Chapter Twelve – Elgin Cathedral To Dunnottar Castle: Our Day In Ruins

MaiTaiTom Gets The Royal Treatment…Two Weeks Exploring London and Scotland

Chapter Twelve – Elgin Cathedral To Dunnottar Castle: Our Day In Ruins

DAY THIRTEEN – Is That One Of The Avengers, “Lantern Of The North”, A Garden of Biblical Proportions, No Whisky For You, Too Early For A Picnic, Not Lichen This Road, A Governor Lived Here, How Many Steps To The Bottom?, Did I Lock The Car?, King For A Day, What Goes Down Must (Unfortunately) Come Up, Steer Clear, Catterline Cuisine and The Sun Begins To Set On Our Trip

Walking through the corridor at the Newton, as I was about to enter the breakfast room, I spied a table with a cane and a bowler hat. I hoped John Steed was having breakfast (hopefully with Emma Peel), but alas, as I walked in the room, I found myself alone.


I did find out, however, that Charlie Chaplin took his family on holidays to Nairn and stayed at the Newton Hotel.

After a quick breakfast, in a Willie Nelson flash, we were on the road again.  About a half hour east of Nairn lies the “Lantern of the North.”

At one time, Elgin Cathedral was the main church of the bishops of Moray, who I believe used eels as a principal weapon (I could be wrong).


In 1390, Elgin Cathedral was badly damaged by fire started by the dreaded Wolf of Badenoch (aka Alexander Stewart). It seems the big, bad Wolf was determined to tick off the Bishop of Moray, who excommunicated Wolf for marital infidelity.  Although there has been substantial further damage through the centuries, Elgin Cathedral remains one of Scotland’s most beautiful medieval buildings.  Thanks to the Explorer Pass, the four of us breezed through the impressive west front.


We were also lucky that we were experiencing another nice Scottish, sunny day.


We took in the cathedral’s collection of more than 100 medieval stones in a new light. This was the first time in 20 years these were on display. The exhibition features “carved faces, flora and fauna, animals including lions and lizards, and a section of a rose window dating to the 1200s.”


The highlight is the 700-year-old effigy of Bishop Archibald, who, thanks to some colorful special effects, looked like he could have leaped out at any moment.

Both the north and south towers can be climbed.  Mary nearly lost her head on one of the spiral staircases, which would have severely cut into our day. Fortunately she survived, and Kim got a nice photo of the Chapter House (domed building on the left) and the Presbytery (right), which was rebuilt in the late 15th century.


We found ourselves in grave situations at times…


…many in the dead center of the ruins. The last person was buried here in 1960, and there is still one woman (currently alive) who is eligible, but the docent told us, “She has declined.”


The always inquisitive Mary retorted, “To die or be buried here?”

We found these Nave statues of a bishop and knight rather intriguing.

Like so many places we visited, there are lots of places where you really need to watch your head, which literally is impossible.

We walked to the other side of the Presbytery to get another viewpoint.


Everywhere we stepped we marveled at the beauty of Elgin Cathedral.


The cathedral clergy used to meet in the octagonal Chapter House, which dates from 1500.  It is the best-preserved part of the cathedral due to it being utilized as a meeting place. Besides its amazing rib-vaulted ceiling, it is said to have incredible acoustics, however we declined to sing for fear we’d wake the dead.


Both Tracy’s photos above and Kim’s further enhanced photos below show the intricate detailing of this ceiling.


Because this was a big driving day, we almost bypassed Elgin Cathedral.


We’re very happy we didn’t.

Across the street from the cathedral stands the Bishop’s House, which is not open to the public.

Also across the street is Elgin’s Biblical Garden. I don’t know its Genesis, but it did open in 1966 and contains 110 plants mentioned in the Bible.


I discovered that nettles are mentioned as a food in Isaiah 34:13, and that Nettles was a great third baseman for the Padres and Yankees.

There are also a series of life sized sculptures of characters from the Bible…

…including Moses Receiving the Ten Commandments and The Good Shepherd.


After walking through the Biblical Garden for a short while, we made our Exodus to the car.  At this point, Kim had done a Lot of great driving, but we all hoped he wouldn’t accidentally turn into a pillar of salt on the way to our next destination.


