Pitmedden Garden, Ellon, Aberdeenshire

We visited Pitmedden Garden when we were in Aberdeenshire recently. It’s a place that I have wanted to visit for something like 40 years after watching the early days of the Scottish gardening programme The Beechgrove Garden, because one of the presenters – George Barron – was the head gardener at Pitmedden then.

Pitmedden Garden, Ellon, Aberdeenshire

Apparently I took 42 photographs while we were there, but I’ll just show you a few of them just now, to give you an idea what it’s like if you’ve never been there.
Pitmedden Garden, Ellon, Aberdeenshire

Pitmedden Garden, knot garden, Aberdeenshire

The garden is a wonderful knot garden with over six miles of clipped box and yew hedges as well as a fairly recently replanted orchard. Most of the trees in there are too new to have much of a crop, but the older trees which are trained against the tall stone walls were well laden.

apples, Pitmedden, Aberdeenshire

One of the great things about this garden is that despite the fact that its ‘bones’ are set in the intricate box patterns, it will still be ever changing as the spaces are planted up with seasonal bedding plants. The area in the photo below was filled with several different sorts of marigolds. I love the topiary yew buttresses aginst the walls in the background too.

Pitmedden Garden, Ellon, Aberdeenshire

It isn’t all formal though, there are some lovely overflowing mixed herbaceous borders too.
mixed border, Pitmedden Garden, Aberdeenshire

We were there quite early on a Saturday morning and almost had the place entirely to ourselves. It’s definitely worth visiting if you’re in Aberdeenshire.

Below is a You Tube video of the beginnings of Beechgrove Garden and you can see George Barron and Jim McColl chatting away, George had a lovely Aberdonian accent which wasn’t something I had heard much of back then. Occasionally he slipped into the ‘Doric’ but not often enough for my liking!

Tolquhon Castle, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

Earlier in August we were in Aberdeenshire – for one night only, but we managed to fit a lot in as usual and Tolquhon Castle near Ellon was one of the places we visited. It was built in 1580 and although it’s now a ruin it’s well worth visiting, it’s easy to imagine how elegant and luxurious it must have been in its heyday. It’s thought there were earlier structures here around the 1200s.

Tolquhon Castle, Aberdeenshire

Originally built for the Forbes family it was eventually sold in 1716 as the then laird had lost most of his money in the disastrous Darien Scheme.

Tolquhon Castle, Aberdeenshire

Tolquhon Castle, Aberdeenshire

Although it’s a ruin there’s still lots to see and loads of spiral staircases to climb up and descend, always more difficult coming down – and slightly scary!
Tolquhon Castle, Aberdeenshire

The very narrow stairs in the photo below lead up to the highest point of the castle, a teeny wee room. These rooms are always my favourite part of castles as they would have been used mainly by the owners, probably the lady of the castle – a great place to read or just get away from it all, although this one only has one small window and there’s nowhere to sit outside on the walls – as other castles often have.
Tolquhon Castle, Aberdeenshire

As you can see below it’s dark in there so maybe it was used for assignations!
Tolquhon Castle, Aberdeenshire

Tolquhon Castle, Aberdeenshire

Below is the only straight and wide bit of the many staircases and must have been a later construction I think, built after the castle was used mainly as a home rather than a place of defence.
Tolquhon Castle, Aberdeenshire

You get a good view from the top, but I was really interested in the two white bulls in the field below – well I think they were some variety of bull as there was nothing else in the field but they seemed placid.
Tolquhon Castle, Aberdeenshire

Castles are all very well, but most of us would have been living in a wee cottage way back then, if we were lucky to have one, and I would have been happy in one of these cute wee ones at the entrance to the castle. One of them is now a visitor centre. What about you – castle or cottage?
Tolquhon Castle, Aberdeenshire

River Don at Dyce, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

When we were in Aberdeenshire in the north east of Scotland recently we realised that the hotel we were staying in was very close to the River Don and there was a good riverside walk which was easily accessible for us. I love rivers and to me if a town doesn’t have a river going through it then it’s a substandard place. I suppose in reality it just means it’s not such an old settlement though.

