The Holy Grail of Scotland- Duone Castle

I’m happy to admit that Scotland is probably my favorite country I’ve ever visited. I’ve loved every trip there and almost as soon as I leave I start looking forward to the next opportunity that will bring me back to it’s rolling green Highlands and magical landscape. And most definitely my favorite site I’ve been to in Scotland is Duone Castle.

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Gates of Duone Castle, 2014. c. Leah Putz

You see, I love Monty Python. I mean, I really love Monty Python. The first time I saw ‘The Holy Grail’ my mind was blown, and I was certain I had just discovered the funniest movie in all of human existence. I’m still of this opinion. There is nothing to me that makes me laugh so hard, even after seeing it a hundred times. Just quoting it (and believe me, it’s incredibly quotable) can have my friends and I in stitches. It is without a doubt my favorite comedy, and has been since I was probably about 8 years old.

Knowing this, it’s not a surprise that Duone Castle had me fangirling and squealing with excitement like nowhere ever had before, because Monty Python filmed a majority of the footage of ‘The Holy Grail’ in or around Duone Castle. The comedy group had little to no budget for the film, which featured several different castles in the script. They could only afford to rent out one castle, and thus filmed every castle scene in Doune Castle, simply dressing up different rooms to make it look like a whole different location in the movie. Nearly every room is recognizable for a ‘Holy Grail’ fan, and the Castle gift shop is full of Monty Python memorabilia (including a large bottle of beer cleverly called ‘The Holy Ail’).

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Standing in the kitchen where Monty Python filmed many of the ‘Castle Anthrax’ scenes, 2014. c. Leah Putz

Since I visited back in 2014, the castle has become even more popular with tourists, attracting not only Monty Python fans, but fans of Game of Thrones (some Winterfell scenes were filmed there) and the Starz series Outlander, in which the castle portrays the MacKenzie home of Castle Leoch.

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Duone Castle courtyard, 2014. c. Leah Putz

Television and movies aren’t the only reason to visit Duone Castle, though. In remarkable condition for a building that over 800 years old (thanks to Historic Scotland), the castle gives visitors a glimpse into medieval life, and was formerly a hunting lodge for Scottish monarchs. One of the most striking aspects of the castle is the fully restored Lord’s Hall, which now appears just as it would have when the castle was inhabited nearly a millennium ago.

View of the serving room from a high staircase and Castle toilet, 2014. c. Leah Putz

So whether you’re a fan of Monty Python, Outlander, Game of Thrones, or Scottish history, you must put Duone Castle on your bucket list.

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Top of Duone Castle and the Scottish countryside, 2014. c. Leah Putz

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Edinburgh- a Haunted City

If you’re intrigued by the paranormal and love traveling to places with a dark and ghostly history, look no further than Edinburgh, Scotland! The Scottish capital has a reputation for being one of the most haunted cities in the world. The city’s history is full of violence and tragedy, from wars, to an infestation of the black plague, and many more, so it’s not surprising that Edinburgh is rumored to have paranormal energies.

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Greyfriars Kirkyard, 2014. c. Leah Putz

Greyfriars Kirkyard has been proclaimed the most haunted cemetery in the world. Established in the 1560s, the cemetery is home to thousands of graves, and countless restless spirits. The entrance to the graveyard is marked the by headstone of Greyfriars Bobby, a dog who slept on his master’s grave in the cemetery for 14 years in the 1800s, until his own death. The cemetery itself is made up of vaults, tombs, and mausoleums. Many of the graves have mortsafes (iron cages) to deter grave robbers, who had become a serious issue in the early 1800s. The cemetery has many notable residents, but the most notorious is Sir George MacKenzie, who has become the MacKenzie Poltergeist. For those who dare to enter the cemetery and the MacKenzie mausoleum after dark, beware, for many have reported leaving with scrapes, bruises, and sometimes worse, all at the hands of the MacKenzie poltergeist.

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Greyfriars Kirkyard, 2014. c. Leah Putz

But not just the cemeteries in Edinburgh are ghostly- beneath the buildings in the Old Town sits Mary King’s Close, which has had a reputation for being haunted since as early as the 17th century. According the legend, the hauntings began with plague victims being quarantined and left to die in the Close. The Close is now a tourist attraction, presenting an accurate representation of Edinburgh as it was from the 1500s-1700s.

The Edinburgh Vaults have generated such buzz that  they’ve been visited by the show Ghost Adventures! The Vaults were built under the South Bridge arches in 1788, and functioned for a period as taverns and storage spaces, and became Edinburgh’s slums. Today, most of the vaults are closed. The few that are left open are used for ghost tours, concerts, and private events. I toured the Vaults with a Ghost Tour, and though I didn’t myself have any paranormal experiences, many visitors have reported strange sounds, cold patches, and there are countless eerie photos from the area.

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Orbs in the Edinburgh Vaults, 2014. c. Leah Putz

TIME magazine has ranked Edinburgh Castle #3 on their list of Top 10 Most Haunted Places. In 2001 when a large scale paranormal investigation of the castle took place, over half of the participants reported experiencing some sort of paranormal phenomena. The castle, having been built in the 12th century, has seen its fair share of war, executions, and death. Today, it is Edinburgh’s most visited tourist attraction, and many of those visitors report paranormal experiences, including seeing apparitions. Greyfriars Bobby is a regular sighting, as well as a headless drummer boy, and a piper.

