Monday, June 21, 2010

Stirling Castle and Braveheart

By Claire
It's the first day of summer and the longest day of the year so we thought we'd do our best to fit as much into it as we can. After all, the sun rose at 4:12 am and doesn't set until 10:08 pm. It isn't dark until 11. I certainly can't sleep with all this light so what else could we do? On top of that, the radio this morning said there will be at least another six days of this amazing weather. It is non-stop sunshine and we are loving it.

We drove about an hour to the town of Stirling, once the capital of Scotland. This quaint town boasts 3 major attractions: Stirling Castle, the Bannockburn Heritage Centre and the William Wallace Monument. We started with Stirling Castle with its strategic position--perched on a volcanic crag overlooking a bridge over the River Forth, the primary passage between the Lowlands and the Highlands.

A guided tour was just beginning and we quickly joined the group. It was very nicely done, taking us into the great hall and the chapel as well as a walk around the buildings. Later, we visited the kitchens and the castle exhibition.

Stirling Castle marks the site of two epic medieval battles where famous Scotsmen defeated huge English armies despite impossible odds: In 1297, William Wallace (a.k.a. "Braveheart") fended off an invading English army at the Battle of Stirling Bridge. In 1314, Robert the Bruce won the battle of nearby Bannockburn.

William Wallace

Robert the Bruce

Next, we visited the Great Kitchens exhibit with mannequin cooks and medieval recipes. Chuck was a good sport today posing for pictures.

Included in the castle ticket was a guided tour of Argyll's Lodging, a superb example of a 17th century townhouse. We are really getting a feel for this time period. One of the fun things we learned is that the aristocrats were given the top part of the loaf of bread while the servants were given the tough, bottom crust. This is where the term "upper crust" comes from.

We stopped at Homer to put together a picnic lunch then headed back to the castle. Going into the gardens, we watched a fun demonstration by two guys in costume who re-enacted the style of sword fighting at that time: hacking and slashing.

These are the remnants of the Royal Gardens below the castle

The castle exhibition was well done with history of the town and its fortress. But, it was already 2 pm so we drove to the Bannockburn Heritage Centre, commemorating what many Scots view as their nation's most significant military victory over the invading English: the Battle of Bannockburn, won by a Scottish army led by Robert the Bruce against England's King Edward I in 1314.

We were delighted to learn that it was part of the Scottish Trust which is covered under our National Trust membership. We saved £10.

These kids were adorable and agreed to pose for me. They were with a group and the centre has an area of costumes to try on. They were having a great time and I was charmed by them all. One little girl especially wanted to try on the chain mail that one of the boys was wearing.

A scientist recreated the closest ever likeness of Robert the Bruce--revealing the leprosy ravaged face of the warrior king. The image of Bruce at the age of 55, just before his death, reveals how the condition destroyed the cartilage in his nose causing it to collapse. It also shows a huge wound down his skull, fratured bones around the eye and a toothless mouth.

We drove towards Blairlogie, the location of our campground, Witches Craig, €21.60. Our goal this time was the Wallace Monument. Along the way we spotted a Tesco grocery store and had to stop. We loaded up, stuffed everything into the fridge and the pantry and sped towards the monument. We just made it--the woman at the ticket office told us they were no longer selling tickets but we could buy them up at the top if we got there in 10 minutes. Excuse me? On a good day we might have made it in 15; it's very steep. Fortunately, their shuttle bus was just leaving and we made it with minutes to spare. It was probably lucky we came so late since there were very few people. Once inside, we climbed the 246 narrow spiral steps to the top. We watched a video of the dead Wallace explaining his defiant stand against Edward I. We also checked out his five-and-a-half-foot-long broadsword. It is reasonable to assume that in order to wield a sword of this size, Wallace would have had to be of considerable size, at least 6 foot 6 inches tall. I really liked this monument. It seems very fitting for such a courageous man who fought so hard for Scotland. The monument was built in 1869 and his sword was installed in 1888.

Top of the monument

View of the River Forth from the top of the Wallace Monument

We are relaxing in the summer sunshine at our lovely campground. What a great life we have!

Sunset, taken at 10:24 pm.

He who holds Stirling, holds Scotland. ~ Unknown


Paros Shepherd said...

Go William Wallace! The Wallace Clan Motto: Pro Libertate (For liberty).

Nice Blog! My Grandpa Wallace was a pretty tall man, well over 6 ft. I wonder why Mel Gibson chose to play the part of William Wallace when he is only 5' 9.5"? (no comment, I am not a Mel Gibson fan).

Anyway, I liked the way you chose to enjoy the Summer the days will be getting shorter! You campground is lovely...

Karin "Wallace" on Paros

Chuck and Claire said...

William Wallace was a fascinating person and a hero. I'm not a Mel Gibson fan either but I loved the movie and I think he did a great job. They just re-sized the sword to fit his body. I was surprised to learn that Wallace's wife and family were killed. I figured it was just Hollywood who put that in the story so there could be some romance and tragedy.

Michael Follon said...

Here are two extracts from a book about William Wallace -

'If we are unsure of William Wallace's family, we are on even softer ground with some of his companions. Blair, the writer of the manuscript from which 'Blind Harry' claimed to have made 'The Wallace', seems to have no provenance whatsoever as a historical figure, though that is hardly evidence of his non-existence. The same applies to Marion Braidfute; just because there is no contemporary record of her life does not mean that she did not have one, though the absence of any other Braidfoots in the record material of the time would suggest that, if she did exist, her family was probably of very low status, low enough to avoid registering on the Ragman Roll. Alternatively, if Marion Braidfute never existed, it would not have been beyond the skills of a Scottish writer to invent her.' - page 50,

'William Wallace has attracted a great deal of attention from interested enthusiasts, but surprisingly little from historians. Of the several biographies readily available at the time of writing, not one has been written by anyone with a background in medieval history generally, let alone with any scholarly understanding of the society in which Wallace lived. The lack of an understanding of the context has led to the easy acceptance of material that is at best questionable and at worst fraudulent. This is most evident in the film 'Braveheart'. Not content with relying on 'Blind Harry's' largely fictitious poem 'The Wallace' as the sole source of material, the writer, Randall Wallace, simply changed the story to suit a script that made no sort of historical sense and has, in fact, deprived Scottish people of part of their history by effectively undermining the factual material. The benefit of the 'Braveheart' phenomenon is of course the extent to which it has heightened interest in medieval Scotland: an important consideration in a country where there is no viable programme of history in schools. Although 'Braveheart' did help to make Scots more aware of their past, the damage done to our perception of Wallace and of the early period of the Wars of Independence is incalculable. If it is true that a picture paints a thousand words, how damaging is it when the picture is a fantasy?' - page 125,

SOURCE: 'WILLIAM WALLACE: The True Story of Braveheart', by Chris Brown, ISBN 0-7524-3432-2.