Posted by: mdmusingsie | August 14, 2011

Where do these passions originate?

If it isn’t already obvious, castle hunting is one of my favorite pastimes. Where does that passion come from and are there benefits other than thrill of walking on the same grounds as royalty, heroes and villains of ages past? Am I, in some instances, tracing my own past? My romantic, fantasy driven mind would like to think so. It certainly has provided some wonderful structural inspiration for my novels.

First stop today was Lochleven Castle – famous as the prison site for Mary Queen of Scots in 1567-1568, among others. It’s the perfect location for a prison as it sits on an island in the middle of the Loch (that’s lake in case you haven’t guessed). You can still see the holes in the window masonry where the bars used to be.

Fortunately, a boat ride is included in the (very reasonable) admission fee (and part of the Explorer Pass) and it’s a short 10 minute ride to the island. I doubt it was so convenient in the time of Queen Mary, however. There weren’t likely to be gasoline powered boats in those days. If that isn’t an interesting enough thought, how about this one – how did they build a stone castle on an island? Especially starting in the late 13th century? They don’t talk about that in the wee guide book, but it’s an interesting dilemma. That’s a lot of stone to haul to a relatively small island. Since a good portion of the ancillary buildings are in ruin, where did the stones then go? Certainly, one of the wonders of the world.

The place had an interesting aura – not entirely welcoming, yet not the foreboding feeling you would expect from a location that was a prison to such important people. Pensive, maybe? I was anxious to see the castle, but not terribly saddened to leave, as in some places. Of course the lashing rain that kicked up just as we were getting on the boat may have been a contributor. It stopped when we reached opposite shore.

Across from the castle on the mainland sits Kinross house – a large mansion. It’s about the only dwelling visible around the Loch. I found this to be in stark contrast to many of the lakes in the United States where nearly every inch of shoreline is sporting some mansion or at least cottage. I asked the attendant at the ticket office and she said the owners of Kinross own the rights and that the area has been designated as a natural resource, preventing the building of homes around the lake. What a refreshing concept.

Back towards Dundee was another and the last of my castles for this trip – Elcho Castle. Had the woman at Lochleven not warned, me, I would have surely thought I’d driven the wrong way, as to reach this particular castle you actually pass through a farmer’s field and between his barn and storage shed.

On any trip, you want to leave on a high note, and this last castle did not disappoint. Having seen so many castles during this trip, they do start to blend together, but this one had many unique architectural features. One of my favorites are the spiral staircases. Having trod, warily at times, enough of them in the last few weeks, that is high praise. Even the servant’s stairway, one of three spiral stone staircases, was wide and so easy to manage that you didn’t need a handrail. Those are the kind that will be in the castle(s) in my novels.

It is amazingly well preserved for a 16th century dwelling, never having lost its roof. Therefore, a good amount of the plaster still exists on the walls, which is rare in most other castles, though it lacks any painted decorations such as at Huntingtower. It isn’t a simple tower house, but a tower house with other square and circular towers attached, giving it much more architectural detail and obvious curb appeal. All the little attached buildings appeared to supply the living quarters, with most of the bedrooms being en-suite (well, at least they all had their own latrine, though one had a walk-in closet with a side latrine). Up in the very top of one of the towers where the servant’s quarters resided there was a latrine, though it was reached by going across a short parapet along the roofline to the little cupboard in the next tower over.

You could also still reach the parapets in the entrance tower, and walk around, taking in the views of the surrounding countryside. Not all the stairwells went to all levels, which was interesting. It was a fun castle to explore and well worth the visit. The castle definitely had a happy aura about it, and there doesn’t appear to be any mention of sieges or captures, so the residents probably lead relatively peaceful lives.


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