The Spanish Letters by Mollie Hunter

 The Spanish Letters cover

The Spanish Letters by Mollie Hunter was first published in 1964 but my copy is a Puffin book dating from 1972.

The setting is Edinburgh and the year is 1589, the end of January. Young Jamie Morton is a caddie in the city – that means he earns his living by doing messages for people, whatever is needed, maybe delivering a note to someone, a sort of odd job person who has to know the city inside out. He has been trained up by ‘the Cleek’ a much older caddie. There are a few hundred such males of all ages in Edinburgh, it might be a bit of a precarious living but Jamie likes it because he’s his own boss. He isn’t so keen on being starving half the time though.

When a young well known musician goes missing Jamie is asked to help track him down and so begins a tale of adventure, murder and kidnap with the Earl of Huntly – a favourite with King James involved.

There’s a ship from the Netherlands docked at Leith, Edinburgh’s port, and there’s a suspicion that it has Spaniards on board. Is there a Spanish plot afoot? A second Armada attempting to topple Queen Elizabeth. For once the Scots and the English are on the same side, well most of the Scots are.

This was a really enjoyable read, my first by the author but I’ve recently bought a couple of others. Her writing reminded me of Dorothy Dunnett’s adventures which is high praise indeed, but obviously not as convoluted (or long) as Hunter’s writing is aimed at youngsters. Her books are apparently all well researched so it seems like a painless way of learning history.

For anyone who has already read this book you might be interested in this blogpost that I wrote earlier, when I visited Huntly Castle in Aberdeenshire.

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