Friday, September 24, 2010

A Stirling View

The Ramada Javis (Perth)
06-05-09 Wednesday

After waking up every two hours to prop my arm up on the pillow, CG and I are both up early to await the phone call from the surgeon. The phone rings - the doctor tells me that the elbow isn’t fractured after all. He suggests I get it checked out again when I get home and tells me I could come into the clinic at noon to get some pain medication. I decline as I want to get back on the road again, relieved that I won’t be incapacitated in fiberglass for the rest of the trip, and willing to manage the ache with elevation and ibuphrophen.

We head down to where FI greets us one last time (“Good Morning, dearies!” How’s that arm?), and then are out the door to pack the car. CG notices that the rear left tire is going flat but it doesn’t damper our spirits and we agree to look for the next petrol station to air it up (we end up stopping more than a few times to air it up to full pressure but it never seems to get lower than half-way).

We can see Stirling Castle long before we arrive in the town of Stirling, and we use it as our directional point as CG expertly pilots the car through the round-abouts and stretches of busy streets.

Situated at the top of the highest hill we are able to forego the trudge up the hill by finding one of the last remaining parking spots in the castle car park. The castle looms above us as we enter the small courtyard of the gift shop where we rent audio-tour gear, and are then allowed in through the main gate of a castle for the second time today by virtue of our Historic Scotland Explorer Passes, which we had purchased a few days before.

A portion of a tapestry in the "Hunt for the Unicorn" Series

We tour the grounds and each distinct building as a fine gentle rain sets in (surprise!). CG is disappointed that the Palace is closed due to renovation but we do get to see the Great Hall (which had been closed for the same reason when I had last visited), as well as a small Highland Regiment military museum. I find it fascinating that Stirling Castle had been the site of several coronations, including that of Mary, Queen of Scots, and the fact the she spent much time there while she ruled Scotland, but I am soon ready to leave to explore some more.

After going back through the main arch to the car park, we are struck by the misty beauty of the Wallace Monument in the distance amid the pastoral countryside. That is to be our next destination and shouldn’t be too hard to find!

The Wallace Monument

Once we cross the infamous Stirling Bridge where William Wallace actually fought the famous battle at, CG points the car in the direction of the church steeple-like memorial. Sadly, however, the Scottish roads can be fairly confusing, even with a larger-than-life compass point. We do have a little trouble finding the road up to the monument but aren’t too concerned as we are hoping the rain has finally ended.

CG parks the car and we head into the gift shop to purchase our tickets and grab a quick bite to eat in the cafeteria. Hopping aboard the shuttle bus, we travel up the steep hill to the top where the slender stone spire is standing. We take the narrow spiral staircase to the first floor where, displayed in a glass case, is William Wallace’s broadsword.

We are astonished at the length of the sword - at 5’6” it towers over me and we are in awe at just how tall this infamous renegade was. After discovering that there are a total of 246 stone steps to the narrow spiral staircase, I tell CG to go ahead without me as I know I would find it difficult to traverse the climb up and then the descent in my hampered state. CG disappears up the steps with the camera and I head back down to the gift shop where I peruse the fine tourist wares.

Soon CG appears behind me, breathless from the descent, and we head back outside into the mist. He tries to show me the wonderful pictures that he took of the meandering river and green countryside from the stone veranda at the top, but the camera screen is much too small to see the gorgeous detail – I will have to wait to see what I missed!

We decide not to take the shuttle bus down to the car park and, instead, choose a path that curves towards some picnic tables overlooking Stirling. We are deep in conversation as we wander down the trail and through the bracken and meadows upon meadows of Scottish Bluebells.


At one point we come to a fork in the path. Our compass point, the stone spire, has long disappeared behind the trees so we opt to stay on the trail we have been travelling on since it, of the two, continues to head downhill. Finally, the trail levels out and it merges into a larger trail which seems to head towards the road. The rain is starting to fall (again) but we aren’t worried as we believe that we will come out just to the left of the car park.

"Singin' in the Rain..."
Emerging from the trees, we have to step over a gate to get to the road. There is no car park in sight and, more disappointingly, the monument cannot be spotted on the hill behind us. CG and I have a discussion on which way to head down the busy two-lane road to get back to the car. Since I seem to be a bit more confident (i.e. persuasive perhaps?), we start walking down the sidewalk to the right (my thinking here, of course, was the direction we had appeared to travel down the hill was that the sunlight behind the clouds had been to our right, and we needed to backtrack a ways. It is in no way indicative of my superior navigational skills…although I do pride myself on not getting lost often).

