Let’s pretend that we’re going on a wee walk through the local woodlands in Fife. I took these photos on May 20th just when we were grabbing every good day – just in case it was the last of the summer.
It was such a late spring that a week or so before these photos were taken there was hardly any sign of green at all, but suddenly everything just exploded when our seemingly never ending winter lost its grip. There’s a wee wooden bridge in the distance – it’s perfect for playing Poohsticks, but I usually just hang over it nowadays looking for fish, and sometimes I see one or two.
The burn is fairly silent until it reaches a tumble of stones and old displaced cobbles, evidence of what had been a ford until the rushing water took its toll.
Here and there there are groves of these ferns, so elegant looking as they unfurl, I think they might be Shuttlecock ferns but there are so many different kinds, I’m not sure. I’ve just noticed that there are hogweeds beginning to grow on the edges, I hope they don’t eventually crowd the ferns out.
This woodland was part of a Victorian private estate but is now freely open to the public.
It’s not all green!
We’ve now reached the rhododendrons, these ones were obviously planted here because they’re directly opposite the front windows of the ‘big hoose’ which is now a hotel. I just noticed a couple of days ago that those posts with wire fencing on them to the far right of the photo below have small padlocks attached to them, so that fad which started in Paris must still be ongoing, crazy, but no doubt the padlock manufacturers are happy about it. I think the ‘fence’ looks completely out of place though.
I hope that that stretched your legs a bit and maybe cooled you down if you’re still stuck in intense heat. The rain arrived here today, I’m not complaining about it as it’s badly needed, I just wish that we could arrange for it just to rain overnight!
Yesterday’s’s Travel section of the Guardian is a Scotland special, so if you want to see some lovely photos of Scotland have a look here for sailing.
here for hiking’walking
and here for eight of the best beaches.
On the second day of our recent four night trip to Dumfries and Galloway in south west Scotland the first historical place we visited was Threave Castle. Visiting this castle is a bit more awkward than some others as you have to get in a boat to get there, although it’s such a short stretch of water that it takes about three minutes to get there. Despite the fact that the water is so shallow that if you fell in it would only come up to your knees – they still make you put on a lifejacket!
The castle sits on an island in the middle of the River Dee and it’s only the second castle that I’ve had to get on a boat to visit, the other one being Loch Leven Castle. It’s a big improvement on a moat though, I imagine the inhabitants would have felt nice and safe.
But Threave Castle did come under attack when the Douglas family it belonged to fell foul of King James II in 1455 and the windows below look onto the area where he had huge guns positioned to fire at the castle over the river. The king had decided that that branch of the Douglas family was going to be wiped out.
The arrows fired through the arrow slit windows below wouldn’t have been much use against cannonballs.
Inside is really just one big room now.
There’s an RSPB bird sanctuary nearby and after leaving the island we went for a circular walk and had a look for wildlife from one of the hides. In the distance the ospreys were flying around, also red kites and buzzards. In fact it looked like the red kites were being a bit too successful as there were loads of them flying around. But I’ll leave them for another blogpost.
Back to Threave Gardens again and the photo below is close to the entrance, it looks like a newly planted area and the sphere is made up of slate, very trendy at the moment I think. I’m sure they’re also very expensive as there’s obviously a lot of skill and time involved in sculpting something like that.
Giant Gunneras seem to grow well in Scotland, there are quite a lot growing in the Edinburgh Botanical Gardens too. They always remind me of a Beatrix Potter illustration.
There are some really lovely trees growing at Threave and in the distance below there’s a large carved wooden fir cone.
I love walled gardens, they always have a feeling of safety and comfort and of course the walls offer great protection for the plants, the one at Threave is beautiful.
Threave really has a wonderful variety of plants and different types of gardens.
I was quite surprised by the rockery below though as it doesn’t have much in the way of rocks. I thought my rockery was a bit lacking in rocks but it has more than this one at Threave.