The reflections were beautiful. Why is it that reflections look so much more special than the actual thing they’re reflecting?
River Don, Dyce , Aberdeenshire

It wasn’t exactly what you would call busy but some locals were walking their dogs, there were a couple of anglers out in a boat just beyond the beginning of the path, no doubt happy to be away from the disturbance of others using the area. The midges were out in force but weren’t causing us any problems, they mustn’t have been peckish!

River Don, Dyce, Aberdeenshire

It was a beautiful warm evening, the cows on the other side of the river were eating as they usually are – before they toddled off to their nighttime quarters, possibly just into the woodland.

River Don, Dyce,  Aberdeenshire

I said to Jack, I think that’s a bird in that tree or just a plastic bag stuck in it? It’s a bag he said – then the bag soared up and flew down the river to alight in a similar tree. There are advantages to wearing varifocals as I do. Then followed a discussion as to whether it was a heron or an osprey. Heron seemed more likely but when we saw an information board it only mentioned to look out for ospreys.

River Don, birdlife, Aberdeenshire

River Don, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

When we got to this turn in the river we decided to turn back the way we had come as our fish and chips were calling us.
River Don, Dyce, Aberdeenshire

It’s a lovely walk though – if you ever happen to be in the area of Dyce near Aberdeen.

Haddo House, Ellon, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

Last weekend we drove up to the north-east of Scotland, a couple of hours from where we are in Fife. The main reason for the trip was so that Jack could watch his beloved Dumbarton football team play Peterhead – and ‘collect’ one of the few football stadiums that he hadn’t visited in Scotland. As ever we tried to squeeze in visits to other places of interest locally which is why we ended up at Haddo House which is near Ellon. It was built in 1732 and was designed by William Adam in the grand Georgian/Palladian style. Sadly I didn’t manage to get a photo of the front of the house as the heavens opened just as we walked to the house from the eatery for our scheduled guided tour, then we had to leave early as we were in danger of missing the football match!

Haddo House Garden, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

The house is now owned by the National Trust for Scotland and they don’t allow photography inside this property which is a real shame – even our guide agreed that it was a daft decision. The windows are shaded to prevent the textiles from being damaged by bright light and there was only one window not covered and I was allowed to take these photos of the garden from it.

There’s a very long winding road leading to this house and it isn’t the original access road. This property was handed down through generations of Earls of Aberdeen and one of them married a woman who didn’t like the house and would only marry him if she could change things. I think it’s obvious from the photos I took that the original driveway was through the middle of the avenue of trees, it would have been a much more elegant and scenic arrival for guests. Aparently her husband gave her the equivalent of £14 million to reconfigure the house to her liking. We all agreed that moving staircases and adding some bits on including a chapel couldn’t have cost that much, we suspect the rest of it went into her private coffers for dresses and jewels!
Haddo House garden, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

There are quite a lot of photos of the interior at the Undiscovered Scotland site.

There were only ten of us on the guided tour but this place is obviously very well used by locals as a great day out for families, the car park was very busy.

During World War 2 the house was used as a maternity hospital so the guide always asks if there are any Haddo babies among the visitors so he can show them where they were born, we were the most local people in the group though as the others were mainly from London, apparently visiting Scotland now as they feared they would need a passport in the future! The rooms used for the expectant mothers had been used by Queen Victori and and Prince Albert during their one night only stay.

Haddo House Garden, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

You can read more about the history of Haddo House here.

Thankfully Dumbarton beat Peterhead 3-2.

Huntly Castle, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

I’m still catching up with the photos I took when we were on our trip up north to Aberdeenshire at the end of October 2018. We had been meaning to go to Huntly for years. Actually it was quite a surprise as in my mind it was a much bigger town than the reality turned out to be, it’s really small. There are just a few shops there but one of them is a secondhand bookshop! Yes I did buy books.

