SCOTLAND 2014

Kilchurn Castle: The first castle on our journey deep into Scotland was Kilchurn, located on the east end of Loch Awe. The oldest part of this castles, the four storey square tower, was built around 1450 by the first lord Glenorchy, Colin Campbell. One enters the castle through a dark cellar and inside to the left is an (closed off) even darker cellar/pit which was the prison. Good thing I brought my torch to check out some of the skeletons left there in chains, still waiting to be released... This castle has one of the oldest barracks in Britain, the rectangular structure with many windows and a huge fireplace, which was added around 1690. This castle was damaged by lighting in 1760 and was not repaired after. It was a great ruin to explore with access to the top of two of the towers with the views from the main one being quite impressive in all directions! One can also see on the ground an upside down turret which fell from one of the towers. The location of the castle is fantastic, overlooking Loch Awe to the west with some islands and surrounded by beautiful hills and meadows on the other sides.


Kilmartin Valley: Next was a relaxing stop to check out some more 'ancient' monuments, a few of the Neolithic monuments in Kilmartin Valley. This valley actually has around 800 ancient monuments such as standing stones, engraved stones, stone circles and cairns. While driving along the valley we did notice several easy to spot ones by the road. We stopped by the Temple Wood stone circle first which is an unusual circle consisting of 22 upright stones about two feet above the ground filled within and around with smaller boulders and a burial cist which has been inserted in the middle. Just to the east is a smaller circle with a stone in the middle and one on the edge, also filled in with boulders. A short walk to the south are the amazing Nether Largie standing stones, a set of five tall stones with a few smaller ones around the center one. The five stones are arranged into an X shape. Between the two monuments is the Nether Largie Mid cairn, which is just one in a row of several but we could go inside this one to get a feel for how it would be to be burried there. Pretty cool! There are two cists at this cairn, but it's missing many of the stones that would have covered the entire structure.


Carnasserie Castle: Just a few minutes north of Kilmartin Valley is this very neat castle. It does not look like much from the outside on approach; a square tower as you walk up the hill, but there was more to explore on the inside than we expected! The location, on top of a rocky hill overlooking beautiful hills, is simply great. To the south of the castle is a nice yard enclosed by a stone wall with a very nice entrance gate in the west corner, which probably led to another enclosed yard that is now gone and from there one would get to the main entrance door to the castle. This castle was built in 1560s by John Carswell, a supporter of the native cluture. Both towers of the castle have excellent spiral stairs that allow one to climb all the way to the tops, but only the larger tower allows one to talk around 3/4 of the top wall as the smaler ones simply runs out of stairs and ends abruptly. The castle was destroyed just over a 100 years after it was built by the Royalist forces.


Inverlochy Castle: A great castle which we visited in the late afternoon of our first day. A typical 1200s design with a solid walls with a simple roughly square layout with four large round towers at the corners to help guard the walls. The castle was built in about 1280 by John "the Black" Comyn, Lord of Badenoch and Lochaber, and chief of the Clan Comyn. Too bad not much is left of the towers - although most look excellent from the outside, they are empty shells on the inside. Still, a very pleasant castle to walk around, with the river running right beside it and the tallest mountain on the island, Ben Nevis, visible from the front entrance! Also, the castle has what looks like a moat, however, in its day it was actually deep enough so that the river beside would flow right around this castle! It had a rear river access gate and the main gate which would go over a bridge - there were some remnants of possible further defenses around the gate in the wall at the front.


Tioram Castle: After surviving our first night of camping on Loch Arkaig a bit north of Inverlochy Castle, we drove west on the very scenic A830 to Loch Moidart to see Tioram Castle. This was one of my favourite and most awaited castles on this trip because it is located on a tidal island and can only be accessed via a sandy causeway during low tide. It als has an interesting five-sided shape and is in a stunning location! It is a small but formidable looking castle standing on a rock outcrop, surrounded by some cliffs on the west side. The walls are in excellent condition looking from the outside and are rounded off at the corners, with the main buildings next to the southern walls leaving the northern part by the entrance gate with a small (and very overgrown) courtyard. Inside there was plenty to explore! No access to the top but there are some stairs leading to different parts of the castle. It was built in the early 1200s with some of the buildings added on at a later date. A magical place!


