Dunkeld in Perthshire

It was a sparkling afternoon in October I think when we visted Dunkeld again, just for a walk around the place. Perthshire is well known for having lovely trees.

sheep

Walking around the edge of the cathedral brought us to these sheep that are in the normal sheep stance – head down and chomping away.

Dunkeld sheep

The banks of the River Tay are very close to the remains of the cathedral, so the grass there is manicured compared to the rest of the riverside. It’s a nice place to sit and is just a hop and a skip from the wee town.

River Tay at Dunkeld

The Tay is really a thing of beauty, swift, clean and somehow honest looking, certainly when I compare it with my recent visit to the River Severn. Don’t fall in though! One of our ‘boys’ once kicked our football into it when he was a youngster, I think he thought we would be able to get it back – no chance.

River Tay

Sometimes they have the salmon season opening ceremony at Dunkeld, they pour some whisky into a quaich which is a two handled Scottish drinking vessel and throw it into the river as a blessing. Nowadays if you catch a salmon you have to put it back in the river, after taking photos of it of course. Conservation is important.

One year I remember they had to crack the ice to get a boat onto the river, but I can’t find any videos of that freezing year. I did find one of the 2018 ceremony at Kenmore though, another wee place I’m fond of and I’ve added it to an old Kenmore blogpost of mine. So if you enjoy listening to a pipeband and you’re interested in seeing a River Tay fishing season opening ceremony have a look here.

Fortingall, Perthshire

Way back in August last year we visited the Highland Perthshire village of Fortingall. The village is well known foor its ancient churchyard yew tree which is thought to be over 5,000 years old, apparently the oldest living thing in Europe. Over the years the yew tree has died in the middle, leaving a cave like space in the middle, so sadly there’s no massive tree trunk to hug! Tourists over the years cut bits off the tree as souvenirs so a wall and railings were built around it for protection.

Fortingall Yew

There has been a church there for centuries, the original one dating from the 8th century, but the church there now dates from 1901.

Fortingall Kirk
The surrounding landscape is typical hills covered with what looks like a Forestry Commission plantation. I hope that fewer of these are going to be planted in the future as they don’t look great en masse and when they do cut them down the place is always a scene of devastation.

Fortingall Hills
I believe that it was the local MP who had these gorgeous Arts and Crafts design houses built for the locals, lucky locals I say!
Fortingall Arts and Crafts

Fortingall Arts and Crafts

But the more traditional Scotish houses such as the one below are lovely too, this one had a lovely garden.

A Fortingall house

It looks like an idyllic village, but as always – I wonder what it’s like for young people to live there. I suspect they would just be stuck in the village unless they have parents willing to provide a regular taxi service for them.

Fortingall Arts and Crafts
However there’s a lovely burn for kids to play in in the summer, that’s something that we all did as kids but I have a nasty feeling that parents don’t allow their children to have fun messing about in burns nowadays.

Fortingall Burn

Fortingall is a very small village but like lots of far-flung places it seems to have a great community spirit, when we were there they were having an art festival and quite a few well known artists were exhibiting.

You can see more images of Fortingall here.

Crichton Castle in Midlothian, Scotland

I do hope that I’m not repeating myself because I could have sworn that I had already done a post on our visit to Crichton Castle, but it doesn’t seem to be on the blog, and the photos weren’t on Flickr, so I must just have written the post in my head – and got no further!

Crichton Castle

Anyway, as I remember it was a lovely visit to the castle which has quite a long footpath leading to it after you park your car. We had it all to ourselves although as we were leaving some other people turned up.
Crichton Castle is near the village of Pathead in Midlothian, not that far south of Edinburgh. The oldest part of the castle was built in the late 14th century, but by the time Mary, Queen of Scots attended a wedding there it must have looked quite different.
Crichton Castle
Crichton Castle

It was owned by the Earl of Bothwell who became Mary’s third husband – really that poor woman should have been much wiser and been more like her cousin Elizabeth I and eschewed marriage altogether.

Crichton Castle  stairs

The castle has a scale and platt staircase, in other words a straight staircase with landings, instead of the normal spiral staircase that castles of that age have. Francis Stewart who owned the castle in the 1580s was inspired by a trip to Italy and copied an Italianate style, adding fancy diamond rustication to the courtyard wall, medieval stone cladding I suppose.

Crichton Castle
You need to put your initials on your castle obviously!

Crichton Castle

The setting is lovely, high above a river with plenty of trees around.

Crichton Castle

The castle features in Sir Walter Scott’s Marmion and was painted by J.M.W. Turner in 1818.

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.

Rocks
Rocks

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.

St Rule’s Tower and St Andrews Cathedral, Fife

The photo below is of St Andrews Cathedral ruins and St Rule’s tower, they look quite small in this photo for some reason, they are in fact large and quite imposing – for ruins.

St Andrews Cathedral ruins and St Rule's tower
Going up the spiral stairs is an interesting experience involving metal stairs first before you get to the old stone spiral ones. There are apparently 156 steps and I’m just really glad that we didn’t meet anyone coming down as we were going up, they’re very narrow and trying to get past strangers could be quite embarrassing!

St Rule's  spiral stairs

You can get more of an idea from the photo below of how the underside of the stairs looks.
St Rule's  spiral staircase underside

I think most of us spend time visiting far afield places before getting around to seeing nearby tourist attractions. That’s the reason it has taken us about 40 years to get up St Rule’s tower which is in St Andrews Cathedral’s grounds, and I have to say that half-way up the narrow spiral staircase I wished we had tackled it at least 20 years ago as I thought I was never going to get to the top! But it was worth it to get the view which is great even on a dull day.
From St Rule's  at St Andrews
The famous Old Course is over towards the right in the distance of the above photo and to the left in the photo below.

St Andrews From St Rule's

From the other side of the tower you get a view of the harbour.

From St Rule's

The cathedral was badly damaged during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms as the English Civil War is more correctly described nowadays, but if you have a good imagination you can see that it must have been quite some place in its day. Below is a view of what’s left of the Chapter House and some stone coffins, in those days they chiselled out the shape of a body as you can see, an awful lot of work for the stonemason, it seems they didn’t want the body moving out of position.

Chapter house coffin

The view of the town of St Andrews that you get from the top of the tower is probably clearer than you would have got in medieval times, certainly in winter when all of the chimneys would have been belching out smoke. There were only two chimneys doing that when I took the photo but they were making plenty of pollution.
From St Rule's, St Andrews view

You have to be fairly fit to make the climb up the tower!

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