Wales – Part Five ~ Swallow Falls at Bets-y-Coed, Conwy Castle & Ancient Llys Rhosyr

map“Another wonderful day for exploring,” I thought to myself as I rose from my slumber on the 7th of September. I decided to go the opposite direction than I had gone the day before to visit yet another impressive castle – Conwy.

I drove up the canyon from Llanberis to Pen-y-Pass and then down the other side to a nice little woodsy town called Bets-y-Coed just to see what was there and what I might find along the way. I was pleasantly surprised.

Along the road, interesting looking and quaint IMG_7174places to eat, drink, sleep and be merry were scattered here and there amongst the gorgeous landscapes. They looked rather inviting. Here’s one in particular that falls into the “interesting” category; I’m not even sure it’s currently open, but it sure looks like it’s seen its share of happy times, happy travellers and has plenty of stories it could tell!

IMG_7172Another one, Tyn-Y-Coed, looked inviting and pleasant and one that has been here awhile. Across the road was a really neat old horse-drawn carriage on display in the car park. What a ride on these back roads that must have been in its day!

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A bit further down the road which followed the twisting river downhill, I came upon another interesting inn, complete with its own set of waterfalls!

What a beautiful and refreshing spot this was!IMG_7177

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IMG_7189As I came up the staircase from the rivers’ gorge below and passed through the gates of Swallow Falls, I noticed this sign; what a perfect reminder of why I love to travel and see new “things.”  It expresses exactly what I mean when I tell people I love to travel and see beautiful things.  “Things” I refer to are the people, the places, memories, pictures, feelings, smiles…  This gorgeous waterfall made me smile and laugh, caught my breath and helped to remind me that it just doesn’t get much better than this. What a lucky girl I am!

The town Bets-Y-Coed was a nice little bustling place nestled in the woodland glen with the river winding through it. I didn’t stay long, however, I only stopped long enough to get some fuel in the car and enjoy some baby horses grazing & lazing in a field.

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Nearby, the bridge which spans the River Conwy exclaims it was built the same time the Battle of Waterloo occurred in 1815!IMG_7192

I drove another 14 miles or so north toward the ocean following the Conwy river and arrived at Conwy Castle near the mouth. The castle dominates the entrance to Conwy, immediately conveying its strength and power. The majestic suspension bridge connecting the castle with the main peninsula still guards the main approach to the castle at the river as it always has.IMG_7308

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I had briefly visited Conwy earlier in the summer in mid-June. I spent the night at the delightful hostel up on the hill just above the walled town. I only had one night, however, and only enough time to quickly check out the town before getting back on the road heading north. I knew I would be coming back to it about 3 months later and now I here I was. IMG_7222It’s a really interesting little town with a very interesting castle. Here’s an illustration of how it’s laid out.

Conwy Castle and the town are surrounded by a well-preserved wall. A similar town wall exists at Caernarfon but is far less complete. Conwy’s wall maintains the town’s medieval character. It was built about the same time as Caernarfon by King Edward I in about 1283 and was part of a plan to surround Wales in an iron ring of castles to subdue the rebellious Welsh population.

Below is a picture of the back side of the castle, at low tide, and from across the river. This massive castle has eight great towers.IMG_1677IMG_7210IMG_7211First a glimpse from a painting of what the castle looked like long, long ago.

Now for the front of the castle and the inside. I got my ticket and made my way up the side of the steep rock face embankment toward the entrance.

In the photo below, notice the zig-zagging path the visitors are following up to the arched entrance on the right-hand side. Directly below the arch is what remains of another massive stone structure; a stone ramp which is now gone.
IMG_7388Like Caernarfon castle, Conwy also had a very long steep stone ramp with a drawbridge at the top of the ramp directly across from the arched entrance. Between the stone ramp and the arched entrance, the wooden drawbridge could be raised if under attack, leaving an insurmountable open gap. They had a very handy interpretive panel nearby to describe and show what it would have looked like.

Below, looking down Castle Street, is what the town of Conwy looks like from the entrance arch of the castle…

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IMG_7221Through the next arched doorway, we’ll enter the castle’s exterior walls and proceed inside to see its interior courtyard.

IMG_7226IMG_7227Interesting inner courtyard; it’s narrower than I imagined and with so many more large rooms all around the perimeter of the castle walls than expected. Lots and lots of rooms and many levels to ascend and explore! Let’s start this exploration with the Northwest Tower…and climb to it’s top.

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The views of the town, river and harbour below, and surrounding countryside in the distance, from the top of the Northwest Tower, were commanding!

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IMG_7246While I was up so high, it was great to walk along the tops of the rooms and curtain walls gaining a birdseye view of what lies below.

 

Like Caernarfon, the signage and interpretive panels were very artistic, informative, maintained in good shape, and well placed, making them easy to read, understand and follow.

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The views from the top were astounding!

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There is so much to see in this place, feels never-ending as you weave your way through each tower, each room, each connecting passage.  Lots of fun! This place is huge and has everything, even a couple of baby dragons!

