Schloss Linderhof

Linderhof I liked. It carries the same burden of Neuschwanstein — it is new. It is so very recent indeed. But, nevertheless, it has spirit (and it has a fountain which could have been the deciding factor). Therefore, visit this place in the summer as the careful Bavarians cover up the fountains in the winter so that the water would not freeze and cause damage to the masonry.

In any case, back to the schloss. I find Linderhof beautiful. It is delicate and it is so very precise in what it wants to be — an exquisite retreat for an introverted person. I cannot fault Ludwig for wanting a place like this, and I guess on of the things to lament is how little time the King was finally able to spend in places like this which would have probably satiated his wanderlust for quite some time.

Yet, even as I say this, I am not the best of friends with the Alps, and Linderhof lies under this mountain range. One can see the mountains visible in every direction from here, and there is no sea, no lake, no river. I so prefer places with water of any kind — one of my regrets that I have not made it to Herrenchiemsee yet. But, that’s what the future is for…

Back to our wonderful palace. I of course also appreciate the name though it does not come from my favourite tree, but an eponymous family. Nevertheless, I find it a pleasant name and a joyful one, as indeed this palace is. I can imagine André Rieu’s Johann Strauss Orchestra playing the very best of waltzes in this courtyard, for this is what it was meant for.

What else to say? The grounds are good to walk around in, with small gems litterred around the area. The Moroccan/Moorish house is one such place, but there are many others. The fountain at the back of the palace is something I quite like, and it is worth climbing all of the nearby hills to see what the view is like from there.

I think this option of appreciating the palace from so many different view-points is a very good thing to have here, as one can replace the missing historical depth with one’s own emotional sense. The mountains here, the castle there, the castle here, a pond there (as there actually is, despite my above lamentation, a small swan pond near the castle though not near-near)…

Having not been to Herrenchiemsee, this is my favourite of Ludwig’s palaces — and probably also my favourite palace I have visited in Bayern (Bavaria) though I have only had a very limited reach into there thus far.

Although, as a last note, I’d definitely try to miss the tourists if I was to visit…

Schloss Neuschwanstein

As one of King Ludwig’s palaces, Neuschwanstein has the sense of grandeur one might expect. Other than also having developed into the archetypal Disney-castle model, this schloss is a beautiful example of the Bavarian mountain-building style and the elegance which they could put into these difficult projects (though one should probably steer clear of discussing the fiscal arrangements projects like this demanded).

Fortunately — or perhaps unfortunately, to add a point of conversation — Neuschwantstein can be a contentious name. As it stands, the castle presently known as Hohenschwangau approximately a mile from the Disneyesque citadel used to be called Neuschwantstein until being renamed in the late 19th century. This castle replaced two earlier (Mediaeval) castles when Ludwig started its construction, and presently the Neuschwantstein citadel is definitely the one to leave a mark on the landscape.

However, on a closer investigation, though the castle looks magnificent from far away, it is less so on a personal level. Or, rather, it’s perhaps more impressive, especially when viewed from the Marienbrücke where the low-lying Bavarian countryside is visible behind the castle.

What I meant is that this place is so recent — and, yes, plenty of country houses, even my much-beloved Anglesey, have been built or rebuilt considerably later — that I was not particularly moved when I walked in this place. Naturally, the mediaeval feel is more of the make-believe kind, with the 19th century people trying to put their own touch into what they thought the ‘rugged 13th century’ must have looked like, and in this they obviously exagerrated.

But it is not just this… This recent construction, the enhancement of the picturesque instead of the graceful, has led to places which I would recommend one visit, but perhaps without expectations. The beauty in these places lies in what the viewer’s eye — your eye — can make of the place for yourself. There is not sense that for more than a thousand (or, for some especially long-standing places, two to four thousand) years this has been a culturally important site. It is new, and you know it when you look at it.

Nevertheless, go and take a look. It is inspiring, though of course Ludwig had it easier than many of us today (though, his personal life is one of the greatest tragedies amongst the 19th century royalty). But what would the castle of your dreams look like?.. Would it be as sleek, as delicate, as excquisite as Neuschwanstein?

Kellie Castle

I have to begin by saying I did not like Kellie much. Kellie has a very good garden, but it is severely disadvantaged by some aspects of the house as it seems to me. There is a section which supposedly remains directly from the Medieval period — or, rather, two sections of the house are from the Medieval period with the inter-connection having been built later.

Or maybe I actually did like it?… Difficult to say now. I had some good discussions about the Covenanters and the Jacobites with whom the family in this house was involved (/not involved). Some of this family history was absolutely phenomenal and the people working here know it to a very good level for all four of the families to live here.

However, the stuff I did not appreciate as much — and this is strongly personal as I just don’t have that much of an interest in certain modern arts — is the reconstructions organised by the Lorimers. They also turned the original Medieval guard tower into an art salon, which is probably the worst offense to my conscience.

Nevertheless, the garden at Kellie is absolutely wonderful and definitely deserves a wander around. Better yet, even if the castle itself is closed, you can go for a walk in the gardens…

The walled garden at Kellie Castle

Dunfermline Palace

I happened to Dunfermline by accident, heading further into Fife. Being close enough, I figured I should take a look, as I’d heard that the place was an ancient capital.

Be that as it is, Dunfermline itself is not the focus of my post. The former abbey and palace structure, however, is. Naturally, it wasn’t open as it should have been as there was a problem with water and the Historic Environment Scotland person had had to reduce the opening hours.

In any case, I got to go around the place and take a look at most of it. The view to the outer wall was pretty good, and indeed the main attraction in my mind. The rest of the structures were quite crumbled and not particularly interesting, though of course the new cathedral is worthy of taking a look at.

