Morton Castle

Morton was beautiful. The castle overlooks a small loch that is surrounded by some woodlands. The barren moors are visible in the distance, and the ruins of the castle are the centrepiece of this landscape.

Mind, Morton Castle itself is not particularly large or mighty. The “castle” or so it could be termed is the remains of a great hall. The structure of another floor is visible, but it cannot be accessed. The entryway is a staircase over some collapsed masonry even though a door still exists in the walls.

However, with all of this ruin the spectacular location of this keep becomes more noteworthy. One can imagine the ancient lairds who lived here keeping an eye out on the loch… or maybe climbing down to where the tree-line meets the waters to go for a swim… or wondering about what is going on in the next dale…

I did not go for a walk around the loch as the day I was there was particularly rainy and watery but I imagine the view from the other side could be worth the trek. I did go far enough along to see a wonderfully positioned bench, on which a sunnier day could be enjoyed in the shade of this great hall.

Morton Castle

Culzean Castle

Culzean is an iconic castle in Ayrshire. It is indeed so iconic that it has been featured on Scottish banknotes for the last thirty years. However, what possibly makes it more iconic is its association with the winner of World War II, President Eisenhower.

Along with the castle featuring in ‘Coast’, there is also a mystic aura I always heard when people mentioned the place down in England. Inexplicable really, but there was a sense of the Highlander aura, even though Culzean is so far from the Highlands…

If I had to try and explain it, I would say it has to do with both the majestic coastline as well as what one can see: Ailsa Craig — but one has to be careful and look at where one is. Seeing Ailsa needs careful positioning on the grounds, as from most places it is exactly beyond the coastline, just a bit too far to the south. However, from a few promontories, it is possible to spot the outlying granitic island (also featured in the same ‘Coast’ episode as the castle itself). The other momentous place that can be seen from the castle is the Isle of Arran, parts of which I have described beforehand. Arran is similarly poetic in its nature to Ailsa, but a lot more visible (and, hence, inspirational?).

Causeway to Culzean

One of my favourite sights on the grounds there was the faux-causeway. I don’t know whether it was the spectacular nature of the construction, meant to remind people of the ancient nature of the Kennedy’s seat, or the simple enjoyment of a Lord’s pleasure that had it built like that, but the result is entirely wonderful.

Admittedly, I found parts of the rest of the grounds very underwhelming, especially with late 20th century pavilions installed, but it is understandable with regards to the grounds acting as a community centre for sports and local people from what I took in while I was there. The walks by the cliffside and the sea were both nevertheless unspoilt and amazing to experience.

Lastly, a word on the American president Mr Eisenhower. A suite in the rooms of the castle is dedicated to the man, having been granted as a residence for him for his contributions to the Allied effort in World War Two. He did not visit often, but he did at times, and going through the tour there are suitable moments where the American President is honoured as he should have been. Admittedly, I think the Kennedy’s could have done better by focussing on the man on the front and promising to host a WWII serviceman if they were to visit, but it was a good gesture nevertheless.

Culzean Castle

Lastly, I’ll present the motto of the Kennedy’s, the Marquesses of Ailsa and Earls of Cassilis:

Avisez la fin. [Consider the end.]

Culross Abbey

I happened on Culross by chance, I was heading further along into Fife and I saw the sign. I am happy I chose to go for the detour because Culross Abbey is an interesting site. There’s a new church next to the old ruins, and the ruins are magnificent.

The day I had chosen was not the sunniest of possible ones (the grey cloud cover often comes through as endless sunlight in my pictures). Typically to Fife, there was some rain. These conditions made the site stand out as much as the random bits of masonry do everywhere — indeed, the state of deconstruction is possibly the most worthy thing to see here.

It brings to mind ‘Ruin’:

This masonry is wondrous; fates broke it
courtyard pavements were smashed; the work of giants is decaying.
Roofs are fallen, ruinous towers,
the frosty gate with frost on cement is ravaged,
chipped roofs are torn, fallen,
undermined by old age.

Culross Abbey

Bothwell Castle

Bothwell, ‘The most magnificent ruin in Scotland’, lies on a hill at a bend of the Clyde, overlooking the river. An imposing stronghold which has been the key to the region since its inception in 1242, this is a wonderful site to visit.

Firstly, I’d note that Bothwell at present is less than it was expected to be by at least some of its masters. Several buildings to the exterior of its present standing wall were never built, including another gatehouse. However, the groundwork for these is present and it’s quite interesting to see.

Nevertheless, of the buildings which are still standing both the exterior wall and the interior buildings are beautiful. The Great Hall is magnificently ornamented though the higher levels exist no more.

It is also one of the castles Edward I of England took when he attacked Scotland during succession disputes. As a powerful lowland stronghold, Bothwell therefore has changed hands many a time, even not noting the various Scottish families to have owned it: the Olifards, the Morays, the Douglases, before becoming a royal stronghold.

