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

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.

Glenfinnan Monument

The Young Pretender was not particularly successful in his enterprise to reclaim his grandfather’s throne (though of course, the other event to be mentioned here would involved the drowning of the Great Seal in the Thames which (potentially) left the authenticity of the new government in tatters for a while before it was reclaimed from the river). Nevertheless, the failure of the Young Pretender’s claim makes it more of a romantic endeavour than the Old Pretender’s or James II and VII’s grumbling in a far-off land. [An aside: a good reason to be thankful for the Act of Union 1707 is the combination of the regnal names/numbers.]

One of the romantic memorials to the failed rebellion is the Glenfinnan Monument, emplaced at Loch Shiel where Charles Edward Stuart placed his banner of rebellion. I have not yet been to the field of Culloden where the Highlander dreams were finally shattered, but it is an interesting time to be considering.

Loch Shiel must also take the honour of being one of the windiest places I have ever seen, which is saying a lot given I have been to Whitehaven during the ‘Weatherbomb’, Norfolk during its normal circumstances, and round all sorts of coastal areas. The windiness of the Shiel coastline was absolutely spectacular, but I guess that’s only to be expected if the wind is first channeled up Loch Linnhe and then into Loch Shiel.

But, back to the Monument, although before that I’ll note a historic event from the life of the Young Pretender as written down by sir Charles Petrie:

…when they [Charles Edward Stuart and the future Charles III of Spain] were on board the galley from Gaeta to Naples after the siege the Stuart prince’s hat fell into the sea, and when the sailors were about to rescue it Charles called out, ‘Never mind, it floats towards England, and the owner will soon go to fetch it; and that I may have something to fetch, too, mine shall accompany it’: whereupon he threw his own hat into the sea, and there were general shouts of ‘To England’.

I found the monument itself quite underwhelming, though perhaps it is suitable for a failed endeavour. The text noted in three languages (English, Gaelic, and Latin) the Young Pretender’s failed effort:

On this spot where Prince Charles Edward first raised His standard on the 19th day of August, 1745, when He made the daring and romantic attempt to recover a throne lost by the imprudence of His ancestors…

Somehow it all just fits in together.

Glenfinnan Monument

Lochranza

One of the places well worth visiting on the isle of Arran is Lochranza. At least, in my mind, that is what I thought before I went there. Lochranza has been in my mind for years with no good idea of what to expect. The castle there has been mentioned in so many different sources, I thought it might be spectacular.

And, it was. Though I would not say it was what I expected. For one, it was considerably smaller than what I had thought. For another, it was more magical than anything I had expected.

Situated in a glen and surrounded by hills, washed by the sea, the spectacular nature of the castle can only have sparked the imagination of the local people.

I did not get a good view of the sea from where I was because I arrived at low tide, but I imagine that at high tide, seeing the sea surround the castle on three sides can only be a wonderful experience. Similarly, to have experienced a storm in the centuries gone by in that castle, overlooking the sea with the fury of Earth straining against the masonry of the castle…

Lochranza wasn’t what I expected; it was better than what I expected.

Lochranza Castle

Sir Walter Scott also wrote a few lines about this:

On fair Lochranza streamed the early day,
Thin wreaths of cottage smoke are upward curl’d
From the lone hamlet, which her inland bay
And circling mountains sever from the world

— Sir Walter Scott, ‘The Lord of the Isle’

The Mull of Galloway

The Mull of Galloway is Scotland’s most southerly point which I have visited by now twice. It has also been featured on ‘Coast’ which is an amazing series that I’d recommend to everyone. But, the sight which is featured is similarly awesome.

‘Coast’ is there because of the fog horn – a historic means of warning on misty coastlines to keep people from a potential danger. The Celtic Sea, after all, in its time claimed many a victim, and the RNLI was also founded on the same coasts.

I was there for both — checking out the southernmost point of Scotland as well as seeing the fog horn.

The confluence of currents

One of the more memorable places there are the two platforms overlooking the sea, both of which illustrate the ferocity with which the two primary currents meet. It is all very poetic.

The sunset I saw in February underlined all that even more:

The lighthouse on the Mull of Galloway

Review: Rome’s Northern Frontier AD 70–235: Beyond Hadrian’s Wall

Rome’s Northern Frontier AD 70–235: Beyond Hadrian's Wall
Rome’s Northern Frontier AD 70–235: Beyond Hadrian’s Wall by Nic Fields
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A comprehensive review of the Roman fortifications of the first two centuries in the area to the north of Hadrian’s wall. I was impressed by the plentiful tables, totalling not only the benefits and drawbacks of the wall but also it’s construction plan, manhours spent, garrison sizes, etc. Overall, this review stands out as a very brief but strong introduction to Rome in Scotland.

What I found missing was the political context. Though the Severian re-expansion into the north is mentioned, barely half a sentence touches on it. The Antonine and Flavian periods are covered in far greater detail, and I think if the book had restricted itself to the pre-Severian period in what it covered, it would have achieved it’s goals superbly.

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