Abernethy and Elcho Castle

Abernethy Round Tower

Abernethy is a picturesque Perthshire village which we’ve never visited before. Intrigued by the description of its Round Tower, we set off last Sunday to put that right. The first place we called into was Berryfields Tearoom – don’t judge! It was because they hold the tower key – and what an impressive key it is. Not one you could lose easily.

The tower is one of only two remaining Irish Celtic-style towers in Scotland (the other being in Brechin). It dates from around 1100 and, as well as functioning as a bell tower, it has served as a secure place for local people and their possessions in times of danger.

Inside, about 100 steps lead to the roof where there are good views of the village. Despite being April, and theoretically Spring, it was perishing cold up there so we didn’t stay long.

Back outside, we looked at the jougs on the wall in horror – a medieval iron collar and chain used for punishment. Less unpleasant was a stone carved with Pictish symbols, maybe from the 7th century, which was found nearby.

Abernethy village

On returning the key, the smell of food was so enticing that we stayed in the tearoom for lunch (and a warm-up). Good food and friendly service – we recommend it. Fortunately we were planning a walk to get rid of some of the excess calories! First of all, though, we took a gentle stroll around the village which we found very attractive with its pretty cottages.

We also loved Nurse Peattie’s Garden. Nurse Peattie was the District Nurse who served Abernethy from 1936-1963. She travelled around by bicycle until, as she aged, the community clubbed together to buy her a car. The garden was dedicated to her in 1966 and has been maintained and improved ever since – what a lovely story!

Abernethy Glen

A slightly more energetic circular walk of about 3.5km took us to Castle Law via Abernethy Glen. Part of the walk was on a rough track called Witches Road, named after a coven of 22 local women who, according to legend, were burnt to death on Abernethy Hill. Another horrible piece of history.

Elcho Castle

After we’d finished our walk it was still only mid-afternoon, so we drove a few miles further to Elcho Castle, a place we have visited before but not for many years. Built around 1560 by the Wemyss family (pronounced Weems), the fortified mansion is one of Scotland’s best-preserved 16th century tower houses (though it still has a few floors missing as you can see in the gallery).

A short walk away, next to the duck pond, is Elcho Doocot (dovecote) which has to be one of the prettiest I have seen.

After that, it really was time to head for home and put our feet up for a well-deserved rest.

Kintyre

Stonefield Castle Hotel

The Kintyre peninsula is about 40 miles west from Glasgow – if you’re a bird. Because of the numerous sea-lochs on Scotland’s west coast, you have to drive north then drop back south making a journey of over 2 hours. In November, we spent a couple of nights at the Stonefield Castle Hotel, just outside Tarbert in Kintyre.

Stonefield is a Scottish Baronial manor house designed by William Henry Playfair and built in 1837 for the Campbell family who owned it till 1948. It became a hotel in the 1950s and was extended in the 1970s – one of the extensions being the glass-sided dining room you can see above and below.

It was too dark to see anything at dinner, but at breakfast the view was wonderful. In the evening, the cosy bar was enjoyable too.

There are 60 acres of grounds at Stonefield, so on our first morning we had a walk around after breakfast.

Then we drove down to Tarbert itself, with its lovely harbour. You might remember that we stayed in a place called Tarbert in Harris last summer. There are several Tarberts in Scotland (sometimes Tarbet) – in Gaelic, an tairbeart means the isthmus. In this case, Tarbert village lies on the east of the narrow strip of land which prevents Kintyre from being an island.

Some of the pictures in the gallery above were taken on the climb up to the castle. The earliest fortifications on this hill date to the 13th century, but the most noticeable remains are of the 16th century tower house.

I had my first fall of the day at the castle – the weather was lovely and bright, but it followed a period of heavy rain so the grass was very slippery and I slid down a slope onto my bottom. Fortunately, no harm was done apart from a muddy patch on the back of my coat and the damage to my dignity! So it was on to Tarbert Sculpture Walk where we met some pretty black sheep.

Next stop (by car) was Skipness, with another 13th century castle overlooking the Kilbrannan Sound.

Close by, as you can just about make out in the last shot above, is the ruined Kilbrannan Chapel, dedicated to St Brendan and dating from the late 13th or early 14th century. It had an interesting graveyard attached which I enjoyed looking around.

