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Scotland days 5 and 6

Me overlooking Stirling.  Stirling Castle is on the hill to my left.

Wednesday morning we drove a few miles to the William Wallace memorial in Stirling and hiked up the hill to see not only WW but a fabulous view of the surrounding countryside.  It was warm and sunny as usual (for our trip, not in general for the UK) and as we walked back to the car, we discussed whether or not to go see Stirling castle.  Due to our time constraints, one castle was probably all we would get to tour and we weren't sure which one to choose.  I mentioned that we had driven past Doune castle on our way to the hotel last night and it was only about 10-15 minutes away.  You know Doune castle, the one used as a location for Monty Python's Search for the Holy Grail?  That settled it for Dean: off to Doune we went.

Inside Doune Castle kitchen
After Iona, it was the highlight of our trip.  Yes, we swing easily between the sublime and the ridiculous.  Doune castle is in good repair for a late 14th century structure.  We opted to listen to the audio tour narrated by none other than Terry Jones (of Monty Python fame) which included the history of the castle, cultural insights, the functions of the different rooms, interesting details to note in the castle, and as an added bonus, various audio clips from the movie.  It was very informative and amusing.  I was not the only one standing in the courtyard laughing out loud or saying random lines from the movie as the tour progressed.  Aside from one room, there had been no attempt to restore the castle to its former glory nor give it a lived-in look; instead, you walked through bare rooms, a few pieces of furniture scattered here and there, letting your imagination do the work. 

Dean taunting me from the top wall of Doune Castle
The tour ended at the top of the castle, walking along the wall and peeking out from the turrets. Dean insisted that I run down the treacherous spiral stone staircase and get a picture of him taunting me from the top of the castle.  It was only fitting.  Some of the most memorable elements of the tour were seeing a 14th century bathroom complete with a toilet (a hole which opened onto the courtyard several stories below), the giant fireplace in the kitchen which was the size of a small bedroom, the tiny staircases and doorways which were probably to keep heat in and intruders out, and the clever defense systems implemented into the entrance (uphill, slippery cobblestone, multiple doors and gates as well as a narrow hole through which to pour various deterrents or fling down dangerous weapons).

We left Doune smiling broadly and headed off to St. Andrews where my conference, Theatrical Theology (the whole reason for going to Scotland), was beginning.  We grabbed a bite to eat and scouted out our bed and breakfast location before Dean dropped me off at the University of St. Andrews.  For the next 2 days, I sat in conference rooms, talked to fellow theologians and actors, took notes, pondered new ideas, and even enjoyed 2 theatrical productions (one a dramatic reading of a theatre piece and one a production from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival).  During my lunch breaks I would run into town, grab a sandwich or yogurt, and explore the town because it the only time I had to do so.  Each night I met Dean for supper before going back for the evening session. The conference days were long and a lot was packed into them (I took in 11 presentations, presented my own paper, watched the 2 theatre performances already mentioned, attended a wine reception, and ate my way through a farewell lunch buffet).

West Sands Beach, St. Andrews
One of the most memorable moments for me in St. Andrews was Thursday morning when I woke up at 6:50 am.  I was a bit tired, but I figured this might be one of the only times I would get to see the ocean/sea, so I pulled on my clothes and went for a walk.  Our bed and breakfast was only a block from the water, so I was soon sniffing salt air.  I walked past the aquarium and the golf museum and found myself on the most amazing stretch of flat, smooth beach (the tide was out at this time of day).  I walked down to the water and broke into a run because it just seemed like it was the right thing to do.  The place seemed vaguely familiar in some way.  On the way back to our room, I walked past a plaque which noted that this was where the beach running scene had been filmed for The Chariots of Fire.  Yes! That's exactly the sensation I had felt on the beach:  like I had unlimited energy and could run forever.  And yes, I felt God's pleasure.  It was standing on that beach on Thursday morning that all nervousness about my presentation later that day evaporated.  I was content just to bring myself and do what I was built for.  No more, no less.

more to come....


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