The Kelpies, Falkirk Wheel, and a Royal Stewart Palace – Linlithgow

mapOn Monday morning, October 7, we left the hotel in the town of Bo’ness and drove a couple of miles to Linlithgow Palace.

I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had heard it was ruinous, but to what degree I wasn’t sure.  I was pleasantly surprised to see that the Palace and St Michael’s church were very much intact.  The church is still in use today, but the Palace has long been out of commission. The Palace was also a lot bigger than I had imagined it would be!

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Once a majestic royal residence of the Stewarts, Linlithgow Palace today sits roofless and ruined, and yet,  entering the palace gates still inspires a bit of awe.

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A church is thought to have stood on this site for over 1000 years. It was mentioned in the charter of King David I in 1138. The tower supports 3 ancient bells, the eldest and largest was made in Linlithgow in 1490. the striking spire by Geoffrey Clark was installed in 1964. It represents the Crown of Thorns Christ wore.

In the early 1300s, while Scotland fought to keep her independence, Edward I of England occupied the royal manor house and the church was used as a military storeroom until both were liberated by King Robert the Bruce. We decided to head inside to see what this church looks like and what treasures it holds.

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After we enjoyed exploring the church, we strolled across the parking lot and entered the main entrance to the Palace. The tour began in the courtyard with its extraordinary and uniquely carved fountain sitting center stage for all to admire up close.

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According to Wikipedia:

“James I  ordered work to begin on this elegant, new ‘pleasure palace’ in 1424, and it became a welcome rest stop for royals on the busy road between Edinburgh Castle and Stirling Castle. The Stewart queens especially liked the peace and fresh air, and Linlithgow Palace served as the royal nursery for James V – born 1512, Mary Queen of Scots – born 1542, and Princess Elizabeth – born 1596. However, the Palace fell quickly into decline when James VI moved the royal court to London in 1603, following his coronation as James I King of England.”

I spent quite a bit of time admiring the intricate carvings of the numerous beasts, gargoyles, and various types of people depicting perhaps, what looks like traditional trade guilds and all framed by detailed borders on multiple levels. In 1538 King James V had this 5-meter fountain built in the courtyard of the Palace, which is known as the King’s Fountain.  It even has a mermaid! The fountain is also said to have been flowing with wine in honor of a visit by Bonnie Prince Charlie in 1745. Imagine that!

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After admiring the fountain for quite a while, we decided to start looking inside the various parts of this Palace that surrounded us in the courtyard. First, we checked out the Object Display along this corridor near the chapel just past the entrance. The display cases were filled with all sorts of interesting tidbits found on the premises from days long, long ago.

There were even some drawings of some of the Stewarts who lived here once upon a time.

I later discovered how they are each related to me. On the left, James V was my 16th great uncle – he was a younger brother to my 15th great grandmother Margaret Jane Stewart 1497-1510. James V’s daughter, Mary Queen of Scots (center), was born here on December 8, 1542, and she is my 1st cousin 16 times removed. James VI, her son, and on the right married his Queen, Anne of Denmark, and he was my second cousin. Below is an enormous statue of Mary Queen of Scots, which stands outside on the grounds surrounding the Palace.

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The next part of the Palace we explored was where the Royal Apartments had been located. I always enjoy seeing these types of interpretive signs below depicting what it could have looked like when in use.  It helps me imagine better when I look at the current empty shell left standing.

IMG_7301From watching movies, I tend to believe that palaces and castles were so much bigger than they actually were and that their elite residents had lots of opportunities to roam from room to room.  However,  the part of the structure and the rooms that they occupied, weren’t quite as extensive and spacious as I had thought they would be.

Other than the Grand Hall or the dining room, the average room wasn’t really all that big, and there weren’t a lot of places to get lost in roaming around the floorplan. I imagine one could feel quite claustrophobic in a situation like this, actually, especially for someone like myself who really enjoys getting out and exploring! It seems that the majority of the rooms in the Palace were used for storage, cooking, servants, and for visiting guests and their servants.

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I particularly enjoyed touring this Palace because it is the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots, and it was fun to see where she was as an infant and where some of my ancestors and their extended family spent a great deal of their time.

It’s quite a large palace to explore with lots of different levels and sections and a ton of spiral staircases.  If you’re looking to get in your steps for the day, this is the place to go to get them!

Across the courtyard from the current entrance, stands the old original entrance with all of the carved rock heraldric symbols mounted on the wall over the central arch of the tunnel to the main gate.

It took us a couple of hours to tour the Palace, and we enjoyed it thoroughly. Afterward, since we still had most of the day ahead of us, we drove about 10 miles to another couple of very different types of sites than we had been exploring earlier.  We went back to see the Kelpies in the light of day, and then we visited the amazing Falkirk Wheel nearby.

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The Kelpies take on a whole different persona in the light of day, don’t they? They are quite pretty all lit up in different colors at night, but during the day, they are just as impressive in their steel grey attire, which reflects the changing skies around them.

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The Falkirk Wheel is a rotating boat lift in central Scotland, connecting the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal. It reconnects the two canals for the first time since the 1930s. The two canals were previously connected by a series of 11 locks. With a 115 ft difference in height, it required 3,500 tons of water per run and took most of a day to pass through the flight. By the 1930s, the locks had fallen into disrepair and were dismantled.

Later, Planners decided to create a dramatic 21st-century landmark structure to reconnect the canals, instead of merely recreating the historic lock flight. The Falkirk Wheel is the only rotating boat lift of its kind in the world.

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It has an overall diameter of 115 ft and consists of two opposing arms extending 49 ft beyond the central axle and taking the shape of a Celtic-inspired, double-headed ax. Two sets of these ax-shaped arms are connected to a 12 ft diameter central axle of length 92 ft. Two diametrically opposed water-filled gondolas, each with a capacity of 66,000 gallons, are fitted between the ends of the arms.

We climbed aboard one of the boats and proceeded to ride on the Falkirk Wheel and hence, became very educated about how it works from the informative Captain.

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The gondolas always carry a combined weight of 500 tons of water and boats, with the gondolas themselves each weigh 50 tons. Care is taken to maintain the water levels on each side, thereby balancing the weight on each arm.

According to Archimedes’ principle, floating objects displace their own weight in water, so when the boat enters, the amount of water leaving the gondola weighs precisely the same as the boat. This is achieved by maintaining the water levels on each side to within a difference of 1.5 inches using a site-wide computer control system comprising water level sensors, automated slices, and pumps. It takes only 30.2 hp to power ten hydraulic motors, which consume 1.5 kilowatt-hours per half-turn, roughly the same as boiling eight kettles of water! Now that’s efficient!

Each gondola is 21 feet wide and can hold up to four 66 foot canal boats at a time.

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IMG_2739I had fun taking a series of photos of the wheel as it turned to share with you on this blog. Lindsay had fun taking pictures of me taking pictures!IMG_7538

By the time we did all that, we had used up the rest of the day, and we headed back to our hostel in Stirling.

Then we headed down to our favorite pub, Nicky-Tamsfor some more delicious entrees from their menu.

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It was yet another superb day exploring all kinds of places, old and new.  We needed to get rested up because the following day was our last day for this 5-day adventure in and around Stirling. We’ll be winding it up with a visit to yet another delightful Palace at Falkland, but as usual, that’s another adventure for yet another blog post. Until then!