Thursday, March 21, 2019

Blackness Castle and Linlithgow Palace

Two castle built during the same period, but for completely different uses.  Blackness Castle was a military fort on the Forth of Firth, which also served as a prison for "important people".  The warden received extra money for taking good care of them.  When you were an important prisoner, you were allowed to bring your servants, furniture, even family if you were staying a long time.  It later was used to guard the Forth and then as an armory.  It was last used during WWI.  Talk about good value for money spent!
What the Blackness  looked like when new.

Blackness Castle on the edge of the Firth of Forth.
Linlithgow Palace was used by Royalty during the 15th and 16th centuries.  James the VI of Scotland and the I of England lived here until he moved to the court to London.  Mary, Queen of Scots was born here in 1542.  While you can still feel how grand the building originally was, it is largely ruins, with parts closed off due to damage.  If you have a good imagination, the walls are painted in brilliant colors, the ceilings are carved wood, and the outside is rendered in a pale cream color. I like to think of it this way.

Linlithgow Palace

Decoration on the fountain built to celebrate the birth of James V's  son, James VI.

The King's bed chamber.
We climbed the medieval stairs to the highest part of the tower.  The view of the grounds and lake were worth the climb.

The view was worth the pain.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Doune Castle

Doune Castle was rebuilt by Robert Stewart, the Duke of Albany, a man who was the power behind the throne as Regent for James I of Scotland, while James was held captive in England for 18 years.  James thought the reason for his long imprisonment was the Duke's refusal to negotiate his release, in order to retain his own power.  After the Duke's death, James was released.  On returning home as King, he ordered the execution of the Duke's sons and other gentry who had supported the Regent.  Doune Castle then became property of the Crown.

Walking up to Doune Castle on a cold, wet morning.

Stairway up to the kitchen and banqueting hall.
Not only is Doune Castle known for is long past history, it is also famous as the place where "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" was filmed.  The audio guide was narrated by Terry Jones, which made for an interesting tale.  For followers of "Outlander", actor Sam Heughan tells about the filming of scenes in the Castle.  The kitchen story is especially fun.
The wooden roof of the Great Hall looks like inside of a ship.
The great hall witnessed many a magnificent feast, as well as the dance scene of the Knights of the Round Table, from Monty Python.  I would have enjoyed seeing both in real time.

The hearth in the kitchen is 17 feet long.  There were a lot of people to feed.

Looking down from the tower stairs into a hallway.  The kitchen is on the left, the Great Hall is to the right.

Tuesday, November 07, 2017

The Kelpies

The Kelpies are 30 meters tall.
The Kelpies are beautiful horse sculptures at the extension to the Forth and Clyde Canal near River Carron.  It is a tribute to the horses who used to pull the heavily loaded canal boats.  Surrounding them is The Helix, a park with walking trails, playgrounds and wetlands. Sixteen communities in the Falkirk Council Area are responsible for the park being built and it's maintenance.

Built of structural steel with a stainless steel cladding, they weigh 300 tonnes each.


The morning we visited the Kelpies was cold and blustery. We expected to be one of the few to be there.  Surprise!  The park is heavily used by the locals for walking, running, and biking, as well as running their dogs off lead.  In addition, the area around the Kelpies was full of people at the visitors center, taking tours and walking around to look at the magnificent beauties.

Drying off after a swim.  His owner visited the US west coast and loves California.

A pair of swans cleaning their feathers.  They were totally unconcerned about people and dogs walking by.

The canal continues after passing through the lock by the Kelpies.
Whenever we drive down the M9 on our comings and goings, we pass by the Kelpies.  They are always wonderful to see!

Monday, November 06, 2017

Rob Roy's Grave

Rob Roy is buried with his wife and two of his sons. His stone, in the center, is carved, but badly worn.

Robert MacGregor is a Scottish Folk hero and outlaw immortalized by Sir Walter Scott in his novel, Rob Roy.  On our first house sitting trip to Scotland, we had the pleasure of staying with MacGregor the Cat, Rob Roy's namesake.  When we met Rae and Marty in Inverness, Marty insisted we had to visit Rob Roy's grave.  In our usual way, we fearlessly took off down narrow lanes, by lochs, through glens and up mountain sides to find the last resting place of the man himself.

