The Spanish Letters by Mollie Hunter

 The Spanish Letters cover

The Spanish Letters by Mollie Hunter was first published in 1964 but my copy is a Puffin book dating from 1972.

The setting is Edinburgh and the year is 1589, the end of January. Young Jamie Morton is a caddie in the city – that means he earns his living by doing messages for people, whatever is needed, maybe delivering a note to someone, a sort of odd job person who has to know the city inside out. He has been trained up by ‘the Cleek’ a much older caddie. There are a few hundred such males of all ages in Edinburgh, it might be a bit of a precarious living but Jamie likes it because he’s his own boss. He isn’t so keen on being starving half the time though.

When a young well known musician goes missing Jamie is asked to help track him down and so begins a tale of adventure, murder and kidnap with the Earl of Huntly – a favourite with King James involved.

There’s a ship from the Netherlands docked at Leith, Edinburgh’s port, and there’s a suspicion that it has Spaniards on board. Is there a Spanish plot afoot? A second Armada attempting to topple Queen Elizabeth. For once the Scots and the English are on the same side, well most of the Scots are.

This was a really enjoyable read, my first by the author but I’ve recently bought a couple of others. Her writing reminded me of Dorothy Dunnett’s adventures which is high praise indeed, but obviously not as convoluted (or long) as Hunter’s writing is aimed at youngsters. Her books are apparently all well researched so it seems like a painless way of learning history.

For anyone who has already read this book you might be interested in this blogpost that I wrote earlier, when I visited Huntly Castle in Aberdeenshire.

An Edinburgh Reel by Iona McGregor

 An Edinburgh Reel cover

An Edinburgh Reel by Iona McGregor was first published in 1968. I’ve been reading a fair few books set in historic Edinburgh recently and this is another one. The setting is mainly around the Royal Mile, six years after the battle of Culloden, so 1752.

Christine has left her family home of Strathdallin in the Highlands to go and meet her father in Edinburgh, it’s her first visit to the capital and she’s not impressed as the place stinks. So although her family home at Strathdallin had been trashed by the Redcoats after the battle and there are only a few rooms left standing and the roof is leaking, she’s still homesick for the place. Living in a couple of freezing rooms at the top of a tenement building doesn’t suit her at all, despite having friendly but much better off relatives living in the same building.

John Murray, her father has spent most of the past six years in France after he managed to escape from a prison hulk after his capture, he knows that he had been betrayed by another Scotsman after Culloden but doesn’t know his name. He’s still a loyal Jacobite and is determined to get back at whoever betrayed him.

When Christime first sees her father she’s shocked that the he doesn’t look at all like the handsome tall man that she remembers. She must only have been nine years old in 1745 and she has grown while her father seems so old and shrunken, he has permanent health problems because of his treatment by the English and his estate has been seized by the government, so they are penniless.

Christine is worried for her father as he’s in danger of getting dragged into another Jacobite plot and ending his days kicking on the end of a rope.

This was a great read, very atmospheric with a wee bit of a romance too. I’m sure that Iona McGregor got it exactly right when she has the wealthy Edinburgh inhabitants getting all teary eyed and sentimental over the songs sung about ‘The Chevalier’ – despite the fact that most of them hadn’t been supporters of the Jacobites during the Rising.

This book was apparently aimed at children aged 11 and over, but like all well written books it’s appreciated by people of all ages.

Inverkeithing, Fife

Way back in February 2020 when there was talk on the news of an imminent lockdown we drove to Inverkeithing for a bit of a rake around at an antiques/secondhand shop which is housed in an old cinema.

After that we decided to have a bit of a walk around the historic parts of the town, knowing that it would be quite some time before we were able to stray from home again, mind you I never thought it would be more than a year! You can read about the history of the town here.

The two photos below are of Fordell’s Lodging.

Old Building Inverkeithing

Old Building, Inverkeithing

It’s thought that the town dates from as far back as Roman times in AD 83, but the first church was built around AD 400. There was a Franciscan friary which would have been used as an overnight stopping off place for pilgrims on their way to St Andrews. There are quite a lot of ancient buildings still standing in the town. Sadly one very interesting looking building is standing empty and unused, but another one has been converted into flats which should stop it from deteriorating.

