Monkey Puzzles, Spiky Nuts, and Redwoods, Oh My!

Back to chronological order today…

As much as we’ve loved every breakfast we’ve had so far, we had to call today’s the best just because of the fresh thick cut toast. And when I say thick cut, I don’t mean Texas cut, I mean thicker than that. So yummy!

Our theme today was meant to focus primarily on Pictish Stones, and we did see them, but we got distracted on the way with two castles and a wrong turn…and various species of trees that did not look like they fit the area.

First stop was meant to be The Maiden Stone, but when we saw the sign for Craigievar Castle on the way we diverted.

As you can see, Craigievar is a pink castle. It is made of stones, but the outside is plastered with pink-coloured lime harl. Why pink, you may ask. Well, originally it was a cream colour, but in 1825-26, after Sir John Forbes inherited the title and properties, he hired an architect by the name of John Smith who directed that the harl should match the colour of the granite mouldings; so, pink.

No interior photographs are allowed, and the only means of viewing the interior is to take the 45-minute tour. While we were waiting for our tour to start we walked a little around outside. Dan was looking at the foliage, and suddenly walked right up to a rather large tree to read the plaque in front of it. Even I noticed then that it was a suspiciously large tree. A tree of a suspiciously familiar nature. One that we thought we were on the completely wrong side of the Atlantic Ocean to be seeing in Scotland. Sure enough, the little plaque identified this large tree as a Giant Sequoia. You know, the ones we’ve only previously seen along the west coast of northern North America. Yes, those ones. We figured, well, this must be a one-off, because sequoias are indigenous to North America…aren’t they?

Back to the castle, which was built some time between 1575 and 1595 during the Mortimer of Craigievar’s occupancy. At that time it was only a four story tower house, but made to specifications befitting a baron. In 1610, William Forbes of Menie purchased the Craigievar lands. Wanting to show off how rich he was, William replaced the uppermost parts of the castle with turrets, dormer windows, and viewing platforms. Sculptural ornaments are displayed throughout. The inside ceilings are all molded plaster, and this was one of the first castles in Scotland to display them.

There is what appears to be a priest hole above the hall, which would not be unusual given the Mortimers were discreetly Catholic after the Reformation. Of course, it is also possible the hole was used by ‘Red’ Sir John Forbes during his tenure as Baron as a way to spy on his guests in the hall to find out if they were planning to attack him. Apparently he was called ‘Red’ John not only because he was red-headed, but also because he was a mean, paranoid, asshole.

The tour took us all the way up to the viewing platforms at the top of the castle, which is where the above photo of Dan and I was taken.

During our walk back to the car, we spotted yet another oddly out of place seeming tree, which we didn’t think could possibly belong here. Of course we had no idea what it was called, and we had actually seen it at the Robert Burns Gardens, so the only reason we didn’t think it fit in Scotland was because it was so weird looking. It turns out it’s called a Monkey Puzzle tree because the branches look like monkey tails. This picture was taken at the Robert Burns Garden a few days ago, not Craigievar Castle.

Our next stop was The Maiden Stone, which is a Pictish Standing Stone believed to have been carved by the Picts over 1,200 years ago. The placard seems to suggest the Stone is in its original location, but I’m not sure that’s true. Either way, it is believed to be placed there to mark a place of prayer for travellers on the road between Aberdeenshire and Moray. Frankly, scholars acknowledge that there is not remotely enough information available today about the Picts to actually understand the meanings of their symbols and the purposes of their stones. The Picts did not have a written language, other than the pictographic symbols that they used. The Picts were completely subsumed by the Scots by about 900 AD.

What is really fascinating is the amount of detail that remains visible on the stones after more than a millennia. Most of the remaining stones found have Pict symbols on one side and Christian symbols on the other, indicative of the transition of their faith at the time.

However, as can be seen in the above partial stone pieced back together in Brandsbutt, other cultural influences can also be found — in this case by the Irish runes on the left side. Others, like those we saw in Whithorn, and yesterday at the Meigle Museum, have geometric shapes influenced by the Vikings.

To reinforce just how ignorant we are about the meanings of Pictish symbols, while we may certainly recognize those symbols like the salmon and cauldron on one side of the stone at the Kintore Churchyard (above) and the beast (dolphin? swimming elephant?) and broken arrow (V shape) on the other side (below) nobody has been able to decipher the sideways crescent moon shape with the three round balls and curved lines.

Our final stop for the day ended up being much quicker than the place deserved at 40 minutes before closing. Crathes Castle is one of the best preserved 16th century castles in Scotland, and was lived in by a single family for over 350 years. Fourteen generations of Burnett’s lived there, right up until 1951 when the 13th Baronet made over the castle and part of the estate to the National Trust for Scotland.

Unlike Craigievar, we were allowed to take pictures inside the castle. Good thing too, considering how quickly we went through the place…we’re going to need them to remember what we saw!

The lower kitchen.

Another Downton Abbey moment: Crathes Castle was used during both World Wars for a convalescent hospital.

These large windows were installed in the hall after the 11th Baronet returned from California, where he made a butt load of money as a successful rancher and sold off the land where the LAX airport now sits.

Also in the great hall is this feature wall with the fireplace and the armour displayed in the painted domed ceiling alcove. In other rooms in upper floors the ceilings are painted with characters and scenes, and the joists have various quotes.

Like I said, we went through this castle very quickly…

The Long Gallery is gorgeous! It runs the full length of the top floor of the castle, and was originally used for exercise in bad weather (really? Huh). In later years until comparatively recently it was used as a library, and it still holds many classic, old, and down right ancient books. We weren’t allowed to handle the books, but boy did I want to!

I have to admit that the needlework that would have gone into creating this pillowcase (I think it’s a pillowcase…) is really impressive.

And, well, the weapons room…

And that was all we had time to see and learn. Good thing we picked up the information booklet.

Of course, when we wandered the grounds briefly what did our wandering eyes see? More sequoia…

And a tree with a prickly fruit (?) that we had noticed at Scone Palace as well, which we discovered from the placard here is a Horse Chestnut and is actually indigenous to Northern Europe…so it actually belongs here.

That picture was taken at Scone Palace, not Crathes Castle.

A little surfing when we got back to our room confirmed that the Giant Sequoias are indigenous specifically to the west coast of North America, and were brought to Scotland in the 1850s, where they did very well in Scotland’s climate.

A little more surfing confirmed that the Monkey Puzzles are indigenous to Brazil and were brought to Scotland around the same time that the sequoias were.

So, how’s that for a day full of new information?

Adelle and Dan

3 thoughts on “Monkey Puzzles, Spiky Nuts, and Redwoods, Oh My!

  • Fantastic post! To date, I have only had the chance to spend one day in Aberdeenshire and spent it at Dunnottar. I would love to get to both of these castles one day. I really enjoyed all your photos and gaining more insight into the Pictish stones and trees. I find both really interesting as well.


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