Monday, June 24, 2013

Amazing Scotland - Dunstaffnage Castle

Walking up to the enormous bailey walls of Dunstaffnage, I was hit with the realization of what an impressive stronghold this was. Built in a picturesque setting where Loch Etive meets the Firth of Lorn, archaeological excavations have revealed that the castle was surrounded by a ditch 8 meters wide and 1.8 meters deep.

When Dunstaffnage Castle was built by Duncan MacDougall, Lord of Lorn around 1220, Argyll lay on the frontier between the kingdoms of Scotland and Norway. Neither king controlled the region directly.

One of the oldest stone castles in Scotland, Dunstaffnage was in use as a lordly residence for nearly six centuries, and was only abandoned in 1810. Features surviving from the 13th century include the curtain wall (or outer bailey), the three projecting towers and the chapel.

Me standing in front of the curtain--just to give an idea of Dunstaffnage's size

The inner courtyard

The Wall Walk

The view from the Wall Walk

I just couldn't get enough of lovely Loch Etive
The Chapel (in ruins) A Short Walk from the Castle

Inside the Chapel
 Sequence of Events:

1098: King Edgar officially cedes the old kingdom of Dal Riata (now western Scotland and the Western Isles) to Magnus of Norway. In reality, both kings share power.

1140: Somerled emerges as undisputed ruler of the ruler as King of the Isles, a title he keeps until his death in 1164.

1220: Dunstaffnage Castle is begun by Somerled's grandson, Duncan. In 1230, he establishes Ardchattan Priory and helps King Hakon of Norway capture Scottish Lands

1240's: Alexander II of Scotland intensifies efforts to recover lost territory. He negotiates with Duncan's son, Ewen, the new King of the Isles. Ewan joins with his cousin, Hakon of Norway, and repels Alexander II's advances.

1260: Alexander III begins his personal reign--and drives out Hakon of Norway.

1266: The Treaty of Perth brings western Scotland under Scottish rule for the first time in 250 years. Ewen entrenches himself at Dunstaffnage, probably adding the corner towers.

1296: Edward I of England invades Scotland. In the ensuing war, the MacDougalls support the sidelined King John.

1306: Robert the Bruce seizes the Scottish throne, and in 1308 routs the MacDougalls and lays siege to Dunstaffnage.

1431: James I acts against rebellious Islesmen, hanging 300 at Dunstaffnage.

1470: James III grants Dunstaffnage to Colin Campbell, 1st Earl of Argyll. Aside from a few years in the 17th century, the castle remains in Campbell hands until the 20th Century.

1725: The "New House" built as a free-standing two-story residence.

1908: The 9th Duke of Argyll engages in a dispute with the 20th captain of Dunstaffnage over rival bids to restore the castle for domestic use. The court ruled in favor of the keeper who had right of residence. During the first world war, the roof of the new house collapsed. When the 21st captain succeeded in 1958, he and the duke agreed to entrust the castle into State care.

A few things to mention: I'm very excited to say, my novel, Chihuahua Momma, will be released by Turquoise Morning Press on July 28, 2013!! Check out their web site: Turquoise Morning Press

Have you read Jen Greyson's LIGHTNING RIDER yet? I definitely recommend it: Lightning Rider on Amazon

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Amazing Scotland - Linlithgow Palace

Linlithgow Palace is one of Scotland's most important building of antiquity. Following a devastating fire in 1424, James I ordered the building on an ambitious scale. Subsequent kings added their own additions, and it took nearly 200 years to achieve it's final form. As a comfortable residence built on an impressive setting, it played a key role in the functions and presentation of royalty.

By 1600 (and the reign of King James VI of Scotland/I of England), the palace was in decline. The north range collapsed in 1607. Another fire struck in 1746 after the second Jacobite uprising. However, this fantastic display of opulent royal masonry still bears witness to the grand ambitions of Stewart monarchs.

The Great Hall. I stood in the fireplace at the end, and my head did not touch.

The King's Bed Chamber

The Royal Kitchens

A privy hole--Linlithgow had an intricate sewer system

Me standing in a doorway into the courtyard (it was ccccold in May)

Linlithgow Courtyard gives a glimpse of the enormity of this palace

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Amazing Scotland - Dunfermline Abbey and Palace

Dunfermline Abbey

One of the largest and most impressive building complexes in medieval Scotland, Dunfermline Abbey and Palace ruins stand as a monument of the wealth of the Scottish monarchs, many of whom are buried there. In 1070, Queen Margaret founded a religious community at the site where she and Malcolm Canmore were married. At that time, Benedictine monks were brought to form the core of the first European monastic community in Scotland.

