Scotland has a population of about 5.5 million, mostly concentrated in and around Glasgow and Edinburgh and a narrow strip between the two cities. Its land area is about the size of South Carolina, but within that small geographic area is an incredible amount of history.
Begun during the reign of Edgar, King of Scots (1097-1107),
completed in 1107 as a Royal Hunting lodge for
Alexander I, King of Scots (1107-1124).
It is the oldest inhabited castle in Scotland.
The earliest firm evidence of a castle at Stirling is 1107 occupied by Alexander I.
Strategically located and dominating the Forth Valley below, the oldest existing fortifications in the current castle date to 1381. The area around Stirling has seen many battles throughout the ages.
After Robert the Bruce defeated Edward II at the battle of Bannockburn in 1314, he destroyed the original castle, a practice known as "sleighting," lest the English return. Bruce’s strategy was to never let the Scots army become fixed in fortresses and to make it difficult for the English to dominate the Scottish countryside by rendering castles that the English could use as bases useless.
Exterior of the Great Hall at Stirling Castle.
Completed in 1503, it is the largest Medieval Great Hall in Scotland. After about 35 years of restoration to bring the Hall back to its 1500’s appearance, the Hall was reopened in November 1999. The restoration was done according to original plans.
The Queen holds court here when she is in Scotland.
Inside the Great Hall showing the magnificent hammer beam roof.
Over 300 Scottish Oak trees were used to build the beams.
Close-up of the beam joints. Note the wooden pegs.
Not a single metal nail or screw was used in the construction.
The Palace of James V at Stirling Castle.
The building is currently under renovation.
Originally built in 1538 as part of a promise to his wife, Mary de Guise (the mother of Mary Queen of Scots), that he would provide her with a palace the rival of any in Europe.
Historical site of the Battle of Stirling depicted in Mel Gibson’s “Braveheart.”
The lower hill in the center of the picture with the tower on it is called the Abbey Craig. That hill was Wallace's "headquarters." The tower is the National Wallace Monument, completed in 1869.
The real battle was fought on 11 September 1297 over a wooden bridge and causeway that went across the River Forth. William Wallace was one of two Scots commanders. The second, not depicted in the movie, was Sir Andrew de Moray. Moray was mortally wounded during the battle and died in November. The two English commanders were John de Warrenne, 7th Earl of Surrey and Hugh de Cressingham. Cressingham was killed and his corpulent body flayed, the skin passed out as victory tokens. The real William Wallace was about 6 foot 7 inches tall and was not a “commoner” as depicted in the movie, but a minor noble. As he was not a Highlander, it is unlikely that he wore a kilt. Nor did the Scots paint their faces blue for the battle.
Statue of Robert the Bruce, Robert I King of Scots at Stirling Castle.
He was not the mamby-pamby depicted in Mel Gibson's film,
nor did he betray Wallace at Falkirk.
Scottish kings and queens are never called King or Queen of Scotland.
It is an old Celtic tradition that no man can rule the land.
A King can only rule the people who live on the land.
Robert the Bruce is the real “Braveheart,” a story I’ll relate near the end of this post.
Saint Andrews Kirk Tower in Peebles.
Founded in 1195 by Bishop Jocelin of Glasgow. The tower and a small section of wall is all that remains of the original structure which is another example of Norman architecture. The church burned in 1549 and was abandoned in 1560. During the siege of nearby Neidpath Castle, Cromwell’s general Lambert stabled his horses in the church ruins.
Built around 1390, though there was an earlier castle here around 1263.
During Cromwell’s invasion of Scotland in 1650, Neidpath held out longer than any other castle south of the River Forth. The castle succumbed after Cromwell’s artillery succeeded in destroying the tower on the River Tweed side.
Neidpath Castle from the River Tweed.
This shows the destroyed section that prompted the defenders to surrender.
Stork near Neidpath Castle.
If you love the outdoors, Scotland is the place to be.
One of the best things about Scotland is the right of travel. If you recall, I said earlier that by Celtic tradition no man may rule the land. Well, by extension, no man may own the land either. This is a concept that drives most foreign buyers of Scottish properties nuts. What you really buy in Scotland are rights to use the land, but in so doing you can't block others from traversing that land.
On this particular climb my wife and I had already climbed up the hill on the left of the picture, down through the glen below and up to this old castle ruin overlooking the glen. We were still only a third of the way to the summit of the mountain. Though this mountain is only about 1,600 feet, it is a fairly arduous climb.
This is in the region called "The Borders" near the English border.
The Borders Scots (and their English counterparts) were much hardened by centuries of warfare with each other. When the Borders English and Scots weren't fighting each other, they fought their fellow Scots or English...just to stay in practice.
Near the top around 1,500 feet.
The snow line began around 1,200 feet. It is rough-going through snow-covered heather.
Coming back down near the 1,200 foot line. Note that you can see for miles.
