On the Way to Wick

Mid-afternoon, when I arrived at Pitlochry, is the warmest part of the day in the Highlands. It takes a while for the sun to get high enough, and another while to warm things up, but when it does, it makes a lovely day. I turned my face toward the sun to soak myself in it for a minute.

Pitlochry is a tourist town, a popular place to spend a weekend among Scots, Brits, and other tourists because of the outdoor recreation opportunities. This year, however, the pandemic precautions had closed some popular activities early on, and since it was now mid-August, in the Highlands, some of those businesses had written off the season. The advice was always “call first.”

As I walked from the train station to my hotel, it seemed as if there were as many restaurants closed as open, and the same with shops. Smaller hotels, inns, and B&Bs were allowed to serve food to their guests only. Pringle’s, a store selling clothing in traditional plaids, and the Edinburgh Woollen Mill had closed their shops for the duration in many places across Scotland.

Foreigners were staying home, even though Scotland was trying to open its businesses. As a result, there were a lot of Scottish tourists roaming the streets, looking for food, drink, and shopping. The open restaurants were busy. I was able to find a table at Hettie’s after a short wait to have tea and Victoria sponge, and a break before hauling my luggage up hill to the hotel.

The interior of Hettie’s, who serves a killer Victoria sponge. You may be wondering why there’s no photo of the Victoria Sponge. I’d eaten it. I’m not a “foodie” per se, so taking pictures of the food is always an afterthought. This time it was an after-eating-it-all-and-picking-up-the-crumbs-thought. By now I was drinking tea and looking at a “Things to Do” brochure, trying to discreetly take a photo of the shop from inside.
Except during the pandemic. Guests of the hotel only.

I choose hotels, inns, and B&Bs by location, price, and discernible character. As one travel guidebook phrased it, “The less you pay, the more you see.” The Rosemount is a good example. It was comfy, not glamorous, and staffed mainly by the owners. But I enjoyed the twisty-turny, step-up, step-down, hallway that led to my room in the far corner upstairs, where I could look out on real people (not tourists) walking to and from the center of town, since the Rosemount was on a residential street.

The Rosemount Hotel

The husband-owner was feeling expansive while I waited at my table for dinner to arrive that night. They had established The Rosemount years ago in Pitlochry, though they themselves came from Perth. Much of their business was from locals and nearby hotel guests who came to eat or drink here. Pre-pandemic, they had live music on weekends and a lively business. Ah, the good old days. In my mind, I pictured a local watering spot, friends and neighbors including travelers in their revelry, all in the good natured Scots way. They had a bright, lovely room where they served lunch and afternoon tea, and a darker, wood-panelled bar and dining room on the other side of the hall, with space for musicians. He and she were both older now, and the husband’s face, shining bright in reminiscence, lost the shine as he told me that he and his wife had planned to sell the hotel and retire this year, but now they weren’t sure when that would be possible. I didn’t know what to say to reassure him. Dinner arrived, and in the moment, I tried a cheery “We’re all hoping this will be over soon.” It didn’t seem enough.

The dam across the River Tummel generates electricity for about 15,000 homes. It is part of a much larger Tummel Valley hydro-electric network.

The next day I headed out to the Pitlochry Dam, to see what I could see. Others had made the same decision, but it wasn’t a crowd, and we smiled and nodded and wished each other a “Good morning” as we walked at our respective paces, socially distanced, along the road to the dam. The morning warmed up quickly.

Dams in Scotland are a major source of electricity. The Pitlochry dam alone generates enough power for fifteen thousand homes. The Tummel Valley area was being developed for hydroelectric power in the 1930s, and these early power stations were later integrated into a network. Here, the same water is used to generate power five times as it runs from source to sea.

Scotland invested in hydro-electric power beginning with the Hydro Electric Development Act of 1943. The network created by the Act consists of fifty-four power stations, seventy-eight dams, and one hundred eighty miles of tunnels throughout Scotland.