Below is another sculpture which is a big lump of rock with carvings of animals on it. I prefer big rocks to be left au naturel as to me you can never improve on the beauty of a natural rock face, but that’s just my opinion. The trees look fantastic though – don’t they?
We visited Threave Gardens during our recent four day trip to Dumfries and Galloway and we got there at the perfect time, just as the rhododendrons and azaleas were looking their best. The nearest town to Threave is Castle Douglas.
It’s very weird but when I was there I didn’t even notice the electricity wires in this photo, or the shadow, too busy looking at the plants I suppose.
This was originally a private estate but I believe it is now used as a horticultural training centre and the students have accommodation in what was the estate house – very nice I’m sure. The house is of course in the Scots Baronial style.
There’s a wee burn running through the gardens in the Japanese section.
It wouldn’t be a Japanese Garden without a bridge and acers of course.
And a wee bit of a waterfall too. It was a boiling hot and very bright day, in fact too bright – not that I’m moaning.
If you’re into gardening you should definitely visit Threave. They have a great plant nursery there with lots of plant varieties that feature in the gardens for sale, so of course I just had to purchase some. In my experience it’s rare to be able to buy plants that you’ve actually seen growing in gardens like this one and it drives me nuts that they don’t bother to make the most of the commercial possibilities. Whoever runs Threave has got it right!
I took lots more photos but I’ll save the rest for another time.
I don’t think I had even realised that there were standing stones in south west Scotland, which was daft of me because there must have been quite a lot of travelling to and fro between that part of Scotland and Ireland, even way back in the times when such stone monuments were being built.
So I was surprised to see stones in a field right next to the road we were driving along. It was the Torhouse Stone Circle, a bronze age monument. We stopped to have a closer look, and the sheep that we had disturbed in the field scattered and pushed themselves back into the neighbouring field.
On the other side of the road there are just three stones and some broken bits standing in a field. The stones are nowhere near as large as the ones in Orkney, but they’re still atmospheric and intriguing and these ones have the added attraction that you’ll probably have them all to yourself when you visit them, unlike those in more touristy areas. I like the lollipop shaped tree in the distance.
When we were in the county of Dumfries and Galloway (south-west Scotland) recently we decided to visit St Ninian’s Cave which is near Whithorn. It’s apparently a place that St Ninian – the man who brought Christianity to Scotland way back in the 390s – used for contemplation and prayer. I must admit I hadn’t realised it was quite that long ago. It’s really a very small cave nowadays, but probably over the years it has suffered from rock falls and been eroded by the sea.
When we reached the car park for the cave a bus full of school children and teachers complete with guitars had just disembarked. So we decided to race on ahead of them so we could reach the cave before them and sample the atmosphere better. It was apparently a walk of a mile or so, it seemed longer, through woodland before reaching what is a really beautiful beach full of the most interesting and lovely stones I’ve seen on any beach. It was slightly misty though.
The cave is still a place of pilgrimage for Christians and a lot of home made crosses large and small have been left there, and also flat stones which have been painted with the names of loved ones who are presumably no longer with us.
To reach the cave you have to trudge over 400 yards of a beach which isn’t at all easy to walk on, when we left the area the kids on the school trip hadn’t begun to do it. They were being preached to – poor souls. No words were needed, it’s just a beautiful peaceful place. I’m glad we got to it before its atmosphere was filled with Kumbaya, or maybe it would have been Morning Has Broken.
I’m not at all religious but this is a very nice place to visit, even on a sea misty day.
Back at Dumbarton Castle again, and you get some lovely views from there, below is the River Clyde, looking over to its south bank.
And below looking over to Langbank on the other side of the river from Dumbarton. Obviously I took these photos at low tide, but when the Queen Elizabeth II was launched at Clydebank just a few miles down the Clyde this is exactly where I stood to watch her sail past. I was still at primary school and the whole school walked there to see her and wave at the captain.
If you look to the left in the photo below you should just be able to see the Erskine Bridge in the distance.
The photos below were also taken from Dumbarton Castle Rock although this time looking inland. As you can see there’s a lot of house building going on at the moment. The land around there was the Sunderland aircraft factory during World War 2 I believe, so it was a busy place.
