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.

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

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

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

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

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

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