This week, for the very first time, I’ve come to Scotland. I don’t know why it’s taken so long but life is full of these puzzles; and finally, a few days ago we loaded our bags into the car, gave Alex last minute instructions on how to roast a chicken so that she didn’t starve while she finished her dissertation, and headed north for the border.
We avoided the motorway system for as long as we reasonably could, eventually joining the M6 just south of Manchester. It was as horrible as we’d expected until we reached the exit for Kendal, after which the road virtually emptied and we had a three lane motorway almost to ourselves.
As you can see the weather wasn’t terribly kind, but things started to improve as we went further north and by the time we crossed the border the rain had stopped.Crossing the border between Carlisle and Gretna
Our first sight of a Scottish mountain…um…hill
We stayed on the motorway for another fifty miles or so (although it was now called the M74 not the M6, and the junction numbers were totally rejigged – fair enough, we were in another country) before turning off in a north-easterly direction for Edinburgh. We left the car in a park-and-ride, some seven and a half hours after leaving home. We’d stopped for coffee along the way, and also demolished six ham rolls, four hard boiled eggs, half a packet of jelly babies (Michael) and almost a whole packet of Waitrose sour pastilles (me). Thank goodness we reached Edinburgh when we did, because we’d run out of car food.
We’ve enjoyed Edinburgh – it’s just as wonderful as everybody says even though it’s very cold at the moment and (of course) it’s overrun with tourists. And I can’t really complain about that, being one of their number! The apartment we’ve been staying in is a five minute walk from the Royal Mile, so we strolled up it the first evening to have a look at the castle. It was late afternoon and the site was about to close so we went back the following day. It’s a very impressive place, with a long and elaborate history.
The very imposing Edinburgh Castle. The statues either side of the main door are Robert the Bruce and William Wallace
Robert I of Scotland (the Bruce)
The castle sits on a huge mound of volcanic rock dominating the city and you would be forgiven for assuming that it would have been unassailable, but not so. It was conquered several times: by the forces of Edward I in 1296, then by Robert the Bruce’s men in 1314. The English captured it again in 1335, then finally it was taken – and kept – by the Scots in 1341.
Bruce usually destroyed any castle he took, employing a different strategy to that of the English, who preferred to keep and use what they’d conquered. At Edinburgh he stuck to this and the only part of the castle he spared was the St Margaret’s Chapel. Margaret had been the Queen of Scotland, married to Malcolm III. He was killed in battle in 1093, along with their eldest son, and Margaret died at Edinburgh Castle three days later. In 1130 her youngest son (by then David I of Scotland) had this tiny chapel built and dedicated to his mother – who was later made a saint.St Margaret’s Chapel
Inside the chapel
The three stained glass windows in the chapel: St Columba, William Wallace and Queen (later Saint) Margaret. I’m not sure when the windows were installed but obviously later than the erection of the chapel, as Wallace wasn’t around until the late 13th century.
Apparently anyone can get married in the chapel or hold a christening – as long as they don’t have too many guests! – but only people who are members of the Margaret Society can work in there (dusting, changing flowers etc); and to be a member of the Margaret Society you have to be called Margaret! Wonderful.
The castle is hugely important for the Scottish nation, with exhibitions of the history of the Scottish monarchy and struggle for independence, the Scottish National War Memorial, and a series of rooms displaying the ‘honours’ – the Scottish Crown Jewels and the Stone of Destiny from Scone. The last two of these areas don’t allow photography, which is fair enough. I had to content myself with buying postcards of the treasures and the stunning stained glass windows in the Memorial, but here are some of the other bits and pieces.A portrayal of Robert the Bruce being crowned by Isabella Macduff, Countess of Buchan. The Scottish King was traditionally crowned by a member of the Macduff family, but Isabella was delayed and the coronation had already been held when she arrived in Scone. Rather than have any suggestion that the ceremony was invalid, it was held again with Isabella performing the crowning. She was later captured and imprisoned in a cage by Edward I’s army, as was Bruce’s sister Mary. On Edward’s specific instructions the cages were open to the elements and to public view. Isabella was transferred to a convent from the cage in 1310 (Edward I died in 1307) and it’s thought that she died soon after she was moved.
