had been damaged.

Perth, in Perthshire

On the train to Perth

In Perth, I stayed in the Rowanlea Guest House, uphill from the historic area downtown. As soon as I was settled in, meaning right after I took the photo below, I went off to explore Perth.

My single room at the Rowanlea. It was en-suite, small by American standards, and very comfortable!
A beautiful park in downtown Perth.
Water Vennel, one of seven surviving vennels in Perth.

“Vennel” is a word that originated in the royal burghs that were created by David I in the 12th century. Remembering that the royal courts of that era often spoke French, it makes sense that “vennel” is derived from an Old French word, “vennelle,” meaning alley or lane. Unlike a “close,” a vennel was a public alley leading from a high street or ground to open ground. The Latin form is “vennella,” which is related to our English word, “funnel.”

Perth’s source of prosperity was its location on the River Tay, the highest navigable place on the river. As the city and the ships who traded with her grew larger, the port moved slowly down river where there was less population and deeper water. Perth tried to establish trade with North America, but could never seriously compete with the western Scottish ports. Perth’s importance as a port declined as ships grew bigger, but when diesel engines were developed, which in turn allowed shallower drafts, there was a brief resurgence. However, steel ships grew larger as diesel engines grew, and Perth’s importance declined again. There still exists a lively trade with countries around Britain’s east coast – Scandinavian, Baltic, and the Low countries, as well as England’s east coast.

Shipbuilding was an important industry for Perth in the 18th and 19th centuries. Timber was floated down the River Tay from places like Dunkeld and Birnam to the many small shipyards along the river. Shipbuilding declined for Perth, however, after steel ships with diesel engines became a more economical choice than wood for ships.

“The Boat Builders” by Scottish artist John Bellany
The rest of the painting – it’s about 5 meters across, or slightly over 16 feet.

John Bellany painted this in 1962, while he was a student at the Edinburgh College of Art. It shows a fishing boat named “Good Hope,” with the registration number LH-321, which would have been Leith, a town near Edinburgh. “Bellany” is the name on the stern.

Bellany was born into a fishing family, and grew up surrounded by the fishing life in Port Seton, also near Edinburgh. Boatbuilding scenes such as this would have been very familiar. I thought perhaps the artist was depicted in the painting – I found the man with eyeglasses in the upper left a possibility, but the notes accompanying the painting did not indicate it.

The Perth Museum was well worth the visit, filled with Scottish paintings and local natural history, with a gallery or two of classical art as a nod to the larger world.

In 1993, after “days of wintry weather,” a sudden warming caused major snowmelt and then major flooding of the city of Perth. The flood dumped over 450,000 gallons from the swollen River Tay into the collections storage and offices of the museum. The Royal Navy helped pump water out of their storage areas, and staff waded through the flood waters to salvage art works, photographs, and other artifacts.

The event resulted in losses, but a great deal of cleaning, conserving, and preserving was done, and the museum constructed an entire exhibit to communicate the efforts being made and to educate their public about what those efforts entailed. Today, their activities are mainly conserving and cleaning, but the staff still works where visitors can watch and learn. In non-pandemic times, there will be more communication – when I was there, we spoke very loudly through the glass.

When I was in the conservation area, she was working on a trophy, visible in the background, won by a local team.
She held up a piece that she had cleaned earlier.
It looked like someone in an ice skating competition.

The Scone Palace

Outside of Perth is the Scone Palace, pronounced “skoon,” that is the ancestral home of the Murrays, who became the Dukes of Mansfield.

The entry gate of another generation – in more touristy times, tour buses come through another entrance from the highway.

This is where the kings of Scotland were crowned, or at least, many of them, including MacBeth in 1040 AD. The line from Shakespeare’s play, written about five hundred fifty years later in 1606, gives one an idea of how entrenched the tradition was, especially since MacBeth was not the first.

“So thanks to all at once, and to each one, whom we invite to see us crowned at Scone.”

“MacBeth” by William Shakespeare

The earliest monarch to be crowned king of Scotland at Scone was Kenneth MacAlpin in 834 AD. Tradition says that it was Kenneth who brought the “Stone of Destiny” to Scone, but there are some who believe it was earlier. The Stone was stolen in 1296 by the English King Edward I, who took it to Westminster Abbey. England’s “Coronation Chair” had a special shelf underneath the seat that held the Stone of Destiny. The Stone was returned to Scotland in 1996. The stone at the Scone Palace is a replica. (At the end of the post, there is information about how to learn more about the Stone’s story, which is pretty interesting.)

The Stone of Destiny – this one is a replica of the real Stone, which resides now in the Edinburgh Castle.

King Kenneth’s Scotland was comprised of the Pict and Scot tribes, and did not have the boundaries of today’s Scotland, but it did represent a “trans-tribe” entity. It was about three hundred years later that King David I united the tribes into a nation that would be more familiar to us.

Reading the signage at the Scone Palace, one would get the impression that it was the Murray clan that “hosted,” so to speak, the crowning of the monarchs, but that’s not really the story. The Murrays had a castle built in 1580, that was replaced in the 18th century by the current palace. It just happens to be right by “Moot Hill.”

Moot Hill is the area upon which the Stone of Scone sat. Tradition says that the nobles who would serve the king, brought one of their boots filled with earth from their lands. They poured this earth onto the hill and swore their oath of allegiance and service to the king. No one explained why it is called “Moot Hill.” (My brain kept trying to call it “Boot Hill,” which even made sense, given the tradition.)

The Scone Palace

Scone was the site of Pict gatherings, and later of early Christian cults, beginning possibly as early as 700 AD. It is known that a priory was founded at the site around 1114 AD, but between 700 and 1114 AD, the early medieval Christian cult called the Culdees, meaning “Companions of God,” succeeded an earlier cult. The Culdees were succeeded by the Scone Priory, a house of Augustinian canons, and later the priory became the Scone Abbey.

It is likely that the religious activity made it a place where monarchs were crowned, and this tradition was established before the Murrays’ castle was built on the site. The abbey’s buildings no longer exist, but there is a graveyard at the site of the abbey.

Graveyard in the old Scone Abbey area.

There is a chapel on the grounds of the Scone Palace, behind Moot Hill, that is the resting place of several family members.

The Murray Chapel at Scone Palace.
Part of the interior, photographed through the bars that kept visitors at the doorway.

The Dukes of Mansfield were also interested in trees and botany in general. Apparently, the Dukes of Mansfield are from the same Murray family who were the Dukes of Atholl, the “planting dukes,” but the relationship is unclear. At any rate, it was a member of the gardening staff who guided tours through the gardens.

HM Queen Elizabeth was celebrating her 50th year as queen, a year filled with activities, one of which was to recognize the importance of the Douglas Fir to Scotland, United Kingdom.
Not the best-shaped Douglas Fir, but entirely grown on site.
The maze was very popular with visitors. There is a bridge near the entrance so no one was lost, at least not forever!
The oldest tree on the palace grounds.
The road leading out of the grounds for people who want to catch the public bus back to Perth!

The Stone of Destiny has its own story, which is interesting and only takes a few minutes to read the “20 facts.” Go to the website, historicenvironment.scot, then enter Stone of Destiny into the search field on the top right of the page. It will produce several links, but when I did it, “20 facts revealed…” was the top link returned. Just click on the link to read about when the Stone was stolen from Westminster Abbey, how it was returned, and the efforts made to return the Stone in 1996 to Scotland.

In Birnam Wood

“Macbeth shall never vanquish’d be until Great Birnam Wood to high Dunsinane Hill Shall come against him.” – William Shakespeare

I stepped off the ScotRail at the Birnam station one grey morning, with coffee on my mind. It was August, and I was entering the Highlands where August mornings could be chilly already. The sun would warm things up, but hot coffee would fix me up right now. My breath hung in the air.

The train station is on the far side of the A9 from the village proper. Pedestrians have to follow steps and a gravel path that go down hill from the train station platform and turn right, going under the tracks and the highway overpass to get to Birnam. It’s a walk, especially with rolling luggage on the gravel, but when you get there, you are greeted by a charming garden along a charming village street, Perth Road.

Partly the inn (in the distance,) partly residences, Perth Road.

It was after eight o’clock in the morning, but there was nothing open that would be serving coffee in sight, and few signs of life. The Birnam Inn was open, not serving anything, but he – the desk clerk – pointed me down the road to a place that was open and, as far as he knew, serving coffee, tea, and some food. The lock-down in Scotland still had many things closed, especially smaller establishments.

The clerk also deserves mention because he said yes to letting me stash my luggage there while I visited, even though I was not a guest of the Inn. It was a very nice thing to do.

