Balvaird Castle, Perthshire

Balvaird Castle

Last week we had wonderful weather, it felt more like June than March, so we grabbed the day and drove to Balvaird Castle which is just about ten miles from where we live. It lies off the A912 road about halfway between Gateside and the Bein Inn in Glen Farg. There were two other vehicles parked by the farm gates at the bottom of the track which leads to the castle, it’s a fairly steep walk from there, but not a very long one.

Balvaird Castle, Scottish tower house, medieval castle, Murray, Perthshire

It’s thought that the castle dates from around 1495, built for Sir Andrew Murray, but over the years it has been extended and altered, as you would expect. Apparently it was owned by the Murray family until 2017 and then it was bought by an American, however it is maintained by Historic Scotland. The original Murray owners ended up moving to Scone Palace – they went up in the world it would seem but I must say that I prefer this setting to that of Scone Palace.

Balvaird Castle, Scottish tower house, Murray, medieval castle, Perthshire

It’s a lovely setting for a home though and the views of the surrounding countryside from the windows must be quite spectacular, unfortunately, it isn’t possible to get into what is left of the castle although you can walk around the ruined parts. If you’re inclined to picnic then it would be a good location for one.

view from Balvaird Castle, Perthshire, Scotland

There’s the gable end of a cottage ruin in the photo below, I suspect that most of the stone it was built with has been robbed to build the nearby wall and the stone to build the cottage was robbed from the castle!

view from Balvaird, Perthshire

aview from Balvaird  Castle, scenery, Perthshire, Scotland

view from Balvaird Castle, Perthshire, Scotland

If you look right in the middle of the photo below you will be able to see the top of some roofs, beautiful trees and a walled garden, presumably it’s the home of whoever farms the land, it looks like my idea of heaven.

aview from Balvaird Castle, Perthshire, Scotland

The roofs are towards the right hand side below. As ever, click on the photos to enlarge them.
aview from Balvaird Castle, Perthshire, Scotland

aview from Balvaird Castle, Perthshire, Scotland

Balvaird Castle , Scottish tower house, medieval castle, Perthshire

Storms Arwen and Malik

A couple of months ago most parts of Scotland and northern England were hit by Storm Arwen and loads of trees were blown down in the up to 90 miles per hour winds – and we hit two of them on our way home that night! The windscreen suffered crazing and there was a dent to the pillar beside it about 2.5 cm wide by 4 cm long. The dent looks bigger in the photo.

Windscreen Damaged by tree

Dent Caused by Collision with Fallen Trre

It seems no time since that huge storm but last night we were hit by Storm Malik (I thought these storms were named in alphabetical order, but apparently not). We did NOT go out in our car but walked as usual for The Guardian and saw one of my old tree friends that we pass every day had succumbed. This is one of the few deciduous trees that have fallen, they’re not usually so susceptible when they have no leaves on them. This tree lying across the road was actually enormous, but it looks like a branch here, maybe I should have taken the photo from the other side.

Fallen Tree, Balbirnie Park

Tree Fallen in Balbirnie Park, Markinch

With the Queen’s platinum jubilee being celebrated this year (70 years on the throne) the plan is for 70,000 trees to be planted this year, but at this rate that will only be replacing all of the trees that have been blown down. Sadly a few people have been killed by falling trees. Storm Corrie is due to hit us overnight!

Sea Room by Adam Nicolson

 The Cruel Stars cover

Sea Room by Adam Nicolson was first published in 2001 and it is very curate’s eggish – that is good in parts, however the good parts will probably be different for everyone that reads it, so it should be of interest and entertaining to various types of readers. Having said that – although I’m really interested in geology – that part didn’t work well for me because I think you really need good photographs to illustrate geology and the small black and white photos in the book don’t show any detail at all. On the book cover it says “the story of one man, three islands and half a million puffins” which are probably the most well-loved of birds, but in this book they are only mentioned as a means of the inhabitants of the past being able to survive by eating them, and nowadays they are eaten by the thousands of black rats that infest the islands. Nicolson does write poetically about the islands which he is obviously in love with. The Shiants were owned by the author Compton Mackenzie in the past.