Located a little more than 30 minutes south of Elgin Cathedral (once again there was a dearth of cars on the road…clear sailing all the way again today) is The Glenlivet Distillery.  It has the distinction of being the first licensed distillery in the Glenlivet area.


There is a 45-minute tour, but we had a rather tight schedule so we decided not to get tight so we just toured the small museum recounting the tale of the distillery.

I told Tracy I’d like to have one of these at home, but I changed my mind when I saw her pulling out the divorce papers.  I did buy a small bottle of their whisky, however.


Just a few minutes from our whisky stop was a gorgeous area that during my trip planning seemed like a bucolic spot to set up a picnic lunch. There’s a small parking area from where we could walk to the Packhorse Bridge that crosses the River Livit.


Only two arches of the bridge have survived.  The third was destroyed by floodwater during the great “Muckle Spate of 1829.”  The bridge was constructed at the same time as nearby Blairfindy Castle in the 16th century.


We stuck around for a few minutes, and this definitely would be a terrific spot to picnic, however it was still relatively early and none of us were hungry. Plus we didn’t want to get caught in an instant Muckle Spate.

Somewhere, as we drove through Cairngorms National Park…


…our GPS went slightly awry, putting us on a different road than the one we had planned to take to Craigievar Castle.  However, there wasn’t enough time to see three more castles on this day, so Craigievar was the odd castle out (they don’t let you take interior photos anyway).

When we popped out on to a road heading to our next castle, we realized we were only six miles from Balmoral Castle. We quickly checked, but Balmoral was closed that day, so we headed toward Crathes Castle.  Since all you can see on the inside at Balmoral is the ballroom, I don’t think it would have been a great stop even had it been open.

We made a quick stop in Aboyne for gas, and the town looked charming. It was another 30 minutes to Crathes Castle (£12.50 and £9 for seniors).

The castle includes walled gardens where we checked out some more flowers before entering.


Walking inside, there is no audio guide, however there are knowledgeable docents in each room along with very good signage. The castle was completed by the owners, the Burnetts, in the mid 1590s. I learned, “The Burnetts were never among the most famous of Scottish families, but over the centuries they produced a series of generals, admirals, bishops and judges, and even a Governor of New York.”

Some of the highlights include:

The High Hall was formerly the dining area…

…and features some of Crathes Castle’s famous painted ceilings.


We visited the Victorian Bedroom and  the Laird’s bedroom, featuring a mammoth four-poster bed made out of red oak in 1594.


In one room we saw a photo signed by a famous lady.

We caught a quick glimpse of the kitchen, and by now we were so hungry I asked whether I could make a sandwich here. I don’t believe the docent found that a humorous request.

From windows to lamps…


…to squirrels and more bizarre ceilings, this castle had some cool memorabilia.


One of the best rooms was the Muses Room with its intricately detailed ceiling. The ceiling “depicts each of the seven virtues as a different woman with a symbol to identify them.”

Yet another room with spectacular ceiling paintings is the Nine Nobles Room. This room celebrates characters of the ancient world and the Old Testament..


Spiral staircases eventually get you to the Long Gallery, which includes an oak paneled ceiling from the 17th century.

There are also some magnificent views.


Famished after our walk through the castle, instead of more gardens (even Tracy had seen enough gardens on this trip), we hastily made our way to the castle cafe for very good sandwiches and pastry items, the highlights being the Coronation Chicken sandwich (light curry with white grapes) and a scrumptious Ginger Bread Cake with ginger cream cheese frosting.

It was only a half an hour to our final destination of the day, Dunnottar Castle. The car park was full, so we had to drive a ways and park on the shoulder.  Even having seen dozens of photos before we left, the first view of Dunnottar Castle is awe-inspiring. Set on a rugged cliff, this dramatically situated fortress was once the home of the Earls Marischal, one of the most powerful families in Scotland.

This is where in 1652 a small garrison held out against Oliver Cromwell’s army for eight months, saving the Scottish Crown Jewels and Charles II’s personal papers from certain destruction.

So the story goes, “When the castle surrendered on 26 May after an eight month siege, Cromwell’s men found the cupboard was bare. The King’s papers had been smuggled through their lines hidden in the clothing of a woman, and the Honours of Scotland (Crown Jewels) had been lowered down the cliffs to a local woman pretending to be collecting seaweed. These irreplaceable treasures were hidden under the floor of the nearby Kinneff Old Church until the Restoration of the Monarchy.”

