Mac B R A V E H E A R T
Highlights of Johanna and Leslie's Braveheart Trip to Scotland
( Last updated 21st April, 1997 )
|I want to begin by saying that the movie Braveheart brought the country of
Scotland to life for me. Braveheart was an unforgettable event. The story of the
Scots hero William Wallace ripped your emotions with its heartrending tale of
one man's courage and determination to fight and fight and never give up to
bring freedom to his country. The acting in this movie was so first rate that even
the smallest part was played to perfection. The dialogue was sharp and witty
and lingered in the mind and on the tongue long after the story ended. As did
the music. The musical score was as uplifting and inspiring as the story. Indeed
in several scenes there was no dialogue at all, only the music and it was
enough. Finally, the scenery with gorgeous colors and rich textures was a
delight to the eye. So much to see and hear and think about. This is a movie
that you must see many times to fully capture all the sights and appreciate all
the scenes. And after you see Braveheart, you feel that you simply must see
My friend Leslie, who had been to Scotland before and shared an interest in Braveheart, and I decided to go in May 1996.
On the Internet I found a wealth of information on Scotland and was able to put together a Braveheart itinerary. On the
Internet I also found the Andersons, John and Linda, who have one of the best Braveheart pages on the net - the
MacBraveheart page. When they heard that we were going to be in Scotland at the same time the movie was scheduled to be
showing on the Glasgow Green, they kindly extended us an invitation to join them.
We began in GLASGOW - the dear city of a wise Bishop who befriended a brave Warrior. This city reminded me of my hometown of Boston with its many historic sites and schools and art galleries. Best of all we found the Glasgow Cathedral. The first stone for this ancient building was dedicated in 1136. In the lower church is the tomb of St. Mungo (which means "dear one") who died in 603. Here also is the tomb of Robert Wishart, Bishop of Glasgow, who was a friend of Wallace and who contributed to the cause of Scottish freedom by providing financial help and moral support to Wallace and his men. In 1306 this Bishop officiated at the coronation of the Bruce. Many years later during the Reformation when people were desecrating monuments his tomb was partially defaced and would have been destroyed like others except that someone remembered that this Bishop had been a friend to Wallace and so deserved his laurels and his resting place.
From Glasgow we went on to PAISLEY where a Princess died and then took a short side trip to ELDERSLIE where a Knight was born. Paisley Abbey was founded in 1163. There is a beautiful stained glass window honoring Sir William Wallace, great Knight of Scotland, located at the west end of the Abbey. Here young Wallace probably received his education from the monks. Here also in 1316 Princess Marjory, daughter of Robert the Bruce and wife of Walter the High Steward, was thrown from her horse and rushed to the Abbey infirmary where she died giving birth by caesarean section to her baby son. The boy would grew up to be King Robert II. You can see Marjory's tomb in the Abbey as well as the resting place of King Robert the III and all the working High Stewards of Scotland except Robert II. He was born here but when he died he was buried at Scone. Robert the II was the first of the Steward line of Kings.
Both Glasgow Cathedral and Paisley Abbey, while part of the rich fabric of Scotland's past, are also places where people congregate to worship God today. These are living stones and as such are still writing the history of their country.
After Paisley we took a bus for a short ride to Elderslie which is in Paisley Parish and is located just of few miles west of the town. There we found a fine monument to Wallace at what is thought to be the site of his birth. Wallace's father was a land owner in Elderslie. The life of the great Knight is etched in stone around the monument and it tells of his historic struggle to free his countrymen. His life began in obscurity in a small Scottish town and ended in high tragedy in the far away city of London. His struggle still goes on.
Next, it was on to EDINBURGH and the Guardians of Scotland. Edinburgh Castle was the first castle I have ever seen. A walled royal city within a city. So old, so powerful looking that you think it has stood for a thousand years, at least, and could easily stand for a thousand more. As you approach this fortress you see two statues standing guard on either side of entrance way. Robert the Bruce and William Wallace. In their day both men were guardians of Scotland and so today stand their guard forever. Silent witnesses of what was and what will be.
