A Stalwart of Castles
‘Ye’ll be wantin’ tae see castles then?’ Jimmy asks, as he polishes his shoes and reaches for his shoe horn, ‘Aye, right.’ And we are off for our drive, the sun peeking momentarily through patches of cloud to tease us with the promise of light and warmth.
Castle choices are limited. Many are closed for the winter, with the pandemic and repairs-to-masonry taking out most that remain. We are fond of abandoned ruins, which never close, but are anxious to spare Jimmy’s car after yesterday’s effort. After bill-paying, Real McCoy chips, and a giggle at shouty British headlines, we head for Kirkcudbright, when Jimmy recovers from mocking our pronunciation, of course (it’s kir-coo-brie, for the record, meaning visitors have literally no chance of getting it right).
We know Threave Castle is closed, but drive there anyway, in the hopes of getting up close. Alas, it is not only situated on a small island on the River Dee, but a 20-minute walk from the road. Here is a photo from walkhighlands.co.uk, the website I follow so I can pretend I am a Scottish hiker.
Kirkcudbright is a gorgeous town, and would be a fabulous destination in summer. A sign announces it as ‘The Artist’s Town’, and this sentiment is mirrored by the pastel houses, cinema and art centre, and the galleries and gift shops stocked with items to be purchased solely for their beauty. It is a fishing port, and Lucy is disappointed to find the fish shop by the water closed, such is her determination to eat fresh Scottish seafood.
The position of MacLellan’s Castle, smack bang in the centre of town, earns it a place on the ‘casual castle’ list, meaning you can see it when you pop out for a coffee, or to buy groceries. It is closed for repairs, with the scaffolding and stone making strange bedfellows.
The next stop, Cardoness Castle, is similarly disappointing, in that it is locked up, despite boasting 24-hour access. Lucy and I seriously consider jumping the fence, but I can’t stomach the thought of an official scolding, so settle for another picture from the cheap seats.
Our patience is soon rewarded with Carsluith Castle, which borders on casual, given it sits on the side of the road. It isn’t possible to do anything particularly mundane while seeing it though, so it retains some intrigue. Lucy and I love it. ‘This is my room’, I tell her, as we walk down into a cellar. ‘And this is mine!’, she squeals with delight, upon discovering a second, identical room next door. We climb the stairs and look out onto the Water of Fleet. It is small, but perfectly-formed.
In Newton Stewart, we eat fish and chips and feed the seagulls, who screech and fight over the second-rate chips that Jimmy flicks out in irritation. ‘Very light on the condiments’, he complains, performing the action of adding a single sprinkle of salt, pepper and vinegar for our amusement. Here is a picture of my lunch, but I really wanted to include my muddy boot – it appears I belong on walkhighlands.co.uk after all.
Home via the Galloway Forest Park sees the landscape change from green fields to forest trees and rocky ridges. We come across an unexpected monument to Alexander Murray, a local shepherd boy who later became Professor of Oriental Languages at Edinburgh University and this spectacular woman, walking more golden labs than I have captured in this picture. Her expression says it all.
We also pass the fabulously-named ‘Clatteringshaws Loch’, where I make a futile attempt to capture the sun’s beams reaching to the earth between the clouds.
After seeing this tea towel on a search for gifts, I am obsessed with the idea of collective nouns, having had no idea that birds had earned themselves such a range of creative designations. There isn’t a collective noun for castles since, according to one website on my search, ‘[they] are seldom found in a group’.
Driving around the Scottish countryside, I would argue that they are found in a group, here in Scotland, dotted as they are across the country, as a symbol of the passing of time. I have decided to call them a ‘stalwart’, which means resolute, determined, and staunch…much like the Scots themselves.