Friday 17th February 2006
An absolutely beautiful morning, and really quite mild at 3 C° – which is the way the hotel receptionist described it. Mild or not, it was just ideal for my expedition to the “Hermitage” – a National Trust of Scotland managed property near Dunkeld about 30 minutes drive north. If I’d heard about it before it had long forsaken my memory banks, and, but for an e-mail from Faye Heggie a couple of days ago who suggested it as a beautiful place to visit and walk, I’d have missed out on one of the treats of the trip.
The walk is upstream along the wooded banks of the River Braan, past a most attractive stone bridge to what is known as “Ossian’s Hall” – a folly built in 1758 and from which the Black Linn Falls beneath can be viewed “up close and personal”. The folly didn’t do too much for me, nor did “Ossian’s Cave” a little further upstream, but the sunlight on the trees and mosses, the sound of what was today a quite boisterous river, the even more boisterous Falls and the sheer beauty of the whole made it a walk that will long stay with me. Thank you, Faye.
Having done my walking bit, I drove north to Ballinluig before turning west and following the River Tay towards Aberfeldy, and then down the western side of Loch Tay to Killin. The views were marvellous and crying to be photographed, but my self-preservation instincts on what was quite a good road but with no “stopping places” won out in the end. I did get a photo or two of the Falls of Dochart at Killin and of what I presume was a snow-capped Ben Lawers, but the drive was worth doing for itself.
Aberdeen is my target for tomorrow – with, weather again permitting, a couple of sites (or sights) to see on the way.
Saturday 18th February 2006
Off bright and early – well, before 9:00 am – on another of those “tiny hand is frozen” mornings. Targets for the day were Arbroath Abbey and Edzell Castle – not exactly on the most direct route to Aberdeen, but certainly in that general direction. Regrettably the frost didn’t herald the fine day I’d hoped for and by the time I got to Arbroath it was raining, not hard, but not the pleasantest of conditions for ruins inspecting. Fortunately, Arbroath has an excellent visitor’s centre – for sheltering in – as well as acquiring something of the abbey’s history primarily by means of audio-visual presentations.
The abbey today consists of the substantial ruins of a Tironensian monastery, founded by William the Lion in 1178 and intended as his own burial place. Parts of the abbey church and domestic buildings remain, notably the gatehouse range and the abbot’s house. That anything at all survived is something of a surprise as, after the Reformation in 1561, the abbey became a quarry and much of its stone was used to construct important buildings in the town.
The rain eased for long enough for the Monument Manager to give me a quick tour of the site which included two of the surviving buildings, namely the sacristy with its lofty ribbed vault and wonderful acoustic, and the Abbot’s House which survived as a complete (if considerably altered) building primarily because it was perceived as a desirable residence. Apart from an impressive ribbed vault undercroft, the Abbot’s House also contains a number of well-proportioned rooms, one of which houses a stonework display.
The abbey’s main claim to fame is that it was the site of the Declaration of Arbroath, a document addressed to the Pope in 1320 and in which the Scots rebelled against English domination and swore allegiance to the excommunicated Robert the Bruce. As one of the first formal declarations of independence, it is said to have had some influence on the content of that of the United States.
Next port of call was “Edzell Castle”. Edzell Castle was the seat of the Lindsay family, Lords of Edzell. In the earl 16th century the then Lord built a tower house with courtyard to replace a much less impressive mainly wooden “castle” nearby. This simple tower house was extended in 1553 by the addition of a large west range, housing what became the main entrance to the castle, and was further extended by Sir David Lindsay in the late 16th century with the addition of a large north range, complete with round towers.
The showpiece of the castle is, however, its “pleasance” or garden created by a later Sir David Lindsay in 1604. This is surrounded by an ornamental wall decorated with carvings depicting the Planetary Deities, Liberal Arts and Cardinal Virtues, complete with inset flower boxes, nesting holes for birds, and niches for busts. Today, without any flowers at all it looked very good indeed; in spring and summer it must be a magnificent sight – and I gathered from the Monument Manager that, at that time of the year, it is the garden rather than the castle that attracts the visitors.
The garden-creating Sir David died in 1610 without seeing his garden fully completed but left another less desirable legacy “extraordinary debt” – a bequest from which the family never recovered. Another David, the last Lindsay lord, was forced through debt to sell his estate in 1715 and ended his days as a stableman at an Inn! Unlike other castles, many of which were ruined as a result of war, Edzell’s final ruination came when it was gutted for its building materials which were sold on behalf of creditors of a later owner.
My bed for tonight and tomorrow night is at the Marriott – where, if nothing else, I can add to my Marriott Rewards points. The main reasons for choosing it, however, were that the DBB deal was very good indeed and that it’s located to the north west of Aberdeen – where I wanted to be for tomorrow’s excursions. The dinner was typical chain hotel fare – neither too good nor too bad, but scarcely worthy of a detailed description.
Sunday 19th February 2006
The rain that was falling at breakfast time was heavy enough for me to give serious thought to “staying indoors” today – and, in light of later events, it would have been better had I done so. After breakfast, the “scotch mist” had eased considerably, so that there seemed no good reason not to visit “Huntly Castle” some 35 miles to the NW.
Having made it to Huntly Village and “sussed out” where I had to head to get there, my focus on the tourist sign across an intersection was such that I failed, until too late, to give way to a car on my right. Neither the driver of the other car, his partner nor I suffered any injury, but both cars are somewhat the worse for my inattentive attention! His front passenger’s side door and the panel forward of that are considerably “deformed”, as are my driver’s side front panel, headlamp and bumper.
When I say no injury was suffered, that doesn’t include Norm’s pride – which is also now more than a little wounded, not least because the fault was entirely mine.
Together, we called in at the local Police Station (less than 50 metres back from “that” corner) to report the accident but, as it was unmanned, I was happy to go along with his suggestion that we just exchange details and leave it to the insurers to sort out.
I don’t plan to have another such “meeting of motors”, but in the event I do, I can only hope that the other driver will be as understanding as this one was. His main concern seemed to be that I was OK!
Similarly, I can’t speak highly enough of the positive and supportive response of the AA and, subsequently, of my insurer, the Sabre Insurance Company. Needless to say I forwent the sights of Huntly Castle and, after collecting my scattered wits, drove back to Aberdeen to check the policy wording and decide whether or not I needed to rethink “where from here”!
Despite my little red Clio’s now uglier mug, it is driveable – and as I had already booked four night’s accommodation in Inverness, there seemed no reason to change that. Sabre have arranged for its nominated repairer to contact me tomorrow or Tuesday to arrange to complete the necessary repairs and, I’m assured, to provide a courtesy vehicle for however long it takes to repair LRC. This will mean, I hope, that I can proceed on some part at least of my Highlands touring without incurring the additional costs of a rental car. You will, of course, have to forego images of Huntly Castle and the accompanying gripping description, but I daresay you’ll cope!