Last weekend, the two-day extravaganza that is the Mary Queen of Scots Festival returned to Kinross. Being a die hard history geek I jumped at the chance to attend.
Kinross sits on the northern shore of Loch Leven. Surrounded by scenic countryside and green rolling hills, it makes an excellent base for a short break. It may be a relatively small town but there’s lots to see and do there, including gliding, fishing, cycling, castle exploring, hiking, golfing and more.
Green Hotel Golf & Leisure Resort
Our base for a spot of Renaissance festival going was the Green Hotel Golf & Leisure Resort. The minute we set foot inside we were greeted with smiles and friendly chat – I knew instantly that we were going to enjoy our stay.
Our ground floor room was huge with a pretty garden view. The boy was delighted to find a bowl of fresh water and some tasty treats waiting for him in the room.
We decided to have an early dinner and a couple of liquid refreshments. We ate at Jock’s Bar so the boy could join us. For those who prefer more formal dining, the hotel also has Basil’s Restaurant, which serves a mouth-watering menu, featuring local produce.
Jock’s Bar was busy and had a really good vibe. With beer, spritzer and bowl of water we toasted the arrival of the weekend, and fun times ahead.
Dinner was tasty – a Thai inspired curry for me and a posh fish finger sandwich for Mr G. A rich chocolate tart and sticky toffee pudding followed. By the time we left people were queuing for tables. With good food and excellent service it’s easy to see why Jock’s Bar is so popular.
After dinner we relaxed in the hotel’s lounge. I love staying at traditional Scottish hotels as they’ve always got plenty of comfy chairs for you to curl up in. The boy’s bonnie face drew admiring glances from other hotel guests, and he made some lovely new friends that evening.
Next morning, we woke to find sunlight streaming through a gap in the curtains. Could it be that the sun was going to join us at the Mary Queen of Scots Festival?
A hot buffet breakfast to set us up for the day, and we were soon outside enjoying the hazy September sun.
A morning wander around Kinross
It was a gorgeous morning – we headed down the High Street, stopping to take photos of the gargoyles on the town’s merkat cross and a traditional butchers bicycle surrounded by flowers.
We took the boy to the town’s Kirkgate Park so he could run free for a while. He charged off, nose to the ground sniffing out exciting new smells.
The grand, 17th century Kinross House peeped over its high perimeter wall at us. I’ve heard it described as Scotland’s coldest house, but with such impressive chimneys I find that hard to imagine.
We strolled by the edge of Loch Leven, stopping to take in the view. It was still and peaceful. I love those idyllic mornings, when the sun’s out and there’s barely another soul around. In Scotland it’s not difficult to achieve a feeling of remote tranquility.
A 12-mile circular path skirts the shore of Loch Leven, but sadly we didn’t have time to walk it. It’s been added to our list of walks to do this winter.
On the edge of Kirkgate Park we spotted a watchtower beside an old cemetery. Kirkgate Cemetery boasts great views of Lochleven Castle, which stands on a small island in the loch. In June 1567 Mary Queen of Scots was imprisoned in the castle, and later forced to abdicate. She remained there for almost a year, until she pulled off a daring escape on 2 May 1568. Her freedom was to be short-lived.
Hazy sunlight meant it was going to be impossible to snap photos of Mary’s one time prison, so we explored the old cemetery instead, snapping historic tombstones.
I’m a sucker for old tombstones, and love when I find a well-preserved skull and crossbones. There were a couple of great examples inside Kirkgate. The eyes of one were filled with bright red berries which contrasted perfectly with the cold, grey stone.
En-route to the Mary Queen of Scots Festival we were delighted and relieved to discover that Kinross is a velociraptor-free town. Nothing ruins a nice day out quite like a velociraptor incident! Whoever was responsible for this sign made us laugh – so, if you find yourself reading this, thank you.
It’s Mary Queen of Scots Festival time
Inside the festival ground we met up with my friend Crissie who was visiting from Australia. Crissie and I ‘met’ on Instagram around 6 years ago, and bonded over a shared love of photographing old cemeteries. I later switched to snapping Scotland, and the old cemeteries were forgotten. My friendship with Crissie endured though, and we meet up every year on her annual Scottish holiday. The Wee White Dug was delighted to see her at the Mary Queen of Scots Festival and put on an impressive show of leaping.
Our first festival stop was to visit Colin Maxwell’s stall for a copy of his new book ‘Mary Queen of Scots – escape from Loch Leven’. We first met Colin a few months ago when he gave us a tour of historic Dunfermline. He’s a talented author and illustrator, and his colourful artwork brings Scotland’s rich history to life perfectly.
