Dornie and Eilean Donan

Eilean Donan Castle

In July, we spent a week in an apartment within walking distance of Eilean Donan, arguably the most romantic and most photographed of all Scotland’s castles. It’s a bit of a cheat though – originally established in 1230, it was destroyed during the Jacobite uprising in 1719 and what you see today was rebuilt between 1912 and 1932 by a British army officer, John MacRae-Gilstrap. The MacRae clan has ancestral links to the area and its war memorial is below the castle walls (see gallery below).

We took a stroll round the exterior after we arrived late on Saturday afternoon, and returned a few days later to look inside. No interior photography was allowed, but I think the exterior is the spectacular part anyway.

In the last picture above we are looking down from the castle onto the remains of a medieval tower (more or less obscured by a tree). Beyond it, immediately before the northern end of the road bridge, you can just make out our apartments. To the right of the bridge is the village of Dornie, and we finished our afternoon / early evening by following the dead-end road through the village to its termination at the small settlement of Bundalloch (just over a mile each way). We could again see our apartments on the other side of Loch Long.

In the last image above, the windows just above the fence belonged to us. I can highly recommend Eilean Donan Apartments which are operated by the same trust which owns the castle. The building was initially constructed as a hotel in the late 19th century, but has been extensively refurbished over the last few years into eleven self-catering units for 2-8 people. We loved it!

We settled in for our first evening, but the view across Loch Long to Dornie kept distracting us from making plans for the next seven days. These pictures were taken around 10pm – it’s wonderful when it stays light so late.

Spoiler alert: we did make some plans. What would the next day bring? Coming next – Applecross.

 

Cowden Japanese Garden and Castle Campbell

Japanese Garden at Cowden

At the end of September, John had an unexpected day off work. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t great but we believed the forecast which said it would be better further east. It lied! We arrived at the Japanese Garden at Cowden in Clackmannanshire in pouring rain so, as it was around midday, we decided to have lunch first in the hope that the weather would clear. The small café is housed in a temporary Portakabin, but once inside you wouldn’t know because it is well maintained and attractive – better still, the food is good and the staff are friendly.

Cowden is somewhere I’ve wanted to visit for a while. Created in 1908 by intrepid traveller Ella Christie (1861-1949), with the help of Taki Handa originally from the Royal School of Garden Design at Nagoya, it fell into disrepair in later years and was badly vandalised in the 1960s. In 2013 Professor Masao Fukuhara from Osaka University of Arts, Japan, was appointed to restore the garden and, although still a work in progress, it is now open to the public again. The full history, detailed on the garden’s website, is fascinating and well worth a read.

Our strategy of waiting for the rain to go off over lunch hadn’t worked, but it didn’t detract from the beauty of the garden and gives us an excuse to come back to visit in sunshine some day. Click on the gallery below to take a stroll round the central pond with us.

After Cowden, we headed a few miles back up the road to the small town of Dollar to visit Castle Campbell. We left the car in town and headed up the burn to Dollar Glen, where we chose the west path which climbs through woodland, eventually following the Burn of Sorrow, and leading to great views of the castle.

It’s a long time since we’ve actually visited the castle, but we decided to do so now. It was no longer raining, but the mist made the views from the top of the tower very atmospheric and, as the last image in the gallery below shows, there were some weak rays of sunshine as we left.

In the internal photos, you can see two Green Man carvings in the ceiling which would originally have held chains for oil lamps in their mouths. You can also see John testing one of the latrines for comfort, as invited by the notice behind him. This notice also informed us that a remedy for bed wetting from 1544 involved adding the ground bones of a hedgehog to the sufferer’s food and drink. Poor hedgehogs!

After the castle, we took the east path back down the glen along the Burn of Care until it merged with the Burn of Sorrow to form the Dollar Burn and led us back into town.  Such sad names!

Before leaving we found this interesting drinking fountain and a bench dedicated to Ella Christie whose garden we had visited earlier.

This was a day which proves there’s no point in sitting at home waiting for the weather to improve. Just get out and do it! We had two lovely walks which I’m linking to Jo and her wonderful group of Monday walkers. She has blue Portuguese skies to counter my grey ones.

Jo’s Monday Walks.

Eglinton: a castle, a tournament and a country park

Eglinton Tournament, 1839, by James Henry Nixon. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

I had never heard of the Eglinton Tournament until I watched an episode of Scottish Television’s People’s History Show which billed it as Scotland’s most expensive and worst party. I was intrigued!

When Queen Victoria came to the throne, the country was in dire economic straits and she was given a scaled-down coronation ceremony which was ridiculed as ‘The Penny Coronation’. One of the fiercest critics was Archibald, 13th Earl of Eglinton, who decided to throw his own party over three days in August 1839 in the form of a grand medieval tournament on his Ayrshire estate. He invited a couple of thousand of his rich mates and thought he might let in a few thousand of the lower classes too. However, ticketing procedures and crowd control were woeful and some estimates suggest that in the end over 100,000 people attended the Tournament. Local transport and accommodation were overwhelmed, and the knights themselves created gridlock on the estate with the opening parade taking three hours longer than expected. And, of course, you can’t rely on the Scottish summer weather – the heavens opened on the first day and flooding meant that the entire audience, apart from Eglinton’s personal guests, was stranded without transportation. They had to walk miles through the rain and the mud to nearby villages, where only a few people found any food, drink, accommodation or transport. Even the personal guests missed out on the medieval banquet and ball that evening because banqueting tents had also been flooded. The middle day of the Tournament was cancelled, but the third day went ahead as planned with the overall winner judged to be – guess who? – Lord Eglinton himself.