It feels to me as if the greatness of these generations is more perceptible here than in some other places. This castle reflects the centuries of history it has experienced, and it does so well. The mighty Bothwell…

Bothwell Castle

Doune Castle

Doune Castle is relatively close to both Edinburgh and Glasgow. As such, it is perhaps not the most famous castle in the Lowlands, but also not unknown. Fans of both Monty Python or the Outlander will recognise it even more, and for the Outlander people, I found this a lot more spectacular than Blackness Castle.

I am not familiar enough with Monty Python to comment on that side, but I will mention both Outlander and another series here. Firstly, however, the story of Doune. Another castle which was quite important in the 14th century; Albany or Menteith, Robert Stewart, was the lord of this castle and his ambition was boundless. As the audioguide in the castle (btw, a very nice addition though not quite the best thing in case we’re dealing with a rainy day) mentioned, however, we can consider him lucky for dying in 1420, a few years before King James I, in whose name he reigned, being restored to full power. Doune became a royal stronghold, and more than a hundred years later, the name of Mary Queen of Scots was associated with the top level apartments in the tower (though it isn’t even known whether she actually stayed here).

The Outlander bit is epic. Castle Leoch is the Doune Castle in Invernessshire. The kitchen from Doune is the kitchen in Leoch. Admittedly not all of the scenes were filmed here, but it’s close enough with the film-company making an exact replica of the set for the filming. Admittedly, with the audioguide introducing this aspect by bringing in the Outlander’s actor for Jaime, this could have been more iconic. I found him a bit lacklustre in most aspects with no real enthusiasm showing in his words.

What is mentioned in fewer places is the fact that Doune was also used for the pilot of the Game of Thrones. It’s not quite the same which made Winterfell in actual Episode 1, but there are definite similarities. It is a pity they didn’t show Doune more in those final scenes, but one can see the local features in what they created for the final set of Winterfell.

Doune Castle

Rothesay Castle

Rothesay on the Isle of Bute is a fairly small castle, indeed it could be considered mostly a keep. A few round towers surround the central area though regrettably these are in a pretty poor state. Also, at least right now the majority of the northern wall is undergoing reconstruction and it’s quite difficult to position oneself for a good view.

Another problem: seagulls. There were about a dozen score million of them. And they were very much in the way of trying to walk around the castle…

The history of this place is interesting with a lot of 12th/13th century struggles happening here. The Norwegians had it, the Norwegians lost Rothesay and Bute; Scots built a castle here, and before they were finished the Norwegians came back and conquered it. Apparently the walls at that point were so fresh that the Norwegians could dismantle them. They took the castle, killed some Scots, but had to retreat a short while later. King Hakon Hakonson came back before the end of his life and he took the place again, but the Scottish fleet along with some helpful weather defeated him. Hakon died on his way back to Norway (on the Orkneys), and Rothesay was Scottish forevermore. Owned by the Stewarts, it became a royal castle when they took up the kingly spectre and such it is now.

However, even with all that history the emotion Rothesay brings up is not one of a bloody struggle or of massive power. It feels cute to me, in a way most other castles, large or small, do not. I’d recommend taking a look, but there are better places to see.

Rothesay Castle

Tallinn Old Town

Reflecting on my trip to the Estonian capital last month, I can say I noticed some things I have not previously been aware of even though that may have more come about from my own previous ignorance.

Firstly, it is important to know that the history of Tallinn–of Reval, of Koluvan, of Lindanise–spans firstly many centuries and secondly many cultures, of whom nearly all have left some mark. A wandering around the capital can lead you on streets financed by German merchants that gave birth to Danish legends and which were partially uprooted by Swedish axes or Soviet bombs.

One of these items I thought of going to investigate up close, but did not, was the famous Danse Macabre by Bernt Notke that I think I have seen once before. The thought behind it–of everyone’s equality–is probably more to my liking now than fifteen years ago. However, the motivation to spend an exorbitant sum to go into a museum for a few tens of minutes did not exist. Clearly, one can become too comfortable with the free museums offered in some other places…

Tallinn’s depth of history also means that one needs to know where they are going or what they are doing if they are looking for something specific. For me, this time round, I was not looking for anything else than an opportunity to see what was there.

The Danish gardens by the Old Town, the city perimeter, the abandoned modern fortifications… and the list goes on–what do you want to see? A Soviet-style prison? Also there. A Hansaetic guild house? Go and take a look…

A lot of these places, naturally, carry their own local myths and legends, and even if I was more able to differentiate between their varying history; I had also forgotten some, if not most, of the legends that accompanied these sights.

A medieval atmosphere definitely existed though I have previously laughed at some writers who have mentioned Tallinn as the ‘medieval’ city of Europe; of course, this atmosphere won’t be found on the Town Hall Square at bars charging €5.50 for a beer while grumpily acknowledging your presence. Instead, one needs to know which places are worth going to, or at least be willing to experiment outside of the traditional options (probably best defined as the ones which are easily signposted). The advice of Mr Cowen to look for places (especially for food) out of the way and frequented by locals won’t go amiss.