The place he pointed me to was open, and had places outside to sit while you drank your beverage and nibbled on the nibbles they were serving. People in line were a “unicorn apart,” and wearing masks. From the conversation and demeanour, I gathered I was the only tourist – these were people who were acquainted. While I waited for my mocha, I noticed the sign that said “Post Office.” It explained everything.

The Birnam Post Office & Tea Room, the official name. Obviously, it’s much more!

After coffee and a pastry, I walked further down Perth Road, just to see what was there – houses, mainly, and the occasional car – so I walked back toward the inn to take a look at the garden.

The garden is called the “Beatrix Potter Garden” because her family, the Potters, stayed at the nearby Dalguise House during summer holidays for ten summers, 1871 – 1881, from the time Beatrix was five years old until she was fifteen. Not connected to the garden per se, there was an exhibit about Beatrix keeping a diary, starting at age fifteen, that she wrote in code. In her later years, she couldn’t read it anymore, and it wasn’t until after she died that the papers were given to a university student who cracked the code. Just FYI.

The garden is small, with neat flower beds, and relaxed edges. The visitors’ shed was closed, of course, but the garden was open. There were, interspersed among the plantings, characters from Ms. Potter’s various stories. I spotted Mr. Jeremy Fisher, Mrs. Tiggy Winkle, and Mrs. Rabbit, who was trying to corral Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail, and Peter. I didn’t see Farmer MacGregor – the designer may have decided that visitors supplied enough human intrusion.

Mr. Jeremy Fisher – he’s there, but you have to look closely!
Mrs. Tiggy Winkle, hiding inside her house.
Mrs. Rabbit, Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail, and Peter.

The “woods that were” are Birnam’s main claim to fame. There are still many trees, but the old growth forest, the Great Birnam Wood, that used to line the banks of the River Tay is gone, save for one very old oak that still lives on the edge of the river, the Birnam Oak.

The Birnam Oak is not as old as the 11th century, which would have been the time of MacBeth, but it is one of the last trees of the ancient Birnam Wood. It is 24 feet (7 metres) around, estimated to be something over 600 years old.

There are signs along the path to where it grows that are designed to help visitors – many of them city dwellers who don’t necessarily know one tree from another – get to the right tree:

“It’s not me, I’m a sycamore.”
“Not me, either…keep going!”
And here it is, The One. Another visitor kindly posed for me to give an idea how big it is.
It’s had some help staying upright. The trunk is hollow for the first ten feet – you’d think that would kill it, but the nutrition it needs travels upward through the bark and outer layers. Trees like this provide habitat for insects and birds.

Tradition has it that Shakespeare was inspired to write Macbeth after visiting the area as an actor. Records show that a company of English strolling players were given permission to stage a play in Perth in 1589, but no names are listed in the entry. So, a “definite maybe.”

“The Young Pretender” is a sycamore, but, even though very large, it is half the age of the older oak. Sycamores are not native to Scotland. They give “excellent white hardwood” that does not taint food, so it’s good for cutting boards and rolling pins, in case you ever need to know, but best of all, bees like them!

Walking through the village, following the river, I found the bridge that leads to Dunkeld. The two villages face each other across the river; Dunkeld is larger, or at least, so it seemed to me.

The bridge had an interesting sign on it:

“Toll Riots.” Really?

The toll keeper’s name was Peter Murray, was deemed a “peaceable man:”

Toll Keeper Peter Murray

Peter Murray lived in this house:

And the house was on the bridge that crossed this river, the River Tay:

The River Tay.

An act of Parliament in 1803 gave the Duke of Atholl authority to build a bridge across the river at a cost not to exceed 18,000 pounds. The Duke was allowed to be repaid this expense from the tolls and “pontages,” meaning “a duty or tax paid in lieu of personal service for the building and repairing of bridges,” (Merriam-Webster,) plus an additional 1,500 pounds to be invested to support maintenance. When the 19,500 pounds was collected, the Act provided that “all right and title of the said Duke and his heirs…to demand tolls…shall cease, determine, and forever be extinguished.”

Work started on the bridge in 1805, and finished in 1809, although the bridge was opened to the public in 1808.

By 1853, forty-five years later, the paying public was beginning to feel that, surely, the debt owing to the Duke had been paid off. There were rumblings.

Not rushing into anything, it was 1867 when the congregation of the Free Church requested that the Duke forgo collecting tolls from the members of all denominations when proceeding to and from church on Sundays. The Duke refused this request. That was when the public meetings began….

Alexander Robertson became the “Convener” of a small committee to fight the bridge tolls. The committee didn’t make much progress, and so Robertson held meetings to rally public support for their position. These meetings took place over the next couple of years, but after an “incident on the bridge,” Robertson was imprisoned for assault.

Alexander Robertson

A flyer for one of the meetings.

The situation continued to deteriorate, with lawsuits filed against the Duke, and the Duke filing counter suits. The gates were ripped off and thrown into the river. Gates were replaced. Gates were ripped off. Things got so bad that the Black Watch regiment showed up to keep the peace.

Finally, in 1878, some seventy years after the tolls were first imposed, the Roads and Bridges Act removed the tolls, a victory for “the people,” and ending the Toll Riots. The gates were removed. This time the gates were stored under the bridge, not in the river, and stayed under the bridge until 1942, when they were hauled out and given to the Wartime Drive for Salvage.

One of the early Jacobite uprisings came to Dunkeld. Fought right on the heels of the Glorious Revolution, the Battle of Dunkeld took place in 1689, and was so furiously fought that it destroyed virtually the entire village, including Dunkeld House, home to the Dukes of Atholl, and the Bishop’s Palace, belonging to the Dunkeld Cathedral.

Dunkeld House, the home of the Dukes of Atholl prior to the 17th century, had been surrounded by different gardens, glass houses, arbors, and clipped hedges. This had been the style for the previous two or three hundred years.

But styles change, frequently prompted by new discoveries or explorations, and both were taking place as the “New World” was discovered and explored by Europeans.

From the 17th century right up to the early 20th century, the landscaped setting of the big, important houses, such as the Dukes’ Dunkeld House, which was rebuilt a little further up the river, was as important as the house itself. “Designed landscapes” became the fashion. Some of Scotland’s designed landscapes are protected as historic examples of the trend.

Where the old Dunkeld House had manicured gardens, the desire by the 1700s was for a more natural look. Plant hunters and botanists were traveling the world and bringing back the seeds of exotic new plants.

The Dukes of Atholl liked to plant trees, and they planted a lot of them. They played a big part in trying to revive the timber-based industry in Scotland.

On Dunkeld’s tree trail is an historic larch tree, the “Mother of Millions, the Parent Larch.” Five larch seedlings were planted in 1738 by the 2nd Duke of Atholl. One was cut in 1789 to become the axles in a mill; two were cut in 1809 to become ships; a fourth was cut in 1905 and became part of a great lodge. The fifth still stands today.

The Parent Larch

The “Planting Dukes” of Atholl made Perthshire the “cradle of Scottish forestry,” planting over fourteen million larch trees over a hundred years, 1815 – 1915. They turned Scotland’s rocky hillsides into Scotland’s first large-scale managed forests, and turned a profit as well. (After all, they didn’t have the bridge tolls anymore.)

The American tree with the Scottish name, too tall for a single frame!

Another tree that caused a sensation in Scotland and England was the Douglas fir. This tree is native to the Pacific Northwest part of the United States – Washington, Oregon, northern California, and, in Canada, the province of British Columbia. Douglas firs are extraordinarily large trees, in an area of other extraordinarily large trees, such as Redwoods and Sequoias.

This type of fir tree was first described to science in 1792 by Archibald Menzies, a Scottish doctor and plant-hunter, who sailed to North America with the Royal Navy. Menzies was a Perthshire native from Aberfelly.

In 1827, another plant-hunter, David Douglas, introduced the species to Britain. Douglas was raised in the village of Scone, near Perth, and trained in his field at the Glasgow Botanic Gardens.

Both men are commemorated in the names of the tree. Menzies’ name is part of the scientific name, “Pseudotsuga menziesii,” and Douglas’ name in the common English name, “Douglas Fir.” This tree, while popular as a specimen, did not become the commercial success that the larch did.

Another Douglas Fir

The trees grow around the Dunkeld Cathedral, which is now a parish church and still in use. There is not much known about the history of this church, only the “Vitae Episcoporum Dunkeldensian,” written by Abbot Alexander Myln around 1515, wherein he describes the elaborate interiors.

The bell tower is at the rear of the structure. There was going to be a large window in the arched opening next to it, which would have been at the rear of the nave.

After the Protestant Reformation of 1560, adornment was frowned upon, and austerity became the style of the day. The choir section of the cathedral became the parish church, and the nave section, no longer used, deteriorated so much that the roof fell in, creating the “romantic ruin” of today.

The roofless nave – some restoration work is going on, as you can observe from the scaffolding on the interior. The bell tower would be to the right, the choir to the left.

