A weekend in Stirling

Here’s a fun fact for you… I share the same birthday, 17 March, with King James IV of Scotland. This was news to me, something Sandy and I discovered over the weekend while staying in Stirling for a couple of nights.

We are members of Historic Environment Scotland, which cares for Stirling Castle, so we paid the castle another visit. Whisper it… Stirling Castle is far superior to Edinburgh Castle in my opinion. For one thing, it doesn’t get the same volume of visitors. Second, the history behind it is absolutely fascinating, and it is more aesthetically appealing.

Anyway, the point of our stay in Stirling was to have a mini-break for my birthday, and when we arrived at Stirling Castle on Sunday, Historic Environment Scotland had put on special festivities commemorating the 550th anniversary of the king’s birth.


James IV is recognised as the most successful of the Stewart monarchs (albeit this is not particularly high bar–two Stewarts managed to get their heads cut off, another was forced to abdicate after only three years on the throne). He was in charge of a significant expansion of the Scottish royal navy, included the founding of two royal dockyards and the acquisition or building of 38 ships.

He was an avid supporter of the arts and was interested in the law, literature and science, even dabbling with dentistry and bloodletting. With his patronage, the printing press arrived in Scotland, and the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and the University of Aberdeen were founded.

Education act

He oversaw the construction of the Palace of Holyroodhouse and Falkland Palace, as well as substantial work at Linlithgow Palace, Edinburgh Castle and Stirling Castle. The education act passed by the Scottish Parliament in 1496 introduced compulsory schooling.

At Stirling Castle, we watched a musket demonstration. Turns out there are a lot of sayings that originate from late Medieval musket use—a flash in the pan and scraping the bottom of the barrel being two of them.

The James IV castle tour revealed he was only 15 years old when he ascended to the throne, having fought his father, James III, to claim it. Medieval Scottish rulers tended not to live long, happy lives and James IV himself died in battle, during the disastrous Battle of Flodden in 1513, in which some 10,000 Scots were killed. 


Nowadays, the castle’s great hall has been renovated and the exterior painted with ochre-coloured limestone to resemble what it would have looked like the early 16th century. The royal apartment has also been designed to resemble what it would have looked like it did in those days, and two restoration projects have restored the Stirling heads, wooden carvings of James V’s family members and the local nobility that he commissioned to show off to the world his right to rule, and a recreation of a 15th century tapestry, The Hunt of the Unicorn.

Both projects, which used 15th century techniques, colour palettes and materials, are quite something to see.

The views from the castle are spectacular and it is easy to understand why our ancestors picked Castle Hill for a fortification.

We stayed at The Allan Park, a B&B that is also serves as a pub and restaurant. Blimey, the breakfasts… the Eggs Florentine (poached eggs on a muffin with spinach, mushrooms and Hollandaise sauce) reminded me yet again why the egg is the most magnificent food stuff known to humankind, while the vegetarian fry-up included veggie haggis too, a very nice touch.

We ate out on the Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, returning to The Allan Park on Sunday evening for another delicious meal, and where the waitress asked me if I was a Mum, winking when I said no, and suggesting I change my answer because they were offering free glasses of Prosecco to all mothers in honour of Mother’s Day in the UK.

(Do fur babies qualify?)

When it came to finding people to land on, the travel bug gave me a wide swerve. Mini-breaks in the UK are far and away my favourite type of holiday. Castles and museums, pubs and restaurants, not too far to travel and with a much lower carbon footprint than flying…

Our next holiday is the Peak District in the summer, and I can’t wait.


The Accidental Abstainer

Have you ever given up something by accident?

I ask because when we set a date for getting married, fired up with joys of planning and list-writing, I included a note of everything I was going to give up to save money for the aforementioned nuptials.

They included (it was pretty ambitious, given my penchant for the frivolous): diet coke, women’s magazines, beauty treatments in salons, taxi journeys, new make-up or skincare before existing stuff ran out, clothes, shoes etc.

Needless to say, several weeks after the list was drawn up diet coke, new make-up, beauty treatments et al were still making their way into my shopping basket. The incentive just didn’t seem to be there.

However, about a month ago I discovered a new author I really like; a woman who has written a series of epic stories scanning continents and including fabulous characters, themes and wit. For a month or so I haven’t looked at women’s magazines and, when this registered consciously, it became a point of pride not to buy them any more. (The odd free edition of Stylist or buying Good Food magazine does not count).

So, thanks Diana Gabaldon – you may have inadvertently contributed to my wedding funds!

As I am a marketeer’s dream, being without women’s magazines has also affected my make-up and skincare buying habits. Without the constant bombardment of new product advertising and promotions through beauty pages, I’m no longer tempted by the latest snake oil trick promising all kinds of wrinkle reduction, complexion brightening and skin plumping.

In addition, reading novels tends not to leave you feeling as inadequate as magazines do (‘why oh why don’t I have that great job, those gorgeous clothes, that particular new form of exercise guaranteed to tone me up in half an hour’). And, er, why do I care so much for these things?!

Now, I just need to stumble on a few more accidental giving up tricks and watch those money-wasting habits disappear…

Bramble vodka and crumble – could we get more mellow fruitfulness…?

Favours update: this week we went brambling (see the pictures above). For those of you outside Scotland, this means gathering up free fruit courtesy of your nearby hedgerows, and specifically refers to blackberries. We’ve collected roughly 1.8kg in total, which have been mixed with 700g sugar and four bottles (4x75cl) of vodka – cheap and cheerful, no point wasting Grey Goose on this. I’ve sealed it up in Kilner jars and it’s now a waiting game; the end result (hopefully) a pretty potent fruit liquer to be divided up among small bottles and labelled for the wedding.