Within 20 miles of Stirling… So much to see and experience!

On Sunday morning, October 6th, after we left the Fords of Frew and visited the lovely Easter Frew Farm, we tossed a coin to decide which way to go when we arrived back at the crossroads. We turned right and started driving in a northerly direction and soon noticed a sign pointing the way to a village by the name of Doune.

I asked Lindsay, “Isn’t there a castle called Doune? Have you ever been to it?”

He said, “Yes, I think I’ve heard of it but don’t recall ever visiting it. If there is a castle, then my guess is that it would be in or near the village of Doune, let’s see if we can find it!”  So we turned up the road to Doune, and we did find the Castle, which wasn’t difficult at all and only about 5 miles away!

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As soon as we arrived in the village, there were plenty of signs pointing the way. The Castle was near the edge of town on the far side and quite easy to find.

When we got out of the car and looked at it, it seemed familiar, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on why. It wasn’t long after entering and buying our tickets that I figured it out. They had signs and information all over the place boasting that the Castle was used as a stand-in for the fictional “Castle Leoch” in the TV adaptation of the Outlander series.  (Here’s a link to the Outlander filming locations interactive map if you’re a fan. Kind of fun to look at! Outlander Filming locations at Visit Scotland )

In Season 1 of the series, Castle Leoch served as the home of Jamie Fraser’s uncle, Colum Mackenzie, and his clan. So! That’s why it so looked familiar to me!

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It’s also been a filming location for other films and series such as ‘Winterfell’ in the series Game of Thrones…

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…and the British comedy film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a parody of the legends of King Arthur, was also filmed here in 1974.

Besides its popularity as a set location for famous films, I soon learned that historically it formerly was built and owned by one of the Stewarts.  Since I have many familial connections to the Stewarts, I figured I must be related somehow to the person who built this Castle. However, I didn’t have access to Wifi at the time to check it out. As I often do, I knew I could always investigate that later…

The Castle was built around 1362 – about 658 years ago – by Robert Stewart, the Duke of Albany, and it remains pretty much intact to this day.

When Robert became the Earl of Menteith after his marriage to Margaret Graham, the Countess of Menteith, he was given the title of Earl and the lands that Doune Castle stands on. The building of the Castle started sometime soon after their marriage.

Robert was pretty well connected:

  • He was the second son of King Robert II of Scotland (1316–1390), the first monarch of the House of Stewart
  • His grandfather was Walter Stewart, 6th High Steward of Scotland (1293–1326) and
  • His great-grandfather was Robert the Bruce (1274–1329), legendary victor of the Battle of Bannockburn.
  • His older brother, John Stewart (1337–1406), would later be crowned King of Scotland under the name Robert III.

He was right there in the middle of all the royalty, and there is quite a bit of history written about him in particular! He’s rather infamous. We will not, however, get into that long story here!

As I was beginning to explore, I wondered how I might be related to this Robert Stewart, whose Castle I was wandering around in centuries later. When I did have time to investigate, it turns out he is my 18th great grandfather through the Campbells in Argyll! Well, I’ll be darned!  I stumbled upon yet another ancestral castle quite by chance.

IMG_6932I also discovered in my research that during the Jacobite rising of 1745, Doune Castle was occupied by Charles Edward Stuart, “Bonnie Prince Charlie,” and the Jacobite Highlanders. Doune was used as a prison for government troops who were captured at the Battle of Falkirk.  Evidently, legend has it that several prisoners who were held in the rooms above the kitchens managed to escape by knotting together bedsheets and climbing down from the window.

The escapees included the author John Home, and a minister, John Witherspoon, who later moved to America and was one of the men who signed the United States Declaration of Independence! That was an interesting little tidbit of historical information to discover!

The site of  Doune Castle was quite strategic since it is close to the geographical center of Scotland, and only 5 miles from Stirling Castle at the “crossroads of Scotland.”

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After buying our tickets in what used to be the room used by the Castle Guards, the tour began in the courtyard at ground level. There was a lot of restorative work being done, so it wasn’t safe to walk around the courtyard and out to the well.