As usual, I grieved at the graves testifying to the terrible rate of infant mortality. Anne McLellan lost three children in infancy, her husband in 1895 and a son in the First World War. Unimaginable. The black gravestone commemorating Emma Berrington also intrigued me – how did someone who was born in West Virginia and died in Wales end up here? Maybe her son lived in Kintyre? The stone gives no clue.

The current church was back near where we had parked. This was November 10th and a couple had just arrived with a car full of flowers to decorate the church for the following day’s Remembrance Service, so we didn’t look inside. The war memorial looked unusual to me with its clock – note my square shot. At this point I imagined I was going to take part in Becky’s daily #timesquare project in December. The thought was there at least …

There is also an iron age fort nearby – we set off through the woods to find it, but the rough path with treacherous tree roots and protruding stones hidden by a combination of mud and fallen leaves resulted in my second fall of the day. This time I came down with a heavy thump, banging my shoulder and ripping the elbow out of my coat. Walking was abandoned for the day!

Back in the car, we continued down the east coast of the peninsula to Saddell. The bay here is where the pipers marched in the video for Paul McCartney’s Mull of Kintyre, but we didn’t visit – we looked at the ruins of the Cistercian Abbey (active 1160 to 1507) and its magnificent medieval grave slabs. Apparently, the abbey is haunted by a huge black spectral hand, but we were lucky to miss that …

We then drove on towards Campbeltown, the biggest settlement on Kintyre. By this time, the light was fading – and can you see the hint of a rainbow in the first picture?

In Cambeltown itself, we visited the Linda McCartney memorial garden (hmm, not sure about the merits of that statue) and had coffee in the recently restored art deco cinema. You might also spot another potential #timesquare that went unused!

By this time, it really was dark and not worth continuing to the Mull of Kintyre itself. That will have to wait for another visit.

Hebridean Hop 21: Kisimul Castle and Northbay

Friday 17th August 2018

Kisimul Castle from the jetty

Our last day dawned dull and wet, but we hadn’t been to Kisimul Castle yet so this had to be the time. There is a little jetty to wait on, above, and a boat comes from the castle to pick up passengers on the hour and half hour. Here it is!

Kisimul Castle probably dates from the 1400s, though the rocky islet it is built on might have been fortified for several centuries before that. The stronghold of Clan MacNeil, it was significantly restored in the 20th century and since 2000 has been on 1,000 year lease to Historic Scotland.

Compare and contrast – the pictures below are from our visit in 1992 with our friends Pat and John. The basket, presumably for a beacon, above Pat’s head suggests these were taken at the top of the tower (the same basket can be seen in the gallery above if you look hard enough). It’s not possible to climb the tower now, which I found disappointing.

The weather showed no signs of improving, so once back on dry land we collected the car from the hotel and set off for Northbay. If nothing else, we knew there was a good place for lunch there! We were lucky to get a short, dry stroll on the Woodland Walk (woodland, however small, is something of a rarity on the islands).

Once we arrived in Northbay itself though, the heavens opened. We could have done with those yellow and orange waterproofs below. Fortunately, we could shelter in St Barr’s Church for the worst of it.

For lunch we visited the Heathbank Hotel which we remembered as a seedy dive on our last visit, but which has come up in the world since then. Our waiter confirmed our memories, that it had been very much a fishermans’ pub. His granny probably told him – he turned out to be the young man who played the fiddle as we ate our curry in Castlebay the previous evening. He’s also a student at Glasgow University, though we haven’t spotted him around. These coincidences don’t happen so much in Glasgow!

After lunch, we stopped once more to walk ( across rather wet ground) to the abandoned village of Bolnabodach on the shores of Loch Ob. These collapsed blackhouses date from 1810-1840.

From here it was back to the hotel to pack and load up the car, keeping just an overnight bag behind. Our ferry in the morning was at 0755 and we had to be in the queue by 0710 at the latest. A good night’s sleep was required!

Arduaine Garden and Kilmartin Glen

Arduaine Garden

After our beautiful walk on Kerrera we were disappointed to wake up the next day and find the weather had reverted to a more normal grey drizzle. Nevertheless, we decided to stick to our plan of driving home from Oban the long way round in order to visit Kilmartin Glen.