Walking through this castle is like stepping through a time warp. Several of them actually, as different parts of the castle were built at different times. The oldest structure is St. Margaret's Chapel which was built by King David who lived in the 12th century. In this Chapel is a beautiful stained glass window dedicated to the national hero William Wallace.
Edinburgh Castle fell into English hands when Edward I (Longshanks) invaded Scotland in 1296. In 1314 shortly before the battle of Bannockburn, patriots of Scotland took the castle back for the English. Unfortunately after the Bruce's death, it fell back to English until 1341 when it was taken back by the Scots. The Honours of Scotland - the Crown, Sword, and Sceptre are here in Edinburgh Castle. After the Treaty of 1707 they were locked away and the people could not see them but with the help of Sir Walter Scott they were found and once again put on display.
(There was only one sour note in our tour of the Castle grounds and that came from the tour guide who felt called to insult Mel Gibson every time he pointed out anything in the Castle having to do with Wallace - i.e. Mel was too short for the role, didn't sound Scottish enough, didn't wear the right clothes, and what a "shame" that from now on people will think of this short American when they think of William Wallace. I was actually glad to leave.)
We walked away from the Castle and down the Royal Mile passing many shops and famous places such as St. Giles' Cathedral, the home of John Knox and the Deacon's Tavern. The Deacon, Mr. Brodie, was thought to be the inspiration for Dr. Jeykle and Mr. Hyde! There is so much to see just in Edinburgh that a month's vacation could be spent in that one city. But we were on the Braveheart Tour and so it was on to Stirling Castle and the Wallace Monument and to Bannockburn battlefield.
STIRLING - the Key to a Kingdom. We took the tour bus that winds it way through the royal burgh of Stirling as it climbs toward the great castle which looked so peaceful and serene it was a bit difficult to imagine what battles were fought to secure those fabled walls. One of the stops on the way to the top is the University of Stirling where the European premier of Braveheart was held.
Stirling Castle is at the highest navigable point of the Forth and on the main travel routes both north-south and east-west. This Castle, which pins the Scottish Highlands to the Scottish Lowlands, first appears in recorded history in the 12th century. In 1291 Edward I claimed this castle as his because like Edinburgh it was a royal fortress. In 1297 William Wallace and his men met the English army and decisively defeated them at the Battle of Stirling Bridge which today is made of stone; in Wallace's day it was probably made of wood. Also close by is Bannockburn where the Bruce defeated the old enemy in the summer of 1314. Unfortunately, the castle fell back into English hands until 1342 when Robert II (Marjory's son) took it back from the English. As the Castle was restored it became the favorite royal residence of the Stuart dynasty. Within the walls we saw many fine old buildings including the Royal Chapel which was renovated by James the VI in 1594, the Palace with it apartments for the King and the Queen, and the Great Hall which was the principal meeting place in medieval times. We also visited the impressive Regimental Museum of the Highlanders. These courageous soldiers fought in many wars including America's War for Independence where I am sad to say, they sided with English against the Americans who in 1776 were fighting for freedom. The Highlanders lost.
