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

Battlefield/Langside in Glasgow

One day last month we decided to travel to my beloved west of Scotland, all of seventy or so miles away from where we now live, but a miss is as good as a mile – as THEY say. We were aiming to visit Holmwood House, an Arts and Crafts house which is now owned by the National Trust. I’ll blog about that house sometime in the future.

On the way back from that part of Glasgow I mentioned to Jack that an ancestor of mine (great great uncle?) had designed a church and monument in Battlefield, which happened to be the area we were in, just as I said that we passed the monument which is now situated on a traffic roundabout! The Wiki link is wrong, I think that must have been his son who went to Australia.

Battlefield Monument

It’s much bigger than I had imagined. The monument commemorates the Battle of Langside in 1568 which ended with the defeat of Mary, Queen of Scots’s army on that site, or certainly nearby. Alexander Skirving designed the monument in 1887 which was the 320th anniversary of her defeat.

As ever, we in Scotland are always in a bit of a quandary, would we have supported her or been on the other side? I suppose it depends which religious leader you favour – the Pope or John Knox. What a choice!

The church is now a bar and eatery, as so many of them are nowadays, if they haven’t been turned into flats or demolished. We had already had our lunch at Holmwood, we’ll try that restaurant out another time though.

Church

Battlefield/Langside Church

After that the only thing I wanted to seek out was the street that I knew must be fairly nearby, named after the architect and also of course my own maiden name. With a bit of help from a passerby we found it, as you can see it’s typical Victorian tenements, it’s actually quite a long street the photo below is about half of it.

Skirving Street

There are shops further up, including a bookshop which very annoyingly was closed for the day. It was a bit surreal to see my surname above a Chinese take away. They’re usually called Lucky Date, Golden Moon or some such thing, but I suppose it means that people won’t forget where it is! It’s something that Alexander Skirving could never have foretold when he designed buildings for this area.

Chinese cuisine

There aren’t that many of us about with that Skirving surname, in fact I’ve never met any that I wasn’t related to. It appears in ancient Scottish surname books, but not in ordinary ones, and is of course originally Scandinavian/Viking. Some people like to think that in Britain our ancestors have been here forever and a day, but like everywhere else we’re just a bunch of mongrels when you get right down to it.

street sign

Earl’s Palace, Birsay, Orkney, Scotland

Earl's Palace , Birsay, Orkney

I’m casting my mind back to early June when we had a week’s holiday in Orkney, it was the first time either of us had been there. The Earl’s Palace at Birsay was one of the places on our list of places to visit.

Earl's Palace  Birsay

It’s a ruin, as you can see but that’s no surprise as it was built between 1569 and 1579. Earl Robert Stewart built it, he was an illegitimate son of King James V – so a half-brother to Mary, Queen of Scots and he obviously had high ambitions for himself. He was a bit of a swine by all accounts – but weren’t they all?!

Earl's Palace  at Birsay, Orkney

His son seems to have been even worse though. I always remind myself when I visit any stately homes or castles that the people who built them only managed to do so because they were the most violent bullies in an age when that was what was needed to get to the top of society. Thinking about it though – I’m not at all sure that things have changed much over the years!

Info Board

Birsay is a very small settlement, but I enjoyed a walk around the graveyard there, that was when I realised that the surnames on Orkney are so different from those in other parts of Scotland. They’re mostly of Viking descent, so no Macs or Mcs here – well very few if any.

Queens’ Play by Dorothy Dunnett

Queens' Play cover

I actually read Queens’ Play a wee while ago, but I have such a backlog of book reviews to catch up with, mainly because of not blogging while we were on holiday. I use this blog to keep track and remind myself of books that I’ve read though, so here goes.

Queens’ Play which was first published in 1964 is the second in Dorothy Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles and as I recall, I enjoyed it even more than the first one. These books aren’t really suitable for bedtime reading – well not for me anyway because they require more concentration than I can usually summon up by then.

In Queens’ Play Francis Crawford – more commonly known as Lymond is in France at the court of the seven year old Mary Queen of Scots. He has been invited there by her mother, Mary of Guise who thinks that her daughter is at risk of assassination, with good reason no doubt. The young Mary was sent from Scotland to France as a five year old, but that might have been a case of jumping from the frying pan to the fire.

As France and Scotland shared an enemy in England it was hoped that the young Mary and the young French Dauphin would eventually strengthen the alliance through a marriage. But those in power in England were obviously against that alliance. It was Lymond’s job to seek out intrigues and to protect Mary from them.

The New York Time Book Review said:

“(Her) hero is as polished and perceptive as Lord Peter Wimsey and as resourceful as James Bond.”

I read this one for the Read Scotland 2016 Challenge.

Huntingtower Castle, Perth, Scotland

Huntingtower from north

It’s a couple of months since we went to visit Huntingtower Castle near Perth and I had forgotten that I hadn’t blogged about it until Joan of Planet Joan mentioned that she had just finished reading John Buchan’s book Huntingtower. I read it a while ago and you can read what I thought of it here. You can read Joan’s thoughts on Huntingtower here.