Dunkeld itself derives its name from a large tribe of Caledonians. The Gaelic “Dun Chailleann” means “fort of the Caledonians,” according to the signs. In the 790s, Constantine, the son of Fergus, king of the Picts, built a monastery here for Christian monks, the “Culdees,” or “companions of God,” according to a different sign, both from historical sources.

The choir section, at the front of the building, used as the current parish church, which was closed because, pandemic.
The door to the Chapter House, now used as a sacristy, to the side of the choir section.
In the corner of the grounds around the ruin was this stash of slate pieces used, I assume, to make repairs to the current church roof.
I included this photograph to indicate the size of this place – it is huge. Those are people in the lower right corner of the photo.

Relics of Saint Columba were brought here from Iona in 849 by Kenneth MacAlpin, the first king of both the Picts and the Scots. The relics were brought to safeguard against Viking raids, but they also made the monastery a place of pilgrimage. Around 1114, Cormac became the Bishop of Dunkeld, and a “medieval age of peace and prosperity” followed. Construction of the cathedral began in the 1200s with the choir section, and continued over the next three hundred years.

The Protestant Reformation of 1560 caused the cathedral to decay, and the Jacobite uprising, manifested here as the 1689 Battle of Dunkeld, destroyed the Bishop’s palace along with most of the village and Dunkeld House.

The Old Rectory

That’s why the Old Rectory, originally a manse, is Dunkeld’s oldest surviving (intact) house. The blue Heritage sign tells you that fiddler Niel Gow and …wait for it…poet Robbie Burns entertained here in 1787.

Other parts of Dunkeld are charming, and I spent a very lovely afternoon here, lunch in the village, window shopping the main street, and enjoying the views into the closes along the way, before gathering my luggage from Birnam Inn, and catching the train to Pitlochry, further into the Highlands.

A Cathedral, a Garden, and Village Life

There are small towns around Stirling that make for lovely visits – short, sweet, and full of character and characters. I spent a Monday exploring along the ScotRail track.

Dunblane was my first stop, recommended by Adrian, my B&B host, as a picturesque rural village. And, he was right about that. The cathedral is the first thing I noticed. It’s hard to miss.

The village and the site of the cathedral are intertwined. The location is at a ford on the Allan Water (the name is a medieval variation of naming rivers – we would call it Allan River.) Saint Blane, born on the Isle on Bute in Scotland, studied in Ireland and became a monk, returned to Scotland, and established a presence on Holmehill around 590 or 600 AD. As it grew, it was called “Dunblane,” or “fort of Blane.” According to the church history, the area was populated by bears and other wildlife, plus there was no real law at the time, so fortified shelters were in order. Little is known about Saint Blane as there are no contemporary records.

The current church building dates from about the 13th century, although the bell tower, which was formerly free-standing, was built in the 11th century. The bell tower was incorporated into a later medieval building and also made taller in the 15th century. The stone changes color, marking the place where height was added. Details of how the church was established and grew to be a cathedral are sketchy.

Prior to the Reformation, it was the seat of a bishop – the remains of vaults believed to belong to the remains of an episcopal palace (meaning where the bishop lived) lie to the south of the main building.

Technically, it is no longer a cathedral since there are no longer bishops in the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. They were abolished after the “Glorious Revolution” in 1688-89, when Catholic King James II (VII of Scotland) was deposed and replaced by Protestant Queen Mary and her husband, William III of Orange.

After 1689, the choir section of the now-former cathedral became the parish church. The nave fell out of use and the roof fell in. The nave was re-roofed and re-furnished between 1889 and 1893 under the supervision of Robert Rowand Anderson.

The bell tower side of Dunblane Cathedral, a huge church in a small village. The congregation from the village and the surrounding area numbers about a thousand.
As usual, I spent some time walking around the kirkyard.
The main doors of the church. Like so many at this time, there are no services held in the church. I found that they hold services by Zoom on a regular schedule, however!
The stained glass windows probably date from the repairs in the late 1800s, but the building was closed so I wasn’t able to see them.
While I was reading gravestones and taking photographs, along came this very nice couple who live in Dunblane. We had a lovely time chatting about this and that – life, the church, the pandemic, how we missed being able to visit with friends and neighbors, and anything else that came up.
I learned that her name is Caitronia, which I think is a beautiful name.
They were delightful to visit with, and made my visit to Dunblane memorable. And the gentleman, who listened so patiently while Caitronia and I chatted, is named Alex.
This building houses a small museum and offices, but was closed.

While I was working my way around the church and taking photos, I noticed Caitronia walking toward me. As she got closer, I could see that she had my card in her hand and I wondered what was on her mind. It turned out that when she and her husband got to the cafe and sat down, and she really read the card, she saw that my name is Sinclair, only she pronounced it more like “Sink-ler.” It turns out that was her mother’s maiden name, which she thought was worth remarking on. I did, too. An interesting coincidence! So maybe Caitronia and I are distant cousins of some sort – it’s fun to think about these things. She gave me her email address, so I will be sending this post to her. I hope she enjoys reading it and remembering as much as I do.

In the afternoon, people were getting off the train and walking home. The train ride is short enough that people commute to Stirling or other small towns along the line for work or university, rather than drive everywhere.
My guidebook identified this as a road where weavers’ shops were located.
It turned out that the weavers worked on Sinclair’s Street.
St. Blane’s Church of Scotland along another town street.

I walked around the town’s streets to see what I could see, and when I walked up to the top of a hill, there was a man puttering around his yard. I smiled and said “Hello” as I walked by, and he asked where I was from. Conversation ensued, and then, as I was a visitor, he told me about a book he had that showed what the town used to look like where his house is now. Would I like to see it? And he invited me into his back yard, where his wife was sitting outside reading in the sun. She and I chatted while he went to retrieve his book.

Here’s the old photo he was describing. The tower in the distance is an old hotel, now run by Hilton, apparently. On the left, not very visible in the photo is another church – there are several in Dunblane.
This is the spot where he figures the photo was taken. Things have clearly changed – the street is straight and paved, and the trees have grown. The hotel is still visible, but there’s no sign of the church anymore.

I asked if I could take his photo – I try to remember to do this with the people I have conversations with along my way – but he really didn’t want to have his photo taken, and I didn’t get his name, either. He suggested that I could take a photo of his cat, however.

Sure, why not?

So, here’s the cat, sleeping on a mattress in his storage shed in the backyard. The cat has no name, he’s the Cat. The man’s wife probably thought we were crazy, or maybe she’s used to him. She smiled, so she must have been amused. I don’t know, but they were very nice, and added more sunshine to my visit to Dunblane.

It was time for me to head back to the train, and he was telling me about the shortcut through his neighbor’s yard, and he said his neighbor’s name, but sadly, I’ve forgotten it – I was focused on the train. He talked about his neighbor’s garden and how wonderful it is (it is), and how his neighbor lets his friends cut through the yard…that was when he decided he should take me over to meet his friend if he was home – he likes to sit in the sun in his garden and read, you know – and off we went. His neighbor was just across the street and down a house, and he was, in fact, out sitting in his garden, reading. He was also very nice, but I would guess not as outgoing, and he said it was fine for me to take the shortcut. So I was pointed in the right direction, I thanked them both for all their help and information, and went down the garden path toward the town center and railway station.

The Garden Path. At the end of his yard, there were small steps that led down the slope to the sidewalk below the garden.
I walked downhill on the sidewalk, and crossed the bridge, approaching the center of town.
A view of town as I walked down the hill.
At the station.

Unfortunately, I got there in time to watch the train pulling away, picking up speed – no chance of running after it, but I didn’t really want to, anyway. I saw from the train schedule that another train would be along in about an hour. This gave me time to visit the local pub and have a bite to eat. The people there were very nice, too – I don’t think I’ve been in a friendlier town – but deeply engrossed in a football (soccer) game. I figured out who we were cheering for and we all had a good time and I got a sandwich. I had to leave before the game was over, but they said goodbye, and this time, I caught the train.

Adrian was relieved to see me as I was later than I had expected. He didn’t want to lose any guests that he had sent off on day trips. I thought I would visit more than one town, but I had enjoyed Dunblane so much, it was okay. The other towns would still be there another day.

The Holy Rude and Stirling Castle

Even though Scotland has closed many of their sights, there are still things to see – big outdoor monuments like the Wallace monument, ruined abbeys, and castles, as well as smaller structures that were part of life when the castle was still a royal residence.

Mar’s Wark

“Mar’s” is not a typo for Mars, it refers to the Earl of Mar, John Erskine, who was the keeper of Stirling Castle when he began construction of a townhouse, the remains of which are pictured here. For those of you who read about Cambuskenneth Abbey in my last post, “The Walk to Abbey Craig,” tradition says that this building is where the stones from the Abbey were re-used.

