A Travellerspoint blog

31: Wooden Heads

all seasons in one day 14 °C
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Took to the road again today as I slowly work my way down to the bottom of the country towards Edinburgh. My stop today was at Stirling. Stirling is home to the aptly named Stirling Castle, Holy Rude Church (Holy Rod—it is thought that part of the true cross once resided in this church!), the National Wallace Monument and is right next to the battlefield where the battle of Bannockburn took place. Stirling is a veritable historical melting pot and therefore a must for this history buff!

I arrived in the town just before 11am and spent the remainder of my day up at Stirling Castle. A castle has been set atop this hill for well over a thousand years! In fact, it is highly likely that the Roman’s built a fort up on this hill as it has a terrific view over the valley and it is probable that early Scots in the area would have used the hill as a look out so people have lived in this area for thousands of years!

The castle was once the home to the Scottish Kings and Queens. Notably James IV- James VI (James I of England) all lived at Stirling Castle. It was as important as Edinburgh Castle was ‘back in the day’. The castle was for many hundreds of years used by the military as a barracks and was only turned over to the national trust about fifty years ago. Over the past fifty years the castle has undergone a major transformation and now has been renovated and refurbished just as it would have been during the reign of James V. It is probably one of the most impressive castles I’ve entered purely for the fact that everything has been lovingly recreated to give you a real feel for what a mediaeval castle would have felt like when it was actually in use by the King’s and Queens of Scotland.

I was probably most impressed by the state rooms in the castle. The historians who have worked on the castle have gone to the trouble to recreate the tapestries that were known to reside on the walls. To see one of these magnificent tapestries in full colour is pretty special. I’ve seen quite a number of tapestries and have always been disappointed by how colourless and often threadbare they are (but really what do you expect when they are hundreds of year’s old!). The ones at Stirling have been created using the same techniques (this includes using the same pigments as dyes) as would have been available during the middle ages, which means for the first time I’ve seen tapestries as they were meant to be seen. WOW is all I can say!

The other impressive exhibition is the Stirling Heads. James V had his main receiving hall’s roof decorated in carved wooden heads showing his ancestry and lineage. Some of these heads survive through until today and are on display. These oak heads were carved well over five hundred years ago and still retain their original lustre and clean lines. Its incredible to think that oak carvings can survive this long undamaged! Re-creations have been placed in the room where the heads use to reside complete with full paintwork.. the interior is definitely something to be admired!

I’m pleased to report that Stirling castle has both secret passage ways and ghosts! I got to see one of the passage ways today. It is a spiral stair case that leads from the King’s bed chamber up stairs to another small bedroom. It is thought that it was used by King James V to allow him to visit his mistress.. I’m guessing it probably wasn’t so secret back in the day! No such luck with the resident ghosts! Apparently there are two that haunt one of the old barracks and both are old soldiers. As this is an area of the palace that isn’t open to the public I can’t corroborate the ghost story…. My palace excursion ended with another shower of rain only this time a rainbow appeared (again no luck on the gold) making the view over to the Wallace monument something pretty special. I’m off to see the Wallace Monument first thing tomorrow morning!

Posted by weary_feet 11:38 Archived in Scotland Comments (0)

30: Small Brown Animals

rain 16 °C
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The weather hasn’t improved much today as it still raining heavily. The view from the hostel window is pretty awesome though because when you get a small break in the weather you can see the mountains that ring Pitlochry (the town is in a valley) and they are wreathed in clouds. It’s really very pretty! It is also cold and windy so I waited until almost the last possible moment before deciding to leave the hostel and go for a walk around the town and its surrounds.

Pitlochry itself is quite an old town and is a hiking mecca. Every second shop is a hiking store with the every other shop being a B&B. Clearly the main economic activity in this town is tourism! I got a little break in the weather so decided to go and check out Pitlochry’s dam and salmon run. Some time back the Scottish govt decided to dam the river that runs passed the town and install a hydro electric power station. There isn’t much to see but the salmon run that they have built next to the dam is pretty ingenious. To ensure that stocks of Salmon in the river aren’t depleted the govt built a salmon run that runs under the dam wall and up into the top of the river! It seems to be multiple pools joined together that have connected via small pipes. Apparently the salmon have learnt to swim up through these pools and pipes to get into the river!

By the time I had walked across the dam wall it had started to bucket down again and I was feeling fairly well drenched so I ducked into a local coffee shop for a cup of coffee to warm me up. By now it was well after lunch time so I decided to grab a sandwich and take off in the car to see another castle about an hour from Pitlochry called Glamis. (The good thing about the UK is that when the weather is crap you can be guaranteed there will be a castle that you can go and see not far away that is not only interesting but is also out of the weather!)

Glamis Castle is famous for two things- birthplace and home to the Queen Mum (well at least until she got married) and it is the setting for the famous Shakespearean play MacBeth! I was sorely disappointed to discover on my guided tour that MacBeth almost doesn’t rate a mention. The castle wasn’t built until at least two hundred years after MacBeth was supposed to have died so I guess there is no chance that the King ever lived at Glamis! It is thought that the castle was the inspiration though for MacBeth’s castle when Shakespeare wrote the play. It is more likely that MacBeth lived at either Scone palace or Cawdor castle (Inverness) although no-one actually knows for sure.

