Round-trip Road Trip

October 2nd to 8th, 2020

Well, hello there! What’s that? Not the trip you were expecting? Where did Scotland 2020 go? Excellent question, but I’m pretty sure everyone in the World can figure out the answer to that question. Regardless, I will provide a brief explanation: COVID-19. Oh, you need more? Okay, but it’s really not a long story. We did plan to travel to Scotland in September. We had reservations made and flights booked and an itinerary pretty much finalized. We were going to be on Orkney Island for my 50th birthday. And then COVID-19 hit so everything got cancelled. We will not be travelling outside of Canada until a vaccine is available and the border restrictions are lifted. See? Short, probably familiar, story.

The Northwest Territories also has border restrictions in place which have successfully (so far) limited our exposure to COVID-19 — We have not had an active case since May (April?). But the border restrictions remain in place, which I fully support, and they require that when anyone enters the Northwest Territories they are required to self-isolate in designated centers for 14 days before they can go out and about. Which means we have to account for that if we want to do any travelling outside the Northwest Territories.

Now, I had to go to Edmonton for an appointment that’s been rescheduled twice already because of COVID-19. I really didn’t want to reschedule it again, so I decided to give myself a little bit of a break with it. I decided to drive to Edmonton and spend a couple of days visiting my mother (respecting social distancing requirements and recommended mask wearing procedures) while there. When I get home I will work from home while I self-isolate for two weeks. It’s all doable.

In the meantime, Dan and I purchased a GoPro Hero 7 camera a few months ago. I’m still figuring out how it works, but it occurred to me that maybe this road trip would be a good opportunity to use it more than we have. And I thought, what the heck, why don’t I do a little travel blog for this little trip, too? The camera’s been working great, I’ve got some video and some photos. But now that I’m sitting in front of WordPress I realize I have COMPLETELY forgotten how to use it to make my travel blog. Particularly since WordPress has introduced a new editor format thingy. So I’m sort of starting over and wracking my poor memory and trying to find things. This would be why this first page is so regretfully boring visually. At least for now. I’ll revamp and re-publish it as I figure out how to do things again.

So, stay tuned! It’s getting rather late in the evening now, so I’ll sign off for the time being.

Good night, all!

Adelle

Woo-hoo! I figured out how to add photos … This is the chip-sealed highway somewhere between Yellowknife and Fort Providence.

Lessons Learned

We had breakfast and said our farewells to Martin and Amanda at The Gordon Guest House in Ballater. We had a marvellous stay there and definitely recommend it should you come down this way.

The Gordon Guest House

So between Google saying it should take about two and a half hours to get to Edinburgh Waverley Station and everyone else saying it would likely be closer to three and a half to four hours, and our rental car scheduled to be returned by Noon and our cross country train ticket pre-purchased for a 1:13 p.m. departure, we thought we’d play it safe and leave Ballater around 8:30 a.m. We actually got on the road around 8:45 a.m. It turned out that Google was closest, only being out by about 15 minutes, and that only because of traffic and a missed turn in central Edinburgh.

First lesson learned today: always, always, always take a photo of any — and I mean ANY, no matter how small or cosmetic it seems — pre-existing damage to your rental car before you leave the garage.

Second lesson learned today: never, ever, ever trust your rental car customer service agent when he says, “oh, yes, here’s some scrapes, but don’t worry about it, it’s all good.”

Third lesson learned today: always, always, always demand to see the rental car company’s record of damages to the rental car and verify for yourself that it actually documents any and all damages, not matter how small or seemingly immaterial they may be.

I won’t elaborate further, except to say that we will be disputing our liability for a pre-existing cosmetic scrape to the front right bumper.

A brief pit stop at — of all places — Burger King for lunch, followed by a one-hour train ride to Glasgow (during which I contacted our insurance company), and a 20-minute taxi ride brought us to our B&B for the night at Muirholm B&B in Paisley.

Fourth lesson for the day: when you need to get a ride from downtown Glasgow to Paisley, never, ever flag a street cab for the ride. They will fleece you. Phone a cab to pick you up.

We had supper at a place called The Red Onion. I picked this place a while ago for a couple reasons: at the time I thought we were going to have time to go to the Kelvingrove Museum before supper and The Red Onion was within walking distance; and the chef who opened the restaurant used to be one of Bryan Adams’s personal chefs. That’s all I needed.

Now we’re back at the B&B getting ready for bed. A cab has already been booked for our airport transfer tomorrow morning at not quite zero dark thirty this time, although still earlier than I’d like.

So I guess this is it! Our Scotland 2018 trip is over. It’s in the bag. There’s nothing left to report. We again had a spectacular time on this trip, and yes, there will be one more to come.

Adelle and Dan

P.S. Muirholm B&B is really nice, by the way. I think we’ll probably try to stay here when we come back in 2020.

