Dumbarton Castle and environs

Dumbarton Castle and Rock

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.

Dumbarton Castle and Rock

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.

French Prison at Dumbarton Rock

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!

Dumbarton Castle stairs, Dumbarton Rock

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.

View from Dumbarton Rock

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!

Georgian House at Dumbarton Castle

There are guns aplenty scattered around the walls and strategically placed information boards.

View from Dumbarton Castle

Guns at Dumbarton Castle, Scotland

Dumbarton Castle

Tartan + Tweed by Caroline Young/Ann Martin

  Tartan + Tweed cover

Tartan + Tweed by Caroline Young/Ann Martin is a history of the two fabrics that are traditionally linked with Scotland. It has lots of interesting photographs, some of them quite nostalgic as a fair few pop/punk/rock bands have used tartan as their stage costumes. Rod Stewart and The Bay City Rollers get a mention plus Slade’s Noddy Holder who wore a tartan suit along with a mirror embellished top hat.

I found the Tweed half of the book more interesting, simply because I learned quite a lot of things that I hadn’t known before about tweed, whereas I found the tartan section to be a bit repetitive and not as well written, also I didn’t learn anything I hadn’t known before. However if you don’t know much about the history of tartan this will be a good read for you.

As a Scot I have an awkward relationship with tartan. Most of us avoid wearing tartan except for weddings or nowadays graduations or Scotland football matches – if you’re a man. Scottish women tend to avoid it completely for fear of ending up looking like something seen on a shortbread tin. For some reason schools often have tartan skirts as part of the school uniform, even in England and everybody is glad to get out of their school uniform at last – so that’s another reason tartan isn’t popular here.

Anybody can design their own tartan so there are thousands of different designs now and I think that diminishes it, but I suppose it helps to keep the industry going. The myth that only Scotsmen can wear kilts is killed off in this book. If you fancy sashaying about in a kilt then feel free to go for it! There’s no doubt that men in kilts walk differently, the kilt almost has a life of its own it seems.

When we went to Northern Ireland for a holiday (don’t ask) we were surprised to see tartan EVERYWHERE. It seems to be used as a tribal flag by the Ulster Scots, so you could buy tartan curtains and bedding – you name it and they had it in tartan. There’s no doubt about it, human beings are strange.

As I said, I found the tweed section more interesting, I also prefer tweed to tartan and over recent years the industry has really modernised and become beloved by fashion designers. There are quite a lot of good fashion photographs, starting with Coco Chanel herself.

One really tragic fact in this book is that 635 men from the tweed making Scottish Border town of Galashiels were killed during the First World War, most of them in one attack at Gallipoli. Several of the mills ended up being bought by outsiders as many of the local mill owners had lost their sons in that attack.

There’s a section on Tartan and Royalty. From that dandy King George IV to today members of the royal family have been keen tartan wearers. I must admit that there are times when Scots find that slightly patronising. But at one point Princess Anne seemed so fond of tartan and supporting the Scottish rugby team, we thought she was making a bid for being the Queen of an independent Scotland – but that never came to pass.

Anyway, this has been a ramble and a half, suffice to say that I was so enamoured with the Tweed part of this book that when I saw a bundle of Harris Tweed at a recent vintage fair I snapped it up – but what am I going to do with it? I have no idea.

A country walk in Fife – part 2

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.

mossy stones
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.

a burn in Fife
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.
a burn in Fife

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.
sheep

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.
Braes Loan, walled garden

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.
Braes Loan, Markinch
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.
Markinch, Braes Loan

I hope you enjoyed stretching your legs a wee bit!

A country walk in Fife, Scotland

Come on, it’s time to get some fresh air and go on our first springtime walk of the year. This place is called Braes Loan and it’s a walk we hadn’t done before. Just 2.5 miles long I think – so easy peasy! It begins in Markinch and loops up and around part of the town ending very close to where the walk began.

Braes Loan, Markinch

The narrow lane above is quite steep as you would expect from a place called ‘brae’ – it’s Scots for hill, and it isn’t long before you get to farmland with views of the much higher Lomond Hills in the background.

