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We visited Falkland Palace by accident really - we were on our way to St Andrews from Edinburgh and this provided a welcome stopover on the way. It turned out to be one of the most worthwhile visits we made during our recent trip to Edinburgh and the environs. Here's why.
Not having heard of Falkland before, I was quite surprised to find that it was the country residence of the Kings of Scotland, having been built by James IV and James V in the fifteenth century on the site of a hunting lodge. James V actually died in Falkland Palace, and his daughter, Mary Queen of Scots was a frequent visitor. Now in the care of the National Trust, it has been beautifully renovated, both the palace and the grounds in which it is set. From the outside, it looks a little like a fairytale castle, apparently built in the Renaissance style.
The Palace and garden are open between 1 March and 31 October, from 10-5 on weekdays and Saturday and 1-5pm on a Sunday.
Admission is a rather steep £10 per adult, although I think this is fairly average for visits to National Trust properties these days. Family entry costs £25 and concessions are £7. If you are a member of the National Trust, then entry is free. Indeed, as we entered and bought tickets, we were asked three times if we wanted to join the National Trust. Whereas I believe very much in what the National Trust does, it is simply not worth our while; we rarely visit National Trust properties and anyway are about to move countries, so I found it a bit annoying to be constantly asked.
Parking and wheelchair access
There is apparently a car park, although we didn't actually find it and ended up parking in a side street. Wheelchair access is almost impossible within the Palace; there are no lifts and the staircases are tiny and curved. There was a lady there with crutches though who managed with relatively little difficulty.
There are some absolutely stunning things to see in this Palace, so I will concentrate on those that stood out most for me:
The ceilings - the Marquess of Bute refurbished the Palace in the late nineteenth century, during which he employed a painter to design the ceilings in several of the rooms that we visited. These were beautifully done, adding colour to the rooms which were mainly decorated in wood from ceiling to floor. In one room, thought to have originally been a nursery, the design depicts children's stories. In another, it was mainly flowers and fruit.
The wood carvings - most of the rooms were exquisitely decorated with carved wooden panels, including the doors. The time and care that it must have taken to complete them makes the mind boggle; as does the care and attention that has gone to ensure that they are kept in good condition.
Four poster bed in the Keeper's Bedroom - this was apparently built for James V and cost a great deal of money to make, although James V never actually slept in it. Again, this has been beautifully carved out of wood and has been lovingly restored to as close as possible to its original condition.
The Gardens - restored by Major Michael Crichton Stuart in 1947, the Gardens were designed by Percy Crane. It was a real pleasure to walk around the gardens, which were full of blooms. They were very family friendly, with no apparent rules about keeping off the grass, with plenty of seats to sit and contemplate whatever you feel like contemplating. It is also from the Gardens that the best view of the ruined section of the Palace can be seen - this was set on fire by Cromwell's troops and has never been fully restored. As well as the Gardens, there is an orchard in which families are welcome to picnic.
For those that are interested in gardening, there is a small garden centre on site next to the gift shop.
The Royal Tennis Courts - did you know that there is a type of tennis called Royal Tennis played with odd shaped racquets and complicated rules? At Falkland Palace, is the oldest tennis court in Britain, built for James V in 1539. Mary Queen of Scots apparently played here and shocked everyone by playing in a pair of breeches! I found this really interesting; all the more so because of the Mary Queen of Scots connection.
I was very impressed by the guides. They were unobtrusive, but made an effort to give an introduction to each room as we entered. There were handouts pointing out the main features in each room - these were in a number of languages, although mainly European. However, I found the guides provided the most useful information; they were obviously all very proud of the Palace and their work there and it showed. Unfortunately, they had to dress is silly historic costumes - appreciated by the children though, I'm sure.
I was absolutely delighted with the Palace. It was small enough to feel homely; unlike other castles and stately homes I have visited which are high-ceilinged and cold. Aparently, the Crichton Stuart family still live in part of the Palace and indeed, we were told on a trip round that the library was still used as an office by the family. I think the National Trust have done a superb job of making this a friendly, welcoming place to visit and although I originally thought £10 was a lot of money, I actually think it was well worth it.
On top of this fabulous place, the tiny village of Falkland, winner of the Best in Bloom competition, is stunning and it was a real pleasure to walk around, have lunch in the marvellous Kind Kyttock's Kitchen, and chat to the locals, all of whom seemed very welcoming and friendly.
All in all, I don't think you can go far wrong with a visit to the Palace and village of Falkland. It was certainly the highlight of our recent visit to Scotland.