Travel Jottings

My wanderings are urban as well as rural, and several have taken me overseas around Europe and to North America. All have needed at least some planning: knowing what to see and where to stay remain ever present needs. That and remaining ever open to new possibilities have contributed to what you find here. Everything builds up over time, and I hope that the horizons continue expanding to mean that I can continue to share new things with you here.

A Collection of Castles

Stirling Castle, Scotland

Scotland has more than its fair share of castles, and many of them are open to the public too. Some may dismiss many big Scottish houses that are called castles merely as being country houses with crenellated surroundings for their roofs. However, I am going to call them what their owners and custodians (some are in the care of trusts) call them, so they come under the category of castles for me.

The collection that you find here first came into being thanks to having digital notebooks in the form of a BlackBerry device or an Asus Eee PC netbook. Now that I think of it, I might need to revisit both of these devices to see what else they hold. After all, there may be links on them for more Scottish castles that should take their place here too. Of course, should any more come to my attention, I'll have a go at making sure that they don't get missed.

Balmoral Castle

This is one of the official residences of the Royal Family in Scotland and, having passed the way once in the last few years, it isn't difficult to see why Queen Victoria was so taken by its situation that she bought it. Of course, it shouldn't need royal connections to draw visitors to what is yet another scenic part of Scotland, but I do find myself asking if those who are lured by such things get further than Balmoral or nearby Crathes. It would be more than worth their while if they did just that.

Blair Castle

It is impossible to ignore this large white edifice when travelling as a passenger, either on a train or while being driven along the A9. A look at the extensive website should convince you that there's plenty to see here, and there's Atholl Estate for further exploration should you really want to get away from it all.

Castle of Mey

Though it once was owned by the Queen Mother, the castle and attached land are now in the hands of a charitable trust. The royal connections remain though, with King Charles continuing to take an interest in his grandmother's former Scottish home, and she went well north by buying a residence in Scotland's north-eastern corner of Caithness. Naturally, it is open to the (paying) public at times too, with visitors being able to savour the castle interior and its walled garden, apparently a necessity given the ferocity of some of the storms that pass along the Pentland Firth.

Cawdor Castle

As it happened, I found this on the website for Dunrobin Castle that is also featured on this page. Like Glamis, it too gains a mention in Shakespeare's Macbeth, though a subsequent real-life Thane of Cawdor was heard to bemoan this. The castle, situated not far from Nairn, dates from after the period within which Macbeth lived, so it cannot have been involved in any of those shenanigans. Of course, paying visitors are welcome to the castle and its gardens, and there's plenty on the website to inform a prospective visitor.

Duart Castle

To my eyes, this restored castle has a certain fairytale appearance, and it is brilliantly located on the east side of Mull too. Its situation guarantees brilliant views along Loch Linnhe as well as up and down the Sound of Mull. Those vistas weren't just for ascetics, though, but there are occasions when military logic takes a more pleasant twist. Now that I think of it, there should have been more than one return visit since a single trip on a June day when an unpromising morning became a gloriously unforgettable afternoon. It took a while for me to get to it from the ferry terminal at Craignure on a day trip from Edinburgh, so there was no time to have a look inside or see what could be gained from going from the top of its tower, of course assuming that visitors are left up there. However, the views from the foot of the castle were more than good enough for me. August 2014 saw me finally revisit the place and scaffolding has been erected to deal with water ingress and there is an appeal on the Clan Maclean Association website for help with funding the latest work.

Dunnottar Castle

These ruins are in a dramatic setting near Stonehaven on Scotland's east coast. The website proves that there is an entry fee and that there are opening hours. Both of these are realities that photos of a wild situation will never tell you; don't let it be said that photographic composition cannot be selective. Strictly speaking, this may not be in Highland country with Aberdeen just up the coast, but Braemar and Royal Deeside are not far away either.

Dunrobin Castle

For all its fairytale appearance, you'll find this castle further north than Inverness on Scotland's east coast. It is easy to reach too, it seems, with the A9 being nearby and the nearest village of Golspie, with its own train station, isn't too far away either. The castle and gardens are open to visitors from April to October and this also is the seat of the Clan Sutherland too, which could be an added attraction for some.

