Blairgowrie: the walks

Footbridge over the River Ericht

The Knockie and Cargill’s Leap

During our week in Blairgowrie in August, several of our walks began, or ended, by crossing the footbridge just behind The Old Furnace where we were staying. On Day 1, we followed a 3 mile / 5 km circular route, turning right at the end of the bridge to follow the River Ericht upstream and climbing Knockie Hill. At one time there were 11 mills along this river: Oakland, above, is now derelict, but we also passed Brooklinn Mill which has been converted to a private house. The area is very fertile, as some of the images show, and fruit farming is a speciality, hence the polytunnels.

Can you spot two cats in the second picture below? The real one looks a lot less alert than the fake one …

After descending the Knockie, we made our way through residential streets to the riverside. It was lunchtime, so we popped into Cargill’s Bistro, or at least onto its outdoor courtyard. How could we not, when it looked so welcoming? Lunch was delicious, as was the beer.

Our walk back took us along the riverside path, with its attractive sculptures, past Cargill’s Leap.

At Cargill’s Leap there is a viewing platform into the river below. This is where Donald Cargill, a local minster and covenanter, escaped pursuing troops by leaping the falls below. The covenanters were Presbyterians who signed a National Covenant in 1638 to retain their way of worship; this led to their persecution by Charles II. Cargill was eventually captured and executed.

I like the little figure on the information board!

From here, it wasn’t long until the chimney of our temporary home came into view and we re-crossed the bridge from which we had started.

Ardblair Trail and Bluebell Wood

On Day 2, we combined two short trails to make a 5 mile / 8 km figure-of-eight (plus about half an hour’s walk at each end to get to and from the Old Furnace). We made a lot of use of that riverside path! It was a good day for spotting quirky sculpture and painted stones, as well as more natural features such as assorted fungi and two pretty lochs.

As luck would have it, the figure-of-eight popped us out onto the road at lunchtime, right opposite the Dalmore Inn. Again, our powers of resistance were low. This time, we ate indoors, only the second time we have done so since the pandemic began. Their hygiene practices were excellent, and we felt as safe as its possible to be under the circumstances.

Drimmie Wood

Day 3 – another day, another wood! Drimmie is about two miles from Blairgowrie: we could have walked, but as you can see, the weather was not very pleasant so we chose to drive to the start of this 4 mile / 7 km trail. We were home by lunchtime, and went out again in the afternoon to explore Blairgowrie itself (pictures in last post).

River Ericht Path

On Day 4, the weather had improved somewhat. We chose to walk up one side of the River Ericht and back down the other, crossing at Kitty Swanson’s Bridge. (Kitty Swanson operated a ferry crossing here for many years in the late 1800s, and lived in a cottage nearby). The fertility of the area was again apparent, and we got a close up of those polytunnels (and a chance to sample some strawberries). This trail is about 8 miles / 13 km.

Loch of the Lowes

On Day 5, we drove a bit further, towards Dunkeld. In another circular walk (5 miles / 8 km), we left the car in the Cally carpark, and walked through woods, and a golf course, to the Scottish Wildlife Trust reserve at Loch of the Lowes. It was their first day open after months of closure and we’d had to book a time slot online beforehand. They were understandably nervous about their procedures but, again, we were happy with hygiene and distancing standards. The only problem was the main attraction, the ospreys, hadn’t got the memo. While smaller birds cooperated by putting on a show outside the visitor centre, the only thing we saw from the hide at the lochside (with lots of zooming) was a large, empty osprey nest. Not even any swans! Our local pond can do better than that …

We walked back to the car through Dunkeld, and at least we saw some handsome sheep to compensate. Some quirky signage too.

Stormont and Meikleour

Day 6, our last day, was wet most of the time, but we soldiered on. In the morning, we parked the car in the village of Carsie and made up a circular tour including Stormont Loch which just happened to take us past the Dalmore Inn again at lunchtime – what a coincidence! We only once got a glimpse of Stormont because it was surrounded by trees. Much prettier was the smaller Hare Myre, and an unexpected bonus was a honey farm.

After lunch, we drove on to the village of Meikleour where North Wood hides the Cleaven Dyke dating back to the Neolithic period. It just looks like a long mound!

