Flam Church, Norway

Church building designs are usually quite distinctive, each country has their own style. I must say I like Norwegian churches or kirks as we say in Scotland. The really old stave churches have incredibly steep roofs that I love, they seem like something out of a fairy tale book and a bit like somewhere a witch might live although I’m sure I’m not meant to think that! This one just has simple pan tiles though.There was some digging going on in the foreground of the photo below, pipes being renewed I think, but it gives you an idea of the surroundings.

Flam church was built in 1667 and the altar piece is dated 1681.

Flam Kirk

Internally it’s quite dark, probably because of the folk art painted decoration, but I really liked it, although as ever I’m not keen on depictions of crucifixion. I think this must have been a Catholic church.
Flam Kirk

Flam Kirk /church

There were trees and animals painted all around the walls, if I had gone to that church I would have spent all my time looking at the decor. It would have cheered up my church going days no end!
Flam Kirk /church in Norway
Although most of the lights were on and the window glass is clear it still seemed dark, compared with outside anyway, but I think that might all add to the cosiness of it on a wintry day.

Flam Kirk /church

It’s all made out of wood but there seems to be more than one layer of cladding on the walls so hopefullly that insulates it a bit.
Flam Kirk /church

Prior to Flam church I had only visited the Fantoft Stave Church in Bergen before and I recall that as being pitch black inside. I see from the link to it that it was burnt down in 1992 and has been rebuilt exactly as it was, it certainly looks as I remember it from way back in 1970. Do you see what I mean about looking witchy?! Mind you in Scotland we used to add fancy pointed clay or metal points to rooftop edges – to stop witches from settling on them – I’m not kidding you.

Fantoft church

House of Dun near Montrose – interior

It’s a few weeks now since we visited the House of Dun near Montrose, you can see the post that I did about the exterior of the building here. It was built in 1730 for the laird David Erskine.

This is a house that you can only go around as part of a guided tour, but they seem to be fairly frequent so we didn’t have to wait all that long to be shown around. It’s a shame that one of the owners married a woman who liked to tinker with the internal plan of the house. It was of course designed by William Adam who was a fanatic about having everything symmetrical, even creating dummy doors to match actual doors at opposite ends of walls. A previous occupant has ruined a lot of the proportions by having walls removed and such, especially in the hall.

Room in House of Dun

Room in House of Dun

I keep saying this but it’s true – although it’s a very grand house, it still has the feeling of a family home. It must be all the personal nick-nacks that decorate the place that help.

It was impossible to get a photo of the huge looking glass without getting people in it!

Room windows in House of Dun

The cornicings/plaster wall and ceiling decorations are incredibly ornate as you can see.
Room in house of Dun

Apparently the overmantel decoration is of a soldier standing with one foot crushing the crown of England. Not terribly subtle, apparently the house was owned by Jacobites who enjoyed this sort of visual support for the Jacobite cause and they got away with it, at a time when they could easily have been executed for such sympathies!
Room  Overmantel + fireplace

The embroidered quilt on this four-poster bed is fantastic. It was apparently found in a tin trunk in the attics fairly recently. It was a wedding gift embroidered by the mother of the then laird and it has his and his mother’s name sewn all over it, and the fact that it was a gift from her for his wedding. It’s suspected that his bride didn’t want to have her mother-in-law at such close quarters, even if only in the shape of embroidery and I have to say I don’t really blame her.
Quilted bed

Lastly, just about the most bizarre object at the House of Dun is the ‘boot’ bath below, so named because it resembles the shape of a boot. I can’t make up my mind whether it was enclosed like that to keep out draughts or just to make it a more private experience for the bather. I don’t think it would have made washing your legs and feet very easy though!

boot bath

Carn Liath Broch, Sutherland, Scotland

The weather on our way back from Orkney was beautiful and we decided to take a long slow journey back home, stopping off at anywhere that took our fancy. When I spotted a sign to a broch on the road between Golspie and Brora we just had to visit it. Carn Liath Broch is situated very close to the main road south and there is a good lay-by on the other side of the road for parking.

Carn Liath Broch

It’s fairly well preserved with some of the walls still 12 feet tall. It’s in a beautiful position fairly close to the beach – but not too close!

Carn Liath Broch

Carn Liath Broch

There’s still quite a lot to see and it’s easy to imagine what it must have been like for the original inhabitants, quite cosy I imagine.

Carn Liath Broch

Carn Liath Broch stairs

Carn Liath Broch chamber 1

We had the place all to ourselves and although there’s a main road nearby the cars weren’t visible.

Carn Liath Broch

cows and sea from Carn Liath Broch

The broch was probably built in the last century BC or first century AD. But it was first excavated in the 1800s. Nobody is quite sure about the purpose of brochs, and the ideas range from resource-hungry status symbols to temporary defensive structures for extended families and their livestock. Around 500 were built in Scotland, including good examples at Broch of Gurness in Orkney, Dun Carloway in the Western Isles and Clickimin Broch near Lerwick in Shetland.

I’m so glad I spotted that roadsign.