Huntly Castle

Apparently over last summer the lettering on the stonework was refurbished, I’m not sure what they actually did but it looks quite new now. Originally the lettering would have been painted to make it even more visible.

Huntly Castle

Huntly Castle
You can read about the history of Huntly Castle here.

The first castle was built on this site around 1180 but the castle that we see now dates from around 1550.

Huntly Castle Info Board

Below is a photo of an upstairs fireplace with a modern canopy over it to protect it from the worst of the weather.

Huntly Castle

The photo below is of the castle interior.

Huntly Castle Interior

One good thing about living in a castle was that you were never far from a loo, most of the rooms had one in a corner and some even have the remnants of fancy plaster decoration on the walls. I suspect that they didn’t smell great though as it was basically a hole going into a stone shaft. I imagine that now and again a servant had to chuck water down them. The loo below has had a piece of perspex placed over the opening, just in case some bright spark tried to use it I suppose.

Hunly Castle Loo

Below are the windows in the stairwell.
Huntly Castle Windows
And below is where the stairs lead to. The view’s not bad – what you can see of it anyway.
Huntly Castle Top

Sadly you can’t get right up to the top in this castle, my favourite place is usually the solar which is where I imagine the ladies sat and did some needlework or reading in good weather. I think the small bit with the glass windows in the photo below is the solar.
Huntly Castle Solar

Castles obvioulsy had to be built near rivers and Huntly has two rivers nearby – the Deveron and the Bogie, I’m not sure which this one is but it’s pretty anyway.
River at Huntly Castle

Huntly Bridge

Huntly is definitely worth a visit if you’re in the Aberdeenshire area.

Huntly Castle

Drum Castle Gardens, Aberdeenshire

From the photo below it looks to me like the box hedges and topiary in the rose garden had very recently been trimmed when we visited Drum Castle in late October.
Drum Castle, historic rose garden 1
I just love a garden that’s well protected by high stone walls, the perfect setting for the vibrant red Virginia Creeper, just the thing to cheer up the darker days of autumn.
Drum Castle historic rose garden
As you can see there were still a few wee roses blooming, but this place must look stunning in high summer.
Drum Castle historic rose garden 4
As you can see from the photo below – the sun got in the way a bit, but I thought you might like to see the wooden pyramid-like frames that have been constucted.

Drum Castle historic rose garden 3
I like the wicker edging that stops the plants from flopping over. In the foreground is Sedum spectabile, just about the best autumn/late summer colour we can get in gardens here I think, and beloved by bees and butterflies.
Drum Castle historic rose garden 8

Drum Castle historic rose garden 7

Drum Castle historic rose garden 9
Below is a photo of a bothy (shelter) which had a table in it with bags of apples in it – and an honesty box. No doubt at other times of the year you can purchase veggies too. This ‘bothy’ looks to me like it must have been a place for storing small carts and garden implements in its day.
Drum Castle historic rose garden 12 bothy

Although this garden is historic, it isn’t preserved in aspic and new things have been added to it over the years. as should happen with a garden. Gardens are never finished, they’re constantly evolving.
Drum Castle historic rose garden 12

One of the newer additions is the human sundial below, if you stand on a particular spot you should be able to tell the time from your own shadow.
Drum Castle historic rose garden 13 human sundial 1

I think the ‘spooks’ at the top of the design below are more than a wee bit influenced by Margaret MacDonald’s designs. C.R. Mackintosh’s wife.
Drum Castle historic rose garden 14 human sundial 2

While we were there the pond area was having work done on it so we weren’t able to walk all around it, but that didn’t worry me as the colour of the maples/acers were brilliant and more than made up for it.
Drum Castle pond garden

Obviously we didn’t see the gardens at their best as it was late October when we visited but if you’re interested you can see more images of them here.