The motto of Clan MacGregor.

It was a day of sun and showers.

On the way to visit Rob Roy, we passed through Callander, the hometown of another famous Scot, our friend Liz, who now lives in France.  The Dreadnought Hotel, I found out after sharing the picture with her, was a place she "danced at many a happy ceilidh".  

Sunday, November 05, 2017

William Wallace Memorial

The William Wallace Memorial as seen from Stirling Castle.

William Wallace is one of the heroes of Scotland.  In the mid 1800's someone thought it was time to build a memorial in his honor.  A competition was held with the winning design built on top of  Abbey Craig where it is thought Wallace's command post was during the Battle of Stirling Bridge. 

The connected arches at the very top of the monument.
The walk up the hill is rather steep, but fun, with carvings and interesting information about the craig itself.  Or, you can take the shuttle bus to the top.  We walked, of course.

Hairy Coos

Spotted pig

An iron worker

How the inside is set up.

To walk to the top is 246 steps.  Fortunately, there are three levels before you reach the top, so every 80 steps or so, you can pause to look at displays and catch your breath.  We spent a few minutes on the top, but while it was sunny, it was also cool and windy.

William Wallace's sword, although the provenance is in doubt, it does make a great display!

From the top you can clearly see the river where the Battle of Stirling
Bridge took place.

We walked all 246 steps down, but when we go to the bottom, we took the shuttle bus.  

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Stirling Here We Come!

We have another week in Scotland, with no house sit scheduled: AirBnB to the rescue!  Even though this is our third visit to Scotland, we have never been to the Stirling and Glasgow areas.  There is a lot of history waiting for us, as well as walking in the footprint of ancestors.  Fun!

Admiring a stone wall while waiting at the light for highway construction.
 The drive down to Old Plean, the village we are staying in, was a change of pace.  There was road construction on both the small roads and the A roads.  Instead of using people to control the traffic when the road narrows to one lane, they have signal lights on sensors.  Seems like a more reasonable way than two people with radios holding stop and go signs, while enduring all kinds of weather.

As we got closer to Perth, the traffic increased and by the time the road split to go either to Edinburgh or Glasgow, it was frantic.  I think I like the lack of traffic in the highlands much better.  We found our AirBnb after a bit of searching; no street address just the name of the house and a postal code. Our host is very friendly; even is planning a trip to Tucson to birdwatch!

Making coffee in our little kitchen.
 Our little apartment is wonderful.  One bedroom, one bath with an enormous shower, and open plan kitchen, dining, lounge. There is also a lovely garden with seating area, but it's been a bit wet and chilly to sit out and enjoy.   I think we will be quite comfortable here, and it's only $69 a night!

The bathroom.

Panorama of our open plan living area. The door on the right leads into the bedroom.

Thursday, November 02, 2017

Elgin Museum

Did you know there were wild cats in Scotland?  Visit the museum in Elgin to see examples of two.

The Museum in Elgin is the oldest private museum in Scotland. It's collection is quite amazing, covering geology, prehistory and on through modern day.  The building was designed as a museum, in the Victorian era, so has a wonderful quaint feel, but the displays are top notch.

A grand staircase is a dominant feature when you walk in.
The center of the building is open with a staircase to the top floor.  On the sides are niches, each with a display behind a wall of glass.  Most of them have drawers underneath which you can open to see more about the display above.
Looking back while standing on the staircase.
Excellent display of Pictish carved stones.

One of the five Burghead Pictish carved bulls, all in amazing condition.

Roseisle Man buried 4000 years ago.  His burial chamber was found by a farmer plowing his field near Elgin.

Bells were used to mark time in Scottish towns.  They would ring to announce the time to start and end trading as well.

Living with Cats

Living with cats is very different than living with dogs.  They may want your attention, but only on their terms, and it really isn't required, except for feeding time.  As long as their bowls are full, and I mean topped up completely, they are satisfied. (Look at Cat Diaries on YouTube.)