The palace and most of the abbey are in ruins, though the main vestibule still stands and is a Presbyterian Church of Scotland and beneath the pulpit lies the tomb of Robert the Bruce:

Tomb of Robert the Bruce

By the time of the Protestant Reformation in 1560, there were about 25 monks in the abbey. But the abbey, being close to Edinburgh, was affected early. By 1559, furnishings associated with Catholic worship had been destroyed and in 1560, the building was ransacked. Three years later, the choir was roofless and the nave was close to collapse. It's continued use as a parish church saved it from complete ruination.

Despite disasters to the abbey, royalty continued to use the abbey guest house (palace), During the Reigns of James IV and James V, major building campaigns. The largest renovation took place during the reign of Jame VI when his queen, Anna of Denmark had it remodeled.
Dunfermline Nave

Sequence of events:

1070: Margaret and King Malcolm are married in a small church on the site of the abbey.

1093: Malcolm is killed fighting the Normans in the north of England. Heartbroken, Margaret dies soon after. Both are buried at Dunfermline.

1124: David I succeeds his elder brother, Alexander I and embarks on many abbey building projects. In 1153, King David is buried beside his parents at Dunfermline.

1128: Prior Geoffrey becomes the first abbot of Dunfermline.

1180: Queen Margaret's remains are transferred to the north side of the high altar.

1249: Pope Innocent IV canonises Queen Margaret as St. Margaret. Her body is moved to the shrine chapel the following year.

1303: King Edward I of England sacks Dunfermline to create his winter campaign headquarters.

1329: King Robert the Bruce rebuilds the abbey, shortly before his death and burial in the choir.

1559/60: The Protestant Reformation takes hold.

1589: King James VI gives Dunfermline to his new bride, Queen Anna of Denmark. The future Charles I is born there 11 years later. Note: After James VI became James I of England and moved to London, the decay of the royal residences in Scotland began.

1818: The remains of Robert I are discovered during building works at the abbey.

1821: The new parish church is designed by William Burn (with the KING and BRUCE in the spire...

Monday, June 10, 2013

Amazing Scotland - Newark Castle

Newark Castle, Port Glasgow 
The land upon which Newark castle was built originally belonged to the Denniston family, but passed to the Maxwells in 1402. The castle was built in two stages, with the oldest construction from the late fifteenth century. The tower house and gatehouse formed the chief elements of an impressive courtyard. Major remodeling was undertaken by Patrick Maxwell in the 1590s, transforming the castle into a splendid three-story Renaissance mansion. You can see that work in the middle of this picture.

Above, the pedimented doorway of his new manse, Lord Patrick placed the inscription "The blissings of God be herein". But Patrick was no saint. He was known as a murder and a wife-beater who, by the power of his station, escaped punishment. The reign of the Maxwell dynasty ended in 1694 upon Patrick's death when the entire property was sold off.

Newark Castle, approaching from the Car park.

The Dove Cot (pigeon tower) from an upper window.

My daughter Moriah in the Great Hall (presently undergoing renovations)
On Thursday I'm blogging about Dunfermline Abbey. Learn more about Scottish Historical sites on

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Amazing Scotland - Corgarff Castle

Corgarff Castle

When I set out to see Corgarff, my Garmin took me on a winding trip along "single track" roads far up into the Highlands. It wasn't until we stopped at a nearby coffee shop that I discovered my Garmin had made a faux pas, but the drive was fascinating, and I saw remote country that I never would have set eyes on if I'd stayed to the main roads.

Corgarff was built by the Forbes family around 1550, a modest-sized, but comfortable tower-house set atop a lonely hill in the Scottish moorland. Corgarff was typical of small estates of the 16th-century gentry. The nucleus was the tower house. The great hall filled the first floor, with a cellar for storage below and private chambers above.

Ancillary buildings attached to either end included the kitchen and brew house. No respectable castle would be without a brew house, of course.

Brew House

Surrounding the tower is an impressive cobbled courtyard, the walls in the sixteenth century would have protected stables and perhaps the guard would have practiced sparring at dawn each morning. The existing star-shaped courtyard was added in the late 1740s.

Corgarff Castle Courtyard

I really liked the upper tower rooms. I think this one would be warm in the harsh winters with its low ceiling and hearth at the far end.

Upper Chamber Room

I could see this tower room being a hold for prisoners. Could a deceitful chieftain have kept a maid in this room?

