The photo below is of a very unusual architectural detail at Collessie Church. I don’t think the church is open but I must admit I didn’t try the door handle. It would be good to be able to see it internally some day.
But the photo below shows a very unusually angled thatched roof, some extending must have gone over the years I think, but it looks like it has been renewed fairly recently. I know that in England you have to put your name down on a thatcher’s waiting list long before your roof needs to be re-thatched. I’m wondering if they have to come up especially from England as there’s no way that anyone could make a living from thatching in Scotland, there are just too few such roofs.
The pan tiled roof of the cottage in the photo below is the more usual material for cottage roofs in Fife, the tiles were brought over from Holland as ballast in ships.
Below is a close up of some thatch and a wee keek at a back garden.
The cottage below is actually up for sale, I think it has seen better days though. It’ll need a lot of work done on it. The windows of most of these houses are very small. Builders are going back to that way of designing now as they try to make new houses more economical where heating is concerned.
Below is thatch and the more traditional slate roof which must be a Victorian addition I think.
The structure below is partially built into the churchyard wall. It has words carved into it but it’s very difficult to make out. It’s a family tomb for the local high heid yins – the Melville family.
Luckily there’s an information board on the stone wall.
And below is the tomb from the other side – within the churchyard.
The surrounding countryside is lovely, the crops are all just about ready for harvesting. Collessie is a lovely village but I imagine it’s a bit of a nightmare living there in the winter – unless you can hibernate!
One beautiful day last week we decided to visit a nearby estate garden which is open to the public. We had never been before but the address in books was given as Collessie, so we drove to that small village, a place we had never been before despite it being just a few miles from where we live. We never did find the estate garden that day as it’s actually on the rode to another village. I was enchanted by Collessie though so we spent an hour or so walking around the very historic village. Below is a photo of what had been the post office and is now someone’s home. Post Offices have been closed down all over the country which is a tragedy as they were often the hub of a village. In fact this place has no shops or anything, just a church and a community hall.
It’s like stepping back into a sort of Brigadoon. I’ve only seen a few thatched houses in Scotland, they’re much nore common in the south of England, so I was amazed to see several of them in Collessie. The village apparently has the most thatched roofs of anywhere in Scotland.
They look lovely but we have friends who lived in a thatched cottage down south and they said that as soon as the weather turned a bit cold – all of the local ‘skittering’ wildlife moved into the roof for warmth, not my idea of fun. Especially as they didn’t stay in the thatch but made forays into the house.
Of course not all of the cottages have thatched roofs, but the street below is still amazingly quaint looking. It looks like nothing has changed for a couple of hundred years.
I think that the road in the photo below must have been the main road leading to St Andrews which was of course a popular place for pilgrims to walk to in the days of the early Christian church. You can see the church beyond the thatched roof, it has been extended a lot over the years but the original part of it dates from before 1243 which is when it was consecrated by the Bishop of St Andrews.
Considering the size of the village this church is enormous. I think that over the years the population must have decreased a lot.
The village is a bit of a dead end as it has been by-passed by a larger road which is why we had never been there before, but it’s definitely worth making a detour off the main road to step back in time to Collessie. I’ll put a few more photos of it up tomorrow.
Orkneyinga Saga – The History of the Earls of Orkney was written around the year 1200 by an Icelandic man and was translated by Hermann Palsson.
It’s a window into the life and times of those who lived in the most northerly area of what is now the British Isles, but was then a Viking culture. There’s a lot of fighting, feuding and feasting and also a lot of travelling about, sailing between all of the islands and as far down south as England, and back and forth to Norway.
This is an interesting read and I imagine that for people who have written historical novels set around this time then it would have been a rich source of tales to buff up, pad out and turn into entertaining tales for a more modern reader.
Again, I’m really glad that we went to the Orkney Islands last year and ran around for a week visiting all of the many places mentioned in these sagas. It was only comparatively recently that Orkney and Shetland became part of Scotland, until 1472 they were ruled by Norway and Denmark, but then became Scottish possessions as security for an unpaid dowry of Margaret of Denmark when she married King James III of Scotland.
If you’re interested in seeing the places we visited have a look at these previous blogposts.
Broch of Gurness in Orkney is one of the many sites that we visited when we were there in June 2017. When we went there early one morning the man in charge of the place was just about to shut it and go home as he didn’t think that anyone would brave the terrible weather, it was a howling gale. I’m really glad that we experienced it like that though as as soon as we got into the shelter of the broch it was so calm and quiet, and we had the place to ourselves.
Jack has done a couple of posts about it and if you’re interested in seeing more photos of the place have a look here and here.
In June 2017 we had a week’s holiday in the Orkney Islands, a strange and amazing place full of archaeology. I did blog about quite a lot of the places that we visited, then life got in the way – and books and more travelling and such – so some blogposts fell by the wayside. So if you’re interested in seeing the Brough of Birsay have a look at Jack’s recent blogposts about the Brough of Birsay here and here.
Most of what can be seen nowadays at the Brough of Birsay dates from the Viking settlement of the place between 800 and 1200, but before they invaded the Picts built a settlement in the 600s and 700s.
To reach Birsay you have to wait for the tide to go out and then you can walk over on a narrow causeway, it’s just a short walk of a few minutes and when we set off the weather was fine. But as soon as we set foot on Birsay we were blasted by a storm of howling winds and horizontal rain which drove into us like spearheads. In seconds we were drenched and it took two days for my anorak to dry out! Jack posted about the causeway here.
I’ve recently finished reading Dorothy Dunnett’s book King Hereafter which features Thorfinn as the main character, and I was really chuffed to think that I had visited what is thought to be his home in Orkney.
