I forgot to mention at the end of the previous day’s journal: when we returned to the hotel, we had a guest speaker before dinner, Anna Groundwater, a professor who is an expert on the history of the border counties during the time of James VI&I before and after the UK unification. I bought a copy of her book before the trip. She gave us a slide presentation about the major border families such as the Armstrongs, Bothwells, and Kers with one R or two, and the strongholds they lived in.
The next morning, we embarked on a longer drive, not south to the border counties but about an hour and a half northward to Scone Palace (pronounced “skoon”).
Along the way, we crossed the Firth of Forth on the motorway bridge that runs parallel to the famous railway bridge, which is not only a marvel of Victorian engineering, but looks really cool. The last time I was here, the bridge was swathed in mist and I couldn’t get a good picture. This time, I was determined to do the best I could through the windows of a moving vehicle.
Scone Palace is of course best known for the Stone of Scone, which was used for the coronations of Scottish kings for generations before it was taken by the English and placed under the throne at Westminster Abbey. Today, there is a replica placed in front of the chapel.
Our tour group had about half an hour to wander around the gardens and chapel grounds. Several peacocks were wandering around or roosting up in the trees, but their long and colorful tail feathers had molted. Then we went into the house for a tour.
It is a very grand and beautiful house–we would visit several of these on the tour–with a long historical connection to Scottish and UK royalty. The long gallery at one end of the house was especially impressive.
Two smaller items I remember in particular:
1. A replica of the throne at Westminster Abbey with another copy of the Stone of Scone beneath it. Our tour guide said it had been made for a movie; he didn’t specify what movie, but I’m guessing it was The King’s Speech.
2. A well-known painting of two 18th-century girls, one white and one black. They were cousins,
Lady Elizabeth Murray and Dido Elizabeth Murray and there has been a recent film called Belle made about Dido Elizabeth’s story; I watched it on the flight over to Heathrow, but didn’t realize that I would be seeing the actual painting so soon afterwards. There is also an exhibit that provides more information about the girls and about Dido Elizabeth’s descendants still living.
After the tour, I walked around outside.
There used to be a village just beyond the walls of the palace garden, but it was moved a couple of miles away about two centuries ago. All that remains are the old village gate, which was originally the main entrance to the palace; this was changed when Queen Victoria came for a visit and it was decided that her carriage wouldn’t fit through the opening, so they made a new gate entrance and approach to the palace–the way we drove in. There is also an old market cross and a kind of creepy graveyard that used to belong to the village church. Off in the woods, about a quarter mile down the old road are also the foundations of an older chapel. I walked out that far to find it, but had to hurry back because I was afraid of making everybody else wait for me at the coach.
When our group met again at the coach, our tour guide Dave said that we had a little extra time before we need to be at our next scheduled stop, so why don’t we take in the Bannockburn Memorial since it’s on the way? Everybody is keen to see it.
Bannockburn was the site of a famous battle between Robert the Bruce and Edward II of England in 1314. Today, the battle is commemorated by a visitors’ center that shows a 3-D exhibition.
In the field is a modern, circular memorial with a flagpole at the center and inscriptions around the rim. A statue of Robert the Bruce on horseback is just a short walk away.
There was just enough time to walk around the battlefield (but not to see the 3-D exhibition, although I saw something like it at Culloden) and purchase a few little things at the gift-shop. Then we went on to Stirling Castle.
Stirling Castle, like Edinburgh Castle, sits atop high cliffs. Since there isn’t a large city built up around it, it dominates the landscape and is visible for miles around.
The view from the castle is likewise spectacular. Once again, the afternoon has turned out to be beautiful.
A special tour guide was provided for our group here, but I decided to skip this one. The tour I was on in 2012 stopped at this castle as well, but that was on a day when rain was pouring down. I spent most of my time indoors with headphones, listening to all the information on the audio tour they give you at the entrance. This afternoon, I made up for the rain by running over every part of the battlements open to the public.
I saw our group in the courtyard a couple of times on my way around. Afterwards, the others told me that I didn’t miss much; the castle guide was hard to understand.
When I had done all running around that I could, I visited a workshop where weavers were recreating medieval tapestries. There were a number of famous tapestries of a unicorn hunt here, and some of the replicas already hang on the walls in the Palace. If you’re very quiet, you can sit and watch the weavers at their work.
Then I went into the Palace, which is undergoing restoration. The National Trust is trying to make it look the way it did in James VI’s time; he was the last Scottish king to make regular use of it.
In addition to the tapestries mentioned above, they are recreations of the original wooden carvings on the ceilings. In one room. there is a number of figures in square frames, each painted colorfully. I had to bend back to get as many as I could into the photos. One woman simply lay down on the floor to take it all in.
In the old vaults underneath the Palace is an exhibit describing how they recovered information the original carvings to create these news ones. There is also a computer program where you can fill in colors on your own image of a court jester.
Next door to the Palace is the Great Hall, also undergoing restoration but pretty much empty at the present. The exterior surface was recently sand-blasted and is bright orange, contrasting with the duller lichen-covered stone of the rest of the castle.
While I waited for the rest of the group to finish their tour, I found an empty bench in Queen Anne’s garden and chatted with a toddler. She didn’t have much conversation beyond “Hi!” and “Mommy,” but like me, was happy to be running around on a sunny day and had gathered up a handful of broken twigs to show me.