One can spend hours wandering around this castle, and I did. So much so I was working up an appetite, so since I had my fill of castle exploring I left and walked down into town and into the harbour to find some fresh fish ‘n chips for lunch to eat by the water’s edge.

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While I was sitting on the dock eating that yummy fish, I noticed that the smallest house in Britain was right there before my eyes! It’s absolutely tiny! I’ve seen playhouses bigger than this place! IMG_7371People have actually lived in there? I paid a pound to enter and could barely turn around inside. Below is a photo collage of what it looks like inside. it was all of about 6 feet deep and 5 foot wide with a single bed above accessible by a ladder.

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I continued walking around the town, eyeing the wares in the windows (luckily I had eaten my lunch and so was able to resist the tempting delights below)…

IMG_7314…when I came upon a very old building maintained by the National Trust, Aberconwy House, a 15th century Merchant’s House. Tree-ring analysis of the roof timbers shows that the trees were felled c. 1417–1420. This dating makes it one of the oldest, datable houses in Wales and exemplifies the importance of the building. Ooooh! This could be an interesting little slice of history to go look at and experience!

It has an interesting style of construction with the big timbers on top, the stonework on the lower level, and with the top floor being jettied and the overhanging structure supported on corbel stones, what is said to be “a mark of prosperity.” The entrance to the living quarters is at the top of the stone stairs. Accessible by the arched doorway at lower left, the basement underneath is the Merchant’s Shop.

Upon entry in the living quarters, we’re greeted by volunteer tour guides in the main part of the house and the dining room.

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We then proceeded with the tour into the kitchen in the adjoining room.

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After the kitchen, we climbed the stairs to the top of the house where the living room and bedrooms were. They had the whole place laid out with authentic furnishings, artwork and one could really get a feel for how the people lived and interacted with one another inside their home at various times throughout its history.

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The bedrooms were quite comfy looking and offered some glimpses into how the place is constructed with waddle and daub.

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We finished the tour down in the shop below the house and headed back outside through the arched doorway at street level.

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The rest of the afternoon I spent driving around the countryside exploring many roads. I ended up heading over to the Isle of Anglesey near a remote beach and came upon an ancient site of the Welsh princes at  Llys Rhosyr.IMG_7390

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It was getting late in the day so I started heading back toward the hostel at the base of Snowdon. When I return to Wales one day, I would really like to concentrate my explorations out on the Isle of Anglesey as I didn’t allow for it on this trip. They have some absolutely wonderful beaches, lighthouses, windmills and a few more very interesting buildings, including another castle, Beaumaris, that I would love to visit and an old burial tomb like the one in Newgrange in Ireland. So many things to see, so little time!

Tommorrow morning we’ll head up Snowdon Mountain to its summit on the steam train. That’s going to be an adventure you won’t want to miss!  Until then… happy trails!

 

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Perth Tattoo and a Stunning Sunday Drive Hither & Yon in Perthshire near Loch Tay

Sunday, August 20th was another fun-filled day. Karen had planned a whole host of wonderful sights for me to see and experience. We left her home in Scone and traveled a few short miles to the nearby city of Perth, which was once the capital of Scotland many, many years ago around the 12th century.

IMG_4055We parked the car and she took me on a bit of a walking tour in the core of the old part of the city.

One of the first buildings we came to was this quaint stone building where a certain young lady, Catherine Glover, once lived.  She was known as The Fair Maid of Perth because she was the main character in a novel written by Sir Walter Scott. Inspired by the strange, but historically true, story of the Battle of the North Inch, it is set in Perth (then called ‘Saint Johnstone’) and other parts of Scotland around 1400.

 

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IMG_4074Nearby in the High Street (now a pedestrian shopping zone), there was this statue of Catherine Glover, the Fair Maid of Perth.

 

Makes me want to read the book now.  Catharine Glover, the daughter of a glovemaker in Perth, kisses Henry Gow, the armorer, while he is sleeping, on Valentine’s Day, and declares him her love. However, Catharine had also caught the eye of the Duke of Rothesay who also wanted her so much that he tried to abduct her by putting a ladder up to her window to steal her away. When Henry Gow interrupts this attempted abduction by the Duke, the armorer is drawn simultaneously into a royal intrigue and a Highland feud. Sounds intriguing!  Anyway, back to the tour…

Anyway, back to the tour…

Next, we came upon the only remaining part of the old wall of the city…

A bit further down a city lane called The Skinnergate, she brought me to the oldest establishment in Perth, The Ship Inn, which has been here and functioning since medieval times and is one of Perth’s oldest licensed premises!  Famous for its trading in leather goods, the Skinnergate is one of Perth’s oldest streets!

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We walked along for a bit longer in the old town, taking in the sights, when we realized what time it was.  We needed to get back up to the North Insch (a park) along the banks of the River Tay because there was something very special taking place there in a little while!

We arrived at the park and found two other long time friends of Karen’s, Lynne and her brother David from the Dundee area who were saving us seats in the grandstands for the Perth Tattoo!!!

Before the Tattoo began, however, there would be a parade along the street that borders the river and leads into the park.  The parade consisted mostly of the performers that would be entertaining us at the Tattoo!  I always just love a parade, so while Karen, Lynne, and David got caught up with each other, I headed down to the parade route and enjoyed what it had to offer.

