Cockburnspath/Cove, Scottish Borders

headland Cove

One day ten weeks or so ago (how time flies!) we went to Cockburnspath to visit Eric and his family. it was the last week of Freya’s school holidays. It’s a very historic area, being very close to the border with England, battles were fought nearby. When King James IV married Margaret Tudor in 1503 he presented the land around here to her as a wedding gift.

Our visit usually includes a walk to the beach at nearby Cove, a settlement that was once a fishing village with quite a lot of houses and families living there, but due to the ravages of the North Sea most of the houses have been swept away, there are only around three left that are inhabited.

Uther found a ball on the beach and he thought it was a great game to poke it over the edge of the quayside and watch it drop into the harbour, Eric wasn’t so enthralled with the game. Luckily he had his wellies on! The bystanders were very amused.

Boats  at Cove

The North Sea has worn some lovely patterns into the rocks.
rocks  at Cove

rocks and houses  at Cove

Although we’ve been there numerous times we had never witnessed the place when the tide was out, it looks so different. It meant there was far more territory for Uther the red and white setter to investigate, and I must admit that I was happy to follow in his pawsteps. Mooching around on a beach is one of my favourite pastimes, why anyone would want to lie down on a beach is a mystery to me.

Uther

Uther

rocks and Uther

The low tide had brought a couple of cockle/whelk gatherers out – rather them than me, apart from not liking seafood – there’s a nuclear power station lurking in the background!

sea  at Cove

Freya, Jack and Eric were happy to sit and chat while I risked broken ankles scrabbling around amongst the rocks.

F,E, J
These old houses are incredibly picturesque and part of me thinks it would be exciting to have the North Sea battering off your walls, but the fact that all the other houses have been torn down by the sea makes me see sense. This one is now only used to store fishing gear nowadays.

steps  at Cove

Uther is the only dog that I’ve ever known that doesn’t like to go into water, whisper it but – maybe he was a cat in another life!
Uther

harbour wall

Scapa Flow Visitor Centre, Hoy, Orkney

The small island of Hoy is a fairly short ferry trip from the Orkney mainland. The Scapa Flow Visitor Centre is well worth the trip. The area was very busy during both World Wars as it’s so strategically placed it’s a perfect place to position a large part of the British Navy, meaning the population exploded with the arrival of loads of sailors and soldiers and airmen too.

This inevitably led to a change in the opportunities of the local females who up until then didn’t have much to choose from when it came to getting married. When the navy finally weighed anchors and sailed off permanently the local females’ horizons must have closed in on them again. To compensate for this disappointment it seems that they were encouraged to take up pig farming instead of getting married. No difference some might say! I liked the cartoon below which appeared in a local newspaper at the time.

Cartoon

The author Compton Mackenzie (Monarch of the Glen, Whisky Galore) owned a couple of the islands and was stationed here and donated his uniform to the museum.
Comptom Mackenzie's Battle-dress

It’s really quite a good museum with exhibits inside and outside, although I’m not too interested in military hardware.

Gun

I was happier with the more domestic parts such as this mock up of a typical 1930s interior, although I feel that they could be doing with a nice 1930s three piece suite, if I had known that I would have donated one to them before we moved, as I ended up giving it to a local college to practice their upholstery skills on.

1930s room

You can have a look at an air raid shelter, there must have been more of them scattered around but possibly they’ve all been filled in again.

Air-raid shelter

There’s also a tearoom, done out to look like it would have in the 1930s, but it was full of people partaking of the cup that cheers – as usual, so I didn’t take any photos of it. They had tasty cakes though.

The sign above the door seems to be the original one.
Church Army Sign

Hoy is well worth a visit. I’m only annoyed that we didn’t realise that the ferry is such a small one with not much room for vehicles, so you have to book ahead, we were too late to book so we just went as foot passengers, so could only explore by foot. Next time we’ll take the car and travel across as much of Hoy as we can as there’s obviously a lot more to see than we managed, going from these images.

The Island of Hoy, Orkney

We got a ferry from Houton to Lyness on Hoy, there’s a military museum there and a cemetery, both within easy walking distance of the ferryport, which is just as well because we had to go as foot passengers. We hadn’t realised that the car ferry was so small and you have to book up a few days in advance to make sure of getting on to it.

