I’ll be wrapping up recounting our Scotland adventures this week, starting with Day 4 which includes Inverness and Sterling. Since we had arrived to our lodging after dark the day prior I made sure to get a shot of the building in the morning before we left. I’m sure at some point it was a grand home, but it has been retrofitted to house guests and functions. Before we left town I requested that we stop by the castle, which I had spotted on the way back from Loch Ness the evening prior.
Situated on the highest point it’s quite imposing. Today it is used as the regional court house, so it’s not open to the public for tours but there are plans to convert it into a tourist destination when a new court is constructed. It’s been the scene of several dramas over the course of history including being seized by Bonny Prince Charlie’s forces before the battle of Culloden. And when Mary, Queen of Scots visited in 1562 and the castle had been entrusted to the Governor’s Captain, who refused Mary entry. This caused great offence, which led to his execution and head being displayed on the castle wall for all to see.
I circled the castle, enjoying the views of the quiet streets and quaint shops below which had yet to open for the day.
On the other side of the castle was the river Ness which flows to Loch Ness and more views of the city. While on this side I found a tour group that we had spotted at Culloden the day prior. I trailed behind them catching bits and pieces of the guide’s descriptions of the local history including stories of Nessie sightings. He shared the history of St. Andrews Cathedral which is visible across the river. It was the first new Protestant cathedral completed in Great Britain after the Reformation. There were supposed to be spires on the two front towers but a lack of funds delayed that portion of construction and they were never completed.
Looking the other direction down River Ness was more shops and pubs, including the Highland House of Fraser, which made my little Outlander fan heart do a pitter patter. 🙂
We had other sights to see so we left Inverness behind and headed toward Sterling, further into the highlands. Along the way we saw numerous fields of grazing sheep and several more castles poking above the treelines. I would have loved to stop and investigate them all but we didn’t have time.
We quickly realized that this highway is a major agricultural transit route, as evidenced by the tractors and massive produce loads we spotted along the way.
A few hours later we arrived at Sterling and headed straight for the castle. It took us a few tries to figure out the right road to be on as the GPS seemed a bit confused.
On our way up the hill toward the castle we spotted this young musician playing the bag pipes in traditional Scottish attire. We also chuckled at the decal on the back of the tour bus who arrived at the gate just ahead of us.
As we headed inside the castle we had to pause as the guards let a car pass through the narrow tunnel in the fortress’ thick wall.
We purchased our tour tickets and headed inside through another fortified wall.
Inside the castle was a lovely courtyard where activities for children were being held as part of “living history month” including jousting and shinty.
We opted to leave the courtyard to the kids and check out the architecture instead, like this rounded turret lookout.
We headed inside the castle to the rooms inside the outer walls, which each had displays of court life. Along the way we spotted these fire hooks which would be used to pull down burning beams to keep the fire from spreading.
Down the hall was a display of clothing worn by the King and Queen featuring exquisite fabrics and adornments – including a suggestive addition to the King’s lower half!
There were additional outfits on display further inside the castle. These were likely worn by courtiers or nobility who were at court.
We headed over to the great hall which had a similar roof structure to the one we’d seen at Edinburgh Castle. There were several people dressed in period attire as part of the living history activities so we watched them interacting with the other tourists and waited our turn for a photo op. I got to meet Mary, Queen of Scots and sit at the table next to her for a brief moment.
Next we toured the rooms inside the main building of the castle. One area held the crown jewels and relics in a large display case inside of a vault, but no pictures were allowed in this area but you can see a glimpse of it in this clip done by the Scottish historical preservation society. We also toured Queen Mary’s apartment including the small side room where her son was born. Several of the other areas where photos were allowed boasted ornately decorated ceilings with carved busts and symbols. These spaces were part of the procession of rooms that guests would travel through before seeing the King and were meant to impress and showcase his authority, wealth and right to rule.
The throne room was filled with elaborate replica tapestries depicting the hunt of the unicorn beneath the ceiling painted with busts of the King’s heritage. The tapestry showing the unicorn in a small enclosure is one I remembered as the cover of a historical novel I read a few years ago.
The unicorn symbol continued in other designs around the castle including these paintings above the fire places. It was often featured with the lion of England to symbolize the joining of the two countries.
Beyond the thrown room was the bedchambers of the King and Queen. We learned that these spaces were also ceremonial and meant to showcase wealth rather than function. The royals usually did not sleep in these beds, and used smaller chambers attached to the space with less elaborate decor. One of the side bedrooms had a bed that was not dressed and it was interesting to see it’s construction of rope supports.
We also toured the newer chapel – the last building constructed at the castle. It was sparsely furnished so I didn’t take many photos here but I was intrigued by this display sign that described the chapel built just outside the castle for James VI’s baptism. Displays in a museum section of the castle depicted other changes made to the castle over the centuries and changing monarchs.
The displays also included several replicas of the wooden busts seen on the ceiling in the King’s chambers and this interesting quote about nobility.
The tour continued with the kitchens, where sculptures showed the daily activities that took place here.
Signage in the space noted that kitchen work was performed by men rather than women and that there were two kitchens – one for the monarchs and principal courtiers and their servants and another for the rest of the castle’s population. The signs also depicted the hierarchy of the castle ‘food chain’ and who got what portions.
Back outside we enjoyed a small garden at the back of the castle where Queen Mary likely wandered during her time at the castle. The view from the walls of this garden were spectacular.
And off in the distance we could see the William Wallace monument, which was our next destination.
As we finished our lap of the castle I noticed these carvings on the newer section of the palace and thought it was interesting that sea creatures were depicted in such a permanent way so far from the coast.
Before we left we stopped into the little gift shop where I found this adorable Highland Coo. He was quite pricey, but I couldn’t resist that face and so he came home with us, along with one of those gold bells you see in the background!
We headed over to the William Wallace monument but learned that it had closed about a half hour before we arrived. Luckily we soon realized that we could still access the uphill trail to the monument. We decided to make the trek even though we wouldn’t be able to go inside the monument.
The hike to the monument was certainly UP HILL but there were these fun carvings at each of the switchbacks along the trail which gave us a good excuse to pause and catch our breath. Each celebrated aspects of Scotland’s resources, history and culture.
I fell in love with the highland coo carving in this grouping. If I could have fit it in my suitcase I would have brought it home and added it to my gardens! Maybe I can find something similar online this season instead.
The view of the monument changed as we made our way up the hill, and seeing it through the trees just below the top of the trail was impressive. We made the final portion of the climb huffing and puffing but satisfied.
Once at the top we took in the detail of the structure including the Victorian style statue on the side of the tower and the thistle design above the doors.
The view across the valley back toward Sterling Castle was breathtaking as the sun began to fade – and not because we were still winded from the trail!
After our bodies remembered how to breath normally, we headed back down the hill and decided to drive back toward the castle to get some photos of the cows we’d seen in the field below the stone walls. The light was fading fast and the cows were completely uncooperative to my kissy noise calls and faux offers of treats. Perhaps they knew I was a tourist since I didn’t have the accent in my voice. Since I wasn’t willing to enter the field where they were at with out a property owner’s permission and there was no one around to ask, this was the best shot I could get. It’s not horrible, but not exactly what I was wanting either. It’s tough to work with uncooperative models! 😉
We headed to our hotel for the night to rest up for the next day – a trip to Doune Castle which is Castle Leoch in the Outlander series for a photo shoot with a local photographer. I’ll be sharing that experience soon, but in the meantime stop by tomorrow for the following day’s visit to Roslyn Chapel!
Check out our other Scotland adventures:
And our travels through Iceland on the same trip with Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 and Day 4.