In early June an important part of Stirling Castle will open after a long refurbishment. Stirling Castle was the home of the Scottish kings in the Middle Ages and the centre of the cultured Scottish court. It sits high above the town at the divide between the Lowlands and the Highlands and can be seen from miles around. I am lucky enough to work here. Over the past two years I have witnessed some of the world’s finest traditional artists and craftsmen bring Stirling Castle’s Royal Palace back to life. As a child I remember how castles and great houses seemed dusty and faded. It was hard to imagine what they were like when they were full of life. The refurbishment of our Renaissance palace, built by James V in the early part of the 16th century within the Castle walls, is special because visitors see what it might have been like when it was new. The six royal apartments are decorated and furnished in ways that would have been familiar to Mary Queen of Scots, daughter of James V, when she lived at the Palace as a little girl in the 1540s.
There will be costumed actors in the apartments this summer to tell you about the secrets of the royal court in the 1540s. My favourite feature is the recreation of a lost Renaissance ceiling with hand-carved replicas of metre-wide oak medallions known as the Stirling Heads. Some depict powerful people of the time such as James V and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. But they also show that court life was fun – with carvings of women in ball costumes, a poet and even a jester pictured laughing out loud at some long forgotten joke. When you visit, make sure that you look out for these. And, of course, there is much more to see at Stirling Castle. I love wondering around the cobbled “streets” and dropping in at the Chapel Royal, sitting in the little garden – and gazing at the panorama of countryside all around.