St Andrews Castle in Fife

A couple of weeks ago I was sent the most recent copy of Historic Scotland magazine and I was surprised to see that the article about St Andrews Castle – in St Andrews north-east Fife – featured photographs that I didn’t recognise at all. Obviously there were parts of the castle that we had somehow missed in previous visits!

St Andrews Castle

St Andrews castle

So a couple of days later we went there to do some investigating and discovered the tunnels underneath the castle that had been mined in an attempt to undermine the castle during a siege in 1546-47. We also saw the bottle-dungeon that people were lowered into, unlikely ever to see the light of day again. It’s a long way down!

dungeon

dungeon

The times were brutal, these were religious fights with the castle being held by the Catholics to begin with. When a Protestant faction gained access they murdered the cardinal who was in residence. In an attempt to regain the castle the Catholics started to dig a mine under the castle and the Protestants dug a countermine. Click on the link above if you’re interested in the history of the place.

And so on down to the mine, mind your head, it’s only about three and a half feet high in most parts!

mine

It’s a long way down.

mine  St Andrews Castle

And there are a lot of stairs

mine  at St Andrews

And even a metal ladder to negotiate!
mine  St Andrews Castle

mine ladder

You can get an idea of the lay out from the board below, although that makes it look a lot shorter than it is.
Board (mine)

I’m not claustrophobic – but I was glad to get back above ground again!

St Andrews castle + sea

Jedburgh Abbey, Scottish Borders

The main reason anyone will go to Jedburgh I imagine is to see Jedburgh Abbey, what’s left of it anyway. As you can see from the photos below it’s quite grand still, even as a ruin. It was founded by King David I in 1138.

Jedburgh Abbey

Jedburgh Abbey

Jedburgh Abbey

Jedburgh Abbey

Some parts of it still have the roof intact.

Jedburgh Abbey

Other parts of it are just piles of stones where the kitchen and sleeping quarters and such were. Over the years as the abbey became poorer they just abandoned buildings that they couldn’t afford to upkeep. Now it’s maintained by Historic Environment Scotland.

Jedburgh Abbey

You can see more images of the abbey and town here.

Queen Mary’s House Jedburgh, Scottish Borders

One day last month we decided to visit a couple of towns that we hadn’t been to before – Jedburgh and Melrose in the Scottish Border country. They’re situated just a few miles from each other and both have the ruins of large abbeys. They’re quite small and sleepy towns nowadays but in the past they were important.

But this post is about a house that neither of us had even heard of before – Mary, Queen of Scots House in Jedburgh. It’s owned by the town council now I think and we saw a signpost pointing to it as we parked the car. As you can see from the photo below it was being painted while we were there. There’s a bit more of its history here.

Queen Mary's House

This house has had a bit of a chequered past and there even seems to be a bit of a dispute as to whether Mary did actually live in it although I don’t see why not as she seems to have been just about everywhere else!

Mary Queen of Scots House

The house is unusual because it has a left hand spiral staircase, it seems that it was probably designed originally for the Kerr family as they were a famously left-handed Border reiver clan and coincidentally feature heavily in Dorothy Dunnett’s third Lymond book The Disorderly Knights – which I’ve just finished reading.

Annoyingly I can’t find any photos of the inside of the house, I’m sure I took some but they’re hiding at the moment. You can see a few images of it here.

I was quite impressed with the house, not particularly because of its possible Mary Stuart connections, but just because it’s an interesting really old place with panelling, a tapestry and various other exhibits.

When we were there it was quite busy with tourists, in common with just about everywhere this year, it must have something to do with the weak pound I suppose – or the Outlander effect maybe. Amazingly there is no entrance fee and I think they are missing a trick as they don’t even have a donations box although you can put a coin in a machine to register whether you would have been a Mary Stuart supporter – or not. Always a tricky one that!

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

Doune,River

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.