Isle of Skye Camping: After Tioram we drove to the Isle of Skye for some camping in the Cullin mountains. We took the road to Elgol and hiked west from the small parking just south of Kilmarie. At the beginning of the trail there are some small runins of an old house from time past. After walking uphill for basically forever, we got great views of the valley in the mountains and the bay at Camasunary. We noticed some waterfalls in the distance and thought it'd be a great idea to camp by them but the trail turned into a sheep trail and then basically dissapeared... It was rough going but we did get to a great waterfall and explored around! No good camping spots there though so we hiked back down and set up our tents at the very east end of the rocky beach after figuring out the tide line and spent the rest of our time having good cheese and enjoying the evening. Next day we hiked back the same way and drove around the Isle of Skye. This spot would require more time as there are more trails in the area and some good climbing!


Cill Chriosd: Driving back to Broadford we stopped by the little ruined church (Christ's Church) just south of the town. This ruin is in a great location with the mountains in the backdrop and sheep running all round the graveyard. One of them would not shut up as it appeared to have separated itself from its mate or family and kept making lound noises! Back to the church, it dates to c.1500 or maybe even earlier and fell into disuse in 1840 when a new church was built in Broadford. It's a rather plain building but on the north end is a little addition with some decarative stonework.


Dun Beag: A very interesting broch (round stone tower) on top of a hill and far away from the ocean (an unusual location, as most are located right by the water). Brochs were basically an early version of a castle but are unique to Scotland and so it was nice to see one. Archeological evidence places them c.200 BC and c.200 AD and they may have been built as a response to the Roman invasion. This one is build of good size stones and has guarding chambers on either side of the entrance, although judging by the height of the roof in one of them it would be interesting to see who guarded the broch! (sheep?) There is a staircase between the walls that allow one to get to the top of the wall facing the ocean, which is the best preserved side and fairly high (just over 2m maybe). The wall around the entrance is only about 1m tall and there are many stones along the hill which must have fallen from the broch over time. This broch originally would have had more than one floor and a roof. After visiting the broch we drove north and around Skye to check out some of the more dramatic scenery the island has to offer before getting off the island for the night at a B&B and heading into the northern Highlands the next day.


Ardvreck Castle: Our first target on our journey into the butifull northern Highlands was the little castle on the shores of Loch Assynt. The castle is very small, actually a tower house and is made of a nice combination of larger and smaller stones. It is located on a little island and accessible by a narrow beach which may not have been there in the early 1500s when the castle was built. The castle has a very interesting tower at the south end which is round at the bottom and square on top - of which basically only wall survives! Several small windows are visible. The north side has the entire wall missing and a pile of rubble inside. Still, a splendid setting with mountains all around and nearby a pretty large church ruin which we did not visit. Andrew did notice a sign that pointed out that on a hill on the other side of the beach is a 4000 year old chambered cairn in which some human remains were found. We did find the spot (marked by a large stone on top of a grassy hill that lined one side of the burial chamber), which is interesting because it is the earliest indication of human presence in the area. Can't blame people for wanting to live around here!


Sandwood Beach: I'll let the pictures do most of the talking here... We arrived at Sandwood during low tide which allowed us to check out the smaller beaches to the north around the rocky points. We did a little loop on this hike - after having the beach all to ourselves for the night we hiked back along the coast to the stack and then found our way back through the grassy wet hills to the main trail. Watching the tide come in, exploring the interesting rock formation on the south end of the beach, hearing the waves all night long, amazing night sky, we were very sad to leave this extraordinary place which shall never be forgotten.


More Beaches...: Upon returing from camping at basically the most beautiful beach any of us have ever seen we drove a bit further north to Durness for some supplies and stopped by a couple of beaches there. First a beach right in town which as you can see was 'packed' with locals. Durness is a pretty big town as far as Highlands go! There was a pretty church overlooking the beach. Then we drove further east and found another one of the most amazing beaches we have ever seen! And from there we could see more of them in the distance... Hmm... To finish off the day we drove down south through the middle of the Highlands on a 60km single track road with passing places, and passed half a dozen cars at most. Busy place them Highlands!


