Sunday, 26 October 2014

Threave Castle

The last of the ruin reports for now. (The holidays already seem a long time ago despite the fact I've only been back at work for a week). This time we visit Threave Castle which is only reachable by boat (or a cold swim). I had imagined a rowing boat with an old man in a tweed bunnet at the oars (why? I don't know...), instead the boat had an outboard motor and was "manned" by a youngish lady with a headscarf. During the crossing she told us about the red kites and otters that can be seen, if you're lucky. We were also told to make sure we don't miss the castle dungeons. When you reach the photo of the dungeon, do not be alarmed! The spooky person you can see is a rather realistic looking dummy. Apparently the castle is securely locked over the winter months and when they unlocked it in the spring this year the dungeon dummy had moved, seemingly of his own accord - what other explanation could there be... Anyway, we enjoyed our visit, though we were a little disappointed by the lack of passages and rooms to explore. Of all the castles in the area that we have already been to I think Caerlaverock is the best. After visiting Threave Castle and being taken ashore again, we took the long walk back through the nature reserve. It's a good place to visit just for that, even if you don't go to the trouble of visiting the castle itself. Back at the visitor centre N met a giant otter. To finish there's a photo of Robert Burns with a blackbird on his head. It was taken whilst on a trawl of the Dumfries charity shops. There are many of them, but as seems usual these days, pickings were slim. I did find a nice pot (like I don't have enough already) and the children got more books (probably have enough of these too). But we like them all...

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Monks & Mountain Biking.

Of all the ruined places we've visited recently (and there have been a few!) Melrose Abbey was our favourite. It ticks many boxes - a significant part of the building remains and it's still grand and impressive. There is a spiral staircase which leads to lovely views and closer inspection of the gargoyles. Buried in the abbey grounds is the heart of Robert The Bruce (on Bruce’s death his heart was cut from his body, embalmed and placed in a silver casket. It was then taken by Scottish knights into the Crusades and carried into battle against the Moors in Spain before being returned to Scotland). A visit to the abbey includes entry to a museum where monks' habits can be tried on (adult sizes too - not just for children!). Outside the museum is a conker tree with the most abundant and biggest conkers ever. Even the pigeons flying round the towers created atmospheric photo opportunities. For this visit I was still using my husband's camera and I seem to have had it on the wrong setting to start with, hence the grainy appearance of some of the early photos. I've also started including photos of information panels, this is for my benefit as I use my blog as a diary though I like to think they may be of interest to others too.

After Melrose we stopped off at Glen Tress for some mountain biking. We parked in the Buzzard's Nest carpark away up the hill. It was raining, it was cold, and three of us weren't terribly keen. But once we set off into the woods we didn't feel the rain and we soon warmed up. It was only the green route as the three not-terribly-keen folks (myself, A & N) are beginner mountain bikers. Verdict: it was fun! Like a rollercoaster. So good that once we'd finished we went right back round again. On the hill we found information panels about a reconstructed iron age hut - it's just a grassy mound now, incase anyone wonders why there's no photo of the hut itself. The views from on high were most pleasant too. After some cake in the cafe at the bottom of the hill it was time to go home. We really enjoyed our visit to the borders and will definitely be back as there were so many places we could have visited but just didn't have time. I also liked the feeling that we were slightly off the beaten track as nowhere we went was particularly busy and the roads were nice and quiet - perfect for some future cycling expeditions... 

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Over the Border

While away we ventured over the border to visit some English castles. (My class topic at school involves castles so I'm finding visiting them even more fascinating than normal).

First of all we invaded Norham castle. A didn't enjoy this visit as she was worried we'd be caught! We weren't really supposed to be there: the site is closed over the winter from the end of September, plus I'd mentioned to her that English trespass laws were a lot stricter than Scottish ones. However, it's normally free to get in, and it's also fairly easy to find a way in despite the gates being closed. Towards the end of our visit other people were also wandering around the grounds so A started to feel a little better about being there. The castle is huge and must have been very imposing in its time - the thickness of the walls is especially impressive. 

Then we ventured a little further to visit Etal castle. This one does involve an entry fee but as we're Historic Scotland members we can get into English Heritage without having to pay, which is nice! This castle wasn't as nearly as impressive as Norham. It does have a very good little exhibition about the battle of Flodden though which I found very informative. The village of Etal itself is quite attractive and very neat and tidy (our front garden wouldn't make the grade!).

The last stop on our trip south of the border was Heatherslaw. There is a light railway that runs between Etal and Heatherslaw, but it was too late in the day for it to be running by the time we were there.

Lastly, we're back in Scotland now and pause at Swinton which has a lovely village green. Then it's "home" to our holiday castle apartment.


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