Farmland and Lomond Hills in Fife

I took these photos on Saturday the 23rd of April, it was probably the warmest day we’ve had this year, not that it got any warmer than about 60 F, but it was still a very pleasant change from our long cold winter weather. How do you feel about wind turbines? Some people hate them, including a certain POTUS who is miffed that some are going to be visible from one of his Scottish golf courses, but I like them, in the distance anyway. It’s the golf courses that blight the landscape in my opinion, certainly in Fife (the home of golf) where we have just far too many of them!

Fife farmland

The view on the left hand side of the path is of woodland, and I like these old stone steps that lead to another path through the woods, we’ll take that path another day.

Braes loan in Fife

Onwards and upwards, the trees will not be quite so bare now, nearly three weeks since I took these photos.

Braes Loan path

But the celandines were happily showing their cheery wee faces in the sunshine.
celandines

There’s some kind of crop beginning to grow in this field, I’ll have to go back later in the year to find out what it is. In the distance you can see the small and historic town of Markinch.
Markinch in Fife

As you can see we’re still walking uphill, although it does even out from time to time so it’s not a relentless hike up. It seems to me that no matter what the month is in Scotland you’ll be able to find gorse or ‘whins’ as it’s called in Scotland in bloom, it fairly brightens the place.

Braes Loan, Fife, whins

I think the photo below was taken more or less at the highest point of the walk. It’s a bit hazy but in the distance you can see the River Forth which is several miles away. Surprisingly there are a few lonely scattered houses in this area and they obviously want electricity, hence the annoying wires in the photo – how very dare they!

Fife, River Forth, Scotland

Suddenly we reached a road and more or less flat land where there were a few horses looking for some human company. The small village in the distance goes by the poetic name of Star of Markinch and at one point the author Annie S. Swan lived here with her husband.

Star of Markinch

I don’t speak ‘horse’ and when they amble up to me it seems to me they always have something in mind, I find it a bit alarming. I just end up stroking their noses tentatively, while looking out for flashing teeth getting too close for my comfort!
horses

I’ve got a fair idea though that as I backed away from them they were saying – Oi! Come back, what – no apples? What was that all about then! There’s no doubt about it, horses find me disappointing.
horses , Fife

We’re about two thirds of the way through the walk now but we’ll take a break now and finish it off another day. If this is your first country walk for a while you’ll be needing a break. I hope you enjoyed this breath of fresh Fife air as much as I did!

Dunkeld in Perthshire

It was a sparkling afternoon in October I think when we visted Dunkeld again, just for a walk around the place. Perthshire is well known for having lovely trees.

sheep

Walking around the edge of the cathedral brought us to these sheep that are in the normal sheep stance – head down and chomping away.

Dunkeld sheep

The banks of the River Tay are very close to the remains of the cathedral, so the grass there is manicured compared to the rest of the riverside. It’s a nice place to sit and is just a hop and a skip from the wee town.

River Tay at Dunkeld

The Tay is really a thing of beauty, swift, clean and somehow honest looking, certainly when I compare it with my recent visit to the River Severn. Don’t fall in though! One of our ‘boys’ once kicked our football into it when he was a youngster, I think he thought we would be able to get it back – no chance.

River Tay

Sometimes they have the salmon season opening ceremony at Dunkeld, they pour some whisky into a quaich which is a two handled Scottish drinking vessel and throw it into the river as a blessing. Nowadays if you catch a salmon you have to put it back in the river, after taking photos of it of course. Conservation is important.

One year I remember they had to crack the ice to get a boat onto the river, but I can’t find any videos of that freezing year. I did find one of the 2018 ceremony at Kenmore though, another wee place I’m fond of and I’ve added it to an old Kenmore blogpost of mine. So if you enjoy listening to a pipeband and you’re interested in seeing a River Tay fishing season opening ceremony have a look here.

Buzzards or Hawks ?

Last Thursday our weather changed (for one day only!) and out in the garden I could actually feel some warmth from the sun. It was time to do some garden tidying after a long hard winter, in fact I just about filled the brown garden waste wheelie bin and there’s still a lot more to tackle.