A final surprise which was pleasant at least to my mind was the plurality of street musicians. The good weather naturally helped, but it was an absolute delight to stroll down a street while decent (folkish) music played aloud. It was even possible for me to leisurely listen to these tunes–something which might be less true for the tourist of the cruise ship who is sailing out again in four hours’ time…

Castle Campbell

Castle Campbell sounded like an interesting name to me when I first heard it. I mean, the choice of the name of a clan for the castle makes it sound mighty. After having been there, I know it’s the King who named it for his faithful servants (more or less faithful, of course, given we’re in the medieval period here) (who allowed it to be named for his…) who owned it for a long long time after which a Glaswegian businessman re-built it and marketed it as a good hunting grounds in the Victorian times.

Have to say, I pretty much agree with all of those points. Castle Campbell makes for spectacular scenery from every direction, and with several approaches to choose from, one can easily be spoiled. Admittedly, if parked at the lower car park (the way I went) and walking though the Glen Dollar, it’s difficult to see out of the valley. Or, at least, I found it difficult but I also ended up looking in a very wrong direction for the castle so that would explain it.

The way past the upper car park, however, leads to these views here:

Castle Campbell in the Glen Dollar
Castle Campbell in the Glen Dollar

These are probably the better overviews of the fortification though I did not try going to any of the local peaks which would allow for an even more comprehensive view. Even so though, the approach to this fort creates the sense of magic that I would hope the Campbells wanted to achieve with their ‘Lowland’ centre. It is definitely impressive enough.

However, that’s not worth missing the glen. The walk through there is more amazing than anything. For me, it had a definite Blue Mountains-y vibe to it. The fact a light drizzle was going on helped create that atmosphere. I parked in the lower car park, walked through the glen and climbed up to the castle, and then came down the paved way via the upper car park. This allowed for less rigorous stairs, but also experiencing all of the view.

The castle itself was also good though of course not as spectacular inside as the bigger ones. With a basic keep, a gatehouse, and a few tiered gardens, however, the inside look is as good as the outside even if it makes for less photographic scenes. The great hall, for one, looked interesting in many ways though the surfacing they’d put down had turned it into a massive lake by the point I visited. That’s probably not the case for the majority of time though.

The keeps were good fun to climb around as well, as one would expect. The top of the keep which made for good views of the surrounding had a few sides which were difficult to go to, and as the other crenellations/walls don’t survive, some bits of the neighbourhood were quite difficult to survey.

Overall, a beautiful but quiet place, this is well worth visiting, especially if you like both castles and nature.

 

Tantallon Castle

Tantallon is one of the places which I feel looks more spectacular on pictures than in person. This, however, is not because the place is bad, but because I don’t think a good position to appreciate it all remains. The front walls are strong and people can still climb them, but if there ever was one to the rear (slight doubts), that would have been a better place to look out from (for me). Or, the gatehouse through which one enters these days…

The skill by which the Scottish lairds built and maintained castles must be appreciated. And, Tantallon is definitely one of these places. The wish that a man must have had, saying “I shall have my castle here”, and then building it. Now, this statement makes it all sound inhospitable which it actually is not. It’s just difficult: very easy to cut off from the landward side, but also problematic to access by the sea due to the cliffs it stands on. From the point of view of the construction-work, this must have been a right pain.

Tantallon is poetic in the best sense with a slightly ruined façade visible as one approaches. The external gatehouse, however, is in tatters with one getting the barest of ideas what entering through it could have looked like. Also, the rear (seaward) wall has disappeared, and only the barest of ideas tells us what the castle in its entirety looked like.

Overall, though, perfect! What makes it stand out even more is the wonderful seascape (where I have to add that, Bass Rock feels like Ailsa Craig picked up and thrust to the other side of Scotland).

The other things that bring these Scottish gems to life is the history itself. A story to go with Tantallon, for example, recounts the tale of the Civil War, how a group of thirty (I believe) mounted bandits essentially put up a better fight than the rest of Scotland put together. General Monck is who fixed the situation as Tantallon could not stand against his artillery. There are other Scottish associations as well, typically having to do with imprisoning kings and such things. Poor James who could never trust his regents to actually be reasonable. The stories, some might say, are lots of fun. For others, the below will do:

View from Tantallon Castle

Assynt

Assynt is a loch in northern Scotland that I have not been to. What I have done is seen the video Rapha Continental did to promote cycling, and it was filmed at Loch Assynt. The backdrop to the video is the Shipping Forecast to begin with which changes into a Scottish legend. I hope by this point you understand that there are very few things as amazing as this video.

The video has made me want to visit the far north, including Assynt, to see it all with my own eye. And it has made me want to cycle there.