Travels in Scotland – The Castle Trail Completed

July 23, 2015

Yesterday was my last day at the Davron Hotel and Rosehearty was bathed in sunlight so when I set out I was confident that I would have a good stab at taking in most if not all of the remaining castles on the trail. My first stop was Leith Hall which like some of the previous structures on the list looked more like a manor house than a castle. I stopped to take photographs of the outside and then moved on to the next on the list, Kildrummy Castle.

Leith HallLeith Hall

Here I met the same lady steward who sold me the guide at Tolquhon Castle. She told me that she had a roving remit from the Scottish tourist board to fill in whenever there was a staff shortage. This time she failed to sell me a guide but she did tell me that I would see some wonderful views once I walked up the hill to the castle site and she was right. A plaque on the site of the Great Hall told me that the castle was besieged by the English in 1306 during which Osbourne, the blacksmith, treacherously set fire to the grain store, forcing Sir Neil Bruce, Robert Bruce’s brother, to surrender.

Kildrummy CastleKildrummy Castle

After Kildrummy I came to Corgarff Castle which is described on the trail guide as an isolated Tower House and it is certainly isolated being the only building at the top of a steep hill. The trail guide says that after the Battle of Culloden it became a British Redcoat garrison in order to repress jacobite activity. At the bottom of the hill a sign informed me that the castle was closed for lunch but I climbed up there anyway to photograph the exterior and also to get some pictures of some of the stunning views that could be seen from the top.

Corgarff CastleCorgarff Castle

I drove on to Braemar castle. On the way my Sat. Nav. kept telling me that there were traffic disruptions on route and wanted to take me down some rough farm tracks when there was hardly another vehicle to be seen on the road. I ignored this advice and followed the sign posts until I came to this Hollywood impression of a quintessential castle.

Braemar CastleBraemar Castle

A little further along the Dee Valley is Balmoral Castle. It is astounding that it is still sometimes inhabited by actual Queens, Princes, and probably in the future by a King. I have to confess that I am not a fan of the British Royal Family and would not have gone out of the way to visit it if it had not been on the list.

Balmoral CastleBalmoral Castle

At five o’clock in the evening I came to Craigievar Castle and the end of the trail. It is a pretty pink and more like a creation of Walt Disney than a fortification built by barons in the 1600s.

Craigievar CastleCraigievar Castle

And so I reached the end of the trail. I had mistakenly thought I would complete it in a single day but in the end it has taken five. If I had entered every property on show and taken a guided tour I would have probably had to add at least another two. The trail is very worth following as the rolling countryside and the forests that I passed through between each castle were spectacular. The journey was worth it for these panoramic views alone.

Keith Jahans


Travels in Scotland – Back on The Castle Trail

July 21, 2015

Today Rosehearty was bathed in sunshine and it was time to get back on the Castle Trail. My first stop was Huntly Castle, number ten on the list and about an hour and a half drive from the Devron Hotel. Apparently, the earliest fortification on this site sheltered Robert the Bruce.

Huntly CastleHuntlly Castle

My next stop was Spynie Palace where the pretty lady steward at the visitor centre talked me into buying a guide book. The palace was the residence of the medieval bishops of Moray. It once stood on the edge of a large sea loch giving safe anchorage for fishing and merchant vessels. But Synie loch’s size has become greatly reduced and is now some distance away. Mary Queen of Scots spent two nights here before defeating the Earl of Huntly at the Battle of Corrichie near Huntly Castle.

Spynie PalaceSpynie Palace

One of the delights of visiting ruined castles is that I get a chance to take some dramatic and dare I say “artistic” photographs of some of the impressive structures I see about me.

Spynie Palace 2View of the impressive David’s Tower at Spynie Palace

The climb to the top of David’s Tower was scary but safe and the views from the top were breath taking.

Spynie Palace 3A view from the top of David’s Tower

I drove on to Belvenie Castle which was a stronghold of the Black Comyns who were rivals to Robert the Bruce in the early 1300s. Mary Queen of Scots also stayed here, much later of course in the mid 1500s.

Balvenie CastleBelvenie Castle

The castle contained some interesting nooks and crannies which were a delight to explore.

Balvenie Castle 2Part of the interior of Belvenie castle.

The three castles mentioned above were enough to take in for one day so I decided to drive the seventy or so miles back to Rosehearty where I ate a delicious evening meal of chicken and chorizo pasta.

Keith Jahans

Travels in Scotland – Rosehearty on the Moray Firth

July 20, 2015

This morning I looked out of my hotel room window and could see the sea. The sky was cloudy, but it was otherwise warm and there was no sign of rain so I decided to break my journey along the Castle Trail and explore the village of Rosehearty where I was staying.

Rosehearty is on the Moray Firth and is four miles west of the town of Fraserburgh in Aberdeenshire. It boasts a small harbour and is untouched by tourism.