The rain has turned into a downpour by now and our pants are soaked from the splash back of the passing cars. Somewhat jovially, I tell CG how romantic and adventurous it is to be lost in the rain in Scotland but he does not seem to hold quite the same esteem for our location in the showers as I do (he isn’t upset – just wet). I talk him into stopping at a tile company across the street with the promise I will go in to ask for directions. I am told by the tile employee that, yes unfortunately the trail is poorly marked from the monument and we had actually hiked to the opposite side of the hill. It seems we could have chosen left or right from the bottom of the trail head to get back to the car as it was about an equal distance around to the front (so we were both right – lol).

That little blue dot is My Knight...

We finally trudge up the hill towards the car and, somewhat winded, wet and perhaps a wee bit whiny, I sit down on a stone wall while CG books it up the rest of the hill to the car. He soon appears and I get in – happy to be somewhere dry and on our way again!

The rain has not stopped as we finally travel across the Forth Road Bridge towards Edinburgh. The city looks alarmingly large on the map and I hope that the directions from P’s tour notes are sufficient to get us to our hotel for the evening. We do know that we should be heading somewhere near Old Edinburgh so we both watch for signs directing us off the wide motorway onto smaller ones until we reach the streets of the city. After stopping to refer to our maps again we finally find Queen Street where the stately two-storied Royal Scots Club sits. I had been looking forward to this hotel from the time I had received the tour notes as it had been noted as being “5-Star Lodging” and I was anxious to be pampered.

I am not disappointed. From the moment we walk in to the lobby and are handed the key by the desk clerk, to the time we climb the four spiral flights of marble stairs bordered by brass railings, to the time CG opens the door of the most opulent room I have ever stayed in, I am entranced. The blue carpet is plush, the king size bed is framed by heavy blue drapes at the wall, the antique furniture is polished and the bathroom is the size of a small office (complete with a bidet and deep tub). I feel like I am in a museum or one of the castle rooms we had just toured through. CG chuckles as I dance around goofily from bedroom to bathroom to alcove, poking in doors and drawers and touching the blue brocade of the drapes on the windows and the heavy coverlet on the bed.

Finally calm but still smiling widely, I watch from the window as CG heads outside to smoke a cigarette and I admire the view of the street and of the city over the tops of the trees opposite me. The room’s windows overlook the Queen’s Street Gardens open only by purchasing a key of some kind to unlock the locks at each gate. CG adds this as an afterthought when he returns - his initial message was that he had just received a parking ticket – it seems as though parking is free after 6:30 and the Edinburgh parking patrol had spotted the Volvo there a mere 7 minutes early. Ah well.

It is still somewhat early in the evening rush hour, and, after having to leave our “skeleton” key (each room only has one key – we will pick it up again upon arrival) with the desk clerk and not willing to brave the traffic via car, we head out on foot towards Georgian-era New Town Edinburgh. We stroll a ways up and down Hanover Street, dodging a myriad of buses and cars, and then duck onto a quiet pedestrian street called Rose Street. We discover that there are many shops, now closed for the day, as well as pubs that line this out of the way road and we enjoy the ambiance of it all. We decide to sample one of the pubs and head towards one that had caught my attention earlier called The Black Rose.

Picture from the Black Rose site

The first thing that tips us off that we are in a Goth bar are the dark walls peppered with what look like Halloween decorations. Undaunted, we gamely take a seat at the bar and realize we are probably the oldest clientele there. No matter – the Guinness and scotch taste the same in any pub and we don’t tarry long as we are on the lookout for a quieter place to eat anyway. Not too far away we find The Standing Order. We are trying to decide between that and another restaurant nearby when a very friendly woman comes down the steps and starts chatting with CG. As she puffs on her cigarette she tells us that The Standing Order has really great food for a great price, so our decision is made! (She also tells us we need to stop in at The Dome, at least for a cocktail, as it is well-known as the best fine dining in Edinburgh. It’s odd that a friendly chap who had been passing by while we were searching earlier for somewhere to eat had also recommended it. We must check it out!).

Formerly a branch of the Bank of Scotland and recently turned into an eating establishment, The Standing Order is full to the max with people. CG and I spot an open table by a window near the front and we take our seats. I order cottage pie (sounds a lot like Mom’s Shepard’s pie) and a Pimm’s with lemonade, and CG orders a burger and a beer. The food is good, the prices are great and we leave to go back to our expansive king-size bed, completely sated with adventure and food for the day.


1 comment:

Linda said...

Yes, I can recommend the Dome. Choose the dining room on the left as you enter.