PART 4: FALKIRK WHEEL & STIRLING CASTLE
Please excuse the quality of the photos, we did not know that our new camera had a defective part when we went to Scotland.
Because we had not arrived in Glasgow in (either) of our rental vans, we spent a fair amount of time the morning of our departure trying to figure out how to get five oversized Americans (We’re tall people) with luggage, book bags, camera bags, and work bags Jenga‘d’ into a European sized minivan for the hour long road trip to Edinburgh. Our new van appeared to be just as sturdy as the old van so we had high hopes that it would survive us.
Our youngest son, coincidently the biggest brute out of all of us, is always willing to sacrifice life and limb by climbing into the very back. We love him for this, he is our hero. Brimming full of bodies and bags, we hightailed it out of Glasgow, a little worse for wear but relaxed, and ready to be on our way toward our final destination, Edinburgh.
I had been having some small amount of trouble with cell service while in Scotland which made communicating with our rental home host challenging. I had sent one final email to her prior to leaving in the morning and it was established that a 1:00 check in would work best for her. So, with an ample amount of time to explore along the way, I told the family about an interesting place that I had discovered online. It was call The Falkirk Wheel in the town of the same name. Up for anything we diverted toward this mechanical wonder.
If, like me, you were unaware of the vast canal system in the country of Scotland, then a little information before we proceed.
There are four large canal systems spanning over 135 miles of Scottish waterways, with 124 locks to pass through. The oldest system the Forth & Clyde, dates back to 1763 but did not become fully operational until 1793. The systems, including the aforementioned, also include the Caledonian, the Union and the Crinan. These canals are very popular holiday destinations for boat lovers of all ages. One of the more popular ports of call, via the Caledonian canal, is the famous Loch Ness, where you can try your luck at spotting Nessie, or perhaps a more reliable sighting of the Urquhart Castle.
The Falkirk Wheel is a marvel, unique in design and operation, it opened in 2002 to lift boats up the 79 feet from the Forth & Clyde canal up to the Union canal, through a revolutionary rotating wheel. The journey takes about twenty minutes to complete. Once at the top, boats must endure passing through two locks to raise them an additional eleven feet prior to resuming their journey on the Union canal.
You do not need your own boat to make the journey, Scottish Canals run eight trips a day on the wheel with the adult ticket price being about $17 USD. For more information on tickets and times please visit the Scottish Canals website.
But because we were just passing through, and because it was a drizzly chilly day, we grabbed a cup of coffee, watched the wheel rotate once, and then we were pretty much ready to proceed to our next destination for the day, Stirling Castle.
Stirling castle, where the oldest football in the world was discovered, was built sometime in the 12th century and is situated high on Castle Hill, a cliff overlooking the city of Stirling. And while we did not know that much about the castle, including the anthropological discoveries of ancient soccer balls, we were excited to see it nonetheless.
CROSS TIP: Take advantage of tourist sites that have online ticket purchase options. Because our daughter had a phone with a European cell phone plan, she pre-purchased our castle tickets which were roughly $17 USD. This is a great way to avoid lines when you arrive at your destination.
Exiting the parking lot we spied this imposing effigy near the entrance. While Mike jokingly insisted that we call him Mel Gibson, I attempted to explain that Mel played William Wallace in Braveheart while this fine fellow was Robert the Bruce, King of the Scots and more Wallace’s protégé.
The castle, with the oldest building dating to about 1381 took four years to complete. It is one of the most famous castle in Great Britain with many important Royals being crowned there, including the strikingly pretty, exceedingly tall (She was rumored to be 5′ 11″), and multi-sport loving, Mary Queen of Scots, (One can only imagine her booting that football around).
Stirling Castle is very well maintained and offers live reenactors as you proceed from place to place. We stopped in the Queen Anne Garden first as the sun struggled desperately to shine through the thick clouds. I don’t recall there being much to the gardens other than plantings on a low wall, however, it is a great vantage point to get a view of the castle itself.
Next we entered the Royal Palace, which were the living quarters and where the day-to-day business was transacted. Reenactors, dressed in period costume from the mid-1500’s will regale you with castle intrigue and historical information about the castle’s occupants and its furnishings.
It was not very crowded during our visit so we took advantage and skittering down alleys and side avenues, finding parts of the castle all to ourselves. We spent a fair amount of the morning walking the grounds and visiting the rooms.
After visiting the onsite museum, royal chapel, and the royal vaults, we were ready to be on our way to complete our journey. So with one final “‘Ello Gov’na” to the castle occupants we piled back into the van and headed toward Edinburgh.