The building was a “courtyard townhouse,” meaning the residence was built in three wings, surrounding a central courtyard. Entry was through a gate at the front, seen above. All that survives now is the Renaissance-style facade, embellished with heraldic panels, gargoyles, and statuettes.

Erskine himself was a moderate Protestant, and Governor of Edinburgh Castle during the regency of Mary of Guise, from 1554 to 1560, when that Mary died. He turned against Mary of Guise’s daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots, after the murder of her husband, Lord Darnley, in 1567, but served as regent to the young James VI, Mary’s son, 1571 – 1572, when the Earl died. His widow, Annabella Murray, the Countess of Mar, continued to live in the house.

The house stayed in the Erskine family until the time of the 6th Earl of Mar, also named John Erskine. The 6th Earl had the house repaired to serve as a barracks during the 1715 Jacobite uprising, promoting the restoration of the Stuarts to the Scottish throne. The failure of the 1715 uprising resulted in the exile of the Erskines and the forfeiture of their estates, including the townhouse. The house became a workhouse by 1733. In the Jacobite uprising of 1745, the building was damaged by cannon fire and abandoned.

An artist’s rendering of Mar’s Wark, on the left, with the two turrets. The windows and doors on the facade were probably used as shops. When viewing remains of older buildings, some imagination is required.
Argyll’s Lodging

Argyll’s Lodging is a 17th century townhouse built for a wealthy merchant who was not named Argyll. The Earl of Argyll bought the house from the merchant when he thought that Charles II might reside in Stirling Castle, and it was his name that stuck. In “normal” times, the house is open to visitors who wish to see how 17th century aristocrats lived.

Detail over entrance to Argyll’s Lodging.
“Auld Staneybreeks” John Cowane

John Cowane was a rich merchant, prominent civic participant, and one of Stirling’s early philanthropists. Cowane travelled regularly to Holland, trading in luxury goods. In Stirling, he was a town councillor and a member of the Scots Parliament.

When he died in 1633, he left a sizeable bequest to build a hospital or almshouse to support poor and elderly merchants. The resulting organization, Cowane’s Hospital, built the almshouse to support elderly and infirm merchants, providing a home and pension, as there was no state system of welfare.

Cowane’s Trust is Scotland’s second-oldest surviving charitable trust, and continues to support those in need. The Hospital is also the home of what is believed to be Scotland’s oldest surviving bowling green!

In 1650, the statue of John Cowane was installed in the niche of the building’s tower, seen above. Over the years, it became known affectionately as “Auld Staneybreeks,” a reference to the figure’s carved stone trousers.

When I visited, the building was deep in the throes of repair and restoration.
This stained glass window, with the portrait of John Cowane in the center, was added in the 1850s.
Cowan’s house in Stirling, one of the town’s largest houses in its day.
Church of the Holy Rude.

The Church of the Holy Rude was founded in 1129 by David I, and named for the Holy Rood, a relic of the True Cross on which Jesus was crucified. The oldest part of this building, however, dates from the 15th century. The bell tower was added about three hundred years later.

On July 29, 1567, James VI was crowned King of Scotland here after the forced abdication of his mother, Mary, Queen of Scots. While Mary was held prisoner in Lochleven Castle, John Knox gave the sermon at the ceremony here.

Kirkyard of the Holy Rude

Gravestones in older kirkyards are set up in rows, facing east “where the sun rises and the Last Trumpet will sound,” and the kirkyard of the Holy Rude is no exception. The earliest date here is 1579. Older stones have a skull or an hourglass, symbols of morality, and/or “winged souls” or vines that symbolize immortality. The graves of tradesmen also bear symbols of their occupations – bakers, masons, weavers, and other crafts. Merchants are represented by a “reversed” numeral four, the symbol I had seen near the harbor monument. Gravestones were considered status symbols, and many Stirling residents set up their markers while they were quite alive!

Across the Old Kirkyard, looking toward the Church of the Holy Rude. Cowane’s Hospital is next to the church.
Looking over the Valley Cemetery, toward the road leading up to Stirling Castle, which is out of sight on the left. In sight are the out-of-service food trucks that usually populate the roadway. There was one truck to the left, serving ice cream. How do I know that? Really, need you ask?

The Valley Cemetery is newer than the Old Kirkyard, i.e. it’s Victorian more than medieval, and was added on – no boundary fences separate the two. Statues of prominent Reformation heroes were set up when it was opened. There is the obligatory figure of John Knox, but there are some memorials to people less familiar, such as the photo below. These enclosed statues depict the story of Margaret Wilson, who was executed at the tender age of eighteen for refusing to renounce her Protestant faith. The execution was by drowning in the Solway Firth, on the western side of Scotland. She had no connection with Stirling itself, her presence here is to be instructive in faithfulness. The statues are Victorian in style – a sentimental image of women, with none of the horror or shock of the actual execution.

The story of Margaret Wilson in the Valley Cemetery.
John Knox, left, is missing his hands; Andrew Melville, right, a major figure of the Presbyterian movement, came slightly later than John Knox.
“Rock of Ages” with an inscription about psalms that I couldn’t make out, but a copy of the Bible and the Confession of Faith were sealed into a chamber in the Pyramid, 1863.
Robert the Bruce in front of Stirling Castle.
The front gate of Stirling Castle.
View from the castle walls across the countryside
View toward the Holy Rude (tower) and the town of Stirling.
From the gates, the Great Hall to the left, old kitchen ahead.
The palace building, with restored royal chambers, sadly not open for this visit, but the decorations on the exterior were very interesting! To the right, in the corner, is the gate to the Inner Close.
This is a representation of King James V, who was believed to have dressed occasionally as a commoner and wandered around in the town among his subjects. He built this building, the palace.
The gargoyles and other decorations were quite elaborate. The gate here leads from the Inner Close to the Outer Close.

The castle was built in stages during Scotland’s independent history. While this site always was a fortified place, and had walls by 1496, the castle as it exists today was built mainly during the reigns of James IV, V, and VI. The major buildings – the palace, the Great Hall, and the Royal Chapel, form the boundaries of the Inner Close, or courtyard, the fourth side being the barracks building that dates from the 1400s. The earlier castle walls were extended by adding new walls with the double-turreted gate. After James VI of Scotland became also James I of England in 1607, Stirling Castle essentially ceased being the royal residence, and nothing more was constructed.

The Great Hall, built by James IV.
The Unicorn on the roof of the Great Hall, built by James IV. James V was crowned in the Royal Chapel, aged 17 months.
The Great Hall had the arms of the nobles killed at the Battle of Flodden Hill.
Mary, Queen of Scots, was crowned here in the Royal Chapel, just a few days old. It was smaller then. Her son, the future James VI, was baptized in the smaller version. In turn, James VI remodelled the Royal Chapel extensively to christen his son, Henry.
More of the Royal Chapel, which was made quite large, remodelled for the christening of James VI’s son Henry. Henry did not live to succeed his father, rather it was Charles I who succeeded James.
The Devil himself watches…
the happy garden scene below, against the former castle wall. Newer fortifications formed the current outer wall.
Outside of the Great Hall.
The fields seen from the castle wall once hosted tournaments and competitions.
And, of course, the view toward the Wallace Monument.
Walking through Stirling after visiting the Castle, I passed the “Settle Inn,” Stirling’s oldest pub, dating from 1733. In non-pandemic times, the pub hosts live music.
No doubt, some of the live music comes from Stirling Bagpipes, with their collection of antique bagpipes & associated paraphernalia. The pipes are made by hand here, and pipes are repaired here, also. Not feeling up to playing the pipes? They sell CDs also. Closed for now, but will be open again, hopefully soon!

The way “home” followed the Back Walk, which follows the town wall, built around 1547, when Henry VIII began the “Rough Wooing.” He attacked Scottish towns along the border, attempting to force Mary, Queen of Scots, to marry his son Edward, uniting the two kingdoms, Scotland and England. Obviously, that didn’t work out. But the Back Walk remains a popular path from the Castle to Dumbarton Road, and the Castle Walk B&B.

When James VI & I went to London, he never looked back. Charles II visited Scotland briefly in 1650, but after that, there were no more royal visits until 1849, when Queen Victoria came. She became quite the fan of Scotland, especially the Highlands, and visited with some regularity.

