Day 2 saw us heading back up to George Square, where we sorted out which of the several Rabbie’s tours meeting at the tourist centre was ours. Out tour guide was Juliette, a York transplant to the greater Glaswegian area, and a hodge podge of international folks — including two obnoxious Portuguese cougars, a couple gents from Bahrain, a student couple from France, a middle-aged couple from Italy (the husband of which was more interested in smoking often than anything else), and, of course, Sherry and myself.
First stop of the day was Stirling Castle, yet another landmark where you’d have no idea that the high season had not yet started. Once we recovered our bearings after bad directions to the castle tour in English, we proceeded to be regaled with history, stats, and gossip by a most entertaining and very Scottish ginger-haired gent. Plenty of royal adventures and such there, with Marys and Jameses aplenty. (And apparently plenty of James’ offspring of the “Fitz” persuasion in the local area, if you know what I mean…)
The castle has changed considerably over the centuries, partially due to strategic necessity at times, and partially due to damage and whatnot at others. The palace is currently being restored (like Rosslyn, it’s been going on for some time), so we didn’t get to see it. But once it’s done it’ll be a showplace of 16th century art, architecture, furnishings, etc. The guide did point out where the queen’s apartments are, at one end of the building, where the king’s apartments are, at the other end of the building, and where the king’s mistress’ apartments are, directly above the king’s (with, presumable, discreet staircase, and apparently used by the Duke of Buckingham in James VI’s time…)
The Great Hall has been restored, complete with painted exterior and hammerbeam roof made up of 650 some oak trees and nary a single nail holding it all up. It can be rented for special events, and comes with thrones. The chapel royal has fresco work on display, including a fake window to symbolize the “false” spiritual light of the earthly realm, as opposed to the true illumination of heaven, represented by the large, real window at the other end of the room. Mary Queen of Scots was crowned here, and a ripe old age of nine months. They also had the first offerings of the new versions from the set of Unicorn Tapestries (allegory of the life of Christ) that were being created on-site (you can watch the artisans work, but no conversation or photos allowed).
The Douglas Garden is a quiet space off in a corner, the perfect place, apparently, to dump a recently deceased earl out a window if you (King James II) and your cronies have just offed him for being insufficiently malleable in your position heading up the most powerful family in Scotland.
And, of course, there’s a big statue of Robert the Bruce out front, and an excellent view off towards the hills and Stirling Bridge (site of the famous Wallace battle — Bannockburn is nearby as well), and the official and impressive Wallace Monument, where his sword, which may or may not be 5’6″ long, apparently resides. (Some tours go there, but ours didn’t.) The day was a warm one, so we got ice cream on our way back to the parking lot. 🙂
We headed for the hills after that (literally), with a brief stop at Doune Castle, which was kinda same ol’, same ol’, unless you’re a castle junkie or a Monty Python fan, as that’s where The Holy Grail was filmed. We stopped for lunch at Aberfoyle, a village within Trossachs National Park, which appears to fancy itself a bit of a wool centre. They even had a rather overheated looking collie doing herding demos with sheep and ducks. We purchased some fish ‘n’ chips for lunch from a dreadlocked gent, then headed up, up, and away to the largest (by surface area) loch in Scotland.
With the warm and sunny weather continuing (apparently the heat wave extended right to the south of England), Loch Lomond was as packed as Grand Bend would be on such a day. Finding parking for our big van was a bit of a challenge. Our group split, with some of us electing to hike up the big hill to take in the view, and the others doing… who knows. Smoking and talking on the phone, if the day to that point had been any indication.
After puffing and sweating our way up the hill, we were treated to an excellent view of the loch, sailboats, and some of the private islands (though not the one that’s a nudist colony). The French couple with us kindly took several really awful pictures of Sherry and I. (Note: hooking your camera to your belt loop under your t-shirt does not make for elegant lines…)
Coming back down the hill was a bit of an adventure, with a wayward autistic boy, a very shaggy dog, some dedicated sunbathers and wadings, and a hiker with truly mind-boggling breasts sharing the trail. We had about five minutes before leaving, so I treated myself to one of the fastest pints I’ve ever drunk. It hit the spot for sure, and Andrew would have been proud.
And finally, off to our last destination of the day — Glengoyne Distillery, and our only distillery visit on the trip. (Once you’ve seen how one distillery works, you’ve pretty much seen how they all do, and we’re rather more interested in just drinking the results.) We started the tour with a shot of whiskey, which, given the day’s heat and exertions, made remaining away through the instructional video a challenge.
We got a detailed verbal tour of the distillation process through a couple different rooms, though there wasn’t really that much to photograph. A tasting was included in our tour, so we headed down to the bar/shop after, and between the planned tasting and our charms, had a snort of the 10, 17, and 21-year-old vintages. Tasty stuff — Highland single malts, unpeated, as it’s not common in the area, so closer to the Irish whiskeys that I like than the licking-a-woodstove types Sherry likes.
We picked up souvenir sparkplugs (Andrew inherited mine), and then it was time to head back to Glasgow. We checked at the Central train station about getting to Edinburgh, and found out it was most efficiently done via the Queen St. Station, just on the other side of George Square. Good to know. Dinner in Merchant City again, this time northern Indian at The Dhabba (least spicy Indian food evar) and a chat with an interesting Nepalese-Indian gent. The streets on the way back to the hotel weren’t quite as scary on a Sunday evening, which was a relief. And so once again we called it a relatively early evening so we’d be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for Edinburgh in the morning.
Stirling Castle, Loch Lomond, and Glengoyne Distillery Photos