It All Started With Breakfast…

This is what you get at The Gordon Guest House for breakfast when all you ask for is toast and tea…

Yeah, and those croissants, they’re filled with chocolate. That’s right.

The plan today was to go to Dunnottar Castle and Castle Fraser, with a stop at the Bridge of Feugh. We did not end up doing two out of three of those things, but made up for it with another castle and what ended up being a garrison.

We started out as planned and went to Castle Fraser. Castle Fraser was closer, and it closed earlier in the day than Dunnottar so we figured it made sense to go there first rather than last.

The earliest part of this building was constructed some time in the 1450s, with subsequent additions being added in what is referred to as a z-plan construction. The Z is formed by starting and ending at the opposing towers.

The property was the home of the Frasers for 400 years. The first upgrade after the original tower took 61 years to complete, from 1575 to 1636. It was modernized in the late 1700s, and interiors were entirely reconstructed between 1820 and 1850. The last Fraser to live in the castle, Theodora, sold the property in 1921. (I am in love with this painting of Theodora. It was painted by Maurice McIvor in 1921.)

The new owners restored the Castle and gave it to the National Trust for Scotland in 1976. The Trust has kept the castle designed to represent various periods, and most of the contents are originals from those time periods.

We followed the self-guided tour markers, passing through the Michael Kitchen to the Great Hall. The trunk kept in this room has some wild kind of locking mechanism. The fire backer is original.

The dining room has been the dining room since the mid-1600s.

The headmistress’s (?) room. Pretty sure my mom still has a version of that sewing machine.

The cradle in the Green Room was last used by the 14th (and last) child of Charles and Jane Fraser in 1836, Caroline. Tragically, she died at 18 months old.

The Green Room also housed a bathtub, and a fancy-schmancy coal scuttle to hold the coal to use in the fireplace. You can just see the coal scuttle behind and left of the bathtub.

The Smiley Sitting Room is actually decorated for and dedicated to the last family to own the castle before it was given to the Trust.

The top of one of the towers has spectacular views of the area, and would actually be a very nice place to have tea and read a book. Apparently there are standing stones about 200 yards from the Castle, but they are inaccessible to the public because they are in the middle of a farmer’s field.

The courtyard as viewed from the tower. There is a lovely tea room and a gift shop there.

Always my favourite room anywhere, the library. The oldest books here are from the early 1500s and they’re written in Latin.

The Victoria Sitting Room, also known as the Red Turret Room (are you seeing a theme yet?) used to be the Master’s Chamber and Study in the 1600s, but by the 1800s it was being used as a sitting room. It is currently decorated in the sitting room style.

The Worked Room was traditionally the Laird’s Chamber, and is the only room left with carved door cases dating to the 1600s. It also contains the Laird’s Lug, which is a small secret room connected to a hidden chamber from which the Laird could spy on his guests in the Great Hall to see if they were plotting against him. Sound familiar?

The North Bedroom still has the original Jacobean door frame. It also houses a 19th century commode (which I apparently did not take a picture of).

In the 1600s, the Charter House was used to store important papers, and this one in fact has a hidden compartment by the fire place with a trap door for those especially secret documents. By the 19th Century it had been turned into a bathroom. For whatever reason, they now keep the oldest item in the castle in this room: a wooden carving of the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) from the 1500s.

The Bailiff’s Room included a spy hole in the wall where he could keep an eye on what’s happening in the Great Hall.

Ground view of the courtyard.

During lunch in the tea room we discovered that Dunnottar Castle is not included in either our Explorer Pass or Discover Scotland Pass. So we decided to look for someplace that was. We came up with Kildrummy Castle.

What a fantastic choice! The place was huge, and must have been gorgeous in its day. It had a draw bridge with a pit underneath it.

It had four towers, two on either side of the gate for the guards, one for the earliest residence, the other with the prisoner cells and guest chambers.

The courtyard was huge. After the residence tower fell over in the 18th century it was replaced by a tower house within the castle walls. The Great Hall overlooked the ravine, which borders the back of the castle.

The prisoners cells actually had a latrine, which was unusual.

They had their own church within the walls. Look at those windows!

The Earl of Mar probably ordered the castle built, and it was built in 1250. In 1306, Robert the Bruce sent his family to Kildrummy for safety, but the British sieged the castle and all of his family escaped except his brother Neil, who was captured and hanged.

In 1404, Isabel, Countess of Mar, married Alexander Stewart in front of the castle gates. Apparently there’s a romantic story about this, something to do with her handing the estate to Alexander under duress, and then him turning around and giving them back, at which point she announces her agreement to marry him. I didn’t quite catch it all, and the information book we bought is already packed away as I write this.

Kildrummy was abandoned in 1715.

We really enjoyed our visit here, so much so that we asked the attendant if he could recommend one more nearby place since it turned out we had time. He sent us to Corgarff Castle.

