I don’t remember how old I was (early elementary, probably), but the day is clear and vivid in my memory. After sledding with friends, I changed into dry clothes and spent the rest of the afternoon in my room next to the heat register with a book I could not put down.
The book? Grimms’ Fairy Tales by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. I don’t know whose book it was (it wasn’t mine) or how I came to find it, but no one in my family came looking for it. I’ve kept it with me for over 50 years, and it has a treasured spot on the bookshelf in my living room.
I read the entire book that afternoon. I loved the tales of adventure and fantasy, but the stories that captured me were those with castles, knights, and fair maidens. I was transported from my spot next to the heat register in Minnesota to a faraway land centuries ago. Without realizing it, I think that was the day I was set on the path of becoming a hopeless romantic. The knights were brave, the maidens beautiful, and the castles imposing and breathtaking.
It must be awesome to live in a castle. My young mind didn’t care about cold stone, drafty walkways, or the lack of indoor plumbing. I was fascinated with the crenellations, rounded towers, and the moats that protected it from attack. There were huge fireplaces to sit in front of and endless stairways and passageways to explore. Tapestries with stories of their own lined the walls, and great halls were filled with music as beautifully-costumed people gathered to feast and frolic. Watching it all at the head of the table would be the king and his queen. Of course, they loved each other, and he ruled firmly and fairly with the welfare of his subjects always at the forefront of his actions and decrees. I saw such a king (King Robert the Bruce) when my dream finally came true – you’ll hear more about that in a bit.
Life went on, I grew up, and dealt with adult matters at hand. Sometimes in a quiet moment, I’d dream about those castles and wonder if they still existed. If they did, they were probably nothing like the illustrations in my book, but somehow that didn’t matter to me. If I could get there, my imagination would fill in the blanks. Then, it happened. The dream that I’d given up on and thought would never happen transformed into a trip to Scotland and an itinerary that included castles!
I held my breath as I met the watchful gaze of King Robert the Bruce and William Wallace and walked under the portcullis at Edinburgh Castle. How many had passed under this same entry passage? Who were they? I felt their spirits and souls accompany me as I wandered through the passages and halls that until then existed only in my imagination. I stood in a corner, away from the crowd in the great hall and pictured a great event that seemed to be pulled from the pages of my favorite book. When I entered St. Margaret’s Chapel (the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh, built by King David I), I was transported to the 12th century, and my mind could hear Margaret’s whispered prayers around me.
I discovered that castles can be windy places to visit. I realized this rather quickly at Edinburgh Castle, and Stirling Castle was the same. It was not a deterrent, but it made me wonder how the people that lived in them kept warm. Fireplaces and wool, to be sure. My exploration was a mix of windy battlements and passageways to interior spaces as respite. The same dreams and imaginings filled my mind as I moved from one place to another. I found a sunny spot in The Queen Anne Gardens, which the queen herself would have looked upon from her rooms, and I walked under a 200+ year-old beech tree. I wondered about the kinds of flowers that might have grown then and found a lovely rose that I imagined might have been growing there under the queen’s watchful eye.
Castles dot the landscape in Scotland, which amazed and delighted me. Each one holds so much history and tradition; each has their own story to tell. There are so many more to explore – I must return, my dreams insist.
Image Credit: Anne K. Hawkinson