My time between Glasgow and Edinburgh was always a question mark. When planning this trip, I knew I had most of a day to spend however I wanted, and quickly ran into the nice problem of too many options. Research produced a number of small towns between those two cities that had something to offer, but I was quite charmed by Linlithgow. Today, it’s like many small Scottish towns, especially those within commuting distance of Edinburgh, but at its centre sits something quite unique. A royal palace, in ruins: the birthplace of Mary, Queen of Scots, born there in 1542.
Prior to this adventure, I had one problem to solve. Since I was travelling for a couple of weeks, and would be in transit when I visited Linlithgow, I had my 40L backpack with me – all of my worldly goods until I could dump them at my flat in Edinburgh. I sent an email to a general account that got no response. In a travel planning panic right before I left Canada, I tweeted at Historic Environment Scotland. Whether I could take my backpack into the palace at all would determine the visit, and clarify my options.
After a morning and early afternoon spent exploring Glasgow, getting ready to think about my next move, I connected to wifi. Lo and behold, I received response to my tweet from Historic Scotland:
They phoned ahead! They are marvelous!
Catching the train to Linlithgow from Glasgow was easy. The departure is from Glasgow Queen Street Station, the same station for heading straight to Edinburgh anyway. Tickets are purchased at the machines (£10.30 Anytime Day Single – one-way, CAD$17.87), with daytime departures at 15 minutes and 45 minutes past the hour.
The Palace can be seen on approach to the town, but a more remarkable welcome is from St. Michael’s church, located right next door. To say its steeple is ultra-modern is an understatement. It’s practically defensive infrastructure for the palace!
On arrival, I paid my £6, and the lovely young woman at the entry offered to stash my pack. (Seriously, the best people are in Scotland). From there, I made my way into the courtyard. Probably the most noteworthy landmark in the Palace is the ornate fountain that sits at the center of the courtyard (it runs on Sundays over the summer). Surely, in the palace’s previous life, it was the heart of activity, or at least the main thoroughfare, for people passing through while going about their daily business, or engaging in palace intrigue.
I spent a lot of time at the fountain. It’s one of my favorite things about visiting these older places, the more you look, the more you find. It’s topped with a gloriously rendered crown, and as you work your way down you see craftsmen and warriors, a mermaid, and protective characters that recur in Scottish mythology like the lion, hart, and, of course, the unicorn. I enjoyed the fountain from every level and every angle of the palace. It is divine.
These days, what remains of the palace hints at its former opulence. Following the route suggested by the staff at the entrance, I explored the palace clockwise, ducking into alcoves and discovering all kinds of quiet corners – like the kitchen in the basement, and a hallway overlooking a larger room – surely the best spot to exchange quick gossip during a party. The informative panels in each room provide lots of detail, so you get a sense not only of its history, but what daily life was like on the inside.
The palace is hundreds of years old, the building itself is rock solid, as are the steps as you climb up to the top of and look out around the surrounding countryside.
Once you go beyond the palace walls and explore the grounds, you meet the most famous resident: Mary, Queen of Scots. There is a lone sculpture of Mary and her best-known outfit, awaiting any visitor who makes it over to her corner of the palace grounds.
If you have time, the grounds are worth a walk, particularly if you have nice weather. There is a well-maintained lawn with picnic areas, boat hire, and, in my case, small groups of school children making use of the space and steep hills for rolling and other sorts of play.
Finally, my visit was complete and I reclaimed my pack from the entrance. I took a quick, enjoyable walk through the town of Linlithgow. Even if your time in Scotland is limited, do your best to add one of these smaller towns to your itinerary. I found a busy town with lots small businesses and shops to attend to the needs of residents and visitors alike.
Then, it was back to the train station and another £5.20 train ticket (Anytime Day Single – one-way, CAD$9.02), and I was off to Edinburgh.
I’m so glad I made time for this visit and I got way more than £6 worth of entertainment. My thanks to Historic Environment Scotland for the backpack assistance (it truly was above and beyond), and to Scotland generally for being beyond delightful.
See for yourself:
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