Its really more like a tower house that ended up with a star-shaped perimeter wall around it.

The castle was built in the 1500s by the Forbes of Towie, but was burned down by Adam Gordon of Auchindoun in 1571, killing 24 people in the process including the lady of the house.

It was rebuilt sometime after 1645, but then again burned down twice by the Jacobites in 1689 and 1690.

It was rebuilt again as a barracks by the Redcoats after the 1745 Jacobite rising, until it was abandoned again in 1831. During their 95-year tenure, the British hunted Jacobite sympathizer, and then helped excisemen try to stamp out the illegal production and smuggling of whisky.

The soldiers apparently were bored silly during their time here, because they had time to write graffiti on the walls and ceiling.

According to the placards on the walls, the soldiers were also used to build the old military road in the area during the summer months.

We were really pleased with this last minute addition to our itinerary. But we leave Ballater tomorrow to make our way to Glasgow, so we had to get back to pack our things.

We did make reservations for supper though at the Rothesay Rooms Restaurant, which it turns out is a Michelin rated establishment. That’s a first for us.

It turns out the restaurant is only a couple of years old, created when His Royal Highness The Prince Charles, Duke of Rothesay, pledged financial support to the community after the disastrous floods in 2015.

The food, service, ambiance, and the food were hands down the best across the board of this entire trip. Yes, I said the food twice on purpose. It is expensive, but oh so worth it!

Rothesay Rooms

Adelle and Dan

Katniss and Hawkeye

It doesn’t seem like we did a lot today, but boy am I tired anyway.

Our first of two stops was at Clava Cairns, just outside of Inverness and not far from Culloden. We did both of those the last time we were here, but did not make it to Clava. Now, this is a bit out of the way from where we intended this trip to focus, but there is a reason for that.

The Cairns are surrounded by standing stones, and have been dated as old as 4,000 years. Now this pre-dates the Picts, but the Picts are believed to have used the Kerb Cairn for their own cremations. So to my mind this still falls within our sub-theme of Pictish Stones.

There are four cairns — three large and one small — and the three large are surrounded by circles of standing stones. The stones and entries to two of the cairns are aligned with the midwinter sunset.

The central ring cairn has no identifiable entry point, but is open in the centre and has three cobble paths linking the outer edge of the ring to the standing stones that encircle it. It is believed this ring cairn might have been used as a temple when the outer cairns were used to house the dead when they were originally built.

While fire is believed to have been an important element of the ceremonies of the ancient people’s who built these monuments, it is not believed that cremations were done here. Cremations were not yet practiced, but would be in much later times, and it is believed that the Picts may have placed cremated remains in the Ring Cairn.

The fourth, smaller cairn previously mentioned is the Kerb Cairn, and it was made about a thousand years after the three larger cairns. This is when newcomers to the area started reusing the cairns for their own burials. It is in this Cairn that there appears to be evidence of the Pictish cremation burial, which occurred in about 500-600 AD.

And yes, of course this stop was partially influenced by Outlander. Craig Na Dun was based on the Clava Cairn Stones.

Our second stop was a surprise for Dan, and the real reason we went so far out of our way today. I booked us a two-hour introductory archery session at Bowhunter Archery. Yes, I did!

Bowhunter Archery

This was a fantastic experience that Dan and I enjoyed very much. We spent the first hour with Andy teaching us proper technique and practicing it until we got it reasonably correct.

We used recurve bows, we were taught how to string them, and we were kitted out with forearm protectors and quivers.

Andy first taught us how to target shoot, which involves using pins on the bows as sights to aim for the target. He explained that teaching target shooting technique is usually the easiest for beginners to learn and develop the proper technique. The technique involves pulling the string to the chin, and then a little more until it touches the tip of your nose.

It took three quarters of an hour of doing adequately before Andy suggested I try bow hunting instead, which means don’t use the pins, just aim from the tip of the arrow and pull to your cheekbone instead of your chin. He said most people don’t start out with bow hunting. It turns out I’m naturally inclined to bow hunting, because there was a noticeable improvement once I started using the technique.

The second hour was spent on the wilderness course they have set up in the forest. It was sort of like mini-golf for archery. You go around to different targets on uneven ground and with trees and bushes in somewhat distracting places. It tests your ability to gauge distances and where you need to aim to hit the target.

The end of the course was at the 3D site. They’ve got lizards, alligators, pigs, wolves, dinosaurs, and deer placed throughout the area for you to shoot at. We finished with a mini competition between Dan and I that we ended up tying. He got one kill shot and one wound shot to my three wound shots.

I may not have mentioned this, but despite Dan recently having purchased a recurve bow and arrows neither of us had actually ever used it. After today’s experience I think we’ll be calling our local archery club…

A couple hour drive back to Ballater followed by a short nap before supper at Clachan Grill brings us to the end of our day.

Adelle and Dan

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

We Made it by the Scone of Our Teeth

I’m going to write today’s entry in reverse chronological order. Why? Why not?

