Wednesday, December 30, 2015 Road Junkies 0 Comments

, Chapter 24: 

Day 30:  Glasgow to Stirling

On Wednesday morning, we checked out of Glasgow's Fraser Suites, delighted to escape the incessant running and jumping child in the room above us the past three days.  The desk clerk must have been dealing with the rambunctious child as well because she appeared quite flustered when we checked out.  It took her three tries to summon a taxi for us as she kept impulsively punching the wrong buttons on the phone.  

At Hertz, the car we ordered was not available and we were downgraded to something smaller with no concomitant price reduction.  When we insisted for an appropriate concession on the cost, the agent grumpily stomped to the back and returned with the news that the manager had lowered the price a few pence per day.  Nope.  Our request to talk to the manager sent her again to a back room, from whence she subsequently appeared with a more realistic adjustment.  

Did that really need to be so difficult for everyone?  All those unnecessary negotiations behind us, we piled our bags into a Skoda Fabia and happily departed from Glasgow, marveling at the difference in our experience compared to Edinburgh, where the people we encountered were uniformly friendly and congenial.
Doune Castle
It goes without saying, at this point, that the weather was rainy as we left the city and drove 35 miles north on the M-80 to the medieval Doune Castle.  Built by Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany and Governor of Scotland, the castle was the center of his rule over Scotland—king in all but title—from 1386 until his death in 1420.  
Though today its location seems a bit remote, during the Middle Ages, Doune was the crossroads where the two great routes across Scotland intersected.  Whoever controlled those roads was likely to dominate most of northern Scotland.  Constructed on a mound between two rivers, it was well positioned for natural defenses.
With a 34-foot ceiling, the Great Hall served as the hub of communal life at Doune.
Later used as a royal retreat by Scotland's royalty, Doune fell out of favor after King James VI left Scotland for London in 1603 to become James I of England.  After a century or two of neglect, a Scottish earl took it upon himself to begin repairs in the 1880s, replacing the timber roofs and restoring the interior to its former glory. The castle is now maintained by the Scottish government.

From Doune, it was just a ten-mile drive southeast to Stirling Castle. One of Scotland's most important castles, Stirling dominates a vast volcanic rock above the river Forth at the meeting point between Lowlands and Highlands.  Steep cliffs on three sides gave it a strong defensive position. A royal castle has sat on the spot since at least 1110.
Stirling Castle
In the 16th century, James V built a palace building within the confines of the castle as a tribute to his wife and a demonstration of his importance to other European monarchs. One of the design elements intended to convey the king's aspirations to be a player in European politics was a collection of carved heads adorning the ceiling of the palace's Inner Hall.  The three-foot oak medallions featured images of kings, queens, nobles, Roman emperors and characters from the Bible and Classical mythology.  They decorated the palace ceiling until it collapsed in 1777.  Today the surviving carvings and replicas of others are on display in the castle.
Restored Sterling Heads
During the Wars of Independence—civil wars among the Scots as well as a struggle between Scotland and England—Stirling Castle changed hands eight times in 50 years.  In times of peace, Scottish royalty came to Stirling to enjoy its comforts and area hunting.  
Queen's Inner Hall, Sterling Castle
It was also a childhood home of some famous people in Scottish and British history, including Mary Queen of Scots and her only son, James VI (I).  In 1543, at the age of just nine months, Mary was crowned queen in Stirling Castle's Chapel Royal after the death of her father, James V. She lived at the castle for most of the first five years of her life.

James VI, who also spent a large part of his childhood at Stirling Castle, ascended the throne at only 13 months old while his mother was imprisoned at Lochleven Castle. Before her overthrow, Mary threw a three-day baptism celebration for her son that remains unparalleled in the castle's history. It included highlights such as a large ship that was brought into the Great Hall to serve the fish course.

Today the well-preserved castle is one of Scotland's most popular attractions.  Interpreters dressed in period costume greet visitors and offer a semblance of being in the residence of royalty.  
Period costumed interpreters at Sterling Castle
Of course, it was raining the entire time we visited the castle, so we didn't check out the grounds.  The rain continued for the rest of the evening as we checked in at a local hotel and set about to rebook our air travel reservations for next week.
Seeking shelter from the rain

Exhibit of original Stirling Heads
Replica carving of the head of King James V without paint

Recreated Stirling Head medallions