Falkland Palace, Fife

Those of you who follow my social media etc. may have seen that we've recently left Edinburgh and moved back to London again. With that in mind before we left we really tried to delve into that list I mentioned in my Fingal post to find a few things to do/places to go before we departed. Falkland palace wasn't actually on that but it was somewhere we'd seen signposts for many times when we were going elsewhere so we decided to book tickets (subsequent changes in Covid-19 restrictions in Scotland mean you no longer need to pre-book but check the National Trust for Scotland's website for up-to-date guidance) and go and have a look.

Originally a 12th century hunting lodge stood on the site of what is now Falkland palace, this lodge was expanded in the 13th century eventually becoming a castle owned by the Earls of Fife, the Clan MacDuff. The castle being built here as the site is on a slight hill so it could be easily defended. By the 16th century though the castle had become a palace and was a popular retreat for the Stuart monarchs. Originally surrounded by hunting forests, fields and orchards the palace was built to accommodate the royal court when they came to Falkland to enjoy falconry, hawking and hunting.

James IV and James V were responsible for transforming the castle into a renaissance palace, inspired by the chateaux of France and commissioning the best architects and craftsmen.  Luxuries including imported oranges and various musicians and minstrels were all enjoyed by the Kings at the palace during this period. A royal tennis court was added in the garden in 1541, the court still exists and is now the oldest one in Britain. Mary, Queen of Scots also spent time at Falkland enjoying falconry and hunting as well as playing tennis on that very court.

The palace fell into disrepair in the late 1600s after a fire partially destroyed it but was saved from complete ruin in the 19th century by the 3rd Marquess of Bute, John Crichton-Stuart. The restoration covered a twenty year period, the 3rd Marquess died though before fully completing his work and his successors and the National Trust for Scotland have since preserved the palace in the condition he left it in rather than do any further restoration work to it. The palace is still a Crown property but has been in the keepership of the Crichton family (though most duties are now carried out by the National Trust for Scotland) since the 3rd Marquess acquired it. 

The village of Falkland was created a royal burgh, a town which is founded by or subsequently granted a royal charter, in 1458. It is also Scotland's first conservation village with many of the surrounding properties dating from the 17th century and with a wide variety of architectural styles. Although we only had a short wander around the village it's definitely a pretty place with the palace very much at the heart of it, towering over everything nearby on the main street.

Upon arrival at the palace you are able to self guide from room to room before then entering the palace grounds. Along the way you'll find plenty of guides to tell you about the main points of interest and to ask any questions you may have. You'll see a range of rooms including the keeper's quarters, the old library, the recreated King and Queen's rooms and the bakehouse, many of these decorated with wood panelling and painted ceilings. Perhaps the most stunning room for me though was the Chapel Royal. It dates from around 1540 and mass is still held there every Sunday morning, complete with its elaborate ceiling decorations, stained glass windows and large tapestries depicting Biblical scenes it really was impressive.

The inside of the palace is only half the story though, and once you've finished touring inside the grounds are also well worth exploring further. The gardens were redesigned in the 1940s by Percy Cane, a garden designer who also designed the palace grounds of the Jubilee Palace in Addis Ababa for Haile Selassie, the Emperor of Ethiopia amongst other commissions. They are a mix of formal and more rustic and natural, along with a glasshouse as well as housing the royal tennis court that I mentioned earlier. Visitors can also see the remains of the foundations of the castle which were found during excavations carried out by the 3rd Marquess of Bute.

We were lucky to visit on a particularly sunny early summer's day so a walk around the gardens was a really lovely way to end our visit. The trip out to Falkland made a really pleasant change on one of our last weekends in Edinburgh when we were trying to fit so many final things in. It was a busy few weeks so this complete change of location and the tranquillity of the gardens in particular made for a much needed break from all the craziness. 


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