Cockburnspath/Cove, Scottish Borders

headland Cove

One day ten weeks or so ago (how time flies!) we went to Cockburnspath to visit Eric and his family. it was the last week of Freya’s school holidays. It’s a very historic area, being very close to the border with England, battles were fought nearby. When King James IV married Margaret Tudor in 1503 he presented the land around here to her as a wedding gift.

Our visit usually includes a walk to the beach at nearby Cove, a settlement that was once a fishing village with quite a lot of houses and families living there, but due to the ravages of the North Sea most of the houses have been swept away, there are only around three left that are inhabited.

Uther found a ball on the beach and he thought it was a great game to poke it over the edge of the quayside and watch it drop into the harbour, Eric wasn’t so enthralled with the game. Luckily he had his wellies on! The bystanders were very amused.

Boats  at Cove

The North Sea has worn some lovely patterns into the rocks.
rocks  at Cove

rocks and houses  at Cove

Although we’ve been there numerous times we had never witnessed the place when the tide was out, it looks so different. It meant there was far more territory for Uther the red and white setter to investigate, and I must admit that I was happy to follow in his pawsteps. Mooching around on a beach is one of my favourite pastimes, why anyone would want to lie down on a beach is a mystery to me.

Uther

Uther

rocks and Uther

The low tide had brought a couple of cockle/whelk gatherers out – rather them than me, apart from not liking seafood – there’s a nuclear power station lurking in the background!

sea  at Cove

Freya, Jack and Eric were happy to sit and chat while I risked broken ankles scrabbling around amongst the rocks.

F,E, J
These old houses are incredibly picturesque and part of me thinks it would be exciting to have the North Sea battering off your walls, but the fact that all the other houses have been torn down by the sea makes me see sense. This one is now only used to store fishing gear nowadays.

steps  at Cove

Uther is the only dog that I’ve ever known that doesn’t like to go into water, whisper it but – maybe he was a cat in another life!
Uther

harbour wall

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.

Cartoon

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.

Gun

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

House of Dun near Montrose – interior

It’s a few weeks now since we visited the House of Dun near Montrose, you can see the post that I did about the exterior of the building here. It was built in 1730 for the laird David Erskine.

This is a house that you can only go around as part of a guided tour, but they seem to be fairly frequent so we didn’t have to wait all that long to be shown around. It’s a shame that one of the owners married a woman who liked to tinker with the internal plan of the house. It was of course designed by William Adam who was a fanatic about having everything symmetrical, even creating dummy doors to match actual doors at opposite ends of walls. A previous occupant has ruined a lot of the proportions by having walls removed and such, especially in the hall.

Room in House of Dun

Room in House of Dun

I keep saying this but it’s true – although it’s a very grand house, it still has the feeling of a family home. It must be all the personal nick-nacks that decorate the place that help.

It was impossible to get a photo of the huge looking glass without getting people in it!

Room windows in House of Dun

The cornicings/plaster wall and ceiling decorations are incredibly ornate as you can see.
Room in house of Dun

Apparently the overmantel decoration is of a soldier standing with one foot crushing the crown of England. Not terribly subtle, apparently the house was owned by Jacobites who enjoyed this sort of visual support for the Jacobite cause and they got away with it, at a time when they could easily have been executed for such sympathies!
Room  Overmantel + fireplace

The embroidered quilt on this four-poster bed is fantastic. It was apparently found in a tin trunk in the attics fairly recently. It was a wedding gift embroidered by the mother of the then laird and it has his and his mother’s name sewn all over it, and the fact that it was a gift from her for his wedding. It’s suspected that his bride didn’t want to have her mother-in-law at such close quarters, even if only in the shape of embroidery and I have to say I don’t really blame her.
Quilted bed

Lastly, just about the most bizarre object at the House of Dun is the ‘boot’ bath below, so named because it resembles the shape of a boot. I can’t make up my mind whether it was enclosed like that to keep out draughts or just to make it a more private experience for the bather. I don’t think it would have made washing your legs and feet very easy though!

boot bath