Pretty Young Rebel by Flora Fraser

Pretty Young Rebel  The Life of Flora MacDonald by Flora Fraser was published by Bloomsbury recently, I borrowed it from the library. I hadn’t read anything by Flora Fraser before but apparently she is an award winning biographer, and I can see why.

About half of this book is set in the Highlands/Islands of Scotland and I must say that considering everyone knows that ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ did escape to safety the author manages to convey an atmosphere of tension, fear and danger. I don’t think I had realised before that it was Flora MacDonald’s step-father who had volunteered her for the job of helping the prince to escape. A job that no doubt none of the men wanted to do because if caught they would definitely have been executed.

I was impressed by the behaviour of the prince, he seems to have been brave and stoical, despite the hellish weather conditions that had to be endured during his long and hazardous journey before his escape.

I must admit though that it was the second half of the book which I was most interested in reading because it was only a few years ago that I realised that Flora MacDonald had emigrated to North Carolina – but had gone back home again after a few years.

Sadly Flora hadn’t chosen wisely when it came to getting married, her husband Allan was a complete liability, not that she ever seems to have complained about him. In theory he was a good bet, he was well educated  and certainly had good prospects, but his business plans always failed. He ran through all of Flora’s money and ended up being heavily in debt to many people.  With so many people in the Highlands and Islands emigrating to America Flora and Allan decided to join them.  Again Allan wasn’t wise in his business dealings, but what was worse was that the fighting between Crown and ‘rebels’ wasn’t long in arriving at their door and Allan had plumped to support King George. He went around gathering support on that side from other Highland emigrants and when a lot of the men ended up being killed both Allan and Flora were very unpopular with the widows and families.

After that ‘the rebels’ started attacking their farm and stealing anything they fancied including all the farm tools and hpousehold goods. It was time to go home to Scotland, which they did, with almost nothing to their name, and having to rely on the charity of old friends. Still,  Flora seems not to have been bitter about things, but maybe she just kept her thoughts to herself!

Anyway, this was a great read by an author who has in the past won prizes for her biographies.

Dumbarton Castle – info boards

If you want to see some photos of the castle, including the Georgian part which I took back in 2018 on a blue sky day have a look here.

Dumbarton Castle, info board

There are plenty of information boards to read if you visit Dumbarton Castle. If you want to read them more easily click on the photos.

Dumbarton Castle, info board

The photo below was taken from inside the guard room which has only fairly recently been opened to the public.

Dumbarton Castle, guard room

Royal Progress, info board, Dumbarton Castle


Mary's Cause, Dumbarton Castle

Dumbarton Castle has had famous prisoners over the years, including William Wallace and Mary, Queen of Scots.  I believe that it was one of the many places that she managed to escape from. In fact she escaped from so many places that I suspect that it was a bit of a cat and mouse game which was being played on her.

Held Captive, Dumbarton Castle


Dumbarton Castle and environs

Dumbarton Football Club ground

Back in September Jack wanted to go to Dumbarton to watch a football match there, he’s a loyal supporter of Dumbarton Football Club – through thick and thin and at the moment it’s quite thin! Anyway, I’m not a huge football fan so I opted to visit Dumbarton Castle which is situated right at the football ground. As you can see below the info board names it Dun Breatann, Fortress of the Britons. Over the years the town which grew around the fort became known as Dumbarton, it’s a bit easier to say I suppose.

Dumbarton Rock info board

Although it’s called a castle it isn’t anything like Stirling or Edinburgh, but in its day it was one of the most important fortresses in Scotland. Ships sailed from here to France and elsewhere. Mary Queen of Scots sailed for France from the castle, she was also imprisoned here, and of course escaped. There have been lots of drawings of the area over the centuries and in some of them the patch of grass in the photo below has a house on it, it was demolished long ago. Behind the wall to the right are steps, when I was wee they used to say there was a step for every day of the year but now they say there are over 400. As a wee girl I tried to count them, but I always got a different tally.