The photo below is of St Peter’s Kirk.

Inverkeithing Church

Marriage lintels are a tradition in Scotland, especially in the east, with the initials of the bride and groom being carved into the lintel with the date of the wedding in the middle. This one is on Thomsoun’s House, 1617, it’s a bit fancier than most of them.

A Marriage Lintel, Inverkeithing

A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley

 A Traveller in Time cover

A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley was first published in 1939. My copy is a lovely Folio edition which is illustrated by Omar Rayyan. It’s yet another children’s classic that I’ve only just got around to reading thanks to Constance who mentioned it on my blogpost about Uttley’s books for very small children. Th eauthor was very much influenced to write this book by her own childhood. She grew up in a house very close to the Babington manor house in the book and her father told her stories of those Elizabethan days as if he had lived them himself, and Alison Uttley visited them in her dreams.

A Traveller in Time is told by Penelope Taberner Cameron as she looks back to her childhood which began in London’s Chelsea where she was the youngest of three children and was regarded as being a bit ‘fey’. Possibly she has the second sight, or maybe she’s just a dreamer, her older siblings are happy to listen to her tales of the past. She’s prone to soar throats and her mother decides that Penelope needs to get out of the atmosphere of London to some fresh air. Aunt Tissie and Uncle Barnabas are contacted and they’re very happy to have all three children for the holidays at their manor house and farm called Thackers.

It isn’t long before Penelope finds herself slipping back in time when least expected and she becomes a much-loved member of the Babington household who are puzzled by her intermitent appearances but always happy to see her. Penelope knows her history so she realises that Anthony Babington, the eldest son of the house is on a path to a terrible end which she is powerless to change. Mary, Queen of Scots has been captive in England for years on the orders of her cousin Queen Elizabeth. Anthony is determined to rescue her and get her to safety in France.

This is a beautifully written book and it is such a shame that she didn’t write more books for older children. There are so many characters to like too so it was a treat to be in their company.

Apparently in 1978 the BBC dramatised the book, I don’t recall ever seeing it though. Do any of you remember it?

If you know the history of Mary, Queen of Scots you’ll be aware that she was moved around a lot over the twenty years that she was imprisoned, and several times she did manage to escape, in fact I’ve lost count of the amount of places I’ve been to that she has also walked around in. She was imprisoned in what was my childhood local castle Dumbarton Castle, and I believe escaped from there. More famously she escaped from Loch Leven Castle which is close to where I live now, you can see my blogpost about that here. Even closer is the hunting palace of the Stuarts Falkland Palace, which is a place that she loved in her younger years.

Remembrance Sunday

Kelty War Memorial.

This is just one of the many war memorials in Fife. Kelty is a village where the main occupation used to be mining, but now there are no mines left.

Kelty War Memorial

Falkland Palace Garden, Fife, Scotland

Falkland Palace , Fife, Scotland

Although we’re members of the Scottish National Trust we haven’t been able to visit any of their properties this year as they’ve obviously all been closed due to Covid. Some of the bigger castles have opened up again, such as Edinburgh Castle and Stirling Castle, but last week we decided as it was a beautiful day we’d visit nearby Falkland Palace, just to walk in the garden, the palace wasn’t open. You can just walk in and there’s a box for donations.

Falkland Palace, Fife, Scotland

Falkland Palace was the hunting lodge of the Stuart kings and queens. Built in the 16th century by King James IV and his son James V and modelled in the French style it was also a favourite with Mary, Queen of Scots as it reminded her of the French chateaux of her childhood.

Falkland Palace , Fife, Scotland

Much of the palace is a romantic ruin, but in the 19th century the third Marquess of Bute had it partly rebuilt.

Falkland Palace, Fife, Scotland

We quite often just go for a wander around the gardens, there’s a pleasant orchard, although a lot of the trees have been fairly recently planted. In normal times you can have a nice wee sit down on a bench and admire the views, but I believe they’ve been removed due to Covid 19.

Falkland Palace Gardens, Fife, Scotland

Anyway, here are some of the photos I took while we wandered around.