Adam Nicolson, who is Vita Sackville-West’s grandson was given the three islands 5 miles off the coast of Lewis in north-west Scotland as a 21st birthday present from his father. The Shiants (Shants) as the islands are called had been used in recent years by a sheep farmer who rented the pasture and left the sheep to get on with it until they were big enough for market. The only habitable house is lived in now and again by Adam Nicolson, although at the end of the book he claims that anyone who wants to visit the place can have the key to it! But this book is like a love letter to the wild place and its atmosphere and he covers it from all angles, history, geography, geology, the wildlife, the people who inhabited the place in the past. There’s quite a lot of humour from the real locals who live on the bigger islands and who generously enable Nicolson to live on his islands for a short time each year – and clean him up at the end of his sojourn. I suspect that it is their very good manners which guide them as I can’t imagine that an old Etonian landowner such as Nicolson goes down all that well locally.

For me it was the social history parts which were most interesting, the desperate struggle that people in the past had to keep body and soul together, living on puffins, sea bird eggs and large amounts of limpets.

Adam Nicolson sees the islands as a place for men, well neither of his wives took to the place at all and who can blame them, having to camp out in a tent as it seems safer than being in the house due to the rat population there. It seems like Nicolson has taken to the nth degree that shed bolt-hole idea that so many men cling to. He plans to hand the islands on to his eldest son eventually, whom he hopes will hang on to them and love them as much as he does. Apparently if they ever do come onto the market again there will be a chance of a community buy out, something which the Scottish Government has instituted for areas such as the islands.

One thing that the puffins have to thank Nicolson for is his refusal to turn the islands over to the RSPB who wanted to turn the whole place into a destination for birdwatchers, with all the necessary paths, cafe, toilets and such which go with large amounts of galumphing human beings.

You can see images of the islands here.

from The Guardian Books section and Visit Scotland

It’s absolutely yonks since I shared a Guardian books link. I was particularly interested in The Books of My Life bit as this week it featured Penelope Lively, a writer I’ve really enjoyed in the past. You can read it here. I was interested to read that she too has been disappointed when re-reading what had been favourite books in the past, but sometimes she falls back in love with them again. I don’t know if I could be bothered with having another go though – considering how many books I still want to read for the first time.

There’s also a section on some of the books due to be published this coming year which you can read here if you’re interested.

If you happen to be more interested in what’s going on in Scotland you might enjoy looking at the Visit Scotland site. Even if you can’t travel here you can enjoy seeing what’s going on and maybe plan a trip for the future.

Happy New Year! 2022

Just a quick one to say Happy New Year! I’m almost frightened to think ahead as last year I was hopeful that we would all be in a much better situation than we are now. I’m so longing to visit family abroad and just get back to the way things used to be, I’m sure you feel the same way too. Stay safe and well.

Hill House, Helensburgh, Scotland, Scottish National Trust

One day six weeks ago or so we took the opportunity to travel across to my beloved west of Scotland, to the coastal town of Helensburgh to be precise. We were taking a friend of ours for her first ever visit to The Hill House at Helensburgh, it was designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. It was a wonderful commission for him and his wife Margaret Macdonald, as not only did he design the house for the publisher Walter Blackie but Margaret designed all the decor, art works and the soft furnishings, upholstery, bedcovers and such. Charles Rennie Mackintosh said that he had talent but that his wife Margaret Macdonald had genius. Below is one of her designs for a CRM chair. I must admit that I think those beads might be a bit uncomfortable if you lean back!

Margaret Macdonald chair, Hill House Helensburgh, Charles Rennie Mackintosh

The artwork above the fireplace was also done by Margaret, annoyingly you can’t see it all that well in the photo below.

Fireplace, Hill House, Helensburgh, Charles Rennie Mackintosh

Below you can see some of the detail of the fireplace.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh fireplace detail, Hill House, Helensburgh

To the left of it is this built-in shelving unit. I’m not a big fan of the sugary pink, but he was keen on pinks, lilacs and purples as was Margaret.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh cupboard, Hill House, Helensburgh

I love the window seat which is in the same room. From previous visits I hadn’t remembered the small niche at either side of the seat, it’s the perfect size for parking your glass of wine, or cup of tea. It must have been a great place to sit and read.