Duffus Castle: A pretty cool castle ruin with several massive sections left. The main keep stands on a pretty steep mound (motte) which proved difficult walking up and made quite the impression of what it must have been like trying to storm the keep, with the massive and surely well defended wall awaiting right in front of you on top of the mound! The keep seems to have been located at a corner of the wall enclosure, some of which remains, creating a very large enclosed space in front. One really interesting feature that we have not seen in other castles was the cobbled road which went from the now gone castle gate to the keep. One can see the remnants of probably the buildings that guarded the entrance. The castle was actually located in a marshy area when it was built in about 1300 as Loch Spynie used to extend up this far. The mound on which it stood was artificially made though and did not support the massive structure, with problems occuring early on resulting in the eventual collapse of an entire wall of the keep. Another great feature were the rooms along the wall with the main entrance (like the Prison Pit) and the very interesting ceiling slabs very high up. Some medieval graffiti was also still visible.


Spynie Palace: Since we were in the vicinity we decided to stop by this interesting ruin of what used to be the residence of the bishops of Moray. Originally a church stood here in the early 1200s and the buildings as we see them now were built around 1470. The palace used to stand on the shores of Loch Spynie and there is a gate that used to go out to the water as well as a latrine tower with a pit that emptied into it :-) The tower is very well constructed and very tall! Looking down into it, with all the wooden floors missing, makes one wonder how much higher they could have built these things 500 years ago! Another very fascinating feature at this location is the excellent basement which shows beautiful vaulting with one of the rooms in the basement having a very interesting circular ceiling! And, on a creepy note, if you notice the strange vegetation growing near the top of the tower, it looks like some alien creatures are trying to climb it...


Elgin Cathedral: The only cathedral on our trip, it proved an excellent place to visit! Many sections are gone and most is open to the elements, but what is left scattered is worth walking around. There are many very interesting pieces of architecture to look at, from ground level to high up, starting with the beautiful doorway at the west end of course! The towers around have a loooooot of stairs that one can climb to get to the very top of one of the towers and the towers themselves are very nicely and simply finished inside. On the NE end is an intact chapter house with an amazing central pillar and a vaulted roof. A requiem mass was playing inside off a CD and the echos were bone chilling. Also inside and around the walls one can see several cool grave stones with skeletons and skulls and crossbones, to my delight many more of which were found scattered around the grounds! There were also several excellent effigies of knights with details of their armour, and some carved statues. All well worth seeking out and exploring! Luckily the day started off rainy and the cathedral was not busy which is what made us stop by and we were well rewarded.


Drumin Castle: Not much was left of this castle, which was the stronhold of the Wolf of Badenoch, a volatile, vindictive, cruel and one of the most feared Scottish nobles. The castle was built in the 1370s and by the early 1800s its stones were used to build a nearby farmhouse as it was in a state of disrepair. What's left proved very uselful to us though as it started raining quite heavily while we were at the castle and we were able to wait it out in the very nice vault at ground level! There seems to have been an entrance in front of the vault with smaller rooms on either side, perhaps guard towers. Really only one of the walls remains standing, with bits of two adjacent ones. There is a very narrow staircase that leads to the main floor. After this castle we headed for Dufftown in search of some food and accomodations for the night. The town was very busy as it was around 5pm, rush hour, which can be seen from the last pic...


Auchindoun Castle: Unfortunately we could not find any beds for the night in Dufftown, but we did find a very interesting store (Collector's Cabin) that we decided to re-vist the next day as it was already closed (being just before 5pm...) and had a great time inside the next day talking with David and I purchased a few English coins from the medieval period as souvenirs from the trip. Not finding accomodations though we decided to camp out at our next destination, Auchindoun Castle. We arrived at the castle at sunset and fout it very chilly and very windy even within the walls. Hence, the best place to set up out tents was inside the two vaults at ground level. It was very quiet inside and much warmer! We got cooking in what seemed to be the medieval oven and had a very nice meal of mountain chili and spaghetti. At night we set out to look for ghosts around the castle keep and after taking a few pictures with my light discovered a few very unusual things that we did not see with our eyes... In its day this must have been quite the impressive castle with a very large keep. The walls are in excellent shape with the exception of one corner tower, but only about 2/3 of the L-shaped keep remain and there are no stairs to climb. Still, access to the second floor is easy, and even to the thrid if one is willing. There are some nice details left of what used to be a beautiful vaulted ceiling in the great hall above the large vault. This castle was built in the late 1400s by Robert Cochrane, the court mason of James III and the designer of parts of Stirling Castle. The castle actually stands on the earthen ramparts of an iron age hillfort, so people have used this spot for thousands of years! It was one of the best nights we spent in Scotland; wonderful stars, wind howling through the ruin, and no one there!


