Thoughts on the wild, the weird, and the romantic from author Joy Nash

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Joy Nash is a USA Today Bestselling Author and RITA Award Finalist applauded by Booklist for her "tart wit, superbly crafted characters, and sexy, magic-steeped plots."

» Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Into the books: Day 6, Doune Castle (Monty Python was here) and Gretna Green

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I decided to write The Grail King after re-watching my all time favorite movie, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, filmed in Scotland at Doune Castle

Started out the day with a flat tire. Luckily the morning rain had just stopped, so my husband was able to fix it without too much trouble while the kids and I conversed with the local sheep. Did I mention that there are A LOT of sheep in Scotland? I am sure there are more sheep than people. The cute, fuzzy little buggers are everywhere.

Once we got on the road again, our first stop was Doune Castle, made famous as the setting for the various castle-containing scenes in the timeless classic, Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Doune is the Castle of the Taunting Frenchmen, Castle Anthrax, and the Castle of the Gender-Confused Singing Prince. When we bought our tickets, the lady at the desk asked if we knew this was the castle from the Monty Python movie. When we said, yes, we did, that's why we're here, she stunned us by asking, "Would you like some coconuts?" Then she pulled two sets of coconut halves out from under the counter and gave them to us. Apparently, they keep coconuts on hand for the Monty Python nuts who like to wander around the castle clacking them together as sound effects of trotting horses. Which, I admit, was exactly what we did. Here's a pic of my husband in the Doune Castle courtyard. Imagine John Cleese running up the staircase in the background, slicing and dicing wedding guests:

We had a lot of ground to cover that day, so we left Doune and drove past Glasgow heading south. A few hours later, at the Scotland/England border, there was one stop that I just HAD to make. Gretna Green.

Now, my husband on vacation is a drive-from-point-A-to-point-B-as-fast-as-you-can kind of guy. When I told him we had to stop at Gretna Green, he looked at me, gave an aggravated sigh and demanded, "Is this some romance novel thing?" (Very astute guy, my husband.) I told him that since I had read approximately 736 historical romances featuring elopements to Gretna Green, that there was no way I was going to breeze by on the M74 without stopping to take a look. Since my husband loves me, and since it was past lunchtime and we had to eat anyway, we popped off the highway and drove into the village. It's a big tourist trap with a huge parking lot, a dozen or so shops and restaurants, a nice garden, and of course, the famous Gretna Green Blacksmith Shop where "anvil priests" married eloping couples who handclasped over the anvils.

Gretna Green marriages came about because for about a hundred years, including during the Regency years, it was tough for underage lovers to get married without their parents' permission in England, but it was easy enough to marry young in Scotland. You didn't even need a real priest, only a witness. A blacksmith shop was the first stop over the border, so a few enterprising blacksmiths set up shop and started performing quickie marriages, with a convenient bed set up in the next room so the eloping couple could jump in quickly if the girl's enraged father showed up in town while the ceremony was underway.

Gretna Green is still considered a very romantic place to get married today. There are a number of "anvil rooms" where you can say your vows over an anvil. Unfortunately, no photos were allowed inside the blacksmith shop, so I can't show you an anvil, but here's one of me and my husband in the romantic Gretna Green gardens, with the Blacksmith Shop in the background. Okay, I know it's really cheesy, but aren't we cute?

And here's an even cuter picture of some Highland "Coos" slumming it in the Border Lands out in back of the Blacksmith Shop parking lot:

Up Next: Vindolanda Roman Fort and Hadrian's Wall


Joy Nash


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