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.