20th July 2018 - 30th August 2018

Nairn

Here we are back in Scotland, not too far from where we were before but further East and in a town. After Berkshire this house is luxury, we have two bedrooms, two toilets a separate kitchen and a garden. We are close to the Whisky trail and will attempt to do as many whiskys as we can. This may cost a bit as we seem to buy a bottle everywhere we go.

We are very close to a few castles, but Ross seems to have gone off castles.

We did visit Fort George. Fort George is the finest example of 18th-century military engineering anywhere in the British Isles, though the army base never fired a shot in anger. Today, the fort would cost nearly £1 billion to build and equip. Strategically located on a promontory jutting into the Moray Firth, (which is great for dolphin watching, Ross saw some!) the army base was designed to evade capture. Fort George was built on a monumental scale, making use of sophisticated defence standards, with heavy guns covering every angle. The boundary walls of the fort housed: accommodation for a governor, officers, an artillery detachment and a 1,600-strong infantry garrison, more than 80 guns, a magazine for 2,672 gunpowder barrels, ordnance and provision stores, a brewhouse and a chapel.

The fort was built after the Jacobite Rising of 1745–6 proved to be the last attempt by the Stuart dynasty to regain from the Hanoverians the thrones of Scotland and England and Wales. Fort George was one of the ruthless measures introduced by the government to suppress Jacobite ambitions after the nearby Battle of Culloden. It was intended as the main garrison fortress in the Scottish Highlands and named after George II.

Lieutenant-General William Skinner was the designer and first governor of Fort George. He mapped out the complex layout of: the ramparts, massive bastions, ditches and firing steps.  Defences were heavily concentrated on the landward side of the promontory – the direction from which a Jacobite assault was expected. Long stretches of rampart and smaller bastions protected the remaining seaward sides.

Later in the 1700’s, when the Jacobite threat was over, the fort became a recruiting base and training camp for the rapidly expanding British Army. Many a Highland lad passed through its gates on his way to fight for the British Empire across the globe.  Between 1881 and 1964, the fort served as the depot of the Seaforth Highlanders.

Fort George is currently the home of the Black Watch, 3rd Battalion - The Royal Regiment of Scotland (3 SCOTS). The Fort is huge and takes a couple of hours to walk around. The museum is a very comprehensive one, with lots of memorabilia from wars. It also has a full complement of muskets, this is believed to be the only full collection in the world.

We have also managed to visit a few distilleries we are on the start of the whisky trail. Surprisingly we have not visited that many yet, Dallus Du, which is no longer a working distillery, Benromach which is, and we have also visited Royal Lochnagar, when we were at Balmoral (see later). We are no longer doing the tours as one distillery is very similar to the next and the process is the same. We are just doing tastings and buying!!!

We have dropped into Brody Castle but did not visit so will have to return. I am always surprised about how expensive it is to visit Castles, but I guess upkeep is not cheap either!! Castles in Scotland are more like huge stately houses in large grounds and are always very interesting.

Stephen and Monica arrived for a few days with an invitation to visit Monica’s sister Pat and her husband Norman in Balmoral. I was very excited and checked out tours of Balmoral castle, unfortunately the Queen arrived at the same time as our visit; no tours when she is in residence.

We visited Calva Cairns which are bronze age burial mounds there was a series of them and other stone mounds. The stones all line up for the solstices and are quite amazing, one building, they think may have been a chapel. Very civilised for the bronze age. We also wandered around Grantown on Spey. A very old town were the market cross was used to whip unruly citizens. Not so nice.

A very surprisingly interesting tour was a tour of the Speyside Cooperage. The Speyside Cooperage is the only working cooperage in the UK. Since 1947, it has produced the finest casks from the best American Oak. In 2008 the Cooperage was sold to the French firm Tonnellerie François Frères.  Today the cooperage continues to work and produce the age-old product, still using traditional methods and tools. Each year, it produces and repairs nearly 150,000 oak casks used by the surrounding Speyside Whisky distilleries, as well as distilleries throughout Scotland and the rest of the world. The guys in the cooperage are paid on piece rates, and so they work fast amazing, earning lots of money according to the tour guide. One of them has the Guinness book of records for fastest barrel making 3 mins 3 seconds. He was not there when we were as he is also the fastest down the pub on a Friday afternoon. I did not think barrel making would be so interesting.

To get to Balmoral we crossed the Cairngorms; fantastic scenery and the heather was just coming out. We stopped at Braemar for lunch, it was not the best idea as it seemed to be closed we eventually got a sandwich in the pub served by a lass from Europe who must have arrived the day before. She was being trained and could not speak, English. We managed. Braemar in Scotland is much prettier than the one in NSW!