First, we stopped at Arduaine Garden, started in 1898 by James Arthur Campbell and now part of the National Trust for Scotland.

Fortified with coffee, we headed for our next stop at Carnassarie Castle, dating from the 1560s. There were good views over Kilmartin Glen from the top, even if it was a little damp and misty – we certainly didn’t envy the people excavating an adjacent mound. That looked a cold job.

Into Kilmartin itself, and we visited the small museum, the church and its associated graveyard before having lunch in the hotel.

After lunch, we set out to explore the glen further. Kilmartin Glen has one of the most important concentrations of Neolithic and Bronze Age remains in Scotland, including standing stones, a henge monument, numerous cists, and a ‘linear cemetery’ comprising five burial cairns. The gallery below is just a selection.

Finally, at the southern end of the glen we climbed to the remains of the fortress of Dunadd, a royal centre of Dàl Riata, the first kingdom of the Scots, more than 1300 years ago. The inauguration stone has a footprint (allegedly created by the hero Ossian) into which the new king placed his foot, thus betrothing himself to the land. These days, it’s a replica but we gave it a go anyway.

After that, it was time to head for home at the end of a lovely weekend.

A walk round Kerrera

Remember this view from last time? Our window in Oban looked out on the island of Kerrera which we were determined to explore. A small passenger ferry runs from Gallanach, a couple of miles along the coast from Oban. Unless you live on Kerrera (current population about 35) no vehicles are allowed.

There are two possible walks suggested, the southern loop taking in Gylen Castle (and nearby tea garden – vital!) or a linear walk to the northern tip where there is a monument to  David Hutcheson, one of the founders of the Caledonian MacBrayne Ferry service. We chose the 11km loop to castle and tea garden / bunk house.

Kerrera

From the ferry, we turned left along Horseshoe Bay and Little Horseshoe Bay. We hadn’t gone far when we discovered the tea garden owners were enterprising in a quirky sort of way. The slates read Hello! Is it tea you’re looking for? Lionel Rich Tea. 

From here on our walk was punctuated by teapots – and cattle. At one time, Kerrera was a stepping stone for transporting cattle from Mull (the much larger island behind it) to the mainland.

Sometimes the teapot messages were really helpful. Cake!

The path to the castle was just before the tea garden but we chose to go for a cup of tea first, then explore the castle and return for lunch. Might as well make full use of the place! It was a lovely sunny day, but even if it hadn’t been there was comfortable indoor seating in the old barn.

The quirkiness continued in the bike park (an old tree trunk, click to enlarge to make it clearer).

And the toilet which is twinned with a toilet in Pakistan.

The ruined Gylen Castle, dramatically perched on a rocky outcrop, was built in 1587 by Duncan MacDougall of Dunollie, the 16th chief, on the site of an earlier fortification.

From the castle and tea garden, the path followed the more rugged western edge of the island before crossing back to the ferry point. And, of course, just in case anyone was walking the loop in the other direction, there were more teapots.

This was an absolutely beautiful day and I’d love to go back to Kerrera. The next day, we were heading back home from Oban and the weather was not so kind to us. We still made some interesting stops, though – next time!

I’m linking this post to Jo’s Monday Walks. Pop over for some Portuguese sunshine, I could certainly do with that today!

Oban and Dunstaffnage Castle

Thornloe Guest House

In May, we spent two nights in Oban, a west coast town a couple of hours north of Glasgow. It was a last-minute decision, so we were lucky to find a wonderful place to stay, the Thornloe Guest House, which was as attractive inside as out.

 

Note the open window above – we never tired of the view from it as you can see below. After staring at the island immediately in front of us, Kerrera, for so long we were inspired to visit it the next day, but that’s for another post.

As we only had one full day, our time in Oban itself was mainly spent wandering around at night before and after dinner. Beautiful!

 

In one of the pictures above, you can see the round arches of McCaig’s Tower on the hill above the harbour. We climbed up to it one evening for sunset views back down to the town.

 

Close to Oban is Dunstaffnage Castle. We visited on our way to the town and found they were having a Viking day. Some of those Vikings look quite scary, but we ran across them in a Chinese restaurant in Oban that evening and they seemed much more genial then!

