Castle Hunting the East Coast of Scotland: Aug 26-27, 2019

Updated: Jan 26

Locations/activities covered in this blog:

  • Fyvie Castle

  • Dunnottar Castle

  • St Andrews

  • Stirling Castle

  • Church of the Holy Rude

  • Wallace Monument

  • The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews


On August 27 we left the Inverness region and started our 'castle hunt' drive.


Scotland is home to more than 1,000 castles. It seems that everywhere you look there are castles or ruins as evidenced by this map of castles and castle ruins in Scotland.



Castles in Scotland date back to the reign of David I in the 12th century. As a young man, David lived in England and saw castles built by Norman invaders to strengthen themselves against the native population. David invited several Norman nobles north to Scotland and granted them titles and land. Soon, their castles began dotting the countryside and shorelines.


With over 260 castles, stately homes and ruins dotting its landscape, Aberdeenshire is unsurprisingly known as 'Scotland's Castle Country'. There are more castles per acre here than anywhere else in the UK. At Dave's really really strong recommendation (actually an edict), I had to chose 3 castles to visit. Begrudgingly, I recognized the driving distances and agreed; I selected Fyvie Castle, Dunnottar Castle, and Stirling Castle.

Day 20 Plans

  • Fyvie Castle

  • Dunnottar Castle

  • St Andrews


Fyvie Castle

I chose Fyvie Castle because although the castle grounds date back to the 1200s, the castle is relatively intact and the castle turrets are classic.


Fyvie Castle started life as a royal castle some time around 1200. Scottish kings would stay here when touring their kingdom. Royal guests included King William I in 1214; King Alexander II in 1222; and Robert the Bruce in the early 1300s.


In the late 14th century, Fyvie ceased to be a royal stronghold and instead fell into the possession of five successive families – Preston, Meldrum, Seton, Gordon and Leith, each of whom added a new tower or wing to the castle. The main castle entrance highlights the grand additions. The Preston tower on the far right of the castle was added between 1390 and 1433. The impressive Seton tower entrance was erected in 1599 by Alexander Seton; he transformed Fyvie into what you see today.

Fyvie Castle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland date 1300s

The castle is said to be haunted and cursed. A story is told that in 1920 during renovation work the skeleton of a woman was discovered behind a bedroom wall. On the day the remains were laid to rest in Fyvie cemetery, the castle residents started to be plagued by strange noises and unexplained happenings. Fearing he had offended the dead woman, the Laird of the castle had the skeleton exhumed and replaced behind the bedroom wall, at which point the haunting ceased.

Sections of Fyvie Castle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland date 1300s

The 'intimate' family dining room.

Paintings in the family dining room above dining room table in Fyvie Castle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland

Because the main castle is only one room deep, it was difficult to take interior pictures.

Dining room table in the family dining room in Fyvie Castle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland

Library

Library in Fyvie Castle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland

Gallery Room

Gallery room in Fyvie Castle in Aberdeenshire, Scotland

We drove through several small villages on the way to Dunnottar Castle.

Hay baler in fields near Dunnottar Castle in Aberdeenshire, SCotland
Hay fields on the coast near Dunnottar Castle in Aberdeenshire, SCotland

Dunnottar Castle

Dunnottar Castle in Scottish Gaelic means 'fort on the shelving slope'. Perched atop a massive flat rock bulging from the shoreline surrounded by almost sheer cliffs on three sides that drop over 150 feet into the North Sea, Dunnottar Castle is an extraordinary sight. A narrow strip of land joins the headland to the mainland. A steep path leads up to the gatehouse which is visible in the picture below. Honestly, photos cannot do justice to these ruins and the views as you approach the castle.


The history of this castle is so interesting that I've interspersed historical information with pictures of the castle ruins most of which date back to the 15th and 16th century.

Dunnottar Castle perched on a massive rock on the coast of Aberdeenshire, Scotland

Not only is Dunnottar only one of the most beautiful medieval castles in Scotland, but it's also been the site of many significant events in Scottish-British history. There may have been prehistoric settlements at Dunnottar, but the earliest historic record comes from the 5th century when the Celtic St. Ninian established a church on the Rock of Dunnottar. The Picts then built an enclosing fort a little later. The Picts were a confederation of Celtic-speaking peoples who lived in what is today eastern and northern Scotland during the Late Iron Age and Early Medieval periods.

Dunnottar Castle surrounded by almost sheer cliffs on three sides that drop over 150 feet into the North Sea

The first of Dunnottar’s troubles occurred in the 9th century when King Donald II was killed defending the castle during a Viking invasion; the invaders went on to destroy the castle. 'Capture and destroy' is a recurring theme in Dunnottar's history.


