Sunday, January 03, 2016 Road Junkies 0 Comments

, Chapter 28: 

Day 34:  Edinburgh 

Gray clouds, our familiar companions, were hovering over Edinburgh and a brisk wind was blowing when we left the hotel this morning. Rain was not in the forecast until noon, but the clouds promised something different.  

Our first stop of the day was at Linlithgow Palace, birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots, and her father, James V.  By the time we arrived, we realized that we didn't have time to explore much and still get to our next stop in time for our 11:30 appointment.  
St. Michael's Parish Church
Instead of visiting the palace, we spent a few minutes in the majestic St. Michael's Parish Church next to the palace.  When we arrived, ushers were already in place for the 11 a.m. service and all seemed well versed in the church's history.  Ken chatted with Chester while I walked around taking a few photos.  
High altar, St Michael's Parish Church
Consecrated in 1242,  the church was largely destroyed by fire in 1424.  After a century of construction the current church was completed in 1540.  Just two years later, after Mary, Queen of Scots, was born next door, she was baptized there.  One of the ushers pointed to lingering signs of damage inflicted when the church was occupied by Oliver Cromwell's forces in 1646.
St Catherine's Aisle, St Michael's Parish Church
Ten miles west on A-803 took us to the location of our morning appointment—the Falkirk Wheel.  Like our train trip through the Chunnel in 2011 (it's light, it's dark, it's light again), this newer example of an engineering marvel was a bit better in concept than the actual experience proved to be.
Boat entering lift at lower level
Back around the turn of the century, the UK Millennium Commission decided to restore and reopen the historic canals of central Scotland to provide a water route between the east and west coasts.  As it had when the canals were active more than 100 years before, the connection between the Union Canal and the Forth and Clyde Canal presented a challenge.  At their connection point, the two canals differ in height by 115 feet.  

Before the 1930s, the connection between the two had been accomplished with the use of eleven conventional locks, which took an entire day to transit.  The locks had been dismantled in 1933 after they went out of use.  Enter the Falkirk Wheel engineering marvel.  Using the force of gravity and Archimedes' principle, a lift was designed to transfer boats from one level to the next in about 15 minutes.
Gravity helps boats switch places
The Wheel comprises two huge, balanced water tanks suspended on arms which rotate around a central axis.  Each tank can support up to four 65-foot-long boats at one time. When boats move into the tanks through the lock gates, a mass of water from each tank equal to the weight of the vessels is displaced. The tanks are thus always equalized in weight, allowing the pull of gravity on the descending tank to do most of the work elevating the rising tank.  For tourists, the boat ride takes passengers through the entire cycle, from bottom to top and back to bottom.  Though the science was interesting, the boat ride was underwhelming.
Since we were only five miles away, we drove from the boat lift to the Helix, a park created to be the home of the self-proclaimed largest equine statues in the world.  In Scottish folklore, a kelpie is a mythical shape-shifting creature that inhabits lochs.  Featured in tales about most every sizable lake in Scotland, kelpies are often described as a horse-like creature.  The most famous kelpie legend is that of Nessie, the so-called Loch Ness monster.
The Kelpies
Standing at 100 feet tall and weighing 300 tons each, the Kelpies at the Helix park are two enormous horse heads created by artist Andy Scott.  Modeled after two real-life Clydesdale horses, the sculptures were commissioned as a monument to Scotland's horse-powered industrial heritage.  Like the Falkirk Wheel, the Kelpies were drawing a big crowd today.
The image that guided sculptor Andy Scott
Leaving the equines at quarter past two, we returned eight miles east on the A-9 to Linlithgow Palace.  After paying our senior admission fee, we walked into the shell of the palace overlooking the loch.  Designed in a quadrangular arrangement with four ranges around a central courtyard, Linlithgow was built and developed over the course of two centuries by Scotland's Stewart monarchs.  The palace offered a comfortable retreat between Edinburgh and Stirling. 
Linlithgow Palace
In 1603, the kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland united when James VI, King of Scots, inherited the crowns of England and Ireland and moved his court from Edinburgh to London.  With no monarch in residence in Scotland, the palace fell into decline until the early 1800s when conservation efforts were begun.  Maintained today by the Scottish government, the stunning palace ruins still have the power to inspire awe.
Great Hall, Linlithgow
Though it is now only a shell, the Great Hall still has the power to inspire awe.  This was the space used for important gatherings and events.  Tapestries would have adorned the walls, statues displayed on plinths around the enormous room.  Banquet tables, laden with fine china and silver, would have encircled the room with the king's table near the massive three-bay fireplace so that he and his party would be warm.  Now only ghosts inhabit the palace.
Finally tearing ourselves away from the magical spell of Linlithgow about 3:30, we hopped in the car to drive four miles (20 minutes) to the wee village of Blackness (pop. 135).  It was established on the shores of the Firth of Forth in 1389 as a port for Linlithgow.  In the 1440s, Blackness Castle was built on an outcrop of rock on the shore to protect the harbor.  Over the centuries, it has been fortified, sieged, repaired, rebuilt, and refortified a number of times.  The castle has served variously as a prison, an ammunition depot, and a military garrison until it was finally decommissioned in 1912.
Blackness Castle
We arrived a bit too late to really explore this historic site and were shooed out the gates at the 4 pm closing time.  The twenty-mile drive back to the Residence Inn in Edinburgh took the better part of an hour.  When we arrived in utter darkness, we were convinced it must be close to midnight though it was only 4:50 pm.  On our last day in this charming city and in Scotland tomorrow, we plan to explore some local museums.