Falkland Palace Gardens , Fife, Scotland

Falkland Palace Gardens, Fife, Scotland

Falkland Palace Gardens, Fife, Scotland

Falkland Palace Gardens, Fife, Scotland

Falkland Palace Gardens, Fife, Scotland

Falkland Palace Steps, Fife, Scotland

The gate below is obviously modern, it leads through to the orchard some of which you can just see in the background. The apple crop was not nearly as good as usual due to the weather.

Falkland Palace Gate, Fife, Scotland

Although Falkland has always been popular with tourists it has become even more so in recent years as the village and palace have been used as a location for Outlander. Click on the photos if you want to see them enlarged.

Culross, Fife, Scotland

Culross

A lot of the wee houses in Culross are owned by the Scottish National Trust and were delapidated and uninhabited until they took them over and renovated them.

Culross street, Fife, Scotland

Then they rented them out to people, I’m not sure if the houses that I’ve photographed are some of those ones but I think they are. I wish they had kept one of them as a tourist attraction, it’s lovely to visit palaces and stately homes but it can be even more interesting to see how the ordinary people lived back in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Culross, Fife, Scotland

Culross, Fife, Scotland

It’s strange but looking back I remembered having a hard time picking my way over the stones and boulders that made up the roads but I now see that some of them were tarmacked. In the photo below you can get an idea of how rough some of the roads are. It looks like a great tower house and must have a lovely view over the River Forth.

Culross house, Fife, Scotland

It’s a pity about the wheelie bins in the photo below – ugly but necessary for the people who live there. Sometimes tourists forget that these are people’s homes and have a good old look through a window, nose pressed to glass. I know someone who did that thinking the house was a museum and got the shock of their life when she saw the woman of the house staring back – it wisnae me!

Culross house, Fife, Scotland

The merkat cross below is about halfway up the very steep hill that leads to Culross Abbey, it seems a strange place to hold a market, it can’t have been an easy haul up there for any stall holders or shoppers. Maybe they held the market elsewhere despite the merkat cross being here.

Culross Mercat Cross, Fife, Scotland

On the way back downhill it’s easiest either to walk down the gutter at the side or along the middle of the road where the boulders are bigger and flatter.

Culross lane, Fife, Scotland

Below is a photo that I took close to the top of the hill that leads up to the abbey, looking over to the Firth of Forth. I inadvertently got a cow’s backside in view too!

River Forth View, Culross, Fife

The beach isn’t the bonniest but apparently it’s very rich in food for seabirds which is the main thing. Culross is definitely worth a visit if you are in or close to Fife.

Culross, Firth of Forth,Fife

Culross Abbey, Fife, Scotland

Last Friday dawned dry and bright, the only dry day in the week, so we decided to drive to the very historic Fife village of Culross, which is pronounced Cooris. Although we’ve visited Culross Palace at least three times we had never tackled the very steep and stony road which leads to the Culross Abbey. It is now a ruin and a lot of the stones from it have been ‘robbed’ to build the nearby manse.

The tower of the abbey church which is in use today stands in what was the middle of the original abbey. It was founded in 1217 by Malcolm, 3rd Earl of Fife. It was home to Cistercian monks who wore white habits.

Culross Tower, Fife, Scotland

The metal stairs are very steep, I went down backwards.

Culross Abbey Vault

Culross Abbey Ruins, Fife, Scotland

Culross Abbey Wall, Tower, Fife, Scotland

Culross Abbey Ruins , Fife, Scotland

And parts of the original abbey can be seen in the manse garden. What a wonderful feature to have in your garden!

Culross Abbey Ruins,River  Forth

The ‘modern’ Abbey Church is still in use, it’s a shame it was closed when we were there, it looks like it would be very interesting internally. I did have a good old mooch around the graveyard though.

Culross Abbey church  graveyard

I know it isn’t everyone’s idea of a good afternoon out but it hit the spot for me!

Culross graveyard , Fife, Scotland

If you don’t mind walking up a very steep hill on at times a painfully uneven surface this is an interesting place to visit, as much for the lovely wee houses on the way up as for the grand but ruined abbey. A lot of the houses in the village are now owned and rented out by the Scottish National Trust, they were ruins before they took them over and refurbished them, but I’ll keep the photos of the houses for another blogpost.