Dumbarton Castle, Dumbarton Rock

And here are some of the steps in the photo below, these ones are right at the beginning and are possibly some of the steepest. It’s not a good place to visit if you aren’t good with stairs! On the other hand it will keep you fit.

Dumbarton Castle stairs, Dumbarton Rock

The photo below is of a small part of the rock face. The whole thing is a volcanic plug.

Dumbarton Rock face, Dumbarton Castle

At the moment some areas are cordoned off. The building below is known as the French Prison because during the Napoleonic wars it was used to house French prisoners, it’s apparently going to be refurbished and will then be open to the public, it never has been in my lifetime.  The sunken area below with the metal bars in it is part of it too but is in much worse condition.

French prison, Dumbarton Castle


French Prison, Dunmbarton Castle

More rockiness!

Dumbarton Castle, Dumbarton Rock

There are still cannons in place. This has always been a very strategic place, at the confluence of the River Clyde and River Leven.  The Romans were here, and the Vikings and it’s amazing how often it’s mentioned in historical fiction.

Dumbarton Rock, Dumbarton Castle, cannons

It was low tide at the River Clyde when I was there.

Dumbarton Castle, Dumbarton Rock, River Clyde


Dumbarton Castle, River Clyde

Below is a photo of some of the stairs seen from above. The small white building is a guard house and that hadn’t been open to the public before. Looking at this photo it strikes me that you need a head for heights!

Dumbarton Castle, Rock

Below is the River Clyde again. It’s a pity it was such a grey day as the views are spectacular when it’s bright.

River Clyde, Dumbarton Rock

Looking to the other side of the river in the photo below is a small part of the town, Dumbarton. I lived close to this area and it was my playground when I was a wee girl, but all of these houses and flats are new, sometimes the rivers pay them a visit!  The Sunderland aircraft factory took up a lot of the land where these houses are now.


If you cast your mind back to when Prince Harry and Meghan Markle got married you might remember thet the Queen bestowed the Scottish title on them of Earl and Countess of Dumbarton on them. It was supposed to be an honour for the town I’m sure but they were unimpressed. It was expected that they would pay a visit to Dumbarton soon after they married as that’s what normally happens, but apparently (if you can believe the tabloids) the couple took it as an insult instead of the honour it was meant to be – something to do with the word ‘dumb’ apparently. Honestly, how daft can you get!


Aberdour Castle, Fife

Aberdour Castle, info Board 1

It was back in October when we visited nearby Aberdour Castle for the second time, it must have been about 15 years since we first went there. It’s just a ruin now but there are parts of it which are quite habitable – well almost. If you want to enlarge the photos click on them.

Aberdour Castle, Fife

Aberdour Castle, Fife

The gardens are well maintained now and they even have an orchard.

Aberdour Castle from Garden

The photo below was taken from the Doocot (Dovecote)

Aberdour Castle , from Doocot, Fife

But there are habitable rooms in the castle as you can see below. With a few rugs, tapestries and curtains I could quite happily move in!

Aberdour Castle,Fireplace ,Fife

There is a rare painted ceiling

Painted ceiling, Aberdour Castle, Fife

And a large hall which is actually bigger than these photos make it look.

Aberdour Castle, Hall, Fife

I’m sure you can hire this place for a wedding, if you are so inclined.

Abedour Castle, Hall, Fife

James Douglas, the 4th Earl of Morton acquired this castle in 1564. He loved gardens and his travelling in Europe and particularly Italy had influenced him when he set about planning his garden. Sadly it doesn’t take long for gardens to disappear once a property falls into disuse.

Morton's Garden, berdour Castle, Fife

Aberdour  Castle, info Board , Fife




The Royal Crescent, Bath

We did quite a lot of walking when we were in Bath, the Royal Crescent was one place we had to visit. It was quite  a hot day and there were lots of people relaxing on the patch of green which is opposite the Georgian houses. The crescent was designed by John Wood, the younger between 1767 and 1774. The photo below is a stitch of two photos I took on my phone.

