We spent a fun day traveling from Glasgow to Edinburgh. Leaving our Glasgow hotel, we hopped on the airport bus and once more picked up a rental car at the airport. Having a car allowed us to make a few stops on the way.
Our first destination was Stirling Castle. Perched on a volcanic crag overlooking the River Forth, Stirling Castle has long been the key to Scotland. The views from all sides of the castle make it easy to understand the strategic position. The first castle was built here by King David I in the 12th century. In the 16th century, it became the the primary residence of the Stewart (Stuart) kings and queens when King James IV married the sister of King Henry VIII, uniting the royal families of Scotland (the Stuarts) and England (the Tudors). James V further expanded the castle and Mary Queen of Scots who had spent her early childhood at the castle, returned there after her time in France. But when Mary’s son, King James VI, was crowned King James I of England, he and his court moved to London and did not return to Stirling. The British military took over the castle during the Jacobite rebellions of the 18th century and it remained a British garrison for many years. Today, it is being returned to its Renaissance splendour, although much of the interior is quite bare.
Knights, nobles and foreign ambassadors once flocked to the Royal Court at the castle and the Stewarts hosted royal banquets to celebrate great events from christenings to coronations. The Great Hall, dating from 1503, was the largest secular space in medieval Scotland. You could rent it for an event today if you have some spare pounds around – Rod Stewart and JK Rowling both have!
From Stirling, we traveled just 20 minutes up the road to Doune Castle. This castle’s most famous resident was Robert Stewart, the Duke of Albany. The Duke was so influential in his time (14th century) that he was referred to as the ‘uncrowned king of Scotland’. Although the castle rooms are mostly empty, there is an excellent audioguide that tells the castle’s history. The audioguide is narrated by Terry Jones and Sam Heughan, because the castle has been used for filming of Monty Python and the Hold Grail as well standing in for Castle Leoch in Outlander.
Between Doune and Edinburgh, we stopped in the town of Falkirk to visit two unusual attractions. The first was the Falkirk Wheel. This 115 foot tall wheel opened in 2002, is the critical connection in the Millennium Link Project, a £78 million initiative to restore the 70 mile long aquatic trail between Edinburgh and Glasgow. It links the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal 80 feet above, by picking up the boats and moving them over a 5 minute time period either up or down to where they want to go. It was quite fascinating to watch!
On the other side of Falkirk are the Kelpies. These two giant steel horse heads, opened in 2014, stand over a hundred feet tall and represent the magical, water-borne sprites of Scottish folklore, which often took the form of a horse.
There are many more castles and palaces along the way between Glasgow and Edinburgh, and a person could spend a great deal of time castle stalking in the area if one had extra time – but we would certainly recommend the four sites that we visited.
Bev & Harvey