In 1787, Robert Burns visited Stirling, staying at Wingate’s Inn. This was after the Stuart line had come to an end with Queen Anne’s death in 1714, and the transition to the house of Hanover, George I, from 1714 – 1727. George was Anne’s second cousin, and the closest living Protestant relative. He was followed by George II, 1727 – 1760. George III was king in 1787 (and in 1776 during the American Revolution.) Burns was dismayed by the condition of Stirling Castle, and apparently not impressed by the Hanovers, as he wrote these lines, etching them on the window, aptly titled, “The Stirling Lines:”

“Here Stewarts once in triumph reign’d; And laws for Scotland’s weal ordain’d; But now unroof’d their Palace stands, Their sceptre’s fall’n to other hands; Fallen indeed, and to the earth, Whence grovelling reptiles take their birth. The injur’d Stewart line is gone, A race outlandish fill their throne; An idiot race, to honour lost; Who know them best despise them most.”

The Walk to Abbey Craig

One of the wonderful things about Stirling is that you don’t have to walk far to find yourself in the countryside, and walking in Scotland’s countryside on a mild summer’s morning makes you glad to be alive.

A few blocks from Castle Walk, I hit the last stretch of town, walking along Abbey Road. It is not THE Abbey Road, of course, but like The Abbey Road, it was named long, long ago, for the place to which it led – the local abbey. In Stirling, this means Cambuskenneth Abbey.

As I got closer to the River Forth, I could see the footbridge that crossed the river, and houses on the other side. There is a very small village across the river called, “Cambuskenneth,” which means “fields of Kenneth,” after the 9th century King Kenneth McAlpin who defeated the Picts in a battle here in 834 AD. Traditionally, this battle marked the founding of “Scotland,” because Kenneth became the first king.

Beginning in medieval times the crossing here was by boat. A log boat was found on the spot in 1874, carved from a single tree. Carbon dating indicates the boat was built in 996AD, and it is preserved now within the neighboring bell tower.

The serene River Forth from the footbridge between Stirling and Cambuskenneth.

The ferry boats themselves had evolved over time from the early log boats, to dory-looking craft with oars, until the last ferry was powered by steam and designed by Baillie “Captain” Robert Wilson, a local whose family owned a steamship cargo company. It was launched in 1928, and named Cameo III. (Cameo I and Cameo II were owned by the steamship company and used to transport ammunition to nearby Forthside.) Cameo III served until the footbridge opened in 1935. Comparatively speaking, the footbridge is still new, and has barely lost its shine, outdone only by the bridge further upstream that was built to serve motorised traffic.

The bell tower holding the medieval log boat belongs to Cambuskenneth Abbey, founded in 1140 by King David I, and which became home to an order of Augustinian canons. Most of the abbey is gone, and the bell tower and the western doorway to the church are all that’s left.

The Campanile, or bell tower. I was able to walk into the bottom floor, but entrance to the upstairs, where I presume the boat is, was blocked.

Cambuskenneth Abbey was used by Robert the Bruce as his main supply depot in 1314 for the ten thousand soldiers of his army at the Battle of Bannockburn. Bruce and his army of about six thousand defeated Edward II and an English army of about eighteen thousand at the Bannockburn. In 1314 and in 1326, Bruce held parliaments at this abbey.

The bell tower is next to a cemetery where King James III and Queen Margaret of Denmark are buried. James was killed at the Battle of Sauchieburn, about three miles south, in 1488.

Near the cemetery. The fence that kept me from exploring the cemetery doesn’t show in the photo because I’m standing on the bottom rung and leaning on the iron rod across the top, avoiding the sharp, pointy iron arrows at the top. (It’s a different fence than the one you see above.) I looked for another entrance or a way to climb the fence, but didn’t find any. Despite the inviting open gate, visitors were clearly not allowed.

The Abbey was next to a key fording point on the River Forth, and “would have been a well known and a welcome sight for travelers and tradesmen travelling between the Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland,” says the sign next to the footbridge. The abbey was disbanded after the Reformation of 1560, and the stones were used for other buildings in Stirling. The Campanile (bell tower) was restored in 1865.

Cambuskenneth, the village, is a very pleasant place with friendly people. I know that because when I arrived at the abbey, I found a group of men who were just arriving at the very small park by the abbey. We had a lovely conversation about the things tourists and locals talk about – where I’m from, where they’ve been in the U.S., how long they’ve lived here, things like that. Are you Rotarians? I asked, because they reminded me so much of my club on South Whidbey Island. They were not, they were simply friends who liked to walk, and did so regularly. The small park at the abbey provided seating to rest, chat, and enjoy a lunch while outside and socially distanced. A few of them let me take their photo.

Part of the walking group. The field with the small park and the Abbey is to the right of the photo.

The village is also a “conservation village,” a designation meaning the area is considered to have “special architectural or historic interest, the character or appearance of which it is desirable to preserve or enhance.” The area has special protections from the top of Abbey Craig across to Stirling itself, along with Stirling castle and other historical buildings.

A street in Cambuskenneth

My destination was the Wallace Monument, which sits on Abbey Craig. Wallace is considered a hero in Scotland as a whole, and here in Stirling especially, because of the famous Battle of Stirling Bridge fought in 1296. It was an early battle in the First War of Scottish Independence, roughly from 1296 to 1332.

How Scotland, and William Wallace, arrived at the Abbey Craig to fight the English King Edward, goes like something like this:

In 1290, seven year old Margaret, Queen of Scotland, died, leaving the Scottish throne vacant. Two men claimed the right to succeed the unfortunate little queen: Robert Bruce and John Balliol, both descended from King David I, but along slightly different lines. The claims of these two possible successors were deemed roughly equivalent, and so the lairds of Scotland asked King Edward I of England to decide between the two.

King Edward didn’t care much about ancestry, but he did care who ruled Scotland, and wanted someone who would “take suggestions” from him. Edward thought this was John Balliol.

Depending on whose history of Scotland you read, Scottish or English I suspect, either John Balliol turned out to think for himself or he was a weak and ineffective king. When Edward was getting ready to invade France, he communicated his expectation that Scotland would join him to deal with England’s enemy. Balliol either refused or couldn’t get the lairds to go along with Edward, and Balliol either defied Edward by signing an alliance with France in the following year, 1295, or the lairds forced Balliol into signing the alliance.

Either way, King Edward was enraged, and invaded Scotland in 1296. By July, 1296, Edward had forced John Balliol to abdicate and imprisoned him in the Tower of London, leaving the Scottish throne empty again, and Edward free to rule Scotland as if it was a province of England. Needless to say, this didn’t go over well in Scotland.

William Wallace was the son of a low-ranking Scottish landowner, and was deemed an outlaw in his early years for killing an Englishman who insulted him, followed by killing two Englishmen who accused him of poaching. (Being that the English and Scots were frequently at odds, there may be more to this story.)

As Wallace was a wanted man, he visited his wife and their infant daughter in secret, but the English sheriff heard of this, and took his men to capture Wallace. Wallace escaped, but the sheriff had Wallace’s wife, Marion, executed on the spot by his soldiers. This was Wallace’s transformation from outlaw to freedom fighter, at least according to “Blind Harry,” the bard who composed “The Acts and Deeds of Sir William Wallace, Knight of Elderslie,” an epic poem, almost two hundred years later in 1470.

That same night, Wallace and his men murdered the sheriff and all the soldiers present, and then went on to lay siege to Dundee Castle. Wallace became England’s most wanted man.

The Scottish lairds were organizing to revolt, but their revolt was losing energy by mid-1297. Leadership was lacking in the south of Scotland. Another revolt further north, led by Andrew Murray, was brewing in Moray. When finished at Dundee Castle, Wallace proceeded toward Stirling, meeting Murray along the way. They positioned their forces on Abbey Craig, overlooking the River Forth and Stirling Castle.

Edward I, for his part, sent a large army north to reinforce the English garrison at Stirling Castle, and to destroy the Scottish rebellion. The army was led by the Earl of Surrey, and included Sir Richard Lundie, a Scottish knight who had joined the English forces, and had knowledge of the area.

The landscape was critical to the outcome of the battle. The River Forth twists and turns through the marshy plain between Stirling Castle and Abbey Craig. At the place where the English were, was a wooden bridge, the safest crossing for men and horses because the river became wider to the east of the bridge, and the marshland of Flanders Moss lay on the west. But the bridge was narrow, and cavalry could cross only two abreast. With a force of about two thousand cavalry, crossing would take hours.

Sir Richard offered to lead a cavalry force to ford the river two miles upstream where sixty horsemen could cross at one time, and attack the flank of the Scots, but Cressingham, King Richard’s treasurer in Scotland, persuaded Surrey to cross the bridge and make a direct attack.

Wallace and Murray waited on Abbey Craig as the English cavalry began crossing the bridge. When as many as they thought their force could overwhelm had crossed, they swooped down on them. The English were caught on three sides by the twisty River Forth and were not able to retreat back across the bridge. They were killed.

That Stirling Bridge no longer exists – only the supports remain, now covered by the river. There is a newer bridge, c. 1500, that carries foot and bicycle traffic a few hundred yards from the remains of the original Stirling Bridge.

