History, tourist information, and nearby accommodation
Falkland began as a hunting lodge owned by the Macduff Thanes of Fife as early as the 12th century. Evidence of a 14th century fortalice (a small fort or outwork) has been uncovered in the palace grounds. The fortalice and much of associated hunting lodge were destroyed by the English in 1337, but the tower was rebuilt. In 1371 Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany, took control of Falkland.
Albany was the most powerful man in the kingdom, a ruler in all but name. In 1402 he imprisoned his nephew and heir to to the throne, the Duke of Rothesay, at Falkland. It was not a gilded cage, as rumour suggests that Albany had the Duke chained in a cellar and starved to death, though the official version is that he died after a mysterious - and rather convenient - illness.
James must have had mixed feelings about Falkland, for as a young man he was imprisoned here by his chief aide, Archibald 6th Earl of Douglas. The young king managed a daring escape, dressed as a groom. It seems that the episode did not stop James from caring for the Palace; he lavished money on Falkland, adding the great twin-towered gatehouse that now serves as the main visitor entrance, and making it the rival of any great stately home in Europe. James died at Falkland, following his defeat against the English at the Battle of Solway Moss in 1542.
Mary, Queen of Scots used Falkland Palace as a retreat from the censorious gaze of Protestant Edinburgh. She came to hawk, hunt, ride, and play tennis.
What to see
There are two parts to Falkland; a twin-towered gatehouse and the royal apartments. The massive gatehouse was built by James V, and now contains James VI's canopied bed, and a drawing room where the ceiling is decorated with the coats of arms of the Stuart Kings. The gatehouse also displays tapestries and replicas of 16th and 17th century furniture.
The King's bedchamber in the royal apartments has another painted ceiling and you can see the bed in which James V died. You can also visit the Chapel Royal, one of the finest surviving pre-Reformation chapels in Scotland.
The gardens behind the main buildings seem to extend forever, through lovely flower-lined walks and treed paths, to a fish pond and the royal tennis courts at the back of the property. The gardens are not original; they were laid out from 1947.
There is so much to see at Falkland; the sense of history is almost tangible. Unfortunately interior photography was not allowed so I can't share images of the extremely impressive interiors. The village of Falkland itself is an amazing place, like going back in a time machine, with beautifully preserved historic buildings at every turn. It was named Scotland's very first conservation area in 1970. It is without doubt a place aimed squarely at the tourist trade, but no less beautiful and fascinating for that.
About Falkland Palace
Address: Falkland, Cupar, Fife, Scotland, KY15 7BU
Attraction Type: Historic House
Location: On the A912, 10 miles from M90 junction 8, 11 miles north of Kirkcaldy. Free town parking area.
Website: Falkland Palace
Phone: 01337 857397
Fax: 01337 857980
National Trust for Scotland
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express
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Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low-exceptional) on historic interest
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