By now, just a little tired, Tracy gleefully informed me that there were 177 steps down to the castle. That means I was going to pay £7 for the opportunity to require medical attention on the ascent back up.

Making it down safely…

…I saw the remains of the Chapel and prayed there was an escalator somewhere on the premises.


A quick stop was made at the castle kitchen.

We visited the old dining room, which had been set up for me to make a proclamation. I proclaimed that day to be “National Whisky Day,” which, on second thought, is virtually every day in Scotland.

                          There are numerous spots wandering around the castle where you can get quite a birds-eye view.


The views out toward the North Sea are breathtaking.


I am usually the one who has an OCD moment on vacation, but on this trip I heard Kim utter the words that I have said on hundreds of occasions…”Did I lock the car?” In most cases that just means walking a short distance to check it out. However, for Kim it meant walking back up those 177 steps and hiking back to the car.


Meanwhile we walked around some more, checking out the ruins and views from every angle.


Finally it was time for the moment of truth. I thought about having a nip of my Glenlivet whisky before ascending the steps that lay before me (well, it was National Whisky Day) but reclaimed my sanity, took a slug of water and started upward. Tracy was able to get her old man struggling photo about half way up, which only inspired me to climb faster.


By now, Kim had returned and we took a couple more pictures of this incredible fortress that capped off another memorable day.


It was only about a ten minute drive to our B&B, the wonderful Chapel Of Barras. You want quaint, this is your place. It’s located on a former dairy farm, and our genial hosts Michelle and David were there to greet us. The B&B has five bedrooms, and we had heard the breakfast here was very good, too (spoiler alert…it was).


There are cattle on the property and I asked David whether they were dairy cows.  As it turned out, they were not, so I wished one of them a pleasant rest of his life.

For a second I felt badly about all the Scottish beef I had devoured on the trip..but only for a second.  Our bedroom was comfortable and well-appointed. Turning on the TV, we saw that President Obama was in Edinburgh. We are such trend setters.

There are taxis available had we required one, but Kim said he’d take one for the team and drive the short distance to our restaurant. I had made reservations at the Creel Inn in Catterline, about three miles from our B&B.On the advice of Michelle, as the restaurant parking lot is tiny, we parked in a nearby school lot, and then took the short walk to the restaurant that has a charming view of Catterline Bay and Harbor.

Just like in the fifth grade, we were seated next to the blackboard.   Our table also had a view of the bay.


The interior was homey with beamed ceilings.

I started with an excellent Camembert with figs, red onion tart along with arugula and avocado salad. For my main course, I ordered the superb lamb special; lamb stew and lamb cutlets in a port au jus with pancetta and a side of creamed potatoes.  Not surprisingly, Mary went for the Mussels as a starter and Sea Bass as a main. She was full to the gills by the end. Tracy decided on the Scallops on Black Pudding to start and finished with the Duck with ratatouille and Dauphinoise potatoes.  Finally, Kim dove into his halibut.


Incredibly and sadly I was just too full for dessert, although the Gingerbread Pudding; sticky gingerbread pudding topped with toffee sauce served with vanilla ice-cream and berries, tempted me.

Back at the Chapel Of Barras, a beautiful sunset greeted us, concluding another busy day.

For our next to the last full day in Scotland, we’d check out a nearby harbor town, the childhood home of the Queen’s Mum, visit with some peacocks strutting their stuff, and then overnight in a town with a palace where Mary Queen of Scots spent some of the happiest days of her sad and tragic life.

Our pleasant dinner the following evening took a sudden turn for the worse when we read the news flash that came across all our phones. As it would turn out, we were going to have to scramble in order to make it home.

Next: DAY FOURTEEN: The Tide Is Out…Again, Glamorous Glamis, Mums The Word, We Pass On The Scone, Peacock Paradise, It Doesn’t Look Like A War Was Fought Here, TV Hotel, Geez…No Photos Again, Tennis Anyone, Town Tour, Get In Out Of The Rain, Pulling The Plug On BA and I Think We’d Better Take The Train



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