Saturday, 29 December 2012

Looking back - Glamis and other wanders

Most things I've seen this year have found there way onto these pages but sometimes there are some places of interest that seem to get passed by. The most notable of these must be Glamis Castle which I passed on my way to work (it's a few mile passed Dundee) on a day when I was making particularly progress.

Glamis is famously immortalised by Shakespeare in the first title given to Macbeth, Thane of Glamis. Macbeth then goes on to murder the good King Duncan in his bed and claim his crown himself before he gets his comeuppance in battle himself.  It's fairly common knowledge now that this is complete rubbish. Duncan died in a battle against Macbeth and history seems to suggest that Macbeth was by far the better king. As it turns out, Macbeth had nothing what so ever to do with Glamis. Two kings earlier though, Malcolm II died here, some say murdered, when Glamis was a royal hunting lodge.

There was a castle here in 1376 when Robert II granted the title Thane of Glamis to Sir John Lyon. Glamis has stayed in the family, now the Bowes-Lyons, since, though the castle was rebuilt in the 15th and again in the 17th centuries. In 1900 the Claude Bowes-Lyon (14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne) had a daughter Elizabeth who married the future George VI and became queen. Since our current queen came to the throne until her death in 2002 she was better known as The Queen Mother. It's often thought she was born here but she was actually born in London. A large part of her childhood was spent at Glamis though.

Glamis Castle  is very impressive inside but as with most stately home you can't take pictures inside. It's not all that unimpressive as soon as you arrive having a very long and very straight drive.

The frontage of the castle is very distinctive and appears on the Royal Bank's ten pound note.

This shot is taken round the back of the castle. If you look carefully just above the crenellated ground floor extension you can see a bricked up barred window.

Here is a closer shot of it. It is the window of a room in the oldest part of the castle which has remained bricked up since perhaps the 15th century. There are many tales about this room but the one we were told on the tour concerned a nobleman who was playing cards in the hall (which the bricked up room is part of). It was late on Saturday night and a servant came in and told the noble that it was nearly the Sabbath and he should stop playing cards. The noble said that he would play cards till Doomsday if he wanted, where upon a stranger arrived at the castle and asked to join the game. He said that the noble could have his wish if he wanted. It's said that if you listen against the wall late on a Saturday night you can hear cards being turned over and the sound of weeping.

This lion holds the coat of arms of the family - oddly enough, bows and lions

This complicated sundial dates back to 1671.

It has eighty separate dial round this stone ball and four more held by lions on the base. You would of course now have to allow for the fact that the Gregorian calendar was in operation at the time and there was no GMT or British Summer Time in those days. Coupled with the fact that the sundial is now in the wrong place means you'd be better just guessing the time or looking at your watch.

I was a bit early in the year to see the walled garden in it's full glory.

Later in the year, while visiting Mr McK in Edinburgh, we went for a small walk to take some air. The intention was to follow a bus route and when we had had enough, we would hop on the bus back. I sometimes wonder why we bother with plans in the first place for wanders will do as they will, regardless of intention.

We arrived at the entrance of the Dreghorn Barracks where we saw this memorial. It was built in 1885 in what was then the grounds of Dreghorn Castle by on Robert Macfie. He had a bit if a habit of building follies and monuments in his ground - this I believe is the only survivor. It was built out of columns he salvaged from the old Edinburgh Infirmary (built in 1738) when it was demolished in 1884. Commonly called the Covenanters monument, it commemorates the Battle of Rullion Glen in 1666 where many Covenanters were killed. Besides that, other occasions are carved around the top, Charles 1745 (which obviously relates to the second Jacobite uprising), Cromwell 1650 (when Oliver Cromwell had an excursion into Scotland) and Romans (which is not all that particular).

Following the edge of the barracks round, we found that we had walked completely out of the city and found ourselves in rather a pleasant corner.

This underpass runs below the Edinburgh ring road. 

Much of the ground on the other side of the ring road belongs to the Ministry of Defence. Now, what have I found?

A little further on, this old pumping station lies at the very edge of the Pentland Hills.

It really didn't feel like we had come that far but the city certainly looks to be a fair way away.

It was sometime later when we arrived in the village of Swanston which has a delightful little area of thatched cottages.

