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.


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.


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.


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

Earl’s Palace, Birsay, Orkney, Scotland

Earl's Palace , Birsay, Orkney

I’m casting my mind back to early June when we had a week’s holiday in Orkney, it was the first time either of us had been there. The Earl’s Palace at Birsay was one of the places on our list of places to visit.

Earl's Palace  Birsay

It’s a ruin, as you can see but that’s no surprise as it was built between 1569 and 1579. Earl Robert Stewart built it, he was an illegitimate son of King James V – so a half-brother to Mary, Queen of Scots and he obviously had high ambitions for himself. He was a bit of a swine by all accounts – but weren’t they all?!

Earl's Palace  at Birsay, Orkney

His son seems to have been even worse though. I always remind myself when I visit any stately homes or castles that the people who built them only managed to do so because they were the most violent bullies in an age when that was what was needed to get to the top of society. Thinking about it though – I’m not at all sure that things have changed much over the years!

Info Board

Birsay is a very small settlement, but I enjoyed a walk around the graveyard there, that was when I realised that the surnames on Orkney are so different from those in other parts of Scotland. They’re mostly of Viking descent, so no Macs or Mcs here – well very few if any.

Scapa Flow Visitor Centre, Hoy, Orkney

The small island of Hoy is a fairly short ferry trip from the Orkney mainland. The Scapa Flow Visitor Centre is well worth the trip. The area was very busy during both World Wars as it’s so strategically placed it’s a perfect place to position a large part of the British Navy, meaning the population exploded with the arrival of loads of sailors and soldiers and airmen too.

This inevitably led to a change in the opportunities of the local females who up until then didn’t have much to choose from when it came to getting married. When the navy finally weighed anchors and sailed off permanently the local females’ horizons must have closed in on them again. To compensate for this disappointment it seems that they were encouraged to take up pig farming instead of getting married. No difference some might say! I liked the cartoon below which appeared in a local newspaper at the time.


The author Compton Mackenzie (Monarch of the Glen, Whisky Galore) owned a couple of the islands and was stationed here and donated his uniform to the museum.
Comptom Mackenzie's Battle-dress

It’s really quite a good museum with exhibits inside and outside, although I’m not too interested in military hardware.


I was happier with the more domestic parts such as this mock up of a typical 1930s interior, although I feel that they could be doing with a nice 1930s three piece suite, if I had known that I would have donated one to them before we moved, as I ended up giving it to a local college to practice their upholstery skills on.

1930s room

You can have a look at an air raid shelter, there must have been more of them scattered around but possibly they’ve all been filled in again.

Air-raid shelter

There’s also a tearoom, done out to look like it would have in the 1930s, but it was full of people partaking of the cup that cheers – as usual, so I didn’t take any photos of it. They had tasty cakes though.

The sign above the door seems to be the original one.
Church Army Sign

Hoy is well worth a visit. I’m only annoyed that we didn’t realise that the ferry is such a small one with not much room for vehicles, so you have to book ahead, we were too late to book so we just went as foot passengers, so could only explore by foot. Next time we’ll take the car and travel across as much of Hoy as we can as there’s obviously a lot more to see than we managed, going from these images.

The Island of Hoy, Orkney

We got a ferry from Houton to Lyness on Hoy, there’s a military museum there and a cemetery, both within easy walking distance of the ferryport, which is just as well because we had to go as foot passengers. We hadn’t realised that the car ferry was so small and you have to book up a few days in advance to make sure of getting on to it.

A yacht in Scapa Flow, Hoy behind.
Yacht + Hoy from Scapa Flow

This area was very strategic during both World Wars of course and Scapa Flow is famous as the Germans scuttled their navy there at the end of World War 1. That turned out to be quite handy eventually as the metal from the wrecked ships has been very useful due to the fact that it hasn’t been contaminated by the radiation from nuclear bombs that were dropped on Japan towards the end of World War 2 and subsequent nuclear tests. NASA used the metal to make instruments for experiments in space – something like that anyway!

Mainland Orkney to left, Scapa Flow to centre, Graemsay to right
Yacht in Hoy Sound, Orkney

Graemsay and Hoy from Ness Battery, Stromness
Graemsay and Hoy from Ness Battery

Hoy from south Stromness

Hoy from south Stromness

If you want to see photos of the War cemetery on Hoy hop over to Jack’s post on Lyness Naval Cemetery.

In the cemetery there is also a Memorial to HMS Hampshire, the ship in which Lord Kitchener died.

HMS Hampshire Memorial, Lyness War Cemetery

Carn Liath Broch, Sutherland, Scotland

The weather on our way back from Orkney was beautiful and we decided to take a long slow journey back home, stopping off at anywhere that took our fancy. When I spotted a sign to a broch on the road between Golspie and Brora we just had to visit it. Carn Liath Broch is situated very close to the main road south and there is a good lay-by on the other side of the road for parking.

Carn Liath Broch

It’s fairly well preserved with some of the walls still 12 feet tall. It’s in a beautiful position fairly close to the beach – but not too close!

Carn Liath Broch

Carn Liath Broch

There’s still quite a lot to see and it’s easy to imagine what it must have been like for the original inhabitants, quite cosy I imagine.

Carn Liath Broch

Carn Liath Broch stairs

Carn Liath Broch chamber 1

We had the place all to ourselves and although there’s a main road nearby the cars weren’t visible.

Carn Liath Broch

cows and sea from Carn Liath Broch

The broch was probably built in the last century BC or first century AD. But it was first excavated in the 1800s. Nobody is quite sure about the purpose of brochs, and the ideas range from resource-hungry status symbols to temporary defensive structures for extended families and their livestock. Around 500 were built in Scotland, including good examples at Broch of Gurness in Orkney, Dun Carloway in the Western Isles and Clickimin Broch near Lerwick in Shetland.

I’m so glad I spotted that roadsign.

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 , 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.