Thursday, September 10th, 2009:
Morning: Castles in Southern Scotland
Our first stop of the day was Castle Cardoness, a great big square tower type of fortress, that was located just on the western edge of Gatehouse of Fleet. After our (huge!) breakfast the drive over was so quick, in fact, that we arrived shortly before they opened for the day. The manager let us in early, however, which was typical of the really considerate reaction of almost everyone we met in Scotland to our needs or requests. We were allowed in so early that we had the castle to ourselves for the first half hour or so. That made it easier to clamber all around the ruins and take pictures of everything completely unimpeded by other folks.
The sky was a beautiful clear blue without a single cloud and the sun was shining brightly onto the old stones of the castle, making them seem much warmer than they had looked when we drove by the previous evening. We enjoyed looking into the storage rooms at the lowest level and the great hall area of the first floor. The floors above that had been apartments and bedrooms, but all of that had gradually disintegrated over the centuries since the castle was built.
A tight little circular staircase was located in one corner of the tower, and we, of course, eagerly climbed as high as we could go. Surprisingly, the staircase was intact right up to the top edge of the tower. We couldn't go into the castle proper at that level as those floors had long since fallen in. We also weren't allowed to walk on top of the castle walls for obvious safety reasons: the top of the walls was just a rough, uneven surface of large cobblestones with a 50 foot long fall on either side if you missed your step! But the top of the staircase did give us a great view of the surrounding countryside from our high perch.
In the gift shop at the bottom I found the complete works of Robert Burns for 6 pounds and despite the weight and bulk I just couldn't resist purchasing it. Burns is, after all, the national poet of Scotland and reading his poetry gives me at least a glimpse of how people of his time felt and acted, which is very precious information indeed. Once back in the car we (carefully!) drove off to see our next castle, Threave Castle.
Threave Castle was in an extremely picturesque setting as it is located on an island in the middle of a small river. To get there we had to first walk 3/4 of a mile on a path between a farmer's pastures (with cows placidly watching us while chewing their cud) to get to a boat dock on the shore of the river. Then we rang a big brass bell that notified the boatman on the island that he had to pick up some more visitors. In the old days, we were told, the boatman actually rowed people across but nowadays he uses a good sized fiberglass rowboat equipped with a small outboard motor. Much more practical, he told us.
Once on the island we checked in at the ticket office to show our Explorer Pass and get our entrance tickets (plus memorial stamp!). Then we walked across a small meadow to tour the castle ruins. Threave Castle was basically a square tower similar to Castle Cardoness, but it also had an old moat that was still filled with river water. We crossed a small bridge across the moat to gain entrance to the interior and found that most of the interior flooring on the first floor was preserved. However, like Castle Cardoness all of the upper floors inside of Threave Castle had also fallen into ruin.
Still, we enjoyed poking our heads into all the corners of the rooms that were there and taking pictures out of the empty spaces where the windows had been located in the old days. The stairways were all destroyed or inaccessible at Threave Castle, so we couldn't get up on top for views of the countryside, but what we did see from the windows was really quite pretty.
From Threave Castle we continued driving around the peninsula in a clockwise direction. We wanted to spend rest of the day taking a look at the ruins of several historic abbeys located in that area of Scotland.
Please click below to view the second part of this day in Scotland:
Abbeys we saw in the afternoon of September 10th.
Copyright 2010 by R. W. Holt and E. M. Holt
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