Pretty Young Rebel by Flora Fraser

Pretty Young Rebel  The Life of Flora MacDonald by Flora Fraser was published by Bloomsbury recently, I borrowed it from the library. I hadn’t read anything by Flora Fraser before but apparently she is an award winning biographer, and I can see why.

About half of this book is set in the Highlands/Islands of Scotland and I must say that considering everyone knows that ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ did escape to safety the author manages to convey an atmosphere of tension, fear and danger. I don’t think I had realised before that it was Flora MacDonald’s step-father who had volunteered her for the job of helping the prince to escape. A job that no doubt none of the men wanted to do because if caught they would definitely have been executed.

I was impressed by the behaviour of the prince, he seems to have been brave and stoical, despite the hellish weather conditions that had to be endured during his long and hazardous journey before his escape.

I must admit though that it was the second half of the book which I was most interested in reading because it was only a few years ago that I realised that Flora MacDonald had emigrated to North Carolina – but had gone back home again after a few years.

Sadly Flora hadn’t chosen wisely when it came to getting married, her husband Allan was a complete liability, not that she ever seems to have complained about him. In theory he was a good bet, he was well educated  and certainly had good prospects, but his business plans always failed. He ran through all of Flora’s money and ended up being heavily in debt to many people.  With so many people in the Highlands and Islands emigrating to America Flora and Allan decided to join them.  Again Allan wasn’t wise in his business dealings, but what was worse was that the fighting between Crown and ‘rebels’ wasn’t long in arriving at their door and Allan had plumped to support King George. He went around gathering support on that side from other Highland emigrants and when a lot of the men ended up being killed both Allan and Flora were very unpopular with the widows and families.

After that ‘the rebels’ started attacking their farm and stealing anything they fancied including all the farm tools and hpousehold goods. It was time to go home to Scotland, which they did, with almost nothing to their name, and having to rely on the charity of old friends. Still,  Flora seems not to have been bitter about things, but maybe she just kept her thoughts to herself!

Anyway, this was a great read by an author who has in the past won prizes for her biographies.

Dumbarton Castle – info boards

If you want to see some photos of the castle, including the Georgian part which I took back in 2018 on a blue sky day have a look here.

Dumbarton Castle, info board

There are plenty of information boards to read if you visit Dumbarton Castle. If you want to read them more easily click on the photos.

Dumbarton Castle, info board

The photo below was taken from inside the guard room which has only fairly recently been opened to the public.

Dumbarton Castle, guard room

Royal Progress, info board, Dumbarton Castle


Mary's Cause, Dumbarton Castle

Dumbarton Castle has had famous prisoners over the years, including William Wallace and Mary, Queen of Scots.  I believe that it was one of the many places that she managed to escape from. In fact she escaped from so many places that I suspect that it was a bit of a cat and mouse game which was being played on her.

Held Captive, Dumbarton Castle


Dumbarton Castle and environs

Dumbarton Football Club ground

Back in September Jack wanted to go to Dumbarton to watch a football match there, he’s a loyal supporter of Dumbarton Football Club – through thick and thin and at the moment it’s quite thin! Anyway, I’m not a huge football fan so I opted to visit Dumbarton Castle which is situated right at the football ground. As you can see below the info board names it Dun Breatann, Fortress of the Britons. Over the years the town which grew around the fort became known as Dumbarton, it’s a bit easier to say I suppose.

Dumbarton Rock info board

Although it’s called a castle it isn’t anything like Stirling or Edinburgh, but in its day it was one of the most important fortresses in Scotland. Ships sailed from here to France and elsewhere. Mary Queen of Scots sailed for France from the castle, she was also imprisoned here, and of course escaped. There have been lots of drawings of the area over the centuries and in some of them the patch of grass in the photo below has a house on it, it was demolished long ago. Behind the wall to the right are steps, when I was wee they used to say there was a step for every day of the year but now they say there are over 400. As a wee girl I tried to count them, but I always got a different tally.

Dumbarton Castle, Dumbarton Rock

And here are some of the steps in the photo below, these ones are right at the beginning and are possibly some of the steepest. It’s not a good place to visit if you aren’t good with stairs! On the other hand it will keep you fit.

Dumbarton Castle stairs, Dumbarton Rock

The photo below is of a small part of the rock face. The whole thing is a volcanic plug.

Dumbarton Rock face, Dumbarton Castle

At the moment some areas are cordoned off. The building below is known as the French Prison because during the Napoleonic wars it was used to house French prisoners, it’s apparently going to be refurbished and will then be open to the public, it never has been in my lifetime.  The sunken area below with the metal bars in it is part of it too but is in much worse condition.