You can see more images of the abbey here.

Kinnoull Hill, Perthshire, Scotland

Last Thursday was a beautiful day, such a treat after the twelve hour long thunder and lightning storm of a few days previously, so we grabbed the day and drove to Kinnoull Hill in Perthshire. For decades we’ve driven past the rocky outcrop which towers above the M 90 motorway that takes you into the city of Perth and had just never got around to actually visiting the place, despite it being a really popular beauty spot.

Kinnoull Hill Path, Perth, woodland

The hill is covered with trees and the path is fairly steep but it only took us about 15 minutes to reach the top, we really needed the exercise anyway after being cooped up in the house hiding from the torrential rain of earlier in the week.

Kinnoull Hill Path,Perthshire, Scotland

There’s a wood carving of an owl in flight on the way up, but the woodland itself was bereft of birdlife. I’ve often been puzzled by this when walking in woods. Even when there’s nobody else around and it’s very quiet the woods never seem to have any wildlife in them. There are far more birds around my garden.

Kinnoull Eagle sculpture, Perthshire

Through a gap in the trees you can get quite a decent view of the historic village of Scone which is close to Perth.

Scone, from Kinnoull Hill, Perthshire

From the top of Kinnoull Hill you get a great view east to the Carse of Gowrie and over to Errol, even on what was a fairly hazy day. You can see why the River Tay is called the silvery Tay. Over the river are the hills of Fife.

Kinnoull Hill View , Distant Hills

The photo below is a stitch of three photos that I took looking over to the south side of the river and Fife beyond. The yellowy-gold coloured fields had just been harvested.

River Tay stitch, Perthshire, Scotland

The stitch below is from the top of what was a very blustery Kinnoull Hill, looking down towards the bend in the River Tay. It felt quite dangerous, in fact there are plenty of warning signs to tell you not to go too close to the edge as it just falls away and it would be easy to walk over by accident.

River Tay stitch, Perthshire, Kinnoull Hill

The one below is looking northwards towards Dunkeld and Birnam Wood of Macbeth fame.

View from Kinnoull Hill

Below is an information plaque which tells of all the instances of historical interest around this area.

information plaque, Kinnoull Hill, Perthshire, Scotland

After we walked back down the hill we had another look at the information board at the car park and realised that we had somehow missed a tower which has been built on the hill, so one day we’ll have to go back again and take a close look at it. Obviously we missed a path which leads over to that side of the hill. You can see images of it here.

We should have done our homework before setting out, such as visiting this Visit Scotland site.

The Gleam in the North by D.K. Broster

The Gleam in the North cover

The Gleam in the North by D.K. Broster is the second book in Broster’s Jacobite trilogy which begins with The Flight of the Heron. It was first published in 1927.

The story begins with Ewan Cameron’s two small boys playing by the edge of the loch that they’ve been warned not to go near. Donald the eldest is enthusiastically telling Keithie his young brother about the battle of Culloden and he shows Keithie his favourite possession – an old claymore (sword) which had been used at the battle. But Keithie is most unimpressed and throws the claymore into the loch, which prompts Donald to push his young brother into the loch after it – and it’s a very deep loch.

Keithie is rescued but the cold soaking leads to him falling seriously ill and his father’s search for help in the moors and hills of the Scottish Highlands which are being patrolled by King George’s Redcoats alerts the authorities. They’re looking for ‘rebels’ such as Ewen so that they can take them down to England to execute them.

It isn’t only the Redcoats that the Jacobites have to beware of though, there are some spies within the clans, selling their own for a handful of coins, much less than 40 pieces of silver.

This was not quite as enjoyable as The Flight of the Heron but was still a good read full of suspense and is a painless way of reading about Scottish history if you’re interested in it. Ewen inadvertently meets up with his old friend Keith Windham’s family which goes a long way to explaining Windham’s personality.

It was a time when the Highlanders were being violently suppressed, forbidden to speak Gaelic, wear the tartan or be in possession of anything resembling a weapon, and they were being transported to the colonies at the drop of a hat.