Archives for posts with tag: Scottish history

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There are not many places you can visit in Scotland that still feel like time has stood still. The little village of Culross (pronounced ‘koo-rus’) in the Kingdom of Fife is one such place, with narrow cobbled streets and charming 17th-century cottages nestled into a steep hillside by the Firth of Forth. At 5’4″ (163 cm) I felt like a giant next to the tiny front doors, and I had to fight the urge to peer into windows to catch a glimpse of history. In this town peering would be very rude, as real people live in these houses, which have been carefully restored by the National Trust for Scotland.

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The ‘jewel in the crown’ of this historic port town is Culross Palace, a mansion complex built by wealthy coal and salt merchant Sir George Bruce. The first house was completed in 1597, and when Sir George needed more space to accommodate all his important visitors he built the north wing (above) in 1611.

Sir George Bruce was Laird of Carnock, and he made his fortune first in salt production (which involved boiling salt water in large, shallow pans to evaporate the water) and later in coal mining. He was trained as an engineer and in 1595 he established the first coal mine in the world to extend under the sea with a tunnel deep under the Firth of Forth. Sir George exported coal and salt by sea to other ports on the Forth, and to Dutch and Swedish ports as well. His ships returned with Dutch ceramic roof and floor tiles and window glass as ballast, and these were used in the construction of Culross Palace.

Culross palace interior

Thanks to much painstaking restoration of the interiors, visitors can get a real sense of what life was like in the 17th century for a wealthy Scottish merchant and his family. There is wood panelling in every room, with decorative murals adorning some ceilings and walls. Because these rooms are so well preserved, several episodes of the popular television series Outlander have been filmed here.

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In the first series, the town is known as Cranesmuir and the Mercat Cross above (minus the modern cars) is the scene of a 17th-century witch trial. There are so many beautifully preserved buildings that I’m sure very few changes were required for filming.

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Culross town hall

The Culross Town House above served originally as a court house and prison. Today it houses an exhibition gallery and gift shop. In the foreground of this photo you can see a stone plinth and a wooden post. These mark the spot where merchants brought their produce to be weighed at the Tron, the official burgh weighbeam as shown in the artist’s drawing below. You can see the Town House still under construction in 1625. The clock tower it has today was added some years later.

Culross info sign

Culross and its distinctive ochre-coloured palace are impressive enough, but even more surprising is the terraced garden that extends up the steep hill behind. This has been planted with flowers, fruit and vegetables that would have been grown in the 17th century.

Culross flowers

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Thanks to a long, hot summer this year, the garden is flourishing! There are shady bowers, wooden seating, stone walls and crushed seashell paths. From the top level, visitors have a stunning view across the Firth of Forth.

Culross garden bower

Culross garden inscription

seedling shed

A small orchard has not only fruit trees but also a collection of Scots Dumpy chickens. Apparently these supply eggs for the palace cafe, where we stopped for lunch. And like everything else in this magical place, the food was outstanding!

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(Many thanks to Mark Rickards and Danae Apeiranthiti for the photos shown here.)

 

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Katrine mist

Scotland has been enjoying some fantastic autumn weather, and one weekend my family and I drove up to Loch Katrine in the district of Stirling to enjoy the beautiful views of the Trossachs. This is a perfect place to walk at a leisurely pace surrounded by stunning scenery, and if you feel like relaxing even more you can hop aboard the Steamship Sir Walter Scott for a cruise around the loch!

Loch Katrine steamer

Half of our group opted for the boat ride, and the other half chose to walk. Being one of the walkers, I was able to get this photo of the steamship just setting off. It looked very festive with its colourful bunting, and when it met another boat on the loch (the Lady of the Lake being the other) it would set off a loud horn as if to say, “Coming through! Make way for Sir Walter Scott!” This Victorian steamship has been cruising the loch for over 100 years, with regular tours running four times a day from late May to late October. The Lady of the Lake is a smaller, newer boat, and it does three tours a day during the same period.

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The path for walkers is wide and flat initially, curving round the side of the loch with stunning views over the water. When the weather is good, the path is hugely popular with dog walkers and cyclists. You can even hire bikes there, so no need to bring your own! I think it’s possible to walk or cycle right round the entire loch, but I must admit I’ve never done it. After a while the path moves away from the water and gets quite hilly!

Katrine waterfall

Loch Katrine is the main source of drinking water for the city of Glasgow and surrounding areas. Two 26-mile-long aqueducts and 13 miles of tunnel channel the water to a treatment plant in Milngavie just north of Glasgow. Because Milngavie is 400 metres above sea level it provides enough pressure to supply all of Glasgow’s water without pumping.

This system of water provision was designed and built by Civil Engineer John Frederick Bateman, and the first aqueduct was opened by Queen Victoria in 1859. The second one was completed in 1901, and in 1958 another tunnel was completed under Ben A’an bringing water from the Glen Finglas Reservoir. The waterfall above is Glen Finglas water channeling down into Loch Katrine.

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This plaque stands near the waterfall and commemorates the opening of the tunnel and the people who made it possible. Since the tunnel had been dug underneath a mountain, this was quite an achievement! HRH Princess Margaret performed the official opening.

Katrine steamer sailing

As my daughter and I walked around the sparkling loch we saw the steamship catching up and passing us. It was going at a surprising speed! It circled the whole loch in about an hour, and when we saw it heading back to dock we knew we had to rush back to meet it.

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I couldn’t resist taking a few more photos of the amazing views as we retraced our steps. As you can see, we couldn’t have had better weather! There are only a few more days in October to take a ride on the steamship Sir Walter Scott as its last sailing is on the 20th. I’m sure over the next few weeks Loch Katrine will become even more beautiful as the trees turn gold in the autumn chill. I’ll have to go back again soon!

Katrine vista