In typical Sottish fashion, it rained a LOT the first day we arrived; that light soaking rain that doesn’t quit until you’re drenched. We were lucky that our couch surfing host is currently a student and home during the day. When we arrived at the bus station, we were able to make our way straight to his house. Well, we were able to try, anyway! The streets here are curvy and hilly and tough to follow even with a map. I think we only had to go a mile or so from the bus station, yet we must have made a wrong turn four or five times! Ooops.
We decided to persevere in the rain and walk to the William Wallace Monument. Dressed head to toe in non-cotton clothing, water-resistant windbreakers and rain slickers – and carrying an umbrella – we “kept calm and carried on!” We decided on the very technical approach of walking *towards* the William Wallace Monument, as far as we could tell. We decided Stirling must be small enough that we’d get there one way or another if we just kept the monument in front of us.
On the way we ran into a very nice man with a thick Scottish accent. *This* is what we had been waiting for! In Edinburgh the accents were light and we could understand everyone pretty well, if they were even Scottish to begin with. Being such an international city meant it was often difficult to find an actual Scottish person in the tourist sites, shops, grocery stores and restaurants we visited in Edinburgh. But not here. Even Elliott, who is great with accents, struggled to understand this very helpful man who wanted to give us good directions to the monument! Luckily, the “look at the monument and take the road in front of you that seems to go towards it” approach was actually the best way to get there, so what we didn’t understand didn’t hurt us.
When we got there we checked out the gift shop and visitor center, then gave ourselves a break from the rain by taking the shuttle to the top of the mountain. Once we were dry-ish for a couple minutes we decided to go out and hike some of the trails on the mountain, assuring we got soaked through. The trails were hilly and beautiful, with green life everywhere, and the sound of rain falling constantly reminded us of the rain forests of Costa Rica. We hiked for about 45 minutes and then headed down the mountain and back to the little town to check out the shops. On the way, we stopped to take a picture on Stirling bridge where the famous battle took place. Elliott did his best Braveheart impersonation. (FREEEDOOOOOOOOOM!!!) A stranger started talking to us in his thick Scottish accent and it took me a minute to realize he was the same man who had helped us find our way, now asking if we had found the monument and how we enjoyed it!
We had an early evening with our host who was super busy with his dissertation for his Masters degree, but that was okay with us. After being out all day in the cool wet weather we were thrilled to be somewhere warm and dry.
We debated heavily whether or not to go to Stirling Castle. We had already seen Edinburgh Castle so we wondered how different they would be, and admission prices can kill a budget, especially when every pound is worth $1.60. We decided we’d just check out the castle from the outside and walked to it the next morning. On our way we passed many of the same shops as the night before, but we also noticed a few other things:
- People like to get their hair cut in Sitrling. At one point there were three barber shops within 12 blocks.
- People like to be charitable in Stirling. In addition to the three barber shops, we found three thrift stores, each raising money for a different cause: cancer, seniors, and heart disease. How awesome is that?
- Stirling, like Edinburgh, is full of old, beautiful buildings, just on a much smaller scale. But even one of the backpacker’s hostel s was in a gorgeous, gorgeous building.
Once we got to the castle I could tell Elliott was wavering on the decision to not go in, as was I. My logic was, even if we make it back to Edinburgh some day, I doubt we’d trek back here. So after we looked at our watch and figured we had three hours, we bit the bullet, paid the admission, and went in. We’re so glad we did!
Stirling Castle is a gorgeous castle inside, and I feel somewhat guilty admitting if I now had to choose between Edinburgh Castle and Stirling Castle, I’d choose Stirling. From the outside, it does look similar to Edinburgh Castle, but on the inside there is so much more. Both castles sit atop old volcanos where they can survey the town they’re meant to protect. Many of the buildings, halls and rooms at Stirling have been restored to their previous glory of one of the periods from the history of the castle. We had a wonderful guide with an accent thick enough to sound genuinely Scottish but just thin enough that we could understand if we concentrated hard. We finally moved past the feeling of being at the Renaissance Faire and towards the reality of being in a different country where people actually speak this way every day.
Inside the castle grounds, we sat on the thrones in the Great Hall, toured the kithens which were all decked out for a feast, and learned about the chapel which was thought at the time to be a one-to-one recreation of the Temple of Solomon. As an added nice touch, there were costumed people in character as we wandered through the King’s and Queen’s apartments. (Apparently it was common for royalty to sleep apart in order for the king to see his concubines without disturbing the queen.)
Before leaving, Elliott stopped to use “the most haunted restroom in Britain,” but sadly, no ghosts were present at the time.