“On the Bonnie Banks, the sequel”



No trip to Scotland would be really complete without a trip to a castle or ten, would it?

castle Gates

Whatever you do, do not look up there!


I did warn you!… Getting tarred, a common inconvenience of the medieval day.


This stronghold is called

Caerlaverock Castle

I have been to this castle many times, the first time on a school outing! With its moat, twin towered gatehouse and imposing formidable red sandstone battlements, Caerlaverock Castle is the epitome of the medieval stronghold.  The castle’s turbulent history owes much to its proximity to England which brought it into border conflicts.


The first castle on the site was built around the 1220s, an earthwork fortification surrounded by a moat in the marshes to the south of the present building. I visited this site, but there was not much to see. That very basic defensive structure was replaced by this substantial castle, built by Sir Herbert de Maxwell around 1277.  It was this structure which was besieged in 1300, the castle’s most famous event.


Here is Caerlaverock Castle in 1900.

Being very close to the border with England, Caerlaverock had to be defended several times against English forces.


“Ach, I’m in love with this castle already, I see a strength in yer robust castle walls.”


Edward I of England

The Siege of Caerlaverock was conducted by Edward I of England who had at his side eighty seven of the most illustrious Barons of England.


“And just why wasn’t I invited”?

The Maxwells, under their gallant chief, made a vigorous defense, but in the end the garrison were compelled to surrender. It was only then that the English found out that there were only about sixty men inside the castle, these men had defied the whole English army for a considerable period of time. Some of the captured were hanged from the castle walls and the rest were allowed to walk free.  The castle remained in English hands until 1312.

Caerlaverock Castle, moat

These old castles are great places to visit, especially out of season when they are very quiet. Being out of season also eliminates the potential for any screaming,  reenactment shenanigans, that seem to happen more frequently in the summer months. No, this is the time of year for me, a freshening breeze, very few tourists,  just the lonely call of curlew or the chatter of a group of oyster-catchers is really all I want to hear walking the grounds of this gloomy castle.

The Driver

Back at the parking lot, our driver was patiently waiting for us in his small European car ready to take us back to our cottage. Although one of our clan decided to ride her bike home at break-neck speed…


It was all going well until she became more interested in the dials than the road, I quote “to see if they were turning”!

Easy Rider.mpg

On the way home we had to pull the little car over to the side of the road to allow this herd of sheep safe passage into an adjacent field.


I snapped this through the vehicle’s tiny window.


Back at our cottage, zzzz



Morning…another breakfast of champions, another mild cardiac twinge…then it was onto a local estate for a spot of conker hunting (or ‘Buckeye’ hunting here in the states). When we were kids, armed with polythene bags, we would do our rounds around some of the older horse chestnut trees in our area (we knew exactly where they were), they were the trees that would deliver some of the largest, and most prized conkers, and there were some monsters. When they are lying half open like the one below, they remind me of storybook dragons eyes.


Conker Photo courtesy of  Matt Osborne see some more of his great shots :


Horse chestnuts nuts from the horse chestnut tree

Aesculus hippocastanum

are rich in starch and not suitable for human food due to the presence of saponins, which are soap-like chemicals. They have been made into a food for horses and cattle in the past, by soaking them first in lime-water so reduce their bitterness,  hence the horse in horse chestnut. The Common Horse Chestnut is native to the Balkans.

DSC09636 According to a letter which appeared in the Daily Telegraph, conkers are an effective way to keep spiders out of the house: conkers, placed in the corners of a room and behind pieces of furniture, reduce the number of spiders venturing into the room. Well nobody told me that, I would have filled the bathroom up with them at the cottage!  Brrrrrrr.


After poking holes through the conkers and threading them onto boot-laces, we would take them into school the next day to wage knuckle rapping battles on the playground. Players take turns to strike each others conker until one breaks. Today playing conkers in schools is banned due to the legal consequences if children are injured from shards while playing the game. A few schools still allow the practice if protective goggles are worn! I guess I have never thought playing conkers as a dangerous sport.

The name comes from the dialect word conker, meaning hard (related to French conque meaning a conch), as the game was originally played using snail shells. The name may also be influenced by the verb conquer, as the game was also called conquerorsThere is even a conker world championship held every year, in fact, if you get a last minute flight over the pond you could watch it live this Sunday:


Horse Chesnut Necklace

Although we did have a few traditional games of conkers most of the ones we collected went into the creation of this chunky necklace…a great “hit”.

