After arriving previous night in Glasgow we set out towards Inchmachome Priory – a ruined site in the middle of the ONLY lake in Scotland. What? Don’t they have lakes like everywhere? – you might ask, and you could be right IF they didn’t name all other bodies of salt or fresh water lochs. And just this one is a lake. Seriously. Unfortutnately strong winds prevented us from reaching the island in midst of the lake, but the little towns along the way quite made up for the loss. So we turned around and set our sights on Doune Castle.

If you find the castle ringing a bell somewhere… then yes, it was used as a set for Monty Python and the Holy Grail, as well as a set for Winterfell in the first season of the TV series Game of Thrones and as a stand-in for the fictional “Castle Leoch” in the TV adaptation of the Outlander. It is a medieval stronghold near the village of Doune, on a wooded bend where the Ardoch Burn flows into the River Teith. Doune Castle was originally built in the 13th c, and damaged in the Scottish Wars of Independence,before being rebuilt in its present form in the late 14th c by Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany, the son of King Robert II of Scots, and Regent of Scotland from 1388. Duke Robert’s stronghold has survived relatively unchanged and complete. The castle passed to the crown in 1425, when Albany’s son was executed, and was used as a royal hunting lodge. In the later 16th c, Doune became the property of the Earls of Moray. The castle saw military action during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms and Glencairn’s rising in the mid-17th c, as well as during the Jacobite risings of the late 17th century and 18th century.

Doune Castle lies almost a stone throw away from Stirling Castle that for centuries guarded the farthest downstream crossing of the River Forth linking southern Borderlands and northern Highlands. It is one of the largest and most important castles in Scotland, both historically and architecturally. The castle sits atop Castle Hill, an intrusive crag, surrounded on three sides by steep cliffs, giving it a strong defensive position. The Romans bypassed Stirling, building a fort at Doune instead, but the rock may have been occupied by the Maeatae at this time. Later it is believed that it was a stronghold of the Manaw Gododdin, and has also been identified with a settlement recorded in the 7th and 8th centuries as Iudeu, where King Penda of Mercia besieged King Oswy of Bernicia in 655. Stirling came under Pictish control after the defeat of the Northumbrians at the Battle of Dun Nechtain in 685. However, no archaeological evidence for occupation of Castle Hill before the late medieval period has been found. Most of the principal buildings of the castle date from the 15th and 16th c. Only a few earlier structures remain, while the outer defences fronting the town date from the early eighteenth century. The oldest part of the Inner Close is the King’s Old Building, located on the western side . On the east side of the Inner Close is the Great Hall, or Parliament Hall. This was built by James IV following the completion of the King’s Old Building in 1497, and was being plastered by 1503. Described as “the grandest secular building erected in Scotland in the late Middle Ages”, it represents the first example of Renaissance-influenced royal architecture in Scotland. When finally in 1965 Army left it decision was made that a historically correct restoration should be achieved, and works began which were only completed in 1999. The hammerbeam roof and parapet were replaced, windows reinstated, and the outer walls were limewashed. At the south side of the Inner Close stands magnificient Royal Palace – the first Renaissance palace in the British Isles, which is the work of King James V. With its combination of Renaissance architecture, and exuberant late-gothic detail, it is one of the most architecturally impressive buildings in Scotland, covered with unique carved stonework. It was begun in the 1530s, and completed by the late 1540s Before the union with England, Stirling Castle was also one of the most used of the many Scottish royal residences, very much a palace as well as a fortress. Several Scottish Kings and Queens have been crowned at Stirling, including Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1542, while others were born or died there.

After visiting the castle we forage for local food, ending up in Nicky-Tams Bar & Bothy for a taste of local quisine – including hagis which turns out to be quite tasty. And then off to see the Rough Castle, a Roman fort on the Antonine Wall dating to about 143AD. The fort is one of the best-preserved of the forts constructed along the Wall. Built against the southern rear face of the Wall, the fort was defended by 6 metre thick turf ramparts and surrounded by defensive ditches. Gateways were provided through the main wall to the north, and also through the walls on the other three sides of the fort. Causeways were then constructed across the main Antonine and secondary defensive ditches, affording easy access to and from the fort. And ot balance the history (as well, since this is where the trail to the Rough Castle starts) we watch the unusual Falkirk Wheel – a rotating boat lift connecting the Forth and Clyde Canal with the Union Canal whch opened in 2002 as part of the Millennium Link project.

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