What a Trip: In Scotland, clambering around the medieval castle and abbey ruins


A view of Craigmillar Castle in Scotland. (Barbara Smith)
December 12, 2013

Our readers share tales of their rambles around the world.

Who: Barbara Smith and her son, Ben, of Alexandria

Where, when, why: Edinburgh, Scotland, Nov. 25 to Dec. 4, to see castle ruins and medieval cathedrals and abbeys.

Highlights and high points: The most exciting castle ruin for us was naturally the first one we spotted, Craigmillar, a brooding presence in the countryside near the Royal Infirmary. Due to a miscalculation, we found ourselves tramping up a lonely country lane about an hour before sunset. Glancing across the fields, we spotted the silent, deserted medieval ruins. We were so excited that we hastened up the path and circled around the castle, but we couldn’t find a way in. Eventually, a gentleman walking his (of course) Scottish terrier pointed out the somewhat obscure path leading to the gate. We had so much fun exploring the passageways and scrambling up the battlements.

Linlithgow Palace was another favorite. This royal Stuart residence has the remains of what must have been a most impressive fountain.

Tantallon Castle is about 25 miles from Edinburgh and rests silently on a cliff overlooking the Firth of Forth and the Bass Rock. The ghostly remains of the spiral staircases in the destroyed towers were evocative of the struggles of medieval times.

We were also able to visit Edinburgh Castle, Holyrood Palace and Abbey, Stirling Castle, and, in a day’s foray into England, Durham Castle and Cathedral, an 11th-century fortification and palace with strong Harry Potter vibes. Durham Castle has been in continuous use, currently by University College, Durham, which maintains it as a highly sought-after student residence. The castle and cathedral are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Cultural connection or disconnect: Because of our natural reservations about driving in another country, we decided not to rent a car and were therefore totally dependent on public transportation. It was a pleasant surprise to us, not that public transport functioned so well, but that, despite being typical car-driving Virginia suburbanites, we were able to successfully navigate the many carriage timetables inherent in traveling to sometimes remote locations.

Biggest laugh or cry: Okay, here I have to admit that I am easily entertained. The sight of a pigeon strolling through the Burger King inside Edinburgh Waverley train station was a source of great amusement. At one point, he gallantly paused in his walk to allow a patron to enter.

How unexpected: The current exhibit at the Queen’s Gallery is “High Spirits: The Comic Art of Thomas Rowlandson.” Browsing through the humorous collection of prints was a startling reminder that threaded through the politics and behavior of 18th-century London are the same human flaws that plague modern Washingtonians.

Fondest memento or memory: My fondest memory is contributing a Lego brick to the fundraiser at Durham Cathedral. When completed, the “Lego Cathedral” will be a 200,000-brick representation of the structure. My son and I laid a total of five bricks, which will form part of the wall under the Rose Window.

To tell us about your own trip, go to www.washingtonpost.com/travel and fill out the What a Trip form with your fondest memories, finest moments and favorite photos.

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