We recently caught up with one of our members, Robin McKelvie to share his thoughts about having a Historic Scotland membership. Here is what he had to say:
When I was asked during the Easter Holidays to write a blog about how useful my Historic Scotland membership is I started thinking of sites that I could make special visits to. Then I realised I didn’t need to plan visits as I knew we’d chance upon a flurry of ace sites that we just happened to be passing. That for me is the beauty of membership – you get to enjoy thrilling planned day outs, but also with your pass you get to pop back to old favourites and discover new ones on impromptu visits as you go.
As travel writers, my wife and I have been big fans of Historic Scotland sites for years. We’ve visited most of them for work, as we’ve covered them for magazines, newspapers and our National Geographic Guide to Scotland. These days they are oases that we massively enjoy on a new level with our wee girls Tara and Emma. They like nothing better than digging their foam swords out of the boot and running over a drawbridge screaming with delight!
For us Edinburgh Castle and Stirling Castle are two of the best family days out you can enjoy in Scotland. They are full not only of history, but also kid friendly hands-on exhibits and the chance to dress up.
They even offer actors on hand to help our girls learn about history in a way you just cannot at school. I also love that if you visit both of these landmark castles with your family you’ve covered the cost of your annual membership. Then it feels like you are getting to visit all the other sites for the year for free!
During the Easter holidays we took our girls on writing research trips to Dumfries and Galloway and Stirling. As I say we hadn’t planned on visiting Historic Scotland sites, but we just kept pleasantly chancing upon them as they are spread out all over Scotland. Pick a point on a map and there is a good chance there will be a property within striking distance.
Over lunch in Dumfries for example I remembered that one of our favourite castles and one of our favourite abbeys lay close by. So we hopped in the car and soon rocked up at Caerlaverock Castle. The first time I visited with the girls they didn’t believe me that it was triangular in shape. I’m not surprised as virtually no one who hasn’t been believes me. It’s true, though!
Yes Caerlaverock looks every bit the classic castle with its rugged walls and its water-filled moat. Delve inside, though, and you soon realise that it indeed only has three sides. We loved our visit as we also explored the adventure playground, dressed up in period garb in the visitor centre and enjoyed a walk on their woodland trails.
Our visit ended, as most of our Historic Scotland experiences tend to, with a wee trip to the gift shop. The girls have the full range of historical bath ducks now. My favourite is the impressively regal looking Mary Queen of Ducks, sorry, Scots. Members also get a discount in the shops!
Then it was on to Sweetheart Abbey. I sometimes forget how well Historic Scotland sites can work for all the family on different levels. My wife and I love it here not just for the sheer drama of this epic abbey ruin, but also for its romantic history. It was commissioned by local luminary Lady Devorgilla. She was so devastated when her husband died that she had his heart embalmed and carried it around with her until her own death, over three decades later. Our girls just love rattling around the ruins and grassy areas that sweep around this most picturesque of abbeys.
A few days later we were off to Stirlingshire. I had a tough roll call of kids to entertain down south, but a week later I had an even tougher team to keep happy as my niece Erin, and nephew, Kyle, came along with us too. We, of course, re-visited Stirling Castle for the umpteenth time. The girls don’t let us pass without stopping – sometimes I wish they would put a barrier up hiding it when you drive by on the motorway! They loved sharing Stirling Castle with their cousins. Again our membership passes came in very handy as membership allows each adult to bring in six kids for free.
As we pushed on to where we were staying we saw signs for Doune Castle so we decided to make another diversion and check it out. These days I often write about Doune in terms of Outlander, the massively successful historic TV series that has propelled this dramatic fortress to international fame as ‘Castle Leoch’. I never really thought of it as a great place for families, but all four wee ones loved it. As soon as we parked they raced off up the steep grassy slopes to the entrance.
Once inside my wife listened to the free audio tour to learn both about the Outlander scenes shot here, but also the rich history of this very special fortress, once the stronghold of the mighty Duke of Albany. The kids – armed with their new acquired swords and bows – set off exploring all the nooks and crannies, sweeping up and down the spiral staircases imagining firing arrows out of the slits at approaching knights. Afterwards we curled around the outside of the castle enjoying views of the River Teith below before the kids made a ‘battle charge’ across open ground towards a slightly nervous daddy and uncle.
All too soon our Easter adventures were over. When we got home my youngest pulled her newest Historic Scotland sword out of the car and pleaded ‘can we go to another castle soon please?’ I couldn’t really say no. We live on the outskirts of Edinburgh and Blackness Castle is within walking distance. Then there is Aberdour Castle just across the water in Fife and the fortress-like grandeur of Linlithgow Palace just up the road. With a Historic Scotland membership the historical fun never ends. I’ve just learned that if you buy an annual membership at the moment you even get another six months for free. So membership has never been better value. What are you waiting for? Get the History Bug!