My knowledge of Scottish history before this trip was scant, to say the least, and probably coloured by Macbeth and (though I hate to admit this) by Braveheart. Though to be fair, I realised that Braveheart was largely nonsense, but it at least gave me a time frame to relate to, as well as an inkling of some of the major events and participants. So I knew that at the end of the 13th century the Scottish throne was empty and coveted by Edward I. High on his agenda was not just the appropriation (theft) of the monarchy but also the symbols of that title – the regalia of the Scottish nation. As he’d done with the treasures of the Welsh princes in 1282, he made certain to remove the most precious emblems of sovereignty. The Stone of Destiny had been a crucial part of the coronation of Scottish kings for over 500 years; Edward stole it and had it sent to London and installed beneath the coronation chair in Westminster Abbey. Every monarch of Great Britain since 1307 has been crowned over the Stone. In 1956 the Stone was retrieved by some Edinburgh students and placed in Arbroath Abbey. Good for them! Apparently it will now return to London for future coronations.The Great Hall, created for James IV in 1512. He died less than a year later at the Battle of Flodden
Throughout European history there’s been intermarrying and intermingling of noble and royal families and so it was probably inevitable that there was eventually a fusion of the two remaining royal lines on the British mainland. Due to the refusal or inability of Elizabeth I to marry and/or produce an heir, in 1605 the English throne went to her cousin, James VI of Scotland. He became James I of England and I always assumed that this was when Scotland united with England to form Great Britain. Not so…the two countries continued separately until 1707 Scotland when they were formally joined in the Act of Union. This wasn’t the end of the problematic Scottish history with the British throne, but more of that in a later post.
So we’ve done all the usual stuff. Every day at 1pm a 7.5mm gun fires a single round across the city and we stood down on Princes Street, watching a puff of smoke and flash of fire from the cannon a split second before we heard the boom.
We crept round the ancient interior of St Giles cathedral and we went to look at Greyfriars Bobby. This made us laugh (sorry) because the memorial to the faithful dog who sat by his master’s grave for fourteen long years was in an enclosed area alongside a civic notice announcing that no dogs were allowed there.
We visited the National Gallery and National Museum and had a bonus when we discovered that our apartment was right next door to the café where J.K.Rowling warmed her toes as she worked on the first Harry Potter book. I think the only thing I haven’t seen that I’d like to is the Declaration of Arbroath, which is in the National Archives of Scotland. It was written (in Latin) to the Pope on behalf of the Scottish nobility in 1320, stating the case for Scottish Independence and of Robert the Bruce as King, and imploring the Pope for his support. There are a couple of lines from it that I particularly like painted on the wall of the National Museum:
For we fight not for glory, nor riches, nor honours, but for Freedom alone, which no good man gives up except with his life.
‘Declaration of Arbroath’, Arbroath Abbey. April 1320
It has a ring about it of one of the last letters written (again, in Latin) in the month before he died in 1282 by Llywelyn ap Gruffydd to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Llywelyn was also seeking the support of the Pope (an earlier one) and gave his reasons for resisting the aggression of Edward I of England, whose aim was to conquer Wales (he did just that once Llywelyn had been killed, before moving against Scotland).
We fight because we are forced to fight, for we, and all Wales, are oppressed, subjugated, despoiled, reduced to servitude… in defiance of the form of peace and of all justice.
‘Garth Celyn Letters’, Abergwyngregyn. November 1282
So it’s time to leave Edinburgh and move on to the Highlands by way of the Firth of Forth, Dunfermline and then the Cairngorms. We’d just better make sure that the car is stocked with food again!