The castle entrance is through a gate, built into a wall which entirely blocks a cleft in the Dunnottar rock, and then continues underground. This wall seals the upper castle grounds from the lower base of the crag. The narrow, twisting tunnel with blind corners was designed to be a nightmare for any would-be attacker.

Dunnottar Castle’s entrance is through a gate, built into a wall which entirely blocks a cleft in the Dunnottar rock, and then continues underground

As the tunnel surfaced, the sweeping views of the castle complex began.

Exiting the Dunnottar Castle entrance with sweeping view of the complex

By 1276, the earth and timber built Dunnottar Castle was again operating as a royal residence. However, the end of the turbulent 13th century saw the castle change hands twice within 2 years. In 1296, the English King Edward I, Hammer of the Scots, controlled the castle

but his forces were overwhelmed by William Wallace in 1297. During this battle the English garrison sought sanctuary in the church with their families; Wallace showed no mercy burning the structure and those within. Then like the Vikings, he destroyed the castle. In 1336 after the death of King Robert the Bruce, the English and Edward III were back and took control the castle, but within the year Scottish forces recaptured the castle. After their successful siege, they torn down the castle. Do you see the pattern here?


The castle ruins are spread over 3 acres with open space for the enjoyment of the residence and guests.

Jonathan Oldenbuck / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Pictured below is Waterton's Lodging, also known as the Priest's House, built around 1574 possibly for the use of William Keith (died 1580), son of the 4th Earl Marischal.

Waterton's Lodging, also known as the Priest's House, built in Dunnottar Castle around 1574 possibly for the use of William Keith (died 1580), son of the 4th Earl Marischal.

By the close of the 14th century, Dunnottar was under Scottish rule and in the control of Clan Keith, one of the most powerful families in the country. The Clan Chief served as the Earls Marischal, one of the three offices of Scottish State government along with the Constable and the Steward. The principle role of the Earl Marischal was to serve as custodian of the Honours of Scotland (Scottish Crown Jewels) and protect the king when he attended parliament.


The Tower House or Keep, the prominent 3-story building visible even from a distance, was built in 1392 by Sir William Keith and still stands today. Measuring 40 by 36 feet, the tower house stood 50 feet tall and is the most prominent building on the site.

Dunnottar Castle’s Tower House or Keep, the prominent 3-story building visible even from a distance, was built in 1392

The principal rooms included a great hall and a private chamber for the lord, with bedrooms upstairs. The cellar of the Keep housed a kitchen; the stone fireplace remains intact.

The cellar of the Dunottar Castle Keep housed a kitchen; the stone fireplace remains intact.

The 1st floor contained a great hall for public entertaining while the 2nd floor was most likely a private space and chamber for the Earl with bedrooms upstairs. Although the floors long ago collapsed, the pole holes supporting the floors are visible in the walls.

The Dunnottar Castel Keep contained a great halls and private living space on the second floor

Yea the castle is haunted.

Ghosts haunt Dunnottar Castle in Aberdeenshire Scotland

Dunnottar was one of the strongest fortresses in Scotland. From 1580 to 1650 the Earl Marischals converted a medieval style fortress into a decorative castle. Befitting the status of the Earl and his castle, monarchs including James IV, Mary, Queen of Scots, James VI, and Charles II enjoyed the luxury castle and amazing vistas. Every window looked out onto beautiful coastal seascapes.

Dunnottar Castle fortress window opening looking at the North Sea
Rock outcroppings rising from the North Sea around Dunnottar Castle
Surrounding Aberdeenshire coastline around Dunnottar Castle

Almost 200 years after building the Tower Keep, in the 16th century the the 5th Earl Marischal began building the Palace complex. It comprises three main wings set out around a quadrangle along the eastern cliffs to take advantage of the magnificent seacoast views. The palace the Tower Keep as the Earl's residence and included provided extensive and comfortable accommodations for guests.

The Dunnottar Castle Palace complex was built in 1500s to provide comfortable accommodations for guests

Within the Palace is the Drawing Room with its carved oak ceiling. The room has been historically restored to its original state.

Within the Dunnottar Castle Palace is the Drawing Room with its carved oak ceiling.

500 years after construction of the Palace many of the walls including those of the Chapel (far right) continue to stand as testament to the skilled builders and the incredible wealth of the Earls.

Walls of the Dunnottar Castel Chapel still stand in the Palace complex

The Chapel is the oldest surviving building on the rock and dates back, in part at least, to 1276.

The Dunnottar Castle Chapel is the oldest surviving building on the rock and dates back, in part at least, to 1276.

