Fortingall, Perthshire

Way back in August last year we visited the Highland Perthshire village of Fortingall. The village is well known foor its ancient churchyard yew tree which is thought to be over 5,000 years old, apparently the oldest living thing in Europe. Over the years the yew tree has died in the middle, leaving a cave like space in the middle, so sadly there’s no massive tree trunk to hug! Tourists over the years cut bits off the tree as souvenirs so a wall and railings were built around it for protection.

Fortingall Yew

There has been a church there for centuries, the original one dating from the 8th century, but the church there now dates from 1901.

Fortingall Kirk
The surrounding landscape is typical hills covered with what looks like a Forestry Commission plantation. I hope that fewer of these are going to be planted in the future as they don’t look great en masse and when they do cut them down the place is always a scene of devastation.

Fortingall Hills
I believe that it was the local MP who had these gorgeous Arts and Crafts design houses built for the locals, lucky locals I say!
Fortingall Arts and Crafts

Fortingall Arts and Crafts

But the more traditional Scotish houses such as the one below are lovely too, this one had a lovely garden.

A Fortingall house

It looks like an idyllic village, but as always – I wonder what it’s like for young people to live there. I suspect they would just be stuck in the village unless they have parents willing to provide a regular taxi service for them.

Fortingall Arts and Crafts
However there’s a lovely burn for kids to play in in the summer, that’s something that we all did as kids but I have a nasty feeling that parents don’t allow their children to have fun messing about in burns nowadays.

Fortingall Burn

Fortingall is a very small village but like lots of far-flung places it seems to have a great community spirit, when we were there they were having an art festival and quite a few well known artists were exhibiting.

You can see more images of Fortingall here.

Shakespeare’s Birthplace at Stratford-on-Avon

When we visited Oswestry so Jack could go to a football match last month we decided to stay a couple of nights near Stratford too. We had visited Stratford-on-Avon a few times before but hadn’t visited Shakespeare’s birthplace before. This time around we had free entry via Art passes we had been given at Christmas so we thought it would be daft not to visit. The photo below is from the back, there were some actors putting on a bit of one of his plays just to the side of the house.

Shakespeare's House

Below is the house from the front, there’s a wide pedestrianised road between it and the houses opposite which look about the same age.

Shakespeare's House

Below is a photo of the room that Shakespeare was born in although it isn’t the actual bed. The wee oval wooden baby’s crib is of the correct period though, and seeing it I realised for the first time why they were called basinettes in those days as it looks just like a basin.

The small truckle bed was for the boys to sleep in after they outgrew the crib. The ropes look nice and tight for a good night’s sleep. Apparently the girls in those days didn’t have anything so luxurious,they just had to sleep on the ground – typical!

Shakespeare's House

As the boys grew older they moved into the room below, their parents’ bedroom is through the doorway to the left.
Shakespeare's House

A different bedroom is below, they seem to be fond of red and green bed hangings. I wonder if that was the colour of his famous second best bed that he left to Ann Hathaway.
Shakespeare's House

Shakespeare’s father was a glover and below is his small workroom which is on the ground floor of the house.

Shakespeare's House

Although the crib on the left hand side looks very old I gather from the guide that it isn’t original, it’s very cute though. I love the dark carved chest too.

Shakespeare's House

I’ve always had a hankering to have a split door like this one – well maybe not so craggy. I’m not sure what you call them, I think I thought they were called farm doors but I’ve recently heard them described as being Dutch doors. My brother in Holland certainly has one for his front door.

Shakespeare's House

Below is another view of the house from the back. We were quite lucky that it wasn’t too busy when we went around the house. We did try to visit Ann Hathaway’s house earlier but just as we parked the car a tour bus turned up so we decided to give it a miss as it would have been very crowded. If you’re interested in my previous post on Stratford have a look here. Amazingly it was way back in 2012 when I did that one – how time flies.

Shakespeare's House

There’s a lovely old window in the house and over the years lots of famous visitors have scratched their names into the glass, but sadly they didn’t show up in the photo.

Much Wenlock, Shropshire, England

I had vaguely heard of Much Wenlock and there’s a bookshop there (it’s on a list) so we decided to visit it when we were staying in Oswestry for a few days. Sadly when we got there the bookshop was closed, but the town is so quaint we were happy just to have a look around it. Much Wenlock is the birthplace of the modern Olympic Games apparently.