Corgarff Small Tower Room
Though this castle is small and remote, far up in the mountainous highlands, I could see endless possibilities for stories. In 1571, 24 people were killed when raiders set fire to Corgarff.

Other dates of note:

1746 - 400 redcoats struggled through snow and icy winds to oust Jacobite forces from Corgarff. The arrived to find the cat the only remaining resident.

1750 A new military road was built that linked Corgarff to Fort George. After Culloden, the castle underwent significant adaptation to become a base for government forces.

1826 - Corgarff became a licensed distillary.

1831 - The redcoats vacate Corgarff.

After the garrison pulled out, the castle fell into decay. At first it was occupied by farm workers until two women known as the Ross sisters took up residence. In 1961, the derelict ruin was entrusted to state care by Sir Edmund and Lady Stockdale who assisted in the preservation work.

Today the castle is a museum depicting it as a military stronghold. The pictures below show barracks-style accommodations:

Thanks for visiting my blog! I'll be posting more about castles and abbeys in the coming weeks. I hope to see you again!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Amazing Scotland - Urquhart Castle

Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness

This is my first post of many from my trip to Scotland in May. Urquhart was one of the few castles I visited when I earned my MBA from Heriot-Watt University in 1995/96. Standing atop Grant's tower which overlooks the loch, I got a sense of power, a sense of deep honor and kinship that comes with belonging to a clan and residing within the walls of a mighty fortress built strategically upon rocky outcrops.

Urquhart, like most of the castles in Scotland, has a past fraught with violence. They have found evidence that a Pictish fort once stood on the site. Around 580 AD, St. Columba visited what is now thought to be the site of Urquhart, baptizing a dying Pict king, Emchath. In addition, Pictish artifacts have been found near the site to support this theory.

Further progression of events at Urquhart are recorded as follows:

1230 - King Alexander II grants the lordship of Urquhart to Sir Thomas Durward, one of several nobles brought to the region to help maintain royal authority.
1231 - Sir Thomas Durward dies and is succeeded by his son, Sir Alan Durward, who is thought to have built the first stone castle walls.
1275 - With no male heir, John Comyn, Lord of Badenoch and Lochaber receives the estate of Urquhart following Sir Alan's death.
1297 - Sir Andrew Moray besieges Urquhart Castle and it falls into the hands of the English.
1307 - King Robert the Bruce's forces recapture Urquhart Castle and use it as a power base to bring the north-east under his control.
1312 - Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray receives the castle and barony of Urquhart as an honor from his uncle, Robert I.
1342 - King David II visits the castle, becoming the only monarch ever to sleep within its walls.

After the Wars of Independence, Urquhart was a royal castle, held for the Crown by a succession of constables.

1384 - Alexander Stewart, Earl of Buchan, known as the "Wolf of Badenoch" acquires the castle.
1390's - Donald of Islay, Lord of the Isles stakes a claim to Ross. In 1395, his brother seizes Urquhart.
1411 - Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany, subdues the Lords of the Isles temporarily at the Battle of Harlow, but he is unable to reclaim Urquhart.
1462 - Edward IV of England agrees to a secret treaty with John, Earl of Ross, and Lord of the Isles, granting him control of the Highlands in return for support of the English cause.
1509 - James IV charters the lorships of Urquhart to the Grant family, requiring them to build a stronghold and exert control in the region.
1513 - The Battle of Flodden wipes out James IV and his supporters, leaving the Great Glen again vulnerable to attack by the Islesmen.
1528 - Hector Boece laments the "ruinous walls" of Urquhart Castle in the aftermath of renewed raids by the Islesmen.
1545 - MacDonald raiders carry off every vestige of portable wealth from the castle, though this marks the end to their forays up the glen.
1637 - Marie Ogilvy, newly widowed mother of the 7th Laird, moves into the castle, becoming its last high-status resident. In 1644, she is robbed and driven out by Covenanters.
1689-92 - Government forces garrison Urquhart Castle for more than two years. Upon leaving the castle, they destroy the gatehouse with gunpowder.
1715 - Grant tower is partially destroyed by a violent February storm.
1884 - Caroline, Countess Dowager of Seafield takes ownership of Urquhart Castle. The site is entrusted into State care upon her death in 1911.
View from Grants Tower

In my mind, this is a tragic story for such a mighty fortress. Civil war and mindless vandalism brought Urquhart Castle to ruin. In my opinion, many castles began their demise after James VI of Scotland (1567-1625) also became James I of England. He relocated to London, and many State owned sites fell into ruin as Scotland merged with her sister country to the south.
Trebuchet Catapult replica at the Urquhart Castle site