Life in the castle was comfortable for the occupants.

The Dunnottar Castle Palace complex was built in 1500s to provide comfortable accommodations for guests

Two events have ensured that Dunnottar's place in Scottish history is both famous and infamous. By May 1652 Dunnottar Castle was the only place left in Scotland holding out for Charles II against Oliver Cromwell's forces. Cromwell wanted control of the castle because it housed the Honours of Scotland, the Crown Jewels, and of Charles II's personal papers. Cromwell was determined to destroy the Honours as he had destroyed the English crown jewels. But when the castle surrendered after an 8-month siege, nothing was found. The King's papers has been smuggled through their lines hidden in the clothing of a woman, and the Honours had been lowered down the cliffs to a local woman pretending to be collecting seaweed. These treasures were hidden under the floor of a nearby church until the Restoration of the Monarchy 9 years later.

The Dunnottar Castle Palace complex was built in 1500s to provide comfortable accommodations for guests

Dunnottar's dark moment moment in history occurred in May 1685 when 167 Covenanters who refused to accept the new prayer book and acknowledge the king's supremacy in spiritual matters prisoners were locked in the Whig's Vault located below the Earl's apartment in the Palace complex. This was a period of conflict between the Presbyterian Covenanter movement and the government forces of Kings Charles II and James VII the last Catholic monarchs of England.

The prisoners were held for 5 weeks in a dark, damp, and cramped 52 ft by 15 ft vault without any sanitation. Some died of starvation and disease, while others were killed after trying to escape. The survivors were transported to the West Indies and sold as slaves.


Dave standing inside the Whig vault with an opening blasted through the outer walls.

Standing beside an opening blasted through the walls of the Whig Vault in Dunnottar Castle

In 1715, Dunnottar’s dark period of decay arrived when the last Earl Marischal George Keith, was convicted of treason for supporting the Jacobites. The British government seized the castle and sold it to the Yorkshire Mining Company who stripped it completely for masonry, lead and other items of value. Their clearing was so thorough that it left Dunnottar as little more than a few walls battered by the North Sea for more than 200 years.

Decaying remains of Dunnottar Castle in Aberdeenshire Scotland

Fortunately in 1925, the castle was purchased by the Cowdray family and the 1st Viscountess Cowdray embarked on a program to repair and preserve the castle. Since then the castle has remained in the family, and has been open to visitors. If you can't already tell, Dunnottar was one of my favorite places that we visited in Scotland. What an amazing location, what an amazing complex.


Scotland has some magnificent castles built on top of rocks that allow them to dominate the landscape for miles around. But the outcrop of rock on which Dunnottar Castle stands was designed to be the most impregnable fortress in all of Scotland.

Dunnottar Castle perched on a massive rock on the coast of Aberdeenshire, Scotland

St. Andrews

Our day ended with a drive to St. Andrews where we stayed for the last 2 days in Scotland. The town is named after Saint Andrew the Apostle. There has been an important church in St Andrews since at least 747 AD. The town is home to the University of St. Andrews, the third oldest university in the English-speaking world and the oldest in Scotland and of course is also known as the 'home of golf'.


By the time we settled into the Airbnb it was almost dark but that didn't stop us from enjoying dinner, a beer at 'The Central', a 300-year old pub. and then walking around the town.

Main street in St Andrews, Scotland
Buying drinks at a beer at The Central, a 300-year old pub in St Andrews Scotland

Of course Dave hammed it up for the camera when he found an Oor Wullis Statues. We hadn't found any statues since our time in Glasgow. Click on the link for an explanation of these statues and the 2019 national fundraising project for Edinburgh and Glasgow Children's Hospitals.

Oor Wullis Statues located throughout Scotland.

Day 21 Plans

  • Stirling Castle

  • Church of the Holy Rude

  • Wallace Monument

  • The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews

Stirling Castle

Stirling Castle is known as the 'brooch' fastening the Highlands and Lowlands of Scotland together. History proclaims, 'Hold Stirling and you control Scotland'.


Most of our blogs contain only photos taken by Dave or I, but on rare occasions I use other people's photos if they add value to the blog. This aerial shot of Stirling Castle is one of those special occasions.


Perched on the top of a volcanic plug, Stirling Castle rises over 240 feet above the Town of Stirling and dominates the horizon. This commanding crag overlooks the valley and beyond to the highlands. The earliest certain record of a royal association with the Stirling crag was the dedication of a chapel within an existing castle by King Alexander I between 1105 and 1115. The extent of the fortification is unknown but it was deemed a suitable enough prize to be handed over to the English in 1174 as part settlement for the ransom of the Scottish King William the Lion following his capture at the second Battle of Alnwick.