 

Coming next, I’ll take you for a walk round Kerrera.

Arran – the castles

Brodick Castle

With a couple of friends we rented an apartment in Arran over the May Day Bank Holiday. It was a long time since we’d been and it was their first visit – it was definitely a success, but, as with our earlier weekend in Galloway, the weather was a bit iffy. Still, we got out and about and there was plenty to see.

It was a disappointment to find that Brodick Castle is closed this year, presumably for maintenance. However, the gardens were open and we spent a whole morning wandering about.

Later that day, we went to Lochranza Castle, a 13th century ruin which can be visited free of charge. What a beautiful setting!

The following day, we had lunch at the Kildonan Hotel and took a short walk afterwards to see Kildonan Castle. This is also 13th century, though there’s much less of it left and it’s not accessible – it’s actually in someone’s garden! The modern standing stones at the hotel were interesting too.

Next time: the walks.

Two Galloway gardens

Glenwhan Gardens

We arrived at Glenwhan Gardens just in time for morning coffee in the friendly tea room. This was Easter Sunday so I had expected it to be busy, but the weather was dull and damp and we seemed to be the first people there. Not so – apparently a woman had arrived earlier with a small girl in tow and enquired about their Easter Egg Hunt. When told she would have to pay the garden fee to participate, she stormed off saying it would be cheaper to go to Tesco to buy an egg. I would say 0/10 for parenting skills there! We spotted bags of mini-eggs hanging throughout the garden but, although it got a bit busier, we didn’t see many children. What a shame.

Anyway, after coffee we admired the peacock in the car park before heading through the entrance with its lovely stained glass panel.

Started in 1979, the 12 acre site was created from a hillside of bracken and gorse, with two lakes created by damming up bogs. The paths wander upwards to various viewpoints – it’s just beautiful.

There are many sculptures dotted around.

My favourite is the Peace Pinnacle, seen here from both sides.

The garden is surrounded by 17 more acres of wild land – it was even wetter under foot than the rest of the garden, but we enjoyed the moorland walk all the same.

As luck would have it, we passed the tea room again just in time for lunch (delicious) before returning to the car and setting off for our second garden of the day. However, we decided on another stop in between.

Glenluce Abbey

Glenluce Abbey was founded in 1191/2 by Roland, Lord of Galloway. The ruins are now in the care of Historic Scotland.

Finally, it was on to Castle Kennedy Gardens.

Castle Kennedy

The castle ruins date to the 16th century, but the gardens are more recent being the inspiration of the second Earl of Stair in the early 19th century. I was struck by the terraces and landforms, very reminiscent of contemporary work by Charles Jencks (and we’d be visiting one of his creations the next day). However, they have been there since the beginning, created by men with carts and horse-drawn equipment. Amazing work!

Lastly, at the top end of the gardens we found Lochinch Castle, which was rather more comfortable looking than Castle Kennedy!

We got wet several times throughout the day and it was cold (spot that I’m wearing gloves, even though it was April) so it was good to head back to our cosy cottage to dry out and warm up. We were leaving the next morning and planned to go home via Crawick Multiverse. Coming next!

Deanston and Doune

Deanston Distillery
Deanston Distillery

We’ve been meaning to visit Deanston Distillery for ages – it’s less than an hour’s drive from Glasgow – and finally got around to it in November. It’s unusual because it wasn’t purpose-built: it started life in 1785 as Deanston Cotton Mill and functioned as such until 1965. However, unlike many abandoned industrial buildings, it didn’t go into decline but reopened as a distillery in 1967. The mill’s location on the banks of the River Teith made it ideal for its new purpose and the constant cool temperature in the weaving shed was perfect for maturation.

We were lucky that a tour was just starting as we arrived. We paid £9 for the basic tour which included two drams at the end and, as John was driving, I got to drink most of that – hic! A few highlights will suffice – if you want to know about the details of whisky production at Deanston, there’s a great account on Alcademics.com.

Outside the distillery were stacks of casks – most of Deanston’s whisky is matured in ex-bourbon casks.

The most photogenic of the machines inside were the malt mill and the stills. The malt mill is the original from the 1960s, made by Porteus in Leeds. It has only had to be recalibrated twice in all that time – in fact, the company went out of business because their machines were so efficient that they never needed to be replaced!

