Every last weekend of November in honour of St Andrew’s Day Historic Scotland treats the general population to free entry to most of its sites. All you have to do is register for a voucher online that gives you unlimited access over the course of the weekend.
Last year my curiosity took me to Castle Campbell in Dollar, near Stirling only to discover it was closed for renovations. Nonetheless the surrounding area is well worth a visit and was only made more beautiful by the fresh snow. You’ll be happy to hear it’s very easy to get to from Stirling – just hop on the St Andrews bus at Stirling Bus Station and get off in Dollar.
This year I was granted the whole weekend off work and used it wisely. Saturday started with a brisk walk in the early hours to get to Edinburgh Castle before the crowds. Almost 5 years in Scotland and, shamefully, this was my first visit. It was an incredibly windy day to be at the top of the city but the skies were clear and the views simply stunning. The castle itself is impressive to say the least. There are lots of nooks and crannies to explore and if you’re lucky you might see a show in the Great Hall. We had William Wallace tell us all about bloody battles of the past.
It’s also worth stopping off at the cafe for a hot chocolate, giant meringue and a chance to stare out the window across the Firth. Surprisingly the prices are very reasonable for Edinburgh standards.
Day 2 took me to Linlithgow Palace. Easily accessible by car or train (the Stirling to Edinburgh line), the palace, grounds and town provide a nice option for a day out. Perched on the side of a great big loch, you can imagine the awe-inspiring views you get from the top of the castle tower. There’s certainly a lot of climbing to be done here but you can reward yourself with a cuppa and a cake at one of the nearby cafes. The town centre has quite a few gift and charity shops so is good for a spot of shopping too.
In the afternoon my personal Lithuanian driver took me to Bothwell Castle just outside Glasgow and a couple of minutes away from the Tunnock’s biscuit factory. A small castle in comparison to the other two, the ruins can be explored in about half an hour. There aren’t fantastic views all around but if you’re looking to show someone a fine example of a Scottish castle that’s not too far away and easily accessible, Bothwell’s a good option.
All the castles have great informative plaques put up in visible places leaving visitors armed with fresh knowledge of Scottish history. For those seeking more info, booklets are available for a small fee.
I sure had a great weekend. Did you visit any castles? Don’t fret too much if you missed the free weekend – entrance to Linlithgow Palace only costs a fiver and Bothwell Castle is available for all to see for £4.
(Listening to Florence’s new album while writing – have you heard it yet? Total eargasm)