The Earl of Surrey still had thousands of archers and, not having crossed the bridge, was in a fairly strong position, but he had lost his nerve. He retreated quickly, abandoning the garrison remaining in Stirling Castle to fend for themselves, and headed south to Berwick, in England.

Murray was alive at the battle’s end, but was mortally wounded. He hung on for a few months, dying in November of that year. Wallace was made Guardian of Scotland and commander of its army. Wallace and the army raided as far south as Durham, England, keeping the border area on edge. Edward was already planning a new invasion.

Wallace’s fortunes changed after that. He led the his army into battle at Falkirk in 1298 and the Scots were defeated by Edward I. Historians, with the benefit of hindsight, conclude that Wallace was a charismatic man and a popular leader, but that Murray had been the military strategist. Wallace resigned as Guardian. He was still very popular with the people, however, and therefore Edward I considered him a threat.

In the next few years, not much is known of Wallace, except that he went to France, possibly to gather French support for Scotland’s rebellion. When he returned to Scotland, he was captured – some say by treachery – by Sir John de Menteith, Keeper of Dunbarton Castle, in 1305 at Robroyston. Menteith sent Wallace to England in chains, where he ultimately was executed in a most grisly manner.

On the road, leaving Cambuskenneth to walk to Abbey Craig. “Craig” is a variation of “crag,” a rocky bluff made of quartz-dolerite exposed by erosion, with a “tail” formed by glacial shaping. In the photo, the craig is on the left, where you can see the Wallace Monument reaching up toward the clouds, and the tail slopes to the right.

Leaving Cambuskenneth, heading for Abbey Craig, I was walking on Ladysneuk Road, long and straight across the fields between. About halfway across, someone had thoughtfully placed a bench. There was a break in the foliage between the road and the River Forth, and across the river, up on the hill was Stirling Castle. In the distance, in the sunlight, it looked rather pink to me. I have been learning that castles were once more colorful than we thought – monarchs and rich nobles would put a smooth finish on the walls of their palaces, and paint them, often in bright colors, rather than maintaining the stone gray that we usually associate with castles.

Stirling Castle. The light colored walls are the walls of the palace within the castle.

It was a long walk and the day got warmer. The road turned to the left, and the way to Abbey Craig went through a newer part of Stirling with traffic, including the local buses passing me as I walked, now on a sidewalk.

I stopped to admire a garden (and take a short break.) There was a waist-high stone wall between me and the garden, and the garden’s owner was busy weeding and hoeing. “Great-looking garden,” I said, and it was – lovely beds growing flowers and vegetables, although being August, the vegetables were slowing down some. He thanked me, and stopped to chat for a few minutes. These are the moments in travel that I love best – the chance to meet the residents of the places I visit. We talked about the weather, the path up to the monument, and the cost of real estate around Stirling. He is a retired postmaster, and he allowed as how he was glad he inherited the house and land from his mother because land is expensive in Stirling, and Scotland as a whole.

There was more hill to climb, and the path turned upward, through an alley that ran between the houses, a direct path from the village street I left to the more rural road a couple of tiers up the hill.

From there, there was sidewalk again that passed by someone’s estate with a gorgeous view across the valley and big iron gates across the car access road. This stretch was all up hill, and I was relieved when I finally saw the sign indicating the entrance to the park surrounding the monument itself.

This was actually the beginning of the “Wallace Way,” the path from the visitors’ center to the monument at the top of Abbey Craig, so there was still more hill to climb. The Historical Scotland people had placed signs and statues along the way with information about the monument and Scotland generally as visitors make their way through the woods and up the hill – a nice, educational effort, but I think they did it to help people get to the top.

Yes, Robert Burns is found even at the Wallace Monument! There was, not much further, a bust of Robert the Bruce, too.

At the end of the Ice Age, the Forth Valley was under water. It seems impossible as you walk up the hill, but Abbey Craig with its 300 metres of height was one of the few areas of land above the ancient high sea level. Whale bones were washed up on the prehistoric shoreline, and discovered just below Abbey Craig.

By 3800 BC, the people were farming here. There is evidence of tree clearing to enable growing wheat and barley, and evidence of domesticated animals for meat, milk, wool, and leather. People were building permanent homes, burial mounds, and stone circles. They were still hunters and gatherers, but they spent most of their time with their farms.

The first fort on Abbey Craig dates from 500 AD. Stirling, over the centuries, has been invaded by Romans, Picts, and Vikings. It had the fortune (or misfortune) to be the only safe place to cross between north and south Scotland because of the terrain. It was always considered the “gateway” to the Highlands and northern Scotland. The original fort was destroyed by fire around 700 AD, a fire so intense that the heat fused the rock together, making a “vitrified” fort. The fort was re-fortified around 900 AD to fend off the Vikings.

Blind Harry’s epic poem about Sir William Wallace was popular entertainment for the court of James III of Scotland, and when it was revived in the 1800s, as Queen Victoria’s affection for Scotland was taking root, the epic found a receptive audience again for the romanticised Scot hero. In 1859, a competition was held to design a suitable permanent monument for Sir William. The winner, chosen from among seventy-six entries, was a design featuring a crown spire, turrets, and gun loops traditionally found in Scottish castles and other ancient structures, done in the “Scottish Baronial” style.

The Duke of Atholl laid the foundation stone on June 24, 1861, and the monument was built over the next eight years. The stone was quarried on site. Moving stone from another place would have been difficult – it would have to be hauled up the 300 foot hill. As it was, a small railroad track was laid for the workmen to move material and equipment up and down the hill.

In 1869, the monument, 220 feet (67 metres) tall, with 246 steps, was completed at a cost of 18,000 pounds, more than twice the original estimate (some things don’t change.)

The Wallace Monument as approached from the “Wallace Way” path.
From the observation terrace. The building is large, and the area around it, while very adequate, is not large.
The building was closed due to the pandemic and the need for distancing.

Inside, there is a “Hall of Heroes,” organized in 1886. The first two busts in the gallery were, of course, Robert the Bruce, donated by the Marquess of Bute, and Robert Burns, donated by Andrew Carnegie, the U.S. steel magnate. By 1907, there were sixteen individuals memorialized altogether. I don’t know who the others were or if any more were added after that because the Memorial building was closed – pandemic, you know.

Sir William wielding his sword.
It’s easy to see why it was a preferred position for a fort – the view is broad and spectacular. Looking west.
If you can enlarge the photo, in the distant center you will see the village of Cambuskenneth and the bell tower of the abbey. The road leaving the village, coming towards the monument is Ladysneuk, the road I walked on. Looking south. Because Abbey Craig is so steep at this part, you can’t see the part of Stirling that I walked through at this end of Ladysneuk Road.

It’s easy to see why this was considered a high value military position – you can see out across the valley. There are thick woods growing on the tail portion of Abbey Craig, which would have hindered any organized army of archers and cavalry from approaching.

I was glad that I live in a time when this is a recreational walk and not a matter of choosing sides. Wallace fought in an era when, as someone said, life was “brutish and short,” and it didn’t even seem to matter whether one was a commoner or a royal.

Stirling Experience

I couldn’t stay in Edinburgh forever, even though it was tempting. I had come to see Scotland, after all, and there is much more to see. I had waited until August 1, 2020, for Edinburgh Castle to open, and after that, it was time to move on.

I took the ScotRail train from Edinburgh to Stirling. That was thirty-seven miles and the ride lasted an hour and five minutes.

This was where I waited for my train to Stirling. While I sat there, I noticed the sign that indicated my platform, #10, was all by itself, away from the others. Given that J.K. Rowling had taken other inspiration from Edinburgh, I wondered if this little quirk was how the Hogwarts Express came to be on “Platform 9 3/4.”

Castle Walk B&B, my home for the next few days, is built on the large, broad hill that leads up to Stirling Castle, so there are steps involved in getting inside. It is not an accommodation for anyone who has much difficulty walking, but it is otherwise very charming and well-kept. (With really excellent breakfasts, too, I discovered.)

I was greeted by my host Adrian. He and his wife were the owners, and one of his tasks in the labor division was greeting. My room was the single on the second floor. One of the quirks of Great Britain v. the U.S. is that the “second” floor is two flights up. We were standing on the ground floor. The first floor was up the first flight of stairs, and then I would go up a second flight to get to the second floor. (It’s really pretty logical.) Because of the pandemic and potential transmission of the virus, Adrian was not supposed to touch my bags.

My trip upstairs with my bags was rewarded by the view from my window, which overlooked their garden at the back of the building. It was quite lovely, with a small table to enjoy tea among the lush plantings, and a small outdoor room, where one could sit and read. My room was very nice, and en suite, something I always liked to have. With contagion loose in the land, I liked it even more.