Hill House, Helensburgh,Bench , Charles Rennie Mackintosh

Hill House Bench end, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Margaret Macdonald, Helensburgh,

The lamp below is in the same room, I think.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh lamp, Hill House, Helensburgh

Sadly Hill House itself is in a bit of a poor state. I believe that the Portland cement which was used to harl/roughcast the walls has never been weatherproof, as CRM was assured by the builders, so dampness has always been a problem as you can imagine, in the damp weather of the west of Scotland.

So a huge metal framework has been erected over the whole building in an attempt to dry out the building while they come to a decision as to how to tackle the problem best. There is an advantage to this for the vistors as it’s possible to walk up a metal staircase which reaches right above the roof of the house, so you can get a really good close up view of the outside of the building, and you can get a great view of the Firth of Clyde, but it was a bit misty when we were there. I’ll leave Hill House for the moment but if you’re interested you can see better photos of an earlier visit here.

Glamis Castle, Angus, Scotland

Here we are back at Glamis Castle, the inside of it this time, below is a photo of part of the sitting room which the Queen Mother used when she visited her childhood home, apparently it has been kept as it was when King George VI was alive and she visited with him and her daughters. You can see my earlier post of the outside of the castle here.

Queen Mum's room, Glamis Castle, Ahgus, Scotland

The two wee chairs in front of the fireplace were used by the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret when they were wee. It feels quite homely really.

Fireplace, Glamis Castle, Angus. Scotland

Below is the dining-room with its unusual ceiling.

Dining room, Glamis Castle, Angus, Scotland

Dining room ceiling, Glamis Castle, Angus, Scotland

And the even more unusually positioned lion and unicorn stained glass windows high up in the walls.

Stained Glass, Glamis Castle, Angus, Scotland

Fabulous table centrepieces.

Dining room centrepiece, Glamis Castle, Angus, Scotland

The rather grand drawing room with the photo of the current Earl and Countess of Strathmore on the small table, in contrast to all the paintings of ancestors on the walls.

Drawing room, Glamis Castle, Angus, Scotland

With a ceiling more akin to the icing on a wedding cake.

Glamis Castle, Drawing room ceiling

And more small chairs by the fireplace, at least the children in this castle were warm it would seem!

Drawing room ,small chairs, Glamis Castle

The chapel below has a very unusual ceiling which consists of painted panels. Originally this would have been a chapel for the Celtic church I think but over the years it will have been Roman Catholic but now it is ‘ High’ Scottish Episcopal I believe, which is very similar in looks to Catholic. You can read more about the castle here.

Glamis Castle Chapel, Angus, Scotland

It’s a beautiful castle – fit for a queen as you can see. We had a lovely walk around the grounds after touring the castle, next time I’ll blog about the Italian Gardens.

Glamis Castle, Angus, Scotland

Glamis Castle stitch, Angus, Scotland

At last we got around to visiting Glamis Castle which was the family home of the Queen Mother. It’s still owned by the Strathmore family, they’ve been there since the 1300s. We tried to visit the castle years ago but by the time we got there it was too late go around the castle and as we walked along the driveway we were walking against a tide of people who were leaving. This time around there were very few people there which was good as when we toured the interior we had all of the rooms to ourselves as by the time someone else was entering – we were exiting. Sadly it was a bit of a grey day when we were there this time around but it didn’t detract too much from the castle, I think it looks like an illustration from a fairy tale, which is quite apt since the yougest daughter of the family ended up marrying a prince, then went on to become a queen. The castle’s name is pronounced ‘glams’.

If you’re interested in the history of the castle have a look at the timeline here. The castle has links with Macbeth and Shakespeare.

The yew hedge lined driveway below is not the main driveway, that one is flanked by fields, but we drove down it this time so I didn’t take any photos, and the last time we were there it was full of people. You might want to look at my previous post which I’m amazed to see was written nine years ago!