We ended our day with a wonderful supper at The Deeside Inn Restaurant, before retiring at our splendid room on the third floor of The Gordon Guest House in Ballater. Definitely an improvement over The Covenanter.

We won’t be able to get a tour of Balmoral Castle because the Royal Family is actually in residence there this month. I actually knew that before, but it turns out it may not be entirely unlikely to see various members out and about the area. Even the Queen and the Duke have been spotted driving themselves around. Yes, you read that right. Driving their own vehicles themselves. I’m surprised at how much I want to see that.

Martin, our host at The Gordon Guest House introduced us to our room, the amenities, and the history of the house. The Victorian-era house was built in approximately 1856. It started out as a small hostelry. In the 1940’s it was used as a grocer. At some point the house was occupied by the local bank manager.

And boy, do I know how to pick my locations! When I booked our B&Bs for this trip I aimed for relatively centralized locations for the regions we were visiting. So, I pretty much picked a place on Googlemaps that was roughly no more than a two-hour drive to any corner of the northeast of Scotland, and then searched for B&Bs in that area. Ballater was the resulting community. It’s located in the Royal Deeside area, not terribly far from Balmoral Castle.

Ballater is a beautiful community, similar in feel to Banff, Alberta, as a resort town. What I failed to realize is that it is also well within the lower edge of the highlands, eastward from Aberdeen. Which means the roads were mountain roads, narrower than what we generally see in the Rockies, but still wider (mostly) than most of the roads near the western end of Scotland. The further into the highlands we ventured the more hilly and winding the roads naturally became. The worst part, though, was that the national speed limit of 60 miles per hour (97 kilometres per hour) was maintained the entire way. Not maintained by me, mind you, and certainly not by everyone on those roads, but those crazy people who actually did maintain those ridiculous speeds technically weren’t breaking the law. They were just scaring the shit out of everyone else on the roads.

To be fair, it really wasn’t as stressful a drive as I’m making it out to be, I just didn’t have it in my head what kinds of roads we would be travelling on. It was actually a very beautiful, scenic drive when I didn’t have the pressure of the nutbars on my tail.

We briefly stopped at Aberlemno to view the Pictish stone in the church graveyard, but did not have time to stop at the few more along the sides of the road.

We visited the Meigle Museum of Standing Stones, as well, which was fascinating. The Meigle stones have been housed in the church since sometime in the 1850s by the local lord, who understood their value. The stones all originated from the immediate area, which was a major Pictish community. The stones, including the Aberlemno Stones, are made from sandstone and date back to between 600-800 AD. It was during that period that the Picts were brought into the Christian faith, so the stones depict elements of both their previous beliefs and cultural references and their adopted Christian beliefs. It’s remarkable just how much detail remains clearly visible in the stones today, given their age and the material they are made of.

Scone Palace was absolutely lovely! The historic place where Scottish Kings were made, and where the Stone of Destiny rightfully belongs.

Dan and I are sitting on a replica of the real Stone, in front of the small Abbey. They are both on the original site where the Stone would have resided before King Edward took it to London 700 years ago. Legend has it that for roughly 700 years before that, Pictish and Scottish Kings were declared when they sat on the Stone. Legend also has it that the Stone was moved from Ireland to Scotland in about 840 AD by Kenneth MacAlpin, and it is he who brought it to Scone. The lords of the land would come to the new King there, carrying soil from their own lands to stand upon before the new king and swear fealty. The accumulation of the soil over the centuries resulted in the hill which is there now.

No photographs are allowed to be taken inside the palace itself. It is a beautiful building both inside and out, and contains numerous artefacts that I really, really, really wish I could have taken photographs of! If not taken home with me…

And there were peacocks on the grounds.

The breakfast at The Covenanter was good, the service and professionalism of the staff was excellent, and the rooms and common areas were clean, but I’m not sure I feel comfortable recommending the hotel, at least not for any lengthy stay. There was very little water pressure (almost non-existent at times) in the shower, and I’m not sure about the structural integrity of the floors. The floor in our room was dramatically uneven.

Adelle and Dan

Tick Bait and Moustache Shields

Today we left Ronnie and Angie’s fine establishment at Brookford B&B, where there is no doubt that they deserve all of the accolades, certificates, and awards that they’ve received. They are wonderful hosts, with a beautiful property, and damn can Ronnie cook a good meal! Check them out if you’re ever through Dumfries and Galloway:

Brookford B&B

At the recommendation of our Scottish Immigrant friend John McLean, we visited the Museum of Lead Mining in Wanlockhead. Besides being the highest village in all of Scotland — I know it seems unlikely given it’s not located in the Highlands, but it’s true — it also boasts a wonderful little museum about the history of lead mining in the area, which is why the village exists at all.

