Travel Tuesday: On the Trail of the Holy Grail: Doune Castle

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You may or may not have heard of Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

They were a comedy ensemble who, from the late 1960s onwards, blazed a trail of innovative comedy that directly challenged society, television tropes, audience-assumptions, gender roles, and continually pushed the boundaries far beyond that which was deemed “appropriate” at the time they were making it.

Their original BBC series prompted three films, one “And Now for Something Completely Different” was a compilation of clips from their TV show.  “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” was their first attempt at a feature film, and was more about challenging the traditional way in which medieval Britain was portrayed in modern media than it was about the actual story of the Holy Grail.  “The Life Of Brian” was their story about another bloke who lived in the same town as Jesus and who was not the messiah.  That one ruffled a few feathers at the Vatican and I believe a bishop had a televised argument with John Cleese about it on channel 4 (ready the popcorn and cups of tea, it’s over an hour long).

Life of Brian was filmed in Jordan, which is somewhere in Africa. I didn’t really have the budget, bodyguards or bulletproof car required to go to Jordan safely. Instead, I decided to go to Doune Castle in Scotland, where almost all of Monty Python and the Holy Grail was filmed.  Also we were in the area, and the road to the Highlands was closed due to heavy snow.

Doune Castle doubled up as the filming location for the following castles in Holy Grail: Camelot, Swamp Castle, Castle Anthrax, and that French castle at the beginning. It was a private castle when they filmed, and the reason it was chosen was because The National Trust for Scotland (as Historic Scotland was known at the time) refused to allow Monty Python to use any of their castles to film (and they’d booked separate ones for each castle in the script) – but the National Trust for Scotland only informed them of this two weeks before they were due to start filming, so they had a last minute struggle to find a privately owned castle that was open enough to the public to actually film in there. Thankfully, Doune Castle fitted the bill perfectly. The castle, originally built in the 13th century, was in excellent preservation condition and had a lot of original features without any visibly different “restoration” (some restoration has been done but it’s surprisingly sensitive for a Victorian repair). It had enough rooms that were visibly different to one another that it could easily be used for the location of the several castles the script required.

We overnighted in the layby in front of the castle in our car camper, making this the first castle we spent the night at during our Scotland trip (before we reached the Mercure Barony Castle Hotel in Peebles), and I have never felt so secure sleeping in the car before.  It was nice to get a full night’s sleep without any disturbances from traffic or construction workers either, unlike the previous night.  We chose not to overnight in the castle car park as this would have been a) definitely trespassing and b) bad manners.  We might have been car gypsies, but we didn’t need to act uncivilised and go round taking advantage of poor defenceless car parks.  A bonus of using the layby was that it was on a public road so it was legal to park overnight in Scotland, and it meant we awoke with a beautiful view of the castle in the morning.  We left at 7am and drove to Stirling for an early breakfast at McDonald’s before coming back at 9am when the castle was open, because it makes good sense to not be in an obviously wildcamping car at the time of day when all the members of staff are arriving to start their day.  I feel very strongly that one must be careful when wildcamping in any vehicle or tent because if the law is abused, it will get taken away, as has happened on the eastern shores of Loch Lomond in the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, which is why we had to park and sleep over an hour away from Ben Lomond on our first night in Scotland.  Thanks to the asshats who took advantage, there’s now a bylaw that no vehicle can be occupied overnight (and no tents can be pitched) on that side of Loch Lomond, except in the one paid campsite, and the police drive round and check, and you can get fined and lose your vehicle.

I made a film of my visit to Doune Castle, which you can see here:

Take me to Youtube instead, I don’t want to watch an embedded version! (click if this is what you are thinking).

Sorry about the bad sound, I didn’t have a camera crew with me to re-record, it was all shot in one go on a mobile phone, and my video editing software is about as good as getting a panda to chew the ends of files and stick them back together with eucalyptus gum.  The best I could do was play a piccolo over it all afterwards.
I did have to reduce the resolution on this film because Youtube failed to upload it three times, after taking over 18 hours apiece, and I’ve been trying to upload it since Friday, which is unfortunate but I’m hoping it’s still watchable because I’ve been dying to show you all since I got back.

Have you been to Doune Castle?  What did you think of it?

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Travel Tuesday: In Pictures: The Mercure Barony Castle Hotel, Peebles

Last week on my trip to the Highlands, I checked into the Mercure Barony Castle Hotel, Eddleston, near Peebles, for a couple of nights R+R after two days car camping and climbing mountains and whatnot.  Peebles is in the Scottish borders between England and Scotland (far, far away from the Highlands) and we stayed here on our way back down to England.