A yacht in Scapa Flow, Hoy behind.
Yacht + Hoy from Scapa Flow

This area was very strategic during both World Wars of course and Scapa Flow is famous as the Germans scuttled their navy there at the end of World War 1. That turned out to be quite handy eventually as the metal from the wrecked ships has been very useful due to the fact that it hasn’t been contaminated by the radiation from nuclear bombs that were dropped on Japan towards the end of World War 2 and subsequent nuclear tests. NASA used the metal to make instruments for experiments in space – something like that anyway!

Mainland Orkney to left, Scapa Flow to centre, Graemsay to right
Yacht in Hoy Sound, Orkney

Graemsay and Hoy from Ness Battery, Stromness
Graemsay and Hoy from Ness Battery

Hoy from south Stromness

Hoy from south Stromness

If you want to see photos of the War cemetery on Hoy hop over to Jack’s post on Lyness Naval Cemetery.

In the cemetery there is also a Memorial to HMS Hampshire, the ship in which Lord Kitchener died.

HMS Hampshire Memorial, Lyness War Cemetery

House of Dun near Montrose – interior

It’s a few weeks now since we visited the House of Dun near Montrose, you can see the post that I did about the exterior of the building here. It was built in 1730 for the laird David Erskine.

This is a house that you can only go around as part of a guided tour, but they seem to be fairly frequent so we didn’t have to wait all that long to be shown around. It’s a shame that one of the owners married a woman who liked to tinker with the internal plan of the house. It was of course designed by William Adam who was a fanatic about having everything symmetrical, even creating dummy doors to match actual doors at opposite ends of walls. A previous occupant has ruined a lot of the proportions by having walls removed and such, especially in the hall.

Room in House of Dun

Room in House of Dun

I keep saying this but it’s true – although it’s a very grand house, it still has the feeling of a family home. It must be all the personal nick-nacks that decorate the place that help.

It was impossible to get a photo of the huge looking glass without getting people in it!

Room windows in House of Dun

The cornicings/plaster wall and ceiling decorations are incredibly ornate as you can see.
Room in house of Dun

Apparently the overmantel decoration is of a soldier standing with one foot crushing the crown of England. Not terribly subtle, apparently the house was owned by Jacobites who enjoyed this sort of visual support for the Jacobite cause and they got away with it, at a time when they could easily have been executed for such sympathies!
Room  Overmantel + fireplace

The embroidered quilt on this four-poster bed is fantastic. It was apparently found in a tin trunk in the attics fairly recently. It was a wedding gift embroidered by the mother of the then laird and it has his and his mother’s name sewn all over it, and the fact that it was a gift from her for his wedding. It’s suspected that his bride didn’t want to have her mother-in-law at such close quarters, even if only in the shape of embroidery and I have to say I don’t really blame her.
Quilted bed

Lastly, just about the most bizarre object at the House of Dun is the ‘boot’ bath below, so named because it resembles the shape of a boot. I can’t make up my mind whether it was enclosed like that to keep out draughts or just to make it a more private experience for the bather. I don’t think it would have made washing your legs and feet very easy though!

boot bath

Carn Liath Broch, Sutherland, Scotland

The weather on our way back from Orkney was beautiful and we decided to take a long slow journey back home, stopping off at anywhere that took our fancy. When I spotted a sign to a broch on the road between Golspie and Brora we just had to visit it. Carn Liath Broch is situated very close to the main road south and there is a good lay-by on the other side of the road for parking.

Carn Liath Broch

It’s fairly well preserved with some of the walls still 12 feet tall. It’s in a beautiful position fairly close to the beach – but not too close!

Carn Liath Broch

Carn Liath Broch

There’s still quite a lot to see and it’s easy to imagine what it must have been like for the original inhabitants, quite cosy I imagine.

Carn Liath Broch

Carn Liath Broch stairs

Carn Liath Broch chamber 1

We had the place all to ourselves and although there’s a main road nearby the cars weren’t visible.