But it wasn’t long before I hear a familiar plaintive cry – that of what I think are buzzards who seem to spend a lot of time wheeling around in the sky calling to each other. Is it a mating ritual I wonder? Well it’s getting on for that time of the year. There were four of them up there, presumably having fun, you can only see three in the wee video that I took of them though.

Buzzards

There are an awful lot of buzzards and hawks around wherever we go in Scotland, numbers just seem to have exploded in recent years. I suppose that means there must be plenty for them to eat.

I like the photo below as you can fairly clearly see the wings of the nearest bird. I’m wondering if these are hawks or buzzards, do you have any idea?

3 Buzzards

New Slains Castle in Aberdeenshire

New Slains Castle

A few weeks ago we drove up to Peterhead so that Jack could attend a football match – which ended up being cancelled, so we decided to make the best of the situation and visited some interesting locations around the area. My friend Christine had mentioned that Slains Castle was nearby, but might be a bit too spooky, and I must admit that I had never even heard of it. There are in fact two Slains Castles – an old and a new one. We visited both of them but there’s very little left of the old one and a farmer seems to be using it as a bit of a dumping ground.

New Slains Castle had a lot of re-building done over the years and the photo below shows that it ended up being given a Scots Baronial makeover at one point.

Slains Castle

Dracula author Bram Stoker had visited the new castle as a guest in its heyday and apparently the location inspired him to use it as a model for Dracula’s Castle. Sadly since those days the castle has fallen completely to ruin. In 1925 the owner decided to remove the roof to avoid paying tax on the building and as the building is practically hanging over the North Sea it won’t have taken long for the weather to ravage it, but it is very atmospheric.

New Slains Castle
Unusually for Scotland there’s quite a lot of red brick in the building of dividing walls and such, I suspect these bits were re-done in the 19th century.

New Slains Castle
You can see where the beams and joists were originally.

New Slains Castle

New Slains Castle

When we were there it was quite busy with foreign tourists and local kids. Those youngsters are always heart-stopping for me as they are fearless, it seems that if there’s a cliff around then there’ll be kids dangling their legs over the edge of it. This time I was amazed to see some boys aged about 14 had climbed right down to the sea – and even more gobsmacked when they disappeared behind a rock and emerged wheeling their bikes – they had ridden down there it seems!

We did climb up some of the castle stairs for a better view and to imagine what all the rooms must have been like but it does feel quite dangerous up there as because the floors have all gone you can’t walk from one room to another as there’s always a big gap between them, if you aren’t careful it would be easy to fall down into a downstairs corridor, it’s as scary as looking down a ravine.

New Slains Castle

The stairs are distinctly dodgy!
New Slains Castle

They chose a good spot for the castle though – both defensively and just for a spectacular view.

Rocks
Rocks

There have been quite a few accidents and strange deaths here and there were floral memorials and woven wooden things that must have been to keep witches away – and of course – red thread.

Somebody fell down the ravine below not long ago – don’t go too close!

Slains Castle Sea inlet

You can see more images of Slains Castle here.

Isle of Skye

It must be around 20 months since we visited the Isle of Skye, but I have never got around to blogging about it, unlike Jack. So if you want to see some photos of Skye, albeit on a fairly misty day have a look at the link. Isle of Skye

We only spent a few hours there and it was quite busy at all the ‘beauty spots’ although it wasn’t quite as busy as it has been this last summer, when it actually said on the news that the Isle of Skye was full to bursting point and so if you didn’t have a reservation at an hotel, B&B or campsite then – don’t go. It’s the Outlander effect apparently. I must say that Skye isn’t my favourite part of Scotland, I suffered a horrible fortnight’s holiday there when I was 11. It involved a caravan, a boggy field, a brother and a lot of rain, it put me off holidays for years!

Battlefield/Langside in Glasgow

One day last month we decided to travel to my beloved west of Scotland, all of seventy or so miles away from where we now live, but a miss is as good as a mile – as THEY say. We were aiming to visit Holmwood House, an Arts and Crafts house which is now owned by the National Trust. I’ll blog about that house sometime in the future.

