Friday, September 30, 2011

Scotland and Ireland Day Five - Roslyn Chapel and the Staircase of Doom!

Since this was our last day in Scotland it was spent seeing everything that we hadn't been able to see yet - within reason of course. Loch Ness was too far away to visit (actually it was only a four hour drive, but the Husband knew he'd be driving a lot the next day so he didn't want to deal with that) and we couldn't think of anything else we really wanted to see. However, Rosslyn Chapel was a must visit for us. Both the husband and I had read The Da Vinci Code and we've seen the movies, so we decided to get our nerd on and go and visit the chapel like many other Dan Brown fans have before us.

Honestly, Rosslyn Chapel was pretty famous well before The Da Vinci Code came out. It was founded by William Sinclair, the first Earl of Caithness, in the mid 15th century. It has some of the finest, and most random, architecture in Scotland. And by random I mean nothing in the chapel really makes sense or matches; there are moons, stars, and suns carved into the ceiling - and a portrait of Jesus. On some of the arches there are boxes that stick out that have different symbols on them. People are positive that these mean something, but as for what, no one knows. One person thought that they were related to music some how and symbolized different notes and wrote a piece called the Rosslyn Motet based on them. Two other arches represent the Seven Virtues and Seven Vices. There are also Green Men scattered everywhere, and above some of the windows are carvings of what look like maize or corn - which wasn't known of in the region at the time the chapel was being built.

At the front of the chapel are two famous pillars - the Master Pillar and the Apprentice Pillar. The story is that while the master mason was away, his apprentice dreamed up a design for a pillar that had yet to be finished. He went to work on it, and when his Master returned, the man became so jealous that he struck his apprentice and killed him. It's a wonderful pillar too, with dragons at the bottom and vines spiraling all the way up to the top.

Then there is the crypt, where rumors say that everything from the holy grail to the Templar's lost treasure is stored. Now, I'm not sure if the crypt we went down into is actually the real deal, because there are also rumors that the opening for the crypt can't be found, but it looked like a normal crypt to me. Nothing fancy or exciting - except for the old sculptures that have had to be replaced while the chapel is being repaired.

Sadly, we were not allowed to take pictures of the inside of the chapel, but here are a few of the outside:


A large conservation program is going on right now to save the chapel and protect it from future generations. Between it being neglected, the weather in Scotland, and previous conservation attempts made during the Victorian era a lot of damage had been done to the chapel. Parts of the stone work were crumbling away, the ceiling inside had mildew on it - it was in bad shape. But over the years the conservation team has gone in and reinforced the stone work and filled in cracks with an acrylic adhesive. They also built a second roof over the chapel at one point so they could 1) redo the current roof and 2) let the ceiling dry out so the mildew would go away. Thankfully the roof was gone by the time we visited so we could see Rosslyn in it's glory without this metal thing hanging over it.


Thankfully there were no restrictions on taking pictures of the outside of the building!









Down the way was a little cemetery:



If we had gone past it, the trail would have led us to Roslin Castle, but we opted against it - which was a good thing because we had a lot of walking a head of us that we didn't know about yet!

After stopping for some sausage sandwiches at a little stand across the street from Rosslyn Chapel, we hopped back into the car and drove back to Stirling so the Husband and I could visit the William Wallace National Monument.

The thing we noticed about a lot of monuments and castles and other Historical buildings in Scotland and England is that they don't have an exact address like what we're used to in the US. There are all sorts of wonderful maps and directions online on their websites and on google maps though - but that didn't do us any good because 1) we didn't have cell phone service overseas and 2) our hotel's internet service was horrible. You would think that our GPS would have saved us though, because surely the monument was popular enough to be included in the maps we had just uploaded the week before, but noooooo, when we tried to look it up on the GPS we were told the monument didn't exist.

Thankfully Scotland has these wonderful signs off the side of the road near each exit that tell you if there are any sites of historical interest coming up. So, we set the GPS for Stirling, and drove, expecting that at some point we would see one of these signs. We did, but we missed our turn, however, the William Wallace Monument is a tower that is built on the top of a hill, so it's kinda hard to miss.



We settled for heading in the general direction of it, and after awhile, we finally pulled into the parking lot for the visitors center.  While there we discovered that we could either hike up to the monument or take a bus (Remember when I said that we didn't do that other hike, which was good because we would be getting a work out later? This isn't when we get that work out.) Since the hike was up a hill, and would take at least 20 minutes, and it was getting rather late, the Husband and I decided to take the bus instead.

Inside we purchased audio guides to listen to since they only cost a pound. We expected that they would be nice headsets like the Edinburgh Castle ones, but these were more like a phone handset attached to a stick that had a lanyard around it incase you got tired of carrying it. We turned down the hallway and were immediately greeted by a flight of stairs. Okay, not too bad. We can handle a flight of stairs.

Except that flight of stairs let to another flight of stairs, which led to a spiral staircase that was only wide enough for one person to use at a time. There was also no hand rail on the stair case, except for a groove that had been carved into the inside support, and there are no lights except for the light that comes in through the arrow slits.

(I did not take this photo - it actually didn't occur to us to take a photo of the stairs until we were done and free of the monument, but I wanted to show everyone what we were dealing with, so I pulled this off the interwebs. Sadly, Google images didn't list who the photo belongs to, so if you're the owner and you don't want it here, email me and let me know!)

