Wednesday, September 7, 2011

William Wallace and Stirling Castle - Stirling Scotland

Wednesday Sept 7, 2011

Sleepy-eyed, Tyler and I wandered down the winding Victorian staircase of Mrs. Brodies B&B in Stirling, Scotland where she served us yet another full English Breakfast.  From there, we gathered our laundry which amounted to nearly every stitch of clothing we had and visited the local laundry leaving with nothing but the clothes on our backs.  Thus, we drove over the River Forth on Stirling Bridge where William Wallace defeated the English in 1297.  We re-enacted the famous battle, I playing William Wallace and Tyler a British soldier on a broom stick horse and of course I won.

From there we crossed town and walked to the National William Wallace Monument climbing the 246 stairs to the top as the wind tore at our clothes and finally, after taking in the 360 degree view, the cold drove us down to the gift shop where we warmed up over coffee. 

Especially enjoyable was the opportunity to read up on the life and times, including death of William Wallace and view his massive 55” Claymore (broad sword). 

Inspired we also drove up to Stirling castle and visited the Royal Palace, powder magazines, war museum, and various collections of busts, paintings and tapestries.  I was thrilled to recognize one particular tapestry called “The Lesson of the Unicorn”

And was able to quote the story right off of my quotes page on my blog site.  Too cool!
 In the "cloisters" (New York Museum of Medieval Architecture,
 Paintings, Tapestries, etc) is hung a series of six exquisite
 tapestries woven in France in the late 15th century. These tapestries
 tell the ancient story of the seeker of beauty who used a virgin to
 lure a beautiful unicorn and then attempted to catch the beautiful
 creature. But the unicorn was wild and refused to be subdued,
 fighting until it died in the bonds of it's captor. It's beauty died
 with it and the would-be captor was left with a horrid, bloody
 corpse. The moral, of course, is that our attempts to possess
 beautiful things often result in their ruin. Nothing is as beautiful
 when captured as when left free.

Though the cold winds kept up all day, we did have sunny periods and took advantage of it for pics whenever possible.  We also took the time to stroll through Queen Anne’s garden which was really nice.

For lunch we parked at our B&B and walked down to a sidewalk café called la Ciociara and I had Fish Tea (which is far better than it sounds) while Ty had a pizza.

From there we parted ways and while Ty did god only knows, I walked the streets smiling at pretty women and window shopping for short bread, tartan socks and kilts.  The stores along the narrow cobblestone streets in Stirling do a really good job of catering to locals and tourists alike with souvenir shops side by side with locksmiths, barbers, hardware and grocery stores.  I was sorely tempted to buy a polished silver flask or friendship bowl with a Scottish thistle on it but I resisted in favour of holding the various cashmere scarves, shawls and blankets against my cheek, until I was sent on my way by a flaming red head with an anger management issue. Goodness knows I can't resist good cashmere!

And while we are on the subject of women in the U.K., I would say I have barely taken notice of them save for one or two observations.  That caveat said, I will say that wearing black leotards with denim cut offs is all the fashion here.  Sometimes it’s a long shirt, tube dress or pretty flowered dress worn to the fashion of a mini skirt, but always the black leotards underneath.  Footwear ranges from roman sandals and nicely painted toes to synthetic fur topped winter boots, not that I have been taking notes.  Mind you, I am the only man I have seen with work boots on. The rest of women’s fashions as far as purses, hair and accessories is pretty much the same as in Canada, though most men dress very conservatively, often in suits and with nicely cut short hair. The odd punk rocker fills their face with piercings and goes for a fluorescent Mohawk and then wears suspenders hanging down, again over their black leotards. And of course there is the odd kilt here and there and jeans are poular as well.

William Wallace (AKA Braveheart)

After walking aimlessly around town for a few hous, Ty and I picked up our laundry and had a pint at the local pub which has been serving ale since the 1700's.

Some people are gifted with music and some with oils and fabric. Others can draw or run marathons.  My gift is with words and I will do my best to paint this scene, dear readers, with words that will do the story justice:

As we walked in the door of the three hundred year old pub, our first sense was a pleasant musty smell of ancient coal and peat fires in the stone fireplace, now black with soot.  The half dozen locals looked over their pints at us suspiciously and nodded at us as the bartender muttered a welcome in broken english.  We pulled our stools up to the bar and ordered ourselves each a pint, the bartender and I taking the measure of eachother as he poured my Guinness.  To make conversation, I asked him how long it would take the king to transport William Wallace all the way to London and he smiled, laughed and said, "Aye, Tis a long way!" He joked about never trying it on horseback and said that Braveheart would have been dragged all the way behind a wagon, walking every step.  After a few sips of beer, I asked him if he knew how slate shingles were attached to roofs and he borrowed a pen from me to explain. We bantered back and forth for a while, Tyler explaining where we were from and after a bit he invited us to return later in the evening saying in a mix of Scottish and English (he missed every other syllable) that it was music night tonight
So after dark, we returned to the Settle Inn and as we walked in the door, our barkeep had transformed into two attractive Scots ladies, both red haired with freckles and big smiles and a hearty welcome.  There in the background we heard the music; a banjo or two was being plucked to the accompaniment of guitars, fiddles, spoons, and drums.  We accepted a couple pints of beer and worked our way through the bar, no bigger than most people's kitchens and it was standing room only.  There in the back of the bar is an ancient refuge (See pic above from earlier in the evening), its curved ceiling made of mortared stones creating the most perfect accoustics I could have ever imagined. As we made our way up the stairs (it was standing room only), the hair came up on the back of our necks as two dozen scottish musicians played a maritime ditty.  As I looked about the room I counted banjos, drums, guitars, fiddles, harmonicas, flutes, an accordian and those persons not playing an instrument were shaking homemade rattles or slapping their knee to keep the beat.  Standing there listening, it was all I could do not to lift my arms up and start hopping from one leg to the other.
But looking deeper in to the room, among the pleasure of such authentic music, I also appreciated the musicians... all ages, a gargantuan man with scraggly beard down his chest and his long hair tied under a Scottish tam cocked to the side of his head, A young man Ty's age but with freckles and unmanageable red hair (He sang and incredible solo in Gaelec without any music).  A large old woman sitting with no instrument who knew the words to every song and sang in a tenor that would have been no more out of place than had she been in an opera. Round and round the room went my eyes and ears and both Ty and I found it mesmerizing.  What a treat!
I managed to record several songs for the benefit of my readers:

The decidedly cold and nasty winds and a forecast of nasty weather has convinced us to head from here to Glasgow where we will dump our car and fly to Belfast tomorrow.  The idea of driving from Belfast to Dublin in a big "C" to the west coast of Ireland through Antrim (Home of our forefathers in the 1700's) and then flying to Rome for some warmer weather is taking shape.