The Pitlochry dam, as it exists now, was begun in 1947. It was very unpopular with the public because there were concerns about the spa business that had brought visitors to Pitlochry since Queen Victoria’s day, and concerns about the salmon that annually swim up the river to spawn. Sport fishing was, and is, big business in the Scottish Highlands. The dam went forward anyway, and was completed in 1951 despite delays caused by winter flooding and a workers’ strike over the poor quality of food they were receiving.

This dam, like many dams in Scotland, incorporated a fish ladder. It may not be the ideal fish habitat, but they still have salmon. The time to see fish moving through the ladders is between November and April. There is an underwater room to see the fish in the water, although the above water observation deck is supposed to be equally as good, possibly better, according to locals.

Rather than walk back the same way, I saw a path that followed the Tummel River downstream, and chose that. The walk was cool and shady, and a footbridge across a narrow part of the river came into view. On the other side were a few streets with houses that Google maps identified as Port Na Craig. When the footbridge met the side of the river where I was, the path turned left toward the village, and I found myself back in Pitlochry. I wandered a little along the main street before heading back to the Rosemount.

The Pitlochry Church of Scotland

The weather had turned hot and humid, occasionally raining. It didn’t dampen the activity, until late afternoon. While traveling, in Scotland, I had become accustomed to eating dinner early. The hotels could serve food to their guests into the evening, but none of the hotels, restaurants, or pubs that were open could serve alcohol after six p.m., so the restaurants and pubs generally closed up.

It rained a lot while I was in Pitlochry.

I walked down the hill to the Cafe Biba, an Scottish-Italian restaurant on the main street whose menu had looked interesting. I’m not sure why, but the Cafe Biba was below the street level. I stepped down from the sidewalk by two steps in order to enter the building.

The staff was watching the rain, which fell heavier and heavier, and louder and louder. I ordered the scampi provençal, passing by the haggis pizza and the burger and chips.

Lightning flashed as the server brought my dinner, and thunder crashed on top of the lightning. Rain was not just falling from the sky, it was aggressively pelting the village. It was a deluge. I was eating my very good scampi when water started pouring into the restaurant. The water came from the sidewalk and gushed under the doors – the building was old. Time and settling had loosened the fit of the windows and doors.

My bag was already on a chair. I pulled my feet up to escape the water. Luckily the floor drains did their job. In a few minutes, the rain subsided a notch, just enough so it no longer came into the restaurant.

Lightning continued, along with the thunder, while I worked on my glass of wine. I dawdled until the lightning and thunder became more distant, and then walked back to the Rosemount.

The next morning, the hotel had no internet service and lighting came by way of their generator. After breakfast, I went down the hill to the main street, where the situation was the same – little power and no internet. After all the merchant signs that requested “contactless payment,” i.e. by phone or credit card, they could only take cash. This was a problem because most people had very little cash because no one had wanted it because of virus transmission, and now the banks’ systems weren’t working, either, so no ATM service. My African experience, where internet systems worked, but unreliably, had taught me to always keep some cash on hand. Internet service was back by around 5 p.m., though, so at least people could eat.

The violent storm and deluge of water had left mud slides and debris on the tracks going west. Sadly, one train was derailed and the engineer was killed. The train routes would have gone to Perth first, so I decided to go to Perth, which was still intact, and stop there for a day or two.

Train tracks going east were blocked by mud and debris, one train had been derailed, and tracks had been damaged.

Perth, in Perthshire

On the train to Perth

In Perth, I stayed in the Rowanlea Guest House, uphill from the historic area downtown. As soon as I was settled in, meaning right after I took the photo below, I went off to explore Perth.

My single room at the Rowanlea. It was en-suite, small by American standards, and very comfortable!
A beautiful park in downtown Perth.
Water Vennel, one of seven surviving vennels in Perth.

“Vennel” is a word that originated in the royal burghs that were created by David I in the 12th century. Remembering that the royal courts of that era often spoke French, it makes sense that “vennel” is derived from an Old French word, “vennelle,” meaning alley or lane. Unlike a “close,” a vennel was a public alley leading from a high street or ground to open ground. The Latin form is “vennella,” which is related to our English word, “funnel.”