By Andrew Shiva / Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=51288555

Throughout the two Wars of Independence (1296-1328 and 1332-1357) Stirling was a hotly contested prize, changing hands several times. Edward I took it in 1296; it was recaptured by

William Wallace in 1297; retaken again by the English in 1298 but back in Scottish hands within a year. In 1304 the English employed specially-made siege machines including the ‘War Wolf’ to gain control o the castle. The most dramatic seizure of the castle came in 1314 when the English were defeated at the Battle of Bannockburn by Robert I. Edward assembled the largest army ever to invade Scotland with soldiers from England, Ireland and Wales but was defeated by a much smaller army led by Robert I. After the castle was handed over to Robert, his forces destroyed part of Stirling to avoid its use against him in the future. By 1336 it was again in English hands, and was finally retaken by the Scots in 1342. From this point on, Stirling Castle acted as a Royal Palace for three hundred years.


A statue of Robert the Bruce (Robert I) at the entrance to Stirling. He was king from 1306 until his death in 1329.

A statue of Robert the Bruce (Robert I) at the entrance to Stirling Castle in Scotland

The castle at the time of the Wars of Independence was built of wood and some stone and was much smaller than today's castle. It was under the early Stewart kings Robert II (1371–1390) and Robert III (1390–1406), that the castle was expanded and references to stone and lime as building materials increased. The oldest part of Stirling Castle is the North Gate which was built around 1381. It served as the back entrance and connected with the curtain wall that surrounds the castle. Nothing else remains from previous castles.


This is the North Gate which was built around 1381, about 30 years after the wars had finished. It was probably built on the site of the original ‘back door’ into the castle. The walls here are between 15 and 30 feet thick. The gold building in the background is the Great Hall.

Stirling Castle North Gate was built around 1381 with the gold-colored Great Hall in the background

Once Stirling changed from being a defense fortress to a status symbol, it became one of the King's favorite castles to stay in Scotland. Almost all the present buildings in the castle were constructed between 1490 and 1600, when Stirling was developed as a principal royal center by the Stewart kings James IV, James V and James VI.


As you approach the Stirling from the main south entrance, you are greeted by the Forework. James IV built this magnificent South entrance to the castle between 1501 and 1506. Little remains of the original Foreworks, The original gatehouse and towers would have been twice as high as they are now and instead of two there would have been 6 towers guarding the entrance. However, the Forework was probably intended more for show, evoking the 'medieval age of chivalry', than for defense purposes. It would have offered little protection against contemporary artillery. Further to this point, James IV had the towers and gatehouse coated in a bright golden lime wash that could be seen for miles.

Stirling Castle main south entrance includes the Forework built by James IV in early 1500s

The beautiful gardens located on the south side of the castle were named after Queen Anne, even though the English Queen never visited the castle. The gardens are overlooked by the Prince’s Tower (far right ) and Queen's Lodging (center) of the Royal Palace. The Prince's Tower built as part of the Foreworks was traditionally the nursery of Scotland’s monarchs.

A royal garden may have been here since the 1400s.

Queen Anne gardens along the south side of Stirling Castle
Queen Anne gardens along the south side of Stirling Castle

The four major buildings of the castle form what is known as the Inner Close - the Great Hall, the Royal Palace, the King’s Old Building and the Chapel Royal. The King's Old Building which dates to 1496 housed the royal apartments of James IV. This section of the castle was not open to the public during our visit.


On January 1, 1537 James V married Madeleine, daughter of the King of France. Madeleine died only 7 month later. In 1538 James returned to France to marry Madeleine's adopted sister, Marie de Guise. But James wanted a more elaborate Palace for himself and his new Queen to showcase that Scotland could match the best he had seen in France. Work on the Palace began in about 1538 and it is unlikely that James saw it in its complete form by the time of his death in December 1542. Completion of the first Renaissance palace in the British Isles fell instead to his widow.


The north facade of the Palace with the main entrance at the right; to its left are the windows of the king’s outer and inner halls. The Queen's apartment faced the Queen Anne Gardens on the opposite side of the building. Beneath the main floor were vaults and on the upper floor were prestigious rooms for courtiers and meetings.


There is little doubt that the surfaces of the Inner Close buildings would have been lime-washed and looked much like the Great Hall does now.

The north facade of Stirling Castle’s Palace built by James V

The king decorated the outside of the palace with over 250 carvings and sculptures designed to proclaim the peace, prosperity and justice of his reign. Although they are damaged and weathered now, its believed they were originally partially gilded.