Royal Crescent, Bath, a stitch

The stone that most of the buildings in Bath were built with is cream coloured, and apparently isn’t really ideal for house building, but over they years it has kept a lot of stonemasons busy, replacing blocks which were ravaged by the weather and would have become porous. I think it’s a type of sandstone.

Below is a photo of the right hand end of the crescent which Jack took on his camera. I’m sure if it had been on my phone I could have removed all of the people from it. Anyway, as you can see it’s quite a busy area. After  complaints from the residents about noise from traffic and particularly tourist buses with commentary, traffic has been restricted. I bet the residents of Edinburgh would love it if the same thing happened there. Traffic on cobbles makes life very noisy for them.

end of Royal Crescent, Bath, Georgian houses

I had been under the impression that Bath had avoided being bombed during WW2, but apparently it was bombed during what were called The Baedeker Raids – after the famous tourist guide books. Previously I had read that Hitler had wanted to keep Bath intact as he had plans to make it his British headquarters! Anyway, this crescent has featured in quite  a few films and Bridgerton, but Jack was not too impressed. He didn’t like the grassy patch of land opposite which was full of people. I can see that that might not be a great view for the people living in the houses. On the other hand most of the Georgian houses in Edinburgh have a road between them and the private gardens opposite which only the house owners  are able to get into, they’re well locked up, iron fenced and hedged around so you can’t even see in!

Anyway, if you visit Bath the crescent is definitely worth a look, it isn’t a long walk from the centre of the city.

The houses in the photo below are just to the left hand side of the crescent. As you can see, one of them has had a strange sort of balcony added on to it, instead of the more usual small cast iron balconies.  It looks a bit incongruous.

By Royal Crescent, Bath

The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory

The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory was published in 2011. It’s part of the author’s fictional Three Cousins’ War series. I decided to read it after I read her essay about Jacquetta in the book which I reviewed here.

It begins in 1430 at the Castle of Beaurevoir near Arras and Joan (of Arc) has just been billeted there as part of the houshold, which includes Jacquetta who despite just being 15 or so has been married off to the much older Duke of Bedford,  Regent of France and uncle to the young English King Henry VI. It’s a marriage in name only as the duke just wants to use Jacquetta’s gifts.

Jacquetta is supposedly descended from Melusina, the river godess and can sometimes see the future, a dangerous trait to have when women in particular can easily be accused of being witches. There’s nothing that she can do for Joan when she herself is accused of witchcraft.

With the death of her husband Jacquetta is free to marry Richard Woodville, her husband’s squire, although they end up having to pay a fine because Jacquetta shouldn’t have married out of the aristocracy.

When they return to England they’re warmly welcomed by the king and so begins their life at the court, never an easy place to be but it has its compensations. Richard is made a baron and is given an estate, mainly because Jacquetta is a favourite with the queen.  It’s the royal couples worst habit, handing out goodies to courtiers for no good reason which incenses those who might be more deserving of notice. Jealousy and anger abound, it’s a recipe for disaster.

Jacquetta seems to have been some sort of superwoman as she had at least 14 children, would hardly have had time to get over one pregnancy before she was pregnant again and still managed to pack a lot into life, supporting the king. But war was never far away and changes mean danger.

I must admit that I had never even heard of Jacquetta until recently, it’s really sad the way strong women have been overlooked by historians. Although this is a work of fiction the author has done plenty of research and woven an entertaining story around what is known.

Lichfield Cathedral

Lichfield Cathedral

It was a Sunday around lunch time when we visited Lichfield Cathedral and the place was surprisingly busy, but we were really lucky and managed to get a parking place really close to the centre of the town – or city as I suppose it is. The cathedral is so tall it was quite difficult to get it all in on my phone, I just about managed. I was seriously impressed with all the carving on the front although I was later told that some of it is Victorian as it was quite badly damaged during the Civil War.

