Traquair House, Borders Region. Nestled some thirty miles south of the capital city of Edinburgh, Traquair House
is reputed to be the oldest continuously inhabited house in Scotland. Begun as a crude heather hut, the dwelling grew to a royal
hunting lodge, emerging through the centuries into the magnificent tower house that stands today. I was fortunate to have stayed
several days at Traquair, sleeping within its ancient walls among artifacts worthy of a museum; the cradle Mary Queen of Scots used
to rock her infant son, the future James VI of Scotland and James I of England; a quilt said to have been hand-stitched by her "Four Maries"
(ladies-in-waiting.) There is a brewery on premises where the world-famous Traquair Ale is brewed, and another even more legendary
relic, seemingly on its own. Across a green stretch of lawn opposite the main house stands a pair of gates called "The Steekit Yetts,"
or more familiarly, "The Bear Gates." Once the main carriage entrance to the estate, the gates are reputed to have been closed and locked
when Bonnie Prince Charlie made his final farewell to Lord Traquair in 1745. Though the Jacobites were defeated at Culloden shortly after,
Lord Traquair vowed they should stay locked until a Stuart sat once again on the throne—and thus they have remained ever since...yet waiting.
Want the ultimate treat? You can stay for a night (or three, as I did!) at this magical tower house...just visit
the Traquair House web site for further details.
Edinburgh, Scotland's Capital City. I challenge anyone to visit Edinburgh and not be awed, for this is a place that time almost seems to have forgotten.
This is true particularly of Old Town, which stretches for a "royal" mile between the imposing
Edinburgh Castle atop its throne of volcanic rock, and the haunting palace of Holyrood at its opposite end.
At one side, visitors can find, tucked away within Edinburgh Castle, Saint Margaret's Chapel, built in the Norman fashion almost a millennium ago, still in use today.
On the other, at Holyrood (where the present Queen Elizabeth stays when in the city),
visitors can view the very spot on which the hapless Rizzio, secretary to Mary Queen of Scots,
was despatched by a group of ambitious nobles with, it is said, 57 dagger thrusts. While certainly both incredible places to see,
it is between these two palaces that one gets a truer image of the town of Edinburgh,
in the countless alleyways called "closes" and "wynds" that branch off from the High Street like a herringbone,
such as the very dark and very eerie Mary King's Close, where victims of the plague that struck the city in 1645 are said to yet dwell in the shadows.
Sweetheart Abbey, Dumfries & Galloway. The abbey of Dulce Cor, or Sweetheart was founded in 1273, and was intended as a
lasting memorial for John Balliol by his wife Lady Devorgilla of Galloway. Devorgilla was a lady of the blood royal of Scotland and in
addition to Sweetheart Abbey, she is credited with the establishment of two other religious houses, a stone bridge that still stands today
over the River Nith, and Balliol College, Oxford. But I found myself drawn more to this place by the incredible
love story that surrounded its beginnings.
Devoted to one another in life, upon her husband's death in 1269,
the grieving Devorgilla had her husband's heart embalmed and placed in an ivory and silver casket which she kept with her until her own death in
1289. That same casket was buried with her in the sanctuary of this magnificent monastery church, where she lies to this day, depicted atop the
tomb clasping the heart of her beloved husband to her bosom. As I stood before the time-worn and history-scarred effigy of
this great lady who lies entombed beneath the same red sandstone of which the abbey itself is built, I could not help but be moved by this
incredible story of love...and a devotion that extended beyond time.
Caerlaverock Castle, Dumfries & Galloway. Nearby to Sweetheart Abbey stand the ruins of what was once the great fortress of Caerlaverock, a great red-stone castle that stood guard over the Solway Firth
for over four hundred years. Destroyed during the English Civil War in 1640, this oddly-shaped three-sided keep (from an aerial view, it forms a
distinctive triangle) can only be accessed by drawbridge over its moat. Once inside its crumbling walls, though, it is but a small stretch of the imagination to picture it
in its former glory with its walls and windows still elaborately carved.