We got to the cottage in Balmoral which has a fantastic view across the highlands. It is in the middle of the countryside all beautiful. Pat and Norman took us on a tour showing us Prince Charles Holiday house. The gates of Balmoral and then we went into Ballater. Ballater was were Queen Victoria got off the train when visiting Balmoral, unfortunately the railway station burnt down, it has been restored and looks ready to open any day now. Prince Charles owns a restaurant in Ballater. On the way back, we stopped at Crathie Church. The church the Queen goes to.

The next morning saw myself, Monica and Pat at Crathie Church, in the rain, with about a hundred other people waiting for the Queen. Very excited she drove past slowly and waved to everyone. She looked lovely in pale blue.

Stephen and Monica left, and we settled into not doing too much. Ross goes for the newspaper and I then get up and have breakfast. I decided this was boring and we need to get out and about. How luck Saturday is the Highland Games in Nairn. One of the largest in Scotland and featuring the largest Pipe band, now isn't that lucky.

We drove to the car park in town and got a park by driving the wrong way into the carpark, Ross was not amused!

A short walk to the games. The fair was hilarious with stalls featuring raffled goods. The rest of the stalls were voluntary organisations and one stall selling two books one by the stall holders' daughter and one by the lady with him. We decided not to buy either although many people were and getting autographs. We found a good spot on the rise and watched the pipe bands parade around the grounds. A marathon was being run and everyone in the enclosure were told to keep out of the runners way. The pipe bands totally ignored this making the poor marathon runners run around them to get to the finishing line! The girls and boys doing the highland dancing were very entertaining and some were even very good. 

Lunch was a Haggis burger, very nice. Then we watched the stones and other objects being thrown at distances and over high jumps There was lots of races and jumping going on as well as tug of war. It was getting cold so we went home before the caber tossing.

I got Ross to Cawdor Castle and he enjoyed it! The original Cawdor Castle dates from the late 14th century, built as a private fortress by the Thanes of Cawdor. An ancient medieval tower built around the legendary holly tree. That castle has since vanished without trace. The family had another residence at Old Calder which, according to the Exchequer accounts, was last repaired in 1398. 

The legendary tale says that the Thane of Cawdor, who had the small castle about a mile away of which not much remains of that building apart from faint crop-marks, decided to build a new, stronger tower. Visited by an oracle in his dream who instructed him to load a chest of gold onto the back of a donkey. The spot where the animal rested would be a safe haven to build the new Castle. Finally resting at the foot of a Hawthorn Tree, the Thane built his tower. The tree exists to this day, standing at the heart of Cawdor Castle. The Cawdor's seem to have a thing for building around trees.

This new and imposing, rectangular tower-house was built, consisted of four storeys and a garret with one entrance to the outside world. Positioned on the upper first floor level; the perfect design to keep out unwelcome visitors. The Cawdor family have lived continuously in this Castle from when it was built in the 1300's to this day it is lovingly filled with beautiful furniture, fine portraits, intriguing objects and amazing tapestries the Castle collection has evolved for over 600 years.

One of the portraits is a Scotty dog belonging to Lady Cawdor who was a lady in waiting to Queen Victoria. The dog was allowed everywhere and and the queen become fond of her. The story goes the Queen had the dog kidnapped so the portrait could be painted as a present to Lady Cawdor.

The Tapestry Bedroom is the best bedroom above the great hall – forms part of the 17th century’s additions to the castle. The four-poster was the marriage-bed of Sir Hugh Campbell and Lady Henrietta Stuart who were married at Darnaway Castle [q.v.] in 1662. The gilded and silvered Venetian headboard is the original.  During restoration, the style was guided by an inventory entered by Lady Henrietta. In her personal housekeeping notebook, she added, while spring-cleaning in April 1688: “In the Crimson Chamber there is an Crimson velvet bed, with head and foot valances both [gilt-]laced alike, lined with white taffeta, with feathers on the top of the bed, an gilded head in the bed, an feather bed-bolster…”

In the Dining Room is a stone fireplace installed on the 13th of April 1671, which encountered some difficulty. Recorded by the Brodie of Brodie in his diary: “…This day there did fallout a remarkable accident, never to be forgotten. The drawbridge at Cawdor fell, carrying in a great stone, and with it 24 men, and the Laird himself. Some were hurt…” The mantelpiece commemorates the marriage between Sir John Campbell of Argyll and Muriel Calder of Cawdor in 1510. The allegorical design and the inscription in dog Latin have never been satisfactorily explained or translated. The writing may mean ‘In the morning, remember your creators’. Or perhaps ‘If you stay too long in the evening, you will remember it in the morning’.