Perth’s source of prosperity was its location on the River Tay, the highest navigable place on the river. As the city and the ships who traded with her grew larger, the port moved slowly down river where there was less population and deeper water. Perth tried to establish trade with North America, but could never seriously compete with the western Scottish ports. Perth’s importance as a port declined as ships grew bigger, but when diesel engines were developed, which in turn allowed shallower drafts, there was a brief resurgence. However, steel ships grew larger as diesel engines grew, and Perth’s importance declined again. There still exists a lively trade with countries around Britain’s east coast – Scandinavian, Baltic, and the Low countries, as well as England’s east coast.

Shipbuilding was an important industry for Perth in the 18th and 19th centuries. Timber was floated down the River Tay from places like Dunkeld and Birnam to the many small shipyards along the river. Shipbuilding declined for Perth, however, after steel ships with diesel engines became a more economical choice than wood for ships.

“The Boat Builders” by Scottish artist John Bellany
The rest of the painting – it’s about 5 meters across, or slightly over 16 feet.

John Bellany painted this in 1962, while he was a student at the Edinburgh College of Art. It shows a fishing boat named “Good Hope,” with the registration number LH-321, which would have been Leith, a town near Edinburgh. “Bellany” is the name on the stern.

Bellany was born into a fishing family, and grew up surrounded by the fishing life in Port Seton, also near Edinburgh. Boatbuilding scenes such as this would have been very familiar. I thought perhaps the artist was depicted in the painting – I found the man with eyeglasses in the upper left a possibility, but the notes accompanying the painting did not indicate it.

The Perth Museum was well worth the visit, filled with Scottish paintings and local natural history, with a gallery or two of classical art as a nod to the larger world.

In 1993, after “days of wintry weather,” a sudden warming caused major snowmelt and then major flooding of the city of Perth. The flood dumped over 450,000 gallons from the swollen River Tay into the collections storage and offices of the museum. The Royal Navy helped pump water out of their storage areas, and staff waded through the flood waters to salvage art works, photographs, and other artifacts.

The event resulted in losses, but a great deal of cleaning, conserving, and preserving was done, and the museum constructed an entire exhibit to communicate the efforts being made and to educate their public about what those efforts entailed. Today, their activities are mainly conserving and cleaning, but the staff still works where visitors can watch and learn. In non-pandemic times, there will be more communication – when I was there, we spoke very loudly through the glass.

When I was in the conservation area, she was working on a trophy, visible in the background, won by a local team.
She held up a piece that she had cleaned earlier.
It looked like someone in an ice skating competition.

The Scone Palace

Outside of Perth is the Scone Palace, pronounced “skoon,” that is the ancestral home of the Murrays, who became the Dukes of Mansfield.

The entry gate of another generation – in more touristy times, tour buses come through another entrance from the highway.

This is where the kings of Scotland were crowned, or at least, many of them, including MacBeth in 1040 AD. The line from Shakespeare’s play, written about five hundred fifty years later in 1606, gives one an idea of how entrenched the tradition was, especially since MacBeth was not the first.

“So thanks to all at once, and to each one, whom we invite to see us crowned at Scone.”

“MacBeth” by William Shakespeare

The earliest monarch to be crowned king of Scotland at Scone was Kenneth MacAlpin in 834 AD. Tradition says that it was Kenneth who brought the “Stone of Destiny” to Scone, but there are some who believe it was earlier. The Stone was stolen in 1296 by the English King Edward I, who took it to Westminster Abbey. England’s “Coronation Chair” had a special shelf underneath the seat that held the Stone of Destiny. The Stone was returned to Scotland in 1996. The stone at the Scone Palace is a replica. (At the end of the post, there is information about how to learn more about the Stone’s story, which is pretty interesting.)

The Stone of Destiny – this one is a replica of the real Stone, which resides now in the Edinburgh Castle.

King Kenneth’s Scotland was comprised of the Pict and Scot tribes, and did not have the boundaries of today’s Scotland, but it did represent a “trans-tribe” entity. It was about three hundred years later that King David I united the tribes into a nation that would be more familiar to us.

Reading the signage at the Scone Palace, one would get the impression that it was the Murray clan that “hosted,” so to speak, the crowning of the monarchs, but that’s not really the story. The Murrays had a castle built in 1580, that was replaced in the 18th century by the current palace. It just happens to be right by “Moot Hill.”