After settling in a little, I came downstairs again to sit in the garden and rest a bit amongst the green. Adrian brought me a glass of lemonade and we chatted about what there is to see in Stirling. Some things were still closed – a situation I encountered throughout my stay in Scotland – but the castle was open, and he thought the art gallery, also. He made a couple of other suggestions about things near the village – the Wallace Monument and a nice walk to an outlying neighborhood with a ruined abbey.

Revived by lemonade, I took my daypack and ventured into the town to see what there was to see. I didn’t have to walk far – Stirling is filled with statues, old buildings, and atmospheric streets, and barely a hundred feet, I found Rob Roy.

Rob Roy: “My foot is on my native heath and my name it is McGregor.” “Presented by Adam McGregor Dick of Kilmarnock, the Gr, Gr, Gr, Gr, Gr grandchild of this famous Scotsman.”

“Rob Roy,” the romanticised protagonist of a novel by Sir Walter Scott, was a real person, a Scottish outlaw who became a folk hero. Robert MacGregor was born in 1671, died in 1734, and is buried in Balquhiddar Church Cemetery in Balquhiddar, a village near Loch Moir in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park.

While Scott’s Rob Roy was a “dashing and chivalrous outlaw,” the historical Rob Roy, whose nickname describes his thick, unruly, bright red hair, was one of the “Wild MacGregors, cattle rustlers and brigands,” according to Ben Johnson’s article on the Historic U.K. website. (I should note, however, there was a comment on the article from Anne MacGregor, who says, “This was written by an Englishman.”)

The Allan Park South Church near my BnB had flowers in bloom. (This was the beginning of August.)
A library built through the generosity of Andrew Carnegie, a Scotland native who made his fortune in the U.S. He built many libraries in Scotland (and in the U.S.) because he believed that education was key to success and he wanted to spread the opportunity. It was not open except to pick up or drop off books, so no photos of the inside, but it looked lovely.
Not far from Rob Roy’s statue is this statue of Robert Burns. I met statues, quotations, and memorials of Robert Burns everywhere.
The “SMB,” Stirling Municipal Building, with Robert the Bruce on the left, and William Wallace on the right. The woman portrayed at the peak, given the sceptre, orb, and shield with the Saltire Cross of St. Andrew with the thistle below, is Mary, Queen of Scots.
On a downtown street is the news vendor. I loved the slogan, “…because every day is different.” Indeed.
One of the older streets in Stirling.
The interesting original entrance to an old high school, now a hotel and restaurant. I thought it unusual that the entrance to a high school, especially one from 1888, would be surrounded by signs of the zodiac, with the rather art-deco-looking words “High School” flanked by the “Tree of Science” and the “Tree of Life.”
A street entrance to a smaller churchyard.

Stirling, the village, came to exist because of the port along the River Forth. Stirling has been a harbor since medieval times, with traffic moving between Stirling Castle, the harbor, and Cambuskenneth Abbey. By the 15th century, industry was establishing itself along the shore. Wine, wood, and oil were the main imports, and Stirling exported cloth, salmon, and coal out to other places, especially Europe.

In the 15th and 16th centuries, the salmon runs in the River Forth were plentiful, but by the 17th century, fishing and pollution sent the salmon into decline. Textiles filled the gap with more exports to Holland and the Baltic ports from Stirling’s mills.

In the 1700s trade with America grew, passing mostly through Glasgow. This caused some shift in business from Stirling to Glasgow, but it wasn’t long before steamers helped maintain business on the River Forth into the late 1800s.

During the First and Second World Wars, Stirling harbor prospered as a shipping point for munitions and tea to Scotland, but after the wars, other means of transportation – railways and roads – made running boats on the River Forth with its navigational challenges and tidal difficulties less competitive, and harbor business declined. Today, it remains a minor source of revenue.

Two Doric columns from the Forthside House remain to mark the location of the Royal Ordnance Depot in the 19th and 20th centuries. The area now has trails along the River Forth.
A memorial to William Wallace within the village of Stirling.
A closer view of the entry to the Wallace Memorial. It was closed due to the pandemic.
As a former Rotarian, I always make note of Rotary’s presence.
There are large grocery stores in Scotland, but there are many more small shops, especially butchers and bakers.
Looking from the balcony of Castle Walk B&B at breakfast.

Edinburgh’s Botanical Gardens – Strolling Around the Grounds

Not everyone loves gardens, but I do. I spent one fine afternoon strolling around the grounds, just admiring the plants and the sun and the smell of the combination.

The rest of this post is photos, just in case some of you like plants as much as I do.

The nameplate to this one was probably obscured by the other plants, but I loved the unusual shape for an evergreen.
The conservatory, closed because, pandemic.
I love these arches. If I ever have a house again, I will try to grow one.
Preached trees: “pleached” means that they have been trained to grow to form a narrow hedge or screen.
The Queen Mother’s Garden, dedicated to “one of the most remarkable Scots of the twentieth century.” The Queen Mother passed away in 2002 at 102.
Notice the use of several kinds of hedging plants to add interest.
Always looking for ideas – this is to keep the birds away from the berries!
The “long border,” a way to showcase a variety of flowers, shrubs, and small trees.
The view through the garden.
“Turk’s Cap” lilies are one of my favorites. These are almost spent, but still love the color.
I think these were Hellebores – surprised to see them in early August.
Lace-cap Hydrangea
Redwoods, from America.
The rock garden. I’ve never been a big fan, but they made it look good.
Parting shot, the other side of the rock garden.

The End.

Dolly the Sheep

Remember Dolly? It was startling news in 1996, a lamb cloned, not conceived in the traditional way. Dolly was cloned from a mammary gland cell taken from a six year old Finn Dorset sheep and an egg cell taken from a Scottish Blackface sheep.

Dolly was born July 5, 1996. The team from Roslin Institute, here in Roslin village, led by Professor Sir Ian Wilmut and made up of embryologists, surgeons, vets, and farm staff, knew it was a successful clone because, if the lamb was genetically related to her “mother,” she would have had a black face, which she did not. Her face was white, like a Finn Dorset.

The DNA that made Dolly came from a mammary gland, so, with the humor for which the British are famous, the lamb was named Dolly, after Dolly Parton.

The Roslin Institute was running experiments to find a better method for producing genetically modified livestock. Scientists also wanted to learn more about how cells change during development, and whether a specialized cell – skin or brain cells, for instance – could make an entirely new animal. Dolly was the 277th attempt.

Photos of Dolly during her life in Roslin are on display in Dolly’s Tea Room, Roslin, Midlothian, Scotland. (They also serve lovely treats with tea or coffee.)
Now, Dolly is immortalized in the National Museum of Scotland, which is in Edinburgh. My photo makes her appear three-legged, but she has four.

Rosslyn Chapel

When I arrived at the visitor’s center, I hadn’t booked on line as the website instructed, so I had to produce a credit card to pay (contactless payments only.) The young woman tending the pay point commented on my name: Sinclair. We both had a chuckle about it. I have no idea if I’m related or not. I was curious mainly because of the “DaVinci Code,” just like thousands of other visitors.

I stepped out of the visitors’ center, and looked at the Chapel. It doesn’t seem huge when you look at it from the side. Some people are disappointed by that because in the various paintings and photographs, it looks like it should be bigger, similar to the “Sphinx effect.”

Looking at the north side of the Rosslyn Chapel. The far left, the east end of the building, is the Lady Chapel, and the main altar is a little toward the center. The wall on the right that looks unfinished, is unfinished. The Chapel was intended to go much further to the west in the original plan.
The north door to the Chapel’s interior.
This is the main entrance for tourists in these “one-way” times, and the baptismal fount is inside this door. The “engrailed” cross above the door is on the St. Clair coat of arms. “Engrailed” means having semicircular indentations along the edge. The Baptistery was added in 1880 – 1881.

What we know as the Rosslyn Chapel was officially named the “Collegiate Chapel of St. Matthew,” and founded by Sir William St. Clair in 1446. The original plans were for a large cruciform (shaped like a cross) building with a tower in the center, much like the abbeys that dot the Scottish countryside.

“Collegiate Chapels” were all the rage in the years between 1406 and 1513, the years ruled by James I through James IV. These were secular foundations, meaning they were not owned by the Church, and their purpose was to spread intellectual and spiritual knowledge, and, by the way, provide people to pray for the patrons after their death so they could be assured of a blissful eternal life. How large, how decorated, and how well staffed these collegiate chapels were depended on the wealth of their founder and benefactor.

Sir William was a very rich man. The St Clairs owned lands in the Orkney Islands, Caithness, Fife, Lothian, and Rosslyn, and held the title of Baron of Rosslyn and Prince of Orkney. He endowed the Collegiate Chapel of St. Matthew with provision for a provost, six prebendaries, and two choristers. Later – 1523 – his grandson Sir William provided land for dwelling houses and gardens for these.

