– Carlisle, England to Glasgow, Scotland –
So… we bought a castle pass today. It cost us £40 per person, but it lets us visit any castle in Scotland for the next week without paying the entrance fee. We’ve already visited three today, and I have a feeling w may go a little castle wild, now that we’ve invested so much money in it. Castle entrance fees cost anywhere from £4.50 to £16.50 (if you were wondering why we would spend so much on it).
That’s getting a little ahead of myself though, so we can come back to that later. I just wanted to make sure that you were aware that, if you continue to follow along, you will be besieged with castle pictures. We took 526 pictures today, before Mark clears out the blurry ones and such. Impressed?
We started our morning at 6:30am, where we drove out to find someplace to run. It didn’t end up being that great of a spot, since a part of the trail was closed so a sports complex could be demolished. Unfortunately it was really difficult to find running spots in Carlisle. The internet had no real information on the subject. At least it wasn’t raining?
The breakfast down in the hotel lobby was delightful. Our hotel last night was much more American-style than the one we booked in London. The room was larger, and breakfast was very much like you would find at an upscale hotel back home in the states. I was expecting it to be a bit more British, so I was a bit surprised. We had eggs, croissants, cheese, fruit, and yogurts, ourselves, but we had many more options than even that.
By 9:30, we were on the road. I think it was a bit before that, but I can’t recall exactly, so 9:30 it is. We did not go directly to Glasgow on the highway, since we had plans to see a few other things on our way up. If we had taken the major highway up to Scotland, it would’ve only taken 2.5 hours. Instead we rolled into Glasgow at 6:00pm. We have skills.
Our first stop was at Caerlaverock Castle, which is near Dumfries, Scotland. The castle is triangular, with two towers stuck together at the front and two towers separated by a large wall at the back, to create its shape. It was originally built in the 13th century, though it was remodeled several times after. It belonged to the Maxwell family, and was abandoned in 1640 after the last siege it endured.
I think before we arrived at this particular castle, we were not really sure what to expect. Castles sounded neat, but we hadn’t really been to any except the Tower of London before this trip. We were both impressed by what remains of the castle ruins at Caerlaverock, and that really continued throughout the day.
This particular castle was preceded at the same location by a Roman fort. The major part of the ruins that stand today were built in the 1270s. The current building still has a moat, though the water level was low during out visit today. In the 17th century, the Maxwell family became Earls, and the castle was redecorated and remodeled from the utilitarian structure it was into something a bit more decadent. The remains from that era have more fanciful carvings and decoration, and were more for amusing guests that for protecting the inhabitants.
At Caerlaverock, upon discovering tickets were £4.50, and tickets for Threave, our next castle, were £8.50, we decided to go ahead and purchase a castles pass. We have a bunch more castles on our list to see, and it will be cheaper to use the pass than it would’ve been to pay to enter each one. Still, a total of £80 is more than the cost of our annual national park pass back home, which seems a bit excessive.
With our new passes in hand, we found our prior zest for castle-viewing renewed with interest, so we sallied forth to see our next castle, but not before choosing another to see today from our map of the area. We are going to get our money’s worth out of our castling passes, darn it.
Have I ever mentioned Mark’s love of the Belted Galloway (aka the Oreo Cow)? I feel like I probably have. Every time we see them he squeals like a little girl and takes a picture. There’s a farm that has a few near my parents’ house back in Texas, and he’s always looking for them when we drive by. He spotted some today, next to the parking lot for Threave Castle, and reminded me that he wants to get his own someday. At least they are beef cattle, I guess?
Threave Castle is actually in Galloway, which is a region of southern Scotland. This particular castle is situated in the very middle of the River Dee, and you have to take a boat to get to it. At the gift shop, they checked our pass, then gave us directions through the farm adjacent to the river to get back to the castle itself. It was about an 800 meter walk through a gated walkway. Maybe they were protecting us from the vicious Scottish sheep.
When we arrived at the little jetty, as instructed, we rang a little bell to summon our ride. A man in a tiny fishing boat with a little outboard motor puttered over, passed us some life jackets, and took us across the river to the island on which the castle sits.
I can see how such a setup could be appealing. The water is a natural moat and source of fresh, moving water. The castle itself is already fortified, so attacking the place would be very difficult. It was done, of course, in 1308, and again in 1455. The first time the castle was burned. The second, it only fell after it’s defenders were bribed to surrender.
