Scottish Castles – Ramparts, Dry Moats and Drop Bridges

…..At least two of them anyway. Another blond moment – when I finally arrived at the ticket counter after an impossible line (I am not a natural queuer – really… how many Americans are??) I was asked if I was planning on seeing any other castles while in Scotland and they had this fab pass that would give me a steep discount, etc. etc. I declined – I only planned on seeing two – how many more could there be? Scotland’s not THAT big. As my brother Dan is fond of saying, “What are you? New?” As it turns out – the country is literally awash with them. In retrospect – considering the current Pound to Dollar exchange rate (Ouch!) I should’ve gotten the pass…..

Pretty much everywhere you look in Edinburgh is dominated by some view of the Edinburgh Castle. Which is appropriate when you think about it – a castle in those days was really a fort and it was of particular benefit to be able to survey the land and approaching enemies as close to 360 degrees as possible. Is that why corporate execs have corner offices? I digress… My first impression was that it looked like it grew out of the rocks. I know I have made this observation in previous posts – but how did they do this level of construction without benefit of modern machinery? And it’s still standing – after being razed completely save for one small chapel at least once in the last 1000 years. I followed the obligatory tour and once again was delighted with the Scot’s amazing capacity for story telling. Much more fun that reading a guidebook account and the accent is to die for. It was declared impenetrable and was only breached once in its long history by a small band of brave lads scaling the cliffside ramparts. Try that without modern climbing gear, at night, in the driving rain, archers at the ready above you ….in a skirt….

As with many Scottish castles – so I was told – moats made no sense. With the topography being mostly hills – moats would simply drain into the villages below. But the concept was still employed as yet another means of protection. Scaled the cliff and external wall successfully? OK, but now you have an expanse of ground to cross without benefit of cover – all manner of nasty instruments of death and destruction lying in wait and a second rampart to conquer. If you managed that still standing – ok – you’re in. But wait – now you have the king’s close guard to overcome. In addition to being the best of the best, more than likely they are armored (you left yours at the bottom of the cliff to lighten your load) and they aren’t exhausted, probably got a decent nights sleep – maybe even a roll with a willing wench (but they’re probably in skirts too) As I was meandering the grounds I could see the ghosts of these soldiers – marveled at the courage, strength and tenacity it must have took in those days to be a warrior. Not at all a slight on our military today but you have to agree – it’s not quite as personal any more – save – for the most part – the added benefit of pants.

No, I didn’t misspell Draw Bridges in the title. At least the Edinburgh and Stirling castles employed a Drop Bridge. Having missed that part of the guided tour I can only surmise that – given gravity – it’s a helluva lot faster to drop several tons of lumber than it is to raise it. I’m sure there is a much more elegant and thoughtful reason – if you find out let me know.

Tourists are the main bread and butter for current castle revenues but it is also a very popular and auspicious place to wed. Indeed – there were happy (hopefully) nuptials taking place the day I visited. The groom was resplendent in his Scottish formal attire and the bride was glowing. After witnessing the Florence wedding at Dante’s House with attendant misgivings – remember? Inferno, Divine Comedy, Purgatory….. I was simply taken in by the grandeur of the scene and silently sent them my heartfelt congratulations and well wishes. My friends Kim and Russ were married in her namesake castle just outside of Prague. I was unable to attend but if it was anything like this – what an extraordinary start to a life together. A true Kodak moment – with both parties in dresses! I’m telling you – Scottish men have the corner on the “secure in their manhood” market… LOL

From the current Stirling town entrance by train – the castle is not visible. More than likely the town grew against that face in the last few centuries. The first thing that struck me was the “King’s Gold” colored building in the center of the grounds. The ‘Great Hall’ as I discovered later. It looked odd and garish. As I made my way in and around I noticed more rooms that either had been restored or were in the process of being restored as close to original likeness as historical documents can provide. At first blush I thought it was a sacrilege – as if there was a defacement occurring. Ok, yet another blond moment…sigh…. It dawned on me that the decaying edifices that I saw all around me weren’t always decaying edifices. Hello! At one time they were new construction (yes I can hear Dan clearly…What are you? New?) If you believe the history books – James V wanted Stirling castle to be a glorious and imposing beacon of his reign and sovereignty. A visual display of the promise of greatness to his people. Ok, perhaps he just wanted to show off but with an unlimited budget like his – why not? He was new and young with a statement to make. Hmmmmm….brings to mind another new young leader intent on making his own mark by spending loads of his people’s cash on showy displays…. I digress, again. After this stunning (tongue in cheek) revelation – I started to imagine the rest of the castle in all its original splendor and how it must have looked to a contingent of – say- Spanish nobles coming in to swing a deal.

A word to Brave Heart enthusiasts – do NOT – under pain of excruciating embarrassment – raise your hand when queried by the castle tour staff if you’ve seen the movie. I myself admit to having seen the film at least 5 times and cried every single time William rips off the helmet of his attacker and finds the Bruce. Ahhhhh – the betrayal….. Any Scot will tell you in no – absolutely no uncertain terms – the movie is nothing but a grand pile of Coo Shite (a Coo being a scottish cow with long hair) Suffice to say – Mel and Hollywood have a lot of ‘splainin’ to do and at least as far as the movie is concerned – are not terribly popular here either. While I heard conflicting stories as to why William Wallace was decidedly not the embodiment of the Brave Heart – it was uniformly concurred that Robert the Bruce was the true savior and leader of the times. While Edinburgh castle is wonderful and convenient – I found Stirling castle much more historically interesting and well worth the train trip. I have to admit – after my visit – if I deign to watch Brave Heart again – I probably won’t cry.

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