The museum itself provided a history from the mines’ beginnings in 1710 all the way through to their end in the 1930s, which came about because of the Great Depression.

They also offered a tour of the Lochnell Mine, which was re-opened in 1974 specifically to show visitors. I admit, I did not think it through before going on the tour, we just automatically did it, so it wasn’t until we were inside the mine that I realized WE WERE INSIDE AN UNDERGROUND MINE! Being usually rather claustrophobic in underground situations, I usually require mental preparation to enter them. I must have done that sub-consciously, because I actually handled it just fine and even enjoyed the tour. We didn’t go very far, actually, although our guide, Margaret, did point out that they were working on extending the tour to go another 150 yards.

Along the way, Margaret showed us the galena, the really dirty stuff that I just can’t recall the name of, how they would blast sections of rock to reach the galena, and the bucket winch they would use to send men into the hole to retrieve more galena. This particular mine actually closed in 1861 because they couldn’t pump the water out of the hole fast enough to be productive.

It wasn’t until we were out of the mine that I asked her how far underground we just were, to which she replied about 120 yards. Glad I didn’t know that before we went in. Even Dan commented he was watching to see if I’d freak out in there. Then Margaret just had to also mention that the mine is shared with two different kinds of bats as well, and they sometimes can be ‘friendly’ while the tours are in there. Yeah, also glad I didn’t know that when we were in there.

Margaret handed the tour over to another tour guide (I’m so sorry, I have forgotten her name) to take us to the Straitsteps Cottages, where they’ve recreated how the miners homes would have looked in 1750, 1850, and 1910. As time passed, the living conditions improved dramatically. Of course, the single item that peaked Dan’s interest the most were the Victorian tea cups with moustache guards in them.

We also learned that the lands are owned by the Earl of Buccleugh, and the sheep and goats are owned by the Earl of Buccleugh, and therefore the sheep and goats are free to roam anywhere on the Earl’s lands that they please. The sheep are not used for meat, nor are they sheared for their wool. The sheep, rather, are effectively used as tick bait, given that the ticks prefer them over humans, and this results in relatively tick-free heather and brush for the aristocrats who come in the fall to do their grouse hunting in.

We continued on our journey today, and just to mix things up we decided to drive for about an hour and then see what Lady Sat Nav could show us for another site to see. There was a brief delay on the highway when a swan decided to go for a walk along the centre line. Our photos didn’t turn out, sorry.

Lady Sat Nav failed us this time, but Googlemaps once again saved the day. Castle Campbell ended up being the nearest option.

Our detour to Castle Campbell was actually pretty cool for being on the fly. It’s located pretty much in the middle of nowhere, on a narrow ridge separated from the Ochil Hills be deep ravines. On a clear day it must offer spectacular views. We wouldn’t actually know. As soon as we got there it was misty and foggy.

It’s a bit of a slog up and over a couple of hills, but actually quite worth it.

This is another site that is believed to have originally been a motte from as early as the 1100s, but the existing tower is dated to the early 1400s. At the time it was referred to as Castle Gloom (likely spelled differently), and may have been built for John Stewart, Lord of Lorn.

The Campbells came into possession of the castle through marriage around 1465, and King James IV granted Earl Colin’s request to change the name of the Castle from Gloom to Campbell.

The Castle was extended and renovated three times during the Campbell’s occupancy, until 1654 when Scottish Royalists razed the castle because the Marquis of Argyll allowed Cromwell’s British forces to use the castle as a base.

We toured the castle from the highest point in the tower down to the lowest point in the garden. Dan and a bird kept bumping into each other whenever he’d try to look out a tower window. The first time actually surprised Dan so much he squeaked and flinched. Can’t really blame him though, the bird literally flew into his face through the window, and at first he thought it was a bat.

We enjoyed this stop, as brief as it was, but had to continue on to our final destination: The Covenanter Hotel in Falkland. This is where my fellow Outlander fans should be collectively gasping in envy. For those who don’t know, The Covenanter was used for the hotel where Claire and Frank stay when they first go to Scotland in 1946.

Right outside the hotel is where Frank see’s Jamie’s ghost at the fountain looking up at Claire.

And just across the street is the store used for the store where Claire admires the vases through the window.

Now, here is where you can really collectively sigh: we are actually staying in the corner room where Claire would have been combing her hair while Jamie watched. Actually, the room looks nothing like what we see on TV, and the window Claire is seen at is actually the bathroom window, which is not accessible without reaching over the toilet and across a deep ledge, but that doesn’t really matter, now, does it!

Outlander fix achieved, we went to the only place our hotel concierge was sure would still be open for supper this late on a Sunday: Wetherspoons at The Golden Acorn. The service was pretty great, and the establishment itself wasn’t too bad, but the food was awful. Apparently Wetherspoons is a huge chain in the UK, and Dan had heard of it referenced in Jimmy Carr’s comedy routines, but really, don’t bother going there.

