Leaving the Isle of Skye on our girly Scottish road trip felt a bit like saying goodbye to Scotland itself. Which is silly, of course. Scotland is so much more than just the Highlands, the lochs and lots of sheep. It is a place steeped in history which has seen its fair share of bloody conflict over the centuries. Returning to the heartland of the country we incidentally headed straight to the historic core of its very existence.
We hadn’t expected this at all. In fact, we had focused our pre-trip planning efforts predominantly on the Scottish countryside. But as we were driving towards Edinburgh to our final destination of our trip, the fabled Rosslyn Chapel, we realised that we would spend all day in the car if we weren’t including a spontaneous stop somewhere in the middle.
A quick look on Google Maps revealed that the city of Perth was right in front of us. In its centre, Scone Palace. Without any further knowledge of the place, yet intrigued by the name of the city which is of course also a place in Australia, we decided on a whim to make Scone Palace our next stop for the day.
Because this is what travel should be all about: you observe and you adjust to circumstances. You make quick decisions and you are open to new adventures. Scone Palace was a place I hadn’t heard of before, had no idea how important it was in the fabric of Scottish history, and how beautiful it was to look at. A lucky, unexpected find – always a winner.
As it turned out, Scone Palace is probably one of the most important places that play a role in Scottish history. If I had paid more attention to Macbeth, I would have noticed that it was featured there. It is the place where kings were made and parliament came together. Before Edinburgh rose to prominence this was the place where Scotland’s fate was decided.
Arriving at Scone Palace, you can choose whether you would like to visit the palace and the grounds or the grounds only. While the grounds are lovely, you cannot show the house the cold shoulder. It is every inch as precious and glorious as you would expect it to be, considering that it has been the main seat for one of Scotland’s most prominent families for centuries. It was, and still is, the residence of the Murray family, also known as the Earls of Mansfield.
As expected, we were not allowed to take photographs inside the building but I can assure you that the galleries and octagonal rooms, the bedrooms with four-poster beds, the banquet rooms, the library etc are all well worth a visit. Scone Palace is a Gothic palace, and on the inside it is filled with elaborate collections of porcelain, Chippendale furniture, old books, delicate tapestries and more.
Countless photographs and portraits tell stories about the owners and their ancestors – all surprisingly attractive people that make a really good figure in photographs.
Even Queen Elisabeth was here and planted a tree or two – the shovels are now on the walls.
But she is not the first monarch to visit Scone Palace. Queen Victoria spent a couple of nights here with her husband on her way to the Scottish Highlands. A great honour for the Earls of Mansfield who were delighted to entertain their royal guest in the banquet room.
My personal highlight was a piece of tapestry which is said to have been embroidered personally by Mary Queen of Scots and her ladies while she was under arrest in Loch Leven.
The house is pretty on the inside and out. The windows are pointed and have a Gothic feel to them. The outer walls are overgrown with ivy and roses. A lot reminds the visitors of the abbey that used to be here many centuries ago before the palace was built.
Right in front of the palace you will find one of the most important Scottish sites, Moot Hill. This is where parliament used to get together. Legend has it that every emissary from the different corners had to bring a bit of soil with them from their homelands, as the tradition was to swear loyalty to the king on your own lands.
Today you will find here the palace chapel, a small stone building that incorporates elaborate alabaster monuments. In front is a copy of the Stone of Scone, one of the most important pieces of Scottish history.
It is said that the Scottish kings used to sit on the stone during the coronation ceremony. Nobody knows exactly where the stone came from or how it looked like, but it seems to be certain that the stone was brought out to Moot Hill for the enthronement ceremony. In 1296, Edward I took the stone with him to Westminster Abbey where it was said to remain for next couple of centuries, although nobody could really confirm that the stone was the very same that the Scottish kings used to sit on.
In 1950, a group of Scottish students stole the stone from Westminster Abbey in an attempt to return it to Scotland, but the plan failed and the stone was returned to its English home. Only in 1996, the Stone of Scone, also known as the Stone of Destiny, was brought back to Scotland. It is now in Edinburgh Castle, but as said before, it cannot be confirmed whether or not this is the historic stone that has played such a vital role in Scottish history.
Before Scone Palace was built in the place where it stands today, the grounds were part of a monastery and a village. With the village removed to a new site, all that remains today is the market cross, a lovely moss covered stone pillar on the other site of a ruined arched gate. It is the beginning of the palace grounds and garden, a big area that is perfect for exploration and relaxing walks in nature.
Distracted by the serenity, we spent more time than planned at the old cemetery, where tombstones have toppled over over time, walls started to crumble and bushes have overgrown forgotten graves. It is an enchanted site, covered in moss, surrounded by century old trees and mysteriously engraved walls at risk of falling over any minute.
Our visit ended with the hedge maze, a pretty star shaped tartan coloured feature of the palace garden that is quite naturally very popular with families. We lost ourselves a bit among the hedges, took wrong turns and stopped at dead ends, until we emerged on the other side, slightly confused yet blissfully refreshed and ready for the last part of our girly Scottish road trip.