At the height of its occupation, 150 people lived on the little island, and many outbuildings covered the ground in front of the castle. They are entirely gone now, but the castle’s stones still remain. When the island was attacked, all of the people living outside the walls would file into the castle to wait out the siege. Can you imagine living in a single, albeit large-ish, stone house with that many other people? I hope they had more than one latrine.
More than one of the signs we spotted at this particular castle mentioned how very bare and unadorned this castle was. One even went so far as to point at that the castle was lacking the “architectural fripperies” that one frequently sees on other castles of the area. This tower was built entirely for safety and defense, and not a thought was spared for beauty, which I can believe. It doesn’t change the scenery, though, which is lovely, and the ruins are picturesque, even if the tower’s ruling family would’ve objected to that idea.
After we finished at Threave, it was already after 2pm, and we were starving. We had at least another hour to Ayr and our next castle, so we started looking through the smaller nearby towns for something to eat. We ended up at a local art shop, where we had sandwiches with salads and coleslaw.
There’s a sandwich here that seems to be a staple for vegetarians. It’s called a ploughman’s cheddar and pickle. I had it at Pret the first time we went, and I was expecting a dill pickle. I was wrong. Instead, the cheddar is paired with sweetly pickled onions, which come in what I would call a paste. Mark seems to like them, as he had another today. I find the sweet pickles a little off-putting myself, though the sandwich is hardly terrible.
When we finished our lunch, it was getting late, and most of the castles start closing at 5, with a final entry of 4:30. Dundonald, our final castle, was about 12 miles outside the town of Ayr, and we drove up that way as quickly as we could.
We ended up arriving just before 4:15, and the girl behind the checkout chose to ignore us until it was right at 4:30 before she decided that we needed help after all. She was just ignoring us. It was incredibly frustrating. As she gave us our receipt, she said, “Maybe if you hurry you can make it up there before they close the gate.” What a jerk.
The castle was up at the top of an enormous hill, and I think we broke the sound barrier rushing to get there. We were breathing hard when we arrived, that’s for sure. Luckily, that girl didn’t manage to ruin our day.
The fellow at the gate was very talkative, and seemed quite happy to see us. For the first time today, we had a guide as we made our way through the castle, and he was happy to unlock gates and show us the bits of the castle that are usually kept closed-off to prevent people from getting hurt.
It was also a lot of fun to hear someone talk about the castle, rather than just reading the simple signage around the place. He talked about each of the rooms he took us to, and what the castle would’ve looked like when it was still in use. He showed us several things we would’ve missed without him, as well, like an intact carving of the queen on one of the windows on the floor above us.
He also took us down to the prison pit, where we were introduced to rather large spiders and their egg sacks. That area is usually locked, as there is some danger of falling. Before we went down, he warned us about the spiders, and asked if we were still willing to go. We aren’t scared of spiders at all, especially non-venomous ones that he described at particularly “docile.” They were quite large, however.
He also attempted to have me condemned as a witch because my shirt was blue. That was an example, at any rate. He told us that later on during the castle’s lifetime, the tower we were in, which had originally been an office and a cellar, had been converted into a prison and pit, where they kept witches. Of course, witches were almost always women, and the king at the time was obsessed with the idea of finding and destroying witches. Therefore, had the king decided blue shirts were a sign of a witch, I would’ve been tossed in the pit. Alas.
He had so much fun talking with us about venomous and non-venomous critters from Texas that he almost forgot to close up at 5. Since we had hurried up the hill so quickly, we’d missed our chance to take pictures of the castle’s exterior, so when he left us to lock up, we went on outside. You can see the best of those we finally took as the featured image at the top of the page. Isn’t it gorgeous?
From Dundonald, it was about 40 minutes into Glasgow, though we did hit some traffic just outside of the city, so it took us a bit longer than it should’ve to get there. It was after 6pm when we checked into our hotel. We carried our bags up and then hurried back out on foot to find some dinner.
Dinner proved elusive. Our first choice of restaurant was full and had nowhere to wait, so we moved on, looking for something else to substitute. We didn’t want Indian food again, as we know we’ll be eating more of that as our towns get smaller to the north, so we ended up stumbling upon a vegan/vegetarian place with a music venue. It was fine, if a little slow.
I didn’t find Glasgow to be a particularly attractive city, though I must confess that we did not see all of it. Perhaps I will get a better look tomorrow morning. We have plans to run along the river before we leave here.
Tomorrow we will look at a national park and probably another couple of castles, assuming they are on the way. We’re spending the night in a town at the base of the Isle of Sky, and then the day after that, we’ll tour the island. It should be pretty spectacular to see.
– Trip Total : 5,318 miles –