Caister Castle

I didn’t actually get to step into this one. I went there early this morning, hoping to go by the place before work and explore quite freely. Regrettably, this was thoroughly thwarted by what was going on at the castle — namely, it is on private territory and access is granted between May and September only.

Nevertheless, from the one side facing the road I did as much exploring as one manages — which is some but not much at all, especially as of the four sides of this rectangular castle one manages to note only one! I would, however, still not consider this visit to have been wasted — I liked the layout and there’s plenty remaining there; plenty enough indeed to go and investigate this place in more detail at some point in the future.

Lastly, I did not end up getting much of a vibe of this place for the abovementioned obvious reasons. Still, there was something: perhaps this was the juxtaposition of the old and the new, with a minor road leading to West Caister bypassing the castle less than twenty feet from the moat and towers; perhaps this was something else. It could have been the elusive sense of the Norfolk ruins which so often accompanies these places in the slightly wet and rainy days as today was.

One of the better views I was left with is below:

A look towards Caister Castle from Castle Lane

Dunnottar Castle

Dunnottar was recommended to me by a person, I think, in Falklands Palace. He also recommended Hermitage Castle, and once I visited that place and loved every inch of it, I knew I had to get over to Dunnottar as well. Unfortuitously I moved out of Scotland before I made my way into Aberdeenshire this year. And, then, fortuitously, I had to go past Aberdeen and had about four hours to spare — which is quite enough for the train down to Stonehaven, walk up the coast (about two miles, train station to the castle), check out the castle, walk back, and adios.

Now I have been to Dunnottar I can say it was absolutely spectacular. The perched headline which it occupies is one of those typical wonders on the Scottish coast; the fact that some laird a long time ago decided that his keep will also be *the* representative power in this area was obviously a good decision.

It is quite a mighty climb down and back up from the coast-side cliffs that one has to take to get up to the castle. It’s not quite worthy a charge, and I would not like to have been in the position to have to attack this keep.

The site up on the headland is quite wonderful as well, there’s plenty to look around. A local legend (fact? story? who knows…) is that a lion used to be kept in the suitably named Lion’s Den. Another one of those historical factoids you can use at a dinner party.

I quite liked the central area as well, beyond the old main keep. There’s a very small garden, and plenty of ruined walls. It all had the sense of centuries gone by, and it was absolutely amazing to walk around there. I was most surprised by the cistern which I had not expected in any way or form. Nonetheless, there’s a cistern for watern that was built. You have been forewarned…

What made my visit more spectacular was that it was a gloriously sunny day in Scotland’s September. While these come by every now and then, the weeks gone by since would like to prove that I was very lucky indeed. I don’t think that this place would be any worse in the rain though, as it is a more typical environment no doubt. And, the sense of those North Sea storms rushing against Scotland with all their might would have been a typical occurrence to the local lairds…

The one thing I would caution is that after having become used to the level of service and signposts that Historic Environment Scotland, or whatever it calls itself now, and the National Trust put up, the independent owners here had very little (or, at least, considerably less than what I was hoping for) of the history of the place (though plenty of the “this is a kitchen” type signs).

Nonetheless, that’s less important than the sense of being there!

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

Ravenscraig Castle

I am not quite sure what I expected when I went to Ravenscraig. I knew it wasn’t going to be the biggest place in the world, but I think I was hoping for something more than about 100 square feet. Although that’s a bit disparaging… Ravenscraig actually was fun. It was permeated with a strength of some kind which I would associate with its imposing position.

Indeed, though the castle was more ruin than structure (also worth noting: no walls to climb on!) there was something there. Take a look:

Ravenscraig Castle

So, this is what is left. There is a drawbridge still and the façade is still intact. The north-eastern tower is mostly in ruins, but that provides probably the best place to climb on if someone was daring. However, I’d not recommend it and I did not try this myself as it was quite rainy.

The wall one can see on the picture forms what seems to have been the main westward defense though a considerably cliff-face also falls off to that side. The sea is behind the view point in that photo, and also to both east and west (or, at least, the beach is). The main original keep is the grand structure on the left of the picture.

Overall, the feeling I get looking at all of this, and remembering the stormy Atlantic behind me is that the lairds who lived here must have not been very bored. I am sure they had plenty to do even if philosophy was not on their mind, but they could have easily been very philosophical on a short winter’s day with a North Sea storm buffeting their masonry.

Caerlaverock Castle

Mighty as Caerlaverock Castle,
Siege it feared not, scorned surrender…

I saw Caerlaverock in the rain. I think she should be seen in the rain. The ruins, impressive as they were, were granted a pensive atmosphere by the drizzle.

Admittedly, the massive rain also meant that I more ran than walked through the place, but I did manage to get to everywhere on the main site. I was quite impressed by the several levels of the halls as well as all of the remnants of the buildings. The structure of this castle is not particularly complex, but I found it wonderful nonetheless.

In shape it was like a shield…

The central plaza had the mystic sense one might expect, with an added improvement the presence of the slightly faded (six centuries of open rain can have an impact on the ornamentation even if Protestant looters don’t) carvings on all walls. The rear wall and the structures there looked most interesting, but they are also the most ruined. It’s good of me to wish it to be more intact, but at the same time there’s a lot to be said to the character of it just now.

Yet, the Caerlaverock we see today is the second instalment of the structure. The first one lies abandoned slightly away from the one. I have to say, I passed on the old one as understand there is very little there, but thinking back now, I wish I had gone to investigate, rain or no rain.

The last stand of this castle was against the Covernanters in 1640, and it managed to hold out for 13 weeks. More impressive, though are the lists of times it was an object of curiosity in the preceding centuries, with the Edwardian conquests of Scotland often focussing on conquering Caerlaverock. Nevertheless, the Covenanter attack could be considered a particularly unfortunate incident as the Maxwells had only in the preceding decade decided to focus less on security and more on the ornamentation of the place.

Lastly… I have great difficulty actually remembering the name of the place. I don’t know why. That might also be why I have used it slightly more in these posts to try to remember it better.

Caerlaverock Castle

Hermitage Castle

No, not the one in St Petersburg. Nor the one in Perthshire. The Hermitage in the Borders is what we’re talking about today…

Oh Hermitage, Oh Strength of Liddlesdale…

The keep that is the jewel of the bloodiest vale of Britain is well worth visiting. I will first tell you about what got me to go there… I ended up discussing with a Historic Scotland person in one of their other sites which places were worth recommending. And what the guy said was that he recommends Hermitage as the feeling he got there was something different. I cannot remember the exact words he used, but spooky works. Or eerie.

I knew I had to go there after that conversation… and how happy am I to have gone!

Hermitage is not the largest castle you’ll ever visit. Indeed, it is likely to be one of the smaller ones. It is not one of the mightiest or most imposing. There’s not moat, there’s hardly any buildings to the outside of the keep (there is a chapel which I actually forgot to go to, I realised afterwards).

What does exist is this keep. A mighty stonework that stands proud amidst the moors. The approach to it is fortunately forested, and that helps a bit, adding to the sense of mystery.

What I felt at the place was this eerieness that had been mentioned by my unknowing guide. I cannot put my hand on it, but I imagine it has to do with the history these stones have seen. So many years have passed, and Hermitage has been a visible landmark through many difficult struggles. Or, even when official struggles were not about, the Border Reivers no doubt were.

The state of disrepair inside helped. It was not complete, but rain — for indeed this was a rainy day — soaked through everywhere. There were no dry places even though masonry extended to metres above in every direction.

Absolutely amazing, but I think you need the weather to help you with the visit. The Borders in sunlight is almost unimaginable…

Hermitage

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

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