The exterior of the Stirling Castle Palace covered in 250 carvings and sculptures designed to proclaim the peace, prosperity and justice of James V reign

Statue of Venus the Roman goddess of love, beauty, desire, sex, fertility, prosperity and victory.

Statue of Venus the Roman goddess of love, beauty, desire, sex, fertility, prosperity and victory on the exterior of Stirling Castle's Palace

Step inside the castle and you're transported back to the world of Scottish royalty in the 1500s. In 2011, a $15,000,000 restoration project to refurbish the Palace was completed. The work, which consumed a decade of research and craftsmanship, restored the six royal apartments to how they might have looked in the 1540s when the Palace was home to Mary of Guise (Regent from 1554-1560) and her daughter the future Mary Queen of Scots. It was surprising that the entire Palace was designed around just six royal apartments/rooms.


Courtesy of the Stirling History Society, 2011.

The King’s Outer Hall was considered a public area that served multiple functions. It was here that people of 'proper social standing' were allowed in to wait for a possible audience with the King. The King's Courtiers decided who might be given the privilege of petitioning or conferring with the monarch. So this room was usually full of people.


The King occasionally dined and entertained in this hall. Scottish kings and queens seem to have dined quite publicly and enjoyed talking with other people in an informal manner which was in sharp contrast with English royalty.


Hanging over the fireplace is the Coat of Arms for the House of Stewart/Stuart. The Stewart (8 Kings and 1 Queen) ruled Scotland for over 250 years from 1371 to 1625.

Hanging over the fireplace in the King’s Outer Hall of Stirling Castle is the Coat of Arms for the House of Stewart/Stuart.

In the King’s Inner Hall important dignitaries would meet with the king – if they were lucky enough to be allowed in. Above the fireplace is the Royal Arms of Scotland. The Rampant (standing) lion has been the official King's coat of arms since the 12th century. It is not clear if the Palace was ‘finished’ when James V died in late 1542 so his apartments have been left sparsely furnished.

Hanging over the fireplace in the King’s Inner Hall of Stirling Castle is the Royal Arms of Scotland with the Rampant Lion

In 1539, James V commissions a series of carved oak timber portraits – the Stirling Heads – to decorate the ceiling of the Inner Hall. The Stirling Heads were designed to reinforce James V’s credentials by aligning him with other powerful men. Two of them probably represent his ancestors, while the others depict men of power and influence. With this display, James affirmed that he had the right to rule and he, like them, was one of the most powerful leaders in Europe. The heads were a visual reminder for visitors of the king’s pedigree, achievements and connections. In 1777, the enormous weight of the Stirling Heads caused part of the ceiling in the King’s Inner Hall to collapse. Of an estimated 56 original heads, 38 survive.


The hall contains a recreated version of the original ceiling which took 6 year to complete. In the top row of carving visible in this picture are the likenesses of King Henry VIII; Madeleine de Valois, First Wife of James V; James V; and Mary of Guise, 2nd wife of James V. The remaining rows depict Roman Emperors and adviser to the king or queen.

The Stirling Heads decorate the ceiling of the King’s Inner Hall of Stirling Castle. King Henry VIII; Madeleine de Valois, First Wife of James V; James V; and Mary of Guise, 2nd wife of James V.

The third room in each suite is is the King’s Bedchamber – but it wasn’t used for sleeping. This was where the King had secret talks with his most trusted inner circle of advisers. The monarch probably dressed, washed and prayed here, while sleeping in a small room nearby. The Bedchamber is empty because it reflects the time soon after James V died when no one used the room.


The ceiling of the Bedchamber had an elaborate wooden ceiling that contained the King's Royal Cipher (monogram): the letter 'I' from Iacobus the Latin form of James and the Roman numeral V. The characters appear on alternating ceiling panels.

The ceiling of the King’s Bedchamber in Stirling contains an elaborate wooden ceiling that contained the King's Royal Cipher the letter 'I' from Iacobus the Latin form of James and the Roman numeral V

Sorry for yet another fireplace picture, but they were the focal point of each room. In reality little of the original internal architectural of these rooms has survived except the fireplaces. The unicorn is Scotland's national animal and the King's coat of arms always depicted the unicorn bounded by a golden chain. The unicorn was believed to be the strongest of all animals – wild and untamed, and that it could only be humbled by a virgin maiden. It is possible that the entrapment symbolizes the power of the Scottish kings – they were strong enough to tame even a unicorn.


Royal symbolism was the focus of James' V vision for these apartments.