Adelle and Dan

The Reason Why We Keep Coming Back

An hour’s drive from the B&B brought us to the west coast in Ayrshire. Our first visit was to Dundonald Castle, which frankly I expected more from. The visitors centre was rather cramped, and their small museum had potential to be very interesting if it weren’t being used for storage as well.

The hill the current castle ruins sit on is believed to have been where royal families have resided since prehistory — meaning there is evidence of settlements from the late Bronze Age. Further evidence of roundhouses has been found establishing continued occupancy of the hill through the Iron Age, and onward.

Dundonald’s known history begins around 1160 with the FitzaAlan family from Normandy, arriving as Steward to David I. Walter FitzAlan’s descendant becomes the King of Scots in 1371, beginning the long line of Stewart monarchs with Robert Stewart, who was the grandson of Robert the Bruce. The current castle was built around that time, and was frequented by King Robert II, but by the 1630s it had been abandoned for the far more comfortable Auchans House.

What we actually found interesting, and actually an unexpected addition to one of our sub-themes, was that the first medieval castle (and hence all subsequent castles) was built on a motte. So we had another hill to climb today.

On the way back down the hill, I took a moment to contemplate how long it must have taken this snail to climb to the top of this weed (flower?).

Our next stop was at the Robert Burns Museum cafe for lunch (we did not go through the museum), followed by a walk through the beautiful gardens to the Brig O’ Doon., which is mentioned in the poet’s tome “Tam O’Shanter”. I’m pretty sure he probably references the bridge in other poems or songs, but I admit to not really being familiar with Robbie Burns’ works. We did feel compelled to pick up a copy of his complete poems and songs to correct that.

On to Crossraguel Abbey, which turned out to be the highlight of the day. Fantastic place, it just felt so right to be there. The architecture is beautiful, and the stonemasons who are currently doing conservation work on the building are being very respectful and true to the designs, endeavouring to keep the stones with stonemason’s markings in place.

“Crossraguel Abbey is one of Scotland’s most complete medieval monasteries. It was founded around 1250, as a daughter of the Cluniac Abbey at Paisley, and was still in use well after the Protestant Reformation of 1560, though in much reduced form.” [taken from Historic Scotland’s Official Souvenir Guide]

Jean, the Steward on duty while we were there, was fantastic, and so enthusiastic about the highlights and history of the Abbey.

Written history documents that Robert the Bruce was baptized at this Abbey, and he made particular efforts to ensure the prosperity of the Abbey. However, local oral histories suggest that not only was he baptized there, he was also born there, in the corner tower.

There were two architectural features of particular note (among many): the sewer system and the Chapter House.

Yes, that’s right, at a time when most places were throwing their piss out the window, the architects who built this Abbey had learned from the Romans, used the surrounding features of the landscape, and included private latrines in most rooms that let out into an aqueduct of sorts which flushed the waste away. An existing stream was rerouted underneath the Abbey compound with all of the sewers emptying into the stream. Good for the Abbey dwellers, but not for the people downstream. The stream is till flowing under the Abbey today.

The Chapter House is amazing! It’s a relatively small room, but with the most wonderful architectural features that create fantastic acoustics. The room was used for group meetings, and the acoustics were designed to make it impossible for more than one person to speak at a time. I’ve made a short video to try and capture just how fantastic it sounds, but I’m not sure it really does it justice. (I’m pretty sure I got the words wrong…)

Here is a link to a performance on flute of “The Water is Wide”, which really gives a better sense of the sound:

The Water is Wide, on flute

As we were leaving Jean recommended we go to Dunure for supper. With a twinkle in her eye, she also suggested we might recognize some of the areas from a particular TV show. Turns out, Ms Jean not only was one of many local extras in Outlander, she also actually interviewed and met Diana Gabaldon. So jealous! Her article can be found here:

Jean Brittain’s article about Diana Gabaldon

Dunure is a sleepy little fishing town with a castle ruin all its own (which we did not take time to explore) and the best seafood restaurant ever!

Before partaking of a meal, we found the harbour backdrop used for filming the Paris dock scenes when Jaimie and Claire board the Artemis to Jamaica to go after Young Ian.

Then we walked on the beach, for which the scenes at Silkies Island were filmed, when Young Ian swims out to the island and gets taken by the pirates.

Of course I had to get my feet wet in the North Sea of the Atlantic Ocean, too…

Then we were faced with the dilemma of choosing from this extensive and mouthwatering specials menu!

The hour-long drive back to the B&B through Galloway Park in the dark was worth it for the wonderful day we had today.

Adelle and Dan

Fallen Trees and Raised Spirits

Hellooooo, Lesley and Mark!

Lesley and Mark are the owners of Solway Tours, and they took us on their Cradle of Christianity day tour today.