House of Dun, near Montrose

One beautiful day a couple of weeks ago we decided to grab the good weather and drive up to the House of Dun close to Montrose. It’s a Scottish National Trust property that we had never visited before. It’s just over 50 miles away from us. Below are some photographs of the outside from various angles.

House of Dun

The house was originally owned by the Erskine family.

House of Dun, Montrose

House of Dun, Montrose

House of Dun, Montrose

The gardens are meticullously maintained, I hate to think how many hours it all must take.
Garden

Garden , House of Dun, Montrose

As you can see from the plaque below, it was laid by the Queen Mother to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the birth of the house’s architect William Adam. He was the father of three famous architects, the most famous being Robert Adam.

Box hedging dedication

The pergola below looks lovely now but it will look even better when the plants have covered all of the metal support. It is of course in the shape of a crown. The owners of the House of Dun were closet Jacobites and there are various not very well hidden decorations in the house featuring the Scottish crown.
Garden pergola

The photo below of the box hedging was taken from the top of the house steps, the back door really. The setting is fantastic with beautiful views from the house.
box hedging pano

You can actually rent holiday cottages and I think apartments in the actual house. It would be great – if the weather behaved itself. Crucially there is a good tea room!

Hurrah! the National Trust now allow people to take photographs of the inside of their properties, but I’ll keep those ones for the next blogpost.

Castle of Mey, Caithness, and Sutherland, Scotland

Castle of Mey

On our way back from Orkney we realised that we would be very close to the Castle of Mey, the Queen Mother’s residence in Scotland. After her husband George VI died in 1952 she obviously had to vacate Balmoral and the other royal residences to make way for the new Queen. She took a fancy to the very remote castle after visiting it as a guest, luckily the owners wanted to move out. After lots of renovations she moved in, and in later years the Royal Yacht Britannia was used to take royal visitors to the castle. The Queen Mother could never persuade Princess Margaret to stay overnight though, Margaret always insisted on going back to sleep on the yacht, the castle was too cold for her apparently, but I suspect she wanted more privacy to get up to her well known shenanigans.

Castle of Mey
Unfortunately you aren’t allowed to take photos of the inside of it for security reasons apparently?! But you can see plenty of photos here.

As castles go it’s quite a cosy one with the rooms being not too big and our guide told us lots of stories about the Queen Mother, who obviously threw herself into the community and got involved with the local primary school children. There were lots of hand made gifts from them ranged around her sitting room, including a shell covered bottle made into a lamp.

I like the way they utilise the big flat stones that are on lots of the local beaches as partitions, it must be a fast way of building walls.

Castle of Mey

Castle of Mey
That was the first time we had been so far north and I thought it was really scenic, although admittedly we were very lucky with the weather, and just about everything looks lovely in the sunshine. You can look here at all the other places of interest in Caithness if you click on the list on the right hand side and here at all the small towns in neighbouring Sutherland if you click on the list on the left.

Castle of Mey garden + Hoy

It was a surprise to me how well things were growing way up north.

I just love old stone walls with wooden gates – what is the secret garden behind it like, most of the time they are locked though so they remain secrets!

East Garden door

The Scottish Crannog Centre at Kenmore

It was our 41st (yes that’s not a typo, but I don’t know how that happened!) wedding anniversary earlier in the month and we decided to celebrate by driving 50 miles north to the wee village of Kenmore. Previously we had just briefly looked at Kenmore as we drove through it on the way back from a holiday in the Highlands.
Loch Tay Crannog
Crannog on Loch Tay

It’s such a scenic area, the River Tay runs out of Loch Tay here. We intended to visit the reconstructed crannog in the loch, but didn’t think that would take very long. As it turned out we were there for getting on for two hours and I highly recommend visiting The Scottish Crannog Centre. Rachael gave a very interesting talk and is an archaeologist so she should know what she’s talking about.

Crannogs were living quarters that were built by the inhabitants of Scotland 2,500 years ago. They were built on tree trunk stilts above the loch with a split log walkway leading out to the crannog. It’s like a very heavy duty yurt I suppose and is really very comfy and cosy inside. They would have had a fire in the middle of the structure so it would have been a bit smoky and their sheep were also in a fenced off area within it so it was probably a bit smelly, but on the upside – the midges apparently don’t bother you there.
Crannog Kenmore

We were told exactly how they went about building crannogs, cutting trees with bronze axes and forming a point at one end to help get it positioned in the bottom of the loch. When the log stilts were driven in in a circle they then made a platform floor making one large circular room and then sectioned parts of that off.
Crannog at Kenmore

One extended family would have lived there, possibly as many as 15 people (and the sheep). Nowadays the only permanent inhabitants were two families of swallows who dived in and out as our guide talked to us.
Crannog swallow

The museum part of the centre has lots of artefacts that were found when some of the eighteen known crannogs that were on the loch were excavated. Tools and pottery, jewellery, wooden bowls and even some tweedy fabric has survived. The crannog dwellers could refurbish their homes for years, replacing rotten wood with new logs, but eventually there came a time when there was no space to put new supports and then the whole thing would collapse into the loch, which eventually became a small island as trees and plants germinated there. In fact you can see two small crannog islands from the reconstructed one. One had a abbey built on it in the 11th century. It’s situated just behind those boats and blends into the trees on surrounding hills, but it is an island.

