Wednesday 21st June 2006
A wild and woolly night – weatherwise – followed by an equally wild, woolly and wet day. It was with some reluctance that we ventured out, but Stirling Castle beckoned and the prospect of a bracing walk up Castle Wynd appealed to one of us at least!!
Dashing between heavy showers and wind gusts we managed to piece together a truncated exploration of the Castle led by a guide with a heavy Scots accent made no more understandable by the staccato speed of his delivery. It did however give us an overview which we used to backtrack and view places of interest to us.
Because of the unsympathetic weather, most of what we went back to was indoors. The restored Great Hall, the Chapel Royal, the Great Kitchens and the craft displays in the vaults impressed us most. Two completed tapestries (of a series of seven planned) hang in the Chapel Royal, each taking two years to complete. When the series is complete it will be hung in the Royal Apartments currently undergoing extensive refurbishment to restore them to their original glory.
After a warming cup of hot chocolate in the Unicorn Café, we caught the Stirling City Sightseeing tour bus. The 40-minute tour took us through the city centre to the Bridge of Allan, Stirling University campus and the National Wallace Monument. We decided not to venture out at any of the stops, but would recommend the National Wallace Monument as an ideal place to get a view of Stirling and its surrounding countryside – and the makings of a heart-attack as you climb the 246 steps to the top!
Another hot chocolate was needed to restore us and after a short walk around the city centre we decided not to brave the elements any longer and took a taxi back to our hotel.
Foodie news: We both had the same entrée as last night (venison terrine with onion marmalade) and main courses of seared salmon fillet with broccoli and peedie new potatoes, and, in breach of the so-called rules of wine etiquette, a glass of French merlot each. A lovely meal!
Thursday 22nd June 2006
A fine start for our drive to Swinton, though sadly, the weather deteriorated the further south we went. For our first visit however, the skies were clear and the sun was warm.
Craigmillar Castle is one of the best preserved castles in Scotland. It was begun in the early 15th century by the Preston family, who had acquired the lands of Craigmillar in 1374. The earliest part is the lofty L-shaped tower, housing the laird’s main accommodation. A little later, the castle was enlarged by the building of a great enclosure wall with round towers projecting at the corners. These towers bristle with gun-loops. In the 16th century the east range was rebuilt, possibly after the burning of the castle by the English in 1544. After the murder of her secretary, David Rizzio, at Holyrood in 1566, Mary Queen of Scots sought the peace and quiet of Craigmillar. It was here in that same year that the famous “bond” was signed between the Earl of Bothwell and other noblemen which led to the murder of Mary’s second husband, Lord Darnley.
Our next stop was Dirleton Castle near North Berwick. By then the grey clouds had gathered and fine rain misted the air as we walked through the gardens. Norm had visited the castle in February and said then “What’s different about Dirleton is that it is set in a garden – bare today, but one that must really be a picture in the spring and summer!”
Today it was just that – a glorious blaze of colour, predominantly in vibrant shades of blue, pink, mauve and yellow.
Originally built by the De Vauxs who came to Britain in the wake of William the Conqueror, Dirleton Castle’s history is intertwined with the families that later lived there, namely the Halyburtons and the Ruthvens, who adapted it to their needs in the 14th and 16th centuries respectively. Dirleton too fell, in 1650, to Cromwell’s guns, and was left to decay. Apart from exploring and enjoying the “three ages” of the castle itself – and, of course, the gardens – an “extra” was the large dovecote in the grounds, which must have housed (nested) hundreds of birds.
The arrival of heavy rain accompanied by blustery icy gusts forced us to shorten our stay at Dirleton, and forego altogether our planned visit to Tantallon Castle. However, to compensate, a cappuccino ice cream was enjoyed in Clio’s cosy warmth.
We arrived at the Wheatsheaf Hotel to the warmest of welcomes and a lovely room in the newly completed “executive suite”.
As had happened at the Bridge of Oich, a Harrier jet made a low-level pass directly overhead as we were unloading the cases. Again, a missed photo opportunity!! Tantalisingly, he made a couple more passes but unfortunately too distant to photograph.
Foodie news: Mains: Norm had grilled whole sole and asparagus spears with peedie new potatoes and stir-fried vegetables; Carol salmon, haddock and dill fishcakes with tomato salsa and a rocket salad on the side. For desserts, Norm had sticky toffee and pear pudding with vanilla-pod ice cream, and Carol crème brulée with rhubarb coulis. One of the best meals we’ve shared!
Friday 23rd June 2006
Foodie news: Crispy bacon omelette (with more bacon than egg mixture) was just a treat – for Norm, of course. Carol was more circumspect and settled – with obvious enjoyment – for boiled eggs with “soldiers” properly de-crusted and buttered!