Hanging over fireplace in Scotland.  The unicorn is Scotland’s national animal is bound in golden chains

Just like the King's apartments, the Queen had an Outer Hall, Inner Hall and Bedchamber. Her rooms served the same purpose as the King's except they are richly decorated since Mary of Guise ruled Scotland as Queen Regent from 1554 to her death in 1560. Working against fierce opposition to her gender and French nationality, she ruled when women were not often seen in positions of power. At the age of 27 she had been married twice, widowed twice, lost four children in infancy, and now found herself ruler of a foreign country on behalf of her baby daughter.

Scottish National Portrait Gallery

In 1537, Mary had became the focus of marriage negotiations with James V of Scotland, who had lost his first wife, Madeleine of Valois, to tuberculosis, and wanted a second French bride to further the interests of the French-Scottish alliance against England. Henry VIII, in an attempts to prevent this union, also asked for Mary's hand. Given Henry's marital history of banishing his first wife and beheading the second, Mary refused the offer. James and Mary had two sons who died early in life; James died after 11 months and Robert died after 9 days. Their third and last child Mary was born on December 8, 1542. Six days after her birth, James V died making her the infant Mary Queen of Scots. In 1543, Mary Queen of Scots was crowned in Stirling at the age of 10 months.


Mary of Guise was an intelligent and strong political leader. She reigned during a period of conflict and unrest in Scotland. She held on to her Catholic religious beliefs and kept the country free from English rule while preserving the crown for her daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots. Instead of returning to France and her children, Mary stayed in Scotland to rule on her daughter's behalf.


The Queen's Bedchamber was located adjacent to the King's. This room was reserved for her most trusted advisors. Although it would have contained a grand state bed like the four poster bed by the fireplace; the bed was symbolic. Like the King, she slept in a small room nearby. The room had color everywhere, few sign of stone walls were visible with the walls were covered in crimson and gold fabric.

The Queen's Bedchamber in Stirling Castle with walls covered in paint, tapestry and fabrics

The Queen's Inner Chamber was where Mary of Guise would have met honored guests. Her throne, which was slightly but intentionally elevated, was positioned under the red velvet canopy of state with the coat of arms for James V and Mary of Guise. The stools and benches were for her ladies in waiting.

The Queen’s throne and royal canopy in the Queen's Inner Chamber in Stirling Castle

The walls of the Inner Chamber were painted using trompe l'oeil. This art technique uses imagery to create the optical illusion that objects exist in three dimensions such as the 'red tapestries' hanging around the fireplace.

The walls of the Queen's  Inner Chamber at Stirling Castle were painted using trompe l'oeil

Four recreations of The Hunt of the Unicorn tapestries, created by the Tapestry Studio at West Dean College, now hang in the restored Queen's Presence Chamber in the Royal Palace. It is believed that a similar series of Unicorn tapestries were part of the royal collection of King James IV. The hand-woven copies used medieval techniques, taking several years to complete. Pictured below is tapestry #4 in the series titled, 'The Unicorn Is Attacked'. In the 1500s, the cost of the tapestries adorning the room would have been the same as the cost of a war ship.

Four recreations of The Hunt of the Unicorn tapestries, created by the Tapestry Studio at West Dean College, now hang in the restored Queen's Presence Chamber in Stirling Castle

The Queen’s Outer Hall was a waiting room for people hoping for an audience with the Queen. Those selected by her staff then moved to the Queen’s Inner Hall. This room was also used as an informal dining room; with her own kitchen below this room.

The Queen’s Outer Hall in Stirling Castle was a waiting room for people hoping for an audience with the Queen.

The collegiate chapel established by James IV in 1501 lay between the King's Old Building and the Great Hall, but was further south than the present building. This was the chapel in which the 10-month old Queen Mary was crowned in 1543. However, when James VI's first son, Prince Henry was born in 1594, it was decided to rebuild the chapel as a suitable venue for the royal christening. Prince Henry was a bright and promising heir to his father's thrones. However, at the age of 18, he predeceased his father when he died of typhoid fever. Strangely, neither of us took a picture inside or outside of the chapel. We were too wrapped up in our audio tour.


The restored Great Hall was built by King James IV between 1501 and 1503 as a magnificent banqueting hall measuring 138 by 47 feet. It was built for feasts, celebrations and important official events such as royal christenings. Two of the more famous events were the 3-day celebration of the birth of a son (James VI) to Mary Queen of Scots in 1566 and the christening of James VI heir, Prince Henry in 1594. Yes, this was the color of the Great Hall as it would have appeared in the early 1500s, a king’s golden color.

The restored gold colored Great Hall in Stirling Castle was built by King James IV between 1501 and 1503 as a magnificent banqueting hall measuring 138 by 47 feet.