The Davron HotelThe Davron Hotel in Rosehearty where I am staying

It was low tide at 9 am this morning when I reconnoitred the sea shore and in the tiny harbour most of the boats were resting on mud.

Rosehearty HarbourRosehearty Harbour at low tide facing the village

Rosehearty Harbour 2Another view of the Harbour this time facing the sea

I passed a house where there were wetsuits hanging from a washing line indicating that this area was popular with divers. I came to a grassy picnic place where there was a splendid view across the Firth. This space seemed to be greatly favoured by the locals, a small number of whom were out walking their dogs. My earlier guess about scuba diving was born out by a sign encouraging people to dive the Moray Firth. Everyone I met seemed exceedingly friendly and most wished me Good Morning.

Moray FirthThe Moray Firth from the Rosehearty official picnic area

Dive the Moray FirthSign at official picnic area encouraging scuba diving in the Moray Firth

Keith Jahans

Travels in Scotland – The Castle Trail Continued

July 19, 2015

Today I checked out of the Rosemount Palace and set off north along the Castle Trail intent on seeing more wondrous castles along the way.

The next one on my list was Tolquhon Castle and this is how I like my castles in ruins with plenty of atmosphere. It looked like I was the only one to have arrived. The lady steward in the gift/information shop sold me a ticket to go inside and a guide book for only £1 as it was shortly to be reprinted. She apologised that she had not been able to sweep up the leaves upstairs because of the rain and told me to take extra care when moving around. This was to be the first castle where I was to venture inside and from what I saw it was well worth it.

Tolquhon CastleTolquhon Castle

Tolquhon Castle 2Inside Tolquhon Castle

A little further along the trail was Haddo House. This was more like a Stately Home than a castle and I nearly passed it by but as it was on the list I took some photographs of the exterior and then moved on.

Haddo HouseHaddo House

The next three castles all seemed to be still lived in and again looked a lot like Stately Homes. Delgatie Castle seemed to be the most run down and so to me was the most atmospheric of the three.

Fyvie CastleFyvie Castle

Delgatie CastleDelgatie Castle

Duff HouseDuff House

Duff House is the ninth castle on the list and is the halfway point along the trail. It is near the coastal town of Banff. From there I travelled eastward along the coast to the village of Rosehearty and the Davron Hotel where I had booked to stay for the next three nights. I got there at 2.30 pm and they were still serving lunch so I treated myself to a Sunday roast. It was delicious.

Keith Jahans

Travels in Scotland

July 18, 2015

Saturday 18th July

There are more castles in Aberdeenshire than anywhere else in the UK or so it says in the guide book I got from the tourist information centre in Aberdeen. There is also a castle trail (the only one in Scotland) which takes in eighteen of these magnificent buildings. I looked at the few photographs that were in the book and they certainly looked stunning so I resolved to find the trail and photograph as many as I could.

I downloaded a pdf of the trail from the internet and on the morning of 17th July (yesterday) I set off for the first on the list. This was Dunnottar Castle near the village of Stonehaven which was only about 16 miles south of Aberdeen and the Rosemount Palace. Unfortunately there was a steady downpour of rain but undeterred I set off thinking I could take some long range shots from the window of my car. When I got there the view was spectacular despite the rain and I needed to get out the car for a better look.

I took several photographs and then the elements got the better of me and I beat a hasty retreat to the car soaking wet despite the waterproofs I had donned. The rain had eased off a little by the time I got to the second on the list, Crathes Castle, and I could take my time in taking my shots. When I had finished, I decided that I had done enough that day and hurried back to Rosemount Palace but when I looked at the pictures I had taken of Dunnottar I found all but one had been obscured by the heavy raindrops on my Camera lens.

Dunnottar CastleDunnottar Castle through the rain
(the only photo not ruined by raindrops on the lens)

Crathes CastleCrathes Castle

The next day (today) the sky was dull but it was not raining so I set out for Stonehaven again and got the photographs I wanted. Then I took in two more castles on the list, Drum Castle and Castle Fraser.

Dunnottar Castle with waterfallDunnottar Castle and waterfall
(the next day when it was not raining)

Drum CastleDrum Castle

Castle FraiserCastle Fraser

My photographs do not do these wonderful structures justice. Each building undoubtedly has numerous stories attached to it. I am afraid I had no time to research them as my sole purpose was to capture their images. Instead I refer you to a website where you can find out more about this fascinating trail.

Keith Jahans

Travels in Scotland

July 15, 2015

I have left Cornwall and driven almost the length of Britain and have arrived in Aberdeen. I took a leisurely drive to get here, spending the night in hotels near Birmingham and then in Ayr, which is just under 40 miles southwest of Glasgow. The roads were mostly motorways so there was not much to see on the way.