Dunfermline Palace

This image hopefully gives an idea of the former strength of the place. An odd thing I noted was that the ground outside seems to vary considerably in topography, with this area where the building used to exist nearly the only level area. The forest outside, or rather the park, was actually quite impressive. It obviously did not stretch to the walls of the palace in the olden days, but has got to it now.

This palace and the abbey were the work of David I, the son of Margaret of England, a princess devoted to piety. This original royal beginning also ensured that later kings would be patrons of this site, up to Charles I who was born here. I am not certain I got the sense of this royal history here, but it is interesting to ponder.

I think a walk in the park would be most worthwhile in Dunfermline, especially with the occasional hope of catching a glimpse of the palace through the woodland. Nevertheless, as my destinations were further into Fife, I did not opt for that walk. Maybe I should have.

Falkland Palace

Falkland. The place which gave the name to the eponymous islands — or rather, which gave the name to the Lord of the Admiralty for whom the Falkland Sound was named, which later got transferred to the surrounding islands.

This is a truly beautiful palace with a very Scottish feel, as I guess it should. Supposedly it was here that James VI heard he was now also James I (and then he ennobled the local lord whose descendant the Lord of the Admiralty later on was).

Admittedly, a large part of this palace — the main central hall — has fallen into disrepair and no longer exists. The buildings on the other side from here were converted into bedrooms which they were not during the original occupancy of the palace, and hence a lot of the original lore of the place has been lost.

Nevertheless, these places have been done up nicely by Historic Environment Scotland to represent an idea of what life in the High Medieval Ages could have looked like. But, when I look back at the pictures I took at Falkland, I am not as impressed as when I think back at it.

It was a typically Scottish day, with more rain than sun and most of it not falling directly towards the ground, though I’d still consider parallel rain a more Norfolkian event. In any case, there are things to see, and I’d recommend a visit to Falkland if you are in the area. I would definitely go back, if only to ponder some more about the ruins.

The other thing worth noting, not visible on the picture below, is the amazing front gatehouse. That also serves as an entryway into the building itself and leads into the first bedrooms that a guest can visit. Oh!.. and the first rooms had portraits of both Charles’ which was definitely a nice touch.

Falkland Palace

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

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…

Lindisfarne Priory

The Priory was close to the Castle. Apparently, it was out of use and being slowly dismantled by the time construction started on the castle, which is why it is in such a state of disrepair. Although, the one thing I noted was that the main object standing is a massive arch even though it had barely any support. The monks (and masons and assisting people) built those arches well, or rather, figured out clever geometry for the arches to support themselves well!

Though this priory carries very little in itself of the original 7th century centre of all Christian learning (or, well, most of it in the former Western Empire), I can sense why this place was chosen for the monastery.

Well, of course, let’s step back — firstly, one of the reasons was the proximity to the seat of the kings of Northumbria (Bernicia / Deira) across the water in Bebbanburgh. But, more than that, I think if St Aidan had to have chosen after coming wondering around Northumbria, the sheer beauty of the island would have made him want to make this place it. The beauty, but also the tranquillity. It must count as one of the more peaceful places I have experienced.

I think the present-day islanders follow the wish for peace, firstly, by still being secluded from the mainland by the tides, but also by preventing too many mainlanders coming across at any one time (same tides, limited accommodation, defined parking areas for outsiders, restricted access to some places, etc).

Lastly, I was particularly gifted in visiting the place during a day which was dry and sunny. I also heard that, similarly to every other region and county, Lindisfarne is meant to be the driest place in the British Isles (version Northumbria).

I’d like to go back.

Lindisfarne Priory

Newgrange (Brú na Bóinne)

Ireland has grown on me since 2015. Every time I go there, I discover something new and something beautiful. The last time this discovery was Newgrange, or more accurately, the Bend of the Boyne — Brú na Bóinne — which stands for a larger area than Newgrange alone (including approximately 40 passage tombs).

What is Newgrange? Who built it? What do we know about it?

The short answer is that we know nothing definitively, and have a lot of guesses. We know it’s old — older indeed than most man-made structures in the world. We know that the present layout for both Newgrange and Knowth (a second major structure in the same area) is a reconstruction based on the best guesses of the archaeologists who uncovered these places in the ’60s.

Knowth: one of the three major passage tombs at Brú na Bóinne

The what can also be answered by the generic term “passage tomb”, built by the “passage tomb builders”. How innovative. In reality, this reflects what we don’t know. We cannot possibly imagine after fifty-two (!!!) centuries have passed (and at least thirty-three of those without essentially any written legacy!) that we can know or understand the mind of those neolithic architects. What motivated the people to come together to construct such magnificent buildings…

What we do know is that they line up with astral events: Knowth with the spring and autumn equinoxes; Dowth (the third, smallest, and least well preserved of the major passage tombs) with the setting winter solstice sun; and Newgrange with the rising winter solstice sun. What an amazing experience it could have been, in a world without technology, in a world where even the furthest explorers and traders had perhaps not seen the waters beyond the Celtic Sea, to stand on the right day and see the life-giving sun warm the carefully placed central stones in the middle of the life’s work of their preceding generations.

Who were their gods? Who were their lords? Who were they? What were their names?

We shall never know, lest ‘The Light of Other Days’ comes true (and with a minor sadness I see I have not reviewed this book), but what we can know is our feelings after the remoteness of five millennia. What we can imagine is what we would be like if we were there and then. And what we can have a guess at is how alike those people are to us. But we shall never know.

Newgrange