Carn Liath Broch

cows and sea from Carn Liath Broch

The broch was probably built in the last century BC or first century AD. But it was first excavated in the 1800s. Nobody is quite sure about the purpose of brochs, and the ideas range from resource-hungry status symbols to temporary defensive structures for extended families and their livestock. Around 500 were built in Scotland, including good examples at Broch of Gurness in Orkney, Dun Carloway in the Western Isles and Clickimin Broch near Lerwick in Shetland.

I’m so glad I spotted that roadsign.

House of Dun, near Montrose

One beautiful day a couple of weeks ago we decided to grab the good weather and drive up to the House of Dun close to Montrose. It’s a Scottish National Trust property that we had never visited before. It’s just over 50 miles away from us. Below are some photographs of the outside from various angles.

House of Dun

The house was originally owned by the Erskine family.

House of Dun, Montrose

House of Dun, Montrose

House of Dun, Montrose

The gardens are meticullously maintained, I hate to think how many hours it all must take.
Garden

Garden , House of Dun, Montrose

As you can see from the plaque below, it was laid by the Queen Mother to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the birth of the house’s architect William Adam. He was the father of three famous architects, the most famous being Robert Adam.

Box hedging dedication

The pergola below looks lovely now but it will look even better when the plants have covered all of the metal support. It is of course in the shape of a crown. The owners of the House of Dun were closet Jacobites and there are various not very well hidden decorations in the house featuring the Scottish crown.
Garden pergola

The photo below of the box hedging was taken from the top of the house steps, the back door really. The setting is fantastic with beautiful views from the house.
box hedging pano

You can actually rent holiday cottages and I think apartments in the actual house. It would be great – if the weather behaved itself. Crucially there is a good tea room!

Hurrah! the National Trust now allow people to take photographs of the inside of their properties, but I’ll keep those ones for the next blogpost.

Castle of Mey, Caithness, and Sutherland, Scotland

Castle of Mey

On our way back from Orkney we realised that we would be very close to the Castle of Mey, the Queen Mother’s residence in Scotland. After her husband George VI died in 1952 she obviously had to vacate Balmoral and the other royal residences to make way for the new Queen. She took a fancy to the very remote castle after visiting it as a guest, luckily the owners wanted to move out. After lots of renovations she moved in, and in later years the Royal Yacht Britannia was used to take royal visitors to the castle. The Queen Mother could never persuade Princess Margaret to stay overnight though, Margaret always insisted on going back to sleep on the yacht, the castle was too cold for her apparently, but I suspect she wanted more privacy to get up to her well known shenanigans.

Castle of Mey
Unfortunately you aren’t allowed to take photos of the inside of it for security reasons apparently?! But you can see plenty of photos here.

As castles go it’s quite a cosy one with the rooms being not too big and our guide told us lots of stories about the Queen Mother, who obviously threw herself into the community and got involved with the local primary school children. There were lots of hand made gifts from them ranged around her sitting room, including a shell covered bottle made into a lamp.

I like the way they utilise the big flat stones that are on lots of the local beaches as partitions, it must be a fast way of building walls.

Castle of Mey

Castle of Mey
That was the first time we had been so far north and I thought it was really scenic, although admittedly we were very lucky with the weather, and just about everything looks lovely in the sunshine. You can look here at all the other places of interest in Caithness if you click on the list on the right hand side and here at all the small towns in neighbouring Sutherland if you click on the list on the left.

Castle of Mey garden + Hoy

It was a surprise to me how well things were growing way up north.

I just love old stone walls with wooden gates – what is the secret garden behind it like, most of the time they are locked though so they remain secrets!

East Garden door

The Scottish Crannog Centre at Kenmore

It was our 41st (yes that’s not a typo, but I don’t know how that happened!) wedding anniversary earlier in the month and we decided to celebrate by driving 50 miles north to the wee village of Kenmore. Previously we had just briefly looked at Kenmore as we drove through it on the way back from a holiday in the Highlands.
Loch Tay Crannog
Crannog on Loch Tay

It’s such a scenic area, the River Tay runs out of Loch Tay here. We intended to visit the reconstructed crannog in the loch, but didn’t think that would take very long. As it turned out we were there for getting on for two hours and I highly recommend visiting The Scottish Crannog Centre. Rachael gave a very interesting talk and is an archaeologist so she should know what she’s talking about.