Dunvegan Castle

It's been a while since I paid a visit to Dunvegan Castle and Gardens. In fact, this happened on my first-ever trip to the Isle of Skye during the last week of July in 1999. Then, I took a long cycle around the island that started and ended in Portree. The strong sun meant sunburn, but it also may for enhanced views of the surrounding countryside and coastline as I crossed the island to reach Dunvegan and, for my efforts, gained myself an even more glorious evening as I journeyed down the island's west coast as far as Bracadale before turning inland on a scary single track road.

The castle is in the hands of the chief of the MacLeod clan, and the restoration of its roof was the cause of some controversy when it came to the means used to generate the required funding: selling Skye's iconic Cuillin Hills. After a public outcry, a resolution was found so that one of Scotland's most valued assets could be secured for future generations. The castle itself may not look so impressive compared to its coastal surroundings, but its gardens are well worth the entry fee alone. It mustn't have been too unkind on the pocket because I have no recollection as to what I paid, and my means as a university student weren't at all big.

Edinburgh Castle

This is a familiar sight to me because of the few years that I spent living in Edinburgh. However, you don't need to have done that for the appearance of this well-preserved Scottish emblem to become embedded in your brain. It has become that iconic, with its setting atop an extinct volcano in the heart of a country's capital city. Perhaps unusually for me, I have been to see what lies within its walls. That may have been 1995, and adult entry cost £5 even then, but the memories of there being much to see remain with me. Between the rooms crammed with displays of uniforms and the sight of Mons Meg (a renowned powerful cannon), there was much to take in, though the British army quarters remained out of bounds to us. Still, that left much to sample and the fact that it was to take another twelve months for the Stone of Scone to travel north to a new home in Scotland was immaterial; that new residence turned out to be Edinburgh's castle and not its original resting place at Scone Palace. Later again, I got to experience the Military Tattoo that now seems to be booked out months in advance. With that in mind, it might surprise you to hear that I managed to secure a ticket only days before the midweek performance that I attended. While I may be writing these words with memories of what I have seen being nearer than what gave them to me, I hope that it is apparent that my savouring of Edinburgh's castle went further than taking in the sights while out on shopping trips to Princes Street or while taking the sun in Princes Street Gardens. It's one of the icons of Edinburgh that seem to persist in my mind's eye.

Eilean Donan Castle

Would you believe that I nearly forgot to include Scotland's most photographed castle on this list? That's not all, but I have paid to go in to see the inside of the building too. It may have been 1999, but it's not been forgotten and the prospect of creating better photos for myself of the thing should have been enough reason for me to go back since then, instead of continually passing it on the way to Skye.

Glamis Castle

As if being the childhood home of the Queen Mother wasn't enough of a claim to fame, this castle also became the setting for scenes in Shakespeare's Macbeth. That's no bad thing for an attraction in the perhaps overlooked area that is Angus. The castle and gardens are open to the public, with the seemingly usual extras such as a restaurant and shop too.

Inveraray Castle

An evening stopover afforded me a sneaky walk in to glimpse a castle that I only had glimpsed from a passing bus. The evening wasn't so sunny at the time, so no photos were possible, and that was less the case the next morning when rain was on the way. Though I may not have seen that much of it, it nevertheless comes across as a grand residence to have as your home, like the Duke and Duchess of Argyll do. It and its formal gardens are open to paying visitors too from the middle of spring through to the middle of autumn, and I have been known to play with that idea over the years, only for it never to have come to pass.

Scone Palace

Having been the place where many Scottish kings were crowned, this castle and estate have its place in Scottish history all but guaranteed. The actual site where coronations took place is known now as Moot Hill and remains part of the estate. The Palace is open to paying visitors from April to October, though the grounds remain open on Fridays from November to March. When open, it is one of the more accessible of such attractions with its proximity to Perth and the passage of bus services nearby.

Stirling Castle

Some think it more impressive than its more counterpart in Edinburgh and saw some refurbishment within the last decade, particularly attending to its great hall. In my case, there has not been a full visit apart from standing beneath it of the evening when I spent a night in the Stirling area (it was Bannockburn, really, not that there are many traces of that famous battle that was fought there these days).