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In the footsteps of Mary Queen of Scots in Scotland


The movie Mary Queen of Scots hit cinemas last week and we are now dreaming of Scottish landscapes with lush green glens, rolling hills, lochs and majestic castles. Period movies give us some serious holiday inspiration. Throw in two strong queens and a fantastic female movie director, and you have the recipe for a world-class, Thelma & Louise-worthy adventure. The film may not be historically accurate, but who wouldn’t want to ride across those hills, live in those castles, inspire a nation and “command men” after seeing this film? :-)

Image of the film poster Mary Queen of Scotts

The movie is a celebration of strong women, giving us two outstanding performances from Margot Robbie (Elizabeth I) and Saoirse Ronan (Mary). At a time when women’s inequality is still an issue, we welcome a movie featuring probably the most famous strong women in history. This is the first movie directed by Josie Rourke and she doesn’t disappoint.

Mary Stuart was crowned Queen of Scotland at only nine months old, became Queen of France at 16, was widowed at both 18 and 24, reigned for only six turbulent years and was executed on the order of her cousin Elizabeth I at 44.

Here are the 8 most iconic places you should visit in Scotland, in the footsteps of Mary Queen of Scots:

1. Stirling Castle: Mary is crowned Queen of Scots

Mary was crowned in the Chapel of Stirling Castle in September 1543 at only 9 months old, following the death of her father James V. She spent part of the first 5 years of her life here and upon her return from France stayed at Stirling on many occasions. In 1566, Stirling was the chosen location for the lavish christening ceremony Mary threw for her son, James VI and later James I of England.

In Stirling Castle, not many of the original things are left to see, but the 360° view over the area, particularly the Wallace Monument and the picturesque cemetery, is great both in sunny and misty weather.

Dumbarton Castle by Colin Campbell on flickr

2. Dumbarton Castle: fortress with breathtaking views

From Stirling, Mary was brought to the little Dumbarton Castle for safely. From here she sailed to France in 1548. Besides being a royal residence, Dumbarton Castle was a fortress and has many fascinating connections from the Vikings to the Scottish Wars of Independence.

It is spectacularly sited between two volcanic rocks overlooking the River Clyde. Climb the 500 steps to stand atop the iconic Rock of the Clyde and take in breathtaking views over the Clyde, Loch Lomond and Argyll.

The Palace of Holyroodhouse by Ross G Strachan on flickr

3. Palace of Holyroodhouse: The most famous room in Scotland

Nowadays, the Palace of Holyroodhouse is the official residence in Scotland of Her Majesty The Queen. It was also the main residence of Queen Mary following her return from France in 1561 and where she married her second husband Lord Darnley in her private chapel in July 1565.

As it still functions as a royal palace, Holyroodhouse is beautifully decorated and has many historic rooms to see, including Mary’s apartments and bedroom - ‘the most famous room in Scotland’. At Holyrood Mary received visitors, including her famous foe protestant clergyman John Knox and her good friend and private secretary David Rizzio. Rizzio was stabbed here 56 times by a jealous Lord Darnley in March 1566 in front of the pregnant queen Mary. A stain on the floor that’s visible to this day is said to be his blood.

4. Edinburgh Castle: Scotland got its inheritor to the throne

Mary gave birth to James in Edinburgh Castle on 19 June 1566. The birth room still exists and it is known as the most significant room in Scotland. According to records, on the night of the birth, the city celebrated by setting 500 bonfires. 

Traquair House by Bernt Rostad on flickr

6. Holyrood Abbey: Secret marriage to Lord Bothwell

While you’re at Holyroodhouse, visit the remains of the adjoining Abbey, the most impressive Gothic facades anywhere in Scotland. Built in 12th century by King David I, it was damaged by invading English armies during the ‘Rough Wooing’. It is believed to be here that Queen Mary married the protestant Lord Bothwell in May 1567 – a move that proved deeply unpopular with Scottish lords.

7. Jedburgh: Secret lover and Mary Queen of Scots Visitor Centre

In October 1566, Mary raced 30 miles on horseback to see her secret new lover, Lord Bothwell, in Hermitage Castle. On the return journey she fell off the horse and fell gravely ill. The Kerr family took her into their house in Jedburgh and cared for her.

The Mary Queen of Scots Visitors Centre can be found in Jedburgh in a 16th-century towerhouse with a lovely pear tree garden. The Rogues Gallery, Last Letter Room and many other parts of the centre explore the life of Scotland's tragic queen through paintings, textiles and objects associated with her.

8. Battle of Carberry Hill, Musselburgh: Mary’s abdication

East of Edinburgh near Musselburgh, this scenic hill was the setting of the Battle of Carberry Hill. The Scottish lords upset by her marriage to Lord Bothwell, gathered armies and rose against Mary. This confrontation forced her to abdicate in favour of her son and marked the beginning of Mary’s many years of captivity.

Take a walk through the old woodlands and work your way up the hill to the standing stone at the top to the commemorative stone at Queen Mary’s Mount.

View from Carberry Hill by kaysgeog on flickr

The magic of the Highlands is calling and with the Oscars around the corner, what better time to visit some film locations in Scotland?