Monday, November 26, 2007
Saturday, November 24, 2007
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
And, in the middle of this modern suburb stands Suendo's (Sven's) Stone, a Pictish carved standing stone that was probably created in the 9th century. It's an amazing stone standing over 20 feet tall and encased in a glass structure to protect it from the elements. On one side is a large Celtic cross and on the other are over 100 figures depicting a battle. There are scenes of fighting, decapitation and piles of dead. On the narrow sides are typical interwoven vines. I decided it was time to leave when Aimee thought she should find a way to pick the lock and get inside the glass!
Our next stop was the nearby Dallas Dhu Distillery. This distillery was built around 1898. It was closed from 1929 to 1936 and again during WWII. In the early 1980s the Glasgow company that owned Dallas Dhu decided to close some of their smaller and older distilleries, among them Dallas Dhu. At the same time, Historical Scotland was looking for a distillery to preserve for tourism purposes. Dallas Dhu fit the bill and it opened as a visitor attraction in 1988. There is a self-guided tour with an audio "wand" that gives you a running commentary. It was fun to wander at our own pace. After touring Glenfiddich, we already had an idea on how a distillery works, but at Dallas Dhu we were able to see things we couldn't see in a working distillery, such as the inside of a still and where the peat fires burn under the stills. It was an interesting place (and we did get our dram of Roderick Dhu at the end!) One thing that was missing from Dallas Dhu was the wonderful fragrance of roasting barley, but surprisingly we could still smell the whisky in the mash room.
It was then back in the Bubble and on to Cawdor Castle, which is more properly called a fortified house. It is family owned and the family continues to reside in it. It was actually a very cozy castle and gave off a nice warm welcoming feeling. One of the interesting rooms in the castle is called the Thorn Tree Room. It was originally the ground floor guardroom and protected the drawbridge. There was a secret dungeon concealed in the wall. From items found in the dungeon, it was determined that even women and children had been held in there. In the middle of the guardroom stands a tree!! The legend is that the Thane of Cawdor lived about a mile away and he decided to build a new, strong tower house. He had a dream that told him to load a donkey with a coffer of gold on his back and let it roam for a day; wherever it lay down to rest in the evening would be where the tower house should be built and it would prosper forever. Legend has it that the donkey lay down under the thorn tree in this room. The tree has been carbon dated to approximately 1372. However, it is a holly tree, not a thorn tree.
Cawdor also has a breathtaking walled garden with oodles and oodles of gorgeous roses...and some VERY tall thistles!
After leaving Cawdor we made our way to Moniak Castle which dates to 1580. This is Fraser country and the Frasers still live there. (If any of you have read the "Outlander" books, this is the area where Jamie Fraser lived.) The castle itself is not open to the public. We were headed there not for the castle, but for the MEAD!! It's a very, very tiny operation and we arrived about the same time as a tour bus full of mainly German tourists. We paid the fee for a tour, watched a video on the history and operation of the winery, and then toured it. It is so small that we walked single file through the storeroom to get to a tiny room where a man was putting corks in bottles one at a time, and a woman was applying labels...all by hand! We were there late in the day so we couldn't get into the kitchen to watch the cooking of the preserves. Back in the gift shop we were able to sample all 9 of the wines they make from wildflowers, fruits and tree (white birch) sap as well as several of the marmalades and preserves. Needless to say, we both walked out of there with a bottle of the best mead ever made!
We had then finished all our planned stops for the day but had time to spare so we decided to stop at Culloden Battlefield, which I suppose could be compared to our Gettysburg Battlefield. The battle fought was basically a civil war between the English and Scots that took place on April 16, 1754. It was very humbling to stand in the middle of the battlefield, walk the lines where each army stood, and consider the harshness of the location and the horrendous battle that took the lives of so many. When we were there, the wind was blowing so hard we could lean backwards and the wind would keep us upright; it was incredibly cold, much as it could have been the fateful day of the battle. There are trenches and mounds where the individual clans were laid to rest. The battlefield is covered with heather, but legend says no heather will ever grow on the graves.