The village itself is pretty and features the Meikleour Beech Hedge (snapped from the car) which is in the Guinness Book of Records as the tallest hedge in the world!

Conclusion

We had a lovely, relaxing week in Blairgowrie with comfortable, self-contained accommodation and gentle walks easing us into the idea of travelling again. All the trails we did, apart from Loch of the Lowes, are from the Perth and Kinross Countryside Trust Blairgowrie leaflet which you can download here. We found it really helpful.

On our way home to Glasgow we stopped in another pretty village with its own story to tell – but that can wait for next time.

Linked to Jo’s Monday Walk.

Blairgowrie and The Old Furnace

Keathbank Mill, Blairgowrie

Way back in January we booked a week in a cottage over Easter. Well, you can guess what happened to that – zilch. However, rather than cancel, we pushed it back to mid-August, hoping, successfully, that travel would be possible by then. Blairgowrie in Perthshire is under two hours’ drive away, but so far this trip remains the furthest we have travelled all year.

Blairgowrie was built around the River Ericht which powered its textile industry: in 1860 it had eleven water-powered mills employing 1600 people. Today, many have been converted to apartments, as with Keathbank where we stayed, and some remain derelict, including the one on the opposite bank of the river to us.

Our cottage was The Old Furnace, seen on the right of the picture above. Our front door was in the chimney and above the entrance area was an octagonal shower! It was these quirky features which sold it to me when I saw it online. Below are some more views of the cottage inside and out. Sadly, there was only one day when it was warm enough to take our post-walk cuppa on the patio.

Blairgowrie itself is a very attractive little town in a slightly old-fashioned sort of way. We liked the buildings and the interesting shopfronts. Many houses had beautiful, well-tended gardens, and some had unusual names. I’m not entirely sure I’d like to live at Wits End though!

We spotted some ghost signs, though strictly speaking the one to Cargill’s Leap is just an old sign, not a ghost, as Cargill’s Leap still exists.

Finally, this old church now functions as Little’s Restaurant where we booked dinner for our last evening. It was lovely, but dining indoors still makes me nervous.

We spent the week following local paths and trails, mostly straight from our front door. More next time!

Glasgow Gallivanting: August 2020

River Ericht at Blairgowrie

August was a month of activity on three levels. From the top – we went on holiday! Admittedly, this was our Easter Holiday postponed, but it still felt good to be out of the city for a while. The view above was ours for a week – more to follow in due course.

Level two – at weekends, we continued to walk in areas on the edge of or just outside Glasgow. Sometimes, this meant pretty countryside as below.

At other times we went to places that are not maybe obvious ones to visit, such as Bishopbriggs just over the  Glasgow border in East Dunbartonshire. However, this town has some interesting historical sites we wanted to visit. Mavis Valley, on the banks of the Forth and Clyde Canal, existed as a mining village from 1851 to 1955. You can see the rows of houses on the information board below. Today trees have reclaimed the site, but if you look carefully you can still see the remains of a wall here and there.

Tragedy struck Mavis Valley in 1913 when six of the 22 men who died in the Cadder Pit disaster were residents. There’s a memorial to them outside Bishopbriggs Library. (There’s another memorial at Lambhill Stables which I’ve posted about before).

In between Mavis Valley and the library, we came across some quirky critters!

We then walked out the other side of Bishopbriggs to Huntershill, home of 18th century radical Thomas Muir. Here we found a memorial cairn and the Martyr’s Gate commemorating Muir and four other men who were transported to Australia for sedition in 1793-4.

Muir’s family home, Huntershill House, is just across the road, and what a sorry state it is in! For a while, it was owned by the local council who sold it on a few years ago. It’s now on the Buildings at Risk Register – see what it should look like here.

Finally, on weekdays we continued with our lockdown routes after John finished work. We don’t take as many photographs now, but I still have a large backlog of themes that piqued our interest. Today, I’ve collected together some of the many messages that people have sent out during the various stages of lockdown. This bench in Partickhill, for example, has a message which changes daily. On both occasions that we stopped to photograph it we met the woman who created it. She seemed delighted by our interest.