 

The parade began with an escort led by the local motorcycle enthusiasts!

Then my favorite, a pipe band with men in kilts!

Followed by a whole host of other organizations and characters.

 

 

 

 

 

Even the Japanese were there!  Wow.  What is so cool about this is that a lot of the bands from nearby and famous Edinburgh Tattoo come over to Perth afterward to perform for this event.

After the parade, I headed back to the grandstands where Karen, Lynne, and David were, got settled into my seat and thoroughly enjoyed the various performances that were set out for us to enjoy for free!  Talk about a concert in the park!  Wow!

 

 

We had Highland dancers from a ballet company too!

As a super added bonus, we were entertained by the Red Hot Chili Pipers!  They are so good and sure add a different twist to bagpipes! So much fun!

 

We were a bit hungry after that varied and lengthy plethora of entertainment so our next stop was to get a bite to eat at the Black Watch Castle!  How fun!

 

 

They had a lovely Tea Room attached to the castle and soon we were enjoying some of their delicious choices of fare.IMG_4184

 

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Feeling totally satiated after that wonderful meal, we all piled into Karen’s car and drove north out of town into the countryside to take in some more sights. This is basically the route we followed.mapWe drove north out of Perth toward Dunkeld and then turned west and then north again to climb way up high over one track roads to the hills and Heather filled moors near Loch Fruechile with vistas that just gave me goose bumps!IMG_4202IMG_4201IMG_4195IMG_4194

 

 

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Over the top and heading down the other side of the pass we came to these outstanding views of  Ben Schiehallion in the distance.IMG_4227

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After descending back down into the valleys beyond we arrived in a lovely village called Kenmore.  On the banks of Loch Tay, there were these very interesting ancient Iron Age type of dwellings called a crannog at the Scottish Crannog Centre.

According to their website, Oakbank Crannog is one of 18 crannogs in Loch Tay, Perthshire located off the village of Fearnan on the north shore. Dating to the early Iron Age some 2500 years ago, it was originally built of timber, utilizing piles (stilts) driven into the loch bed to create a platform above the water supporting a settlement. Incredibly well-preserved structural remains include the remains of the house floor covered with bracken and ferns; stakes and piles that supported the woven hazel walls and roof of the house; and 40 elm and oak stumps marking the remains of a walkway which led to the shore. Incredible dwellings, aren’t they?

 

Then we drove to the nearby village of Kenmore with their row houses near Taymouth Castle.P1000701We parked the car and went to visit the church in the village, the Kirk of Kenmore.

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P1000707Then we piled back in the car and traveled a bit further to another distinctive village, Fortingall. Karen explained its history to us as we drove through and past these delightful and unique houses.  Instead of trying to relate all of the wonderful information she bestowed upon us as we admired the architecture, I am just going to let Wikipedia explain it for me:

“The attractive village of Fortingall, with its large hotel adjoining the churchyard, was built 1890-91 by the shipowner and Unionist MP, Sir Donald Currie (1825–1909), who bought the Glenlyon Estate, including the village, in 1885.

It was designed by the architect James M MacLaren (1853–90) and built by John McNaughton. The thatched cottages are notable examples of a planned village built in vernacular style (here combining both Lowland Scottish and English influences, notably from Devon) and are increasingly appreciated as one of the most important examples of ‘arts and crafts’ vernacular style in Scotland.

The Fortingall Hotel, recently (2006–07) restored to its original appearance, is an important example of Scottish vernacular revival. Based on the tower-houses and burgh architecture of the 16th and 17th centuries, but in a modern idiom which anticipates the buildings of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, whose work MacLaren influenced.

Glenlyon House, and its adjoining Farm and steading, west of the village, were also designed, or largely rebuilt, to MacLaren’s designs.

 

At the church, we got out of the car to explore and stretch our legs.

One of the main attractions for me in this kirkyard is the ancient Yew tree below.P1000717The Fortingall Yew is an ancient tree in its own walled enclosure within the village churchyard. Its age is estimated to be between 3000 and 9000 years, and it may be the oldest living tree – perhaps even the oldest living thing – in Europe. Place-name and archaeological evidence hint at an Iron Age cult center at Fortingall, which may have had this tree as its focus. The site was Christianised during the Dark Ages, perhaps because it was already a sacred place.

In the two photos below, the first picture shows what remains of the trunk of the tree. In the second picture, you can see little wooden posts inserted in the ground in a circular fashion.  These posts show where the whole trunk of the tree stood and how big around it was.  It is amazing that after such a long time, that there is still a rather large segment remaining! I wanted so badly to snatch a small twig of this tree to bring home with me, but that’s a no-no!  Dang!