On the way back from that part of Glasgow I mentioned to Jack that an ancestor of mine (great great uncle?) had designed a church and monument in Battlefield, which happened to be the area we were in, just as I said that we passed the monument which is now situated on a traffic roundabout! The Wiki link is wrong, I think that must have been his son who went to Australia.

Battlefield Monument

It’s much bigger than I had imagined. The monument commemorates the Battle of Langside in 1568 which ended with the defeat of Mary, Queen of Scots’s army on that site, or certainly nearby. Alexander Skirving designed the monument in 1887 which was the 320th anniversary of her defeat.

As ever, we in Scotland are always in a bit of a quandary, would we have supported her or been on the other side? I suppose it depends which religious leader you favour – the Pope or John Knox. What a choice!

The church is now a bar and eatery, as so many of them are nowadays, if they haven’t been turned into flats or demolished. We had already had our lunch at Holmwood, we’ll try that restaurant out another time though.

Church

Battlefield/Langside Church

After that the only thing I wanted to seek out was the street that I knew must be fairly nearby, named after the architect and also of course my own maiden name. With a bit of help from a passerby we found it, as you can see it’s typical Victorian tenements, it’s actually quite a long street the photo below is about half of it.

Skirving Street

There are shops further up, including a bookshop which very annoyingly was closed for the day. It was a bit surreal to see my surname above a Chinese take away. They’re usually called Lucky Date, Golden Moon or some such thing, but I suppose it means that people won’t forget where it is! It’s something that Alexander Skirving could never have foretold when he designed buildings for this area.

Chinese cuisine

There aren’t that many of us about with that Skirving surname, in fact I’ve never met any that I wasn’t related to. It appears in ancient Scottish surname books, but not in ordinary ones, and is of course originally Scandinavian/Viking. Some people like to think that in Britain our ancestors have been here forever and a day, but like everywhere else we’re just a bunch of mongrels when you get right down to it.

street sign

Doune Castle in Stirlingshire

A couple of weeks ago we visited Doune Castle which is not far from Stirling, we hadn’t visited it before although we’ve been to Doune quite a lot and even looked at a house in the village when we were house-hunting prior to J’s retirement. The castle was built in the 14th century.

Doune Castle

There’s some work requiring scaffolding going on at part of the castle.

Doune Castle
Like many such places it has been used as a location for TV programmes and films and probably because of the plummeting pound it has seen a big increase in visitor numbers, especially from the US. I’m beginning to think that Diana Gabaldon should be given some sort of award from the Scottish government – for her services to tourism in Scotland.

Doune Castle

There was also a wedding going on in the kitchen of all places while we were there and the bride was due any minute so we only got a quick look at the kitchen, the guests were already waiting for her to arrive.

Doune Castle Courtyard
Doune Castle has been famous for quite a long time though as it was used in Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Game of Thrones.

Internally it has some quite grand rooms that would have been more suitable for a wedding I think, but maybe that would have meant closing down most of the castle and they wouldn’t want to do that.

Doune Castle Interior
You can see more images of Doune Castle here.

Doune Castle Interior

The staircase below started off fine but got progressively narrower and steeper, it’s amazing to me that people manage to negotiate them without breaking something, although I did hear of one lady who got stuck in a staircase at Culross Palace!
Doune Castle Interior
Most of these National Trust properties have a dressing up box for the children, but at Doune it’s for adults who fancy dressing up as Clare from Outlander! One lady was desperate to try a dress on but I think they were all in Claire’s size so she had to give up trying. In the shop they have for sale replicas of Claire’s riding jacket priced at £200. I think you would have to be a fairly dedicated fan (or nutter) to shell out that sort of money.
Castle Interior  Dressing up

We went for a walk around the castle and it was only then that we realised how well positioned it is. They built it on high ground at the confluence of two rivers, the River Teith and the Ardoch Burn so it wasn’t going to be easy for any attackers to gain access from those sides. There were a few men fishing in the Teith.
River at Doune

There isn’t a tearoom at the castle but we enjoyed coffee, scones and cake at Willows Dell which is in the village of Doune nearby. You can see photos of the village here.

Willows Dell