The old kitchen was in active use between 1640 and 1938. It features a well, dug straight into the old red sandstone rock on which the Castle is built. The rock strata dips towards the west ensuring that throughout the year the water permeates and keeps the well charged within six feet of spring water.  The amazing cooking range is 19th century, and above it is the gearing for a spit. In 1760 it was the very latest thing and was, at least in theory, automatic because the hotter the fire became, the quicker the meat turned. There are many other contraptions in the old kitchen, including an old ice-box, flat-irons, smoothing-irons, a pestle and mortar, a bucket – yoke, and earthenware jars to name a few. I was particularly taken with the meat press that was used to make gravy from the meat juices.

The gardens at Cawdor are particularly wonderful. Uniquely for a Scottish Castle, Cawdor boasts three very different gardens. Each with their own history that generations of owners have over the years, transformed and extended. As a result, these ideas are represented today by the Walled Garden, the Flower Garden and the Wild Garden.

Supplied by a wealth of flora and fauna, the gardens at Cawdor Castle are ever changing with the seasons. They include roses, rhododendrons, the rare blue poppy, topiary, spring bulbs and contemporary sculptures.

In addition the Big Wood, a remnant of the ancient Caledonian forest is home to splendid trees and nature trails.  They have a maze which unfortunately was closed. I walked in all the gardens including a short walk in the wild garden, while Ross had a beer. I was particularly taken by the sculptures. The bird feeder in the Flower garden was my favourite.  

We had a funny trip to a Pictish site an old well in a place called Burghead. Burghead is further eastyand on a promontory. The well was locked and we had to get the key from the Bothe, The coffee shop, we duly signed and left or telephone number and unlocked the well.

It is known that there was once a great Pictish fort at Burghead, built between 2,000 and 1,500 years ago, though little of it remains today. Tradition held that the hollow visible in the corner of the ancient fort held a well. When the planned town of Burghead was built in 1808, the well was selected as its water source. Excavations the following year revealed a solid rock chamber, with a flight of stone steps leading down.

Theories about the function of the ‘well’ include:

  • a shrine to Celtic water deities

  • a place of ritual execution

  • an early Christian baptistry

  • a Pictish cult centre, later converted to Christian use

Well it was small and dank but had a mysterious feel to it under a large mound of soil.

The grand Opening

The grand Opening

Well opening to the fort?

Well opening to the fort?

The water

The water

Not Drinkable

Not Drinkable

Burghead is a mixture of ugly with a large granary holding the barley for whisky and some very plain houses. But the seascapes are magnificent it was a very windy day, which made my eyes water, I needed my sunglasses on to see and then I could not see as the day was dark. 

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In Scotland a wild flower has caught my eye it is very pretty and covers the wilder parts of the country. It is the Rosebay willowherb, Botanical name Chamaenerion angustifolium. It flowers June to September, so while we are here.

It is also the end of summer and the fields are being harvested they look lovely

We have travelled close to Elgin many times. We decided to go into Elgin and see the Cathedral. Elgin Cathedral earned the name the ‘Lantern of the North’. Even as a ruin, the cathedral shines out as one of Scotland’s most ambitious and beautiful medieval buildings. Begun in 1224, Elgin was the principal church of the bishops of Moray. It lost its roof shortly after the Protestant Reformation of 1560, and later its central tower fell Work began on the cathedral dedicated to the Holy Trinity—was established in 1224 on land granted by King Alexander II close to the River Lossie. It replaced the cathedral at Spynie, but it is the product of three main building phases.

The cathedral was the spiritual heart of the diocese of Moray. But the bishop’s ‘cathedra’ (seat) wasn’t always at Elgin. Before the time of Bishop Brice of Douglas (1203–22), it moved between Kinneddar, Birnie and Spynie.

Bishop Brice chose Spynie (2 miles north) as the permanent location for his cathedral, but it moved to Elgin around 1224.  A mostly intact octagonal chapterhouse dates from the major enlargement after the fire of 1270. It was unaffected by the Wars of Scottish Independence but again suffered extensive fire damage in 1390 following an attack by Robert III's brother Alexander Stewart, Earl of Buchan, also known (after his death) as the Wolf of Badenoch. The gable wall above the double door entrance that links the west towers is nearly complete and was rebuilt following the 1390 fire.  In 1402 the cathedral precinct again suffered an incendiary attack by the followers of the Lord of the Isles

Even as a ruin, the cathedral still boasts plenty of detail that tells of its development and embellishment.

The cathedral was once richly carved and adorned with stained glass and painted decoration. A fine collection of architectural fragments hints at the building’s lost beauty, while documentary evidence sheds light on religious life at Elgin.

After Elgon Cathedral it is almost compulsory to go to Spynie Palace which is were the Bishop of Moray lived. The oldest surviving buildings, dates from the 1300s, include a first-floor hall and perhaps a chapel, with an entrance gateway below. it was not attack by Robert III's brother Alexander Stewart, Earl of Buchan, also known (after his death) as the Wolf of Badenoch. Probably because it is built like a fort and would have  withstood a siege and the Wolf of Badenoch used mercenaries, expensive.