Moot Hill is the area upon which the Stone of Scone sat. Tradition says that the nobles who would serve the king, brought one of their boots filled with earth from their lands. They poured this earth onto the hill and swore their oath of allegiance and service to the king. No one explained why it is called “Moot Hill.” (My brain kept trying to call it “Boot Hill,” which even made sense, given the tradition.)

The Scone Palace

Scone was the site of Pict gatherings, and later of early Christian cults, beginning possibly as early as 700 AD. It is known that a priory was founded at the site around 1114 AD, but between 700 and 1114 AD, the early medieval Christian cult called the Culdees, meaning “Companions of God,” succeeded an earlier cult. The Culdees were succeeded by the Scone Priory, a house of Augustinian canons, and later the priory became the Scone Abbey.

It is likely that the religious activity made it a place where monarchs were crowned, and this tradition was established before the Murrays’ castle was built on the site. The abbey’s buildings no longer exist, but there is a graveyard at the site of the abbey.

Graveyard in the old Scone Abbey area.

There is a chapel on the grounds of the Scone Palace, behind Moot Hill, that is the resting place of several family members.

The Murray Chapel at Scone Palace.
Part of the interior, photographed through the bars that kept visitors at the doorway.

The Dukes of Mansfield were also interested in trees and botany in general. Apparently, the Dukes of Mansfield are from the same Murray family who were the Dukes of Atholl, the “planting dukes,” but the relationship is unclear. At any rate, it was a member of the gardening staff who guided tours through the gardens.

HM Queen Elizabeth was celebrating her 50th year as queen, a year filled with activities, one of which was to recognize the importance of the Douglas Fir to Scotland, United Kingdom.
Not the best-shaped Douglas Fir, but entirely grown on site.
The maze was very popular with visitors. There is a bridge near the entrance so no one was lost, at least not forever!
The oldest tree on the palace grounds.
The road leading out of the grounds for people who want to catch the public bus back to Perth!

The Stone of Destiny has its own story, which is interesting and only takes a few minutes to read the “20 facts.” Go to the website, historicenvironment.scot, then enter Stone of Destiny into the search field on the top right of the page. It will produce several links, but when I did it, “20 facts revealed…” was the top link returned. Just click on the link to read about when the Stone was stolen from Westminster Abbey, how it was returned, and the efforts made to return the Stone in 1996 to Scotland.

The Holy Rude and Stirling Castle

Even though Scotland has closed many of their sights, there are still things to see – big outdoor monuments like the Wallace monument, ruined abbeys, and castles, as well as smaller structures that were part of life when the castle was still a royal residence.

Mar’s Wark

“Mar’s” is not a typo for Mars, it refers to the Earl of Mar, John Erskine, who was the keeper of Stirling Castle when he began construction of a townhouse, the remains of which are pictured here. For those of you who read about Cambuskenneth Abbey in my last post, “The Walk to Abbey Craig,” tradition says that this building is where the stones from the Abbey were re-used.

The building was a “courtyard townhouse,” meaning the residence was built in three wings, surrounding a central courtyard. Entry was through a gate at the front, seen above. All that survives now is the Renaissance-style facade, embellished with heraldic panels, gargoyles, and statuettes.

Erskine himself was a moderate Protestant, and Governor of Edinburgh Castle during the regency of Mary of Guise, from 1554 to 1560, when that Mary died. He turned against Mary of Guise’s daughter, Mary, Queen of Scots, after the murder of her husband, Lord Darnley, in 1567, but served as regent to the young James VI, Mary’s son, 1571 – 1572, when the Earl died. His widow, Annabella Murray, the Countess of Mar, continued to live in the house.

The house stayed in the Erskine family until the time of the 6th Earl of Mar, also named John Erskine. The 6th Earl had the house repaired to serve as a barracks during the 1715 Jacobite uprising, promoting the restoration of the Stuarts to the Scottish throne. The failure of the 1715 uprising resulted in the exile of the Erskines and the forfeiture of their estates, including the townhouse. The house became a workhouse by 1733. In the Jacobite uprising of 1745, the building was damaged by cannon fire and abandoned.