Since it was still light, we decided to stop at Clava Cairns stone circles. When we got there we saw that the gates were locked, which seemed strange for an unmanned Historic Scotland site. Since it was raining lightly, we thought we'd stop the next day when we would again be traveling in that direction. It was almost 7:00 anyway and we hadn't eaten since that full Scottish breakfast so we were starving. On the way back to the Old Church, we stopped at a roadside fish and chips restaurant that we'd seen earlier. I swear it is the ONLY place in the Highlands that is open past 5:30! It was actually open until 10:00. It reminded me of a diner that catered to truckers and motorists. Of course, I had fish and chips; Aimee had pizza with corn topping and a side of chips. Then it was back to the Old Church for a hot shower and a good night sleep.
Friday, November 16, 2007
Thursday, November 15, 2007
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
Monday, November 05, 2007
Now...if we only had a quarterback.
Thursday, November 01, 2007
We then walked around the perimeter of the Cathedral property. As we approached from the main street, we walked through Panns Port, the main gateway into the Chanonry, or the area surrounding the Cathedral, which dates from the early 1200s. There were originally 4 gates in the wall but only Panns Port survives.
As we entered Elgin Cathedral the girl working there recommended that we start at the far end rather than at the Towers since there would be a large group of children arriving for a field trip. It was truly an awe inspiring experience to stand in the center of a structure built over 600 years ago. It was first built in the early 13th century and enlarged and repaired following a fire in 1390. I loved standing in the Presbytery and imaging how beautiful it must have been with the sun shining through the stained glass windows onto the high altar while the monks/priests chanted. Along the sides of the Presbytery were the choir lofts. There was a large nave with imposing columns holding up the several-story high roof, where many statutes looked down on the worshippers. There were also walkways up near the roof. We climbed to the top of the towers nears the entrance where we could see forever! I had wanted to get some photos of the wonderful headstones in the cemetery, but the kids were doing rubbings.
After spending much of the morning at Elgin Cathedral, we made the LONG drive back to Castle Fraser since this was on Aimee's "must see" list. Fortunately, it was open this time! One thing that constantly amazed us was just how very lush, green, thick and soft the lawns are in Scotland. It is like walking on an ultraplush carpet. I think Castle Fraser was my least favorite site. It is also still lived in and it is a self-guided tour. I didn't think much of the historic castle still existed, except the Great Hall which has been restored to how it would have looked in the 1500s. Castle Fraser is reputed to be a very haunted castle but Aimee didn't feel there was anything to the stories, at least not the major stories of hauntings. We did see a couple old samplers on the walls and some beautiful old quilts but besides that we were disappointed that we had made the trip twice to Castle Fraser.
On the way back to the Old Church, we stopped at Tolquhon (Toll-Hoon) Castle, another of the Historic Scotland ruins which was out in the middle of a peaceful rural area, far from civilization. There was a small gift shop and the woman working there probably lived in the house next door, the only house around! Her wee son was there with her. Tolquhon is really more of a comfortable 16th century mansion than a castle. It's particularly noteworthy for the highly ornamented gatehouse and the unique 3-hole gunholes. It was designed more to impress visitors than deter attackers.
The first room we entered in the castle was the circular guardroom to the left in one of the entry. Aimee had a startled reaction as we entered and she said that there was the ghost of a guard in there and they had started each other. After that he kept following us around yelling to Aimee that we weren't supposed to be there. A couple things I enjoyed about this castle were the 12 slots for beehives in the outer wall of the courtyard and the dovecot in the corner. As we were leaving to find the beehives, Aimee appeared to stumble on the walkway. She asked if I saw her and I said that I thought she'd tripped on something. She said that he hadn't tripped; she was pushed! The not-so-friendly guardsman had pushed her and insisted that we leave.We had a long drive back to the Old Church and we still had to find someplace to eat. It had been a long time since breakfast, but finding someplace that serves food after 5:30 in the Highlands is almost impossible. We thought we'd seen a couple places in Huntly but when we stopped they were all closed. So, in the end, we went back to Elgin and ate at Burger King!! No, we didn't eat the mystery meat that is beef in the UK; we had chicken. Plus, there had just been another outbreak of hoof and mouth in England. We thought we'd stick with something safer. They did have delicious ice cream though!