The tour of the castle was really informative. Glamis is one of those really beautiful renaissance castles.. the kind that I always think of when I’m thinking of an English Castle (or a Scottish one for that fact!). It is still a working castle and the current Earl of Strathmore still lives in a wing of the castle with his family. The parts we were taken into are the formal wings of the castle and are still used for important functions or can be rented out for private functions. What was really nice is that they are still completely furnished so you can really appreciate the grandeur of this castle in its hay day. (I think these days the up keep of a castle like this one is just way too much for it to be completely family owned and used.. I guess guided tours are a way for the family to earn some income to put towards the cost of running the castle and the estate)

I was also disappointed to discover that Glamis is devoid of secret passages and has only one ghost! I mean, everyone knows that castles have heaps of passage ways and at least a couple of spirits flying about!!!! The story of the Glamis ghost is an interesting one, she was the lady of the house whose husband was killed for treason, she was also killed and is said to now haunt the chapel where she was taken captive!

Before leaving the castle I took a walk through the grounds and happened to run across what I think is a hedgehog! I saw this small brown, echidna looking, animal trot across my pathway.. The animal was so engrossed in what it was doing that it took no notice of me and actually allowed me to get quite close and take a couple of snaps. Considering I’m not sure what it is and I haven’t run across anyone yet who knows, if you know what my animal is drop me a line please!!!

Posted by weary_feet 11:08 Archived in Scotland Comments (0)

29: Victoria's Favourite Places

rain 16 °C
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Early start this morning as I was starting my Scottish leg of my Brittanic Ramble by leaving Aberdeen and heading into the Cairngorn National Park to stay at Pitlochry.

The Cairngorn is probably most famous for being home to Balmoral Castle. The whole area was one of Victoria’s “favourite places” which is why Albert built Balmoral in the Scottish hills. After spending the day driving through, I can see the attraction! My first stop was in a small town called Banchory which is home to another of Victoria’s castles Crathes Castle. This is one of the few castles that I went to but chose to not actually enter but to instead just enjoy the grounds. At the moment here in Scotland the weather is getting colder and so the leaves on all of the trees are starting to change colour. Therefore the gardens in these castles are just magical. When you see landscapes like these it makes me believe in fairies! During my saunter through the woods, I also ran across a brown squirrel (I’ve seen grey ones but not the really cute little brown ones!). The little blighter was too quick for me to get out my camera and take a shot but I sure am glad I’ve seen one! (I’ve been told that they are quite rare in Britain and are only really found up in the Scottish Highlands).

My next stop was a town called Ballater. It is another one horse town in the Cairngorn but this one can claim to have the last train stop before Balmoral! After Albert had completed the castle he had a train line installed from Aberdeen to Ballater to enable the royal household to travel from Windsor to Balmoral in comparative comfort aboard one of the new ‘fangled’ steam engines! A replica of Victoria’s train is on display in Ballater for all to admire the luxury and opulence of the ‘Empress of India’. I have to say that for the 1800s she sure did travel in style! By now, my appetite was completely whetted and I continued my journey along the back road to Bramaer (home to the famous highland games), on which Balmoral Castle is situated. I think really intelligently, Victoria chose to never have the train line installed all the way to her castle as she wanted at least 10 miles between her and the train line to ensure peace and tranquillity (and after seeing the area I don’t blame her). The Queen is actually in residence today at Balmoral so I was unable to get any closer than the big wrought iron gates and the police officer who was sitting out in the rain! If the surrounding woods are anything to go by, the grounds of the palace must be pretty special and certainly would be a hunter’s paradise. I must say that the whole area around Balmoral is really beautiful countryside and if I had the money I would certainly have built my holiday palace in this part of the world too!

After leaving Balmoral the sky was really “chucking it down” and I had a hard time driving the last 30 miles or so to Pitlochry. I’m sure I’ve said it before but the one lane roads here are no piece of cake and double that with lots of rain and you have a recipe for a headache! Although the weather and the road were awful I can only imagine how jaw dropping the scenery must look! Through the rain I could barely glimpse some huge mountains and the occasional ski run (yep ski run!) so I’m certain that in fine weather the landscape would be incredible! I was only too glad to get to my hostel, get myself some dinner and settle in to watch a movie on tv! (I love staying at out of the way hostels here in England and having the tv to yourself!)

Posted by weary_feet 12:32 Archived in Scotland Comments (0)

28: Rustic Music

all seasons in one day 14 °C
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Spent last night in the Aberdeen YHA and spent the whole day wandering around the town of Aberdeen. Aberdeen is known as the granite city and it is pretty obvious why it has earned this nickname.. all of the buildings are either clad or built out of grey granite!!

