Thistle

Castles  and  Keeps

Thistle

 

Top: The Great Hall,
formerly the castle's banquet hall

Bottom: A display of arms,
including basket-hilt swords
and various battle axes

Edinburgh Castle

Above: the western defenses and new barracks

Below, left to right: (1) the castle from Johnstone Terrace, (2) the esplanade to the castle entrance, and (3) the castle entrance

     

Top: Names and Coats of Arms
of Scottish Monarchs

Bottom: Names and Coats of Arms
of the Reformers

This ancient fortress stands as a sentinel, guarding the city and giving silent witness to the tragedies and triumphs, the drama and intrigue, and the poverty and riches of centuries of Scottish history.  One pair of stained glass windows in the Great Hall bears the names and coats of arms of Robert the Bruce and other Scottish monarchs.  In another are written the names and coats of arms of Scottish reformers, most of whom were martyred for the faith.

The high basalt rock upon which the castle stands was the site of a Bronze Age hill fort.  During the Roman occupation, it was a thriving settlement.  By the eleventh century, it was firmly established as a principal Scottish royal residence.  The earliest surviving part of the castle was built in the same century by David I.  In its 1,000-year history, the castle has been attacked, damaged, and rebuilt a number of times.  In the sixteenth century, Oliver Cromwell established a permanent military base on the grounds; he, who despised the religious passions of the Reformers, also cared nothing for the aesthetic and historic features of Edinburgh Castle.  His army destroyed and erected buildings at the castle in a manner which evidenced this disregard, creating something of a conglomeration.

In the nineteenth century, fortunately, the re-emergence of a Scottish national identity led to a change in emphasis at Edinburgh Castle. Sir Walter Scott applied for and was granted permission to look for the Scottish Honours ~ the sixteenth century Scottish Crown regalia ~ which had been missing since about 1707.  He discovered them in the castle, exactly where they had been hidden over a century earlier.  They were placed on display, and the Great Hall subsequently was restored.  In 1923, the main garrison of the British army left Edinburgh Castle, the castle's Scottish National War Memorial being built the same year.  Finally, in 1996, Scotland's Stone of Destiny was returned to Edinburgh Castle from Westminster Abbey, to which it had been "exiled" seven hundred years earlier.  A plain slab of sandstone, the Stone reputedly is the seat on which the ancient Scottish kings were crowned.  Today, the Stone of Destiny and the Honours ~ a crown, scepter, and sword ~ are on display in the Crown Room of Edinburgh Castle, but for security reasons cannot be photographed.

Urquhart Castle                        

This medieval fortress sits on a rocky promontory on the north shore of Loch Ness.  Built about the time of King Alexander II, it dates in part to the thirteenth century.  The Tower House, which is five stories high, was added in the sixteenth century as the lord’s private residence.

Urquhart's strategic location made it the object of numerous battles over the centuries, and it changed hands numerous times.  While it was taken twice by England's Edward I, possession was most often passed, or rather wrenched, back and forth between the Scottish Crown and MacDonald, Lord of the Isles.

In the seventeenth century, Urquhart Castle was abandoned to the people of the glen, who began to dismantle it and use the stones to build homes of their own.  Then, about 1717, it was reported that a wind storm blew down the southwest side of the main tower house.

Urquhart Castle sets on that part of Loch Ness where the "monster" is most often sighted.

  

Dundonald Castle

The Castle       

      The Laigh Hall

In 1371, a grandson of Robert the Bruce was crowned King Robert II.  To mark his ascension to the throne, he had this castle built on a previously fortified hill in Ayrshire which he considered part of his ancestral lands.  He gave it the site’s ancient name, “dun (fortress) of Donald.”  Robert II died in the castle in 1390, and it was used by the Stewart kings as a residence for the succeeding 100 years.  It passed then to the Cathcarts, and subsequently the Wallaces, but fell to ruins by the end of the seventeenth century.

The "Laigh Hall" was a banquet hall.  The host and principal guests would be seated at a high table beneath the window, while other guests would sit on stools or benches at lower tables along the side walls.  Guests would enter through the doorway, which reflecting the sunlight here appears green.  Fires burning in braziers would warm the assembly, leaving smoky traces on the stone walls still seen today.