The photo below is of the area just to the right of the photo above, of Dumbuie and Dumbuck which used to be a huge mountainous rock but sadly when I was about seven they started to quarry it and now there’s hardly anything left, it’s like a big hollowed out tooth. I still mourn for what was the original Dumbuck. I hate quarries.
When I was about 13 they started building new houses on farmland which was exactly where I used to walk to get to the top of the hills. I couldn’t believe it and feared that eventually there would be no hills left to walk on at all, but they must have decided that the area was too steep for housing, which it is. I noticed that the houses that are being built now near the Clyde have about a dozen stairs up to the front door. I’m not surprised as being so close to the river they’re in danger of flooding. Rather them than me! Dumbarton was a nice town to grow up in, where I lived anyway, on the edge of town but like many places it has sadly deteriorated, the scenery is still good though.
Last week I was at Dumbarton Castle which is an old friend to me as I used to play around it when I was a wee girl as I lived not far from the castle. It might be a disappointment to some people as it’s not much of a castle really, well not like Edinburgh or Stirling. But Dumbarton was the ancient capital of Strathclyde, so it’s more of a fort and has been used as such since at least AD 450. Built on a volcanic plug, as is Edinburgh, it’s located at a strategic point where the River Leven meets the River Clyde.
Over the centuries it has been well used and at one point a lot of French Napoleonic War prisoners were housed at the castle. Below is a photo of the prison but I believe that they were also living in a part of the castle which is now a ruin.
You have to be fit to visit Dumbarton Castle as it has stairs all over the place. I used to think it was 365, they said there was one for every day of the year when I was a lass, but now they must have re-counted. I’m sure I saw a sign saying 555 stairs, all I know for sure is that my knees knew all about them the next day!
Mary Queen of Scots sailed to France from here in 1435 when she went there to marry the Dauphin. But long before that it suffered attacks from the Vikings. It’s a very historic place.
I thought these photos might be of interest to people who have read Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles as the town is mentioned quite often in the books. Sadly the photos don’t do the distant mountains justice.
A few weeks ago there was a rumour going around the town that Prince Harry and wife would be given the title of Earl and Countess of Dumbarton. Wishful thinking I thought – so I was amazed to discover today that it is indeed true. I suspect that one day they will visit the town, the Georgian house (below) within castle is still used for special events, usually by the army. I just hope that nobody shows them the actual town!
There are guns aplenty scattered around the walls and strategically placed information boards.
I hope you’ve had a nice wee rest after that last walk in Fife. It’s time to get back to the last third of it which will bring us back to the small town of Markinch in Fife.
We’re going gently downhill now and on the right hand side of the path there’s a wooded area with piles of large stones, all moss covered now but it seems that this used to be a mill which has been overtaken by nature since it became disused years and years ago.
The mill stream is still running though, although I would call it a burn as we’re in Scotland. I love running water and can’t resist stopping and having a good look for any wildlife there might be around in it.
As we walked around in a big loop I suppose the farmland in the background must be the other side of the fields that we saw earlier, or not that far from them anyway.
But it seems that wherever you are in Scotland you’re never very far from a flock of sheep! Apparently years ago there was a large house in this area but it was demolished and only the smaller buildings have been left standing.
If you look carefully you’ll be able to see the walled garden which belonged to the large house though. In the photo they don’t look that tall but they must be at least ten feet high I think. I’m now wondering if it has also been totally abandoned or if a nearby small house has taken it over. It’s all so Secret Garden-ish and I’d love a look around inside those walls.
As you can see we’re now nearly back at Markinch where we began this walk, you can see the spire of the 12th century church (St Drostan’s) in the distance.
By the time we reached the town I was glad that we had parked the car there as the long walk back on what was for us a hot day would have been too much to contemplate. That was a very gentle walk, just 2.5 miles and no doubt we’ll be taking longer ones this summer – weather permitting.
I hope you enjoyed stretching your legs a wee bit!