We both woke early and got moving pretty quickly. We had a very decent breakfast right at the window of the B&B with a view of the monument. The hostess of B&B is just as chatty as her husband, but very nice as well, and was very helpful in making travel suggestions.
We first went to the much-anticipated The National Wallace Monument. You park at the bottom of, well, it’s like a cliff, really, and they have a chartered bus that takes you up a very steep drive to the top of a tall hill. In the parking lot there is a gift shop, and a giant statue of… Mel Gibson as he appears in the movie Braveheart. Our B&B host says that the locals all call it not the Freedom statue, or the Braveheart statue, but just “going to see Mel Gibson.” It is a bit cheesy, but they had a little blurb on the tour about how a local artist was inspired by the movie, and made and gave this huge statue to the museum. I made Heath stand in front of it and took a picture of him (he was the Mel Gibson version of Braveheart for Halloween a few years ago – blue face, wig, and all).
You have the option of walking up from the parking lot to the monument, but considering how steep it was, I don’t think our pudgy butts could have done it. Plus, it was starting to gently rain, which would have ensured that we embarrassed ourselves by falling flat on our faces. So, we took the bus up to the top. The drive is a bit scary, as you are going up a very steep winding path through some pretty thick trees.
Once at the top, the exterior of the monument building is even more amazing when you are right up close to it. The masonry was gorgeous, and in excellent condition. There’s a huge statue of Wallace on the exterior of the tower (looking nothing like Mel Gibson, go figure). Since it wasn’t an additional charge, we opted for the audio tour on headphones, which was well worth it. The program talked about everything – the history of Scotland and William Wallace, the troubles in getting the monument building designed and built, the art on the interior, and the views from various spots.
First challenge of the tour? It’s a tower, right? Of course, there’s not an elevator, so there are over 200 tiny steep steps. Every second story or so, there was usually a landing where you could take a break, and each one had something different in it, like statues of influential Scotsmen (no women), or a level where they had some art and what is believed to be William Wallace’s actual huge sword. Overall, it was very educational and informative. Man, everyone hates Cromwell – the Scots, the Irish. He was a bastard!
The last level of the tower is the very top, with an incredible view of Stirling and the surrounding area. You can clearly see why, through the narrow pass, it is said that if you held Stirling, you held Scotland. Unfortunately, by the time we got to the top, it was starting to rain a bit more heavily, and it was pretty cold and windy too, so we didn’t stay long. But the masonry at the top is gorgeous as well.
It was much harder going down than up for me because of my vertigo. I had to stop in at one or two of the landings for a bit to get refocused.
We purchased some little gifts at the gift shop (including wee Scottish cookbooks for my two bosses), and got the bus back down to the parking lot. We ate a light lunch in the car (it was raining) of Arran cheese and Arran Oak cakes and chocolate, and then drove across town to Stirling Castle.
I am so glad I heeded my friends’ demands that we see Stirling Castle. It was just an incredible and HUGE castle, with each building and section of the fortifications being built at different times. It was just amazing to think that we were walking where Mary Queen of Scots did. We hopped in with a group to catch a very informative tour of about half of the buildings.
Up until the 60s or 70s, Stirling Castle was run by the army, but then they left and the historical groups took over and started renovating and restoring everything. We got to have a look at a GORGEOUS newly-restored great hall that you could easily imagine being filled with courtiers and you could almost hear the music and smell the feast. Saw Unicorn Tapistries being redone for the queen’s chamber. Lots of cool stuff. Crowded, but worth it. Spent nearly three hours there. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to see the whole entire castle, so that’ll be on my list of things to do someday again.
After Stirling Castle, we directly left for Edinburgh. After getting directions from our next B&B via the phone, and some struggling, we made it to the right area of town. Before checking in, we stopped for dinner because we were starving. This turned out to be a mistake – the food was good, but we apparently got in too late to get to the laundry to get our clothes washed before it closed.
Our B&B has tartan carpet and wall paper, of the same tartan as one of our friends (yes, you, Mr. Capps!). Heh. It was a bit of a plaid overload, but somewhat charming. Our room is pretty big with an extra bed and a nice view of the garden.
After we checked in (and realized that laundry would not be done), I immediately washed a few clothes items in the sink and hung them up to dry in the shower, praying that they are dry by morning.