As we were walking to the cathedral I was surprised to see this tomb/effigy on the outside of the cathedral, the right hand side of it. I think it must be one of the oldest parts, it seems strange that it isn’t inside the cathedral though.

Lichfield Cathedral, Mediaeval bit

King Charles II stands fairly close to that tomb. He was instrumental in having a lot of the Civil War damage repaired.

Charles II

I suppose that all Church of England cathedrals are ‘high’, but this one seems to be particularly so.However, I must say that the volunteers and guides were very interesting,  friendly and welcoming.

Lichfield Cathedral, altar,

There seem to be quite a few altars in the cathedral in various locations, side chapels and such, but below is the high altar. I must say that as I have no religious inclinations at all, the atmosphere in this place was very pleasant, you can’t say the same for all places of worship.

Lichfield Cathedral,High Altar

Possibly  the mosaic tiled floor below is the most modern part of the cathedral as it looks Victorian to me. There is a roundel of King Charles II, obviously he was  popular in Lichfield! The Victorian renovation was designed by Sir George Gilbert Scott. You can read about the history of the cathedral here.

Lichfield Cathedral, mosaic, Victorian floor tiles, King Charles III

The roof is beautiful, so delicate looking but obviously strong.

Lichfield Cathedral Roof

There is of course a shop, but also a lot of war memorials which interested Jack. Below is a side chapel, I think.

Lichfield Cathedral, side chapel

My phone focused on these African shields below rather than the ornate ironwork.

Lichfield Cathedral ,shields

Thanks again for suggesting the cathedral as a good place to visit, Cecilia.

Lichfield Cathedral, Altar

One last observation about this cathedral. They don’t have a ticket fee, they just ask nicely that visitors might make a donation if they can, which of course we did. We visited a couple of other cathedrals during our trip and they had quite steep ticket prices, despite their websites saying that they were ‘free’ to visit. I understand that it costs a lot to keep these places standing, but in one of the others I felt almost like I’d been ‘mugged’.  It was especially annoying as where we were parked meant that our visit could only be a very brief one. I think it’s best if they can just ask for donations although I suspect that that would mean a lot of people wouldn’t give anything at all.

Blackness Castle – part 2 – Fort William in Outlander

We’re back at Blackness Castle which is apparently in Clackmannanshire, the smallest county in Scotland, it’s not far from Stirling. From the photo below you can see how solid and high the towers are. The gateway that you can see is where there’s a we drawbridge that leads out to the river walkway where supplies used to be unloaded for the castle, directly from ships.

Blackness Castle , River Forth

All of the rooms in this castle seem to be barrel vaulted, no doubt for strength. I’m sure that some of the rooms were used in filming Outlander most recently.

Blackness Castle Clackmannanshire, Scotland

There are stairs all over the place as you can see below. It was an incredibly blustery day as it almost always is at the River Forth but strangely as soon as we got inside the castle it felt very safe, quiet and – warm! Some of the walls are around nine feet thick, where they were in most danger of getting attacked by cannon I suppose.

Blackness Castle, Scotland

It could feel quite cosy with tapestries on the walls and heavy curtains and maybe a nice carpet underfoot, or at least rushes. I’m not sure if the room below originally had a low ceiling in it. On the right hand and above the window it looks like the remains of a fireplace.

Blackness Castle , Scotland

As is often the way with old castles a lot of the rooms have a medieval ‘en suite’ off the main rooms as you can see in the photo below. All mod cons, well it’s a long way up and down to the ground floor. No ‘garde looing’ here! But it does look a bit cold to be dangling your ‘bahookie’ over the hole.

Blackness Castle , latrine, Scotland

Below there’s even an alcove where you can wash your hands, but I don’t think it’s within the toilet area, maybe a good thing.