I pre-booked five days at the Rosemount Palace which I found online. It is described as a converted church and I drove round it several times before I decided it must be the place I was heading for because it looked very much like an active place of worship. It is more of a B & B than a hotel and it seems that a service is held there every Sunday or so a sign on the courtyard wall informed me. Inside there were a few rooms set aside for meditation and counselling on the ground floor. But there were also bedrooms and mine was on the first floor via a maze of a corridor.

Rosemount Palace 2Rosemount Palace

Rosemount PalaceAnother view of Rosemount Palace
with my magnetic red Nissan is in the foreground

When I awoke the following morning, which is today as I write this blog. I set off to explore the city. I had heard of its Granite buildings with their dormer windows before I arrived there and it was this fascinating knowledge which inspired my visit.

Aberdeen BuildingsA row of buildings near the Rosemont Hotel

Aberdeen Dormer WindowsSome more buildings near the hotel

For the uninitiated, dormer windows are the ones in the roof and I had heard that Aberdeen boasts more dormer windows than any town in Britain.

As I walked I spotted the statue of William Wallace opposite His Majesty’s Theatre. I was relieved to see that he looked nothing like Mel Gibson. His outstretched hand is pointing in the direction of the Theatre, where there were people queuing for what appeared to be a student graduation ceremony.

Statue of William WallaceStatue of William Wallace

Further on I noticed a statue of another Scottish hero, Robert the Bruce, outside the former Marischal College and University buildings which are now used as the city council headquarters. The statue was placed there in recognition of what Robert the Bruce had done for the people of Aberdeen, which was chiefly setting up a charter in 1319 for the Common Good fund, which appropriately paid for the £125,000 statue. This charter is what King Robert the Bruce is holding in his left hand. It also granted the people of Aberdeen some feudal rights over the Forest of Stocket after they sheltered him during his outlaw days.

Statue of Robert the BruceStatue of Robert the Bruce

A sign pointed me in the direction of the tourist information centre where I was able to obtain, maps and guides to the city and its surrounding area all free of charge. I asked the young man who served me where I could find the harbour and docks and was told that they were only a few yards behind the very building we were standing in.

Aberdeen DocksAberdeen Docks

Two hours later I returned to the Rosemount content that I had seen more than enough for one day and with the knowledge that there was still much more to see in this fascinating city and the surrounding area.

Keith Jahans

Travels in Southern England – The Penzance Literary Festival Revisited: continued.

July 12, 2015

There have been so many interesting events for me to visit at this year’s festival that I have hardly had time to keep up with my blog.

Last night I visited the Acorn Theatre where I listened to comedian and writer, Tony Hawks, talk about the frustration he has felt on numerous occasions when he has received misdirected messages meant for his American skateboarding namesake. He went on to talk about his adventures when cycling across Devon in the company of a miniature pig which is recounted in his latest book, “Once Upon a Time in the West Country”, and being an ex-employee of Defra myself, I was heartened to see that he obeyed this Government department’s animal movement regulations religiously.

Tony Hawks bookOnce Upon a Time in the West Country by Tony Hawks
is published by Hodder & Stoughton and is available in hardback, paperback and as an ebook.

Later I saw a production of a black comedy play called “Sweetness and Light” performed by a company called Blabbermouth Theatre in the Acorn bar. Apparently it goes to the Edinburgh Fringe in August but I must admit that I did not fully understand it.

Yesterday, I attended a workshop on how to read a short story out loud run by the excellent Diana Cambridge. It was attended by fifteen very talented writers who had each submitted a piece of work for comment. I read from my short story, “The Lie,” which is available for free for a limited period on the Peatmore Press website and my reading seemed to go down well. Diana also supplied us with worksheets giving tips and also a copy of her book about writing for magazines. She is based in Bath and runs other workshops there which I would highly recommend for anyone wishing to specialise in this tricky form of fiction writing. Diana has a website at

That evening I listened to an enthralling talk by Tim Hannigan based on his latest book, A Brief History of Indonesia. Readers may remember that I attended his travel writing workshop last year and bought a copy of his book about Raffles and the British Invasion of Java, which I later reviewed on this blog earlier in the year. This latest book looked just as entertaining and I managed to by a pre-publication copy which Tim signed for me as it is not due out until September. I have to confess that I have more than a passing interest in that country as my daughter is there at the moment with her boyfriend.

Later on in the evening the festival organisers held their traditional literary quiz. I was able to reacquaint myself with the very charming team I participated with last year. However, this time I was part of another group. We did not do too badly but there so many more knowledgeable other teams taking part that we failed to gain any prizes.

The night ended with a party in the Acorn bar with live music performed by an energetic local band known as Gwenellin. It was a perfect ending to a fine festival.

Keith Jahans
Peatmore Press.

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