The staircase went around and around  and around and around (You know what I said about us being really grateful we didn't go on that hike? Yeah, it's because of this! Apparently there are 246 steps in this spiral staircase that goes from the bottom of the monument up to the very top!) Finally we reached the first level of the monument where they give some details about William Wallace's life and you can see a sword that was his.


The only way out of the room and to get to the next level is to go back out on to that spiral staircase, wait and listen to make sure no one above you is coming down, and then start climbing up. 

I was doing pretty good up until I was half way between the first level and the next. That's when it began to occur to me that we were getting pretty high up there. I'm afraid of heights, but normally I'm okay if I'm inside a building. However, it was really windy out that day, and I could feel the tower shifting just ever so slightly in the wind. I also began to notice as we climbed that there were cracks in the stair case. Nevermind that they were small cracks. Nevermind that no one would have let us in there if it wasn't safe. My brain went into automatic freak out mode and I climbed the rest of those stairs to the next level as fast as possible. In my panicked mode I felt that if I was inside the next room I would be safer than if I was out in the staircase, but once I reached that room I realized that I could still feel the tower moving. Also, in the middle of the floor was a metal grate that you could look through and see the floor beneath you - all the way to the ground floor.

I quickly found a bench and sat down.

This next level was a sort of Scottish Hall of Fame devoted to all the famous Scotts from over the centuries - inventors, writers, politicians, etc etc etc. I do not know who all was in there except for Robert the Bruce. I did not take any pictures, because I refused to move from my seat.

By this point the Husband realized something was up. He thought it was because I was tired from walking up the stairs though and kept trying to reassure me that we could make it, that it wasn't as bad as that hike we had been on out in Mammoth last year, etc etc etc. And then, as if a light bulb went off, he remembered that I was afraid of heights so he asked if I wanted to go back down. My answer was that I didn't know. I really really wanted to, but at the same time I knew that I would regret it if I didn't keep going. The Husband said he really wanted to go to the top, and I don't think he was okay with the idea of just leaving me there, so we went up the staircase to the next level. 

The next level was all about the history of the tower, which was spread across the walls. The only bench was in the middle of the room, which was nice, because it covered up another one of those metal grates. Also it was circular, so I could spin around the outside of the bench and read everything about the history of the monument and not have to walk around or stand (because that's when I felt the building moving the most, when I was standing) Apparently the monument had some controversy back in it's day. It took more money to build than people had originally planned, and some people didn't like the design. When it was nearly finished, some of the mason's wives went on strike because they didn't want their husbands to be the one placing the capstone at the very top. They felt it was too dangerous (and honestly, I don't blame those women one bit!) 

In this room was another visitor to the monument who was clearly having issues with how tall the monument was (like me) While we caught our breath, her husband came down from the top and they went down together, and then, eventually, two other girls came down. Tears were streaming down one girls face, and from what the Husband over heard, they had gotten close to the top, only to have the one girl freak out, so they were headed back down to solid land. 

I wish I could've joined them, but I had said that I would go to the top, and so we kept climbing those damn stairs. 

Finally we reached the end of the spiral stair case, which opened onto a walk way around the outside of the tower. You would have thought that I would have felt safer here, since the walls around the walk way were taller than I was, but I didn't: the wind was still blowing, and the tower was still moving just enough to freak me out. The Husband, who had been following me up the staircase to protect me from behind should I slip, now went ahead of me to see what the rest of the top was like. He came back and said it was fine, much to the amusement of an older man who was on his way down, so we continued on. 

Let me tell you, in addition to the wind, the tower moving because of the wind, the height of the tower and those stupid grates they had on each floor, it was very disconcerting to walk by a window that let you look back down onto the last level and realize how far it was from that window to the floor of that last level. 

After a few more stops we finally reached the very top of the tower. It's a viewing platform that dominates the center of the tower and is crowned by four spires that arch over head to meet in the middle (which reminded me of the tower of Saruman) This gave a wonderful view of Stirling and Bannockburn - but it was only protected by a hip high balustrade. Since the wind was pretty bad up there, I took a look around and immediately sat down with my back against a spire and tried not to think about how high up we were or how much the building was moving at that point...


... And I let the Husband take control of the camera to take pictures of the view. We didn't even try to take a self portrait since I refused to move until it was time to go back down the staircase.




Then, after a few minutes, we started going back down the tower - which brought a whole new slew of problems. It had taken us quite awhile to reach the top of the monument, and now there were only a few minutes till the monument closed so everyone who had come in after us was trying to go up the staircase before they were kicked out. A few of them were nice and would go back down to the next level and wait until we had passed by before going back up again. A few were not so nice and just pushed passed us - which was quite a squeeze because the staircase is only really wide enough for one person to be on at a time.

However, eventually we made it to the bottom. I bought a keychain that said 'I climbed the 246 steps' because I deserved it, and then we took the tram back down to the parking lot, and got back into the car to drive back to the Hotel. By that point it was after 5, and while the Husband really wanted to go back to Edinburgh to go on another ghost tour, we decided against it because it was too cold and windy. Also we had to be up REALLY early (3am) to drive down to Holyhead the next day. 

We ended up having dinner at the Hotel's restaurant that evening and then retreating back to our hotel room. The Husband tried to get some sleep while I knitted and read since I wasn't tired yet.

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