Hello again everyone, it’s been several weeks since I posted last, and more because I couldn’t be bothered than anything else – I have actually been doing a lot of stuff! So hold onto your hats, because this is going to be a fairly lengthy post!
Inchcolm Abbey – 9 April 2014
This trip came out of me signing up to Groupon UK on a whim and finding a cruise across the Firth of Forth which sounded mildly interesting until I found out it was the only way to get onto an island which houses the best-preserved collection of medieval monasterial buildings in Scotland, and that I could stop there for free because I am a Historic Scotland member. At that point, the only question was when to go. I organised myself and my Australian friend Mike who you will notice is popping up fairly regularly – we may be the only people we know who are really into going to random places around Scotland on a whim – to catch the boat from South Queensferry, which judging by the Groupon being an Edinburgh location we thought would be in Edinburgh. Technically it is, but it was still a 45-minute bus ride, multiple failed rendezvouses and a short detour through a forest via a Tesco carpark before we actually made it to the port, which was an in an awesome location. Here’s a picture of that:
The cruise itself turned out to be somewhat tedious – lots of talk about the history of the two bridges and how they’re building a third one and it’s way over budget…though that may have been the fact that I was also extremely sleepy and it was warm inside the boat. The views were nice, when I was awake. But either way, it got a whole lot better when we actually arrived at Inchcolm.
Turns out that the island didn’t just house a monastery, it (later of course) also was part of Scotland’s defences against Germany in World War One and World War Two, and a lot of the old fortifications were still standing! Naturally we decided that we should work across the island methodically, and thus began with the gun turrets, tunnels, rock-climbing, bunkers and just millions of terrifying seagulls. Here are some pictures of that.
After clambering around one end of the island for a while, we returned to the centre, where the Abbey was located. I know I already said it was the best-preserved, but it really was. Without any restoration most of it was still standing – including roofs which are hard – and you could climb all over it, which is pretty good for something built 750-850 years ago. There was the usual complement of tiny tiny spiral staircases, enormous great-hall-looking things that turn out to be kitchens, random tombs just slapped on any old how, ludicrously tiny doors, and unexplained pizza-oveny things; all of which made for an exceedingly enjoyable jaunt through history.
And then, to the other side of the Island, for World War One fortifications (huzzah!). They were mostly just bunkers again, and in worse condition, so we didn’t go around as much. But the birds are worth going back to once more:
So yeah! That was about it. I got a book in the gift shop and then we caught the boat back to South Queensferry and the bus back to Edinburgh. Inchcolm Abbey is definitely worth visiting if you get a chance, but since we paid half price for the boat and didn’t have to pay for entry to the island it’s pretty steep at full price.
National Museum of Scotland – 17 April 2014
This will be quick because the National Museum is much like any other museum – various floors showing various things with instructive labels and hard to navigate. The best bit is the ancient history in the basement, which has loads of Roman and Celtic artefacts including bona fide human skulls found in various cave sites; though I also enjoyed various films scattered throughout, and being able to go up to the roof terrace and have a view out over the city. It is a good museum, don’t get me wrong – one of the better ones, and certainly convenient with culture and science all in one building and lots about Scottish history that you can’t get anywhere else. But really, it’s hard to describe in an interesting way. The photos taken in there were as follows:
So yeah you get the idea 😛
Stirling Castle and Dunblane
My favourite things about this day out of the city 🙂
1. Stirling’s Great Hall has been painted a warm yellow as part of a £14 million restoration project, which I love because it really turns the ideas of the dreary and imposing castle on its head – much like how ancient Greek statues were really painted in garish colours over the white marble that we see today, making the Venus de Milo less of an expression of timeless and pure beauty and more a Mardi Gras participant.
2. Being in a strategically significant position, built on the same vein of volcanic crag as Edinburgh Castle some 40 miles away, Stirling commands amazing views across the city of Stirling along with the surrounding countryside
3. All the rest of the restoration – redoing the painting inside (we see again, as in Culzean Castle, paintings around the top of the room to describe its purpose); putting up replicas of the Stirling Heads, cartoonish representations of various Scottish and English monarchs, Roman and Greek royalty and classical figures; and intricately redone or refurbished furnishings. All this makes Stirling a much more immersive historical experience, unified in the 16th century when it was built and used as a royal palace and court, rather than a hodgepodge of its various uses over time like Edinburgh Castle.
4. The people in period costume scattered around the Castle ready to answer questions and occasionally giving talks about the room they were in without accosting you; and clearly loving every minute of it. We had one French lady dressed as a washerwoman explain the meaning of every single one of the 50-odd Heads without anyone involved losing interest which was highly impressive; and an man in ostentatious military uniform and an enormous claymore have an unsolicited and unexplained rant at us about ‘some ancient English woman and her bloody Greek husband waltzing around like they owned the place…some sort of 60th anniversary whatnot, rubbish if you ask me, everyone knows it’s 1556 not 2012 and the Queen is Mary not Elizabeth’. Okay then sir!
5. A bona-fide medieval tapestry studio and a talk about how and why tapestry was made and why it’s being made now (in the same way) – apparently it takes an expert tapestrer all day to make a piece 10cm by 10cm so it’s costing £2 million to create a set of tapestries based off some now housed in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art (which was actually built for them originally), which in the past were used as wall decorations and shag carpeting on the walls to keep out the drafts. That’s some serious insulation! No photos inside the studio (unfortunately enough) but I did get some shots of the work they’ve done up till now, which is on perpetual display in the Throne Room. The studio is open till October so if you want to see some actual medieval tapestry being made – and there’s only one other place in the country that does it, which isn’t open to visitors – get on down, it’s awesome!
6. Finding that upon leaving Stirling Castle you can immediately head into a townhouse renovated in the 17th century by the Earls of Argyll (later Dukes of Argyll), living there in the hopes that maybe James VI would come to his senses and start ruling the United Kingdom from Stirling instead of London, and they would be close to the action. Didn’t happen, but the house is really cool – palaces always kind of seem like public places that nobody has any privacy in and people don’t actually ‘live’ in, whereas this looks like a private home, just with a great touch of cosy opulence. Definitely worth asking the guides about the history because they know their stuff and are a good laugh.
7. Having a delicious caramel cupcake (fudge on the top, caramel cupcake, loads of icing and hot caramel sauce in the middl) in the Stirling town square and hearing a violin cover of ‘Get Lucky’
8. Heading on to Dunblane, where the museum had just closed (got there at 4:32 for a closing time of 4:30) but spent a restful hour or so wandering around the Cathedral and reading in the grounds.
9. Continuing on to a 21st right in the countryside, and after having a great night and everyone staying over, taking a walk through some fields and by the river, skimming stones (I did a six-skip!)
And that, my friends, is all! Thanks for bearing with me, those who did!
In other news: I am now finalising my stay in Edinburgh – finding a flatshare to live in, getting my subjects together, getting my Youth Allowance reinstated – and have also booked my travel from 17th of March all the way up to the end of June, with more to come, so get excited guys, because that’s all going to be blogged! Exams in a few days, but feeling pretty good 🙂 So stay classy.