Men of Bannockburn, Dunfermline and Tall Tales – exhibitions

I had just finished one of those FutureLearn online courses when I noticed that there was an exhibition of art called Men of Bannockburn on at the library/museum in Dunfermline. The art consists of life size illustrations of some of the main knights involved in the battle. The works are by the artist Marco Trecalli who as well as being an artist is also an expert on 13th and 14th century military equipment and uniforms.

Men of Bannockburn

Click on the photos if you want to read the details, that should enlarge them for you.

Men of Bannockburn

Men of Bannockburn , Dunfermline. Marco Trecalli

In another room there was an exhibition called Tall Tales, aimed at encouraging children to read. There were quite a few kids in there so I couldn’t take photos of any of the exhibits, but I liked the bookish sentiments on the walls. I doubt if any were read by kids though, mainly because they were at adult height! But they were too busy playing in the Beanstalk house made of books anyway.

Tall Tales, Dunfermline, Fife

Books quote, Tall Tales, Dunfermline

book house

I’m so late getting around to writing this post that I suspect both exhibitions are finished now, but they’ll probably move on elsewhere eventually.

Cardoness Castle and Carsluith Castle – Dumfries and Galloway

Cardoness Castle, Dumfries and Galloway, south west Scotland

Cardoness Castle Interior 1

It’s over a year since I visited Cardoness Castle, close to Gatehouse of Fleet in Dumfries and Galloway, south-west Scotland. It was originally built by the McCulloch family around 1470 and they seem to have been a difficult bunch, not the sort of people that you would want as neighbours.

As ever – you get a great view if you’re willing to tramp up the spiral staircase. The view below is looking over the Fleet Estuary.

Fleet estuary, Dumfries and Galloway
And below is the view back up to Gatehouse of Fleet which is a small town which had a great secondhand bookshop in it and also a good but much smaller antique/bookshop.

View towards Gatehouse of Fleet

Twp castles for the price of one today!

Carsluith Castle, Dumfries and Galloway

Carsluith Castle , Dumfries and Galloway

Carsluith Castle is situated three miles south of Creetown and dates from the 1400s. Carsluith looks fairly solid and it’s easy to imagine how it must have been in its heyday. Over the years various outbuildings have been added very close by and one of them has been turned into a cafe, also it’s right next to the A75 which is a very busy road and detracts from the atmosphere of the place, but Carsluith has some lovely details in the stonework so it’s worth having a look at it if you’re in the south-west of Scotland.

Carsluith Castle, view from top, Dumfries and Galloway

From the other side you get a view of Wigtown Bay, but I didn’t manage to get a very good photo of it.
Carsluith Castle,view from  top, Dumfries and Galloway

Pitmedden Garden, Ellon, Aberdeenshire

We visited Pitmedden Garden when we were in Aberdeenshire recently. It’s a place that I have wanted to visit for something like 40 years after watching the early days of the Scottish gardening programme The Beechgrove Garden, because one of the presenters – George Barron – was the head gardener at Pitmedden then.

Pitmedden Garden, Ellon, Aberdeenshire

Apparently I took 42 photographs while we were there, but I’ll just show you a few of them just now, to give you an idea what it’s like if you’ve never been there.
Pitmedden Garden, Ellon, Aberdeenshire

Pitmedden Garden, knot garden, Aberdeenshire

The garden is a wonderful knot garden with over six miles of clipped box and yew hedges as well as a fairly recently replanted orchard. Most of the trees in there are too new to have much of a crop, but the older trees which are trained against the tall stone walls were well laden.

apples, Pitmedden, Aberdeenshire

One of the great things about this garden is that despite the fact that its ‘bones’ are set in the intricate box patterns, it will still be ever changing as the spaces are planted up with seasonal bedding plants. The area in the photo below was filled with several different sorts of marigolds. I love the topiary yew buttresses aginst the walls in the background too.

Pitmedden Garden, Ellon, Aberdeenshire

It isn’t all formal though, there are some lovely overflowing mixed herbaceous borders too.
mixed border, Pitmedden Garden, Aberdeenshire

We were there quite early on a Saturday morning and almost had the place entirely to ourselves. It’s definitely worth visiting if you’re in Aberdeenshire.