The only shop that was open was a terrifying antiques shop. It’s the most jam packed shop I’ve ever been in with towers of ‘stuff’ everywhere, almost all of it very breakable too as the stock seems to consist of 99% china/pottery! We carefully negotiated the piles but were too terrified to pick anything up to look at it, we would probably have had to move six other pieces to get to anything interesting anyway. So breathing carefully, we squeezed out again – heaving a sigh of relief – no damage done.

Wenlock  Priory Board

Back out on the pavement we spotted a sign pointing to the priory and made our way there. There’s actually still quite a lot to see and some of the stonework is very ornate. What is left dates from the 13th century. Luckily English Heritage look after it, so as we’re in Historic Scotland at the moment we didn’t have to pay to get in.

Wenlock Priory Buildings  + Topiary

Wenlock Priory

Wenlock Priory
The priory must have looked fabulous in its day but over the years most of the stones have been recycled for use in local buildings as usually happens with these places.
Wenlock priory
Wenlock Priory
Walking back to the car I took a few photos of some not quite so ancient buildings. The one below is brick built.

Much Wenlock buildings
I particularly like the building below as I can just imagine people hanging over the balcony to chat to people in the street 500 years ago.

Much Wenlock

Much Wenlock Buildings
The building below is the Guildhall and is still in use.

Much Wenlock Buildings
There’s quite a variety of styles around though.
Buildings in Much Wenlock

The village has been used in a few film locations, including the John Cleese film Clockwise.
Much Wenlock Buildings

It would be nice to visit Much Wenlock when it’s actually open, so if we’re ever in that area again we’ll definitely go back.
Much Wenlock Buildings

It has quite an interesting history which you can read about here.

Crichton Castle in Midlothian, Scotland

I do hope that I’m not repeating myself because I could have sworn that I had already done a post on our visit to Crichton Castle, but it doesn’t seem to be on the blog, and the photos weren’t on Flickr, so I must just have written the post in my head – and got no further!

Crichton Castle

Anyway, as I remember it was a lovely visit to the castle which has quite a long footpath leading to it after you park your car. We had it all to ourselves although as we were leaving some other people turned up.
Crichton Castle is near the village of Pathead in Midlothian, not that far south of Edinburgh. The oldest part of the castle was built in the late 14th century, but by the time Mary, Queen of Scots attended a wedding there it must have looked quite different.
Crichton Castle
Crichton Castle

It was owned by the Earl of Bothwell who became Mary’s third husband – really that poor woman should have been much wiser and been more like her cousin Elizabeth I and eschewed marriage altogether.

Crichton Castle  stairs

The castle has a scale and platt staircase, in other words a straight staircase with landings, instead of the normal spiral staircase that castles of that age have. Francis Stewart who owned the castle in the 1580s was inspired by a trip to Italy and copied an Italianate style, adding fancy diamond rustication to the courtyard wall, medieval stone cladding I suppose.

Crichton Castle
You need to put your initials on your castle obviously!

Crichton Castle

The setting is lovely, high above a river with plenty of trees around.

Crichton Castle

The castle features in Sir Walter Scott’s Marmion and was painted by J.M.W. Turner in 1818.

RRS Discovery at Dundee

One day last week we decided to make our first ever visit to
RRS Discovery which is permanently berthed at Dundee. It’s the ship that took Scott and Shackleton on their first expedition to Antarctica.

We only live about 15 miles from Dundee and have often driven past Discovery but as both boys went on school trips to visit it seemed silly to take them again, so this was our first visit. The city of Dundee advertises itself as Dundee – City of Discovery which is quite smart as not only is it linked with the ship but it’s also known for the high standard of research that goes on at the Universities and Ninewells Hospital.

RRS Discovery bow part

I love ships in general but getting to go on board Discovery was a real treat. It seems amazing that she is so small but travelled all the way to the Antarctic braving all that ice. She was built in Dundee and that’s why she is berthed there now. The Dundee shipyard was chosen to build her because they were experienced at building whaling ships (it was different times) so they knew how to build incredibly strong ships. Below is a photo of the way Discovery was put together for maximum strength.

Structure of wooden sailing ships

We took loads of photos especially of the cramped space below decks, but I’ll leave that post for another day. In the photo below you can see the newly completed building which is the Scottish outpost of the V&A which is yet to open, I can hardly wait!

Discovery and V&A 2

St Rule’s Tower and St Andrews Cathedral, Fife

The photo below is of St Andrews Cathedral ruins and St Rule’s tower, they look quite small in this photo for some reason, they are in fact large and quite imposing – for ruins.

