Stirling Castle in winter – an incredibly special visit.
2nd December 2020.
Winter touring in Scotland is an amazing experience. The wild landscape in this northern land, compliments crisp cold winter weather, enticing you to get out there and explore! Snow capped mountains make for beautiful views as you travel around the countryside and, in good winters, the snow will stick around until early April. The air in Scotland is incredibly fresh, and when it blows from the north, you can really feel that burst of fresh oxygen as you inhale. I love being out in the Scottish countryside in the winter months. My favourite time of the day at this time of year, is early in the morning as the sun is rising where you can see a mid-blue sky turn into a bright orange glow. I also love being out around 3.30pm as the sun begins to set. At this time of the day, for about an hour, you can get amazing fiery orange skies caused by a setting sun reflecting off wispy white clouds. By 4.30pm in central Scotland it is dark, but as your eyes are still adjusting to this change, you can still see the outline of the hills and mountains and the general landscape around you. It is a beautiful time to be outside as you feel the dark of winter arrive at such an early hour of the day.
Depending on where you are in the country, another sight that looks, and feels, amazing in the winter, are castles. Edinburgh Castle dominates the city like no other time than in winter due to the fact it is illuminated for many hours more in the winter months. Around the country, castles and ancient monuments, get their time in the limelight extended, due to shorter daylight days. Even a small village, tucked away in the highlands which houses a castle, can bask in winter glory, and it looks all the more romantic lit up, against a black sky. Some castles are not lit, but when the night is clear and you can see a million stars, the moon acts as its light, and this puts the castle in a whole new atmosphere, spooky is one feeling you can’t escape!
There is a strange link between cold and castle! However, this is ironic, as castles were (and are), places of residence. The Scots are a hardy bunch, but we do like an open fire for light, but much more importantly, for heat! Across the highlands and on the islands, the fuel in abundance is peat. This most ancient fossil fuel burns long and nice, and the people of Scotland have been living with this type of fuel for hundreds of years. It is famously used in the whisky making process on the Scottish Islands, but that story is for another blog!
Our castles have huge fireplaces, big enough to hold a meeting in! But just imagine the heat that emanated from these huge and ornately sculpted holes in the wall?! Unless you are incredibly lucky, you will have to enjoy your winter castle visit with your best winter warmers on – fully clothed with coat, hat, scarf and gloves. Personally, I do prefer it this way, we can always enjoy our open fire and a whisky at our castle hotel!
One of our favourite castles to visit in the winter months is Stirling Castle. Arguably the most beautiful castle in all of Scotland, there is just something special about that lofty position it holds in central Scotland. The castle sits on a high volcanic crag dominating the landscape below. My favourite time to see it from below is in the winter months just as the sun is setting, as the castle lights take on the job of illumination, while the sun disappears for the day and shines for many hours in another land. Moving up through Stirling city centre, past many old and beautiful buildings, the castle esplanade opens in front of you, welcoming you to a viewpoint like no other. The Ochil Hills running east from the castle are not the biggest in Scotland, but they are beautiful. They are not there to dominate this area; Stirling Castle does that! They are there to compliment the castle, and that they do. I love this view of the Ochil Hills from anywhere in the castle, it is such a unique experience. Sitting in front of the Ochil Hills (and stunningly visible from the castle), is the Wallace Monument. This Victorian tourist attraction is another Scottish architectural masterpiece and one we will visit in a future blog.
Visiting Stirling castle on a late afternoon in winter is the perfect time to explore this historic place. When it’s cold, a damp layer sitting on the cobblestones, sets the perfect scene for any castle visit. The fresh air around you will awaken your senses and you will be ready for history, culture, Scottish art and food and much, much more… As you walk through the outer defences and the Queen Anne gate, both dating to the 1700s, the lights inside the Great Hall (1503), The Kings Palace (1540s) and the Chapel Royal (1594) glimmer through the windows and entice you inside to look around these historic and special places. On our tours we do our own private guided walks around these beautiful and historic buildings and we also look at other places within the castle, such as the Douglas Gardens and wall walks and the Queen Anne Garden.
The Great Hall at Stirling Castle is one of the finest buildings in all of Scotland and apart from the grand architecture and many stories associated with this building, the views over the land and countryside from the huge windows is mesmerising. Walking into James the Vs Palace is another amazing experience thanks to its quite recent multi-million-pound restoration. Each room has been carefully restored and there is lots to look at, including great sculpture and the finest set of new tapestries you will see anywhere in the world! The costumed palace guides are friendly, incredibly knowledgeable, talented and great fun too! The Chapel Royal is a huge space and has much beauty in its simplicity. The original art along the top of the walls is exquisite.
There are many great walks around the castle with lots of nooks and crannies to wander in to and explore. The views from anywhere within the castle are absolutely stunning. Before leaving Stirling Castle, a visit to the Great Kitchens and North Gate is an absolute must. The great kitchens were built at the same time as the Great Hall, James the IVs masterpiece. They were to provide food for the household on a daily basis, and were placed conveniently, just far enough away from the hall to avoid any fire hazard. The kitchens were rediscovered in 1921 and today there is a wonderful and authentic exhibition inside The north gate which sits just beside the Great Kitchens is probably the oldest standing building within the castle and dates to around 1831. Wander through the arch, it is truly atmospheric, to the nether bailey and on to the tapestry weaving exhibition. Of course, the views along here are amazing too!
On leaving Stirling Castle around 5.00pm in winter, it is now dark and the streetlights of the city of Stirling glow beneath, as does the lights of the distant towns and villages that line the foothills of the Ochils. The Wallace Monument is now fully illuminated. What better scene is there to greet you as you leave a castle I wonder? After such an experience, the one thing that does come to mind is some delicious warming food and a refreshment, in an old local pub or hotel. Now that is the perfect end to an afternoon castle visit in Scotland!
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