Hoddom Castle

The estate where we picked the conkers is Called Hoddom, and guess what, yes it also has a castle on it, you cannot swing a conker in Scotland without hitting a castle you know. It is a popular stop for fishermen and houses some spectacular views. A fair amount of Hoddom castle is now derelict, it’s only occupants being a large number of crows and jackdaws that swoop and scream around the castle’s towers in a very Hammer House of Horror fashion.


Witch in the rhododendron

The grounds are host to masses of  rhododendron bushes, and the occasional witch.

Few people who visit Britain’s countryside when

Rhododendron ponticum

is in flower can comprehend the damage that has been caused to the native flora and fauna by this exotic Victorian introduction. It is a staggering sight when it is in full bloom. The large shrub is not native to Britain, but was first introduced from the Mediterranean countries in the late 18th Century. It became especially popular on country estates in Victorian times, providing ornamental value, as well as cover for game birds. The problem with it is that the plant has such a dense canopy nothing can grow under it. This effectively eliminates other competing native plant species which are unable to grow due to insufficient light. This in turn leads to the consequent loss of the associated native animals.

Rhododendron Bushes

You can see the lack of vegetation underneath these spooky twisted limbs.

Once established it is as hard to eradicate as Bermuda grass, spreading by seed and lateral horizontal growth of the branches.  A single plant may eventually end up covering many meters of ground, and if the branches touch the ground, they will root, continually extending the area of Rhododendron cover. Now that would be enough to make you…


…scream like a emu?  I think this bird had some sort of emu “tick” because it kept doing this, perhaps it had some grass caught in it’s throat? Or perhaps it was in practice for the “Scotland’s got talent” show? If there is such a show?

Monkey Tree

Hoddom also houses some massive cheeky-monkey puzzle trees.


“Yeah baby”!

The origin of the popular English name Monkey-puzzle derives from its early cultivation in Britain in about 1850, when the species was still very rare in gardens and not widely known. The owner of a young specimen in Cornwall was showing it to a group of friends, and one made the remark “It would puzzle a monkey to climb that”; as the species had no existing popular name, first ‘monkey-puzzler’, then ‘monkey-puzzle’ stuck.


Another brisk walk after eating dinner at the local pub. Then it was…





Farmer Giles

Another egg delivery from the farmer,


another breakfast of champions,


a minor cardiac event, a few aspirin, then it was time to check out a couple of local gardens…

Gardens Seen

This hillside garden caught my attention with its seashell lined pathways and packed landscaping.

Gardens Seen

This one was also interesting with its brightly painted red branches and large boulders.

Gorse Bushes

A little way down the road and sort of between houses, someone had obviously planted up this hillside here and there, to create a scene reminiscent of something from the movie Brigadoon.  All this scene needs is Gene Kelly and Van Johnson hopping around the rocks singing some highly questionable Scottish songs.


This shot was taken at a local garden center, evergreens feature heavily in gardens in the Solway area.

Beach Combing

With our trip drawing to a sad close we had time for one final beach combing jaunt before It was time to put my…


Dr Strangelove glove back on in preparation for the long flight back home.


As we drew up to the cottage one final time this little hedgehog froze in the headlights, strangely reminding me of our recent “Dude where’s my Tahoe” experience.  Our two weeks in Scotland were sadly over, as this little chaps life will be if he continues to hang around on the road-side.


Thank you parental units for a fabulous and memorable trip, we all really enjoyed seeing everyone again. Glad you got to meet the smallest hobbit. Hope to see you next year. Much love from all in the patch.

Airplane packageAs a side note… it appears that a faction of the Nabooboo tribe has made it across the pond. These European Naboos are a lot taller than their American cousins it seems…

Warning: C ol orful” language alert.

Stay Tuned for:

“Purple Rain”

All material © 2009 for eastsidepatch. Unauthorized
intergalactic reproduction strictly prohibited, and
punishable by  late  (and extremely unpleasant)
14th century planet Earth techniques.

I knew there was one picture Bob, and only the one there was, taken by my eldest at Caerlaverock, she insisted that I held up the feather, this is my “anything for a quiet life” face.