One of the biggest jobs in restoring the Great Hall was rebuilding the roof in the original style. It is called a hammerbeam roof. Skilled woodworkers used 400 oak trees to build the Great Hall roof, which is made up of 1,300 beams. The roof was built without using a single nail. Instead, all the beams lock together like jigsaw pieces and are held in place with more than 3,000 wooden pegs.

The  hammerbeam roof contains over 1300 beams of the Great Hall in Stirling Castle made from 400 oak trees

At the head of the room was the dais and two simple thrones where the royal couple would have overseen the festivities.

The royal thrones at the head of the table in the Great Hall in Stirling Castle

The Union of the English and Scottish Crowns in 1603, when James VI of Scotland ascended to the the thrones of England and Ireland, shifted the focus of the monarchy to London and the Great Hall was no longer needed for its original purpose. In fact, James I styled himself 'King of Great Britain and Ireland' and only returned to Scotland once in 1617. By 1685 Stirling Castle's role changed from royal residence to military base. When Queen Victoria visited Stirling in 1849, she was the first reigning monarch to set foot in the castle in 191 years.


A view of the Wallace Monument standing on Abbey Craig from Stirling Castle.

A view of the Wallace Monument standing on Abbey Craig from Stirling Castle.

Church of the Holy Rude

On the walk back to the car, we stopped at the Church of the Holy Rude. This church is named after the Holy Rood, a relic of the True Cross on which Jesus was crucified. It was founded in 1129 during the reign of David I. The original church was destroyed in the great fire of 1405. It was rebuilt over the following decades and that structure has survived now for over 500 years becoming one of the best preserved Medieval churches in Britain.

The Church of the Holy Rude located by Stirling Castle was founded in 1129 by David I

It is reputed to be one of only 3 active churches in the United Kingdom (Westminster Abbey and Gloucester Cathedral) to have held a coronation. In 1567 the infant King James VI was crowned in a Protestant ceremony, following the forced abdication by his mother, Mary Queen of Scots.

The Church of the Holy Rude is one of only 3 active churches in the United Kingdom (Westminster Abbey and Gloucester Cathedral) to have held a coronation.

Even though the reign of Mary, Queen of Scots, also known as Mary Stuart, lasted less than six years, so much has been written about her reign that she has become almost a cult figure. Here are a few key dates in Mary Queen of Scots life.


Dec 8 1542: Mary is born to King James V and Mary of Guise

Dec 14 1542: James V dies and Mary becomes Queen of Scotland

1548: Signs marriage agreement with King Henry II of France to marry King's heir Francis

1558: Marries Dauphin Francis

1559: Francis II ascends to throne and Mary becomes Queen of France and Scotland

1560: King Francis dies, Mary becomes Dowager Queen

1561: Returns to Scotland after 13 years in France; begins 6-yr reign

1565: Marries her half-cousin Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley

1566: Gives birth to James, the future James I of England and James VI of Scotland

1567: Lord Darnley murdered; Mary and the Earl implicated in the death

1567: Marries James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell

Jun 16 1567: Imprisoned in Loch Leven Castle by Scottish forces

Jul 24 1567: Forced to abdicate throne in favor of her 13-month old son James VI

1568: Moves to England for her safety expecting support from Queen Elizabeth I


For the better part of the next 20 years, Mary was detained in northern English castles by Elizabeth who believed Mary was plotting to replace her as monarch. In the eyes of many Catholics and Mary, Elizabeth was not the legitimate heir to the English throne. They claimed Mary Stuart was the rightful queen of England, as the senior surviving legitimate descendant of Henry VII through her grandmother, Margaret Tudor.


1586: Mary implicated in the Babington Plot to assassinate Elizabeth I

1587: Mary executed at Fotheringhay Castle; it was a botched beheading with multiple ax blows to the head required


In the words of a biographer of Mary, her life had all the elements of a great narrative: passion, murder, intrigue and political and religious issues. Historians question how different Mary's reign would have been if her mother had lived longer and guided Mary with her political insight. Mary of Guise and her daughter Mary Queen of Scots - 2 incredibly interesting players in 16th century Scottish History


The open-timbered oak roof of 1414 in the nave of the Church of the Holy Rude is one of very few medieval timber roofs still surviving in Scotland. An amazing 605-year old roof when we visited.

The open-timbered oak roof of 1414 in the nave of the Church of the Holy Rude is one of very few medieval timber roofs still surviving in Scotland.

Wallace Monument

Our last stop for the day was the Wallace Monument. The National Wallace Monument was built between 1861 and 1869 and stands 220 feet tall. Stone quarried from the Abbey Craig was used in the building of the Monument.