French prison, Dumbarton Castle


French Prison, Dunmbarton Castle

More rockiness!

Dumbarton Castle, Dumbarton Rock

There are still cannons in place. This has always been a very strategic place, at the confluence of the River Clyde and River Leven.  The Romans were here, and the Vikings and it’s amazing how often it’s mentioned in historical fiction.

Dumbarton Rock, Dumbarton Castle, cannons

It was low tide at the River Clyde when I was there.

Dumbarton Castle, Dumbarton Rock, River Clyde


Dumbarton Castle, River Clyde

Below is a photo of some of the stairs seen from above. The small white building is a guard house and that hadn’t been open to the public before. Looking at this photo it strikes me that you need a head for heights!

Dumbarton Castle, Rock

Below is the River Clyde again. It’s a pity it was such a grey day as the views are spectacular when it’s bright.

River Clyde, Dumbarton Rock

Looking to the other side of the river in the photo below is a small part of the town, Dumbarton. I lived close to this area and it was my playground when I was a wee girl, but all of these houses and flats are new, sometimes the rivers pay them a visit!  The Sunderland aircraft factory took up a lot of the land where these houses are now.


If you cast your mind back to when Prince Harry and Meghan Markle got married you might remember thet the Queen bestowed the Scottish title on them of Earl and Countess of Dumbarton on them. It was supposed to be an honour for the town I’m sure but they were unimpressed. It was expected that they would pay a visit to Dumbarton soon after they married as that’s what normally happens, but apparently (if you can believe the tabloids) the couple took it as an insult instead of the honour it was meant to be – something to do with the word ‘dumb’ apparently. Honestly, how daft can you get!


Rob Roy by Sir Walter Scott – The Classics Club spin # 35

I wasn’t too thrilled when I got this book in the Classics Club spin, but I feel that I should read Scott’s novels and putting them on my list is the way to do it for me.

Rob Roy by Sir Walter Scott was first published in 1818, but the setting is around about 1715, just before the first Jacobite Rising but the story begins in the south of England, Frank Osbaldistone narrates the tale.

Frank’s father owns a succesful business which he expects Frank as his only child to take over, but Frank has no intention of being tied down to something that he knows he wouldn’t enjoy. He refuses to follow his father into his business, which disappoints and upsets the father so much that he says that Frank must leave home, he’s cutting him off.  His father had been looking forward to the company and friendship of Frank now that he’s an adult. Frank doesn’t really believe that his father will throw him out of the family home, but he does, he also gives Frank the task of visiting the home of Frank’s uncle and cousins who are strangers to Frank as the senior Osbaldistone brothers had fallen out years ago, due to religious differences. Frank is to ask the eldest cousin Rashleigh to replace him in the family business, Frank almost changes his mind about refusing to work for his father.

Frank travels to their home in the north of England and meets his uncle, six male cousins and their relative the lovely Die Vernon whom Frank falls for. Rashleigh sets off for England and his new position, but eventually Frank hears news that Rashleigh has not been the good and dutiful businessman he has been expected to be, and Frank’s father’s whole business is in danger.

There’s a lot more to the story than this as Frank gets involved with Jacobite Highlanders and Rob Roy MacGregor, whom he had met earlier when he was calling himself Campbell.

I found the beginning of this book really hard going as Scott would never use one word when he could write two hundred, and it makes everything very dense, but towards  the end I felt my way through the fog, (I think) I was glad to reach the end of the 455 pages of quite small print. I think it’ll be a while before I tackle another book by Walter Scott.

When the book was first published it kicked off tourism in Scotland as people wanted to visit the locations mentioned in the book, and that continues to this day. I intend to visit some of the places that I haven’t been to already, but I grew up close to some of the locations. My gran was a MacGregor.

If you’re interested in seeing Abbotsford, Sir Walter Scott’s home, have a look at my previous blogposts about it here.


Aberdour Castle doocot (dovecote) in Fife

We visited Aberdour Castle one afternoon  last month, we hadn’t been there for years and it looked like quite a lot of work had been done in the gardens. Below is a photo of the dovecote – or as we say in Scotland the doocot (dookit). This is obviously a beehive type construction, they are various different designs but I think this is the most elegant kind. I would love to have seen the structure which was on the right hand side of the grass, it looks like it was a wall with pillars, going by the outline, but is long gone now.

Aberdour Castle, Doocot + grounds, Fife

As you can see, inside the doocot is ringed with stone shelves which have nesting niches for the pigeons to nest in – or doves if you want to be posh. They were important sources of meat for the castle inhabitants, especially during the winter months when hunting wasn’t so easy.

