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

Bamburgh Castle

Bamburgh Castle panorama
Bamburgh Castle panorama

On the last morning of our Northumbrian weekend, the May Day Holiday, we parted company. Valerie and Kenn headed south to Yorkshire, via Newcastle for a family visit, and we decided to visit Bamburgh Castle before setting off for home. Now, I knew I hadn’t been to Lindisfarne or Alnwick Castle before but I was sure I had been to Bamburgh. However, I didn’t recognise it at all inside and can only conclude I’ve only viewed it from outside where it dominates the coastal views for miles.

There is evidence that this area has been occupied for over 10,000 years, but the oldest building now goes back “only” to the Normans, a keep (tower) that remains the heart of the castle, but with many additions over the centuries. Its character today, however, has been determined by 19th century industrialist Lord Armstrong. He bought the castle from distant relatives in 1894 and set about restoring it, having already built a country manor – Cragside, also worth a visit – which was the first house in the world to be lit by hydro-electricity. He wanted Bamburgh to be just as up-to-date, and invented and installed air conditioning and central heating systems. £1m later, he died with his dream still incomplete. His heir finished the work and the Armstrongs still live there today. Let’s take a walk round.

The first thing we did on arrival was stroll along the Battery Terrace. The castle, as you can already see, is blessed with a wonderful sea view.

Then we turned left to visit the State Rooms – a few external details to admire first.

Inside, by far the most impressive room is the King’s Hall, a 19th century construction but sitting on the footprint of the original Great Hall. Nothing but the best in materials – the ceiling weighs 300 tons, is made of Siamese teak and held together with over 1300 oak pins. The stained glass window adorns the minstrel’s gallery. Rather cosier is the Billiard Room with its spectacular fireplace to keep the players warm.

At this point we tried to visit the café, but it’s quite small and was jam-packed with Bank Holiday Monday visitors so we visited the rest of the grounds first. (When we went back, the lunch was very good – better than Alnwick Castle’s café. These things matter to me!)

A small camp was set up for a military re-enactment, and suddenly it burst into life! Those pesky Scots were invading…… 😉

Below the windmill around the camp there were archaeological digs to look at and we also toured the Armstrong and Aviation museum which thrilled one member of the party more than the other. After that, we headed back out and turned left to take the walk underneath the castle walls and down onto the beach. I can’t decide if it’s more imposing close up or from a distance.

Finally, we walked along the almost-deserted beach as far as we thought practical given that we had a two and a half hour drive ahead of us.

The island we could see is Inner Farne. I’ve only been out to the Farne Islands once, on a school trip when I was about 14. When I look back, I shudder at the health and safety standards. We might complain about pernickety details now, but things have improved so much.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my brief Northumbrian interlude. Of the three places we visited – Bamburgh, Alnwick and Lindisfarne – the last-named was definitely my favourite, but I’d happily return to them all.

Linked to Jo’s Monday Walks where you can visit more wonderful places from Yorkshire to Japan.

Alnwick Castle

Alnwick Castle
Alnwick Castle

Alnwick Castle has been home to the Dukes of Northumberland for over 700 years. Fans of Harry Potter and / or Downton Abbey might recognise it, as it has starred in both. If you so wish, you can sign up for broomstick training on the very spot where Harry had his first lesson, and you can see in the State Rooms an exhibition of photographs, costumes and props from the Downton Christmas specials of 2014 and 2015 in which Alnwick doubled as Brancaster Castle.

As with Lindisfarne, I’d never been here before and enjoyed discovering the castle. The exterior is imposing, and I particularly liked the figures on the ramparts. They, and the numerous cannon lying about, could have been intimidating, but fortunately John, Valerie and Kenn look quite relaxed.

However, what I enjoyed most – and we didn’t know it was on before we went – was the falconry display. It was so well done that we watched it twice.

Afterwards, John was able to get up close and personal with some of the participants. Well, maybe not too close. Those beaks look scary!

Alnwick Castle is also famous for its gardens – however these operate as a separate attraction, and I think to do both we’d have needed more time. On the way out, we had a peek through the beautiful gates and there wasn’t much colour yet (this was a month ago) so we’ll save that up for another day. The gardens ticket includes admission to the intriguing Tree House, also a reason to go back.

This was the third day of our short Northumbrian break. One more castle to go!

Chatelherault

Chatelherault
Chatelherault
No, we aren’t in France – the name Chatelherault derives from the title of Duc de Châtellerault presented to James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Arran, in 1548 and to subsequent Dukes of Hamilton. Their home, Hamilton Palace, was demolished in 1921: Chatelherault, designed by William Adam, is merely a hunting lodge built in 1734 to provide the 5th Duke with estate buildings, stables and kennels. Normally you can see inside, but it had been hired for a Bridal Shower when we visited last week, so we contented ourselves with a stroll around the exterior. Strange place to practice your drums, we thought.

The grounds are now a country park, so we chose the longest of its trails and set off on what must be the muddiest walk of the year so far: a 5 mile round trip down one side of the Avon Gorge to the Green Bridge and back up the other. (The Avon Water is a tributary of the Clyde.)