St Andrews Cathedral ruins and St Rule's tower
Going up the spiral stairs is an interesting experience involving metal stairs first before you get to the old stone spiral ones. There are apparently 156 steps and I’m just really glad that we didn’t meet anyone coming down as we were going up, they’re very narrow and trying to get past strangers could be quite embarrassing!

St Rule's  spiral stairs

You can get more of an idea from the photo below of how the underside of the stairs looks.
St Rule's  spiral staircase underside

I think most of us spend time visiting far afield places before getting around to seeing nearby tourist attractions. That’s the reason it has taken us about 40 years to get up St Rule’s tower which is in St Andrews Cathedral’s grounds, and I have to say that half-way up the narrow spiral staircase I wished we had tackled it at least 20 years ago as I thought I was never going to get to the top! But it was worth it to get the view which is great even on a dull day.
From St Rule's  at St Andrews
The famous Old Course is over towards the right in the distance of the above photo and to the left in the photo below.

St Andrews From St Rule's

From the other side of the tower you get a view of the harbour.

From St Rule's

The cathedral was badly damaged during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms as the English Civil War is more correctly described nowadays, but if you have a good imagination you can see that it must have been quite some place in its day. Below is a view of what’s left of the Chapter House and some stone coffins, in those days they chiselled out the shape of a body as you can see, an awful lot of work for the stonemason, it seems they didn’t want the body moving out of position.

Chapter house coffin

The view of the town of St Andrews that you get from the top of the tower is probably clearer than you would have got in medieval times, certainly in winter when all of the chimneys would have been belching out smoke. There were only two chimneys doing that when I took the photo but they were making plenty of pollution.
From St Rule's, St Andrews view

You have to be fairly fit to make the climb up the tower!

North East Scotland

Well, that was a weekend with a difference. On Friday morning we began the long journey from Fife up to Peterhead in Aberdeenshire, the north-east of Scotland. It was snowing heavily by the time we got the car loaded up for the journey, so I decided that it would be a good idea to be ready for all eventualities – such as getting stuck in snow, so I added a duvet, blanket, lots to eat and flasks of coffee. Jack went out to the shed and got a spade, just in case we had to dig ourselves out of a snowdrift. The forecast further north was for no snow at all though so we knew if we got out of Fife safely we would be fine.

Neither of us had ever been to Peterhead before and as the football team that Jack supports (Dumbarton) was playing Peterhead FC it seemed like a good time to go up there. He has visited almost all of the football grounds in Scotland, but not Peterhead. He was keen to tick that one off too but sadly the match was called off! It would seem mainly because the police had said that nobody should travel in the west of Scotland if it wasn’t absolutely necessary and Dumbarton is in the west of Scotland. So annoying as they would have got there fine I’m sure.

Anyway – every cloud and all that, we were staying overnight in Peterhead so we had plenty of time to explore the area and visit places we had never been before such as Laurencekirk, Ellon, Fraserburgh, Cruden Bay and also Slains Castle. To be honest I wasn’t too enamoured of any of the towns, but at least now I know what they look like. Being that far north is just too far from Glasgow and Edinburgh for my liking.

Slains Castle was the most interesting place we visited. It’s a ruin now as the owner had the roof removed in 1925 to avoid tax, but when it was still habitable the author Bram Stoker had been a guest in the castle and apparently it inspired him to use the castle location as Count Dracula’s castle. We took a lot of photos, but I’ll keep them for another blogpost. Meanwhile have a look here if you’re interested.

Hill House at Helensburgh in the west of Scotland

In October 2017 we found ourselves running around all over the place, from Norway to Lancashire, but the photos below are from Hill House in Helensburgh, much closer to home, well what was home when I was growing up, the west of Scotland. Hill House was designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and he was incredibly lucky to be commissioned to design not only the house but everything inside it too, very rare for an architect I think. It’s only recently that The National Trust for Scotland has allowed visitors to take photographs of the interior. The house was built between 1902 and 1904.

Mackintosh was keen on light and dark so a lot of the woodwork is black, but really that serves to be a wonderful contrast to the beautiful cream coloured rooms. It was practical too I think as the hall and stairs are dark, places that would have been quite difficult to keep looking absolutely pristine, especially as this was designed as a family home – for the Scottish publisher Walter Blackie. If you have some old Blackie books the binding will almost certainly have been designed by Mackintosh.