Glamis Castle,from east, Angus, Scotland

The view below is of the castle from the right hand side as you look at it. Sadly the old stone fountain isn’t working.

Glamis Castle and masonry, Angus, Scotland

I’ll show you the interior and also the lovely Italian garden sometime soon.

Mail Royal by Nigel Tranter

Mail Royal cover

Mail Royal by the very prolific Scottish author Nigel Tranter was first published in 1989

Lord Gray has been Sheriff of Angus for decades but King James VI has decided to take that sinecure away from him and give the very lucrative sheriffdom to Lord Home. But Scottish sheriffdoms aren’t in the gift of the King, not that that matters because whatever King James says goes.

Lord Gray is desperate to hang on to his only means of getting money and keeping power. He knows that his father had had a hold over King James, it was something to do with secret letters, and Gray is determined to find them so he can blackmail James too. The letters are thought to have been written by Mary, Queen of Scots and must be either embarassing or dangerous for the king.

It’s young David Gray that gets the task of finding the letters. As the illegitimate son of Lord Gray’s younger deceased brother, David gets all the dirty work to do. David’s journey takes him all the way down to London and the royal court that his uncle is so careful to avoid, just in case the King decides to execute him!

I really enjoyed this one, but I’m not sure if it was because I knew every step of the way that David Gray travelled, although he was on horseback. From Broughty Ferry just north of Dundee, to Fife, Haddington, Edinburgh, Dunbar, the fishing village of Cove that we visit, the village that’s lived in by one of my sons, the border towns we know so well. I could picture it all so clearly.

The story includes a romance of course, I think all of Tranter’s books do, and it mentions a few castles that we haven’t got around to visiting – yet!

Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh – part 2

Here we are back at the Palace of Holyrood House in Edinburgh again, inside this time. As you can see the bedroom below is the King’s Bedchamber which is hung with tapestries, has a wonderfuly ornate ceiling and Dutch delft tiles around the fireplace. Most of the rooms in this palace are fairly small by royal standards.

Royal Bed, Palace of Holyrood House, Edinburgh, Scotland

On the video guide Princess Anne explained that people often assume that it must be a horrible place to have to stay in, considering that there has been at least one murder there with Rizzio having been stabbed to death (I bet there were more murders than that one!) But she tells them that it has a nice homely atmosphere. I must admit that I have my doubts about the ‘bloodstain’ in the photo below, it look a wee bit too bright for something not far off 500 years old, but there’s no doubt that this is where the deed took place. If you’re interested in the history of the palace have a look here.

Rizzio's 'bloodstain', Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh, Scotland

Sadly a lot of our photos didn’t come out well due to the dim lighting to preserve the tapestries and soft furnishings, they look blurred like the two below. Obviously you aren’t allowed to use a flash.

Palace of Holyrood House, Edinburgh

King's Room, Holyrood Palace, Edinburgh

Below is a painting of King James VI.

James VI + fireplace, Holyrood House, Edinburgh

I’m sure that the dining room is used when the Queen visits this palace, usually she stays here and does some entertaining and has garden parties before continuing on to her holiday home in the Highlands – Balmoral.

Dining Table, Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh

Some of the paintings in the Long Gallery below were damaged after the Jacobite Rebellion, presumably by Cumberland’s troops but they’ve been well patched up. Someone called these long galleries ‘treason rooms’ as they are the only spaces where people of a treasonous nature could talk without the danger of being overheard. When ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ took possession of this palace in 1745 he held a grand ball. I think it would have been held in this room, unless there is a ballroom which is not open to the public. There’s a secret door in the panelling!

Long Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh

I could have quite happily sat down to soak up the atmosphere, but I don’t think that would have gone down well with the attendants who I must mention were almost all young women and wearing wonderful kilts which looked to me to be men’s kilts, certainly they folded over on the male side anyway. Sadly I don’t have a photo of them as I don’t think that would have gone down well either.

Palace of Holyroodhouse,Tapestry , Edinburgh