  • Bob Pool October 10, 2009, 9:46 pm

    That was a great photo tour of your trip. I still must say the Brits are the best gardeners in the world. Their gardens just look great with wandering eye appeal just like a painting. Buuuut are you the only one that knows how to work the camera? There is not one picture of you in the Mother land, not even one.

    Your Dad looks so British or in this case Scottish. We have a good friend from over yonder, Harry Eaglestone, that could pass for your Dad’s brother. Harry owns a canal boat and is constantly inviting us over to tour around in it with him.

    Another Brit friend, Rachel Allenby, lives down the road. Her Mother visits from time to time and always comes to the house to tour my gardens and have supper with us. She has given me a free pass to a garden that she redesigned and refurbished. [She’s quite wealthy] It is at a castle and is called Pool Gardens. As my last name is Pool and we have these and other Brit friends, my wife has hounded me for years to go “over there”. Rachel even mentioned that her cousin is a professional ghille and they might be able to get me into a day of fly fishing for salmon. Who knows, I may have to practice my Spey casting and go some day. I bet it would be expensive though.

    Any way it was a wonderful tour you gave me. Thanks Philip.

    • ESP October 11, 2009, 12:07 am

      You are right Bob! Not a single picture of me in the home-land!…”well that is something we will have to remedy” (Braveheart) … I did manage to find this one that my eldest hobbit took on the trip, so I posted it at the end of this post! Glad you liked the photo-tour of our Scotland trip. My dad, and all our family are from Yorkshire, the largest county in England. I found it funny that you know so many folks from over the pond. I agree, you should most definitely take a trip over, you would not regret it! Go on Bob, don’t make me send some Naboos over to Draco to errr, persuade you?

      Where is your friend the professional ghille, on what river is his beat?

  • The Garden Ms. S October 11, 2009, 12:05 pm

    Great photos of what must have been a fabulous trip! I love the door of the castle.

    Thanks for sharing :)

  • ESP October 11, 2009, 12:57 pm

    Hi Ms. S.
    Thanks, and it was a great trip, it went by so fast though!

    The castle does look quite intimidating. I for one do not envy those poor chaps who had to use battering rams against these walls and doors, while avoiding the tar and the arrows! Thanks but no thanks.


  • TexasDeb October 12, 2009, 8:04 am

    Yay – comments are open again. Because I did want to chime in with a simple vote of thanks in getting to see your photo there at the end. It feels you share so much of yourself in your posts, only natural to want an actual glimpse. And, thanks for the quick trip to Scotland. That may be as close to our family castle as I’ll ever get (St. Clair lineage here). So welcome home, we did our best to keep it cool and rainy for you.

  • ESP October 12, 2009, 8:38 am

    Hi TD.
    I know, I have no idea how comments got closed, somehow that preference got checked! The photo at the end was quite funny, it is my “try to hold it together face” as I was instructed by my eldest to “hold up the feather Daddy”! (for the tenth time).
    Glad you liked the quick trip to Scotland, and judging from the large amounts of weeds lining my pathways on my return, rain we have had, in fact the weather was dryer in Scotland! Unheard of!

  • Pam/Digging October 12, 2009, 12:07 pm

    I enjoyed the visit by proxy, Philip. What a great time it must have been. The one and only time I was in Scotland was one week after graduating from the university. My now-DH and I did the crazed, backpacking European tour from one country to the next to try to see it all in a month. We were disoriented in London, our first stop, but soon headed up to Edinburgh and then on to charming St. Andrews, where we stayed in a B&B, walked along the cliff edge, explored the crumbling monastery, and sampled meat pies in the local pub. We have wonderful memories of the people and the scenery.

  • ESP October 12, 2009, 12:47 pm

    Hi Pam.
    Glad you enjoyed it…we did as well, it was great to see the folks back home. So you were brave enough to try the local meat pies huh? Eating Scottish meat pies, journeys down the Grand Canyon on mule back…I am beginning to think you are a bit of a secret adrenaline junky -)
    London can be a bit disorientating if you do not know the different areas, it take months of wandering around lost to finally get a lay of the land.

  • Jenny October 12, 2009, 7:24 pm

    I’m going to test out that conker theory. Spiders love my house.If I am in England in November then I’ll pick up a few. For a long time we had one in the drawer, string an all. I think David was teaching the boys conkers one year. Your hobbit clearly loves that jacket and it looks as though she really needed it. I bet that bracing air blew the cobwebs away. And you saw a hedgehog too. I love those flea ridden little creatures! I have 3 in my hallway here- picked up at car boot sales. Wouldn’t I just like them to be real. Surely they would eat my snail and pill bugs. Thanks for sharing your holiday.