|The Castle is surrounded by beautiful gardens and from its walls you can see in the distance the towering Wallace Monument. This tower to the great warrior is 220 ft high and it takes 246 steps to climb to the top and both Leslie and I made it to the top! Here is where we could get close to the spirit of the man that brought us to Scotland. Here you can study the tactics that Wallace used to win battles. Here you see the sword of William Wallace. In the Battle Tent there is a dramatized reconstruction where Wallace tells you himself what the times were like and what hopes and dreams he had for his country and for himself. It was very moving and very sad. He died so terribly and so far away from his beloved land. Judicial murder that left our hero with no grave to mark the spot where he should have slept in peace till Judgement Day. Instead his body was torn to pieces and scattered. So, the people did the next best thing and built this tower to tell his story and hold his memories and his sword. Here too there is Hall of Heroes where sculptured in marble are other great Scots like the Bruce and Robert Burns who keep company with the great Knight. At the very top is an observation deck where you can see the beauty of the land that Braveheart fought so desperately for that its people might be free.|
After paying our respects to Wallace we did the same to the Bruce. Bannockburn was the last battle in the movie Braveheart
but it was really only the continuation of a sustained war of Independence that began at Stirling. The Bruce picked up the
banner that Wallace could no longer carry. At Bannockburn all is peace and serenity now. There is a circle of stone wherein
flies the flag of St. Andrew; outside the enclosure there is lone statue of a armored soldier on his horse ready for battle. The
inscription reads, Robert the Bruce King of Scots 1306-1329. It is quite majestic in its simplicity. Inside the nearby
Bannockburn Heritage Center there is a life-size statue of William Wallace and one of Bruce being crowned King of the
Scots. There is also a audio-visual presentation of the famous battle where, " in the year of our Lord 1314 Scottish patriots
starving and outnumbered charged the fields of Bannockburn. They found like warrior poets, they found like Scotsmen, and
won their freedom. "
After this it was back to Glasgow for a viewing of Braveheart on the Glasgow Green. Leslie and I went with John and Linda Anderson. On the Green we were honored to meet members of the Wallace Clan including Seoras Wallace. The Wallace Clan were in the movie Braveheart and Mel Gibson thanked them when he received his oscar for Best Director. The Clan were dressed as they were in the movie and many put the blue paint on as well. Afterwards they paraded around the grounds on their horses which was especially fine for Leslie who rides herself. Having the wonderful opportunity to see Braveheart in Scotland was for me the special highlight of the tour. And even though we did not get to see it at that outdoor theater due to mechanical failure we did get to see the movie in Scotland because the Anderson's have a VCR and a video copy of the movie - so back we went to Edinburgh and saw the movie there. It was the first time I saw the "large" film on the "small screen" and was delighted that it translated so well. But of course that great movie of this simple farmer, good friend, loving husband, loyal knight, passionate warrior and courageous martyr would fit any screen.
Well, after kindly giving us room and board for the night, John Anderson drove us to our next stop on the Braveheart tour - DUNFERMLINE ABBEY where you can see carved instone at the top of Abbey the words, "King Robert" . Inside the Bruce's body is buried under a gorgeous red stone marker. In addition to the Bruce this Abbey is the resting place of other royalty such as Alexander I, David I, Malcom IV and St. Margaret. Here lies the body of the Bruce; but is heart is buried in another Abbey so our next stop was MELROSE ABBEY where he left his heart.
After Glasgow and Edinburgh, Melrose was a bit of a change. Melrose is in the heart of the Scottish border country. So, when Scotland was fighting against England, which seems to have been quite often, towns like Melrose felt the furry of war first. Today, it is the kind of town you would put on a postcard with its Abbey in the background. Construction on the Abbey of Melrose was begun in the 12th century, and it served as a church for over four centuries and as a place of worship until 1810. What is left today is mostly ruins but magnificent all the same. When you walk through the ruins you can see remains spanning the entire period. The largest section is the Abbey church. Construction began in the late 14th century in finished in the 16th century. In one section of wall we found what we were seeking. The inscription on the walls says only, "An embalmed heart within a leaden casket supposed by many to be the heart of King Robert Bruce is interred nearby." It was enough. The Bruce had asked that after his death his heart be taken to the Holy Lands and buried there, but it never made it. So, it came back to Scotland and rests here a place that Robert the Bruce loved.