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Edinburgh Castle and Princes’ Street Gardens, 2014. c. Leah Putz
So if you’re feeling courageous, head to Scotland, and brave the haunted streets of Edinburgh. Who knows, you might meet someone from another century!

A Historic Gem: Stirling

Stirling, Scotland, otherwise known as ‘The Gateway of the Highlands,’ has a history stretching all the way back to the Stone Age. It’s position at the border between the Lowlands and the Highlands of Scotland made it an desirable point of conquest, attracting both the Vikings and the English over the course of history. The most well-known battles taking place during the Wars of Scottish Independence at Stirling Bridge in 1297. The film Braveheart may come to mind, and rightfully so, as in Stirling nearby in the village of Bannockburn William Wallace and Robert the Bruce attacked the English.

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River Forth, Where Many Battles of the Wars of Scottish Independence were Fought, 2014. c. Leah Putz

One of the most wonderful things about Stirling, to me, is that this rich history hasn’t been forgotten over the course of so many hundreds of years. I came to Stirling intending to just pass through and head further north immediately, but when I got a sense of where I was, I decided to stick around and explore for a bit before continuing on. From my experience the citizens are eager to share what Stirling has to offer with tourists. On the way into Stirling from the nearby village of Duone, my cab driver pointed to the river near Stirling bridge and said “There’s the spot where William Wallace ambushed the English army.” He also pointed out the Wallace Monument, which holds William’s sword, and mentioned that there’s a statue that bears “striking resemblance to Mel Gibson” of Wallace near the monument.

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Wallace Monument and the Highlands, 2014. c. Leah Putz

Speaking of the Wallace Monument, a hike up to the top of Stirling hill, where the Stirling Castle is perched, lends a breathtaking view of both the Monument and the surrounding jagged hills that are so characteristic of Scotland. Stirling Castle itself is also a thing of majesty, being one of the largest and most historically significant castles in all of Scotland, and is considered a Scheduled Ancient Monument by the U.K. Among the events that have occurred at the castle are the crowning of Mary Queen of Scots in 1542, and a failed attempt to take the castle from the English by Bonnie Prince Charlie toward the end of the doomed Jacobite Rising in Scotland in 1745.

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Stirling Castle and cemetery, 2014. c. Leah Putz

I found my time strolling aimlessly through Stirling incredibly enriching and well spent. Just down from the castle the heart of the Old Town (called locally Top of the Town) survives, giving Stirling a distinct and medieval look. I also stopped by the Church of the Holy Rude, which has stood near Stirling cemetery since 1129. I tried to take everything in, admiring how much history was beneath my feet, and still standing.

‘Over the Sea to Skye’

The Isle of Skye isn’t exactly easy to get to. The best way, in my opinion, is by car. If you’re reliant on public transport, you have to get a bus or coach from Inverness or Fort William. There is also the option of a ferry. It’s a long journey to Scotland’s largest and most northern of the Inner Hebrides (or Inner Isles), but it’s definitely worth making the trek, no matter how you choose to get there.

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Scottish Highlands, 2016. c. Leah Putz

If you’re traveling by car or bus, you’ll most likely cross over the Skye bridge connecting the island to Eileen Ban. The bridge, thin and high over the sea, provides incredible views of the Highlands as you roll into the village of Kyleakin on Skye.

After arriving in Skye, my friend and I decided to hop into the car and drive with no particular destination, but just pulling over whenever we saw something interesting. Even just driving around aimlessly in Skye is breathtaking. The narrow, winding roads prevent you from going too fast, so it’s easy to admire the Highland views of the island. Our first stop was Kilt Rock.

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Mealt Falls and Kilt Rock, 2016. c. Joe Forberg

Kilt Rock is a rock formation on a cliff edge that is said to resemble a pleated kilt (hence the name). The long section of coastal cliffs offer impeccable views, especially with the added nearby Mealt Falls tumbling from the cliff edge into the sea. The view from this vantage point presents one of the most breathtaking instances of natural beauty that I’ve seen as of yet in the world. Photos can’t do it justice, you’ll just have to journey to Skye to see what I mean!

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Coast of Skye, 2016. c. Joe Forberg

Our next stop was the famed Old Man of Storr. This site is easy to miss if you aren’t paying attention. It’s not visible from the road, there is just a sign signalling that it’s nearby and that if you stop and park, you can begin the hike to find it. It’s a vigorous hike- though there is a clear path it’s super steep at times and covers a distance of almost 4k. Without the proper shoes it could be very difficult. It’s well worth the extra effort, though. The unique rock formation comprised of stony pinnacles is one of the most sought after destinations on the Isle of Skye, and understandably so. The congregation of stones and their thin, tall towers seem almost other-worldly- like something from Middle-Earth or some other fantasy land.

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Old Man of Storr, 2016. c. Joe Forberg

Last but certainly not least, we swung by the Fairy Pools in Glen Brittle. Regrettably we don’t have any pictures of this last stop, but it’s was pouring buckets (in typical Scottish fashion) and we didn’t want to get our cameras/phones wet. The fairy pools are a collection of small waterfalls in the Glen that empty into a clear pool. On a nicer day, it’s popular with swimmers who dare to brave the freezing water.

We only had a day to explore, so didn’t get the chance to see more of the numerous sites. Some of the things that we missed that will make certain to check out next time are the Quiraing, Neist Point Lighthouse, and Boreraig, among others. Full of natural wonders and breathtaking beauty, the Isle of Skye is not to be missed.