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Again, according to Wikipedia: The parish church is on an early Christian site, dedicated to Coeddi, Bishop of Iona (died 712), probably founded about 700 AD from Iona itself as a daughter monastery. Though undocumented, crop-marks of surrounding ditched enclosures have been identified from the air, and the church’s unusual dedication and fragments of several finely carved cross-slabs preserved in the church all point to an early origin as a major church site. Also preserved in an alcove in the church is an early hand-bell in Irish style (iron with bronze coating), dating from the 7th or 8th century, one of several to have survived in Highland Perthshire. Several slabs with simple incised crosses (best paralleled at Iona and other west of Scotland sites) and a massive early font are to be seen in the churchyard. The attractive white-harled parish church (built 1901-02), notable for its fine woodwork, is open in summer. Its Arts and Crafts style was designed to harmonize with the rest of the village. A permanent display on the cross-slabs and the early church was recently installed in the building. Fortingall has one of the largest collections of early medieval sculpture in Scotland.

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P1000743We continued our journey passing this wonderful little waterfall.

 

We began our journey back toward Scone over another remote pass near Ben Lawers, passing Lochan Na Lainge with the Ben Lawers Dam along the way and then traveled through Aberfeldy following the River Tay along the way back to the A9 to head south back to Scone.

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By the time we arrived in Scone the sun had gone down and it was dark. We managed, however, to get back to town just below 11 p.m. and in time to go to Karen’s favorite chip shop for a fish dinner which we ate in the car at the top of a hill at an overlook where we could see the city lights of Perth below as we devoured our food. It was such a fun adventure.  I still can’t believe how much we did in one day!  For a change, I didn’t have to do all the driving either!  Thank

It was such a fun adventure.  I still can’t believe how much we did in one day!  For a change, I didn’t have to do all the driving either!  Thank you, Karen, you are the hostess with the mostess!  Wow!

The following day, I was due to head just a bit further south to visit more friends near Edinburgh, but before I took off down the road, Karen and I squeezed in one more very special sight I couldn’t miss while in Scone, the Scone Abbey where the ancient Kings of Scotland were crowned and only just a mile or so from where Karen lives!

 

 

Below, in this little ancient building, so much history has been made.  Also, do you see the bell hanging off the tree branch in the photo on the right?  The Scottish Parliament used to meet here and whenever they passed a new law, that bell would be rung so everyone would know a new law had been put into effect.

 

Below is a replica of the Stone of Scone or Stone of Destiny.  The original now resides in Edinburgh, but, this is the spot where the Kings of Scots would have sat upon the Stone of Scone to become crowned as Kings.  A very historic, albeit humble, spot indeed!

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Inside Scone Abbey…

 

 

 

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Again, I’ll let Wikipedia do the detailed explanation of the significance of this place:

Scone was from at least the 9th century the crowning-place of the Kings of Scots and home to the Stone of Scone, more commonly referred to as the Stone of DestinyKenneth MacAlpin (traditionally known as the first King of Scots), Shakespeare‘s MacbethRobert the Bruce, and Charles II number amongst the 38 Kings of Scots inaugurated and crowned at Scone.

It was believed that no king had a right to reign as King of Scots unless he had first been crowned at Scone upon the Stone of Scone. In the Middle Ages, the land was the site of a major Augustinian abbey, Scone Abbey, nothing of which now remains above ground level except detached architectural fragments. Scone was also the site of the first Parliament of Scotland, or Council/Assembly. King Constantine II in 906 called for an assembly to meet at Scone. The assembly was recorded in the Chronicle of the Kings of AlbaAlba being the early name for the early medieval Kingdom of Scotland. The Chronicle records that:

King Constantine and Bishop Cellach met at the Hill of Belief near the Royal City of Scone and pledged themselves that the laws and disciplines of the faith, and the laws of churches and gospels, should be kept pariter cum Scottis.[6]

Scone was thus the center of power in the ancient Kingdom of Alba, doubling up as the site of both Scottish coronations and parliaments. Further to this in medieval times, Scone acted as a royal residence and hunting ground. Robert II would have spent most of his life calling Scone home. He was eventually laid to rest in the Abbey itself, although his grave has never been located. A popular old saying suggests the significance of Scone’s status in the ancient Kingdom of Alba‘s, and later Scotland’s, governance and rule:

As the Bell of Scone rang, So mote it be.[7]

This saying has often been re-quoted as “When the Bell of Scone tolls, the law of the land has been made”. It is a statement of the great significance of the ceremonies held at Scone, and the judgments made from a top the Moot Hill.

It is old sayings like this which frustrated historians, as the sayings clearly detail Scone’s important role in Scottish history, and most interestingly in the early formation of the Scottish nation. The primary source of much of Scone’s early history and modern reputation is reliant upon Scottish folklore. An example of another piece of Scottish folklore which reminds us of Scone’s position as the premier seat of power in the evolving early medieval Scottish nation is the Gaelic:

Comhairle clag Sgàin: An rud nach buin duit na bean dà.[8]

“Counsel of the bell of Scone, Touch not what is not thine own.”

In Gaelic poetry Scone’s association more specifically with kings and king-making gave it various poetic epithets, for instance, Scoine sciath-airde, meaning “Scone of the High Shields”, and Scoine sciath-bhinne, meaning “Scone of the Noisy Shields”.[9] The “Noisy Shields” here refers to a folkloric ceremony in which magnates would gather at Scone for a Council. As they entered the Great Hall each magnate in turn would hang their shield displaying their Coats of Arms on the walls before beating their weapons against them.