Solway Tours

First stop was at Garliestom. This is where, in 1941-1944, the allied forces designed, built, and tested three different devices to facilitate the speedy off-loading of military equipment and vehicles on D-Day. Of the three designs, only the Mulberry Harbour was successful and actually used.

Next came St. Ninian’s Cave. We walked in from a car park less than a mile to the coast which brought us to less than a quarter mile to the cave itself. The start of the trail was edged by naturally occurring bamboo, which was kind of startling but speaks to the warm and wet climate. The beach was made of loose stones. Given that it was raining, and I didn’t want to tempt fate with a twisted ankle when we are only half way through our trip, we decided against walking across the beach to the cave itself. I regret that decision because the cave was one of my personal highlights for this tour, but safety first…

Ninian is Scotland’s first saint. He was a freshly ordained Catholic bishop from Ireland who decided to try persuading the constantly warring Celtic clans to unify under one belief system. He established his ministry in Whithorn around about 400 AD and is credited with converting the area to Christianity, or at least laying the foundations for Christianity to take hold.

The cave is where Ninian was believed to have retreated to contemplate and meditate on occasion. There are markings on the cave walls which support this belief. Ninian died in 431, and is supposedly buried at the site of his church.

St. Ninian’s cave can be seen in the distance.

There is scholarly debate on where Ninian’s church was originally built, but locals maintain it was in Whithorn beneath or near the current priory and nave. This despite never having found archeological evidence of that nearly 1,400 year old church at any of the theoretical sites.

The nave is about all that’s left of a cathedral built in the 1100s.

There used to be a shrine in additional buildings where Ninian’s bones were kept. Again, the bones have not actually been located.

The Stones Museum is the access point to the shrine, and it actually houses a remarkable collection of stone crosses found at Whithorn. The Whithorn Story Visitor’s Centre has a fantastic little museum on the area.

Nearby archaeological excavations uncovered very well-preserved 2500-year-old remains of Iron Age roundhouses. With the information they’ve learned, they recruited an archaeologist, an engineer, an architect, and local volunteers (including many young people) to recreate a roundhouse from scratch – literally. Nothing was manufactured; logs were cut and trimmed by hand, reeds and willows were collected from nearby, etcetera. We were privileged with a private viewing of the roundhouse, and it was so very interesting!

I am really not doing the Whithorn museums and sites justice here. Their advertising is far too understated, and they deserve far more interest than they seem to get. I highly recommend including the area in your visit to Scotland.

Our next stop was one I requested if possible. Mark was, dare I say, ecstatic to bring us to Druchtag Motte, us being the first of his clients to ask to be brought there. Mark grew up in the area and has been there often.

Mark says nobody except Historic Scotland calls this place a Motehill, so just ignore that part of the signage.

Druchtag Motte was likely built in the 12th century by a feudal lord. The motte is a massive flat-topped hill built using soil from around the motte site, on top of which would have been built a wooden tower. A ramp would have been built winding around the outside of the motte. There should have been wooden fortifications around the perimeter, and a Bailey next to the motte where the household staff would have resided and worked, but no evidence has been found of these. To be fair, though, the site has not actually been excavated to look for these things.

The top of the motte.

Where the bailey likely would have been, looking from the top of the motte.

The motte is much bigger than it looks on approach, and the sides are quite steep (hence the rope rail). It was worth the effort of climbing the motte.

Looking down from the top.

Looking up from the bottom, watching Lesley navigate her way down.

Next came Martyrs Stake in Wigtown, which memorializes the execution by drowning of two women who were caught practicing Presbyterianism in 1685. The women were 63 and 18 years old. The period called “The Killing Times” had Catholics and Presbyterians (Covenanters) killing each other over how they chose to exercise their beliefs, despite both of them being Christians. During this period it is estimated 11,000 people died.

The stone marks where the 18-year-old Margaret drowned. The 63-year-old Margaret was drowned about 300 yards further out.

Our last stop on the itinerary to Bruce’s Stone in Glentrool did not end up happening because of a tree that fell across the only access road. Mark was very disappointed with that, understandably, because it has a great story to it. Lesley related the story to us anyway. In short so as not to spoil the story for you, the site commemorates Robert the Bruce’s first victory over King Edward’s English army in 1307, after declaring himself King of Scotland.

We really had a wonderful day with Mark and Lesley, and cannot emphasize what great tour guides they are. They are very knowledgeable about the history of Scotland, and Dumfries and Galloway region specifically. And Lesley makes fantastic tablet (Scottish fudge), too!

We ended the day with a late supper at Clachan Inn Restaurant. Upon reading the fine print on the menu…

…Dan thought to himself, “Challenge accepted,” and proceeded to order the venison meatballs with pasta. I went another direction and ordered the pan fried sea bream (whitefish) with chorizo and peas risotto. I can happily report that no teeth were broken on this night. The food in fact was fantastic.