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The fenced-off pathway in the courtyard led us to and up the stairs below, where we entered the tower through another large wooden door. From there, we began exploring the rooms inside, starting with the Inner Hall with its lavish double fireplace sitting in its prominent position at the head of the Hall right behind the table that Robert Stewart would have sat at to conduct business.

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IMG_6837Off in the left corner near the fireplaces, there were a flight of stairs that curved steeply upwards, leading to suites just out of sight. These stairs led to the Dukes and Duchesses private rooms.

The tour through the Castle lasts quite a while and has excellent interpretive signage all along the way. You can choose which way you want to explore. You don’t have to follow a designated route. They also provide an excellent audio tour device that explains everything as you progress. It guides you through the various parts of the Castle effortlessly, through the great halls, kitchens, bedrooms, and cellars at whatever pace you feel comfortable with and has interesting historical information and stories about the Castle and its inhabitants to listen to.

I usually particularly enjoy visiting the lower levels where the kitchens are. This Castle’s kitchen was exceptionally large with massive fireplaces and ovens in comparison to a lot of other castles I’ve visited. From the size of the kitchen alone, I could tell that at one time, some opulent festivities were occurring here and a lot of food being served through these pass-throughs and corridors. You could almost smell it on the walls!

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IMG_6901It was fun to climb up a few flights above the kitchen and look back down below to Lindsay, waving at me near the window below.

Above the kitchens are other private rooms, and evidently, Mary Queen of Scots spent time here during her reign and stayed in the suite above the kitchens. The tour ended as we descended from the kitchen tower on this stairway below.IMG_6822

 

In one of the cellar vaults under the Castle, as you’re leaving, there is a lovely gift shop to wander through. Naturally, because this is such an iconic Outlander filming location, there were all manner of Outlander paraphernalia – clothing, mugs, jewelry, books – that one could purchase as a souvenir…

 

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We still had quite a bit of daylight left in the afternoon, so we said goodbye to the village of Doune and traveled about 20 miles southeast toward Dunfermline to visit another village, Culross. It is an ancient village with old buildings and cobbled lanes that are lovingly restored from medieval times.

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We entered the village from the top access road off of the A985 and stopped at the Culross Abbey before we finished driving down the hill to the central part of the old village.

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It was deserted, and we were the only visitors wandering around this ancient abbey. They had several exhibits set up that we could read and look at as well as admire the stained glass windows, organ, and carved woodwork throughout.

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One of the displays talked about some silver coins called Merks that I thought was of interest.

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One particular young man in Culross in the late 1500s made quite a difference in the village of Culross. His name was Sir George Bruce. He developed a coal pit and harvested salt in the area.

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We will learn a bit more about this guy a bit later. Here’s a painting of him for now.

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In a side chapel, we happened upon the memorial aisle for Sir George, his wife, and their eight children all carved out of what looks like marble. Quite elaborate!

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We finished walking through the church and then headed back outside…

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To save Lindsay a whole lot of walking, we climbed back in the car and drove slowly through the narrow cobbled lanes of the village to the town center.

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In 1932, there was a very unique program launched in Scotland called “Little Houses” to restore historic homes. Over 165 houses have been restored since then, and Culross was extremely lucky to have 40 of their historical houses restored under that program. What is unique about the “Little Houses” project was that they not only wanted to restore and maintain the old historical buildings, but they wanted them to continue to be lived in supporting the community and its culture. They didn’t want to just create museums out of these houses for people to tour.  They sincerely wanted to maintain the community because it was threatened as a target community for slum clearances. All throughout the village, you see the plaques on the outside of various buildings that designate it as a ‘Little House’ that got special treatment under that grand scheme.

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Down near the edge of the water, we came to the center of town and parked near the Town House built 1626.  Our next stop would be the Palace, which is that dark ochre-colored building down the lane in the slideshow below that Sir George Bruce and his family built and lived in.  The Palace is a National Trust Property, and you can tour its interior.