Crannogs were living quarters that were built by the inhabitants of Scotland 2,500 years ago. They were built on tree trunk stilts above the loch with a split log walkway leading out to the crannog. It’s like a very heavy duty yurt I suppose and is really very comfy and cosy inside. They would have had a fire in the middle of the structure so it would have been a bit smoky and their sheep were also in a fenced off area within it so it was probably a bit smelly, but on the upside – the midges apparently don’t bother you there.
Crannog Kenmore

We were told exactly how they went about building crannogs, cutting trees with bronze axes and forming a point at one end to help get it positioned in the bottom of the loch. When the log stilts were driven in in a circle they then made a platform floor making one large circular room and then sectioned parts of that off.
Crannog at Kenmore

One extended family would have lived there, possibly as many as 15 people (and the sheep). Nowadays the only permanent inhabitants were two families of swallows who dived in and out as our guide talked to us.
Crannog swallow

The museum part of the centre has lots of artefacts that were found when some of the eighteen known crannogs that were on the loch were excavated. Tools and pottery, jewellery, wooden bowls and even some tweedy fabric has survived. The crannog dwellers could refurbish their homes for years, replacing rotten wood with new logs, but eventually there came a time when there was no space to put new supports and then the whole thing would collapse into the loch, which eventually became a small island as trees and plants germinated there. In fact you can see two small crannog islands from the reconstructed one. One had a abbey built on it in the 11th century. It’s situated just behind those boats and blends into the trees on surrounding hills, but it is an island.

Crannog on Loch Tay Kenmore 1
Crannog on Loch Tay Kenmore 2

They’ve also hollowed out some trees to make authentic log boats like the ones that were used by the crannog dwellers.
crannog log boats
After the talk in the crannog we walked back onto land and were given demonstrations on fire-making, wood-turning and spinning. I had a wee shot at the spinning, I think I could get into making and dyeing my own wool!

After that we had a tasty dinner at the Kenmore Hotel which is apparently the oldest inn in Scotland. Sadly by then what had been a beautiful blue sky day had turned into a grey damp one, but that didn’t stop us from walking along the beach below and then driving on to a few more villages in that area before going home.

Crannog and Loch Tay from Kenmore 1

That was a great way to celebrate our wedding anniversary.

Skaill House, Orkney

Skaill House

Skaill House is just a stone’s throw from Skara Brae on Orkney, in fact it was the owner of the house who discovered Skara Brae on the beach after tons of sand had been blown off the settlement during a huge storm in 1850. If you buy a ticket for Skara Brae it also gives you access to the house. It’s apparently Orkney’s finest 17th century mansion, it’s certainly very homely for such a grand house.

Skaill House

The dining room is just a nice size, it would be very cosy I think. The dinner service on display in the built in dresser belonged to Captain Cook, it was on one of his ships and he gifted it to the then owner of the house. It’s very fancy, I had imagined that anything onboard would have been much more utilitarian.

Skaill House  dinner Service

The library is great with lots of 1930s-1970s book club favourites as well as older no doubt rarer books.

Skaill House  Library

Skaill House  Library

I took a lot more photos but that’ll do for now. I really enjoyed going around Skaill House but according to some comments I’ve seen it seems that not everyone has been all that enamoured of the house and only went to see it because the ticket was included in the price of the Skara Brae one. They even thought that having Captain Cook’s dinner service on display was ‘scraping the barrel’. Honestly – some people just live to moan about things online!

Balbirnie Stone Circle, Fife, Scotland

Balbirnie Stones board

After visiting so many Neolithic standing stones and cairns when we were in Orkney I thought it was about time I did another short blogpost about the local ones near me in Fife, the Balbirnie Stone Circle.

Balbirnie Stones

I did blog about them donkey’s years ago and of course they don’t change although they now have a new and legible information board. There was evidence of 16 cremation burials as well as a flint knife, a jet button and beads and a complete food container when the area was excavated.

Balbirnie Stones

The powers that be decided to move this stone circle when a nearby road was being upgraded – which is truly sacrilegious, but at least they re-arranged them as they had been originally. They are now 125 metres to the south-east of their original location.

Balbirnie Standing Stones 3

There’s a burn nearby and I presume that that is why people settled in this area over 2,000 years BC. I must admit that I like to think of families living and working here all those years ago.