In deepest, darkest lockdown people were sending messages to loved ones they could not meet, and a school gate held a poignant tribute to a teacher who had died.

Some messages expressed thanks, encouragement, or hope.

Children created lending libraries on tables and art galleries on fences.

Even canal boats had something to say.

I wasn’t sure what this was all about until I looked up Conversations From Calais which aims to re-humanise those affected by the refugee crisis by using public space to share conversations volunteers have had with migrants met in Calais.

There were many other political messages in evidence.

And finally, there was the plain odd!

So that was my August – a month of widening horizons. Unfortunately, this week things took a backward step with Glasgow being put into “local measures” because of increasing infection levels. It’s not lockdown, but we’re no longer allowed to visit other people’s homes. Here’s hoping that will have changed for the better by the end of the month. Happy September everyone!

Australia 2004, part 5: WINE-ding our way home

Bob’s lookout

We travelled the 332km back to Cairns via the inland route, stopping off at a few lookouts along the way.

We had one night in Cairns, where we stayed in a Holiday Inn. Rather than brave the town, I opted for my first ever experience of a room-service dinner which was surprisingly pleasurable. (Actually, this remains my only room-service dinner, although we did have room-service lunch in Sydney before flying home.) Our table was set up by the huge windows overlooking the harbour and served with what I considered to be a finesse well beyond the grade of the hotel. These days, I would take photographs but we have none at all.

The following day we flew back to Sydney, and the day after that we embarked on an overnight Mount ‘N Beach Safari. This was a trip we had booked before leaving home: the first day was to be spent touring Hunter Valley wineries, and the second day included visits to Nelson Bay and Port Stephens to drive on sand dunes and go on a dolphin cruise. After my accident, we phoned to cancel on the grounds that my injury would make it very difficult. However, the company could not have been more helpful and assured us that they would choose the wineries with ease of access in mind. I am so glad we went, because the first day especially was a real highlight.

A misty Hunter Valley

We were picked up early and driven out to Hunter Valley, still shrouded in mist when we approached. True to the company’s word, the driver took us to wineries where he could park close to the door and there were no steps. Obviously, we couldn’t buy much wine because it had to fit into our luggage, but I think we did acquire three bottles. We stayed overnight at the Hunter Valley Resort where we had lunched earlier in the day. I remember sitting outside at a lovely table, with delicious food and a glass of wine, and feeling very happy and relaxed. The resort also has a brewery, so in the evening we sampled its products too. It was a special day – and so it should have been. It was my birthday! But do we have any photographs, other than the one above? Nope, that’s it. What were we thinking? I can only assume that the wine addled our brains.

The following day was slightly less successful. We were picked up after breakfast by a different guide, and taken for a drive on the sand dunes near Nelson Bay, then to Port Stephens for a dolphin watching cruise. The dune trip was fun, and in no way affected by my gammy leg.

After lunch, we boarded the boat for the dolphin-watching cruise. This was very tricky for me, and once settled in a seat I found it difficult to move again, especially at the speed required to get to the front of the crowd to see dolphins. So I didn’t see any – John did, but something went wrong with the camera, and after a few shots looking back at Port Stephens we have no pictures of this either!

We returned to Sydney for one last night before flying home the next day. I was very well looked after in all airports and on all flights  – until we got to Heathrow. We were met from the plane and got a ride through the corridors on a motorised buggy, which was fun, but were then dumped in an unstaffed area for passengers requiring assistance. Someone was supposed to come to wheel me onto the plane before general boarding, but only one staff member appeared and he took the other lady who was waiting. A few minutes later, she was wheeled back, loudly declaring “But I don’t want to go to Glasgow! I’m going to Newcastle!” By the time I finally got to the plane, many others had boarded and I had to hop through the crowds on my crutches. My carefully chosen aisle seat had been swapped for the other side so that I couldn’t, when safe, stretch my plastered leg out into the aisle, but had to cram it under the seat in front the whole time. (We found out later that a bigger plane had been put on the route to bring back the golfers from the Open which had just finished at one of the Scottish courses. This meant that seat bookings were all rejigged.)

