12 Sep 2009

Cut that out! You're not going to do a song while I'm here...at Doune

When I think of the history of Doune Castle, I imagine the centuries being smudged together in a “Danielson: wax-on, wax-off” kind of way.

For example, when you stand at the entrance of Doune, you could say that you are thinking about how it was built in the fourteenth century by Robert, Duke of Albany and how it was later taken over by the Earl of Moray, the half-brother of Mary, Queen of Scots. Or how centuries after that, Bonnie Prince Charlie used it as a prison following the battle of Falkirk.

But, really, we’re amongst friends here. Why lie? What you're really doing is waiting for a particular sound to break through the birdsong and clamour over the hills. In reality, your ears strain to hear the unmistakeable noise of halved coconut shells being banged together by grown men dressed in medieval garb and pretending to ride horses.
High above you, John Cleese’s helmeted head will pop out above the stone wall before beginning his spitting tirade to the “daffy English kaniggets.” And later as you gaze out from one of the high windows at the HUGE…tracks of land…that surround the River of Teith, all you know is that you’d rather…you’d rather…just…SING!
Day-to-day at this Historic Scotland site, the presence of the Monty Python classic is subdued. There is a small stack of coconut halves behind the desk in the shop (which also sells "Holy Grail" Ale), and one room that is bedecked in information boards about the Castle’s long history also includes tales from the making of the film.
Apparently one Monty Python-themed day was attempted, but the castle was so overrun with fans that a traffic jam of bodies occurred in the narrow spiral staircases, creating a safety issue.

More than the beauty of the countryside or the fascinating things about the castle, such as the remarkable thickness of the walls or the regal sight of the main hall, there is one thing that shines as a wonderful reason to visit Doune.
Most of the time in Britain when you see tourists wandering around historic places with those audio commentary machines pushed against their ears, they look a sombre bunch. But Doune Castle got it right, with Python’s own Terry Jones leading the lost through the various rooms, espousing on ancient history as well as outlining how and where the fake door was installed for the part in The Holy Grail with the guard who can’t seem to understand the simple instruction: “stay here, and make sure HE doesn’t leave.”

Vital in bringing history to life are the quality of the story as well as the confidence and talent of the storyteller, and in this case, both are brilliant. Although I reckon Jones could make the history of soup sound enthralling.

So there you have it. Doune Castle: stunning, sturdy, and very, very silly.

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