Thursday, June 25, 2015

Visit to a Crannog

Do you know what a crannog is? Well, I couldn't remember,  but when I saw "The Scottish Crannog Centre" marked on the map, I knew it rang a bell and that I had heard of a crannog before. We did a quick search on Wikipedia, and suddenly I knew where I'd heard of one before.  It was on an episode of Time Team called The Crannog in the Lake.

A crannog is an ancient (bronze age?) fortified dwelling built over a loch, and archaeological remains of them can be found in Scotland and Ireland.

The Crannog over the lake

At this site they had built a reconstruction of a crannog over Loch Tay - an exercise in experimental archaeology that is now open to the public. We were taken into it by a costumed guide who told us all about it. 

Our guide

Bridge to the crannog


The hearth

Guide talking about the lifestyle

The seating was actually quite comfortable

More seating

Walkway around the outside

Afterwards we were taken back to the shore to see some demonstrations of how wood may have been turned. We saw two different methods, one using a bow and another which could have been operated by a single man using a foot pedal to turn the lathe. We also saw how holes could be made in the local stone - useful for loom weights or door pivots.

Lathe method 1

Lathe method 2

Andy having a go at method 2

The final demonstration was starting fire using a rotating stick placed in another piece od wood to create an ember, and then using that ember to set wood shavings and sawdust alight.

It was a truly fascinating stop. I think these sort or experimental archaeology sites are great, because they allow us to really visualise, and even feel, what it would have been like inside an iron/bronze age residence,  and to see just how easily (or otherwise) things like wood turning could have been achieved.  For the record, it looked like it would have been very cosy living there.

Cawdor Castle

We all remember from our school days that Macbeth was thane of Cawdor, but he had nothing to do with Cawdor Castle near Nairn. But the castle is still a very interesting place. Dating from the late 14th century, it has naturally undergone some changes since then. it is still lived in by the current Dowager Countess, and has the feel of a comfortable family home. 

Outside, the formal gardens are spectacular. They say a picture paints a thousand words, so here goes.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Edinburgh and the Highlands

We crossed from England into Scotland early in the morning, having spent the night only a mile from the border and headed to Edinburgh.  Once in Edinburgh I met up with a friend for lunch and then spent the afternoon doing research, while Andy slowly wandered back to our hotel.  We had previously spent time in Edinburgh in 1991, so had already seen the castle and the Royal Mile, so didn't revisit them this time.

Edinburgh Castle from Princes St

The Royal Mile from Princes Street

Next day we drove over the Scottish Highlands, because we find the landscape so incredible. We went north from Perth through Glen Shee with the mountains (hills?) of the Cairngorms surrounding us.

Lunch was at Ballater, not far from Balmoral Castle.

The River Dee running through Ballater

Fresh caught haggis anyone?

Sporans?  We must be in the highlands

After lunch we continued through the Highlands, heading up to the coast of the Moray Firth.

We had to stop at a Distillery, of course. We visited the Dallas Dhu distillery, which actually closed down in 1983 and is now run by Historic Scotland as a tourist attraction.  It was actually an advantage that it was no longer in production, as we could wander freely and see parts of the process that we wouldn't be able to approach in a working distillery.

From the outside

The malting room

One of the stills

The finished product

Then we continued up to Findhorn Bay, where Andy had been years ago on business. When he was there it was the middle of winter, and one day they went out to lunch and then looked at the view across the Moray Firth, where the air was so clear he could see the snow covered mountains on the other side of the Firth.  We couldn't find the spot that had been his vantage point, and being a warm summer's day the air was hazy. We could still see across to the other side, but the mountains didn't feel close enough to touch this time.  Very disappointing for him.

We spent the night in Nairn (which is east along the coast of the Firth), at a lovely hotel called Invernairne. From there we walked along to coast to the town centre to have dinner. We did get some spectacular sunset views of the Firth during that walk.


Saturday, June 20, 2015

Bamburgh and Berwick

Next day we visited Bamburgh Castle.  I was very keen to see it as I had been reading about its history during the Siege of Durham in 1006.  Unfortunately, what I saw contained no visible remnant of that era, and nothing that proclaimed its antiquity.  William Armstrong, who had built Cragside (see earlier blog post) had "restored" it and turned it into a Victorian pastiche.  I was very disappointed, though the Northumbrian coast was spectacular.  We also happened to be there while a bunch of madmen were visiting.  They were taking part in a rally from Edinburgh to Rome, which they had to do in a car they had bought for £500 or less. They were all dressed up - there was spiderman, some cowboys, a man carrying a large stuffed sheep and other superheroes.  I don't remember if there was a Dick Darstardly and Muttley, but there should have been!

A brooding sky and Bamburgh dominating the horizon

It was freezing cold that day

Entrance to the Castle

Spiderman and sheepman

Fortifications pointing out to sea

Castle courtyard


Great Hall

At end of Great Hall

The sun had come out by the time we were ready to leave

After that the next stop was Berwick-upon-Tweed, located at the mouth of the Tweed River. We walked all the way around the town walls/ramparts.

Houses on the town walls

Bridge over the River Tweed

Berwick from the Ramparts

Andy on the Rampart walk

Fortifications beside the ramparts

The mouth of the River Tweed
We found a wonderful place to stay that night, Marshall Mount, located only a mile or so from the Scottish border.