Aberdour Castle, Doocot interior

I’ll do another post about the castle soon.



Ring of Brodgar

Last week when I wrote a brief post about our fairly recent visit to Avebury in Wiltshire I wanted to link to my previous visit the The Ring of Brodgar on Orkney in 2022, for comparison. It was only then that I discovered that I had never got around to blogging about it, either in 2017 or 2022. Or if I did the posts have disappeared!

Ring of Brodgar, Orkney

So here are some photos that I took, the Ring of Brodgar in the distance.

Part of Ring of Brodgar

A bit closer.

Looking Towards Ring of Brodgar from Barnhouse Village

Looking across the Loch of Harray towards The Ring of Brodgar.

Ring of Brodgar, Part

And the standing stones from the other side of the ring.

Stones in Ring of Brodgar

The stone circle itself is large, as are the stones. Below is a photo of Jack beside one of them. They’re not as chunky and rough as the stones at Avebury.

Ring of Brodgar, Single Stone

You can read more about the stones here.


Tartan – the V&A Dundee

A few months ago we visited the Tartan exhibition at the V&A in Dundee. It runs until the 14th of January 2024. I wasn’t all that sure if I wanted to see it to be honest. In Scotland we have a history of leaving tartan to the tourists, but I enjoyed the exhibition which has the oldest piece of tartan on show, but it’s not all history. There are tartan outfits by designers such as Vivienne Westwood who was fond of using tartan as are some Japanese designers. Sadly I can’t remember who designed the modern outfits below.

modern tartan , Tartan, V&A DundeeSuit


Dress ,  suit V&A Tartan, Dundee

Some designs are quite wild!

Modern takes on tartan, V&A Dundee

Then we get back to a bit more traditional, allthough I’m not sure about the bikini top below.

Victorian tartans, V&A Dundee

Of course Victoria and Albert were very keen on tartan, so there was a lot of it about in their time, not bad considering it had been completely banned by the government after the Jacobite rebellions.

Tartan Dress, V&A Dundee

More modern again.

Radical Gaels, V&A Dundee

Below is an army recruitment poster.

Kilties, poster, V&A Dundee

Below is some tartanware Mauchline Victoriana, made from wood. There are shortbread tins and such in the exhibition too. Tartan seems to have ended up on a lot of merchandise over the years.

Tartan Mauchline ware, V&A Dundee

Below is a portrait of the actor Alan Cumming, with a kilt wrapped around his neck, and nothing else on for some reason.

Alan Cumming, Tartan Exhibition, V&A Dundee

The outfits below are apparently Manhattan tartan. The colours are supposed to be the skin colours of the ethnic groups found in Manhattan. Designed by J Morgan and Suzanne H Bocanegra of New York. Pink is supposed to be Caucasian flesh colour. See also Manhattan Financial.

Manhattan tartan, V&A Dundee

Just recently Billy Connolly donated a kilt to the exhibition. He explained that when he was a youngster you rarely saw a man in a kilt, and if you did see one then the kids all chanted Kiltie, kiltie cauld bum at them! It’s absolutely true, it’s only in recent years that kilts have become so popular to bridegrooms, and then of course there’s the Tartan army, Scotland’s football supporters but they didn’t get a mention in the exhibition at all.

Although I enjoyed the exhibition I felt that there were some glaring misses. If I had been setting it up I would have asked for donations of stage clothes from Rod Stewart, The Bay City Rollers (a fan donated her tartan trousers) tartan was popular among punk bands. The film below is about the making of Billy Connolly’s kilt, they got him into one at last! Honestly someone should have ironed or steamed it as it’s badly wrinkled now, it’s a real shame it wasn’t taken good care of.  You can see Jack’s post on the exhibition here.

Blackness Castle – part 2 – Fort William in Outlander

We’re back at Blackness Castle which is apparently in Clackmannanshire, the smallest county in Scotland, it’s not far from Stirling. From the photo below you can see how solid and high the towers are. The gateway that you can see is where there’s a we drawbridge that leads out to the river walkway where supplies used to be unloaded for the castle, directly from ships.

Blackness Castle , River Forth

All of the rooms in this castle seem to be barrel vaulted, no doubt for strength. I’m sure that some of the rooms were used in filming Outlander most recently.

Blackness Castle Clackmannanshire, Scotland

There are stairs all over the place as you can see below. It was an incredibly blustery day as it almost always is at the River Forth but strangely as soon as we got inside the castle it felt very safe, quiet and – warm! Some of the walls are around nine feet thick, where they were in most danger of getting attacked by cannon I suppose.