The hostel is a good 40mins away from downtown so I spent the first part of the day just walking down to the main part of town (all the while admiring the surrounding buildings!). I started my day by going and seeing the maritime museum. Aberdeen was built upon North Sea fishing. Today, the town thrives on North Sea Oil.. how the times change! In fact, much of the fishing has had to be scaled back due to declining fish stocks in the sea . The museum outlines the history of the oil industry in the north sea with a passing note about fishing and boating…. (it was fairly obvious who was funding the museum and it wasn’t the local fishing community!)

The museum wasn’t really my cup of tea so after spending half an hour or so wandering through the rooms I moved on to take a walk through the old part of Aberdeen. My journey took me passed the house of Provost Skein. A ‘Provost’ in Scotland is the town’s mayor and back in the mid 1700s the town’s mayor was a man by the name of Skein. His house was saved from demolition and is one of the few remaining houses in Aberdeen from this period of its history. The house has been reborn as a museum and many of the rooms have been refurbished in the style of the time. I found the nursery the most interesting. Apparently, one of the rooms high in one of the turrets of the house was set aside as the children’s nursery. The stair case to get up to the nursery is a very narrow, winding, stone stair case.. I found it difficult to get down the stair case holding onto the hand rail with both hands! I would hate to think what it would have been like for the nurses to have come down these stairs carrying a child on one hip and maybe something else in the other!!!

From the Provost’s house I continued my walk down into the old town (which is probably 20min from the main street). The old town is home to the University of Aberdeen. Like many of the very old Universities here in the UK the buildings of this uni are pretty special to look at! The main ‘Kings College’ (I think all uni’s here in the UK have a ‘King’s Hall or King’s College!’) has been in use since the late 15th century. I especially liked an old sign that is still displayed on the wall of the college that tells all students that ‘walking on the grass at the new building of King’s College is an offence and offenders will be liable to a 2s 6d fine!!!’ I found this sign highly amusing once I realised that the grassed area in question was currently populated by almost a hundred students who were all lying/ sitting in groups talking!!!!! (By the way, if anyone knows what a ‘d’ stands for please let me know!)

A little further along the main street of Old Town Aberdeen is the church of St Markar. It is thought that a church has resided in this location since maybe as early as 500 AD and that it is one of the first churches to be built on the British Isles! The current church was built in the mid 1300s and is probably one of the nicest (although certainly not ornate) churches I’ve been in on this whole trip. It is very simplistically styled but I think this is what I actually like about it! The columns that hold the roof up are made of rough-hewn stone blocks that have been carefully placed together to form columns.. Just amazing! There is also an ancient Pictish stone block that was found in the church graveyard that it is believed is dated back to the time of the original church. I guess what really made my time in this church so special was that one of the choir boys was playing hymns on the grand piano.. I was the only audience and I was able to enjoy it in such beautiful surrounds… Aaahh…

I rounded out my day by spending it back in town buying a new camera as my old one had finally given me the “willies” one too many times.. 500 pounds later (damn) I walked out with a new toy that I then spent the rest of the evening playing with!

Posted by weary_feet 12:04 Archived in Scotland Comments (0)

27: Trowie Knowie

semi-overcast 14 °C
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Last day on the Shetland’s today with us flying back to the mainland in the arvo. We spent the morning still trying to glimpse our elusive otters! We went for another drive up to the top of the main island to the ferry terminal, (at the urging of the owner of our house), as apparently the otters who live near the terminals are more used to humans and therefore are easier to spot.

We spent a good half an hour sitting quietly on rocks scanning the surrounding rocks and crevices for any signs of life…. We saw more sea birds, plenty of floating sea weed (which got us excited every time as we thought they might have been otters) and of course a seal but still no otters….. Damn… We finally gave up the chase and drove back down to Lerwick to see the Shetland’s Museum.

The museum had some interesting artefacts and some interesting legends. Apparently there are small creatures living on the islands called Trowes. These elusive creatures live in small caves (called Trowie Knowes) and come out at night to kidnap wary musicians as the Trowes love music and are unable to make their own. The other interesting legend is about the Nuggle. It is a water horse and lives underneath water wheels. Unfortunately sightings of the Nuggle have faded on the Shetlands due to the fact that the last working water wheel was decommissioned over 40 years ago.. It is likely that the Nuggle has left the Shetland Islands for ever….

We finally left the museum with the plan of trying one more likely otter spot before we needed to head to the airport to catch our 4.30pm plane. We arrived at the most likely spot (we had been to so far) as it was low tide (easier to spot the little critters when they are walking around the sea weed beds) and the bay had a small fresh water stream feeding into it. (Sea otters need fresh water to clean themselves in to keep their coats clean.) Our bay had all of the hall marks for definite otter spotting and again we were bitterly disappointed… We saw plenty of seals, sea birds and even a stray water rat but no otters!!!!!! By now, we had really run out of otter spotting time and had to make our way to the airport for our 1 hr trip back to the mainland. So with that, we left the Shetlands without seeing an otter or a puffin…………….. (I guess that means that I’ll just have to come back… what a shame! :) )

Posted by weary_feet 09:02 Archived in Scotland Comments (0)

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