Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Castles and Abbeys - Scotland in Autumn

 Last week I had to pop up to Angus in Scotland for work. I happened to see that Glamis Castle was nearby so thought I'd take an extra day and look around.

I chose Arbroath as a place to stay pretty much at random. I didn't realise that the lovely ruined Arbroath Abbey was quite so significant in Scottish history.

In 1320, the Declaration of Arbroath was written (probably) by the Abbot of Arbroath Abbey and sent to the Pope to entreat him to recognise Scotland as an independent country. In those days the Pope was the top international authority in the western world.

The declaration includes the moving words, "… it is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for  freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself."
 In the 1950s four students stole the Stone of Scone from Westminster Abbey (where the English had rather provocatively stored it under the seat of the throne), they brought it to Arbroath Abbey and left it there, wrapped in the Scottish flag.
 The abbot's house is still intact as it had been used as various things over the years including a school and a factory. The fan vaults above are from the undercroft under the house.
 While I was there, a small school group came for a visit. They got dressed in little monk's robes and had a guide in a robe showing them over the place and telling stories. So there were cute mini-monks shadowing me around during my visit, adding to the atmosphere.
 The grounds around the abbey had been the town graveyard for years. Very atmospheric, especially on a grey day.

After a couple of pleasant hours at Arbroath Abbey I took the pretty drive over to Glamis. I was mostly interested in Glamis Castle because I recognised the name from Shakespeare's "Macbeth". However Glamis Castle is nothing like the blasted ruin that I expected from seeing the play. It's been a plush country escape for very rich people for centuries.

The building started in the 1300s as a hunting lodge. The fairytale castle look was achieved in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Most of the outside of the building and grounds have barely changed since then.

The Strathmore family still live part-time in the castle and they also do a roaring trade as a venue for weddings and corporate hospitality.
 The castle is made of the reddish local stone - you can see it's the same stuff as Arbroath Abbey.

 We had an expert and friendly tour guide take us around 10 rooms inside, but photos weren't allowed so I can't show you details.

They were very grand rooms with all sorts of interesting curiosities. One of my favourite things were the embroidered bed hangings that took 14 years for the lady of the house to complete. They were made in the 1600s and are still in pretty good nick today. There was incredible detail and creativity in all the different animals, plants and decorations she embroidered.

 I do have to mention that Glamis Castle is the late Queen Mother's childhood home - there were lots of interesting royal connections and stories.

Beautiful autumn views from the bridge heading into the walled garden.

A touch of autumn colour in the trees. I saw signs warning me to be careful driving because there might be a red squirrel on the road, but of course I saw no sign of squirrels.
 Cute Highland Cows grazing in a field behind the car park.
 Cornflowers outside the walled garden - there were two large banks of mingled cornflowers and dandelions.
The Italian garden - a view from under one of the two aisles of overhanging trees. There were roses in the beds but they weren't at their best in autumn, of course.

They have been working for the past couple of years on restoring the walled garden. It's a huge space - it seemed to cover about an acre. They have planted lots of roses which will make it an ideal wedding venue when they're a bit more mature.

There are three big amazing castles within a short drive around that part of the country (and it's only about an hour and a half north of Edinburgh). I'm definitely going back for another look around as the countryside is stunning and I do love a good castle!


  1. BEautiful. Next time you're up this way, fro me a line. We can get pints. :)

    1. Oooh, that would be fun! I love Scotland with a big love (especially the more rural bits) so I'm sure I'll be back. I'm keen to show my husband some more castles and all get to some whiskey distilleries (he likes the smokey Islay types).


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