After learning this story I wanted to see Eglinton myself, so on a sunny August Sunday, almost 180 years to the day since the Tournament, we set off – it’s less than an hour’s drive from home. There isn’t much left of Eglinton Castle itself, and it was difficult to get pictures of what there was because of all the picknicking families and children joyously leaping off the ruins.

You can see below what it looked like in its heyday before the Eglintons lost all their money and abandoned it. In 1925 the roof was removed so that the walls could be used for target practice by the military, and most of the rest was pulled down in 1973.

Eglinton Castle, 1906. Public domain via Wikimedia Commons.

There are several other interesting structures in the park. The ornamental Tournament Bridge, which crosses Lugton Water a short walk from the castle, might seem to be a remnant of the events of 1839, but actually dates from 1845. It has recently been beautifully restored.

The old stable block has been converted into a café, and the gardens and grounds of the estate surrounding it are very attractive. Interesting objects include some colourful benches and a double headless statue. I have no idea who they are or where their heads have gone, in case you are minded to ask!

The garden also contains war memorial benches and a cairn commemorating those who died in the 9/11 attacks.

There are several trails round the park, a mixture of woodland …

… and open countryside. We wondered about these stones on top of Cairnmount Hill. They were obviously not ancient standing stones, but we thought they might be a folly placed there by one of the Earls. Googling them later, I found that they are much more recent than that. An opencast mine was established nearby in 1983, and when extraction finished in 1986 it was filled in and these large boulders discovered in the process were erected on top of the restored hill. The stones effectively mark the closing of the last coal-mine on the land attached to Eglinton Castle after a period of at least 400 years of continuous production.

Finally, a small loch attracted walkers, such as ourselves, as well as those who just wanted a peaceful spot to read.

We enjoyed our day out at Eglinton: the trail we followed was pleasant, if not spectacular, and fairly quiet once we got away from the café and the picnickers at the castle.  I think the park caters mostly for that audience and not so much for those interested in its history – a few more information boards would have been helpful: the only one I can recall was at the Tournament Bridge. I’m pleased to have seen the site of the Tournament, and certainly recommend the park to anyone who happens to be in the area, but for me it is one to file away as a once-only visit – I don’t feel a strong need to go back.

Drummond and Monzie

Drummond Gardens

The garden at Drummond Castle in Perthshire is said to be one of the finest formal gardens in Europe according to its website (source not provided!) First laid out in the 17th century, it was restructured in Victorian times and again in the 20th century. Queen Victoria herself visited in 1842 and expressed approval.

The original castle was built around 1490 by John, 1st Lord Drummond. The keep still stands, but the rest of the castle was remodelled in 1890. It’s not possible to visit either part, but you get excellent and varied views from the gardens.

The free map provided at the entrance details all the plants, many of which were not yet in bloom (our previous visit was at a later time of year when the roses were beautiful). I could have done with a guide to the statuary as my knowledge of mythology is not up to identifying the various gods and goddesses on show. Perhaps you had to shell out for the guide book to get that.

As well as the formal gardens, there is also a Woodland Walk which leads through the trees and criss-crosses the central avenue which is graced by the chap below.

The walk is enlivened by a dozen chain-saw carvings.

I wouldn’t say the carver was the best-ever. Just look at the poor wooden deer compared to the real one we spotted! Even allowing for its broken antlers, the carving is a bit weird looking.

Drummond is just south of the small town of Crieff, so when we’d exhausted the garden we headed there for lunch. New since our last visit were these “leafy” Highland cattle installed in 2018 by community group Crieff in Leaf. They celebrate Crieff’s history as the cattle-droving crossroads of Scotland.

After lunch we headed for the most important visit of the day. Monzie Castle is only open for a few weeks each year – 18th May to 16th June in 2019, so my tardiness in writing this post means you’ve missed it!

Monzie Castle

Monzie (pronounced Mun-ee) is a Gaelic word meaning field of corn. The oldest part of the castle is a 17th century tower house which was incorporated into a large, castellated mansion in the late 18th century. Owned by Grahams then Campbells, in 1856 it was bought by the Crichton family, who still live there today. In 1908 there was a serious fire which destroyed the interior leaving only the outside walls, after which it was restored by the leading Scottish architect of the day, Sir Robert Lorimer. He even furnished it.

We were given a tour by the elder Mrs Crichton, including to her private sitting room in the old part of the house, which was surprisingly cosy. At one time, you had to exit the main house and walk all the way round the back to get into the tower house, thus it fell into disuse: these days, there is a passage knocked through to the much more formal “new” house. No photography was allowed inside, but we were free to wander round the outside and the gardens.

Mrs Crichton’s son and his family also live on Monzie estate which, as well as the castle, includes holiday cottages, a B&B, a farm and a joinery business, all powered by their own hydro electric plant. Having never visited before, it’s now somewhere I’d seriously consider staying on holiday.

Finally, on our way home we stopped in the small village of Muthill which we had driven through many times but never explored. We visited the ruins of the Old Church (1400s) and Tower (1100s) as well as two present day churches (exterior only).

This is another place I would love to stay – Muthill boasts a fine-sounding “restaurant with rooms”, the Barley Bree. Some day! In the meantime, we had had an absolutely fabulous day out.

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.