Drum Castle, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

In October we had a short trip away in Aberdeenshire and one of the castles we visited was Drum Castle, we hadn’t been there before and again we were really lucky with the weather. Drum Castle is now owned by Scottish National Trust, it was built in the 1200s but in 1323 it was given to William de Irwyn by Robert the Bruce and for generations after that it has been the centre of Clan Irvine. The Irvines backed the Jacobites but they seem to have got over being on the losing side.

Drum Castle

As you can see this is another Scottish baronial style of castle with pepperpot turrets. The bottom part of the castle dates from 1200 but the top part was added in the 1300s. In places the walls are 70 feet thick so this was built for defence, not a pretty pretty castle, but to me it fulfils both briefs and manages to be attractive as well as utilitarian. It has been added to over the years – up until Victorian times.

Drum Castle
If you’re not good with heights hold on to something befoe looking at the next one – it’s a long way down! But look how pretty that wee round tower roof is at the bottom middle of the photo.

Drum Castle roof

I had to walk around the battlements of course, they’re very up and downy as you can see so it did feel a bit precarious – don’t trip! There are usually built in stone seats on battlements and I imagine that the ladies would have been up there during the summer with their sewing or a book, in peaceful times anyway.

Drum Castle  battlements
The view of the trees and surrounding landscape is worth the climb up there.

Drum Castle  view

Drum Castle roof

I’ll show you the gardens and some of the interior soon.

Drum Castle

Fyvie Castle, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

Fyvie Castle
Towards the end of October we had a few days away in Aberdeenshire, the north east of Scotland, just for a change of scene, again we were very lucky with the weather. One of the castles that we visited was Fyvie Castle, as you can see it’s rather imposing and with its pepperpot turrets it has been influenced by French chateaux rather than the more brutal architecture of many English castles.

Fyvie Castle
Fyvie Castle is now a Scottish National Trust property. It started its life as a royal castle though and Alexander II stayed here in 1222. There’s been a castle here since about 1200 but that one was probably just made of wood. By 1296 when the English King Edward I visited the castle while doing his worst to Scotland it was built of stone and over the years it has changed a lot, being constantly extended by the generations of owners.
Fyvie Castle

This castle is fully furnished, quite sumptuous in parts and luckily nowadays visitors are allowed to photograph most of the rooms, but I’ll leave the interior for another blogpost.
Fyvie Castle stone urn
The castle design is now Scots Baronial as many of the previous occupants seemed to have a penchant for adding their own towers, it’s quite elegant I think.
Fyvie Castle

Aquhorthies Stone Circle

When we were up in Aberdeenshire a few weeks ago we perused the map and I noticed that there were standing stones marked on it, very close to where we were based. I can’t resist standing stones or stone circles – so off we went to find the Aquhorthies Stone Circle.

Aquhorthies Stone Circle info board

Aquhorthies Stone Circle isn’t right by the roadside as many are, but there’s a small car park close by and from there we walked the 400 metres or so to the field with the stones. They’re quite impressive, not on the same scale as the ones in Orkney but still very good.
Aquhorthies Stone Circle

It’s thought that these stones were an aid to farming, with the moon being a guide to the ancient farmers, telling them when it was a good time to plant their seeds. However, I think that’s just one of many theories over the years. I’m fairly sure that the Victorians would have looked at that massive recumbent stone and said – aha, that’s obviously a sacrificial altar stone.

Aquhorthies Stone Circle, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

As you can see from the tractor in thhe background this region is still a farming area.
Aquhorthies Stone Circle, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, neolithic monument

Whenever I visit standing stones I can’t resist patting them, but as yet I’ve never had anythig close to an Outlander moment, although some of them definitely do seem to hum and buzz, and they’re all incredibly atmospheric.

Aquhorthies Stone Circle, standing stones, Aberdeenshire, neolithic monumnent, Scotland

And – no I haven’t a clue how Aquhorthies should be pronounced!

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.