How I Write of Castles

I realised, after having reviewed castles (and, actually, historic sites of all types: palaces, temples, hills) that I have not said what I look for when I visit these places. While it is not that difficult to get the sense of what I say and don’t say, this might not be too helpful for people looking for some concrete facts or a detailed picture-overview.

Neither of these is in the realm of what I aim to do here. What I aim to do is to offer some snippets of historic curiosities, events which made me laugh or think or cry when I read about these places. That Tantallon’s lords liked going shooting on the nearby granitic outcrop, the Ailsa Craig of the eastern coast, or that James VI heard of his accession at Falklands and made it into a local title, or that a lord Cassilis of Culzean went and shot his umbrella-holder in the rainforests of Gambia…

These are stories which bring these places to life. They illustrate how living people treated each other and themselves in times gone past. What they laughed about and what they might not have enjoyed as much. All of these snippets help me build a better, clearer, window to look into history.

And I visit these places mostly to expand my understanding of history. This understanding takes many shapes. I do not particularly like reading about places and not being able to visualise them in my mind, and yet not many a text would describe Dunnotar Castle as well as the effort of climbing those steps to reach the peak of that peninsula. But this understanding also takes the form of the farmers at Alpsee who have ever lived looking at two or three castles on their nearby peaks. How do they relate to these? Is it a symbol of hope and strength, or does it merely represent wasted fortunes?

Naturally, all of these could be answered by other methods in the modern day. Yet, the feeling of going to somewhere and seeing it in its natural climate — no matter whether the result is a wintery Schloss Linderhof, sunny Mull of Galloway, or a rainy Rothesay — helps put that place into its natural context.

So… what I look for is emotion, a feeling, any feeling, that would relate to this place I am writing about. How this place fits into the world I have seen and into the lives of the people who were involved with it. How a representation of this place can carry the message that was dearest to my heart. How the inhabitants of this place would have looked about in the beginning of their day or at the end of their toils.

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 AndrĂ© 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…

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