Just before arriving back at Chatelherault, we passed the Cadzow Oaks and the remains of Cadzow Castle. This might be the oldest surviving oak woodland in Scotland – some of the trees have been dated at over 500 years old.

The castle is of similar age, probably built around 1500-1550, and only seems to be held up by massive scaffolding, courtesy of Historic Scotland.

From here, it was a short trip across the Duke’s Bridge and back to the car-park at Chatelherault. We’d been so busy lacing our boots up when we arrived that we hadn’t noticed this totem pole behind the car.

Where has everyone else been walking lately? Find out at Jo’s Monday Walks.

Bothwell and Blantyre

River Clyde at Bothwell Castle
River Clyde at Bothwell Castle
The 13th century remains of Bothwell Castle are the starting point for this 3.5 circular walk. We’ve visited the castle many times, so didn’t go inside but dropped straight down onto the Clyde Walkway below. We followed the wooded banks until we could see Blantyre on the other side of the river.

Here, we made a detour over the Livingstone Memorial Bridge. What a beautiful house next to it!

Blantyre is the birthplace of David Livingstone – although the David Livingstone Centre wasn’t yet open for the season, we enjoyed the surrounding park and garden. The statue of Livingstone and the Lion is spectacular.

We also liked the fountain, even if it had no water in at the moment, and the giant stone frog in the pond.

Crossing back to the other side of the river we walked through Old Bothwell to Bothwell Bridge, scene of a battle in 1679 between the Covenanters and Charles II’s army (the Covenanters lost). A memorial to them was erected in 1903.

From the memorial, it was a steep climb up the road to the centre of Bothwell after which we definitely deserved lunch – which we ate outside. In Scotland, in March! We were amazed too (though I confess I did feel it a little nippy).

After lunch, we stopped to admire this lovely memorial outside the Parish Church. Joanna Baillie was a renowned poet and dramatist who was born in Bothwell in 1762.

Another garden next. The Gilchrist Garden was donated to the residents of Bothwell in 1940 by Marion Gilchrist who was born in Bothwellpark Farm in 1864. Despite the education of women then being considered a waste of time, she went on to qualify as a doctor becoming the University of Glasgow’s first female graduate in 1894. The memorial sculpture, by Adrian Wiszniewski, was added in 2013. The cut-out shapes represent organisms seen under a microscope, the black represents Marion’s inner strength and the pink her femininity and sensitivity.

Bothwell used to be a mining village, and our final stop was this replica coal hutch which has recently been placed on the way out of town by the local Historical Society to commemorate the miners of Castle Colliery.

Miners Memorial, Bothwell

From here, it was about a mile back to the castle where we had left our car. So – scenery, history and art! I hope you’ve enjoyed this stroll through Bothwell which I’m linking to Jo’s Monday Walks.

#ThrowbackThursday: 2007

When I was looking for photographs to illustrate my recent posts on our Canadian Rockies trip of 2007, I came across these pictures from just after we came home. I’d forgotten about turning up to Aberdour Castle and discovering a falconry display was about to happen. I look ever so slightly nervous about that beak!

We also visited Castle Campbell on what seems to have been a lovely early autumn day.

We had a weekend in Newcastle-upon-Tyne so that I could attend a school reunion. The Quayside has improved enormously in the years decades since I was a teenager.

That 3-button cardigan makes me laugh – I wouldn’t mind betting someone reading this owned a similar one. Marks and Spencer sold them for months, though varying the colour-schemes quite regularly. We more or less had to have a cardigan rota at work to avoid wearing them on the same day.

I also saw the Angel of the North close up for the first, and so far only, time. I think it’s really impressive, though I know it’s not to everyone’s taste.

Angel of the North

I’d forgotten the two castle visits – we visit castles all the time – but I remember the reunion very clearly. I’m only in touch with one friend from those days but it was amazing how easy it was to chat to the others, even if I hadn’t seen them since the mid-1970s. I met the teacher in the photograph below too – I wonder if you can find me?

Rutherford 1971

Craignethan Castle

Craignethan Castle
Craignethan Castle

You might have guessed by now that we love visiting ruined castles, and there are plenty of them within easy reach of where we live. Craignethan Castle, in the care of Historic Scotland, is one of our favourites. The tower house was built around 1530 by Sir James Hamilton of Finnart, the eldest (but illegitimate) son of the 1st Earl of Arran and a friend of King James V. The castle’s defences include its location, high above the valley cut by the River Nethan, and a caponier, a stone vaulted artillery chamber which is rare in Britain.

Claims to fame include giving shelter to Mary, Queen of Scots, prior to her defeat at Langside on 13 May 1568, and, allegedly, being the inspiration for Tillietudlem Castle in Sir Walter Scott’s Old Mortality. Scott denied this, but interest in his novel attracted visitors to Craignethan and a railway station built nearby was named after the fictional castle. Houses built near the station developed into the modern village of Tillietudlem. Fact follows fiction!

After visiting the castle, we explored part of the Lower Nethan Gorge Nature Reserve which runs from the castle down to the village of Crossford.

On the way home, we stopped at Blackhill Viewpoint, a rather damp trek across fields, but worth it.

I’ve just realised that in the picture of the trig point, you can just see a fuzzy rainbow forming. I said it was damp!