The mons placiti or Scone Moot Hill is the inauguration site of the Scottish Kings. It is also called ‘Boot Hill’, possibly from an ancient tradition whereby nobles swore fealty to their king whilst wearing the earth of their own lands in their foot-bindings or boots, or even by standing upon the earth that they had brought with them from their respective homelands (carrying the soil in their boots). The tradition is that the Moot Hill, or rather ‘Boot Hill’, came into being as a result of this tradition of nobles bring a piece of their own lands to Scone.

The Kings of Scots, themselves inaugurated upon the Moot Hill, were thus making during these ceremonies a hugely symbolic commitment to the people of Scotland, the Scots. This commitment was made from atop a hill which, if one believes the tradition, represented all parts of the kingdom of Scots and thus allowed the King to make his oaths whilst standing symbolically upon all of Scotland.[10]

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Just across the way from the Abbey is Scone Palace built of red sandstone with a castellated roof, it is one of the finest examples of late Georgian Gothic style in the United Kingdom. The Palace has thus been home to the Earls of Mansfield for over 400 years. We went inside and toured its magnificent interiors (I couldn’t take pictures) and it was indeed nice and filled with many treasures, but quite frankly, I much more preferred the small Abbey and its overwhelming significance and historical value to Scotland.

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As they say, however, all good things must come to an end.  After spending two absolutely delightful days exploring Perthshire with Karen, I hated to leave, but leave I must. Such an adventure we had.  I loved meeting her friends, Karen, Lynne, and David and we all had such a grand time together, sharing laughs, stories and enjoying the sights together.  What a wonderful experience.  I hope to return again someday soon and do a whole lot more exploring with Karen in her neck of the woods!  Thank you, Karen!

 

 

 

Leith Hall Gardens, Kildrummy Kirk & Hairy Coo’s – All in a Day’s Work of Blogging!

mapSince this is a rather long trip to the United Kingdom this year, I don’t have to hurry and rush through places.  Sometimes, I wake up in the morning and think to myself, “What shall I go see today? Where shall I go?”

Today was one of those days… I couldn’t seem to decide which direction to head; west toward Braemar or northwest toward Huntly. Finally, I decided to just flip a coin and let it decide.

I had driven to Leith Hall near Huntly late in the day a week or so ago, after visiting Huntly castle, but once I arrived there, the last tour had already departed around the house and there was a bit of a chill to the air, so walking around the gardens wouldn’t be much fun. Instead, I decided to come back another time. The flipped coin decided to head back to Leith Hall and return via Alford to Aberdeen.

Well laid plans can often go awry… After visiting Leith Hall I headed toward Alford, only to discover the road was closed, so I ended up having to double back and go further south than anticipated; about halfway to Braemar anyway. Guess what?  It was a beautiful day and a superb drive after all.  Even found a couple of things along the unforeseen route that was quite delightful and a treat to visit.

Sometimes one just has to let oneself wander and be open for surprises! Oh, what I do to find a story to blog about! Someone’s got to do it! Such tough work I tell ya!

Let’s go back to the beginning of the day… driving to the town Kennethmont where Leith Hall is.  Along the route, we passed many a field of barley, ripe for harvesting – ‘Ah… the stuff that lovely whisky is made of!’

IMG_2407The sun was shining and soon we were driving through the gates of Leith Hall Garden & Estate.

Unfortunately, since it was Monday, the house wasn’t open for tours (apparently it’s only open Thursdays to Sundays!) but it was just as well because we had come to see the gardens and ponds. Guess we’ll have to return yet another time if we want to see the inside of the house – dang! – we have to come back again…

We set off down the path toward the ponds first and almost immediately came upon this tree.

Further down the woodland path, we came upon a lovely old bridge crossing the burn.

Following the path a bit further we came to the beautiful ponds filled with lily pads and gorgeous delightful reflections of the blue sky above.

We lingered here for awhile, drinking in the beauty and tranquillity, listening to bird song all around us.

As we made our way around the pond, it started to shower a few drops for a few minutes, so we sat upon a stone again at the water’s edge under the protection of the leafy canopy above us and watched the rain drops dance on the tranquil surface.

The rain didn’t last long and soon we were walking along the path again rounding the pond – continuing to enjoy its peacefulness.

We passed the old boat house and enjoyed the beautiful flowers blooming along the shoreline…

Soon we were back where we started at the old bridge with a view of the house and the neighbouring fields.

Although the house wasn’t open for tours, we were still able to gaze upon its beauty from outside and investigate its inner courtyard, heraldic symbols on the outer walls and admire its statuesque beauty.

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Our tummies were beginning to grumble so we ventured into the garden to find a nice spot to enjoy our picnic lunch. Starting at the uppermost highest corner of the gardens near the old stables, we began our search.IMG_2541

IMG_2469There it was, some steps with a gorgeous backdrop and the beautiful gardens laid out before our eyes.  Perfect spot for a picnic nestled in next to the delightful star like Scottish Thistles!

