Dunnottar Castle could be called a hidden gem amongst the plethora of Scottish castles . It is not very well-known but it has a fascinating history including visits from William Wallace and Mary, Queen of Scots.The castle must have the most spectacular location in Scotland , sitting on a rocky promontory on the east coast of Scotland just outside Stonehaven , about 15 miles from Aberdeen . The word impregnable was probably invented for this castle. It is surrounded on all sides by a sheer cliff . Entry is by a tunnel through the cliff . Once you actually reach the top the views are stunning. In the 12th Century Dunnottar Castle became a Catholic settlement with the first stone chapel being consecrated in 1276. According to “Blind Harry”, a 15th Century poet, whose epic poem was an inspiration for the 1996 film “Braveheart”, William Wallace set fire to this chapel with a garrison of English soldiers taking refuge inside. The current chapel was built in the 16th Century.Dunnottar Castle was home to one of the most powerful families in Scotland, the Earls Marischal, from the 14th century when Sir William Keith, the 1st Earl Marischal, built his Tower House, also known as the Keep. The Earl Marischal was an office bestowed on the Keiths by James II. The role was one of the three great offices of State, along with the Constable and the Steward. The Earl Marischal had specific responsibility for ceremonial events, the Honours of Scotland and for the safety of the King’s person within parliament. Consequently it was not unusual for the monarchy, including Mary Queen of Scots, to spend time and stay at Dunnottar.Nowadays you can get married in Dunnottar castle , although you do so at your own risk since there is no shelter in the castle buildings .
Historic Scotland is currently engaged in a £12 million project to return the royal palace within the walls of Stirling Castle to how it might have been in the mid-16th century.New research has revealed the cosmopolitan character of the Renaissance Scottish court at Stirling Castle .
The palace will reopen to the public in 2011 as a new Scottish visitor experience. Freelance historian, John Harrison, has been investigating original documents .Mr Harrison’s source is The Bread Book, an account of who received loaves from the royal kitchens throughout 1549 when the palace was the main residence of Scotland’s queen mother, Mary de Guise , mother of Mary , Queen of Scots . Mary, Queen of Scots was born in nearby Linlithgow Palace and she was only 9 months old when she was crowned Queen of Scotland in the Chapel Royal in Stirling Castle on September 9, 1543. On most days a loaf was granted to the Morys – or Moors – who Mr Harrison believes were probably either black Africans or Arabs originating from North Africa.
“This is a fascinating glimpse of the diversity of the royal court at Stirling in the mid-16th century. It was quite cosmopolitan at the time, with the French Mary de Guise at its head, and surrounded not just by Scots but by people from Spain, the Rhineland and what is now Belgium. There were a few English, but they were mostly prisoners. Just who the Moors were, and what they were doing, is difficult to say. They were quite low in the court hierarchy, but were part of the household and getting bread at royal expense.”
Hints have survived that there may have been Africans in Scotland even earlier. There is a poetic reference by Dunbar to a woman who has been assumed to be – ‘the Lady with the Meikle Lips’. Such references are mostly rather uncertain, and may have other explanations, and the importance of The Bread Book is its clarity at a time when record-keeping was still relatively thin. Just as fascinating is what The Bread Book adds to our understanding of the way the court was run, and who had access to the queen. The evidence suggests that rather than acting like many of the Tudor dynasty in England and taking her main meals in private, deep within the network of royal apartments, Mary de Guise would dine in the Queen’s Outer Hall.
“Quite a wide range of people had access to her, not ordinary farmers but lots of people who were fairly well-to-do, which is important as she was working hard to build and protect the interests of her young daughter – Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary de Guise was an intelligent, decisive woman and a smart operator.
historic castles and stunning natural beauty but the less energetic have started a new craze , swapping Munros for the new sport of castle bagging.Touring the country and visiting the most castles in a weekend has become a popular pastime for recession hit Brits.
Historic Scotland has noticed an increase in the number of visitors to their properties who say they are on a mission to bag the most castles they can. Edinburgh Castle is one of the top tourist attractions in the whole of the UK
They have realised around 20 visitors a month are making the most of Scotland’s multiplicity of strongholds and travelling around to visit them as a day out or weekend away. One family even managed to visit 20 properties in just seven days.
In today’s credit crunch Britain one in five people are choosing to holiday at home – staycations as some people say – and experience Scotland’s culture and heritage.
Historic Scotland is taking advantage of the situation and offering six months free on their family membership when you buy 12 months. Families will pay just £6.16 a month to get free access to more than 70 properties across Scotland and can bag as many castles as they like.
To celebrate the Make Your Own History campaign they are challenging families to take up the new craze in a search to find the country’s most cultured family.
Barbara Smith, executive manager of Edinburgh Castle, said: “We have noticed an increase in visitors who say they are trying to visit as many castles as possible. It seems to have become a bit of a sport to see who can “bag” the most.
