Our Last Castles – Doune and Stirling

Down from the Highlands

Our last evening in Balloch on Loch Lomond was a beautful soft evening and very relaxing.  It was a Saturday so all the usual restaurants on the main street were crowded.  We went a little off the beaten path and found a lovely hotel/bar that was serving food.  The energetic bar man said, “Don’t fasch I’ll squeeze ye in”, found us a tiny table in the cozy bar, and dashed around at a frenetic pace making sure we had everything we needed… including a delicious curry and a full bottle of wine, which he assured us we could take home, but the food and atmosphere was so convivial this turned out to be unnecessary.

Loch Katrine was our last day in the Highlands… East of Loch Lomond we crossed the Highland Boundary Fault and were definitely in the Lowlands with relatively denser population and less hair-raising roads. The Highland Boundary Fault is a major fault line that runs across Scotland from Helensburgh on the west coast to Stonehaven in the east separating the Highlands from the Lowlands.  

First stop Doune Castle (pronounced Dune) a dark, forbidding and sinister hulk of a castle made famous as Castle Leoch in the Outlander series and Winterfell in the Game of Thrones, as well as some Monte Python episodes.  This turned out to be our favorite castle so thanks to Tom Williams for the tip.

After that we went on to Stirling Castle… a formidable seemingly impregnable fort on top of a rocky crag over the River Forth that nevertheless changed hands between the Scottish and English 8 times in 50 years in the 13th century.  It’s a spectacular castle tour with stunning views of the countryside far below.  We especially enjoyed the reconstruction display of the massive Great Kitchen that prepared food for the literally hundreds of people protected within the castle. 

This was truly the seat of power for the more than 500 years of the ongoing struggle for freedom that ended at Culloden.  Did you know there are now more than 10 times as many Scots living in the US as in Scotland, largely due to the impacts of the punishing  “clearances”. 

We learned this from a man we met in Ft Augustus named David Rose (from the afore mentioned neutral Rose Clan who were not subjected to the punishment). David was doing a survey for SUSTRAN (Scotland’s Sustainable Transportation/Active Travel Organization) about the impacts of cycle tourism on the economy and active transportation on the environment. We were of course eager to talk to him about SUSTrans and the positive impacts of active travel.  

When he heard we lived partly in Michigan he told us a story about of his son. He  was working as a tour guide near Urquhart Castle even though he had an engineering degree.  After the tour an American lady approached him and said “My daughter would like to meet you.”  He said sure, and there was an introduction…  long story short the son now lives in Michigan working as a professional engineer, happily married with children. He is now “BUYING A HOME!” …  David said this last with awe – he said a thing like that could NEVER have happened in Scotland. 

Doune Castler – Leoch and Winterfell

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