23 December 2009

Back in the (other) Burgh

Nana and I arrived safely in Pittsburgh yesterday afternoon. We'll be back in Edinburgh on the 31st--that is, if we're not stranded in Paris! Until then, have a very Merry Christmas.

20 December 2009

Stirling: the Church of the Holy Rude, Argyll's Lodging, Mar's Wark, and more!

Earlier this week, Nana and I took a day trip to nearby Stirling, home of Stirling Castle (previous post). Stirling is more than just a castle, though, and the city's ample historical markers make the whole Old Town like an outdoor museum. In this post, we'll take a look at some of the Old Town's other sites.

Mar's Wark and the Erskine Church

Our first stop was Mar's Wark, a ruined 16th-century townhome built by one of the Earls of Mar, who were of the Erskine clan, making them Nana's distant distant relatives. The resemblance is uncanny.

The Earls of Mar were the keepers (stewards, basically) of Stirling Castle; this particular earl had also been the Regent of Scotland while James VI was growing up. He was a powerful dude.

The house itself would have been magnificent in its heyday. It had enormous windows with splendid views, ornate stone carvings (check out the mermaids below), and a prime location right between the Church of the Holy Rude and the castle.


Mar's Wark fell into disrepair after one of the later earls forfeited the home by supporting the Jacobites in 1715. The home was used as a barracks during the 1745 Jacobite Rising and suffered considerable damage during that conflict.

But 1715 wasn't the end of the Erskines in Stirling: in 1733, one Ebenezer Erskine, a radical Presbyterian, broke away from the Church of Scotland and established his own church just down the street from the Church of the Holy Rude. The original Erskine Church was replaced by a newer structure of the same name in 1825. Now, the building is a youth hostel.

Church of the Holy Rude

The Church of the Holy Rude has been Stirling's parish church for nearly 900 years. The name features the Scots version of the English "rood," referring to the cross. James VI was crowned here in 1567, making the Church of the Holy Rude one of only two still-operating churches in Britain that have been host to a coronation.

The Church is also the site of an impressive kirkyard, dating mostly from the 19th century. In the left background of the shot above, you can see the back of Mar's Wark.

Argyll's Lodging
Argyll's Lodging, literally a stone's throw away from Mar's Wark, is a well-preserved and partially restored 17th-century townhouse. The current building is the result of the 9th Earl of Argyll's expansion of an existing L-shaped tower house in the 1670s.

That tower house had belonged to William Alexander, 1st Earl of Stirling, the man behind Scotland's first (failed) colonies in Nova Scotia, and also the progenitor of Nova Scotia's name, flag, and coat of arms. You can see a version of that coat of arms over the door below: the design features a Native American on the left and a mermaid on the right. This motif appears again a few other times throughout the house.


Argyll's renovations demonstrate the man's devotion to French design. For example, his house featured what it generally believed to be the first wooden staircase in Scotland. Argyll also made extensive use of the newfangled drop-leaf tables you see in the picture below.

Now, these days drop-leaf tables usually say "I live in a tiny apartment and I shop at Ikea." In Argyll's day, they said "The heck with this, let's dance!" You see, judicious application of drop-leaf technology could turn your average dining room into a dance hall in seconds flat.

Today, Argyll's Lodging is managed by Historic Scotland as part of the Stirling Castle property. One ticket lets you visit both sites.

Old Town Jail

If there's anything Victorians love more than anachronistic Gothic-style architecture, it's repressing people for their own good. So it's not surprising that the leaders of Victorian Stirling poured time and money into a new-model jail/insane asylum/poorhouse shaped vaguely like a medieval castle.

These days, the Old Town Jail is a kid-centered tourist attraction featuring dozens of historical re-enactors. It was closed for renovations during our visit, but the jail's grounds allow for a pleasant stroll.

Of course, even though we were only at the jail for ten minutes, Nana couldn't help running afoul of the law.