An artist’s rendering of Mar’s Wark, on the left, with the two turrets. The windows and doors on the facade were probably used as shops. When viewing remains of older buildings, some imagination is required.
Argyll’s Lodging

Argyll’s Lodging is a 17th century townhouse built for a wealthy merchant who was not named Argyll. The Earl of Argyll bought the house from the merchant when he thought that Charles II might reside in Stirling Castle, and it was his name that stuck. In “normal” times, the house is open to visitors who wish to see how 17th century aristocrats lived.

Detail over entrance to Argyll’s Lodging.
“Auld Staneybreeks” John Cowane

John Cowane was a rich merchant, prominent civic participant, and one of Stirling’s early philanthropists. Cowane travelled regularly to Holland, trading in luxury goods. In Stirling, he was a town councillor and a member of the Scots Parliament.

When he died in 1633, he left a sizeable bequest to build a hospital or almshouse to support poor and elderly merchants. The resulting organization, Cowane’s Hospital, built the almshouse to support elderly and infirm merchants, providing a home and pension, as there was no state system of welfare.

Cowane’s Trust is Scotland’s second-oldest surviving charitable trust, and continues to support those in need. The Hospital is also the home of what is believed to be Scotland’s oldest surviving bowling green!

In 1650, the statue of John Cowane was installed in the niche of the building’s tower, seen above. Over the years, it became known affectionately as “Auld Staneybreeks,” a reference to the figure’s carved stone trousers.

When I visited, the building was deep in the throes of repair and restoration.
This stained glass window, with the portrait of John Cowane in the center, was added in the 1850s.
Cowan’s house in Stirling, one of the town’s largest houses in its day.
Church of the Holy Rude.

The Church of the Holy Rude was founded in 1129 by David I, and named for the Holy Rood, a relic of the True Cross on which Jesus was crucified. The oldest part of this building, however, dates from the 15th century. The bell tower was added about three hundred years later.

On July 29, 1567, James VI was crowned King of Scotland here after the forced abdication of his mother, Mary, Queen of Scots. While Mary was held prisoner in Lochleven Castle, John Knox gave the sermon at the ceremony here.

Kirkyard of the Holy Rude

Gravestones in older kirkyards are set up in rows, facing east “where the sun rises and the Last Trumpet will sound,” and the kirkyard of the Holy Rude is no exception. The earliest date here is 1579. Older stones have a skull or an hourglass, symbols of morality, and/or “winged souls” or vines that symbolize immortality. The graves of tradesmen also bear symbols of their occupations – bakers, masons, weavers, and other crafts. Merchants are represented by a “reversed” numeral four, the symbol I had seen near the harbor monument. Gravestones were considered status symbols, and many Stirling residents set up their markers while they were quite alive!

Across the Old Kirkyard, looking toward the Church of the Holy Rude. Cowane’s Hospital is next to the church.
Looking over the Valley Cemetery, toward the road leading up to Stirling Castle, which is out of sight on the left. In sight are the out-of-service food trucks that usually populate the roadway. There was one truck to the left, serving ice cream. How do I know that? Really, need you ask?

The Valley Cemetery is newer than the Old Kirkyard, i.e. it’s Victorian more than medieval, and was added on – no boundary fences separate the two. Statues of prominent Reformation heroes were set up when it was opened. There is the obligatory figure of John Knox, but there are some memorials to people less familiar, such as the photo below. These enclosed statues depict the story of Margaret Wilson, who was executed at the tender age of eighteen for refusing to renounce her Protestant faith. The execution was by drowning in the Solway Firth, on the western side of Scotland. She had no connection with Stirling itself, her presence here is to be instructive in faithfulness. The statues are Victorian in style – a sentimental image of women, with none of the horror or shock of the actual execution.