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After a satisfying steak and tomato sandwich, we meandered over to the Stone Collection.

Next, we ducked into a pathway leading through the tall hedge which revealed the vegetable and fruit garden beyond complete with a ‘Scareboy’ in the children’s garden bed portion!

 

In the midst of all those veggies and fruits were the fantastically fragrant and multi coloured sweet peas to delight our nostrils!

A bit further on and outside the walled gardens, we came upon this vast path meandering along the outside of the wall as far as you could see; a wave of colourful blossoms of every ilk!

Smack dab in the middle of the long meandering path of flowers was another rope-lined pathway leading out to a gorgeous rock garden.

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Back through the flowers and into the lower portion of the walled garden, we see row after row of trees growing and the walls adorned with vines and statuary offering many sights to meditatively enjoy the gloriousness of the space within its walls.

At various points around the garden, we also happened upon several very interesting Pictish stones here and there.

Of course, they also had a guard cat…

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As we ended our circuitous tour of this lovely garden, we find ourselves back at the semi-circular stables where we had parked our car.

If the house is half as interesting as this garden has been; it certainly deserves a trip back to see it another day.  We climbed in the car and started heading south towards Rhynie where we visited the old churchyard.  Outside the churchyard, we first came upon some more ancient Pictish stones.  This area is ripe with them and one finds them in the most interesting places!

Inside the old churchyard, we also saw one particular interesting stone complete with an old stone coffin!  Thank goodness it was empty!

I peered over the wall of the churchyard and accidentally spooked the sheep grazing nearby; they took off like a bullet.  Perhaps they thought I was a ghost from one of the graves!IMG_2548

 

The next stop was near Lumsden at a roadside farm.  A couple of years ago I visited this same field and was delighted by a couple of very young little baby ‘hairy coo’s.’  Those babies have grown quite a bit but still just as friendly and lovable as ever.  They loved having their photo taken and I had to laugh because the more pictures I shot, the more they posed, as if to say, “Here’s a front side, now how about this side profile and now the other side…’

The second one, who was way out in the field while I took photos of the first, seemed a bit jealous and eventually came forward across the field as if to say, “Now it’s my turn!”

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What a pair of hams!

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After Lumsden, we turned off at Mossat only to find out a few miles further that the road to Alford was closed, so we doubled back and headed further, finding the old Kildrummy Kirkyard along the route.  What a find!  That old kirk and kirkyard, a little over a mile north of Kildrummy Castle, comes with a large and fascinating collection of old gravestones.

There are two main structures still standing on the hill.  One is a porch built in 1605 for the existing Kirk and later reused as a burial enclosure.

On the walls and floor are a series of superb old grave slabs of the Elphinstone family.

Nearby is what looks like it might have originally been the north wall of the older Kirk, which now stands off on its own.  An old memorial is built into part of this wall, and another part has an arched recess protected from the weather by wooden doors which can be opened.

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We opened the wooden doors of the protected arched recess and found the exquisite effigies of the 4th Laird of Brux and his wife, dating from the 1400s, plus the grave slab dated November 1730 honoring James Lumsden. The Lumsdens continued to be buried here until relatively recent times.

There is also a military grave commemorating Private C Lumsden of the Gordon Highlands, who died on 31 March 1921.

According to Undiscovered Scotland’s visitor information, opinions differ about the origin of the mound on which the old kirkyard stands. According to one account, this has been the site of a series of churches stretching all the way back to one established here by King Bridei I of the Picts in 581. According to other sources, the mound is actually a motte, on which a precursor to Kildrummy Castle stood until the latter was built in about 1250. What is clear is that there has been a church standing here since as far back as the early 1300s, originally called the Chapel of the Lochs. This later became the Kirk of St. Bride and was altered on a number of occasions.

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After that interesting place, we climbed back in the car and started making our way home, past Glenbuchat Castle (still under repairs and covered in scaffolding; will have to visit that one again another return trip when it’s finished) working our way through a bit of the Cairngorms toward Aboyne with beautiful views along the way…

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…finally arriving back at Lindsay’s house in Aberdeen after wandering around the countryside seeing lots of wonderful historic, colourful and entertaining sights along the way without any specific purpose or destinations in mind.  Surprises can be so delightful!

 

Haddo House and Pictish Stones & Circles in Nearby Inverurie

Haddo House map

Last year, just before I went home in late October, Lindsay and I had driven out to one more National Trust for Scotland site – Haddo House – only to be told it was closed because they were getting ready for their very popular annual event, a Haunted House! This past Monday, 24 July 2017, Lindsay and I started out our week with a follow-up visit.

The location of Haddo House is shown above on the map with the white circle around the blue splat.  Notice also that along the A96 highway, there are also quite a few other blue splats.  They signify the locations of various ancient Pictish stones, a stone circle and a very old and ancient church.  I found these interesting places to visit on the Historic Scotland website.

So we decided to first visit Haddo House and then go on a scavenger hunt trying to find the various stones, the circle, and the ancient church.  Since these sites are usually in very obscure places, like out in a middle of a farmer’s field, it can be quite challenging sometimes.