In celebration 🙄 we ordered desserts: sticky toffee pudding — which is not that sticky and is not a pudding — and vanilla pancetta — no! Not pancetta! Panacotta! Oiy — vanilla panacotta with shortbread, Scottish strawberries, and micro basil — read ‘baby basil’.

Baby basil!

Adelle and Dan

Boats and Moats

So even though we got to bed relatively early, we still managed to wake up late for breakfast. Not as big a deal here as it might be elsewhere, because another great bonus is that Ronnie and Angie do not have an end time for breakfast (woohoo!), but I still felt bad about it because we did specify our preferred time. Breakfast was fantastic, just as all the reviews said it would be.

We decided to take our time today, and rather than trying to see all seven places I had on our itinerary (oiy) we narrowed it down to two must sees, and if we had time for any of the others then they would be a bonus. We did not have time for the other five places.

First up was Threave Castle. This site is on an island in the River Dee which can (supposedly) only be accessed by boat. So yes, we had to be ferried across on a small boat.

Tradition says that Ferguson, native Lord of Galloway originally resided on the island in the 11th century. It is believed to have been destroyed by Edward Bruce (Robert I’s brother) in 1308. Archibald ‘the Grim’, third earl of Douglas, later took the island for the Black Douglas’s and built the tower house and a sprawling complex over the southern third of the island in 1369. This was soon after becoming lord of Galloway. The tower house is the only part that remains today.

In 1455, King James II and the Black Douglases had been at loggerheads for a long time, and finally the King systemically destroyed all the major Douglas strongholds, ending with Threave. Threave was well provisioned and defended, and survived the siege for over two months before the King finally ordered a gun to be brought to the island from Linlithgow Palace. The garrison in the castle eventually surrendered, although more likely through persuasion rather than the threat of the gun. An artillery house erected around the tower in 1447 was a major contributing factor to the castle’s ability to withstand the siege.

Yes, it rained again.

Various keepers stayed at the castle after that, until 1526, when Lord Maxwell was made heritable keeper. He and his family stayed there until 1640, when the castle faced its second and final siege made by the Army of the Covenant. This time they held out for 13 weeks, until King Charles I gave written authorization to Lord Maxwell to surrender. The Covenanters dismantled the castle so that it could not be used again.

The placards at the site reference a secret causeway that ‘people in the know’ could use to walk across to the island, but we didn’t find or see any evidence of that. I guess we’re not people in the know.

All that history to say that we really enjoyed our visit to Threave Castle. It was really quite fascinating.

We followed this with a quick stop at Tesco for some shopping and then lunch before going to Caerlaverock Castle. This was eventually the primary seat of the Maxwell family, after the Romans abandoned southern Scotland and the British lords of Nithsdale ruled over the lands (400 AD).

The Nithsdale lords built a fort on the site that would later accommodate the first castle in 950 AD. The lands were granted to the Maxwells in1220 by Alexander II of Scotland. They built the first castle, but it was too small, and it was built on a clay foundation where it kept flooding and the buildings were deteriorating. There is not much left of the old castle except the footprint of the main walls.

In 1270 the Maxwells built a new castle, where they remained until 1640. The new castle is considered one of Scotland’s great medieval fortresses. It is triangular shaped, with towers at each corner.

The castle faced two sieges in its time: one in 1300 by Edward I of England, the second in 1640 by the Covenanters. A herald in Edward’s army wrote an extremely detailed account of the two-day siege, which chronicled the fact that Edward’s army consisted of 87 knights, 3,000 men, and a number of siege engines against what turned out to be a garrison of just 60 men defending the castle. The Covenanter’s siege lasted 13 weeks with a castle garrison of 200 before the earl of Nithsdale surrendered.

Both the old castle and the new castle had moats, and the new castle had a proper draw bridge. The new castle had substantive fortifications, cannons, and crossbow holes.

In 1634 the first earl of Nithsdale became less concerned about security and more concerned about looking the part of a nobleman, and renovated the east and south sides of the curtain wall to build what became known as the Nithsdale Lodgings. It’s pretty much what it sounds like: a three-story apartment complex within the castle, including a courtyard. Fancy decorations included.

The surrounding countryside is beautiful, and in fact is now a nature preserve. I imagine during the time the castle was occupied they would not have starved, given the arable land, good hunting and fishing, and plentiful berries, mushrooms, and honey.

Yet another fascinating experience, although I admit to feeling more creeped out at the new castle than anywhere else. Don’t know why. Maybe it was all the pigeons living in the ruins…yeah…

We finished the day off at Bruno’s. No, not this Bruno’s:

Although, don’t let the outside fool you; they’ve got the best pizza in Yellowknife (besides mine, of course).

We ate at this Bruno’s:

Bruno’s Italian Restaurant in Dumfries is another place that deserves all the great reviews it has. The meal was phenomenal, the service was great, the servings were just the right size to not feel overfed. Highly recommended!

Adelle and Dan