From Melrose Abbey we spent half a day at nearby Floors Castle on the River Tweed. This was not on the Braveheart Tour, but there was a horse show going on and Leslie who loves to ride wanted to see the show. It was fun watching them take their jumps and talking to the riders. We also saw and heard our first bagpipes. Until now I was afraid I would leave Scotland without seeing Scots men in kilts playing bagpipes. I love the sound of bagpipes!
Floors Castle is the home of the 10th Duke of Roxburghe, Howard Morgan, and is open to the public for part of the year. We took the tour. There are rooms for Sitting and Dining and Drawing and Dancing. This is a room just for needle work and one to accommodate a large collection of stuffed birds - the Bird Room. Then there is something called the Ante Room where you can see panels of 16th century gothic tapestry depicting religious themes. In the Sitting Room there is a portrait of the current Duke and he is wearing "trews" (pants) in the Ker tartan. In the Robe Room you find the Castle's collection of costumes and other articles associated with dukes and duchesses. Every room is filled with beautiful furniture, lovely paintings including two from Matisse in the Needle Room. In the Ballroom is an attractive display of Chinese porcelain from the period 1662-1722 and two Louis XIV writing tables and two Queen Anne tables with black lacquer tops one inlaid with mother-of-pearl. Absolutely lovely. There are giltwood chairs and oriental rugs and cabinets stocked with china and crystal and glass. The accumulated treasure of one family on display for all to see, and admire, and perhaps to wonder at how much it all cost.
We exited the Castle through the basement where there is a collection of guns and fishing equipment and 19th century vehicles and took a quick walk along the walled gardens. It had started to rain and so we had to take shelter in the Castle store where I bought a book on the history of the Castle. Floors Castle was built between 1718 and 1740. The 1st Duke started life as an Earl who had been Secretary of State for Scotland and who used his influence and his position to push for passage of the Act of Union in 1707 which united the parliaments of Scotland and England and made one parliament located in London. For this he was richly rewarded with a dukedom and naturally he thought he needed a grand house to celebrate his new rank. What a deal the English got. One Castle in exhange for one country.
We left Floors for the last leg of our journey going to LANARK in the Clyde Valley - Braveheart country. Here William Wallace lived as a grown man, here he courted his wife and married and here he began his fight for freedom. Here was a man that loved life, loved his wife, his family, his kinsmen and his land. On the bus to Lanark we passed by Loudon Hill where Wallace's father was murdered by the English fueling his hatred of the enemy. Right outside the town we visited the ruins of St. Kentigerns Church where William was said to have secretly married Marion Braidfoot. In 1297 she was murdered by the Sheriff of Lanark, a man named William de Hazelrig, perhaps in retaliation for helping Wallace. To revenge this brutal murder, Wallace and some of his men stormed the town and killed the Sheriff and so Wallace officially became a rebel and a freedom fighter. In the town there is a cairn that marks the site of what was thought to be Marion's house. It is now called the Wallace House and the inscription says, "Here stood the House of William Wallace who in 1297 first drew sword to free his native land." Right across the street there is a large statue to Wallace in the niche of the present parish church St. Nichols.
Lanark was controlled by the English until 1310 when Robert the Bruce captured the town and drove the English out. Since that time the town of Lanark has remained in Scottish hands. As we left Lanark for Glasgow and our plane home to America, I read these moving words about Wallace from a pamphlet by the Clyde Valley Tourist Board.
"As you follow the Wallace Trail try to allow your heart and mind to travel through time and try to identify yourself with the man. The Wallace travelling on foot covered the same miles and distance in bygone times. The agony of his wife's miscarriage, her death with all the attendant agonies it provided. The mark of the man was despite all this he still could carry his grief and fight for Scotland's freedom. So spare of thought for the man as well as for the legend. A gentle giant who loved his wife and family but was thrust on history's page, and at the cost of his life displayed the same loyalty and love for his country that he gave his family. So, if you stop on some quiet spot on the trail, and in the breeze or the cry of a bird there seems to be his battle cry of, 'A Wallace, a Wallace', then you know you have found the man."