The tower stands on the Abbey Craig, a volcanic cliff from which William Wallace was said to have watched the gathering of the army of King Edward I of England, just before the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297, one of the most prominent Scottish victories of the Wars of Independence. It was the high point of the campaign by Wallace; the defeat sent an immense shock through the army of Edward I.

The Wallace Monument stands on the Abbey Craig, a volcanic cliff from which William Wallace was rallied troops before the Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297
The National Wallace Monument was built between 1861 and 1869 and stands 220 feet tall.

We decide to not go inside the monument. We had spent the entire day touring Stirling and thought we wouldn't appreciate the monument tour. It was relaxing just walking around the grounds. A great view of Stirling Castle from the grounds. You can't miss the golden color of the Great Hall.

 A great view of Stirling Castle from the grounds of the Wallace Monument

For a little fun we tried out the archery range. We got some good advise and quick training from the attendant. It's obvious that William would have selected me as join his forces.

Because I was still in castle hunting mode, we couldn't resist following a sign directing us to Sauchie Tower. We knew it wasn't a major tourist attraction but it peaked my interest. We had already driven by dozens of similar signs for other castles/ruins.


On the outskirts of a small village we came upon Sauchie Tower. The educational poster at the site identified it as a 15th-century tower house built in the 1430s. The lands of Sauchie were granted by King Robert the Bruce to Henri de Annand, Sheriff of Clackmannan, in 1321. In 1431 Sir James Schaw of Greenock, Comptroller to the King, acquired the lands of Sauchie when he married the heiress Mary de Annand. Sauchie Tower was built soon after. The tower stands 79 feet tall, measures 38 by 34 feet and rises four stories. Coming from the States, I find it amazing that you can drive through random small villages and find 600 year castle ruins.

Ruins of Sauchie Tower date back to the 1430s

The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews

Since it was still late afternoon when we got back to St. Andrews, we decided to visit the The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St Andrews.


The Old Course at St. Andrews is considered by many to be the 'home of golf' because the sport was first played on the Links at St. Andrews in the early 15th century. Golf was becoming increasingly popular in Scotland until James II of Scotland banned the game in 1457 because he felt that young men were playing too much golf instead of practicing their archery. The ban remained in force until 1502, when James IV became a golfer himself and removed the ban.


Although neither one of use golf, we still enjoyed the experience of walking around the grounds of probably the most famous course in the world.

embers Only sign at The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews
embers Only bench at The Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews

The Royal and Ancient Clubhouse is recognizable to golfers worldwide.

The Royal and Ancient Clubhouse at St Andrews in Scotland

When I sent this iPhone pic to my son, without telling him where the pic was taken, he immediately responded, 'What an amazing picture of the 18th fairway at St Andrews!' It's an iconic image for anyone who even remotely follows golf. We stopped in the gift shop to pick up early Christmas gifts for the 'golfers' and 'wanna be golfers' in the family.

A view of the 18th fairway at St Andrews golf course in Scotland

After a late dinner, we began packing up so we'd have time in the morning for a morning run.


Day 22 Plans

  • Morning jog through St Andrews

  • Drive to York, England

Despite threats of early morning rain, we both fit in a jog around the village. We each headed toward the coast but took different paths. It was not as tranquil as our jog while we were in the Outer Hebrides but it was really picturesque for other reasons.

Remains of the curtain walls around the village of St Andrews Scotland

Unfortunately, our plans didn't allow for time to visit the St. Andrews Cathedral but we did get a few pictures during the run. The Cathedral was built in 1158 and became the center of the Catholic Church in Scotland. It fell into disuse and ruin after Catholic mass was outlawed during the 16th-century Scottish Reformation. The ruins indicate that the building was approximately 390 ft long, and was the largest church to have been built in Scotland.

Ruins of St. Andrews Cathedral in St Andrews Scotland

St. Rule's tower is located in the cathedral grounds but predates it. Originally, the 984 foot tall tower was part of the church built in the 11th century to house the relics of St. Andrew.

The 984 foot tall St Rule's tower was part of St Andrews Cathedral was built in the 11th century to house the relics of St. Andrew.
Sunrise on the beach beside St Andrews Cathedral in St Andrews Scotland

After a quick breakfast, we packed the car and began our 5-hour drive from St. Andrews to York, England. This was one of our longest drives of the trip.

After 22 days and over 2,700 pictures taken, I still feel like there was so much more to see. Scotland is an incredible place to visit with so much to see and experience. In my opinion it ranks with Iceland as one of my favorite travel destinations. I would highly recommend a visit here for as little or as long as you can arrange. It was such a great way to begin our 6-week travel through Great Britain.


goodbye Scotland ... hello England

Stone marking the border between Scotland and England

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