Review: This Sceptred Isle: The Dynasties, Christopher Lee

Rating: 5 out of 5

It was very easy for me to pick up another volume of ‘This Sceptred Isle’ as I absolutely adored the general historical collections I went through earlier this year. The one doubt I had was to do with this one’s name: “Dynasties”. I thought that though the Plantagenets and Windsors have their charms, it might not be that interesting. Firstly, I was mistaken — this deals with the common(er) dynasties (and the people who have actually been influential), and secondly, it was very interesting indeed to go through the stories of so many families. Continue reading “Review: This Sceptred Isle: The Dynasties, Christopher Lee”

Review: This Sceptred Isle, Collection 2, Christopher Lee

This Sceptred Isle Collection 2: 1702 - 1901: The Classic BBC Radio HistoryThis Sceptred Isle Collection 2: 1702 – 1901: The Classic BBC Radio History by Christopher Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I sometimes have the feeling that I end up praising literature too often, and this one here again makes me want to crown this work with all the laurels one could. It’s not even that it’s perfect, but there’s a lot more that ‘This Sceptred Isle’ does well than poorly, and it does so with good style. Frank Bridge’s opening music is a good example; by the end of this series I was definitely humming along every time another chapter started. Continue reading “Review: This Sceptred Isle, Collection 2, Christopher Lee”

Review: This Sceptred Isle, Collection 1, Christopher Lee

This Sceptred Isle: Collection 1: 55BC - 1702: The Classic BBC Radio HistoryThis Sceptred Isle: Collection 1: 55BC – 1702: The Classic BBC Radio History by Christopher Lee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a delightful history, a lot more complex than I would have expected from my first impressions. There were some good inconsistencies that get promoted quite often (such as “The Unready”) which this series also delightfully corrected. Furthermore, the show included a number of illustrative stories of the time (such as the dialogue between Edward I and Roger Bigod on each others’ rights). Continue reading “Review: This Sceptred Isle, Collection 1, Christopher Lee”

Review: ‘In the Land of Giants’, Max Adams

In the Land of Giants: Journeys Through the Dark AgesIn the Land of Giants: Journeys Through the Dark Ages by Max Adams
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

High 2.5.

I think this work is too complicated to follow easily — it is not only a travelogue and narrative history but also stretches a bit into modern politics but more into archaeological descriptions. While individually all of these may be very enjoyable, the book was missing structure. Continue reading “Review: ‘In the Land of Giants’, Max Adams”

Craigmillar Castle

Craigmillar is a beast. It’s unlucky for it that a far more well known place is located within only a few miles, and that the more well known place is Edinburgh Castle which is both less historic and less awe-striking as well. Nevertheless, that is the situation right now and there’s little that can be done about “the Second Castle of Edinburgh” as some seem to call it. Continue reading “Craigmillar Castle”

Cadzow Castle

Cadzow is one of these places where the intervening centuries have left a considerable mark. Perhaps this is not even so obvious to the casual visitor (including myself), but I think the people who originally built this place must notice a few things (even leaving the state of the fort aside). Namely, I wonder how much the Avon has eaten away at its’ constricting walls, cutting into the base of the valley. Continue reading “Cadzow Castle”

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!

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.

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