Free range hens

Our walk having taken a different and lengthier turn of events, we were well overdue this cuppa at the Swanston Golf Club.

In October I passed Crathie Kirk. It's often seen on the news as it's near Balmoral and the Royal family go to church here when they're in the area.

I think they use the side entrance when they're here.

I was on my way to Dunoon but had mistimed my visit to coincide with the MOD - an annual Gaelic cultural festival with moves to a different town each year. Not only was there no accommodation in the town but the excessive rain of the previous few days had flooded the local campsite (Plan B). A hotel some miles outside Dunoon, on the banks of Loch Eck, had a bunk house which cost less than the campsite anyway and as a small bonus provided some excellent scenery for my drive into town.

Finally, at work I have a new cabin. On the plus side it is a single cabin so nobody else will have to suffer my snoring at night but it doesn't have a window, so no more looking out of my porthole as the sun sets over the Atlantic.

Thursday, 20 December 2012

A small word about time and some museum goodies

It appears that there are many people out there under the impression that tomorrow is the end of time (or the world anyway), or at least a much more eventful day than normal. Who knows, I'm personally doubting it. I was having a quick look at the Mayan calendar to see what it's all about and, in a nut shell, it seems to amount to this -

20 K'in (those are days to you and me) equal a Winal.
18 Winals make a Tun (360 k'ins or about a year or so)
20 Tuns make a K'atun
20 K'atuns make a B'ak'tun (144000 k'ins or about 394 years)

Now it's a B'ak'tun that we're about to come to the end of and people are getting all excited about. It's the end of the 13th b'ak'tun and the start of the 14th b'ak'tun. It's a bit more than a century granted but less than a millennium and we've already got through one of those fairly painlessly. The calendar certainly doesn't end tomorrow because -
20 B'ak'tun make up a Piktun
and so it goes through Kalabtuns, K'inchiltuns to Alautun

Sticking with time for a moment, the Museum in Edinburgh have laid their hands on a very fancy clock. It is called the Chronophage or time eater, designed by Dr John C Taylor (who invented the switch that turns off your kettle when it boils). I saw one very similar (perhaps the same one but I don't think so) in Cambridge where Dr Taylor studied. The time can be told by the little blue lights that move round it ( the beasty on top moves rather creepily too) I read, though I certainly had no idea. Every hour a chain is dropped into an unseen coffin shaped box round the back making what I can only describe as a clunk.

This bowl was made in Arizona in around the 12th century AD.

Another piece of pottery from the Americas before Europeans stumbled upon them. This one is older than the last, around the 5 century, from Nasca Peru.

Also from Nasca, this one is 6th century.

A little East Mediterranean glass oil jar from the 6th to the 4th century BC

A Roman glass flask made between the 1st century BC and the 1st century AD

A lovely little silver box with enamels painted on copper made by brook and sons between 1927 and 1928.

This enamel on copper of Christ was made by Alexander Fisher in 1897. It cost all of £25 pounds then.

A delightfully daft plate featuring a donkey playing a lute (and singing along too I'll wager) from Deruta in Italy, somewhere between 1520 and 1560.

In a completely different museum, this arrowhead has been mounted in silver can be found in Kirkcudbright. Now would you say it's an ancient thing for the arrowhead, or much newer for the silver frame it's built into.

I'll finish with this Rhinoceros - it's probably the oldest thing in the post (perhaps more so than the arrowhead), dating back to the 11 century BC. It is late Shang dynasty Chinese and belongs to Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. I haven't seen it in person, I have yet to find my way across the Atlantic. This was on a number of postcards I received in a letter - e mails are great, but there's still something special about having something drop through the letterbox that has actually come from the person sending it.

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Sunset on Carlingwark Loch

Out here on the Atlantic it's a touch blowy and the old girl is rolling about a bit. Seems a good time to look back on a small walk I took round Carlingwark Loch a couple of weeks ago. The loch is on the outskirts of Castle Douglas about 9 miles from Kirkcudbright. In fact the earliest residents of Castle Douglas lived on the loch in prehistoric times in a crannog. It had certainly been cold but I hadn't expected the Loch to be frozen so early in the winter.

This moorhen reminded me of a famous Scottish painting.