We started out with the easy to find location. It looks like we’re in for a real treat!  IMG_0725First, we enter what used to be the stables to gain entry…

IMG_0739We begin by walking up to the house up the old driveway.

 

This is another grand house which belonged to some “Gordons” and their crest is proudly and prominently displayed.  Along the way, we also pass Haddo Hall which houses a theater which one of the Gordons had built, with rehearsal rooms, known as the Peatyards.  Haddo House Choral & Operatic Society, a large and vibrant choral society was formed in 1945 and has its operations base here.  For over sixty years it has been noted for its annual musical operatic productions.

As you might imagine, this house is steeped in history. The Gordons, who later became the Earls of Aberdeen and Marquesses of Aberdeen, have lived on this site for over 500 years.  George Gordon, born in 1732 became the 1st Earl of Aberdeen, and eventually Lord Chancellor Scotland.

The 4th Earl, George Hamilton-Gordon, was Haddo House’s most notable former resident; he was the British Prime Minister from 1852-1855. A picture of him is shown below.

Another notable period in the history of this house was during World War II.  The house became a maternity hospital for evacuated mothers of Glasgow.  About 1,200 babies were born here and many of them still come back to visit and are affectionately referred to as the “Haddo Babies.”

Haddo House sits near the site of the old Kellie Castle (see photo below). It was the family’s previous dwelling dating back to 1732. IMG_0751It was burnt down by the Covenanters and a new house was built – Haddo House – designed by William Adam in the Georgian Palladian style. The style interior of the house, however, is late Victorian and was refurbished in the 1880’s by the same interior designers that worked at Culzean Castle in Ayrshire. It also contains a very nice art collection, including a series of 85 castles hand-drawn by a very talented artist, James Giles, and a Madonna believed to be painted by Raphael, scattered amongst the various family member portraits.IMG_0799We were met by a really friendly, kilt-wearing guide named Alan.IMG_0749

 

Unfortunately, we were not allowed to take any photographs once inside.  The interior was quite fascinating and we were taken through room after room, upstairs and down, looking at all kinds of wonderful things including the room where Queen Victoria stayed! I highly recommend taking the time to tour this house if you’re in the area.  The guides were very knowledgeable and friendly.  It wasn’t busy at all which meant Lindsay and I got an individualized tour all by ourselves.

There is even a chapel attached to the house so they could go to church without even stepping outside. Still to this day Ecumenical public services are held with the current Lady in attendance.

After the wonderful tour, we headed through the gate near the chapel to go out to the gardens at the back of the house.

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IMG_0796We headed back to the car park, grabbed our picnic lunch and sat out on the grounds to enjoy the view of the obelisk in the distance.

Afterward, we drove about 7 miles south toward the town of Inverurie to find the Aquhorthies Stone Circle.

IMG_0824We walked up the short path and before we knew it; there it was! Yeah!

IMG_0839These places are so cool and just fascinate me to no end; let’s see what the sign has to say.

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Now let’s get a closer look, shall we?

IMG_0865It just amazes me that these ancient people somehow got this big rock on the right hauled down from the mountain top in the background to this point.  The mountain, by the way, is called Bennachie (pronounced Ben-a-hee) and is 1,732 feet high and there is an ancient iron age fort at its summit.  The summit is called Mither Tap (see photo below.)

We then headed back down the path back to the car and started to scout out our next destination, the Maiden Stone, up near the town of Pitcaple a little ways north up the A96 highway.

IMG_0849IMG_0867Luckily, there was a Historic Scotland sign just north of Pitcaple pointing the way and about 1 mile up the road there it was literally right next to the road!

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IMG_0926What a fascinating stone!  Next stop, we headed back south to Inverurie to the Brandsbutt Stone.  Again, the signs pointed the way and we found ourselves in the middle of a neighborhood with a little park nestled in amongst the houses.

 

IMG_0920This grassy lawn area of the park is where the stone circle was.  Even though there is little left of the stones, you can easily see exactly where the circle was in the grass.  See that circular line in the lower foreground of the photo above?  I walked around the indentation the whole circumference of the circle.  I’m sure there are still stones underneath the grass like the Aquhorthies circle we were at earlier.

Over in the corner of the neighborhood park was also this little interesting feature:

Okay, one more place to try to find on our ancient scavenger hunt, Kinkell Church.  We drove through the village of Inverurie heading south and out of town again following an obscure farm road.  This time no Historic Scotland signposts guided the way.  We did pass a beautiful patch of wildflowers some people had planted, however.

IMG_0903Although the route wasn’t sign posted like the others, Lindsay was able to find it on his phone using Maps and he navigated me through the winding roads until at last, we came to a dead end at a farm and the ancient monument was just across the road sitting in the middle of his fields!

IMG_0953It had very little remaining of the church, but what did remain was quite interesting.

On the north wall is an elaborate sacrament house, dated 1524, designed to hold the consecrated Host. Also, a bronze replica of a Calvary of 1525.  Both the sacrament and the Calvary bear the initials of Alexander Galloway, Parson of Kenkell.