The founder hired “an abundance of all kinds of workmen.” These were masons, carpenters, smiths, barrow men, and quarriers. To provide for them and their families, Sir William built the town of Roslin, and gave everyone a house and land, in addition to the wages he paid, which were generous for their time.

When a person walks toward the Chapel from the visitors’ center, they are approaching the north wall. On the north wall at the edge of the roof, is an inscription: W L S F Y C Y Z O G M iii I L. The letters are carved on shields, alternating with shields bearing the engrailed Cross of the St Clairs. They are very hard to see from the ground, but they are there. It stands for: “William Lord Sinclair Fundit Yis College Ye Zeir Of God MCCCCL.” (The Rosslyn translation says “Sinclair” instead of “St Clair,” which they use nearly everywhere else. I don’t know why.) The date is 1450 rather than 1446, perhaps indicating that the foundations took four years.

I would add that my passing acquaintance with Middle English indicates that “Y” symbolized a diphthong we would now write as “th” rather than a “y” sound – so all those “Ye Olde Shoppes” in tourist-trap villages would have sounded like “The Old Shops” if pronounced accurately. I can’t vouch for the “Z” that must have sounded like what we would now write as a “y,” but the people at Rosslyn probably know and I’ll take their word for it.

If you are able to enlarge the photo, you can see the letters on the shields at the roofline, with the occasional gargoyle in between.

The outside is interesting enough, with the flourishes, gargoyles, and carved figures that appear around the windows and roof, but it is the inside that is overwhelming.

In the darkest days of the Chapel, the high window that now holds stained glass images was open to the weather. The relatively plain table is the main altar, and the Lady Chapel is behind the center pillar. The Chapel has an active congregation.

When I visited, there were three other people plus the docent, Norheena. In the last half hour of my time slot, I had the whole place to myself and an enjoyable conversation about the Chapel with Norheena. It has not always been so uncrowded. After “The DaVinci Code” became a blockbuster movie, the number of visitors soared, and some days there were a thousand visitors crowding through the Chapel.

The sacristy was not open when I visited the Chapel, due to distancing requirements. Norheena indicated the nineteen Rosslyn barons, from William the Seemly, created Baron in 1070, to Sir William St Clair, who died in 1778, “The Last Rosslyn,” are interred in a crypt beneath the Chapel floor because Sir William the Founder brought the previous barons to the Chapel, and then the following nine were interred there also.

The earlier barons are laid out in their armor, as described in the poem, “The Lay of the Last Minstrel,” written in 1805 by Sir Walter Scott. He took some literary license, as the poem claims the barons number twenty, although he may have included one St Clair who was killed before he succeeded to the barony, but left behind a son who became the next baron. Norheena said that at some point, they began using coffins, but she didn’t know exactly when. Sir Walter Scott’s poem was based on a local legend that the Chapel glowed in the night when a Baron of Rosslyn died.

The guide book, however, indicates “three princes of Orkney and nine barons of Rosslyn are buried here,” according to a 17th century engineer. In the context of the engineer’s commentary, it’s not clear whether “here” means the sacristy specifically, or the Chapel as a whole. Further, it speculates with some confidence that the sacristy building may be older than the Chapel itself, i.e. existed prior to 1446. It is connected physically to the Chapel now, but is built into the slope on the eastern side of the Chapel, and could easily have been an earlier structure incorporated into the construction of the Chapel.

It is perfectly plausible that early interments took place there, and either remain there or were moved to join the other barons in the crypt. Frankly, I prefer the rather romantic notion that they all lie together underneath the Chapel in the crypt.

Sir William the Founder did not live to see the Chapel finished, even this section, which was to be the choir section of a much bigger building. What we see today took forty years, 1446 – 1486. After he died, his son, Oliver St Clair, saw a roof built onto the Chapel, but there was no more work done toward finishing the building that Sir William had planned. Perhaps Sir Oliver saw the future.

The Reformation, which is usually dated from 1517, when Martin Luther published his 95 Theses, arrived in Scotland by 1560, led by John Knox. The Church of Scotland grew quickly and dominated Protestant theology in Scotland. Calvinism was the Reformation theology taught by John Knox. It was an austere approach to worship that frowned on anything hinting at idolatry, such as flowery decorations or human images, especially if the images were not the Apostles or other saints. In other words, anything like the Rosslyn Chapel.

Looking at the main altar and the Lady Chapel beyond it.

The Chapel’s survival was not a sure thing. When the founder Sir William died in 1484, he left endowments for the Chapel, as mentioned earlier. In 1571, the provost and prebendaries resigned. Local records show that the endowments were taken “by force and violence” away from the Chapel and placed in secular governance.

Even being John Knox’s brother was not much protection. “The Presbytery records of Dalkeith reveal that in 1589 William Knox, brother of John Knox and minister of Cockpen, was censured ‘for baptising the Laird of Rosling’s bairne’ in Rosslyn Chapel, which was described as a ‘house and monument of idolatrie, and not ane place appointit for teiching the word and ministration of ye sacramentis’” (From the Rosslyn Chapel Guidebook, written by the Earl of Rosslyn.)

In 1592, the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland required Oliver St Clair (a later one) to remove the altars of the Chapel or face excommunication. The altars were removed, the Chapel ceased to be a place of worship, and began to deteriorate. There were further indignities during the English Civil War, when the building was used to stable horses, and again after James II was deposed by William of Orange, when a local mob broke into the Chapel, destroying furniture and vestments now considered “Popish,” and damaging the building some more.

The Chapel survived principally because it was privately owned, thereby escaping the destruction that consumed many Catholic Church properties, and because of its relatively remote location, away from large cities. It remained unused and unattended until 1736, when General James St Clair commissioned some repairs, which included glazing the windows and fixing the roof.

The Chapel’s fortunes improved from there. It was repaired enough that it was rededicated by the Bishop of Edinburgh in 1862. Not all repairs turned out to be helpful, but finally, in the twentieth century, comprehensive conservation plans were made, funds were raised, and the Chapel has been brought back to its former condition, aged somewhat.

There are many faces in the Chapel. This one belongs to the founder, Sir William St Clair, the 4th Baron of Rosslyn.
This face belongs to Sir William “the Seemly” St Clair, the knight on horseback, bringing the Princess Margaret, King Malcolm’s affianced, from Hungary to Scotland. Tradition says that he carried a relic of the “Rood,” the True Cross, with him to Scotland. Sir William fought with William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings, and was the first St Clair to settle in Scotland, drawn by the offer of land from King Malcolm.
This image is an angel bearing a shield with the St Clair engrailed Cross.
The barrel-vaulted roof. It has five sections, divided by decorated ribs, each with a separate decoration. From front to back, there were four-petalled flowers, four-petalled flowers with leaves, multi-petalled roses, lilies, and stars. The roof is forty-four feet high.

According to the guide, at one time these sections were all painted, the flowers with their green leaves, red or white flowers, and silver stars against a deep blue background, representing the sky. I have heard this while visiting other medieval buildings that are now grey, brownish, or pink, depending on the stone used, that at one time they were painted bright and glorious colors. Castles gleamed in white with bright trim. It seems amazing to think about now, with the drab, unpainted exteriors that survive.

Other images were common symbols, like the fallen angel, or the musician-angel to the right.
This pillar’s capital was circled with musician-angels, but the one shown here is playing the bagpipes. In the 1400s, bagpipes were just becoming established, and this is considered an early representation.

The pillars, along with the roof, were covered with flora in frequently lush representations, such as the photo above. There were “Green Man” images in many places. Chapel historians say that this was because the 4th Baron of Rosslyn was sympathetic to the plight of gypsies who traveled through the area, although the Green Man is well-known and popular throughout Scotland, even without the gypsy association.

Some of the flora has equal interest by reason of its uniqueness. There is an archway that is decorated with ears of maize, a plant originating in the Americas, not in Europe, and the image below, the top plant with three leaves that has been identified as trillium, again a plant originating in the Americas and not in Europe, pictured below. Some believe these plants represented a nod to ancestor Henry St Clair, the 1st Prince of Orkney, who was said to have sailed to North America around 1398.

The plant identified as a trillium, native to North America, is the top image, a plant with three leaves.
Inside the Chapel, along the north wall, is the gravestone of Sir William St Clair. He was the son of the 7th Baron of Rosslyn. He was killed in Spain, on a quest to take the heart of Robert the Bruce to Jerusalem, before succeeding to the barony. Though never a baron, it’s possible he is buried now in the crypt, and makes the “twenty” referred to in Sir Walter Scott’s poem.

As I mentioned, there is an active congregation, although they are not meeting currently. Someday, I hope I would be able to come back and see the Chapel as an active venue, learn more about the history, and explore more of the Chapel.