Once home, I was faced with several more weeks on crutches and in physiotherapy. As I said in an earlier post, I still feel the injury today and will probably never be completely free of it. I bitterly regret that moment of carelessness. However, we had an amazing holiday despite the accident, and would love to return to Australia some day if that sort of travel ever becomes feasible again.

Australia 2004, part 4: Cooktown

Endeavour River from Grassy Hill, Cooktown

Cooktown marks the point where Captain Cook beached his ship, the Endeavour, in June 1770, thus becoming Australia’s first non-indigenous, though temporary, settlement. The town itself was founded in 1873 as a supply port for the goldfields along the Palmer River, and at its peak it had a population of over 30,000. The guidebook we used in 2004 gave the population as 1410: interestingly, according to Wikipedia, the 2016 census puts it at 2631. It’s not very big anyway!

After our drive along the Bloomfield Track, we arrived in Cooktown for a three night stay in Milkwood Lodge Cabins. This was one of the places John had phoned in advance to check accessibility for a person in plaster to the knee, and the owners had kindly moved our booking to a cabin with no steps to the entrance. They couldn’t have been more helpful, and I see they are still in business getting good reviews on Trip Advisor, so I feel confident recommending them. The only downside is that a bushturkey seemed to think he had visiting rights, and when not pushing his way inside could be heard scrabbling about on the roof! But we were quite fond of him.

On our first day we explored the town, first of all driving to the lookout on Grassy Hill, with its 19th century iron lighthouse, from where we got a good overview.

Cooktown’s main street is Charlotte Street which has many historic buildings along it. We drove up and down so that I could look at it, then John returned on foot to take photographs while I sat on this bench resting my leg. I look quite happy, but I do remember shedding a small tear at this point because wandering round historic buildings is what I love doing.

There is, of course, a statue to the eponymous Captain Cook, and a graveyard where the most interesting memorial was to Mrs Watson “heroine of Lizard Island tragedy of 1881” and her infant son, Ferrier.

Mrs Watson also has a memorial in town, on which she is given a name – Mary. For some reason, we don’t have a photograph of it, so here is the Wikimedia image. We do have a picture of one of the plaques, which you can see below the Wiki photo – “last entry” refers to a journal she kept of her ordeal.

Mary Watson's Monument (2010)
Heritage branch staff / CC BY https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0

It’s a tragic story: the monument was erected in 1886 to honour this young woman, who died, along with her infant son and her Chinese employee Ah Sam, from thirst and exposure after a conflict with a group of indigenous people in October 1881. I can’t do the story justice in this short post: it’s well worth reading the Wikipedia entry if you are interested. Important points I took away from the article are that this is the only known public monument to an individual woman (other than a head of state) in Queensland; and the way it illustrates the injustices which accompanied early European settlement, and the lack of communication and understanding between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples. That the memorial does not mention Ah Sam is another illustration of the racist attitudes of the time.

On our second day we explored the area around the town, visiting Isabella Falls, Endeavour River Falls, Barretts Lagoon, and Archer Point.

I wasn’t able to do very much at any of these places except look, but at least we weren’t inhibited from enjoying nice cafes during our stay – often with a view and a good beer.

It was now a week since my accident and I hadn’t yet told anyone at home, so on our last night in Cooktown I made the dreaded phone calls to my parents and my closest colleague. All were sympathetic, of course, so having got that out of the way, we packed up to head back to Cairns and (hopefully) to enjoy the last few days of our Australian adventure.

Australia 2004, Part 3: Daintree

Daintree Cape Tribulation Heritage Lodge

I was so looking forward to our four nights on Cape Tribulation in Daintree National Park, Queensland, where the rainforest comes right down to the sea. It was indeed beautiful, but our nights were reduced to three after the unscheduled stop in Cairns to patch me up after breaking two metatarsals. We manged a trip on the Daintree River Train to see crocodiles, but otherwise our time in Cape Trib consisted largely of driving around looking for places where the road was near enough to the sea for me to glimpse it. There was nearly always a strip of forest between them, and we only found one place where the path was short enough, and smooth enough, for me to make it onto the beach. I did insist, however, that John had time each day to do something without having to look after me, hence the horse-riding picture. Meanwhile, I relaxed on our veranda.

