Monday, 20 February 2012

Castle round up

Last year seemed to have more than it's fair share of castles in it, not all of which have been mentioned in previous blogs. It seems a shame to get to far away from last year without giving these three, very different, castles a mention.

Most of the castles I've been to have a long and often bloody history but not so Comstoun castle, just outside Kirkcudbright - I doubt all that many of the towns residents even know it exists. It is tucked in a wood behind a large manor house also known as Comstoun. The name makes it's first appearance in history when Walter fitz Walter de Cummstun swore fealty to Edward I and makes no appearance after that till the 15th century. It would appear that the castle was built by Sir John Kennedy around 1500 (I read that the architecture matches this suggestion). The most exciting thing to have happened here is that in the late 1500s one of the leading Scottish poets of his age, Alexander Montgomerie, rented the place. The new mansion that stands today was completed in 1828 but it appears that the castle had already fallen into disrepair by that time - in 1794 it is described, "the remains of an old building.

It's interesting to see that a castle can get through it's history without a suggestion of intrigue or the clash of swords ringing though the centuries. The potential source of it's name is also quite interesting. The two most likely suggestions to me are that it comes from the Norse for a war badge, Kulm, and the Norse for a stone, Steinn, or from the Saxon, Kemp,e for a soldier which is very near the Norse, Kempa, meaning warrior.

Nothing could be further away from Cumstoun castle than the stately pile below. It's Fyvie castle, built in the 13th century but, as you can see has been extensively renovated and expanded over the years. I was there because I had an appointment in Aberdeen the day before I was due to go to work and it was only a short drive away. It's well worth going into as it had a good collection of paintings, tapestries, arms (as in swords etc, not what you keep up your sleeves) and all those good things that you expect to find in a castle. The National Trust do not let you take pictures inside it's buildings or else this would have been a blog all on it's own.

As with the best castles, it's got it's fair share of ghosts and a couple of curses. The most famous is supposed to have been made by Thomas the Rhymer when he was old, towards the end of the 13th century. As he was approaching the castle the wind blew the castle doors shut in his face and he took offence and issued the following curse.

Fyvie, Fyvie, thou’s never thrive
As lang’s there’s in thee stanes (stones) three
There’s ane intill (one in) the oldest tower,
There’s ane intill the ladye’s bower,
There’s ane intill the water-yett (water gate)
And thir three stanes ye never get.

It is thought to relate to three stones removed from church land. The stones are supposed to be wet when those about them are dry and visa versa. One stone has been located and often is found to be wet for no good reason. Since the curse was issued, no firstborn son has lived to inherit the castle from his father.

The castle has a large walled garden, mainly laid out with fruit and vegetables

The day I was there was a bit damp but when I was in the garden the weather decided to up itself a gear or two - it chucked it down and I had to hide under a beech tree for a while.

When it eased off, I went for a walk round the large pond at Fyvie where a mist was rising from the water.

Good weather for..... sorry just been stopped by the cliche police

A little later in the year I dropped in on Mr McK for a visit and we went to see Blackness Castle a few miles outside Edinburgh on the Forth with the young McKs.

It was built in 1440 by Sir George Crichton, it soon, in 1453, became the property of the crown and remained so for the rest of it's existence. It was strengthened in the 1500s but when Cromwell turned up in 1651, gun power had overtaken the strength of the walls and it fell. After repair it was used as a prison for covenanters. Later during the wars with France it was used for prisoners of war. During the better part of the 19th century it was an arsenal and briefly a barracks again until in 1912 it was turned over to the Office of Works as an ancient monument.

I was surprised at how uneven the ground was inside the castle.

This photo was taken from the castle's jetty and it's the nearest I come with my pictures to showing the castle's boat shape. It has often been called "the ship that never sailed"

A view from the castles jetty of the two Forth bridges. It gives an idea of the important defensive position the castle must have commanded.


Poppy said...

Sandy, I love old buildings (as you have probably noticed by now!!) and would love to visit all three of the castles mentioned here. Love your photos, thanks for sharing places I probably will never get to, but I do have a Very Long Wish List.... :)

Sandy's witterings said...

Too many things to see in one lifetime I'm afraid Val, but at least the internet allows us to pool some of them together.

Shundo said...

And I'm happy you're giving us a bunch of castles to look at - do you think a castle can be ashamed that it's high point was housing a poet, or do you think it might feel a little relieved not to have been besieged?

Jim Deans said...

Walter fitz Walter de Cummstun.
That's some name Sandy, I wonder what name the descendants go by if there was any.Kennedy however is well known name in South West Scotland and once the most powerful family.
Never been to Fyvie but I remember as a youngster going to Blackness on a mystery tour on W.Alexander & Sons bus.We'd come from Cupar, driven through Stirling (looked up at the castle) and over the Kincardine Bridge that day.Those 'Mystery Tours' were great value for money in the 50's. I wonder does anyone do them any more ?

Sandy's witterings said...

Shundo, perhaps if more castles and their modern equivalent house poets as their high point, then the world might be a better place.

Don't think I've ever seen somebody offering a mystery tour - sounds an idea (you could be the man to start them Jim)

Ellie said...

These are lovely old castles - I've visited a few around our own area of Ayrshire. I'd like to take a visit to see these - they all look in fairly good nick too.

Sandy's witterings said...

Ellie, a few blogs ago (or last summer if you live inthe real world) I was at Culzean - much more your neck of the woods I think.

CameraCruise said...

Beautiful shots from those great old castles.
Thanks for sharing.
I don't know much about the marine painter Johann Bennetter.
Have a great Monday.