Below is a You Tube video of the beginnings of Beechgrove Garden and you can see George Barron and Jim McColl chatting away, George had a lovely Aberdonian accent which wasn’t something I had heard much of back then. Occasionally he slipped into the ‘Doric’ but not often enough for my liking!

Tolquhon Castle, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

Earlier in August we were in Aberdeenshire – for one night only, but we managed to fit a lot in as usual and Tolquhon Castle near Ellon was one of the places we visited. It was built in 1580 and although it’s now a ruin it’s well worth visiting, it’s easy to imagine how elegant and luxurious it must have been in its heyday. It’s thought there were earlier structures here around the 1200s.

Tolquhon Castle, Aberdeenshire

Originally built for the Forbes family it was eventually sold in 1716 as the then laird had lost most of his money in the disastrous Darien Scheme.

Tolquhon Castle, Aberdeenshire

Tolquhon Castle, Aberdeenshire

Although it’s a ruin there’s still lots to see and loads of spiral staircases to climb up and descend, always more difficult coming down – and slightly scary!
Tolquhon Castle, Aberdeenshire

The very narrow stairs in the photo below lead up to the highest point of the castle, a teeny wee room. These rooms are always my favourite part of castles as they would have been used mainly by the owners, probably the lady of the castle – a great place to read or just get away from it all, although this one only has one small window and there’s nowhere to sit outside on the walls – as other castles often have.
Tolquhon Castle, Aberdeenshire

As you can see below it’s dark in there so maybe it was used for assignations!
Tolquhon Castle, Aberdeenshire

Tolquhon Castle, Aberdeenshire

Below is the only straight and wide bit of the many staircases and must have been a later construction I think, built after the castle was used mainly as a home rather than a place of defence.
Tolquhon Castle, Aberdeenshire

You get a good view from the top, but I was really interested in the two white bulls in the field below – well I think they were some variety of bull as there was nothing else in the field but they seemed placid.
Tolquhon Castle, Aberdeenshire

Castles are all very well, but most of us would have been living in a wee cottage way back then, if we were lucky to have one, and I would have been happy in one of these cute wee ones at the entrance to the castle. One of them is now a visitor centre. What about you – castle or cottage?
Tolquhon Castle, Aberdeenshire

Haddo House, Ellon, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

Last weekend we drove up to the north-east of Scotland, a couple of hours from where we are in Fife. The main reason for the trip was so that Jack could watch his beloved Dumbarton football team play Peterhead – and ‘collect’ one of the few football stadiums that he hadn’t visited in Scotland. As ever we tried to squeeze in visits to other places of interest locally which is why we ended up at Haddo House which is near Ellon. It was built in 1732 and was designed by William Adam in the grand Georgian/Palladian style. Sadly I didn’t manage to get a photo of the front of the house as the heavens opened just as we walked to the house from the eatery for our scheduled guided tour, then we had to leave early as we were in danger of missing the football match!

Haddo House Garden, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

The house is now owned by the National Trust for Scotland and they don’t allow photography inside this property which is a real shame – even our guide agreed that it was a daft decision. The windows are shaded to prevent the textiles from being damaged by bright light and there was only one window not covered and I was allowed to take these photos of the garden from it.

There’s a very long winding road leading to this house and it isn’t the original access road. This property was handed down through generations of Earls of Aberdeen and one of them married a woman who didn’t like the house and would only marry him if she could change things. I think it’s obvious from the photos I took that the original driveway was through the middle of the avenue of trees, it would have been a much more elegant and scenic arrival for guests. Aparently her husband gave her the equivalent of £14 million to reconfigure the house to her liking. We all agreed that moving staircases and adding some bits on including a chapel couldn’t have cost that much, we suspect the rest of it went into her private coffers for dresses and jewels!
Haddo House garden, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

There are quite a lot of photos of the interior at the Undiscovered Scotland site.

There were only ten of us on the guided tour but this place is obviously very well used by locals as a great day out for families, the car park was very busy.