Actually I’m not at all sure now if it is the same Huntingtower as the book was set mainly in the south west of Scotland, but I imagined they moved the action here, I can’t see anything linking this place to the book though.

Huntingtower from south

Parts of the tower have windows and other bits are quite open to the elements. Below is a doorway which still has some of the original painted decoration around it, I think it’s quite modern looking.

Hall close; painted door lintel

aHall

And what do you think of the painted ceiling? A few of the rooms had designs like this painted on the roof beams. This ceiling dates from around 1540.

painted ceiling 1

Below is a vaulted ceiling on the top floor.

ceiling +

Can you see the rabbit painted on this wall? It has been covered with thick perspex to protect it from the weather.

painted rabbit

Below you can see the holes where the wooden beams of the floor/ceiling were originally.

upper windows

Most Scottish castles/tower houses seem to have these cute wee window seats, they must have been lovely to sit in in the summer anyway, a perfect spot for reading or sewing. You have to imagine the rooms would have been hung with tapestries and cushions or fur would have been on the seats.

window seat

There are loads of spiral staircases to investigate in Huntingtower and one of them leads up to this part of the roof.

a view from roof 3

Although there’s now a shopping centre very close to Huntingtower most of the surrounding countryside is still farmland, so not too different from how it would have been when John Buchan set part of his book Huntingtower here.

a view from Huntingtower roof in Perth, Scotland

a view from roof 2

The castle is now home to a large colony of pipistrelle bats, but we didn’t see any evidence of them, it was too early for them to be out and about.

Mary Queen of Scots lived here for a while with her husband Lord Darnley, she seems to have been in just about every castle in Scotland, often as a prisoner. She was a woman who should have copied her cousin Elizabeth of England’s style and stayed well away from marriage!

Loch Leven Castle

We had been meaning to visit Loch Leven Castle for over 30 years and it was just one of those local things which you never get around to visiting, or almost never. It’s one of the many castles which Mary Queen of Scots escaped from. In fact I have a theory that her captors allowed her to escape so that they could follow her and be led to their enemies, she seems to have made a habit of escaping, so it’s either that OR those men were all charmed to bits by her good looks, red/gold hair, very long legs (she was 6 feet tall) and of course as she was brought up in France from the age of five, she had a French accent!

In the photo below you can see the castle. When she was there the loch level was higher than it is today so there was very little land around it, not that there’s much there today but you can take a wee walk around it. She complained bitterly about her living conditions and I don’t blame her really, it must have been very damp and cold.

Loch Leven

Below is an information board which I hope you are able to read.

Loch Leven

Loch Leven Castle is mainly a ruin but it’s still well worth a visit and there were quite a lot of visitors when we were there. Only ten people are allowed at a time in the boats which take you out there, it’s about a ten minute journey and the boat fare is included in the ticket price which was £5.50 and you get the boat from Kinross.

Loch Leven

Loch Leven Castle

Loch Leven Castle

It was a good afternoon out and although there were clouds of midges about which you can expect being near a loch I suppose – they weren’t bothering us at all, amazing!

Linlithgow Palace, West Lothian, Scotland. Part 2

Linlithgow Palace is of course the birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots.

from Linlithgow Palace

Above is a photo of Linlithgow Loch from the top of the palace, not a bad view to look out on.

Linlithgow Palace

It’s a long way down and it was very windy, you need a good head for heights!

Linlithgow Palace

Huge fireplaces abound in the palace, I dread to think how much wood and coal they must have got through.
Linlithgow Palace

Linlithgow Palace

The fireplace above is the grandest in the palace, I think it is in the great hall.

Linlithgow Palace

The photo above is of a small room at the top of the palace, it has a stone seat wrapped around it and with the addition of some cushions it would be a great place to sit and read or just gossip. Probably that would be the best place to go for some privacy, away from the prying eyes and flapping ears of servants. That would have been my favourite place to sit if I had been around in those days, but I don’t think I would have had a chance to sit there, I would probably have been one of those servants!

Linlithgow Palace, West Lothian, Scotland

One day last week we grabbed the best day according to the weather forecast and travelled to Linlithgow in West Lothian to visit Linlithgow Palace, which is where Mary Stuart – Queen of Scots was born, in 1542. Most of the town was burnt down by the English in 1424 and rebuilding started the next year which I suppose is when some parts of the palace date back to. It’s quite strange to be standing reading a notice which says that the doorway to your right was blocked up around the year 1500. The building and refurbishment would have continued all the time that the palace was occupied I suppose, people always seem to have wanted to change the places they lived in.

Linlithgow Palace
The view below is of the loch at the other side of the palace. I think it’s fair to say that this palace was well appointed. There were people in small rowing boats enjoying themselves on the loch, I imagine that that was a favourite pastime in the palace’s heyday too.

from Linlithgow Palace

It’s really just a shell but it’s a very grand shell and well worth a visit, we were given Historic Scotland memberships at Christmas so we didn’t have to pay to get in but if you aren’t a member then it costs £5.50 which I think is a bargain, compared with charges for some other tourist attractions.