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Nearby is the reused grave slab of Gilbert de Greenlaw, slain at the battle of Harlaw in 1411 on one side and on the other side: “Here lies bright with honor, and adorned with saintly piety of character, John Forbes of Ardmurdo, 4th successor of his name, who died 8th July, 1592 in the 66th year of his age.”  So they were ‘re-purposing’ grave stones even then!

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IMG_0959It was a fun day visiting grand manor houses and gardens and then scouting out ancient Stone Circles, Stones, and churches in the countryside.  Quite the unique adventure on the menu for today.  Hope you enjoyed our finds as much as we did!
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Outstanding Orkney’s

Monday morning, July 2nd, Pat and I drove north from Dingwall to the northern tip of Scotland.  We were headed to Gill’s Bay near John O’Groats to catch a catamaran Pentland Ferry to the Orkney Islands. dingwall to gills bay

We could see the islands on the horizon as we neared our destination luring us over for a visit.  IMG_1314

It was a gorgeous day and we had been looking forward to this adventure since last year when we had such glorious time exploring Applecross together.

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As usual, we stopped along the 2 hour drive for refreshments and a bit of a leg stretch, and the tea room we stopped at had an alluring and tempting variety of treats available for sampling!

When we arrived at the ferry about an hour and a half too early for our scheduled sailing, we decided we had just enough time to visit a castle nearby, Castle Mey, a royal castle!  So off we went!  Fun!

IMG_1319Just a hop, skip and a jump away, we were soon turning up the drive and passing the gates.

Just around the corner there it stood in all its glory!  A nice, little, unpretentious castle just waiting to be explored!

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Like most castles that are still occupied, but still allow visitors to tour when they are not in residence, one is not allowed to take pictures inside for obvious personal identity reasons.  You can however learn a bit more about this castle and its history at the following link:  Castle of Mey

For now, we’ll stroll around the outside of the castle and visit the gardens.

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The self-guided tour inside was very nice.  I was a bit surprised that the interior decorations were not more fancy-wancy.  Mind you, very high quality, and the place was full of personal items of the Queen Mother, but not over-the-top with glitz.  It felt ‘lived-in’ and very unpretentious, down-to-earth, and real.  I liked that; not someone trying to out-do the next guy with all its glimmer and shine, just “quality,” human and loving, like a home.

The walled gardens were very extensive and flourishing with every kind of vegetable, fruit and flower.  A garden planted to supply a plethora of home-grown dishes for the table like this potato patch below for example which contained several different varieties, a different type planted in each row.

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Broad beans and onions…  Greenhouses, cold frames and cabbages!

Flower and herb borders… more vegetables in intensive beds…

Look at the size of those beautiful and perfect artichokes!IMG_1348IMG_1350

Then there were the immense, wire-covered enclosures containing the delectable berries of all varieties nestled in nicely out of the reach of the birds!  That’s handy!
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IMG_1354It was an absolutely huge garden with every inch of fertile space planted and yielding abundant crops! Wish I had a horn of plenty garden like that!  I’d spend the entire day, everyday out there dabbling and digging and smelling the roses!IMG_1355

Loved these little gems in a variety of colors below, although I do not recall ever seeing them before or knowing what they are.  Will have to investigate this winter when I’m not traveling.  If anyone knows, leave a comment, ok?

Really enjoyed visiting Castle Mey and its gorgeous gardens, but it was time to head back to Gill’s Bay to catch our ferry and begin our journey to the Orkney’s.

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A very interesting, catamaran ferry which loaded the cars under the upper deck in a clockwise fashion and positioned the caravan campers and lorry (truck) containers in reverse in the center.  Never seen a ferry like this before.  Pretty cool and efficient to boot!

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Before long we were leaving Gill’s Bay ferry landing and sailing away!

IMG_1369Nice comfortable seating below and above! It was a great sail; smooth, sun and wonderful vistas as we made our way past various small islands on our way to St. Margaret’s Hope.

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Soon we were off the ferry and driving through St. Margaret’s Hope, a quaint little village with some very interesting little tidbits here and there like this van for instance.

Across from Cromarty Square (above) was this delightful Blacksmith Museum (below)

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The tools and implements in the blacksmith were quite extensive and interesting to look at. In the reception area of the museum were these pictures of unusual activities that take place in St. Margaret’s Hope.  The town has an unique competition each year called “Boy’s Ploughing Match” to see who can plow the straightest lines in the sand and the girls get dressed up in Horse costumes! You won’t witness an event like that anywhere else, would you?

They also had some yummy treats available for sale like ‘tablet’ and ‘scotchbread cookies.’ Yum!

We continued to stroll about the village before heading out of town and working our way to Kirkwall.  IMG_1429

Along the way, we came across these very interesting features; barriers and blockships.

During WWII it was found necessary to build barriers between the islands to prevent German U-boat submarines from entering the eastern entrances to the channels and occupying the territory.  In order to do so they built causeways across the channels and sunk decommissioned ships in strategic positions.  Now the causeways also serve as a handy way to drive from island to island instead of having to take ferries each time.

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