Wednesday, September 22, 2010

And The Walls Come a Tumbling Down....or Something Like That

04-05-09 Monday

Neither one of us is moving very quickly when we wake up and we decide to lounge about for a bit drinking the now familiar instant coffee while watching the daily reruns of “Everybody Loves Raymond.” Realizing that time has escaped us, we hurriedly get dressed and still nearly miss the delicious full Scottish breakfast that is rapidly cooling in the trays in the upstairs dining room in the annex opposite ours.

After being cheerfully greeted by FI (“Hello dearies!”), the stout Scottish hostess at the door, we are good-naturedly hustled to a table near a window. Again, a coffee-press is brought to our table along with the brown toast and we enjoy our meal before heading out the door to visit the tourist information shop on the corner. We are hoping to get more concise directions to Edzall Castle (and tips on how to get out of the town proper) and are rewarded for our curiosity by the lovely woman behind the counter who gives us a map, complete with highlighted routes. We are also somewhat worried that our plans may be delayed since it is a bank holiday (i.e. free holiday) but the lady calls Edzall to make sure it is open and then reassures us that everything should be fine. We are off again, this time to explore Lindsay lands!

Each subsequent road we turn onto on our quest to find the 16th century Edzall Castle seems to get narrower and less travelled. The countryside has turned bucolic and is softly hidden in the Scottish mist when we finally get our first glimpse of the familial home.

Pulling into the car park, we seem to be the only ones there and, after purchasing our tickets at the gift shop, we wander across the sloping lawn to the outer wall of the castle ruins. Peacocks strut around, spreading their vibrant tails out, and we sidestep them as we enter the castle courtyard. The mist has made the cobblestones damp and we are careful as we climb staircases and duck through doorways as we explore the rooms and spaces where some of the Lindsay’s had made their home.

Whilst touring the grounds I snag a few russet-colored stones which dot the courtyard and dank rooms so I can gently stroke the porous surfaces and remember Edzall when I get home. After marveling at the carved stone panels depicting the seven Cardinal Virtues, seven Liberal Arts, and seven Planetary Deities, we head into the only standing building left on the castle grounds – the summer house where we meet (it appears) a family of three who are coming down the narrow spiral staircase. We back down the steps, let them go past us, and then explore the rest of the house.

Finally sated with this piece of Lindsay history, we stop again in the gift shop where (yes!) I buy more gifts. As we travel back down the lane to the road out, I look over my shoulder and say farewell to Edzall, and feel somewhat bittersweet – both melancholy and blessed to feel as though I had been “home.”

Enroute to the eastern coast, I hesitantly suggest to CG that we find another Lindsay fortress, Glen Esk, (from the group tour visit from last time) but I haven’t a clue where it is exactly as sitting in the back of the bus years ago had both good and not so good points to it – one being that my sense of direction was quite turned around. After investigating a few one-track lanes atop farmland and in hollows, we give up and head back to a main road, eager for some speed again.

It isn’t because we knew where we were going, or even where we were (the map I held in my hand could only show just-so-many byways and lanes) and we are rather surprised to spot the sign to the imposing Dunnottar Castle (pronounced “don-naught-tar”), treacherously balanced on a jutting block of cliffs into the North Sea. I gasp at the rugged beauty of the castle. We find a place to park, walk back to the dirt entrance trail, and start towards the ruins.

The battery in my camera has become low with my nearly constant photo-snapping but I am able to squeeze off two quick shots of the imposing fortress before it dies completely. The path and wooden steps to the edge of the crag where the ruins sit are steep but we make it to the ticket booth and enter the guard tower.

Atop this wind-swept cliff there is the great open space of the bailey. We face the roaring North Sea and I try to envision troops on horseback as they entered under the arched main gate and paraded across the blowing grass to the stables. Are those shouts I hear of soldiers, holding off the British, or is it just the voices of tourists who are ambling about the stone buildings? I shake the vision off as we step into the palace. The rooms in here are still mostly intact and I am pleased to see a framed sign over the gaping fireplace which notes that a Lindsay helped the Marischals, an esteemed family of Scotland. It was here that the Crown Jewels of Scotland were protected from the assault of Cromwell’s army and spirited away to be hidden for years (dang that camera battery!).

After investigating several other rooms, including the spacious suites of rooms where both the Earl and Countess slept (certainly much brighter now that there isn’t a roof of any sort overhead), we take a set of stone steps down into the Whig’s Vault.