Castle Stalker

On an island in Loch Laich, this three-story tower house, or keep, was built in the mid-fifteenth century by Sir John Stewart of Appin, Lord of Lorn.  King James IV of Scotland, a cousin of the Stewarts of Appin, stayed often at Castle Stalker and used it as a base for hunting and hawking on his journeys to the Highlands.  Thus it acquired its name - its Gaelic form, Stalcaire, means Hunter or Falconer.  The keep's history has been colorful and volatile, being the object of centuries of conflict between the Stewarts and the Campbells and changing hands several times.  It was finally regained by the Stewarts through a purchase in 1908.  Over the following decades, the Stewarts rebuilt and restored it to a habitable condition.

Castle Knock

The Teangue Promontory a few miles south of Kinloch on the Isle of Skye was once the site of an ancient fortress, the remains of which formed the foundation for a 15th century keep built by the MacLeods.  Also known as Caisteal Camus or Chamius,   it  was  captured  by  the  MacDonalds  and  remodeled  in 1596.    By 1689, it was abandoned,

reputedly haunted bythe Green Lady or "Gruagach."  According to legend, the Green Lady was a portend of the fortunes of the castle owners.  A happy ghost meant good fortune, but a weeping one was an ill omen indeed.  Perhaps the Green Lady wept a great deal, for the castle fell to ruin and most of its stone was removed.

 

Eilean Donan

 

More than Edinburgh and more than Stirling, this relatively modest structure is believed to be the most photographed castle in Scotland. The reason is its stunning, romantic setting on the Island of Donan in the Kyle of Lochalsh, on the west coast of Scotland.  The island was named for St. Donan, a religious hermit who lived there in the seventh century.  A castle was built on the island sometime in the medieval period, and it was held at various times by the MacRaes and the MacKenzies.  It was taken over by government troops in 1715 but reclaimed by the Jacobites shortly thereafter.  In 1719, government warships bombarded the castle, after which it was abandoned in ruins.  Two hundred years passed before John MacRae-Gilstrap purchased the property and began restorations which were completed in 1932.  We visited the castle twice, once on our way to Skye, when it was overcast, and once coming back, when the sun shone brightly.  Both visits were at low tide, but the charm and beauty of Eilean Donan could not be obscured.

Drumlanrig

Referred to as "The Versailles of Scotland," this castle's name means "fort on the long ridge."  It was built between 1679 and 1691 on the site of an earlier Douglas stronghold in the River Nith valley, and its grand architecture puts it in league with the famous French palace.  It is surrounded by the 120,000-acre Queensberry Estate, which includes a country park, Victorian gardens, and tenant farms.  As one of several Clan Douglas castles, it serves in part as the Dumfriesshire residence of the Clan Douglas chief ~ the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry.  Photographs of the interior are not allowed, but postcards convey its richness and beauty.  The emblem of a heart is seen in a number of rooms, that being a symbol of the clan.  Long before motion pictures, according to legend, Sir James Douglas proclaimed his dear friend and sovereign, Robert the Bruce, the "brave heart."

Balloch Castle

In the nineteenth century, long after the need for fortresses had passed, it became popular among the wealthy class of Great Britain to build mansions that looked like castles.  Balloch Castle is one such mansion, built in 1808 on the east bank of Loch Lomond as a prestige symbol and residence for shipping banker John Buchanan.  It style is gothic, and its name is intended to recall the ancient Balloch Castle, built about 1238 and owned by the Earls of Lennox, which once stood nearby but is evidenced now only by a mound and a depression where the moat once stood.  The present manor house is surrounded by 200 acres of woodland, parkland, and ornamental gardens.

Armadale Castle

 

About 1790, a simple, small white mansion was built on the east coast of Skye for Lord MacDonald of Sleat.  In 1815, the larger, more elaborate castle-like structure was built onto one end of the mansion.  Following a fire in 1855, some remodeling was done.  In 1925, however, the family moved to a smaller house several miles away and abandoned Armadale to the elements.

In 1971, the Clan Donald Lands Trust purchased the 20,000-acre Armadale Estate and set about restoring part of the castle and creating the Museum of the Isles, a Study Centre, and a Visitor Centre.  The castle is surrounded by a beautiful 40-acre garden, the restored remains of a formal garden that dates back two centuries.  The main staircase and landing of the castle, seen through the facade, are graced by a pink clematis.

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