During World War 2 the house was used as a maternity hospital so the guide always asks if there are any Haddo babies among the visitors so he can show them where they were born, we were the most local people in the group though as the others were mainly from London, apparently visiting Scotland now as they feared they would need a passport in the future! The rooms used for the expectant mothers had been used by Queen Victori and and Prince Albert during their one night only stay.

Haddo House Garden, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

You can read more about the history of Haddo House here.

Thankfully Dumbarton beat Peterhead 3-2.

John Muir, Dunbar, East Lothian

On our trip to Dunbar last month to visit the battlefield – such as it is almost 500 years after the fact – we stopped off at the actual town of Dunbar which is in East Lothian about 30 miles east of Edinburgh. The High Street there boasts the birthplace of John Muir and although we had often been to the small coastal town, we hadn’t been into the birthplace museum, so we rectified that this time around. As you can see below it’s a rather spiffing looking Scottish Georgian building.

John Muir Birthplace, Dunbar

What a disappointment when we got inside though. The whole building has been stripped back so there’s really nothing left to see of the internals, apart from a hole where a fireplace must have been once. I assume that it must have been riddled with dry rot and it was easier and much cheaper just to scrape everything away down to the bare stonework, no floors or ceilings left. You can go upstairs but it is modern and is almost as if another building has been built within the original one. It’s such a shame as there’s no ambience at all and it’s impossible to imagine how it was in John Muir’s day.

I took a photo of an embroidery sampler which I believe was supposed to have been done by his mother, sorry about the reflections. I have a couple very similar to this one, but mine have the embroiderers name on them – as most do.

John Muir's birthplace, embroidery Sampler

You might be asking who John Muir was, I think he’s possibly better known within the USA than in his country of birth. He was a writer, explorer, naturalist and environmental campaigner and was years ahead of his time, realising that humans were damaging natural environments, and seeing that something had to be done – he is seen as the ‘Father of National Parks’.

Like most coastal towns Dunbar isn’t what it used to be, people would rather go on holiday to Spain than brave the icy waters of the North Sea, but it’s still a scenic area, you can see more photos of the area here.

There’s now a walk called The John Muir Way which stretches 134 miles from Helensburgh (one of my favourite areas) in the west of Scotland to Dunbar in East Lothian. That’s even longer than Hadrian’s Wall is and if I ever get around to a long walk like that I think I’d rather do the wall, if not the West Highland Way. Click the links if you want to see some stunning images of the walks.

Largo and Newburn Parish Church, Upper Largo, Fife, Scotland

Largo and Newburn Parish Church

Largo and Newburn Parish  Kirk 1

At the end of June we got around to visiting Largo and Newburn Parish Church in Upper Largo. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do for decades as I could see it in the distance every time we drove to St Andrews. The church wasn’t open though so we didn’t get a keek at the interior. The oldest parts of this church date from the 17th century but there has been a church here since the 9th century.

It was a really hot day and as all of these old churches are built on the highest ground in the village there was a decent view over the rooftops to the Firth of Forth. Originally before this was a place of Christian worship this was probably a place of religious significance for the older religions, possibly some sort of druids.

There’s an ancient stone monument in the photo below, I think this was originally a Pictish stone and when the place was Christianised they carved a cross on it. It’s behind ‘bars’ for protection as you can see.

Old Stone, Upper Largo Kirk 2

Old Stone, Upper Largo Kirk

The decoration on the other side is definitely Pictish.
Pictish stone

sea from Upper Largo church,

aUpper Largo and sea from Kirkyard

I’m glad we managed to get there – before the very recent collapse of part of the churchyard wall, which seems to have been caused by the frequent bouts of torrential rain that we’ve been having over this strange summer. You can read about it here.

You can see a lot of old and new photos of the area here.

Robert the Bruce by Fiona Watson

Robert the Bruce  cover

The Pocket GIANTS publication on Robert the Bruce by Fiona Watson is a slim volume at just 114 pages but if you’re at all interested in The Bruce and Scottish history then it’s a must read for you. It’s a well written explanation of the hinterland of the Bruce family and Robert in particular although what we think of as The Bruce was the seventh Robert in the family.