We visited Caerlaverock Castle when we were in Dumfries and Galloway in May. It’s a great castle ruin with a very unusual shape, triangular which I suppose is a good shape for defensive reasons. It also has a proper moat. I know that if I had lived in a castle in those days I would have wanted a moat so that I didn’t have to worry about people scaling the walls during the night. If your drawbridge was up – it was safe to go to sleep!
Building work started on this castle in the 1260s and it was finished in the 1270s, but this is the ‘new’ castle as the old one just 200 yards away was abandoned because it began to sink. It was built in 1220 and if you go you should make time to visit what is left of it, just the foundations really, but it’s still interesting.
Below is a photo of part of the castle from the inside.
As Caerlaverock is so close to the border with England it was often attacked and besieged. With the English king Edward 1 (Hammer of the Scots) attacking the castle in 1300 with over 3,000 men and using siege engines serious damage must have been done to the walls at that time. The castle changed hand many times over the years between Scotland and England. Most of the castle that can be seen today dates from the 1300s and 1400s.
The countryside around that area is quite pretty, in the photo below you can see that there must have been buildings where there is now grass. That will be even more obvious now that we’ve had such a long spell of hot dry weather.
I think this is one of my favourite ruined castles. Just imagine how atmospheric it would as darkness falls on a moonlit night, or even in the gloaming (twilight).
You cam see more images of Caerlaverock Castle here.
On the second day of our recent four night trip to Dumfries and Galloway in south west Scotland the first historical place we visited was Threave Castle. Visiting this castle is a bit more awkward than some others as you have to get in a boat to get there, although it’s such a short stretch of water that it takes about three minutes to get there. Despite the fact that the water is so shallow that if you fell in it would only come up to your knees – they still make you put on a lifejacket!
The castle sits on an island in the middle of the River Dee and it’s only the second castle that I’ve had to get on a boat to visit, the other one being Loch Leven Castle. It’s a big improvement on a moat though, I imagine the inhabitants would have felt nice and safe.
But Threave Castle did come under attack when the Douglas family it belonged to fell foul of King James II in 1455 and the windows below look onto the area where he had huge guns positioned to fire at the castle over the river. The king had decided that that branch of the Douglas family was going to be wiped out.
The arrows fired through the arrow slit windows below wouldn’t have been much use against cannonballs.
Inside is really just one big room now.
There’s an RSPB bird sanctuary nearby and after leaving the island we went for a circular walk and had a look for wildlife from one of the hides. In the distance the ospreys were flying around, also red kites and buzzards. In fact it looked like the red kites were being a bit too successful as there were loads of them flying around. But I’ll leave them for another blogpost.
One of the many historical places we visited when we were in south west Scotland in Dumfries and Galloway recently was Glenluce Abbey – yes, yet another ruin! It was founded around 1192 it’s thought, and was a daughter abbey to Dundrennan Abbey, so it was a Cistercian abbey peopled by monks who wore white robes.
After the Reformation in 1560 the monks embraced the new religion and were allowed to live out their lives in the abbey with the last one dying in 1602. Like most of these places when they were no longer used the people living locally used the place as a handy quarry, an easy place to go and purloin some nice stone for whatever domestic project they had on hand.
The windows in the photo below have obviously been fairly recently restored.
Quite often you can see quite fancy stones in the walls of local cottages near such ruins which were clearly taken from a much more important building.
There’s a very sweet and dainty looking type of wee fern-like plant, but it has lilac flowers, which has very happily set up home in lots of the abbey stonework.
The one below has settled in what must have been a small shuttered window, but the shutter is long gone.
And below is a very narrow but tall building which was for the use of the abbot. Inside it’s just one teeny wee room, about five feet wide I think. There must have been two or three storeys to it originally but the floors have gone and the abbott must have used a ladder to get up there as there’s no room for any stairs. The height and narrowness of it makes it look very French to me. Sadly it wasn’t possible to get a photo of the front of that building because of the overhanging trees. It looks perfect to me, it would make a wonderful folly if you were lucky enough to have a big enough garden for it!
Orchardton Tower is apparently the only one of its kind in Scotland and it dates from the 1400s. It’s unusual as it’s a free-standing round tower, built as a fortified home for John Cairns, a nobleman who had it built over 200 years after this design went out of fashion.
I can’t say that I blame him for that as it’s a really elegant design and is in a beautiful location. I think in its heyday it must have been a lovely house to live in. The kitchens and servants quarters must have been in the part which is detached and now just a ruin.
The photo below is of a piscina, a niche where bowls could be washed, they’re more often located in abbeys and cathedrals, to rinse the sacramental vessels.
All of the interior floors are long gone.
But there is a spiral staircase right to the top of the tower, it’s a long way down!
As you can see in the photo below there’s a cute wee ‘house’ at the top of the staircase leading onto the roof.
A view from the top of the tower.
The very slim one track road with passing places that leads to the tower is quite nerve wracking on a bright early summer day, so I can’t imagine how awful it must be in the winter, but there is at least one house close by. I imagine that the view from their house compensates for any disadvantages of living there. I must admit that I love that tower and location.
I don’t think I had even realised that there were standing stones in south west Scotland, which was daft of me because there must have been quite a lot of travelling to and fro between that part of Scotland and Ireland, even way back in the times when such stone monuments were being built.
So I was surprised to see stones in a field right next to the road we were driving along. It was the Torhouse Stone Circle, a bronze age monument. We stopped to have a closer look, and the sheep that we had disturbed in the field scattered and pushed themselves back into the neighbouring field.
On the other side of the road there are just three stones and some broken bits standing in a field. The stones are nowhere near as large as the ones in Orkney, but they’re still atmospheric and intriguing and these ones have the added attraction that you’ll probably have them all to yourself when you visit them, unlike those in more touristy areas. I like the lollipop shaped tree in the distance.