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.