How famous is Linlithgow? Well. Have you ever wondered where the very first assasination with a firearm took place? Scottish history is rife with stories about so-and-so burning down whossit’s castle, and whossit wreaking bloody revenge (generally by burning down a castle), which prompts more castle burning and revenge. Such is the case with the first Earl of Moray, who burned down the Hamilton castle and subsequently got gunned down by James Hamilton by use of a match-action carabine.

That’s not the real reason Linlithgow is famous, however. Do you think it’s because of the castle? That’s a good guess.

Linlithgow Palace is a one of many picturesque heaps of stone which dot the Scottish Lowlands. From the top of Linlithgow Palace you can see other ruins poking out of the hills, but their authenticity is not guaranteed. It seems that during the Victorian era there was a depression at some point, and local lords would pay workers to erect faux ruins in their backyards to keep the townsfolk employed.

What a brilliant way to add interesting scenery! Readers may recall my vigirous letter writing campaign to erect Easter Island-style heads all over western Oklahoma to make the drive across I-40 more entertaining. Castle ruins are an even better idea. Write your congressman today and say, “Quit using the Stimulus money to build trains and power lines and stuff. We want castles!”

Linlithgow Palace is real, though. Impressive, imposing ruins that you can walk around inside of. Older castles tend to have gone through several installments of redesign, when various monarchs felt inclined to add a new wing or upgrade throne rooms. Since new chambers were not a part of the original plan, elements of the previous format are strewn throughout. You can see bits of staircases going up walls and disappearing, or windows converted into chimneys.

The most interesting aspect of Linlithgow Palace is that its architects did not bother including hallways. Yes, there’s a Great Hall where the king would listen to courtiers. But hallways— corridors by which to access seperate rooms– these are auspiciously absent.

The effect is that, if you have four bedrooms on a floor, you’ll have to walk through the first three to get to the one on the end. This raises all sorts of interesting questions about privacy. Nobody had watches back then, so it’s not like you could say, “Hey Bob, I know you and the missus are having your wedding anniversary tonight, but just so you know I’m planning on walking through your room to get to my room around 11:15, so maybe you can plan accordingly?” Nope. Either medieval people devised some sort of interesting ways to reproduce, or conversely, they had even less propreity than a freshman dorm.

How did this massive castle die? A candle. That’s right. Not a seige or a gunpowder plot or anything. When Bonny Prince Charlie passed through Linlithgow in the mid 18th century, somebody left a candle burning near a stack of hay, which accidentally caught fire, then lit up everything not made of stone. The roof tumbled down, support beams snapped, and the magnificent Linlithgow Palace was razed. No one even got shot with a match-action carabine for it.

I have never previously thought, “I’m glad Mom’s not here to hear about that” while travelling, but I did after the bit about the candle. All mothers envision two or three calamitous scenarios that they are pathologically terrorized by. For my mother it’s mountain lions and candles. Mountain lions do occassionally wander through our neighborhood in Oklahoma, so her concern is somewhat justified (although I’m told that mountain lions prefer small children and pets, so really my brother and I ought to be in the clear by now). In so far as candles are concerned,Mom is under the impression that as soon as a candle gets to the bottom, it explodes like an M80.

To light a candle safely, according to my mother, everyone in the room should be wearing goggles and making direct eye contact with the candle at all times, in case it spontaneously tips over and sets the house on fire. If Mom were to step into Linlithgow Palace, the scorch marks would be a physical manifestation of proof that candles are all tiny wax bombs. I would never hear the end of it.

But Linlithgow Palace is not why the town is famous. It’s famous because of who the people born there. James V, Mary Queen of Scots, and Alexander Salmond, the First Minister of Scotland were all born in Linlithgow.

Nothing, however, compared to Linlithgow’s most famous son: Montgomery Scott.

That’s right. In 2220 the USS Enterprise’s Chief Engineer, Scotty, is born in Linlithgow! I feel priviliged to have visited the town of his eventual birth. The castle ruins are spectacular and the surrounding scenery is beautiful, but it all dims in comparison to making a pilgrimidge to the site of Star Trek’s first “miracle worker.”

Right now they have a placard, but presumably they’ll start erecting statues soon.


Andrew Heaton is a writer and standup comedian in New York City. If this post made you laugh or think, kindly "like" it on Facebook.

One comment

  • November 23, 2011 - 2:21 pm | Permalink

    What a joy to find someone else who tihkns this way.