We left Cape Trib via the coast road – the 4WD-only Bloomfield Track – on our way north to Cooktown. In the pictures below, the “road” disappears into the river. It was a very bumpy ride!

About 28km from Cooktown, the track links with the “inland route” by which we would travel back a few days later. On this section, we stopped at Black Mountain National Park with its thousands of precarious looking square, black granite boulders. The mountain is known to Aboriginal people as Kalcajagga, or Place of the Spears. As with most sights, I enjoyed it from the front seat of the car.

Shortly after this, we arrived in Cooktown for a three night stay.

Australia 2004, Part 2: Port Douglas disaster

Wangetti Beach from the Rex Lookout between Cairns and Port Douglas

Most of the rest of our trip was to be spent in Far North Queensland. On arrival in Cairns we picked up our hire vehicle, a 4×4, and set off for Port Douglas for two nights.

The following day, we had booked a Quicksilver Cruise to the Outer Barrier Reef, including a chance to go snorkelling.

This was memorable, but not as memorable as what happened that evening. After dinner, we went for a wander round the harbour area. When confronted with a post-and-rope barrier, I made the split-second decision to step over it rather than retrace my steps. What I didn’t realise was that the ground on the other side was lower – not much, but enough that one foot dropped further than expected and the other failed to clear the rope. I fell in a crumpled heap to the ground.

John helped me up and I felt no pain until I tried to put my left foot down – aargh! I could feel movement where there shouldn’t be movement, and knew immediately that something was broken. I managed to hobble back to the hotel, by walking on the side of my foot, and we went to bed very worried about what would happen next.

The following morning, hotel staff helped us to get an appointment with a local doctor and I entered the Australian health service. I found it very efficient, although there was a lot of driving around for things that would probably all happen under the same roof here. For example, the doctor wanted me to have an X-ray which would happen in a hospital at home. Because the local facility was closed that day, we were sent to one in another town which I was surprised to find was just a unit in a shopping centre. I was handed the X-rays (which I still have), then it was back to the doctor in Port Douglas who confirmed what I already knew: I had broken two metatarsals.

After much phoning, he got me an appointment the next day at the Fracture Clinic at Cairns Base Hospital, so off we went back to Cairns when we should already have been at our next destination. On arrival at the hastily booked hotel, John was despatched first to an address the doctor had given us to procure a pair of crutches (which I also still have), then to buy a takeaway dinner which we ate in our room. This was our view, the only picture we have of Cairns!

To cut a long story short, I was plastered up and sent on my way. I have two complaints about the plaster cast (or stookie as we call it here). First, I was given a choice of colour and picked blue. Had I known that, once dry, they were going to slit it down each side and tape it up, I might have chosen pink to match the tape. (This was because I would have to fly with the plaster on, and it needed to be easily removed if my leg swelled up.) Second, the doctor in Cairns said I mustn’t put weight on my foot, so it was not a walking cast and I hopped around for the next two weeks. The doctor I saw at home was very scathing about this and said the foot should have been load bearing the whole time. This would have made life so much easier, and allowed me to see so much more on the rest of our trip. Still, we made the best of things and, as you can see below, I was still smiling as we re-joined our schedule the next day to make our way to Daintree.

The accident was on the 6th of July, 2004, so I have recently passed the 16th anniversary. Does it still affect my life? Yes it does. The doctor in Cairns said that in a few months I wouldn’t know that I had done it, but there is never a day passes when I am not conscious of it. I still get a certain amount of pain and discomfort, and my left foot is quite inflexible. It has little power in it which makes going uphill more arduous than it needs to be, and can affect my balance on uneven ground. Someday, I am fairly sure, I am going to need some sort of surgery on it.

But back to 2004. I can’t leave this subject without paying tribute to John who was an absolute rock throughout. Not one word of reproach passed his lips: I can tell you that if it had been the other way round, and he had done something that daft, I would probably (definitely!) not have been so restrained. He spent ages on the phone calling ahead to accommodation, airlines, and other places where we had reserved services, to make sure that my needs would be met, and just generally took care of me for the remaining two weeks of our tour. He’s a keeper!

Needless to say, these days I never jump over barriers and always walk round.