I believe that the author has since written a much longer book on the same subject but this one is ideal if you just want a better understanding of the politics of the time. If by any chance you get the opportunity to go to a lecture given by Fiona Watson (as I had last May) then you should definitely go, she has such enthusiasm for her subject and brings the people to life in a very human way. There definitely won’t be any students sleeping through her lectures I’m sure!

The Path of the Hero King by Nigel Tranter

 Bruce Trilogy cover

The Path of the Hero King by Nigel Tranter is the second book in his Robert the Bruce trilogy. The first one The Steps to the Empty Throne ended with the disastrous battle of Methven in Perthshire, when Bruce and his army were attacked during the night as they slept. That made Bruce realise that he would have to ditch his chivalric behaviour and adopt dirty tactics as the English King Edward I did. Previously The Bruce and King Edward I had been fairly friendly and the two countries had been on good terms.

In this book Scotland’s main castles are inhabited by the English as are many smaller castles and strongholds. King Robert is having a hard time with people who don’t recognise him as king and as usual the many clans in Scotland who have been at each other’s throats for generations are still causing problems. When he learns that his wife, daughter and sister have been taken prisoner by King Edward, and that they and his brothers had been handed to the English by a fellow Scot – the Earl of Ross – the gloves are off so to speak, especially when he’s told that the women have been hung in cages which dangle from various city and castle walls.

The Bruce begins the task of slowly grabbing back the smaller castles from the English invaders, using the guerilla tactics he learned from William Wallace. Slashing and burning the lowland parts of Scotland which the invading English army had to pass through, making sure that there was nothing left for the army to eat or even any shelter for them. That must have been heartbreaking for Bruce as the Border country had been his. There’s a lot of fighting in this book, interspersed with some bedroom action which I suppose is Tranter’s attempt to sex it up and bring in some variety.

This was a good read which ends on a high with the Battle of Bannockburn where Bruce used his knowledge of the surrounding land close to Stirling to win against a massive English army led by Edward II. I hadn’t realised quite how huge the English army had been, when the first of them marched into the Stirling area the end of the army was still marching through Edinburgh over twenty miles away! It must have been a terrifying sight.

Unfortunately I’ll have to wait a while before reading the last of this trilogy as I had to take the omnibus edition back to the library instead of updating it as someone else had requested it. I have plenty of other books to choose from though and will take a rest from historical fiction for a wee while.

Dunbar Battlefield (1650)

DunbarRecently a friend and I did one of those FutureLearn free online courses on the Battle of Dunbar, one of the bloodiest of what used to be called the English Civil Wars and is now called Wars of the Three Kingdoms, featuring that dastardly killjoy Oliver Cromwell. It was Maureen’s idea to do the course, she has links with the Durham area of the north of England and as she’s keen on archaeology and local history, as am I. She was very interested when the news of human remains being found at Durham Cathedral broke, and it turned out that the skeletons belonged to Scottish prisoners who had been incarcerated within the cathedral after the Scots lost the Battle of Dunbar in 1650, so we decided that it would be a good idea to take a look at the actual battlefield.

Dunbar Battlefield

We chose a beautiful day to go there, Jack did the driving and as we got close to Dunbar which is in East Lothian, south of Edinburgh I was scanning the roadside, looking out for a sign pointing the direction to the battlefield. We had a book, and had looked on the internet but it was surprisingly difficult to find, but after some to-ing and fro-ing we got there – we think.

Dunbar Battlefield
I say we think as sadly there is no proper information board there. Other battlegrounds that I’ve visited pointed out where the various rivalling factions were gathered at the beginning of the battle. It’s really just modern memorial stones that you can see and we were left to guess.

Battle of Dunbar, Carlyle Stone 1

Over the centuries the area hasn’t changed too much, although there’s now a cement making factory on part of the land, a blot on the landscape. But we had a lovely walk as far as we could go before reaching a gate that we weren’t allowed to go past. The animals aren’t at all bothered by the industrial blot, we saw sheep, a deer and hordes of geese. It was a good day out.

Going back to that online course, I was really surprised that the few prisoners who survived the starvation and disease of their captivity in Durham were sent out to America as indentured servants, which in some ways was even worse than being a slave. A few managed to live into old age though and married and had families. I bet they were always thinking of their homeland though.