Day Eighteen - The Kelpies, Loch Lomond and Stirling Castle

We were up early to get down to Rabbie’s Cafe in time for our tour of The Kelpies, Loch Lomond and Stirling Castle. While we were standing waiting for the bus, I struck up a conversation with a couple who were carrying Alzheimer Walk mini backpacks, and asked them where they had done their walk, the same one Dad and I had done in Edmonton. Turned out they were from Transcona, in Winnipeg, where I grew up. The woman even went to the same junior high I did, and lived about 5 minutes away from where I did!

On the road to first see the Kelpies. These are huge, 30 metre high metal sculptures of two Kelpies, which are shape-shifting water spirits who will whisk you down to the depths and steal your soul if you are not wary. They were erected as a monument to horse-powered heritage and the importance of the industry to Scotland’s past and present. I have wanted to see these ever since first seeing them on a photography website I follow. I had goosebumps upon my first glimpse of them! They truly are magnificent!

Back on the bus, heading for the famous Loch Lomond. We stopped at the village of Balmaha, a popular stop for those walking the West Highland Way. Some of the group chose to go further up the road on the bus and walk back along the shore, but we opted to stay in town and do a smaller walk out of the village along the shoreline, more because of the threatening black clouds that were looming in the distance than not wanting the exercise!

Next, bound for Stirling Castle, but first, a little musical interlude! There is something magical about travelling along listening to ‘On The Bonny, Bonny Banks of Loch Lomond’ while you really are on theose bonny banks!! We also had a rousing rendition of The Proclaimers’ “Five Hundred Miles” with the whole bus joining in on the chorus! When we arrived at the castle, we were fortunate to be in time for a tour, which is always a bonus, because you get so much more out of the visit with a guide. We also lucked out, weatherwise, because it was raining quite steadily when we arrived, and then about ten minutes later, it stopped and the sun came out and we had great weather for our whole visit!!

Stirling Castle dates back to the early 12th century, with most of the present buildings having been built between 1490 and 1600, mostly by the Kings James - IV, V, and VI. It is located at the crossing of the River Forth, making it a key location for access to the north of Scotland. During the Wars of Independence it changed hands many times between English and Scottish control. It is famous as being the site where the forces of Andrew Moray and William Wallace (of Braveheart fame) defeated the English in the first War of Scottish Independence.

One very fascinating display was on how they recreated the seven tapestries that hang in the palace. These are a series of huge tapestries called “The Hunt of the Unicorn” which date back to the Middle Ages. The originals hang in The Cloisters, part of the Metropolitan Museum in New York, having been purchased and donated by John D. Rockefeller. Their provenance is not conclusively known, though many theories as to their origin exist. The process of recreating these works of art took some thirteen years to complete and the display on the painstaking process through which this was achieved is quite fascinating.

Also on display is a recreation of the kitchens of the castle, complete with life-size mannequins and all of the food which might have been prepared for the consumption of the royals and their entourage. We very much enjoyed our visit to this castle, probably as much as we did to Edinburgh Castle.

One of the things that made our tour so enjoyable was the ongoing commentary of our guide, Graeme. He was a wealth of information about the stories, the history and interesting little tidbits, all mixed in with a good sense of humour. I only wished I could remember all of the things he told us!

On the way home we walked down the Royal Mile a bit, poking our heads into some of the “closes” along the way. These are essentially narrow alleyways that connect the adjoining streets with the Royal Mile and are most intriguing. We are going on a tour of Mary Kings Close on Monday.

Dinner was at the ltalian restaurant down the road from the apartment. One funny thing, while we were eating, a woman came over and asked if she could take my picture, because she thought I looked exactly like a friend of hers at home. I said sure, and afterward she showed me a photo of her friend, Lorna, who did look a bit like me. But she said that was an old photo and that her hair was more like mine now! Funny things that happen when you are on holiday!!