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Elsewhere, I have mentioned that I planned my trip to Scotland carefully in order to visit all the locations in Blue Bells of Scotland. But I made several unplanned stops. It was our first full day in Scotland, after sleeping off the jet lag, and the battlefield of Bannockburn was on the itinerary. However, on the drive from our hotel in Edinburgh to Bannockburn, we saw the sign for Linlithgow. It had such a pleasant sound, who could resist? So we went. I think sometimes the unplanned and unexpected turn out to be the highlights. Linlithgow was certainly one of them, and as I later learned that it plays a part in Bruce’s story, I was especially glad I took a detour from my careful itinerary!
Of course, what I walked through is not what Bruce walked through. The present Linlithgow Palace was begun by James I in 1492, and took roughly a century to complete–giving a whole new meaning to ‘they don’t build ‘em like they used to!’ What stood there before had been destroyed by fire sweeping through the town that same year.
Previously, David I (1124-53) built a royal residence in this location. In 1296, Edward I (Longshanks, or Hammer of the Scots) invaded Scotland and in 1302 began the building of a defense around the royal residence. Bruce himself, following his habit, had much of the palace destroyed after the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, so that it couldn’t be used by the English against Scotland.
Today, Linlithgow is ‘a ruin,’ but a very complete one. It lacks a roof. It is not refurbished or full of displays or re-creations of past life, like some other castles. It is a large quadrangle, with a tower at each corner. You can walk the halls, much like you see here, and go through the chambers and ante-chambers, empty, but full of sunlight from large windows. You can go up to the walk along the rooftop and go into a stone gazebo at the top, where medieval graffitti can still be seen, suggesting Margaret sat in the bower by the hour, carving where she probably should not have been. (At least when my boys used to write on the walls with crayon, it scrubbed off!)
The palace stands on the shores of a loch, with beautiful stretches of green grass and parkland–a perfect place for a picnic!
What I found most interesting about Linlithgow was the way voices echoed and could be heard from quite a distance. As I wandered the halls at my own pace, I became separated from my party. I would turn a corner and suddenly hear them talking–but they were nowhere to be seen! And it was difficult to tell from which directions the voices came, or how near they might be.
The scale of the whole place is awe-inspiring. In our current houses, our ceilings are fairly low. It is an experience to walk through halls and stand in rooms with ceilings soaring 15 or 20 feet above your head, and hearths big enough to walk into!
We also went deep into the bowels of Linlithgow, to the kitchens down a long, dank flight of stairs. In one chamber was not only a hearth, but a great circular stone brazier in the center of the room. Windows high above let in light, although not enough that I’d want to be the cooks who worked there all day. I suppose the fires would have brightened the place quite a bit. Going further down from the kitchens, I found the dungeons. I use something very like this layout for the castle of the thieving MacDougall’s son in book 2 of the trilogy, The Minstrel Boy, when someone–we won’t say who–goes where he’s told not to! (However, I found Linlithgow to be a very light and airy place, whereas the home of MacDougall’s son is not!)
I definitely hope to visit Linlithgow on my next trip to Scotland. In the meantime, I hope you’ve enjoyed a little bit of a virtual tour, and if you ever get a chance, go!
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