We headed off to Kelso, which according to Sir Walter Scott was “the most beautiful if not the most romantic town in Scotland”. Even if what he said was true, this was not the reason we visited Kelso – but, somewhat more mundanely, so that Carol could make a long-overdue hair appointment. Appointment made and some shopping chores completed, we decided a much-needed cup of coffee was in order. By chance, in the coffee shop, we found a brochure on “Floors Castle” – a short walk from the town of Kelso. It read like a good place to visit, so that’s were we headed. We were very pleased that we did.
Floors Castle is the largest inhabited castle in Scotland and home of the Duke and Duchess of Roxburghe and their family. In 1721, William Adam was commissioned to make additions to the eastern end of an existing tower-house to create a plain, but symmetrical, Georgian country house. The 6th Duke remodelled the castle in the early 1800s, drawing his inspiration from the highly ornamented picturesque style of Heriot’s Hospital in Edinburgh. The result is a romantic fairytale castle with its roofscape of turrets, pinnacles and cupolas.
Our first impression of the castle as we walked up the tree lined driveway was how large it was and how attractive. We wandered through spectacular state rooms filled with priceless European paintings and tapestries. Impressive as these were, Carol was particularly taken by a display of blue Ming ceramics. As we moved from room to room we found the displays were considerably enhanced by the inclusion of family photographs which gave the impression of a much-loved home – which it still is.
“Floors” is also known for its equestrian associations and the Floors Castle Horse Trials are held there annually. We managed to spend three satisfying hours there both in the castle and its surrounding grounds.
Foodie news: Norm started with roast parsnip soup with parmesan cream, accompanied by home-baked sun-dried tomato bread. This was followed by a herb and mustard crusted rack of lamb with rosemary jus and crispy stir-fried vegetables.
Forgoing a starter, Carol enjoyed goats’ cheese and caramelised onion tarts with rocket and salsa salad, and a large serving of roast new potatoes – which she willingly shared.
Saturday 24th June 2006
Today we visited Paxton House Gallery and Country Park. “Paxton House” lies at the heart of eighty acres of woodland, parkland and gardens. It was built to the design of John Adam in 1758 and is one of the finest 18th century Palladian country houses in Britain. It also boasts one of the largest collections of Chippendale furniture in Scotland. Our excellent guide was very informative on the history of the property, but the house lacked warmth and felt more like a museum and art gallery than a former family home.
Despite the drizzle, we enjoyed a stroll around the formal garden and the woodland riverside walk leading down to the boathouse. This was built around 1848 and, now restored, houses a museum of salmon net fishing.
Turning left out of the Paxton House gates we followed the road around to the Union Chain Bridge which had been pointed out by our tour guide. It was built 186 years ago by Sir Samuel Brown, who made the transition from Royal Navy captain to designer of the world’s longest iron suspension bridge in a single leap. The bridge is very narrow – one small car width – and designated “weak”! There are signs indicating that only one car at a time should be driven over it, and that “Stopping” was not allowed. With its light load, LRC had no difficulty whatsoever safely negotiating the border-crossing to England and back.
Foodie news: Norm had an entrée of haddock Scotch egg with mango curry mayonnaise and a main of Wheatsheaf seared scallops and lemon butter sauce; Carol had goats cheese on roasted vegetables – which would have been wonderful if the vegetables had not been swimming in olive oil. We also shared a cheese platter as a worthy complement to our final glasses of merlot.
Sunday 25th June 2006
Alas the weather was still rainy and, early on, was a bracing 9°. We ventured over to Berwick-on-Tweed to find a photography shop where Carol could have the 476 images on her camera’s memory card transferred to CD. Unfortunately, the one photography shop we found was not open on Sundays.
Instead we made the most of being there by walking around Berwick Ramparts. This is a huge complex of 16th century town fortifications, founded by Queen Mary. Built inside the medieval town wall, which was then abandoned, they gave defence against the development of artillery and are unique in Britain. One and a half miles in length, the stone-faced ramparts are strengthened by immense arrowhead-shaped bastions, which flanked huge wet ditches. In the end, in the interests of avoiding hypothermia, we cut short our walk and made for the nearest coffee shop, “Luigi’s”, for a warming caramel cappuccino.
Both warmed and refreshed, we headed back towards Swinton, stopping at “Manderston House” on the way. What a find! Manderston is the supreme country house of Edwardian Scotland – and the swan-song of its era. This is a house on which no expense had been spared in its creation. Its opulent staterooms we found more appealing than those of Paxton House – but more for the homely touches they contained than their opulence. The house also features the only silver-staircase in the world which, we were told, is cleaned at least twice a year by a team of local volunteers. Given the intricacy of its design, this would take many hours to complete.
Like so many stately houses, Manderston stands in extensive grounds – in this case, over 50 acres of formal gardens, woodlands and lake walks. Despite the cold, we spent at least two hours discovering the visual delights these offered – though we’re less sure the photographs will do them justice.
Foodie news: Carol had her favourite salmon, haddock and dill fishcakes with tomato salsa and a side salad; Norm had medallions of pork fillet in an onion and lemon cream sauce, stir-fried vegetables and roast new potatoes. All delicious.