No trip to Scotland would be really complete without a trip to a castle or ten, would it?
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
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.
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.
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”!
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
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.
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 conquerors. There 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:
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”.
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.
The grounds are host to masses of rhododendron bushes, and the occasional witch.
Few people who visit Britain’s countryside when
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.
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?
Hoddom also houses some massive cheeky-monkey puzzle trees.
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…
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…
This hillside garden caught my attention with its seashell lined pathways and packed landscaping.
This one was also interesting with its brightly painted red branches and large boulders.
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.
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.
Warning: “C ol orful” language alert.
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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.