Stirling Castle came highly recommended by the locals we consulted, but it's essentially a tourist destination. Heavily restored, full of museum installations, gift shops and a cafe, it lacked the kind of desolation we were looking for. Just the same, the castle is an architectural marvel, perched atop a massive volcanic crag high above the town. It was used by the ruling class throughout most of its life. Later, it was converted into a military headquarters before finally being reclaimed for monumental and ongoing restoration in the twentieth century. But my wife and I elected to save our energy and keep the tour short Our camera batteries threatened to give out at any minute (victim of the vagaries of intercontinental power conversion), as did the weather. So we kind of dashed through it. Anyway, the Undiscovered Scotland site offers a detailed interactive map for those wishing more information.
From Stirling, we drove up the east coast to the outskirts of Stonehaven. By the time we got to Dunottar Castle, it was raining steadily and my battery light was blinking. I struggled to get off as many shots as I could, but my camera died long before I was satisfied. This ruin was one of the most awesome of our trip. Extremely defensible due to its isolation at shore's edge, Dunottar is the site of both bloody battles and atrocities. Its earliest evidence of fortification is believed to date back to as early as the late 600s, when it served as a defense against Viking attacks. Centuries later, it was the last stand of followers of Charles II, who met defeat at the hands of Cromwellian forces. In the 1500s, the castles was used to imprison nearly two hundred enemies of the state, all but a small handful of whom perished in one of its small dungeons overlooking the sea.
We more or less blundered upon Linlithgow Palace by accident. We had some time to kill during our trip to Edinburgh, so we decided to cruise over. Who knew it would be a vast ruin so picturesque that it even lifted the spirits of my wife, who was starting to feel the negative effects of getting dragged all over the country just to stumble in the rain over mossy rocks covered with pigeon dung. But the clouds parted to reveal a delightful surprise. Though Linlithgow is the birthplace and home of Mary, Queen of Scots, it fell into serious disrepair after her abdication. It was later rebuilt, but government troops finally put the torch to it during pursuit of its final royal inhabitant, Bonnie Prince Charlie. Today, the palace is just a seven-story shell with no floors or windows. But what's left is magnificent and -- for septics at least -- still evokes a "storybook" charm.
Unfortunately, subservient as they are to my own personal artistic agenda, my snapshots offer little actual sense of what the buildings are actually like. I'm more stirred by the odd abstract shapes in the stone and the imposing claustrophobic power of close-ups and tight framing. Not to worry, every year these Scottish landmarks draw amateur photographers by the hundreds. And it seems most of them have Flickr accounts. In fact, it's easy find photos with the exact same (or better) compositions as mine. But for some real fun, I recommend a visit to old-picture.com to see what castle photography is really all about.