The story of Margaret Wilson in the Valley Cemetery.
John Knox, left, is missing his hands; Andrew Melville, right, a major figure of the Presbyterian movement, came slightly later than John Knox.
“Rock of Ages” with an inscription about psalms that I couldn’t make out, but a copy of the Bible and the Confession of Faith were sealed into a chamber in the Pyramid, 1863.
Robert the Bruce in front of Stirling Castle.
The front gate of Stirling Castle.
View from the castle walls across the countryside
View toward the Holy Rude (tower) and the town of Stirling.
From the gates, the Great Hall to the left, old kitchen ahead.
The palace building, with restored royal chambers, sadly not open for this visit, but the decorations on the exterior were very interesting! To the right, in the corner, is the gate to the Inner Close.
This is a representation of King James V, who was believed to have dressed occasionally as a commoner and wandered around in the town among his subjects. He built this building, the palace.
The gargoyles and other decorations were quite elaborate. The gate here leads from the Inner Close to the Outer Close.

The castle was built in stages during Scotland’s independent history. While this site always was a fortified place, and had walls by 1496, the castle as it exists today was built mainly during the reigns of James IV, V, and VI. The major buildings – the palace, the Great Hall, and the Royal Chapel, form the boundaries of the Inner Close, or courtyard, the fourth side being the barracks building that dates from the 1400s. The earlier castle walls were extended by adding new walls with the double-turreted gate. After James VI of Scotland became also James I of England in 1607, Stirling Castle essentially ceased being the royal residence, and nothing more was constructed.

The Great Hall, built by James IV.
The Unicorn on the roof of the Great Hall, built by James IV. James V was crowned in the Royal Chapel, aged 17 months.
The Great Hall had the arms of the nobles killed at the Battle of Flodden Hill.
Mary, Queen of Scots, was crowned here in the Royal Chapel, just a few days old. It was smaller then. Her son, the future James VI, was baptized in the smaller version. In turn, James VI remodelled the Royal Chapel extensively to christen his son, Henry.
More of the Royal Chapel, which was made quite large, remodelled for the christening of James VI’s son Henry. Henry did not live to succeed his father, rather it was Charles I who succeeded James.
The Devil himself watches…
the happy garden scene below, against the former castle wall. Newer fortifications formed the current outer wall.
Outside of the Great Hall.
The fields seen from the castle wall once hosted tournaments and competitions.
And, of course, the view toward the Wallace Monument.
Walking through Stirling after visiting the Castle, I passed the “Settle Inn,” Stirling’s oldest pub, dating from 1733. In non-pandemic times, the pub hosts live music.
No doubt, some of the live music comes from Stirling Bagpipes, with their collection of antique bagpipes & associated paraphernalia. The pipes are made by hand here, and pipes are repaired here, also. Not feeling up to playing the pipes? They sell CDs also. Closed for now, but will be open again, hopefully soon!

The way “home” followed the Back Walk, which follows the town wall, built around 1547, when Henry VIII began the “Rough Wooing.” He attacked Scottish towns along the border, attempting to force Mary, Queen of Scots, to marry his son Edward, uniting the two kingdoms, Scotland and England. Obviously, that didn’t work out. But the Back Walk remains a popular path from the Castle to Dumbarton Road, and the Castle Walk B&B.

When James VI & I went to London, he never looked back. Charles II visited Scotland briefly in 1650, but after that, there were no more royal visits until 1849, when Queen Victoria came. She became quite the fan of Scotland, especially the Highlands, and visited with some regularity.

In 1787, Robert Burns visited Stirling, staying at Wingate’s Inn. This was after the Stuart line had come to an end with Queen Anne’s death in 1714, and the transition to the house of Hanover, George I, from 1714 – 1727. George was Anne’s second cousin, and the closest living Protestant relative. He was followed by George II, 1727 – 1760. George III was king in 1787 (and in 1776 during the American Revolution.) Burns was dismayed by the condition of Stirling Castle, and apparently not impressed by the Hanovers, as he wrote these lines, etching them on the window, aptly titled, “The Stirling Lines:”

“Here Stewarts once in triumph reign’d; And laws for Scotland’s weal ordain’d; But now unroof’d their Palace stands, Their sceptre’s fall’n to other hands; Fallen indeed, and to the earth, Whence grovelling reptiles take their birth. The injur’d Stewart line is gone, A race outlandish fill their throne; An idiot race, to honour lost; Who know them best despise them most.”