Orchardton Tower, Dumfries and Galloway

Orchardton Tower

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.

Piscina
All of the interior floors are long gone.

Orchardton Tower Interior
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.

Orchardton Tower Summit

Orchardton Tower Interior

A view from the top of the tower.
View from Tower  Summit

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.

View from  Orchardton Tower  Summit 2

Torhouse Stone Circle, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland

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.
Torrhouse stone circle
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.

Torrhouse  stone circle + lollipop tree

St Ninian’s Cave near Whithorn, Dumfries and Galloway

St Ninian's info board

When we were in the county of Dumfries and Galloway (south-west Scotland) recently we decided to visit St Ninian’s Cave which is near Whithorn. It’s apparently a place that St Ninian – the man who brought Christianity to Scotland way back in the 390s – used for contemplation and prayer. I must admit I hadn’t realised it was quite that long ago. It’s really a very small cave nowadays, but probably over the years it has suffered from rock falls and been eroded by the sea.

St Ninian's cave

When we reached the car park for the cave a bus full of school children and teachers complete with guitars had just disembarked. So we decided to race on ahead of them so we could reach the cave before them and sample the atmosphere better. It was apparently a walk of a mile or so, it seemed longer, through woodland before reaching what is a really beautiful beach full of the most interesting and lovely stones I’ve seen on any beach. It was slightly misty though.

St Ninian's beach from cave

pebbles

The cave is still a place of pilgrimage for Christians and a lot of home made crosses large and small have been left there, and also flat stones which have been painted with the names of loved ones who are presumably no longer with us.

crosses

crosses

To reach the cave you have to trudge over 400 yards of a beach which isn’t at all easy to walk on, when we left the area the kids on the school trip hadn’t begun to do it. They were being preached to – poor souls. No words were needed, it’s just a beautiful peaceful place. I’m glad we got to it before its atmosphere was filled with Kumbaya, or maybe it would have been Morning Has Broken.

I’m not at all religious but this is a very nice place to visit, even on a sea misty day.

flowers , St Ninian's beach

Dundrennan Abbey, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland

We visited Dundrennan Abbey last week. It’s a ruin now unsurprisingly as building here began in 1162, it was a Cistercian Abbey. If you visit the abbey keep your fingers crossed that you get Glyn as your guide as his knowledge and enthusiasm for the subject are something to witness.
Dundrennan Abbey
The abbey is of course a ruin now as it was abandoned as a church centuries ago. This is where Mary Queen of Scots spent her last hours on Scottish soil before she was taken to Workington, probably by the tide, where she was made prisoner by the English to begin what turned out to be 18 years of incarceration before her execution and martyrdom (if you are of the Roman Cathoic faith).
Dundrennan Abbey

She rode here from Langside in Glasgow where the last battle was fought and lost by her troops. Almost certainly she didn’t go straight to the Abbey as that would have been too obvious a destination for her pursuers. It’s thought that she went to a house in the forests nearby (according to local history) but after a few days she left that place and spent the night in the Abbey’s commendator’s house. Was she waiting for a ship to take her to France and safety? Ships sailed almost right up to the abbey from the Solway Firth in those days. She was probably trying to make up her mind where to go, she would have realised that her presence in France wouldn’t have been welcome. They wanted rid of her immediately after her husband the Dauphin died. Perhaps Spain would welcome her. We’ll never know as spies had tracked her movements and the rest is history.

Below is a photo of storage areas, housing mainly bits of stone carving now but the site of the building where she stayed.
Dundrennan Abbey

I was interested to read that one of the gravestones here refers to a knight called Livingstone of Culter. Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles are set around the Scottish Borderlands and of course she used the place name Culter although she didn’t base the Lymonds/Crawfords on any particular people apparently.
Dundrennan Abbey Carved Stone info board

Dundrennan Abbey ,Carved Figure

Dundrennan Abbey

Dumbarton Castle and environs

Dumbarton Castle and Rock

Last week I was at Dumbarton Castle which is an old friend to me as I used to play around it when I was a wee girl as I lived not far from the castle. It might be a disappointment to some people as it’s not much of a castle really, well not like Edinburgh or Stirling. But Dumbarton was the ancient capital of Strathclyde, so it’s more of a fort and has been used as such since at least AD 450. Built on a volcanic plug, as is Edinburgh, it’s located at a strategic point where the River Leven meets the River Clyde.