Narrow, dark, with only one small window overlooking the North Sea, the arched ceiling makes me feel a bit claustrophobic. CG steps off of the landing onto the damp stones of the floor as I turn to read the large sign on the wall behind me. It seems 167 prisoners (men and women) spent nearly two months together here in this small dark room (some starved to death and some died trying to escape) before the survivors were released. I turn around with a sadness and fascination about the mass of people who were here in such miserable conditions and my right foot slips off of the landing.

Now mind you, I have specifically worn my deeply treaded hiking boots but the tread is obviously no competition to the slick stones of the room. I do a 90 degree flip up into the air and land precisely on my right elbow on the sloping floor below. CG, who had been inspecting the room, quickly is at my side (whether alerted by the loud groan or the equally noisy “thump”) while I lay on the cool damp stones. I am dizzy and in pain but try to sit up only to lie down again for a few moments. (oww oww oww, it hurts, it hurts, oww oww oww).

CG is obviously concerned and I reassure him that I will be alright in a second while I get my breath back. He helps me up and, short of one rest on a wall before we leave the building; we slowly make our way out of the castle and back to the path without stopping again.

I cradle my arm trying not to draw attention to my injury but am sure our measured pace is an indication to anyone observant enough to notice. After a few more stops, we finally make it back to the car and head towards Stonehaven, the closest town on the road where we had planned to have lunch.

After parking the Volvo, we go around the corner to the drugstore and are able to purchase a simple muslin sling and an elastic elbow brace.

Perhaps it is because I am feeling sorry for myself that I beg CG to also buy me the box of dragonfly note cards that were in the outside window before we entered the door, and perhaps it is because he is feeling sorry for me that he agrees and I smile with appreciation, somehow feeling a wee bit better. The clerk gets it out of the window and rings it up – the price is well above what I normally would have felt comfortable paying (the gold etching on the front better be real gold!) and I thank CG gratefully.

Not willing to explore the town of Stonehaven further, we decide to grab a quick bite to eat in the next cafĂ© we see. Curious, CG orders two ham and cheese toasties and I just order some soup. When our lunch arrives, CG sees that his “toasties” are toasted sandwiches and gobbles them down. I, however, am finding it challenging to eat soup with my left hand and revert to looking furtively around before I pick the bowl up and drink the cooled liquid. The ibuphrophen I had taken earlier is kicking in and the drive back along the breathtaking eastern coast of Scotland is soothing. We soon arrive back at the hotel and I hobble into our room for a quick rest with CG. And, in spite of it all, we both agree that Dunnottar is our favorite castle by far!

After calling P, the owner of the tour company and designer of our tour, we agree to meet him in the lobby of the hotel for a pint of beer.

In his mid-late fifties, he is delightful – his grey hair, lilting burr and easygoing manner put both CG and I immediately at ease and we consent to walk to his favorite pub, The Foundry, for more libations. There we spend the evening tasting scotch (we find we are quite fond of Monkey Shoulder after hearing the tale of the title from P) and drinking Guinness.

monkey shoulder jpgUpon our arrival at the Foundry, we are introduced to R, a friend of P’s, who is a commercial archaeologist, and who has apparently been sitting in the pub for awhile. We converse with R, and I am captivated by his stories of local archeological digs, even though his tales wander a bit due to his inebriated state.

Our conversation is interrupted by a newcomer, RB, who has heard our American accents. He announces that he once lived in Seattle and Vancouver but he is quickly and deftly squeezed out of the conversation by P and R and he leaves. (Bar stool nuances, Lesson #355).

The evening is wonderful as we chat with our hosts and both P and R make me promise to visit the infirmary if my arm isn’t better. We discover our evening has shot by as it is nears 9:00 and CG and I are acutely aware that our meal time window is rapidly closing. P offers to walk us over to The Bothy, hoping that it is still serving dinner, but we find it closed (just – darned Scots and their allotted mealtimes) so we say goodbye to P and promise to meet up with him the next evening.

After checking out the room service menu in our hotel room, we decide to forego dinner (Guinness is a meal in of itself I hear) and CG goes to sleep. My sleep, however, is broken and I attempt what seems like a thousand positions trying to get my arm comfortable. I finally doze and the next morning comes much too soon.


Linda said...

You had a busy day of castles, but so sorry to read about your accident.
My daughter's school (in Edinburgh) has the Lindsay tartan for the girls' kilts.

I wonder if the cafe you stopped at in Stonehaven had black and white decor inside, with wrought iron work? We sometimes stop there on our way north from Edinburgh.

Neil Tasker said...

Sounds like you're having a ball.....apart from the unfortunate slip. Glad you found Dunnottar, it would've been a shame to miss it.