    • ESP October 12, 2009, 7:38 pm

      Hi Jenny.

      Please do test the conker theory, I would love to know if it works… of course it is the daily Telegraph :-)
      I would have brought a bunch a conkers home, but you know customs, and all that palaver!

      The hobbit, even though she had a full hobbit body of hair really cherished the extra hairy layer on the colder days…she lived in this boot-sale jacket!

      I was so happy to see this baby hedgehog, and you are right, they do tend to be mite covered…spines AND mites, that must just drive you crazy! I am itching thinking about it! It seems I need to send over one of the ESP witches to your house to cast a spell and turn your hedgehog ornaments into real hedgehogs every night while you sleep, that should curb any bug problems.


  • Germi October 14, 2009, 12:04 am

    Oh. My. God.
    My husband has recently gotten it into his head that we HAVE to buy a castle in Scotland (this is disturbing, because we definitely haven’t the means to do anything CLOSE to buying a Scottish castle, but he is unwavering and determined. I think he may have been bitten by a possum and is now rabid) But now, after reading your posts and having such vicarious fun, I understand what he’s on about. But I don’t think I should show him your posts. It might induce foaming at the mouth and running around, with gnashing of teeth and hair pulling.
    I love EVERYTHING about your trip, but I must say I ESPECIALLY loved your lovely daughter’s fur vest! SO fashion-forward! The girl has a very fresh style. I hope she was pleased that the Rhododendron Witch was wearing a similar vest! Witches are incredibly style conscious, of course.
    As if the vest wasn’t enough, then I see that chunky statement necklace, which are of course ALL THE RAGE right now! She is quite the fashionista.
    The photos of the gardens were so wonderful – those basalt rocks jutting up in the middle of everything – wow! And the textures! Wow again!
    It is really amazing that Monkey Puzzles grow in so many different climates! I am planting them in the Yucatan – they grow like gangbusters there! Who would have thought that a tree that does that well in cold Scotland would also thrive in the hot, humid tropics?
    I was pleased that I knew about conkers! My English friend Nick told me all about his Conker Wars when he was a boy, and how he and his mates would even varnish especially brave and magical conkers so they would live to bash and smash another day. Oh, the halcyon days of Young British Youth (that is an actual term – Young British Youth. Not a slip of the tongue – I mean keyboard)
    Thank you for the MAGNIFICENT trip, and it was nice to end on a picture of you! But why a feather? It was your future Fashion Stylist daughter again, wasn’t it? I KNEW IT! Feathers are so hot!

    • ESP October 14, 2009, 10:07 am

      Hi Ivette.

      A castle in Scotland? Brrr, wrap up warm and make sure it has a fireplace in every room, you will need it! This castle had exactly that, a fireplace in every room. I know of a few castles (small ones) that people have bought and renovated…it can be done, but mum’s the word, I want to limit as much of the gnashing of teeth and hair pulling as possible after all. Happy you followed me on the trip, and my daughter LOVED her furry vest, she practically slept in it! It is funny because ever since she was little-little she has always put her outfits together, we never have to pick out something for her to wear, and she always does an “interesting” job with her creations. The chunky statement necklace turned out to be just a little too chunky, the weight of it combined with too thin a chain/string hurt her neck, she wouldn’t have complained though.

      There where a lot more tropical plants than I remembered when I lived there…perhaps I am just a lot more “plant aware” then I was back then. This part of Scotland is relatively mild, the jet stream also enables and aids the more tropical plants in this area to thrive. Lots of New Zealand Flax, lots of enormous ornamental grasses, and a ton of different firs and dwarf conifers. Did I mention heather?

      I actually had a game or two (conkers) with my dad while I was there (he won), though I secretly think he may have baked his conker last year to harden it. My kids had a blast picking the conkers off the ground.

      Glad you liked reading about the trip, and the feather? Of course it was her! I have on my “I am just about to get annoyed face”.

  • Sean Maxwell September 14, 2011, 12:49 pm

    Best site I’ve found on Caerlaverock!! Thanks for the great info on the history!

  • ESP September 14, 2011, 9:51 pm

    Glad you liked it Sean.


Leave a Comment