“Historic Scotland looks after more than 60 castles across the country so there’s plenty to choose from. It’s a great way in the current climate for families to spend quality time together and get out and experience Scotland’s culture and heritage for themselves.
“The hard part is choosing which castles to visit and how much time to spend there as there is so much to see and do. We’d love to find the family who have bagged the most of our castles to date.”
I have drawn up a list of the top ten castles in Scotland . You can debate this list in our castles forum
Elaine and Alistair Greig are possible contenders after notching up 39 castles around Scotland. The enthusiasts enjoy spending time with their children Ewan, seven, and Eilidh, five, touring Scotland’s keeps.
Elaine said: “I’ve loved visiting castles ever since I was a little girl and my children love it now too. Their favourite pastime at the weekend is a visit to Edinburgh Castle. They can run around for hours at a time and let their imagination go wild.
“It’s a great way to spend time together as a family. We often take a picnic with us when we go for the day. We are spoilt for choice in Scotland with the number of beautiful historic properties we have and they are perfect for families to explore.
“All young children love the history behind castles and the people who live there like knights and kings and every property has its own unique story.”
And foreign tourists are getting in on the act with one German family visiting 35 sites in 10 days and a Spanish couple managing 37 in 14 days.
The Mountaineering Council of Scotland said the new trend is slightly less strenuous than Munro bagging but still a great way to spend a day out enjoying Scotland’s natural beauty.
David Gibson, Chief Officer for The Mountaineering Council of Scotland, said: “Scotland’s castles and mountains are inextricably linked though their history and beauty and are both set in wonderful scenic landscapes that are great to explore. Like munro-bagging, castle bagging carries a health warning – it can be seriously addictive.”
Historic Scotland will reward the family who can bag the most castles in a weekend. The winning family will be reimbursed for entry.
For more information on Historic Scotland and the full terms and conditions of the membership offer visit www.6monthsfree.co.uk
Stirling Castle is one of the best castles in Scotland with a rich and fascinating history .Stirling Castle is now getting a makeover with a striking new brand identity to raise its profile as one of Scotland’s premier visitor attractions and further develop its tourism business.
The creation of the Stirling Castle brand is part of the £12 million Stirling Castle Palace Project which will see the royal lodgings at Stirling Castle returned to the Renaissance magnificence of the mid 16th century.
The stunning stronghold’s unique identity conveys both its character and significance in Scottish history.
The exclusive, striking logo contains references to Scotland’s coat of arms, the unicorn tapestries and the sculptures on Stirling Castle’s Great Hall roof. The unicorn, the enigmatic mythological beast, features throughout Stirling Castle. The new mark also takes its shape from the famous circular wood-carved Stirling heads. Its references and complex detail are emblematic of pageantry and royal status, and features Stirling Castle sitting high up in its green and leafy setting.
Historic Scotland Marketing and Media Manager Rebecca Hamilton said: “This new logo we have created conveys a sense of depth, experience, royal authority, richness and intimacy. Marrying the highly decorative with an intimate experience is very apt for Stirling Castle.
“Our aim was to create a distinctive, memorable and stronger visual identity which embodies the special importance and character of Stirling Castle. It is a truly outstanding attraction with a range of visitor experiences. And the completion of the Stirling Castle Palace Project in 2011 will see the visitor experience enhanced further.”
The logo will be phased in at the attraction for a wide variety of uses including signage, vehicle livery, staff uniforms, publications for visitors, and interpretation of the castle’s history, as well as in Historic Scotland’s website details on the site.
The Stirling Castle Palace Project involves the conservation and refurbishment of the Royal Lodgings to present them as they might have appeared in the heyday of Scotland’s Stewart court in the mid 16th century. Extensive historical and archaeological research has been carried out to ensure the interior decoration, as well as the materials and craftsmanship used, are as authentic as possible.
An interpretive display on the court of James V will be created in the palace vaults and a Renaissance Gallery on the upper floors of the palace will house the original Stirling Heads, a rare group of intricately carved oak ceiling medallions depicting kings, queens, courtiers and mythological creatures. Costumed interpreters will bring the rich history of the 16th century to life to enrich visitors’ enjoyment.
Chris Watkins, head of Historic Scotland’s major projects team, said: “The Stirling Castle Palace Project will not only conserve the palace as a monument of international importance but also present and interpret the magnificence of the royal lodgings, the superb Renaissance carvings and the life of the royal court.
“The project will enable us to maximise the appeal of Scotland’s finest Renaissance palace and encourage more people to visit both the castle and the city of Stirling. And the creation of the Stirling Castle brand, with its distinctive new logo, will play a very important part in helping us promote and project all that this wonderful attraction stands for and offers.”