I was just going to relax today but after my trip to Loch Leven yesterday, the woman at the ticket office told me there was some jousting on at Linlithgow and with the weather forecast be 21c and no clouds i decided to make the trip. I have been to Linlithgow Palace before but apparently the jousting is an annual event there and since I had a Historic Scotland pass I got free entry to the Palace and event which was a bit of a bargain.
Travel: It is fairly straightforward to get to Linlithgow from Edinburgh, the best way is by train from Waverley Station to Linlithgow Train station which takes around 20 minutes. Today unfortunately there was railway works happening which meant the dreaded replacement rail buses where used, this increased the journey time to an hour and also meant having to search for where the buses were (Jeffrey St in the case). On arrival to Linlithgow station the palace is really close, turn left out the station and its about a 5 minute walk with the palace entrance on the right just past Burgh Halls.
The palace like Loch Leven yesterday has a strong association with Mary Queen of Scots, this was where Mary was born here in 1542 and you can visit the room where she spent the first 7 months of her life with along with her mother Mary of Guise (at least whats left of it). The palace was constructed by James I in 1424 after a fire had destroyed an earlier residence. and it was popular with James VI who commissioned luxurious apartments to be built which offered fantastic views of the Loch at the time.
It was busy when I arrived at around 11am, I thought there might be a few people but apparently the mix of the great weather and Jousting lead to a heavy influx of people. The entry was fairly straight forward as the staff had set up a quick check in area in anticipation of the crowds and then i had about 90 minutes to explore Linlithgow Palace before the jousting festivities began.
The palace is in ruins with no roof but most of the walls are intact and some of the floors so there is certainly plenty to explore, the entrance takes you into a square courtyard where you will find entrances on all three sides. I had been here before and i know there is a great observation area so the first thing i did was head straight for the top level up about a million steps. This was a good idea but unfortunately my first attempt at finding the observation deck ended in a dead end with a fat pigeon staring at me, i retreated and headed across to the next side of the building and again up a million steps but again i was met this time by a locked door. Typically the last side I tried was where I found success and after a billion or so steps I found the observation area. The area is pretty narrow and a little uneven at points but you do get some great views not just of the Linlithgow and the Loch but there is also a great ariel look at the Palace and its layout.
There are many other levels which you get to wonder through and get lost in (sometimes several times), a few of my highlights included the Great Hall which dates back to 1406 and from which you can still get an idea of the grandeur of the room as it must of looked at the time. I also really liked the remains of the chapel, with its well defined window openings and the the main archway which still looked amazing.
I spent quite a while going around the various levels of the palace, at one stage i thought there was a lot of kitchens but it turned out I kept getting lost and ending up in the same kitchen room over and over again! There are also some lower levels underground where you will notice a significant temperature drop as you descend into the darker and cooler lower levels.
I could have explored for longer but as the Jousting due to start soon I headed outside to explore that and get a good spot to view the jousting from. The festivities were pretty much in full flow, the Palace has a large grass bank which extends down to the loch and this was where the festival was held. There was a cornered off section in the middle where the jousting was to take place and surrounding that on the Loch side was around 20 tents which made up a kind of medieval village and on the grass bank side was food trucks, first aid and toilets.
I took some time to wonder around the medieval village tents and fair play to the people inside who were dressed in full period costumes and must have been boiling in the hot weather. There was everything from an armoury where kids were trying on helmets, to a carpentry section where a goblet was being made and a clothing section where a shirt was being dyed in a boiling pot with natural ingredients used during the period. I also got talking to the guy there who told me that apparently yellow and green was easy to make but red was more difficult which meant it was a colour of the upper class as it helped represent wealth and apparently lower class people were not allowed to wear that colour.
After walking through the village I was a bit hungry as it was lunch time so i went and got a quick burger from one of the food stalls on the other side of the park and then bagged what i thought was a good spot for watching the jousting. There was quite a few people around and it created a carnival type atmosphere around the place with kids playing with swords and flags being handed out for people to support their favourite knight and that along with the medieval village gave a more authentic feel to the event.
Eventually it was time for the real show to begin and after the knights were introduced a champion was chosen by the events lady and then before the jousting began the knights were asked to prove their skills. Their first test was dart throwing on horseback, where a long dart (like a min javelin) was thrown at a stationary round target on the ground, with closest to the bullseye winning. The next test was bow and arrow shooting on horseback and the same target and riles applied and then the final test was hand to hand combat where the knights split off into pairs and fought until one of each pair yielded.
Finally the jousting was ready to begin and it went on for a longer period than i expected, at around 35 minutes with a number of hits and a few falls along the way. The jousting was pretty good fun, the four knights traded blows for about 15 minutes until finally one of the riders was was struck and fell from his stead, after fighting while on the ground he eventually yielded and was out, it was not long till another knight followed and it was down to the final two Sir Checkmate and Sir James (the lady’s champion). In the final battle both charged at each other on their horses several times traded blows with their lances before one exchanged lead to the lance tips being broken by both knights which meant a draw was declared. As there has to be a winner a malee being convened to decide the contest, this meant all four knights fought at the same time with hand weapons on horseback until there was a winner. It ended up with the same final two being left who had previously drawn and after a close contest eventually Sir James forced Sir Checkmate to yield and was crowned the winner.
The contest had a second round which was due to start after another hour but as the sun was beating down and I could feel my skin burning from the heat i decided to give it a miss and head home. I would have to say that overall it was a interesting day out and as this is an annual event it is well worth checking out if you ever get the chance, having within the shadow of the palace gives it some added authenticity. The whole town seems to get involved too, I noticed on the way out one of the pub had a “jousting day” special on!
Cost: Transport: Train ticket was £8.40 return, Attractions: Linlithgow Palace Jousting day – £0 (free for Historic Scotland members, £13 for those without a pass), Food: Burger from the van – £5.