Dumbarton Castle and Rock

Over the centuries it has been well used and at one point a lot of French Napoleonic War prisoners were housed at the castle. Below is a photo of the prison but I believe that they were also living in a part of the castle which is now a ruin.

French Prison at Dumbarton Rock

You have to be fit to visit Dumbarton Castle as it has stairs all over the place. I used to think it was 365, they said there was one for every day of the year when I was a lass, but now they must have re-counted. I’m sure I saw a sign saying 555 stairs, all I know for sure is that my knees knew all about them the next day!

Dumbarton Castle stairs, Dumbarton Rock

Mary Queen of Scots sailed to France from here in 1435 when she went there to marry the Dauphin. But long before that it suffered attacks from the Vikings. It’s a very historic place.

I thought these photos might be of interest to people who have read Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles as the town is mentioned quite often in the books. Sadly the photos don’t do the distant mountains justice.

View from Dumbarton Rock

A few weeks ago there was a rumour going around the town that Prince Harry and wife would be given the title of Earl and Countess of Dumbarton. Wishful thinking I thought – so I was amazed to discover today that it is indeed true. I suspect that one day they will visit the town, the Georgian house (below) within castle is still used for special events, usually by the army. I just hope that nobody shows them the actual town!

Georgian House at Dumbarton Castle

There are guns aplenty scattered around the walls and strategically placed information boards.

View from Dumbarton Castle

Guns at Dumbarton Castle, Scotland

Dumbarton Castle

Tartan + Tweed by Caroline Young/Ann Martin

  Tartan + Tweed cover

Tartan + Tweed by Caroline Young/Ann Martin is a history of the two fabrics that are traditionally linked with Scotland. It has lots of interesting photographs, some of them quite nostalgic as a fair few pop/punk/rock bands have used tartan as their stage costumes. Rod Stewart and The Bay City Rollers get a mention plus Slade’s Noddy Holder who wore a tartan suit along with a mirror embellished top hat.

I found the Tweed half of the book more interesting, simply because I learned quite a lot of things that I hadn’t known before about tweed, whereas I found the tartan section to be a bit repetitive and not as well written, also I didn’t learn anything I hadn’t known before. However if you don’t know much about the history of tartan this will be a good read for you.

As a Scot I have an awkward relationship with tartan. Most of us avoid wearing tartan except for weddings or nowadays graduations or Scotland football matches – if you’re a man. Scottish women tend to avoid it completely for fear of ending up looking like something seen on a shortbread tin. For some reason schools often have tartan skirts as part of the school uniform, even in England and everybody is glad to get out of their school uniform at last – so that’s another reason tartan isn’t popular here.

Anybody can design their own tartan so there are thousands of different designs now and I think that diminishes it, but I suppose it helps to keep the industry going. The myth that only Scotsmen can wear kilts is killed off in this book. If you fancy sashaying about in a kilt then feel free to go for it! There’s no doubt that men in kilts walk differently, the kilt almost has a life of its own it seems.

When we went to Northern Ireland for a holiday (don’t ask) we were surprised to see tartan EVERYWHERE. It seems to be used as a tribal flag by the Ulster Scots, so you could buy tartan curtains and bedding – you name it and they had it in tartan. There’s no doubt about it, human beings are strange.

As I said, I found the tweed section more interesting, I also prefer tweed to tartan and over recent years the industry has really modernised and become beloved by fashion designers. There are quite a lot of good fashion photographs, starting with Coco Chanel herself.

One really tragic fact in this book is that 635 men from the tweed making Scottish Border town of Galashiels were killed during the First World War, most of them in one attack at Gallipoli. Several of the mills ended up being bought by outsiders as many of the local mill owners had lost their sons in that attack.

There’s a section on Tartan and Royalty. From that dandy King George IV to today members of the royal family have been keen tartan wearers. I must admit that there are times when Scots find that slightly patronising. But at one point Princess Anne seemed so fond of tartan and supporting the Scottish rugby team, we thought she was making a bid for being the Queen of an independent Scotland – but that never came to pass.

Anyway, this has been a ramble and a half, suffice to say that I was so enamoured with the Tweed part of this book that when I saw a bundle of Harris Tweed at a recent vintage fair I snapped it up – but what am I going to do with it? I have no idea.

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.