The whisky is stored while it matures in the old weaving shed. At the front were rows of signed barrels, including one signed by the cast of the Ken Loach film, The Angel’s Share, parts of which were filmed at Deanston. (The angel’s share is a term for the amount of alcohol which evaporates from the casks during maturation.) If you know Ken Loach’s work at all you’ll perhaps be surprised to learn that this is a comedy crime caper. I’ve seen it and would like to see it again now to spot the locations!

After our tour we had an excellent lunch in Deanston’s café, The Coffee Bothy, which helped me counter the (very slight, of course) effects of the whisky, and then we set off for a walk round nearby Doune.

We started at the castle which was built at the end of the 14th century and has found fame as a film location featuring in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Game of  Thrones and Outlander. We’ve explored its interior many times, but this time we took the track which follows round the outside.

This took us down to the confluence of the Ardoch Burn on the left and the River Teith on the right. Walking upstream alongside the Teith we met some friends grazing.

Eventually a high fence blocked the riverside but a path up to the right led us to the main road, and another right along the pavement took us into the village of Doune. We passed the Muir Hall and St Modoc’s Episcopal Church.

The Moray Institute, now homes, and some picturesque cottages.

There have been two referendums in recent years. The occupant of one cottage left us in no doubt which way s/he had voted in either of them, with Saltires and European Union bunting fluttering in the breeze.

We emerged onto the main street by the Mercat Cross, and then passed the Highland Hotel and the former Kilmadock Parish Church.

A final footpath took us back over fields to the castle and our car having enjoyed a lovely and varied day out.

Doune Castle
Doune Castle

Drumlanrig Castle

Drumlanrig Castle
Drumlanrig Castle

Drumlanrig Castle is the Dumfriesshire seat of the Duke of Buccleuch (bəˈklu). I don’t think he was home when we visited: he’s one of the largest landowners in Europe, so has plenty other houses to choose from.

The family is descended from the Duke of Monmouth, eldest son of Charles II. Unfortunately for Monmouth, he was – like all Charles’s children – illegitimate and could never be king, although he lost his head trying. However, this does mean, as our guide pointed out, that the Buccleuchs could be said to have more royal blood than the current royal family which descended from George I. He was approximately 53rd in line when he ascended to the throne, but the other 50+ candidates were Roman Catholics and therefore ineligible. To me, this all highlights the absurdity of the hereditary principle and if I hadn’t gone in a republican, I think I’d have come out as one!

Still, we paid our money (£10/£8) to tour the castle, gardens and grounds, and I admit to a little envy at the thought of waking up each morning and being able to look out on such beauty. Access to the house is by guided tour only, and no photography is allowed – this is the place where a Leonardo da Vinci painting, Madonna of the Yardwinder, was stolen by thieves posing as tourists in 2003 so they’re not taking any chances. Although the painting was eventually recovered, it didn’t return to Drumlanrig and is now on loan to the National Gallery of Scotland.

So let’s stick to the outdoors. When we arrived, a veteran car rally was setting up.

The stable yard gave access to the café and other visitor facilities, and to the gardens. The areas immediately surrounding the castle were laid out formally.

From there, we walked down through woodland gardens and the rock garden to the Victorian Summerhouse from which there was a great view back to the house.

The Marr Burn runs along the edge of the garden and we followed it to the Goldsworthy Arch – designed by artist Andy Goldsworthy, it’s made of local sandstone and is said to represent a leaping salmon.

We then walked back to the castle via the bog garden and pet cemetery.

But we weren’t finished our walk – there are four trails through the estate and we chose the longest, the 5km Castle View. It’s a beautiful woodland walk which climbs to a viewpoint over the castle (see also the post header image) with the rolling Lowther Hills behind it. The descent takes you past the pretty Starn Loch.

Back at the Castle, the last of the old cars were leaving. We also admired the Drumlanrig Sycamore – it’s over 300 years old and the largest in Britain.

By now it was 5.30 and time to head home. I hope you’ve enjoyed your stroll round Drumlanrig which I’m linking to Jo’s Monday Walks.

Toodle pip!

Old car at Drumlanrig