St Mary's Church: This little church is one of Scotland's best preserved medieval churches. Compared to many other ruins of churches which look rather plain, this one had a surprising amount of interesting details like the beautiful arched doorway with the iron hinges still in the stones, tombstones with skulls, the Sacrament House used to store the bread and wine and some very nice coats of arms. The church was built in the early 1200s (first mention is in 1236) and there used to be a castle nearby which is now all gone. It is in a very peaceful place surrounded by mature trees and many old decorated gravestones. The church and graveyard are surrounded by a stone wall and are located on the edge of a ravine, at the bottom of which by the creek I noticed a small structure that turned out to be a tiny house (one that looks like it has sunk a bit into the ground, or the door was made for a very short person!) with crumbling stones.


Nine Stanes Stone Circle: This great and hidden away stone circle is located in Mulloch Wood, a very nice forest with unusually huge mushrooms (must the the 'energy' from the circle...). The circle dates back about 4000 years and is one of several in the area. While the circle currently stands in a planted forest originally it was likely in the open. However, the forest adds to the current atmosphere as the circle seems 'reclaimbed' by it, with the stones overgrown by lichen. One of the upright flanking stones by the recumbent (horizontal) stone has fallen over. The orientation of the circle would have allowed the ancient people to follow the seasons, use it for farming and of course finding the optimal time for impregnating their wives (which, given the cloudy weather in Scotland, probably meant any time...).


Water of Mark: For our last camping night we drove north from near Edzell along the River North Esk into Cairngorms National Park and camped by the River of Mark. It was a rainy drive but by the time we got to the end of the road (literally!) a few sheep and a rainbow awaited us. After having a bite of warm food to eat we set out for a short hike and set up our tents in the nearby forest. With some light left, we decided to explore along the river. Bit of drizzle here and there but it was a fun hike along the trail/creek. We fixed the wet trail by finding the source of the problem - a side river flowing into Mark that decided to share part of its water with the rocky trail. By building a dam in about 15min the trail became useable for future generations of hikers... It was a very windy night with some heavy rain, but we got some sun in the morning and explored further up the river until we got to a deeper side river that we did not wish to cross so we sat and took in the view. A very nice and peaceful area worth exploring and a fine place to spend our last night camping.


Restenneth Priory: This old Augustinian priory is located near Forfar. Not too much to explore here but the tower was pretty neat, possibly dating to c.700 AD, and there were some detials to look at inside the chancel. Much of the rest is gone, just the chancel and a couple of walls, however the foundations of the other walls remain near ground level so one can trace the buildings out at least. There was what looked like a sarcophagus, but its occupant was not at home. The priory is well guarded by many cows.


Finlarig Castle: The last castle on our visit proved to be a a fairly interesting one. Built in the early 1600s the castle is now heavily overgrown and in a ruinous state, however, we could easily make out many things like where the round towers with stairs were. Many things to explore here like the very nice vault with an entrance from the inside (partially collapsed), the hallway from the main door (blocked with heavy stones which almost completely blocked the entrance to the basement of the square tower, but we still managed to crawl in). One could also access the first floor of the main square tower and see what's left of the very top of the round tower above - an interesting fature, as one of the corners of the square tower was rounded to have a spiral staircase. One unlucky visitor though will get a pile of heavy rocks falling on their head one day... There were quite large openings by the main door in the wall at ground level which we have not seen in any of the other castles, likely a guarding feature, but they seemed unusually large to be defended easily. One can also see a fairly shallow rectangular pit lined with rocks beside the castle which was possibly used to store runoff water (unlikely to be the beheading pit of legends!). Nice little castle with a brick mausoleum nearby - a mock-Tudor chapel erected in 1829 (the tombs were empty...) and the gravestones where Marquis of Breadlebane and his wife are buried.