The four cats in Edinvillie have 4 distinct personalities, like all of us.  We enjoyed them, even Tilda who was seldom seen.  The enjoyment of Tilda was in the hunt to get a picture of her, without resorting to cornering her in the bedroom closet, where she spent most of her time.  Our policy is to never freak out an animal!  Tilda has a distinctive walk pattern, as she limps.  We could hear her coming down the stairs and walking across the living room, but she was always too fast to hit the cat door, for us to get a picture.  We started watching for her when she was returning from outside. Seeing her returning one day, I grabbed my phone, crouched down by the work table, so she couldn't see me, and waited.  Success!  Well, kind of.  Tilda was still in charge!

The only picture I have of Tilda.
Puffin helping me work at the computer.

Puffin, Spud and Mousie were much easier to photograph. Puffin and Spud are very sociable, with Spud being quite the conversationalist.  Puffin, didn't talk much; more a demonstrative kind of guy. He would let me know when it was time for his pills, even if he didn't want to open his mouth for them. Mousie is her own cat.  She didn't wish to socialize, but she did want to be in the room to hear the conversation.

Spud, with the one drooping ear.  I told him he was half Scottish Fold.  

Mousie as a still life.

We have enjoyed staying with these four, and will miss them when we leave.  Even if we aren't sure what Tilda looks like!

Wednesday, November 01, 2017


The nearest town to Edinvillie is Aberlour.  It's not a very big place, but it does look prosperous.  The two main industries are whisky and shortbread.

Follow me!

Aberlour Distillery, a part of Chivas Brothers since 1974, has been in town since the 1879.  The gift shop and tasting room are still in the original quaint stone house. When ever we drive through town, we see the trucks full of, we hope, whisky.

Visitors welcome, but they don't take American Express.
We bought their award winning 12 year old.  Yum!

Walker's Shortbread has been a staple in the Scottish Highlands since 1898.  They still use the original family recipe, perfected by Joseph Walker.  Even during WWII, when other companies switched to lard or margarine, Walker's continued to only use butter.  Their butter and flour is exclusively from Scotland; all production is Scottish. The Walker family are still the owners.

Iconic Walker's Scottie tin filled with shortbread Scottie dogs.  This one is coming home with me; don't tell the family.

Everyone it seems has their own way to pronounce Aberlour.  We are always "corrected" on the way we say it.  Everyone says Aber, like Aberdeen, but the lour has been rhymed with floor or hour.  Take your pick.   Our GPS, Bib (Bitch in the Box) pronounced it A bur low er, with the accent on the second and fourth syllables. I think this is my favorite.  Of course, we are sure she has been nipping at the whisky, since she also has a slur to her speech!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Brodie Castle

Brodie Castle
We visited Brodie Castle when we were here in 2015.  They still won't let visitors take photos, but this time we had a private tour, which almost made up for no photos.  Our guide was in his 80's, and very knowledgeable about not only the castle, but the family and the art we were looking at.  When we arrived at the main lounge on the first floor, he played the 1870's piano for us.  Wonderful!!
Look at the Victorian kitchen while you can!

Most of the furniture was already gone, and soon the beautiful copper pots will be history, as well.

Bill did take a couple of pictures in the Victorian kitchen, because they are dismantling it to expand the tea room!!  None of the employees we spoke with were happy about the change, including the ones who worked in the tea room.
The garden has many beautiful trees.

We enjoyed our private tour!  As we were leaving, the entire entrance was full of people waiting to take a look.  Timing is everything!

The last owner of the castle was an avid gardener, who loved daffodils.  At one time, he had over 400 varieties.  Today, because of wars and other misuses, they only have about 180 different ones, many of which he was the one who hybridized them.  If you show up in the spring, the entire grounds are covered in daffodils!
Rodney's Stone, a Pictish carved stone which has nothing to do with Rodney. 

Blackness Castle and Linlithgow Palace

Two castle built during the same period, but for completely different uses.  Blackness Castle was a military fort on the Forth of Firth, whi...