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There are so many fascinating old buildings in this town, they’ve even included a handy map with a brief description for each unique treasure.  You could spend the whole day in this town wandering around and getting acquainted with all 40 of them!

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Because this beautiful little village has been preserved so well, it also serves as an authentic and well-suited set location for films. Most recently, it also appeared in several scenes of Outlander.

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The Palace is a National Trust Property and you can tour its interior. It also has extensive gardens in the rear of the Palace that you can also wander around and enjoy.

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The Palace is well worth visiting and is filled to the brim with authentic period furniture, artwork, fine examples of needlework, exquisite wood paneling, and artifacts. It is set up as if the family were actually living there and it feels like they have just stepped away for a walk or something.

IMG_7126It isn’t precisely a Palace, but rather, an impressive house for its time. You aren’t allowed to take pictures, however, so I don’t have many to show you.  You’ll have to come to see it for yourself or check out some images at the National Trust website: National Trust for Scotland.

One small bit of information I gathered about this place was how they treated their windows. Glass would have been expensive back then, so they only put clear panes on the upper part of the window. The bottom was a wooden shutter that could open from the inside to allow fresh air to enter the room. Now that’s an ingenious way to save some money yet maintain function!

Sir George was very instrumental in bringing a strong economy to Culross through the coal, iron, and salt industries. The tour of the Palace includes some very informative displays and exhibits that explain the unique way they harvested salt for curing and coal for heating. The coal pit Sir George developed had an opening in the middle of the Firth of Forth! It was quite amazing how they tunneled under the water and then built a mound of earth and a tower up to the level above the waterline so they could load the coal straight up from the pit below directly onto boats!

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By the time we toured the whole Palace, it was getting late in the afternoon, and we were ready to call it a day.  We managed to fit a lot into just one day!  We visited the village of Kippen, explored the Fords of Frew territory, toured an ancestral castle at Doune, and wandered about in a well-preserved medieval town!  Fun!

We finished off our beautiful day of exploring with a nice relaxing dinner. We spent the night nearby in the town of Bo’ness at the Richmond Park Hotel. It is located almost directly across the Firth of Forth from Culross.  The hotel had a very nice onsite restaurant where Lindsay enjoyed a proper Sunday full carvery dinner with Roast Beef and Yorkshire pudding; while I enjoyed some fried prawns with crunchy onion rings and a crisp fresh salad.

Afterward,  I had one more surprise in store for us.  We got back in the car and drove a few miles into the darkness to visit the Kelpies at night! What a treat! 

The Kelpies are 30-meter-high horse-head sculptures depicting shape-shifting water spirits, in The Helix, a new parkland project. They were designed by Andy Scott and completed in October 2013.

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The Kelpies’ name reflects the mythological transforming beasts possessing the strength and endurance of 10 horses; a quality that is analogous with the transformational change and endurance of Scotland’s inland waterways. The Kelpies represent the lineage of the heavy horse of Scottish industry and economy, pulling the wagons, ploughs, barges, and coal ships that shaped the geographical layout of the Falkirk area.

They are quite the sight to see! Especially at night when the changing color of the lights uplight them and reflect upon their surfaces. After you park your car you have to approach them on foot following a wide pathway through the park and near the canal. They are so impressive. Whether you’re just beginning to approach them and they come into view or if you’re standing right underneath them – they are amazing sculptures that keep their eye on you as you walk around them to admire their stunning beauty.

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We will come back to see these magnificent creatures in the light of day in the morning, but that’s another story about another day of exploring around Scotland. Next time, we will visit several other interesting Royal Palaces within close proximity to Stirling and Edinburgh and also visit an utterly amazing engineering feat you won’t want to miss!

 

Author: Claudia Frew

Adventuresome, independent, and fun-loving 68-year young American great-grandmother who loves to travel; often going solo!

2 thoughts on “Within 20 miles of Stirling… So much to see and experience!”

  1. Wow, interesting castles and villages! We have seen the Kelpies in daylight from the carriageway, but never at night. I had no idea they lit up like that and that the colors change! You know how I love sparkley things!

    Like

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