Australia 2004, Part 1: Sydney and Brisbane

We visited Australia for the first and, so far, only time in the summer of 2004. It was something we had looked forward to for years and we expected it to be memorable, which indeed it was, but not always for good reasons as you will find out as my story unfolds.

We arrived in Sydney at 6am one morning, having flown from Glasgow via Heathrow and Bangkok with no stopovers. It was my first time travelling Business Class (thanks to airmiles) which meant we got some sleep on the journey, but I still spent the first week with severe jet-lag. We had three nights in Sydney and spent large chunks of the time wandering around the harbour area in a complete daze.

One of the things that strikes me looking back over this whole trip is how few photographs we have compared to the number we would take today. John had a digital camera, but I was still carrying a camera with film. I’m not sure why, especially as many of my pictures replicate the digital ones, though there is an advantage to that because I have carefully labelled them on the back with exact locations. As an example of this lack, on our second day in Sydney we took an early ferry from Circular Quay to Manly, walked the Manly Scenic Walkway to Spit Bridge, and took the bus from there back to the city. I remember this walk being lovely, but we have only two digital images and a handful of prints!

On our final evening we climbed to the summit of the Harbour Bridge, which was a great experience. I remember climbing a ladder, putting my head through a hatch and feeling a train whizz past. It felt like inches away but I’m sure was at a much safer distance!

The following day, we flew to Brisbane to stay three nights with my aunt and uncle, Elspeth and Ian McKay. Elspeth is the middle one of my father’s three younger sisters, and although she and Ian had lived in Australia all my life we had met at various points over the years. Some of their spells back in the UK were quite lengthy, and I remember Elspeth looking after Dad and me when Mum was in hospital having my younger sister.

The highlight of our visit was the Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary, which we discovered also housed kangaroos and a variety of birds and reptiles.

Ian died a few years ago, but it would be nice to think we could visit Elspeth again some day. If we do, it will be at the end of the holiday when my body has recovered from jet-lag and I’m less likely to disgrace myself by falling asleep every evening!

From Brisbane we flew to Cairns for the next part of our adventure: visits to the coral reef and the rainforest. Things were about to go wrong …

East Dunbartonshire: Trails + Tales

Baldernock Parish Church

In early July, John took a week off work. This coincided with the time when restrictions on how far you could travel for leisure in Scotland eased slightly, and we ventured into the countryside for the first time since lockdown. Not too far, just over the city boundary to East Dunbartonshire where we discovered a network of Trails + Tales, several of which we followed.

Baldernock Trail

The Baldernock trail started at the pretty parish church, and had attractive views – even if we could still see the city in the distance.

Torrance Trail

The Torrance Trail started at the village war memorial. It was cold and wet as the pictures probably show.

A feature of most of the trails is a series of public artworks (Jaqueline Donachie’s tributes to women health workers already appeared in my Three times a lady post). Here we found Gumnut and a whole row of eight or nine Scholars Rocks, one of which had been customised with a small plaque reading “ALS and RR Kissing Post 2019”. Aww!

My lockdown hair was bad, but not usually this bad! The wind and rain had done their worst. Towards the end of the walk we came across a row of tenements which looked quite odd set amongst fields.

Once back in Torrance, we added on an extra loop out to Cadder Church via the River Kelvin and the golf course, and back along the Forth and Clyde Canal.

Lennoxtown / Clachan of Campsie trail

The highlight of this day was not part of the trail as such. We went “off piste” to tour the immaculate grounds of Schoenstatt. The Apostolic Movement of Schoenstatt is a Roman Catholic Marian movement founded in Germany in 1914 by Father Joseph Kentenich. Its name, which aptly means beautiful place, refers to a small village near Koblenz. Schoenstatt Scotland operates as a Retreat Centre.

Kirkintilloch

The final trail we followed was round the town of Kirkintilloch and the nearby village of Waterside. It was very green with parkland, river and canal, an old cemetery to explore, historic buildings, and artworks. There was even a ghost sign to enjoy. However, we got very wet again – John does know how to pick a week off!

So those were our first, baby steps outside the city after lockdown: life was starting to feel more normal. Linked to Jo’s Monday Walks. Her temperatures are a bit hotter than mine!