Comlongon Castle, Dumfries & Galloway. After exploring Sweetheart Abbey and Caerlaverock Castle, it was a delight to spend the evening treated like a queen myself at
this lovely fourteenth century castle and country house hotel.
Comlongon Castle offers guests a warm welcome amid period furnishings and decor, and comes complete with its own tragic ghost story.
Each night before dinner, guests are treated to a candlelit tour of the old keep, including the Great Hall and Guard's Chamber, as well as the gruesome dungeon pit.
(Just be sure to keep watch for the castle's ghost high in the tower above!)
Oban, Argyllshire. Tucked away along Scotland's western coast, and lying in the shadow of the Isle of Mull,
Oban is a delightful holiday village. It's name means "little bay" in Gaelic and this bustling port has been called
the "Gateway to the Isles" with ferry service to most Hebridean destinations. For many centuries Oban was an important
resting place for drovers as they herded cattle from the isles on their journey to markets in the South.
Dunollie Castle, ancient keep of clan MacDougalls, the Lords of Lorne, is now a haunting ruin that still stands sentinel
over the narrow entrance to the sheltered bay as it has for nigh on six hundred years past. Sunsets seen from this charming
town are breath-stealing in their beauty.
Seil Island, Argyllshire. If you travel just a few miles south of Oban, you can cross the famous
Clachan Bridge, or "Bridge over the Atlantic" to the island of Seil. While there, do stop at the quaint, whitewashed inn
just the other side. This inn, built after the Jacobite Rising of 1745, has been for centuries now a welcoming beacon for thirsty travelers arriving on the isle;
and for many a year after it was built, it was a "changing point" for those leaving. After the defeat of the Jacobites at Culloden,
the British Government banned the wearing of the tartan kilt (among other things). The resourceful islanders of Seil
and nearby Easdale cleverly found a way around the laws. They would change from their traditional garb into Lowland breeches at the
inn by the bridge. The inn still stands and is called Tigh an Truish — quite fittingly "the House of the Trousers!"
Mull, Hebrides. The Isle of Mull is the second largest of the Hebridean isles (second to Skye), lying just off the west coast of
Scotland. An island of peninsulas which give it a long and varied coastline, Mull offers the visitor endless opportunity for
exploration and discovery. There are mountains which stretch across the middle of the island and many historic attractions,
including castles such as Duart, the home of Clan MacLean. Just off her coast, the isles of Staffa, Iona, Ulva and Treshnish are but a ferry ride away.
Standing stones and stone circles dominate many points of the island, bearing witness to a civilization that has existed here for thousands of years.
But it was one particular relic which had captured my attention when I first started to research Mull, a castle ruin, Moy Castle, that lies on the isle's
southern coast on the shores Loch Buie. Armed with a map, I took to the winding road that stretched before me and drove...
and drove...and drove some more. The road narrowed, roughened, then became little more than a dirt track, but I was determined to find
this castle. I had read that this castle was only one of few with a "bottle dungeon" dug deep beneath its foundation. A writer
never knows what treasure she might find at the end of a research jaunt. I pressed on. The road ended and I parked
following a small sign along a barely distinguishable path. It took me through a sheep field and over machair dunes. Finally
I spotted the castle ahead in the distance.
My determination had paid off. I trudged onward, forgetting all about the
treacherous drive it had taken as I neared those gray stone walls. The castle is a most daunting figure, crenellated and stark against the
landscape of the isle. Imagine my dismay when I circled the keep in search of a door to enter it
only to discover it padlocked shut! Argh! Nonetheless, I decided Moy Castle with its austere stone walls and mysterious
dungeon would make the perfect hideaway for the villain in my novel, The Pretender. I hope my imaginary dungeon proves a fitting
fictional complement to the real one locked away behind that padlocked door.
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