Crannog on Loch Tay Kenmore 1
Crannog on Loch Tay Kenmore 2

They’ve also hollowed out some trees to make authentic log boats like the ones that were used by the crannog dwellers.
crannog log boats
After the talk in the crannog we walked back onto land and were given demonstrations on fire-making, wood-turning and spinning. I had a wee shot at the spinning, I think I could get into making and dyeing my own wool!

After that we had a tasty dinner at the Kenmore Hotel which is apparently the oldest inn in Scotland. Sadly by then what had been a beautiful blue sky day had turned into a grey damp one, but that didn’t stop us from walking along the beach below and then driving on to a few more villages in that area before going home.

Crannog and Loch Tay from Kenmore 1

That was a great way to celebrate our wedding anniversary.

Skaill House, Orkney

Skaill House

Skaill House is just a stone’s throw from Skara Brae on Orkney, in fact it was the owner of the house who discovered Skara Brae on the beach after tons of sand had been blown off the settlement during a huge storm in 1850. If you buy a ticket for Skara Brae it also gives you access to the house. It’s apparently Orkney’s finest 17th century mansion, it’s certainly very homely for such a grand house.

Skaill House

The dining room is just a nice size, it would be very cosy I think. The dinner service on display in the built in dresser belonged to Captain Cook, it was on one of his ships and he gifted it to the then owner of the house. It’s very fancy, I had imagined that anything onboard would have been much more utilitarian.

Skaill House  dinner Service

The library is great with lots of 1930s-1970s book club favourites as well as older no doubt rarer books.

Skaill House  Library

Skaill House  Library

I took a lot more photos but that’ll do for now. I really enjoyed going around Skaill House but according to some comments I’ve seen it seems that not everyone has been all that enamoured of the house and only went to see it because the ticket was included in the price of the Skara Brae one. They even thought that having Captain Cook’s dinner service on display was ‘scraping the barrel’. Honestly – some people just live to moan about things online!

Stromness, Orkney, Scotland

I liked this really quaint looking house in Stromness.
quaint house

Stromness is a really small town with just one very narrow street of shops strung along the edge of it, and as you can see it’s very narrow, you have to press yourself to the wall whenever a car goes past – which is often, and sometimes you even have to dive into a doorway if it’s a big vehicle. We were never brave enough to actually drive along this street – not wishing to kill anyone!

Stromness Street , High Street

Stromness street

Stromness, High Street

The pavements/road surfaces are interesting though, there seem to be fossils embedded in a lot of them.

fossil paving , Stromness, Orkney

This very old doorway is just off the High Street .

Carved doorway

Stromness like every other High Street in the UK has at least one charity shop, it’s a cat charity and Moxy the cat is apparently NOT FOR SALE.

Moxy the cat in charity shop

There are some cracking photos of Stromness online, you can see them here.

St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall, Orkney

St Magnus Cathedral

After a few decent days of weather on Orkney a storm rolled in, terrible high winds and torrential rain, so we decided to drive to Kirkwall which is the main town on Orkney. We dashed from shop to shop in a bid to avoid the worst of the rain, not that there are that many shops in Kirkwall.

St Magnus Cathedral beckoned us over the road and although there were quite a lot of people inside – that didn’t detract from the beauty of the place. I usually much prefer the atmosphere in small churches (not that I am at all religious) as some large places of worship often have that ‘fear of God’ about them, but this cathedral felt like a place of peace.

St Magnus Cathedral back towards door

The floor is particularly lovely.

St Magnus Cathedral Floor

As is the font which is encrusted with semi-precious polished stones.
St Magnus Cathedral Font

St Magnus Cathedral altar

St Magnus Cathedral Wall

I love this model of a Viking ship.

St Magnus Cathedral Viking Ship

There are more images of the cathedral here.

Unstan Cairn, Stenness, Orkney

Unstan's chambered tomb

Just by the salt water Loch of Stenness is the Unstan cairn, another Neolithic burial chamber. But this one you can just drive up to and explore on your own. There’s a gate over the entrance but it isn’t locked.

Unstan's tomb

The chamber has a modern-ish roof and a skylight in it so it’s surprisingly bright when you get in there.

Again, you have to bend down to get through the low tunnel.
Unstan's tomb

As you can see, this Neolithic burial chamber is partitioned off in places. These big slabs of stone are all over the island and have been used for buildings all over the place, very handy, they’re even used for fencing off fields sometimes. A lot of crouched skeletons were found in this burial cairn, along with a large number of pieces of pottery.

Unstan's tomb

Quite a lot of the stones have been carved/grafittied over the years, some of it quite modern probably but the photo below might be of original carvings.

Unstan cairn

A couple of horses were grazing in the field just outside the chamber.
horses + Loch of Stenness

It’s well worth stopping off at Unstan Cairn if you’re visiting Orkney.