Ferries and Castles and the SUN!
So, after walking for miles, crawling into caverns and tombs and chambers and absorbing the wild and sometimes stark beauty of Orkney, I boarded the overnight ferry on Monday night from Kirkwall to Aberdeen. . . and found the SUN!! Yes, it was hiding on the east coast of Scotland all this time. I didn’t get a cabin for the crossing so I relaxed and slept some in a recliner in a ‘quiet’ lounge. Well, quiet except for the crying two-year-old who didn’t quite understand the concept of sleeping on a ship!
I drove out of the ferry car park in Aberdeen on Tuesday morning and promptly got lost in the city! LOL — I think I was so stunned to see the sun I couldn’t remember the directions to the museum I wanted to see before heading to my next stop. So, I set the GPS for Banchory and drove off down the A93 towards the area known as Royal Deeside – royal because of Queen Victoria’s interest in the area (Balmoral, her Highland retreat as well as the current Royal family’s) is just down the road from Banchory and Deeside because the River Dee runs through it. I was able to get into my room at the Burnett Arms Hotel – a former coaching inn – and decided not to waste a moment of sunshine and headed off to my primary destination in the area – Dunnottar Castle!
There simply is nothing I can say to describe the dramatic approach to this castle. It sits out on a promontory into the North Sea which is separate from the mainland approach. Although these ruins are ‘new’, there has been a fort or castle here since Pictish times and it has been a religious and political stronghold through the ages. The walk from the car park is about 1/4 mile and the castle rises into view . . . and then you realize you must climb down one cliffside and up the other to get inside!
Which brings me to . . . . 180 steps down!
Yeppers! I counted them – well, I counted them on the way back up because I wanted to keep focused and wanted to remember how many I’d climbed…if I survived! And I did! Once you reach the bottom it’s back up the other side which is steep but doesn’t have as many steps involved and you reach the entrance to the keep. In a nice twist, you don’t actually pay for admission until you get inside the keep – so if you don’t make it, at least they don’t charge you! LOL!
Oh, and once you’re inside, your climbing is not done yet! Several of the remaining buildings have several storeys and spiral staircases, all worth the effort because of the spectacular views from windows and between walls. Each turn in my path led to something wondrous…
One of the reasons why Dunnottar was so difficult to capture was its location and structure. Attackers were themselves targets from inside since all entrance had to come from below. With the rough cliffs and rocky coast, an attack or entrance by sea was nearly or completely impossible. BTW – this is where the Honours of Scotland were hidden for months from Cromwell’s forces until they were smuggled out by a minister’s wife and buried in a local church. And, yes, I asked about the sword and how she could have done that when I saw the Honours at Edinburgh Castle — the sword is ceremonial, made of mostly gold and therefore malleable…er…bendable! It was probably bent in half and hidden under her cloak or skirts. The docent even pointed out the thin line and marking on the sword where they believe it was bent. Who’da thunk?
So, after spending more than an hour touring the keep and the other buildings (chapel, vaults, stables, Women’s Toilets!) I made the climb down and back up those 180 steps. Before returning to Banchory, I drove through (sigh…because I got lost again!) Stonehaven. It’s a lovely town with its harbor being one of the most photographed in the UK. Actually, it’s the photo for September on my calendar at home!
Then, I drove on those wildy-curving one-track roads back to Banchory. Wednesday, I awoke to more sun so off I went again — this time only a couple miles down the road, first to Drum Castle and then to Crathes Castle.
Drum Castle is made up of a medieval tower plus a more modern (16th Century) house. They offer a wonderful guides tour of the main house, with its more recent Georgian rooms and Victorian corridor and the day I toured the staff were all still atwitter because HRH Prince Edward had attended a dinner at the castle the evening before! A smallish affair for 50 people…and then he’d gone off down the road to spend time with his ‘mum’ — the Queen was in residence/on her summer holiday at Balmoral…
After touring the house, they let you tour the medieval tower on your own because. . . it’s a tower and there are lots of steps! LOL! As a matter of fact, once you climb into the main chamber, the great hall of the tower, you then climb a very narrow, very steep ladder-type of stairway up to the loft and then to the battlements overhead! The view of the surrounding area is spectacular, of course.
If you’ve read any of my books set in medieval times, you know I always love to have my characters up on the battlements. Many times, interactions of an intense, personal nature (ahem!) take place up there! I have a certain bit of fear of heights, but I love walking around battlements, the winds blowing, and I make the climb for the chance to walk them myself. This tower’s battlements are not the largest I’ve walked (the Tower of London is bigger, Duart Castle and Dunstaffnage Castle near Oban are, too) but it was impressive nonetheless! And, of course, then came the climb down — accomplished by going backwards down those stairs after ducking down to miss the stone ledge above your head…fun!
With thanks to the National Trust of Scotland for the photo, this castle has been lived in by the same family for more than 350 years! As you walk through it, you go back and forth in the centuries as the castle was renovated for various generations and family needs. The family was originally granted the title of Royal Forester by Robert the Bruce.
The gardens surrounding the castle are fabulous and you could spend hours just wandering among the various parts and paths, beautiful even now in the autumn. And, for those hardy souls who can still walk, the castle is set in woodlands with several paths of varying challenge levels clearly marked. Needless to say, I was all walked out by then so I did not accept the challenge. . . LOL!
Once back in Banchory, I did walk though. The town’s High Street is lined with shops and cafes and hotels and BOOKSTORES, so I strolled along, window shopping and book shopping. Dan Brown’s new book, THE LOST SYMBOL, was prominently displayed and was selling well according to store clerks in both the independent and the chain store in town. (I pre-ordered a copy and it was delivered to the last place I’m staying! And it only cost 5 pounds including delivery! A bargain and a great airplane book)
I finished off my evening with dinner in the hotel’s pub and a wee dram of Glenmorangie whisky, bought for me by a local man after discovering I was drinking, horrors!, water. . . It went down verra smoothly, but that’s a story for another time!
Spending my weekend in Invermoriston – on Loch Ness – taking a couple of days to R&R and to, hopefully, get some writing done. BUT — the sun keeps coming out and I may have to get into my little blue Nissan and drive around a bit — to appreciate the Highland scenery in the sunshine since I’ve seen it in the rain. . . Byeeeeee for now….