Walk in the footsteps of Mary Queen of Scots - history travel trail
In our latest guest blog, to mark the release of the film Mary Queen of Scots, Anne Daly of Mary's Meanders takes us on a tour of sites associated with the life of the Stewart queen.
1. Edinburgh Castle
Starting within the city itself, enjoy a day exploring the Royal Mile and walking in the footsteps of Mary. The mighty stronghold of Edinburgh Castle dominates the top of the hill and you can join one of the regular guided tours or enjoy at your own pace with an audio guide.
It is quite a climb up to Crown Square, where the Royal apartments are situated, but assistance is available for those with limited mobility. Here you can tour round the Royal Apartments and see the room where Mary gave birth to her son James VI, who would also become James I of England, on the death of Queen Elizabeth. You can view the Honours of Scotland (Crown Jewels) first used at Mary’s coronation.
2. Palace of Holyroodhouse
At the foot of The Royal Mile is The Palace of Holyrood House, still the official residence of the monarch in Scotland. The oldest part of The Palace contains the chambers of Mary Queen of Scots. You access the rooms via a narrow winding staircase, but a virtual tour is available for those who cannot manage the climb.
You will visit the bedchamber, the supper room, where her secretary Rizzio was murdered (see if you can spot the bloodstains), and the Outer Chamber where some artefacts are on display. It is so emotive to stand in these very rooms, which played such a prominent part in our history.
3. Linlithgow Palace
Just 20 minutes by train from Edinburgh, the Royal and Ancient Burgh of Linlithgow has played a key role in many tales of the Stewart Kings and Queens through the centuries. On 8 December 1542, Marie de Guise gave birth to a daughter, Mary. Her father James V was not present. He lay ill in Falkland Palace, where he died just 6 days later, leaving the infant Mary as Queen of Scots.
Linlithgow Palace is still a magnificent shell of a building today, but just imagine the splendour it would have radiated back in the 16th century. Situated on the hillside by Linlithgow Loch, it was built to impress. Start in the fine courtyard, with the beautiful James V fountain, which has been extensively restored and occasionally flows with water.
Progress up to The Great Hall with its resplendent fireplace, which has been replicated for the film, and picture yourself at The Court of The Royal House of Stewart. Continue through to The Royal apartments of James IV and Margaret Tudor – the marriage of the (Scottish) Thistle and the (Tudor) Rose, which ultimately led to the union of the crowns of Scotland and England. Finally enter the Royal bedchamber – the very suite where Mary’s birth took place. If you wish you can then climb the tower to Queen Margaret’s Bower and enjoy the views over Linlithgow Peel.
As you enter or leave the Palace take time to enjoy the beautiful bronze statue of Mary, erected by The Marie Stuart Society. And don’t forget to allow time to visit the stunning St Michael’s Church, where Mary was baptised. It also features as the wedding church in the recent Outlaw King film.
4. Blackness Castle
From Linlithgow, it is only a 10min. drive to Blackness Castle. Built to protect the port for the Royal Burgh of Linlithgow, it is known as the ship that never sailed, due to its unusual shape.
Mary herself is not known to have visited Blackness, but it plays a prominent role in the filming of the movie. It is becoming something of a film star itself, featuring in Outlander and Outlaw King as well as Mary Queen of Scots.
5. Stirling Castle
Mary’s story moves on to Stirling Castle, where she was crowned at just nine months old. Stirling, in contrast to Linlithgow, has been fully restored and you will see the rooms decorated as they would have been in the time of King James V and Marie de Guise. Marvel at the “Stirling Heads” decorated ceiling and the beautiful tapestries lining the walls.
Costumed interpreters will help guide you through life in the court. When Mary was five years old, her mother no longer considered Scotland to be safe for her daughter, and she was sent to France where she grows up at the French Court and married the Dauphin, Francois.
Our Scottish story continues when Mary returned to Scotland age 18, following the death of her young husband Francois, the King of France. She arrived at Leith to a very different country to that which she left.
The reformation had taken place, and John Knox was at the height of his power. This tumultuous six-year period has enthralled countless writers and film makers over the years and is more dramatic than many works of fiction. We look forward to seeing events unfold on screen.
6. Loch Leven Castle
Mary's time of freedom was to end after the battle of Carberry Hill when she gave herself up to the Scottish lords and was taken into captivity at Loch Leven Castle. Situated on an island on the loch of the same name, you can take a short boat ride to experience the emotion of the place where Mary was forced to abdicate in favour of her son James.
She did escape with the aid of the young Douglas men, and went on to a final battle at Langside before fleeing to England and captivity for the rest of her life.
7. Falkland Palace
Finish your tour on a happier note with a visit to Falkland Palace in Fife, where the Stewart kings and queens liked to relax and have some fun. As well as the traditional hunting and archery, they would play golf at nearby St Andrews and tennis on the enclosed court in the grounds. The tennis court is the oldest in the UK, still in use today.
Falkland Palace has been partly restored and you will see rooms modelled as they would have been in the 16th century. The Royal Chapel is beautiful and is a working Catholic chapel today.
Loch Leven and Falkland are best reached with a rental car or by joining a tour.
Enjoy your visit and before I sign off, here’s the answer to the most asked question on our tours: “Is it Stewart or Stuart?” Both are correct. Stewart is the original spelling (from the High Steward of Scotland), but the French version Stuart became more popular from the time of Mary, Queen of Scots.
Mary’s Meanders Tour company is named after Mary Queen of Scots and we are based in her birthplace, Linlithgow. We offer Mary Queen of Scots and History on Film tours taking in the locations mentioned. Find out more on our website.
Image copyrights from top: David Monniaux, Chabe01, Derek Harper, Dr John Wells, WKnight94, Euan Nelson, Tony Grist