To be honest, for the price I paid through booking.com, I wasn’t expecting an awful lot.  And the hotel is currently undergoing renovation so there were ambient builders and buildy noises, but they were mostly unobtrusive. There was a spa that I didn’t take pictures of because obviously phones and water don’t mix. But seriously, you have to see the grounds.  I could throw some hackneyed phrases around in a flailure to describe the place, but why TELL you about it when I could just SHOW you?  The Mercure Barony Castle Hotel was very photogenic, and it was pretty damn awesome to stay in a real castle!  Enjoy:

The castle, as it looked from the approach.
The castle, as it looked from the approach.
One of the turrets.
One of the turrets.
One of the many delightful waterfalls in the castle grounds.
One of the many delightful waterfalls in the castle grounds.
Some trees in the castle grounds.
Some trees in the castle grounds.
Intrigued by this mysterious sign, we looked around for the altar.
Intrigued by this mysterious sign, we looked around for the altar.
I was doing a distant staring pose so you could tell I was serious about finding this altar.
I was doing a distant staring pose so you could tell I was serious about finding this altar.
This is Commander Riker calling Beverly Crusher on the Enterprise. I'm on the surface of the planet, and that thing is happening again where I cannot straighten both legs at once...
This is Commander Riker calling Beverly Crusher on the Enterprise. I’m on the surface of the planet, and that thing is happening again where I cannot straighten both legs at once…
I wanted to do a mock-sacrificial virgins pose but the surface was very slippery and wet so clearly it wasn't good sacrificin' weather.
I wanted to do a mock-sacrificial virgins pose but the surface was very slippery and wet so clearly it wasn’t good sacrificin’ weather.
Looking back the way we came.
Looking back the way we came.
We don't know what these barrels be doing here, but there were no hobbits or dwarves around so we concluded that they'd escaped from them and were on the loose somewhere else in the grounds.
We don’t know what these barrels be doing here, but there were no hobbits or dwarves around so we concluded that they’d escaped from them and were on the loose somewhere else in the grounds.
We continued exploring.
We continued exploring.
Another mystery - a secret garden!  I half-expected to see Alice in there.
Another mystery – a secret garden! I half-expected to see Alice in there.
In another direction, the ice house.
In another direction, the ice house.
The silent tragedy of the lone lost glove.
The silent tragedy of the lone lost glove.
It makes the pitiful sound of one handed clapping while it awaits its life partner's return.  A poignant reminder that we will all have to be a lost glove at some point in our lives.  Or am I taking this too seriously?  These gloves always make me sad.
It makes the pitiful sound of one handed clapping while it awaits its life partner’s return. A poignant reminder that we will all have to be a lost glove at some point in our lives. Or am I taking this too seriously? These gloves always make me sad.
A sign for the Mapa Scotland, the amazing 3D relief map of Scotland, built by Polish soldiers, showing all the Scottish mountains; this was a key attraction when the hotel was built but has now fallen into obscurity.
A sign for the Mapa Scotland, the amazing 3D relief map of Scotland, built by Polish soldiers, showing all the Scottish mountains; this was a key attraction when the hotel was built but has now fallen into obscurity.
Repair work on the Mapa Scotland, the current hotel owners hope that the map will be restored to its former glory and become more well-known as it was an ingenious way of mapping such a densely mountainous country.
Repair work on the Mapa Scotland, the current hotel owners hope that the map will be restored to its former glory and become more well-known as it was an ingenious way of mapping such a densely mountainous country.
What castle hotel would be complete without a llama farm on the other side of the ravine where the three waterfalls flow.
What castle hotel would be complete without a llama farm on the other side of the ravine where the three waterfalls flow.
A close up of the llamas.  The blips in the background are wild rabbits who like to hang out with the llamas.  There was also a pony around somewhere.
A close up of the llamas. The blips in the background are wild rabbits who like to hang out with the llamas. There was also a pony around somewhere.
Just beyond the grounds, we found some mysterious Victorian ruins.  But that's a mystery we'll examine in another article.
Just beyond the grounds, we found some mysterious Victorian ruins. But that’s a mystery we’ll examine in another article.

I hope you liked this castle hotel as much as we did.  I can’t stress how amazing the pool, hot tub, jacuzzi and experience showers were as well.  For a very long time I have been petrified of indoor pools (last one we went to, I clung like a limpet to the side, panicking, all my muscles contracted and I couldn’t even swim a single width), but I actually managed to do some swimming here (ok, not the first time we went down, but the second, third and fourth times? I was doing lengths).  The breakfast in the restaurant was also outstanding, I think you could find a satisfying breakfast at their ample buffet, whether you are a carnivore, herbivore, fruitarian or simply a cereal fan; they even had soya milk for my tea!!  I can’t wait to stay at the Mercure Barony Castle Hotel again, and there will definitely be an again, this place was incredible.  I wanted to live there and was genuinely sad to leave.

If you would like to stay there too, I recommend that you use Booking.com to get fantastic rates.

Please note this article contains affiliate links so that if you want to stay in this incredible hotel, you can book it at a low price via Booking.com, which is a website I have used for years to get the best hotel deals and am excited to share with you. Any commission I get doesn’t affect the price you pay for your hotel.