Astonishingly, Linlithgow has only been the subject of one post on this blog out of 220-odd, which surprises me given how it is one of my favourite places in the world. Tuesday afternoon was the last one I would have off before my new job started so instead of going home and falling onto my bed, as I often do on a Tuesday, I decided to go off on a train someplace. As I walked along Battlefield Road towards Mount Florida station, I had vague notions towards Carlisle or Linlithgow. Since it was just after 1, getting somewhere before it was dark and then it being at all meaningful meant it couldn’t be anywhere too far. The ticket machine soon spat out a return ticket to Linlithgow. Before too long I was on the train into Central and then another from Queen Street as the sky darkened.
My first impression of Linlithgow High Street was of more shops being shut than I remember. When I lived in Dunbar, I used to be envious of Linlithgow being a small town with excellent transport links and decent shops and amenities. It didn’t seem so this time. I walked up the street towards the fountain that sits just in front of the Burgh Halls, paying attention to its fine features. It is very easy to bring Linlithgow’s past to life, walking along the High Street and imagining life in years gone by. Before going to the Palace, I detoured down into the Peel, the park that surrounds the Palace and walked a little way by the loch, looking back at the Palace from different angles. Even on a dull day, the Palace is a fine building, mostly complete but even better since it’s a ruin, with something to offer from whatever angle you view it. The view as you approach Linlithgow on the train improves my mood every time, even by night, even when all you see is a silhouette.
I became an Historic Scotland member in 2008, actually at Linlithgow Palace. I have renewed it every year since, though sadly in recent years I have used it steadily less. I still renew it and I have my card with me at all times, just in case there is an adventure to be had. By now I must have been to most of the HS staffed properties – just now I looked through the list of HS castles and it is easier to pick out those I haven’t been to. I have been to Linlithgow dozens of times and when I walked in this time, I cheerfully told the steward not to bother with the guidebook. I have a system for Linlithgow whereby I take each level in turn, starting in one corner and working my way around then going up and so on until I reach the top. I was in the place for well over an hour and didn’t see it all. Since my visit coincided with the ‘golden hour’ and the sun coming out, I stayed above ground throughout, not bothering with the numerous cellars and the pit prison this time.
Despite having been to the Palace a fair few times, I still managed to notice something new. In fact three new things, beginning by looking towards St. Michael’s Church. Above the exit of the Palace are spaces for statues, but on a smaller scale than those on the loch end. At the top of St. Margaret’s Tower, I had a rare sense of vertigo as I ascended the steps. The view covers a fair whack of central Scotland, towards the Pentlands, Cairnpapple Hill, Beecraigs and Falkirk, though I had never noticed before that you can also see towards the Forth Bridges, 9 miles away, with part of the Rail Bridge, one of the Road Bridge’s towers and the new Queensferry Crossing clearly visible over the fields. The last thing was near the tower nearest the Great Hall, with a curved section of wall where it didn’t necessarily need to be so, perhaps from an earlier iteration of the Palace.
Whenever I visit somewhere familiar, I go through lots of different sensations, depending on the day. There can be a danger of becoming blase. I find that an issue when I go to lots of places within a relatively short time or when I have been to one place loads of times. Linlithgow felt fine though it was undoubtedly improved by seeing it through new eyes, noticing new details that I can explore more next time. When I left, the steward said he had worked in the Palace for 15 years and he still got surprised by it. There are many people out there who are blase about their job. We all know them. Thankfully the steward at the Palace isn’t so kudos to him. When daytripping, the law of diminishing returns is a danger but I’ve tried not to let it be an issue for me. I get to Linlithgow once a year and it suits me fine. When I pass through on the train, it gives me a twinge, just enough each time until I get off there. I have never regretted it yet.