Throughout the day, the Mary Queen of Scots Festival entertainment tent was a hive of activity, drawing crowds to listen to talks, discussions and live music.
Susan Morrison from BBC Radio Scotland’s ‘Time Travels’ discussed Mary Queen of Scots, her impact and legacy. Susan is captivating to listen to – she’s fascinating, funny and hugely likeable.
My entertainment tent favourites were The Gorms who played a brilliant selection of traditional folk tunes, most of which I remembered from my days as a teenage folk music groupie.
Just when you thought I couldn’t get any cooler, huh? It feels like a lifetime ago now, but since finding out that The Gorms are popular on the Edinburgh folk circuit, it may be time to acquaint Mr G with some toe tapping sea shanties and songs about missing Scotland (even though we’re still in Scotland).
I loved the Mary Queen of Scots Festival’s Renaissance encampment set up by the brilliant Clanranald Trust (even bigger history geeks than I am). It really brought the history to life, and you completely bought into the idea that these were real people from the past not actors.
We bumped into Henry VIII strutting around, goblet of wine in hand, trying to charm the ladies. Most were familiar with his marital history and avoided him like the plague.
The highlight of the day for the boy was meeting Mary Queen of Scots. He posed with the queen and her ladies in waiting, acting as if meeting royalty was the most normal thing in the World for him.
It was a surreal moment when one of the queen’s courtiers told her that the boy was famous and a writer. I’d love to report that he penned this blog but he didn’t contribute a single word.
The historic characters we met were expert in their various subjects and shared interesting snippets with those who stopped to watch them.
No detail was missed – the Blacksmith pumped furiously on bellows, toiling in the heat over glowing embers on the one day of the year that the sun decided to come out.
Knights demonstrated how to use an array of terrifying weapons, as adults and children watched, enthralled.
The boy loved the Renaissance kitchen display. He was not for moving on, and stood craning his neck to see what was bubbling inside the various cooking pots.
He wasn’t impressed in the slightest by the magestic hunting hawks wearing hoods, and tried to pull us back towards the Renaissance kitchen.
We managed to snap a few photos of the birds before taking the hint – it was time for food.
Time for lunch
Food wise we had options aplenty, with crepes, pizza, hog roast, seafood and ice cream to choose from.
Alandas Scottish Seafood from East Lothian reeled Mr G and I in with its irresistible smell of freshly cooked chips.
The aroma of hog roast had enticed Crissie and as Mr G queued for our food she tucked into a hog roast roll.
The boy was clearly captivated by the smell of hog roast too and got into his champion begging pose. His pathetic, sad face worked a treat, and he was rewarded with a piece of stuffing.
My chips with salt and sauce clearly identified me as an Edinburgher. Throughout Scotland chip shops serve their suppers with salt and vinegar. In Edinburgh we eat salt and chippy sauce on ours. Chippy sauce is watered down brown sauce, and chips served without it should be thrown straight into the nearest bin. When I first met Mr G we had an early relationship crisis when he brought me home a supper with salt and vinegar on it. At first I thought it was a joke, but no the new teuchter in town didn’t yet understand that he’d just made a massive Edinburgh faux pas.
And here he was ten years later, tucking into crispy peppered sea bass and chips smothered in chippy sauce.
The thunder of hooves
After lunch it was time for the main event of the Mary Queen of Scots Festival – jousting. A large crowd had gathered and the place had a real buzz. The boy being knee-high to a grasshopper had the perfect view.
The charging horses didn’t bother him at all, but he took great exception to the compere and barked whenever he came near us.
The jousting was fun to watch, but after a while it all got a bit too much for the boy. His journey back in time had clearly worn him out. As the horses thundered up and down the jousting arena he lay snoring on the grass.
It was time to say goodbye to the Mary Queen of Scots Festival and head home.
A brilliant day out
We all loved the Mary Queen of Scots Festival. It was a brilliant day out in a great wee town, that displays bags of community spirit and pride. It was so nice to see lots of local people turn up to spend a day together.
For me the perfect balance was struck between food and drink, entertainment, historic reenactments and things to keep children amused. The festival managed to appeal to all ages, which isn’t an easy thing to do. Being dog friendly it also attracted dogs of all shapes and sizes – they seemed to have just as much fun as their humans did.
After an early start and a long day out, we left Kinross tired, sun-kissed and a wee bit sad that we couldn’t hang around for day two.
I’d like to offer a big thank you to the organisers of the Mary Queen of Scots Festival for inviting us to attend, and also to Scott and his fabulous team at the Green Hotel Golf & Leisure Resort for hosting our stay in Kinross.
As ever all information, opinions and views contained within this blog are accurate and entirely my own.
Until next time ……..