Posted by: mdmusingsie | August 13, 2011

Castles, Weddings, and Picts

No, I haven’t run out of castles, yet. There are still plenty to see and I’ve only been in a certain cross-section of Scotland. My first “real” stop was at the House of Dun, which is between Montrose and Brechin. It wasn’t a planned stop, but as I mentioned, you never know what you’re going to find along the way.

It’s a Palladian style house built in the mid 1700’s on extensive grounds with lots of walking paths. The price was a bit daor (£9), especially when they ding you £2 for parking as well (it wasn’t part of my Historic Scotland Explorer Pass as it’s run by the National Trust of Scotland), but it includes a guided tour by very knowledgeable staff. Unfortunately, you can’t take photographs, which is somewhat understandable as they have a great deal of artwork that could be easily damaged by the flash. Oddly, you aren’t allowed to bring in handbags or other baggage (backpacks and such), but must lock them in tiny lockers until the end of the tour. I guess they don’t want you sneaking out your camera when the guide isn’t looking. The house is beautifully decorated with plenty of antiques; nearly 80% of the furnishings are originally from the Erskine family who built the house.

In the courtyard there is a weaving shop with several large old fashioned working looms. The weavrs refurbished part of the courtyard cottages in exchange for a 99 yr lease. They have beautiful array of products for purchase.

The next stop was Edzell Castle just outside of Belchin. I was amazed at the number of vehicles at the site until I realized there was going to be a wedding. The attendant informed me of the wedding and although the castle would be available for viewing, the walled, manicured garden would be closing in 10 minutes for the wedding. I decided to stay and made a quick tour of the garden before exploring the castle, much of which is in ruin. Not wanting to intrude on someone’s wedding (I wouldn’t want a bunch of nosy tourists imposing on mine, either) I sat on the stairs and read the guidebook while the ceremony took place. A piper was stationed in the tower house providing accompaniment for the ceremony.

As with all these ancient monuments, there is work that needs to be done replacing some of the lime mortar to patch the leaks that threaten to further ruin the structure. Edzell Castle is somewhat unique in that it is made of red sandstone. This particular castle has become quite the aviary, with dozens of birds coming in and out of just about every window and door.

Of course the most striking feature is the walled garden, and it’s no wonder someone would want to get married there. Not only are there beautifully manicured beds and hedges, but the inner walls of the garden have been adorned by series of sculptured panels depicting the seven planetary deities, seven liberal arts, and the seven cardinal virtues. A checkerboard pattern of recesses running between each wall sculpture provide a multitude of flower boxes, currently filled with blue and white lobelias, which represent the colours of the Lindays’ coat of arms.

Last stop was at a museum of Pictish stones in Meigle. I had intended on visiting another museum of Pictish Stones earlier in the day (hence the reference to the first “real” stop), but it was closed. When I mentioned it to the woman at Meigle, she said due to cutbacks in funding, the hours at that site had been reduced.

The stones in the small museum are pretty spectacular examples of Pictish carvings, which contain a mixture of early Christian as well as ancient religious and mythical symbols. Many contain water nymphs, mermaids, and other water creatures. There are plenty of serpents and other beasts and some odd round hand mirror shaped objects. Once scene depicts what looks like a woman being torn apart by beasts. This is thought to represent Vanora (also known as Guennivere, King Arthur’s wife), who in this legend, was kidnapped and raped by Pictish King Mordred, then sentenced to death by her husband for this enforced infidelity. Of course it raises my hackles to have the woman being blamed for being kidnapped and raped. It’s a new twist on the Arthurian saga, of which I’ve read quite a bit. Let’s hope this is just some invention of one of the misogynist priests of the Middle Ages. Others claim it’s a Biblical representation of Daniel in the lion’s den. I won’t tell you what my thoughts are, though I suspect you can deduce them.

With the exception of one Viking stone, they date from the 8th and 9th centuries. They were recovered and saved by the local laird Sir George Kinlock near the end of the 19th century. There are other such carvings scattered around the area and in other parts of Scotland as well.

There was a wedding party at the hotel when I returned, so today was a good day for men in kilts (all of whom, sadly, appeared to be taken).

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