This day was huge – we visited four castles! We wanted to visit everything before heading on to Aberdeen, so it was a bit of a squeeze for us; but each castle was lovely, each unique and with its own charm.
1. Edzell Castle
First up was Edzell Castle, a ruin down the road from our freecamp spot:
We arrived bang on opening time, 9:30am. Only the gardener was there – he told us to just go poke around. The swifts were very active.
Many of the ruins we visit are chokka with birds’ nests. For conservation reasons they’re not allowed to get rid of them, so the bird poo piles up. At Edzell they’d put little bits of sacking below the nests to catch most of it. Must be a pain, but we like seeing the wee chicks peeking out from their nests.
There wasn’t much left of Edzell Castle – a 16th century castle mostly built as a home rather than a defence. Interestingly, in later years, the owners moved the entire town of Edzell a mile down the road to free up space around the castle – how’s that for being dicks! You can see where the town used to be, as moving the cemetery was just a little too much – even then – it’s still in-situ. But on the plus side, modern Edzell has a lovely big main street, great Victorian buildings and a nice entrance arch.
Back at the castle, it has a nice 17th century garden that’s been reconstructed – and now nicely maintained. Around the walled garden are panels showing the seven virtues, the seven ‘arts’ and the seven top Roman gods. Neat!
Though I considered doing a runner, we decided to try and pay on the way out. Fortunately for us, the guy had just arrived – called in from Perth to cover the local guy – and wasn’t ready to take our money. ‘Consider yourselves lucky – you won’t get in to Dunnottar Castle for free!’
2. Dunnottar Castle
Another castle ruin, Dunnottar sits on a wee headland on the coast outside Stonehaven. We toddled up to the car park, only to find more bloody height barriers – and nowhere else to park. So we did a U-turn and parked in the coach park, then got moved on, and so on. What a pain in the arse! It’s on the tourist and coach circuit too, so why they have such poo parking is beyond me. They had two guys constantly running around, badgering people trying to park – surely one of the neighbouring farmers could open his field for £5 a pop and rake it in.
But enough on parking. The place is a pretty romantic ruin, perched on the cliffside – reminding me of Tintagel Castle down in Cornwall.
To get to the castle we wandered down 200 steps, then back up the other side, through the gatehouse. Instantly we came across a handful of other tourists – this was going to be a frustrating visit. But it wasn’t that busy; these guys were taking photos above our heads. We turned and there in some netting sat a Peregrine Falcon. No way! And it wasn’t that chuffed to be surrounded by people. It eventually made a dash for cover, sunning itself in the window of a nearby (and gated off) spot away from the hordes.
The castle complex is pretty huge, taking up the whole of the rock it sat upon. And it has some history too – the castle hid the Scottish crown jewels from Oliver Cromwell in the 17th century.
We enjoyed pottering around the site, very substantial. Kate found lots of fireplaces to stand in, and gull chicks were wandering around too.
3. Craithes Castle
We went to Craithes Castle for lunch, 30 minutes’ drive from Dunnottar. Craithes Castle is something I hadn’t seen before – a wacky turreted tower house. Absolutely neat! We followed the one-way system through (you’d never fit two on the winding stairs) enjoying all the furnishings and such, getting higher and higher up the tower.
Inside, the interior roofing beams and such had been painted in that medieval style. Some had been restored; others had been ‘restored’ in Victorian times (i.e. painted over) but that was quite unique too. People used to show their piousness by painting bible verse and stories on their ceilings. I’d share a photo, but National Trust Scotland aren’t cool with it.
Out in the nice tidy garden we stole a little thyme, but we hadn’t any to dally – we had one more castle to go.
4. Drum Castle
Just down the road from Craithes, Drum Castle is the oldest ‘still lived in’ castle in Scotland. It’s been given to the National Trust now – the story there was interesting. The laird, knowing that to keep the place nice, they couldn’t keep it after his death, donated the estate to the National Trust in his will. But he didn’t tell the heirs, and he organised all this 10 years before his death! It must have been quite a will-reading. Interestingly, the National Trust gave a small triangle of the estate to the family, so they are still Lairds of the area – though they have no say or control over the house.
The castle was extended out from the 13th century keep. The library makes use of two floors of the original keep, and is integrated in to the later additions. The walls of the library (the base of the keep) are 12 foot thick – incredible! The guides in the rooms were lovely and told us so much. The family who grew up in the castle still visit occasionally, and share stories – like the kids played ‘don’t touch the floor’ scrambling around the walls of the library. It was nice to hear about the space being used for families.
In the upper floors they’d put in a modern art gallery – good use of space, considering they hadn’t any period furnishings up there; it’d all been sold and it was used as the caretaker’s apartment for a while too. Of course, since it was modern art, the space could have been better used – as empty rooms for instance.
Leaving at closing time, we headed off into the hills and spent the evening on the summit of a hill beside a war memorial, listening to the patter of the rain on the roof.