Linlithgow Palace

Linlithgow Palace

Sadly the fountain in the courtyard is under wraps at the moment as it undergoes refurbishment but you can see photos of it here. Through the window above you can just see the white wraps encasing the fountain.

We had been to the palace before but it was way back when we had young children so we weren’t able to traipse all over the place as there are a lot of stone spiral staircases which aren’t really small child friendly.

Linlithgow Palace

Nearly at the top.

Linlithgow Palace

Got there, but it was windy so we didn’t hang around up there too long. I’ll show you more photos soon.

Linlithgow Palace

You can see more images of Linlithgow Palace here.

Scottish non fiction books

books

This post is so long overdue, I had meant to get around to writing about some of my Scottish non-fiction books at the beginning of the year, but life and moving house somehow got in the way.

Anyway, better late than never, and of course as the Read Scotland 2014 challenge is continuing in 2015 and probably forever and a day, I should manage to get these ones read eventually.

There’s a biography of John Buchan – by his wife and friends. This one was published in 1947. I really like John Buchan’s adventure/spy/mystery books but the man himself was just amazing – what a career he had! I hope to learn more about him through this book.

Montrose by John Buchan. Buchan won the James Tait Black memorial prize for this biography of the Marquess of Montrose.

Maritime Scotland by Brian Lavery is a Historic Scotland publication. As you would imagine, the sea in Scotland is important. It’s impossible to live more than 40 miles from salt water according to this book. It should be interesting.

Mary Queen of Scots by Jean Plaidy
. Until I saw this book I had no idea that Jean Plaidy had written anything other than her historical novels which I enjoyed as a youngster. I wonder what she thinks of Mary Stuart?

Hand, Heart and Soul by Elizabeth Cumming is about the Arts and Crafts movement in Scotland. This book has some nice photographs in it but also an awful lot of text. It’ll be one for dipping in and out of I think.

Scottish Gardens by Sir Herbert Maxwell was published in 1908 and it’s a gorgeous book with lovely illustrations by Mary G. W. Wilson. This was one which I said to Jack – buy that for my birthday! I don’t go in for surprise presents, after all these years it’s sensible to make sure that you get what you want and Jack is happy to oblige as it means he doesn’t have to rack his brains for gift ideas. Anyway, I think the book is quite a rare one and I intend to carry out some research to see what has happened to all the gardens which are mentioned and illustrated in the text.

Then there’s The Scottish Gardener by Suzi Urquhart, another birthday present.

So that’s my first batch of Scottish non-fiction books. I have a lot of Scottish travel books but I’ll keep them for another time. Those are the sort of books which are good for dipping into when you want to know more about the area which you are going to visit.

I think you’ll agree that this lot should keep me busy for a while anyway.

Linlithgow, West Lothian

I don’t know about you but we’ve had so much rain recently, grey and wet for days on end, so when the weather forecaster said that the best day for getting out and about last week was Thursday, we took the chance to do just that and with sunshine and blue skies we headed for the wee town of Linlithgow.
Linlithgow Palace  and town

This is the path which runs around the edge of Linlithgow Loch, it’s a nice walk around, apparently 2.3 miles in length, sadly the brambles here had just rotted on their stems, no blackberry gatherers in the Linlithgow area it would seem and the birds obviously weren’t interested either.

apath round loch

Linlithgow Palace is just a shell nowadays but is still well worth a visit, we didn’t have enough time to do that though after we walked all around the loch. The town of Linlithgow was very bustling so I didn’t take any photos of it at all, too many people around, but if you want to see what it looks like have a keek here.

apalace 1 from westish

This is the view of the palace from half-way around the loch.

Linlithgow Palace 5 from north

And here we are right at the palace. This is where Mary Stuart (Queen of Scots) was born, in 1542. It looks like it would have been a freezing cold place even in its heyday but maybe with all the fireplaces blazing away and thick wooden panelling and tapestries on the walls it would have been comfortable.

Linlithgow Palace   close

The photo below is the view which you get from the palace, looking across the loch, there is actually a very busy road behind all those trees, well hidden but you can still hear heavy lorries as they go past. It must always have been a fairly busy area with horsemen coming and going on palace business over the years, I wonder if anyone has ever run a metal detector over the ground to see if anything interesting pops up.

So that was Linlithgow, and we were glad that we took the chance to stretch our legs somewhere different for a change while the weather was good as the next day we were back to grey skies and rain, but I’m not complaining really as this time last year I’m sure we had already had some snow, and this autumn has been very mild in comparison.
aeast end of loch

The loch is just a short hop from the high street and close to a play park so there are always people there with kids feeding the swans, ducks and geese with bread, despite the fact that there are signs up telling them not to do that. I really wish there was someone there to stop them because the geese were out of the water to get a better chance of getting more bread. It’s the bird equivalent of fast food, it fills them up but gives them little in the way of the nutrition that they need. I’ve never seen fatter geese, they could hardly move and I doubt that they could possibly fly. I toyed with the idea of complaining to the crazy people feeding them, but decided against it, in case I got my head in my hands!