Blackness Castle, Scotland

I particularly like the windows, the shutters open if you need fresh air.

And I can just imagine this as a good place to read – if there were plenty of cushions on the window seats.

Blackness Castle , Scotland

Blackness Castle  window, Scotland, Outlander

The castle has been modified a lot over the centuries and the photo below show what was the original entrance, which is now blocked up. It’s much bigger than it looks in the photo.

The garden, below was the last bit which we visited, as you can see the weather had cleared by then. It looks quite industrial on the other side of the river, because it is. The blue crane thing to the right of the middle is actually at Rosyth, the naval dockyard. So this area of the River Forth is still about defence!

Blackness Castle garden River Forth

Blackness Castle became Fort William in Outlander, and it was where Jamie received the lashes from the dastardly Captain Randall – ooh err!

Dirleton Castle, North Berwick, East Lothian

A couple of weeks ago we decided to knock a few more Scottish castles off our list of places we hadn’t visited yet. So we headed for North Berwick in East Lothian, it’s maybe 20 miles from where we live as the crow flies but it’s over 60 by road since the Firth of Forth is in the way. It was our 47th wedding anniversary (I know!!) and we felt the need to get out of the house and do something different. Dirleton Castle was our first port of call. It’s a 13th century castle and at some point the English Edward I captured it – for a while.

As you can see it has taken a bit of battering over the years. It’s now owned by Historic Environment Scotland.

Like many castles it has been built onto an area of rock, a strong foundation.

Dirleton Castle, North Berwick, East LothianCastle 6

Dirleton is one of the many historic buildings which had been closed to the public for a few years while they were inspected for safety, there are some areas that you aren’t allowed to go into. The photo below is of the kitchen/storage areas and it was a wee bit unnerving as I could hear and see small bits of masonry falling from the ceiling near a fireplace! I’m sure it’ll be safe though.

Dirleton Castle Interior , North Berwick, East Lothian

The decorative alcove below was where the silver plate would have been displayed when there was entertaining going on. Really it’s not all that different from the stone ‘dresser’ at Skara Brae.

Dirleton Castle Interior, display area,North Berwick

Below is the dovecote, or doocot as they are named in Scotland. This is where the pigeons roosted, they were an important source of meat for the castle during winter months.

Dirleton Doocot , dovecote, North Berwick, East Lothian

Below is the interior of the doocot. I’ve been told that pigeons, (or doves if you want to be genteel) breed all year round which is why there are so many of them. All of the wee niches would have contained  pigeons sitting on eggs. Castles had a lot of people living in them although I doubt if the workers ever got to taste much in the way of meat.

But the poor souls who were in the dungeon which is below would have been on a bread and water diet if they were lucky.

Dirleton Castle dungeon, North Berwick

Within the dungeon there’s a hole in the floor which prisoners were thrown down, if you were down there I doubt if you would survive for long!

Dirleton Castle info Board , North Berwick

Dirleton Castle is surrounded by greenery, as it probably always has been.

Dirleton Castle Garden , North Berwick

Below is the Victorian garden, very formally planted, very pretty.

Dirleton Castle Gardens stitch

Elizabeth I and her world by Susan Watkins – 20 Books of Summer 2023

Elizabeth I and her world by Susan Watkins is a lovely book with sumptuous photographs by Mark Fiennes. I borrowed this one from the library just last week, I must admit that it was the photos that really attracted me and I had intended just drooling over all the Tudor portraits, grand buildings, jewels, gardens and paintings of various scenes, but when I began to read it I quickly realised that I wanted to read it all. Despite knowing quite a lot about the Tudor courts and Elizabeth there was still a lot to learn from this book. Elizabeth may have made some mistakes as a youngster but she certainly learnt from them and seemed to know intuitively how to stay on the right side of her people.

This was a great read. It was first published in 1998 and then again in 2007 in paperback.