Built in 1128 and the years following, Kelso Abbey was one of the finest examples of Romanesque architecture. Finally finished, it was dedicated to the Blessed Virgin and St John in 1243. It was soon one of the largest and richest in Scotland, having a superb library in medieval times. In the 12th and 13th centuries, the Abbot of Kelso was granted the right to wear a mitre, which gave him a precedence higher than any other Scottish abbot. The abbey's wealth came from its vast lands, its churches, schools, farms and its granges in the Cheviot Hills.
The Abbey was sacked in 1550 during the "Rough Wooing" by the Earl of Herford. The "Rough Wooing" is a catch-all phrase describing the English attempt by war (hence the ‘rough’) to coerce the Scottish government into the betrothal of the child Queen Mary to the Prince of Wales, who in 1547 became King Edward VI (Thus the ‘Wooing’)". So in effect the Rough Wooing describes the Anglo-Scottish wars between 1543 and 1551.
Jedburgh Abbey is one of the four great abbeys built in Scotland’s border country during the Middle Ages. It was established as a priory of Augustinian canons around 1138. The brethren possibly came here from St Quentin Abbey, near Beauvais, France. The priory was raised to abbey status around 1154.
Augustinians were priests who lived a secluded and contemplative life, but who went forth from their cloister to minister to the people. Jedburgh eventually possessed about 20 parish churches.
Monastic life was mostly routine, but the abbey’s location close to the border with England inevitably brought it into the conflict between the two countries that bedevilled the later Middle Ages. During the Wars of Independence in the 14th century, the canons had to evacuate the premises. Further attacks in the 1400s were compounded by major raids in the 16th century. These and the Protestant Reformation of 1560 led to Jedburgh’s demise as a monastic institution.
Sir Walter Scott is buried in the nave shown here.
Dryburgh Abbey was founded in 1152 by Premonstratensian monks (Augustinians, also known as White Canons) on a site perhaps made sacred by Saint Modan around 600. It was founded by monks from Alnwick on land owned by Hugh de Moreville, the father of one of the assassins of Saint Thomas Becket.
Dryburgh Abbey was burned by English troops in 1322, after which it was restored and patronised by Robert I of Scotland. It was again burned in 1385, but it flourished in the fifteenth century. It was finally destroyed in 1544, briefly to survive until the Reformation, when it was given to the Earl of Mar by James VI of Scotland.
Tradition has it that an abbey was founded at Melrose around the end of the 6th century, and that the famous St. Cuthbert was one of the abbots in 643 before he left for Lindisfarne.
Ethelwold succeeded St. Cuthbert, and sometime later the monastery was ruined by the Danes. The place where this abbey is supposed to have stood is called Old Melrose, and is a mile and a half from the present abbey.
The present Melrose Abbey was founded by David I King of Scots in 1136, and is supposed to have been built in ten years. The church of the convent was dedicated to St. Mary on the 28th of July, 1146. It was the mother church of the Cistertian order in Scotland. The white-robed monks were brought from Rievaulx Abbey, in Yorkshire, and they soon superseded the order of the Benedictines.
The exterior of Melrose Abbey has 50 windows, 4 doors, 54 niches, and more than 50 buttresses. The abbey was damaged by the English in 1322 and 1384. Richard II made it a grant in 1389, as some compensation for the injuries it had sustained in the retreat of his army.
Twenty years before the Reformation, there were 120 monks at Melrose Abbey. The privileges and possessions of the abbey were extensive. Melrose Abbey was endowed by its founder, David of Scotland, with the lands of Melrose, Eildon, and others, right of fishery on the Tweed, and succeeding monarchs increased its property.
In 1544, King Henry VIII had Melrose Abbey torched, and it never recovered. Sixty of the monks, it is said, renounced Catholicism at the Reformation. The last abbot was James Stuart, natural son of James V, who died in 1559. By 1560, the abbey had ceased to function. The abbey's holdings were given up in 1561. Its carvings were destroyed by a Protestant mob following the deposition of Mary, Queen of Scots. Finally, as has happened with many priceless works of antiquity, much of the abbey was carted off by locals needing building material.
Burial Place of Robert the Bruce’s Heart.
His body lies in Dunfermline Abbey in Fife, but his heart lies here at Melrose Abbey.
The Scots words read: “A noble hart have nane ease, gif freedom failye.”
An English translation: "A noble heart can't rest, or else freedom will be lost."
This is the real “Braveheart.”
Robert the Bruce had always wanted to go on a Crusade to the Holy Land. As he was dying in 1329, he asked that upon his death his heart be removed and taken to the Holy Land. His good friend, Sir James Douglas swore to do this, but they never made it.
On 25 August 1330, Sir James and his entourage became embroiled in battle with Moors in Spain. Riding to the aid of a Spanish noble and his knights, the Scots charged into the thick of the Moorish formation. As they closed with the Moors, Sir James took the chain that carried the metal casket with the heart from his neck and, hurling it in the direction of the Moors shouted, “Lead on brave heart, and I will follow.”
Hence the term “Braveheart.”
Sir James and most of the Scots fell in the battle, but their action saved the Spaniards. The Moors were so impressed with the Scots courage that they returned the heart and the bodies of the fallen Scots for honorable burial.