Stirling

Stirling Castle: Royal Palace from Queen Anne Garden

An excursion to Stirling was one of the few days out we had at the beginning of the year before the torrential rains of February / March and the following months of lockdown. As Stirling Castle reopened on 1st August (pre-booked tickets only) this seems an appropriate time to publish my post about it which has been lingering in drafts for some months. It was a fabulous day, so be prepared for a lot of photographs!

Starting at the castle, we first of all wandered around the outside. The grey building is the Royal Palace and the golden one is the Great Hall. Views from the walls round the Palace are magnificent.

The first building we went into was the Royal Palace, one of the best-preserved Renaissance buildings in the UK, which has been refurbished to look as it might have done in the 1540s. This includes ceilings with brightly-painted replicas of the Stirling Heads (the originals can be seen in a museum onsite which we didn’t visit this time) and unicorns everywhere. The Hunt of the Unicorn tapestries are also replicas, based on a series created in the Low Countries in the early 1500s which are now in the Metropolitan Museum of New York’s Cloisters. They took 13 years to weave and cost £2 million.

It’s not so long since you could watch part of the tapestry being woven in one of the castle’s outlying buildings (they were completed in 2014). Now the same building hosts an exhibition about the weaving process. I learned a lot from the panel of samples shown below, especially the knee samples. The single knee was woven at eight warps per centimetre which matches the 15th century originals. The other two knees are woven at four warps per centimetre, which is the warp count chosen for the replicas. This saved 13 years of production time – how much respect is due to the original weavers? What an achievement.

Next, we visited the Chapel Royal, built in 1593-4 on the orders of James VI who wanted somewhere suitable for the baptism of his son and heir, Prince Henry. In 1603 the Union of the Crowns saw James head south to rule from England, and in 1625 he was succeeded by his surviving younger son Charles I. The frieze was painted by Valentine Jenkin in 1628 in the expectation of a coronation visit to Scotland by the new king. He didn’t come.

The Great Hall is the largest banqueting hall ever built in Scotland and was used for feasts, dances and pageants. Completed for James IV in 1503, it has four pairs of tall windows at the dais end, where the king and queen sat, and an impressive Scottish oak triple height ceiling.

Of course, you would not expect us to miss out on a visit, or two, to the Café! Having already had lunch there, we popped back for a cup of tea before venturing out again.

Suitably fortified , we explored the Old Town Graveyard which lies between the castle and Holy Rude Church. The ladies in the glass case are “Margaret, virgin martyr of the ocean wave, with her like-minded sister Agnes”. These were part of the educational and “improving” atmosphere of Victorian Stirling. Eighteen year old Margaret Wilson was a heroine of the Presbyterian Reformation who was executed by drowning in the Solway Firth for refusing to renounce her Protestant faith.

Shown below are Argyll’s Lodging (pink) and Cowane’s Trust (yellow). The former is a 17th century townhouse which can be visited with a castle entry ticket. Cowane’s Hospital, now run by a charitable trust, is also a 17th-century building. The merchant John Cowane (1570–1633), whose statue adorns the front, left 40,000 merks in his will for the establishment of an almshouse.

On nearby Broad Street is the Mercat Cross (another unicorn) and Norie’s House. James Norie was a lawyer and town clerk who built his fashionable new house in 1671.  His bewigged head looks down from the top of the roof.

Walking further down into town we came across representations of various historic figures. A howling wolf, here carved from a tree stump, appears on Stirling’s coat of arms. Legend has it that in the 9th century a wolf saved the town by howling in response to a Viking raid. Henry Campbell-Bannerman (1836-1908) was the Member of Parliament for Stirling Burghs for almost 40 years, including a term as Prime Minister from 1905 to 1908. Rob Roy, Robert Burns and William Wallace probably need less of an introduction to anyone interested in Scottish history and literature.

Our final stop before heading back up to the castle was outside Central Library which opened in 1904 and, like so many others, was funded by Andrew Carnegie.

As we walked back to the car, the sky began to change colour. We rushed up to a vantage point in the Old Town Cemetery from which we watched a spectacular sunset unfold. A perfect end to a perfect day.