The photo below is of a small hall table as you can see the design is arts and crafts. His designs are a mixture of arts and crafts, art nouveau and Japanese.

Hill House Hall table at Helensburgh

A very dark stairwell entrance below, unfortunately very difficult to photograph becaus eof the wall light.

stairwell entrance

The drawing room below has a handy niche for the baby grand and as you can see the room is nice and bright.

Drawing room 1

Below is another view of the drawing room.

Drawing room

And another view of the drawing room. Mackintosh and his wife Margaret Macdonald worked as a team on this project with Margaret designing and making some of the art works and soft furnishings.
Drawing room 3

She embroidered the settee backs which are still in reasonable condition considering how old they are now.
Drawing room 4

Drawing room 7

I have plenty more photos but they can wait for another blogpost. Sadly Mackintosh used Portland cement on the exterior of the building, it was a ‘new wonder product’ according to the manufacturers. But in the damp climate of the west of Scotland it was a disastrous choice as it drew the moisture into the fabric of the building causing lots of problems. Now they are even thinking about building a huge glass structure over the whole house to try to preserve it. Desperate measures!

Hill of Tarvit House

Hill of Tarvit House is a mansion house about ten miles from where I live in Fife. It’s a Scottish National Trust property that we’ve visited several times before, but not since the SNT decided that interior photography would be allowed.

The photo below is of the main hall with its lovely wood panelling on the walls and ceiling. The chandelier looks dazzling in this photo but it’s actually quite a dark room, mainly to protect the very old tapestry that can be seen on the back wall.

Hill of Tarvit House Main Hall

The staircase comes off the hall.

Hill of Tarvit House  stairs

The sitting room in the photo below is also just off the main hall. This property ended up being handed over to the Scottish National Trust because the man who would have inherited it from his parents died in a very well known train crash, he was on the train going to meet his fiancee to take her to his family home. Sadly he was an only child.

Hill of Tarvit House sitting room  room 1

This is an Arts and Crafts house and I think it’s the most homely of any of their properties that I’ve explored. A lot of the small contents are the sorts of things that can be seen at antique fairs, so there’s not a lot that seems too precious. Below is a photo of the library, quite cosy really.

Hill of Tarvit House drawing room

The other end of the library.

Hill of Tarvit House  library

And a close up of some of the books in the house, I don’t know if you’ll be able to make out any of the titles though. Isn’t that lampshade ghastly!

Hill of Tarvit House  books

Below is the built in cupboard in the butler’s pantry. It has some local pottery (Wemyss ware) in it which in its day was not too expensive, but it is now, mainly because the Queen Mother was a keen collector I think.

Hill of Tarvit House butler's pantry

The owners were friends of Sir William Burrell of Burrell collection fame and some of the contents of the cabinet below were wedding gifts from him.

Hill of Tarvit House upper landing

It’s difficult to get a photo of the whole house, below is the best I could manage.

Hill of Tarvit House exterior 2

The garden isn’t huge although there is a croquet lawn which is often in use, it’s surrounded by some really scenic countryside/farmland though which you can see here and here in two previous posts.

Hill of Tarvit House Trees

St Andrews Castle in Fife

A couple of weeks ago I was sent the most recent copy of Historic Scotland magazine and I was surprised to see that the article about St Andrews Castle – in St Andrews north-east Fife – featured photographs that I didn’t recognise at all. Obviously there were parts of the castle that we had somehow missed in previous visits!

St Andrews Castle

St Andrews castle

So a couple of days later we went there to do some investigating and discovered the tunnels underneath the castle that had been mined in an attempt to undermine the castle during a siege in 1546-47. We also saw the bottle-dungeon that people were lowered into, unlikely ever to see the light of day again. It’s a long way down!



The times were brutal, these were religious fights with the castle being held by the Catholics to begin with. When a Protestant faction gained access they murdered the cardinal who was in residence. In an attempt to regain the castle the Catholics started to dig a mine under the castle and the Protestants dug a countermine. Click on the link above if you’re interested in the history of the place.

And so on down to the mine, mind your head, it’s only about three and a half feet high in most parts!


It’s a long way down.

mine  St Andrews Castle

And there are a lot of stairs

mine  at St Andrews

And even a metal ladder to negotiate!
mine  St Andrews Castle

mine ladder

You can get an idea of the lay out from the board below, although that makes it look a lot shorter than it is.
Board (mine)

I’m not claustrophobic – but I was glad to get back above ground again!

St Andrews castle + sea