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.

Caithness – sheep and dolphins

Just after leaving the Castle of Mey we met a traffic jam – Caithness style – sheep. They were being moved from one field to another one down the road a bit.

Sheep
Yes the road ahead was full of sheep.

Sheep

Sheep

Sheep

Sheep

There was a teeny wee Border collie pup dancing on the end of its lead, probably its first outing with the sheep, but it hardly took its eyes off the shepherd.

It’s not the most beautiful scenery in Scotland, but just a bit further south you reach the Moray Firth, I’d like to spend some time there to watch the wildlife, it’s famous for dolphins amongst other things.

Moray Firth seascape

I found this You Tube video of the dolphins there, but I’d like to see it in person.

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.

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.

The Kitchener Memorial and Marwick Head, Orkney

We were just driving along a very skinny road when we noticed a signpost saying Kitchener Memorial at Marwick Head, Orkney. Obviously we knew that Kitchener had drowned not long after the beginning of World War 1 when the ship he was on, HMS Hampshire, hit a German mine, but we had no idea it happened just off Marwick Head. This massive tower was built in his memory.

Kitchener Memorial from path

A view of the Kitchener Memorial at Marwick Head, Orkney.

Kitchener Memorial at Marwick Head on Orkney

Marwick Head is absolutely awash with rabbits as you can see, they aren’t at all bothered by humans it seems.

Rabbits

It’s a long way down and it was windy so I wasn’t going to go too close to the edge, some people are thrill seekers though.

More Cliff at Marwick Head, Orkney

It’s a beautiful area and there’s a lovely cliff path if you fancy a long walk. If you click on the photos you can zoom in to enlarge them.

Marwick Head, Orkney

Balbirnie Stone Circle, Fife, Scotland

Balbirnie Stones board

After visiting so many Neolithic standing stones and cairns when we were in Orkney I thought it was about time I did another short blogpost about the local ones near me in Fife, the Balbirnie Stone Circle.

Balbirnie Stones

I did blog about them donkey’s years ago and of course they don’t change although they now have a new and legible information board. There was evidence of 16 cremation burials as well as a flint knife, a jet button and beads and a complete food container when the area was excavated.

Balbirnie Stones

The powers that be decided to move this stone circle when a nearby road was being upgraded – which is truly sacrilegious, but at least they re-arranged them as they had been originally. They are now 125 metres to the south-east of their original location.

Balbirnie Standing Stones 3

There’s a burn nearby and I presume that that is why people settled in this area over 2,000 years BC. I must admit that I like to think of families living and working here all those years ago.

Over the Sea to – Orkney

At the beginning of June we had a week’s holiday on Orkney, the first time either of us had visited those islands. Even the trip over on the ferry was quite exciting, although as usual whenever I’m on ‘wild’ water it was a flat calm! It was also a wee bit misty.

Pentalina

Stroma in the photo below is one of the islands between Caithness and Orkney.
Stroma

Below is a photo of Stroma cliffs and some abandoned houses.
Stroma

Stroma lighthouse is now automated as are all of our lighthouses nowadays.

Stroma lighthouse

You can still clearly see the fortifications that were built on the Orkney island of South Ronaldsay below. Orkney was a very busy place during World Wars 1 and 2 due to its strategic position and relatively safe anchorage in Scapa Flow. It wasn’t a popular posting for the sailors and soldiers but the women of the islands were glad to see them, it was their passport off to somewhere ‘more exciting’ for many of them as they married servicemen!

Sth Ronaldsay Fortification

The ferry gets in at Saint Margaret’s Hope, the third largest settlement in Orkney and before you know it you’re off and driving across various islands via causeways. We were on the road to Stromness and our holiday rental cottage.

St Margaret's Hope, South Ronaldsay Closer View

The Bertie Project by Alexander McCall Smith

 The Bertie Project cover

The Bertie Project is the latest offering from Alexander McCall Smith’s Scotland Street series. I was in two minds whether to read this one or not despite the fact that I’ve read all the others but as I recall I didn’t enjoy the previous one so much, mainly because life for Bertie is moving so slowly – it’s not getting any faster.

Bertie is still on a treadmill of his mother’s making such as – Italian conversazione lessons, yoga, weekly visits to a psychologist (it’s Irene his mother who needs those).

Stuart, Bertie’s father is just about at the end of his tether. He has been completely emasculated by Irene who it transpires even made him walk down the aisle to her when they got married and insisted that Stuart promised to obey her.

So when a chance meeting with a pleasant woman in Henderson’s vegetarian cafe leads to him realising that not all women are obnoxious like Irene – the inevitable happens and Stuart falls for her.

Hallelujah! (I said anyway) and Stuart’s mother said something similar when she found out as it hasn’t been easy for her to watch her son being bossed and bullied by Irene. Honestly I thought Irene was going to get her comeuppance – but not for long. I suppose the ghastly Irene is just too good a character for McCall Smith to think of getting rid of her permanently – I live in hope of it though.

Jack read the first Scotland Street book as it appeared in a ‘must read’ list of Scottish books, but he was less than impressed by it, mainly I think because it was so obviously meant for throwaway publication in a newspaper. You can read what he thought of it here.

McCall Smith’s own attitudes are really beginning to annoy me though. He’s labeling Irene a fascist, well she’s definitely intolerant of anyone different from her, but she’s also apparently (shock horror) a Guardian reader, something that the author seems to despise. Also I’m a bit fed up that the only time he veers away from wealthy Edinbuggers as characters was to ‘slum’ it in Glasgow where the characters were criminals!

I’m beginning to think that these books will be looked back on in years to come as being terrifically snobby, even more so than say Angela Thirkell’s books are nowadays. I suppose though he is just writing about the Edinburgh that he has experience of.

An amendment on the inside flap of this book says: Oops! On page 1 of this book and elsewhere, the Turner Prize, as Bertie would be quick to point out to us, has been misprinted as the Turner Prise; no disrespect to the prize was intended. The problem is due to a computer error whereby words ending in – ize e.g. size or seize have been changed to -ise endings.

Oops indeed, especially as there are quite a few mentions of Turner Prise due to the author having a bit of a bee in his bonnet about it.

I read this one for 20 Books of Summer 2017 and the Read Scotland 2017 Challenge.

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.