Blackness Castle, Scotland

It could feel quite cosy with tapestries on the walls and heavy curtains and maybe a nice carpet underfoot, or at least rushes. I’m not sure if the room below originally had a low ceiling in it. On the right hand and above the window it looks like the remains of a fireplace.

Blackness Castle , Scotland

As is often the way with old castles a lot of the rooms have a medieval ‘en suite’ off the main rooms as you can see in the photo below. All mod cons, well it’s a long way up and down to the ground floor. No ‘garde looing’ here! But it does look a bit cold to be dangling your ‘bahookie’ over the hole.

Blackness Castle , latrine, Scotland

Below there’s even an alcove where you can wash your hands, but I don’t think it’s within the toilet area, maybe a good thing.

Blackness Castle, Scotland

I particularly like the windows, the shutters open if you need fresh air.

And I can just imagine this as a good place to read – if there were plenty of cushions on the window seats.

Blackness Castle , Scotland

Blackness Castle  window, Scotland, Outlander

The castle has been modified a lot over the centuries and the photo below show what was the original entrance, which is now blocked up. It’s much bigger than it looks in the photo.

The garden, below was the last bit which we visited, as you can see the weather had cleared by then. It looks quite industrial on the other side of the river, because it is. The blue crane thing to the right of the middle is actually at Rosyth, the naval dockyard. So this area of the River Forth is still about defence!

Blackness Castle garden River Forth

Blackness Castle became Fort William in Outlander, and it was where Jamie received the lashes from the dastardly Captain Randall – ooh err!

Blackness Castle, West Lothian

Blackness Castle , near Falkirk, Scotland

Blackness Castle sticks out into the River Forth, as you can see, it was apparently designed to look like a ship. You actually have to walk over a wee drawbridge to get on to this wooden walkway.

Blackness Castle, near Falkirk, Scotland

It’s a couple of weeks since we visited Blackness Castle, it’s not far from Bo’ness in West Lothian, it might be in Falkirk District now, they keep changing things! It’s one of the many places that was used as a location for Outlander, they had to cover the metal handrails with wooden panelling. It was also used in the filming of The Bruce, Zeffirelli’s Hamlet, Starz (?) Doomsday and Ivanhoe. Blackness was built in the 15th century.

Anyway, it’s not that far from where we live and possibly for that reason we just didn’t get around to visiting it until years after reading about the castle. For some reason I didn’t think it would be a very interesting castle – but it was. As usual there are a lot of spiral staircases involved.

Blackness Castle  stairs


Blackness Castle, near Falkirk

It’s a long way up to the top.

Blackness Castle


Blackness Castle , River Forth

In the distance you can just see the Forth Bridges below. As ever, if you click on the photos you should be able to see them enlarged. Tomorrow I’ll show some photos of inside the castle.

River Forth View, Forth Bridges, Scotland

Tantallon Castle, near North Berwick, East Lothian

Tantallon info Board , North Berwick

Tantallon Castle, near North Berwick in East Lothian, is yet another ruin, but what a ruin it is, and what a great location!

Tantallon Castle , North Berwick, Scotland

As you can see there’s a fine view of the Bass Rock from the castle. This rock was used as a place to dump prisoners back in the day. With a sea crossing over notoriously rough waters to make if you tried to get off it it was in effect not escapable. Nowadays it’s a haven for seabirds.

Bass Rock , Firth of Forth, Scotland

As you can see from the photo below taken from the castle’s top floor it’s a long way up – or down, and there are parts of the castle which have been sectioned off as they’re deemed too unsafe for the public at the moment. There are a lot of spiral staircases involved but we were determined to see the whole place.

Tantallon Castle , near North Berwick, Scotland

In the photo below Jack is surveying the walls, it’s definitely beyond his DIY skills!

Tantallon Castle , North Berwick

Tantallon Castle wall, near North Berwick

Let’s look through the arched window. That takes me back!

Tantallon Castle, Archnear North Berwick

Tantallon may look a bit grim now but as you can see from all the fireplaces below, it must have been quite cosy in its heyday. Just imagine the walls with tapestries on them and a flckering fire.

Tantallon Castle, North Berwick

There was a harbour and ships came in loaded with whatever was needed to make life comfortable, and presumably guests also could arrive that way.

Firth of Forth from Tantallon Castlerocks 1

It was a bit blustery up there to say the least, but look at the fantastic colour of that orange lichen on the stonework, it’s obviously in its element!

Tantallon Castle , North Berwick

Tantallon Castle is definitely worth a visit if you’re interested in history or like castles. It’s run by Historic Scotland.

Tantallon Castle, info board, North Berwick