Explore Castles in Scotland | Chicago Classic Magazine
BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
When I mentioned dinner in a castle dungeon, I caught the attention of my grandsons.
And as appealing as it was to see, as we entered the old keep, an exact replica of King Robert the Bruce’s heavy sword used in the First War of Scottish Independence near Stirling, it was not was just one of the memories of the Scottish castle in the Highlands. of Scotland, not to mention the Harry Potter Railway, which will hopefully one day bring them back to the land of their ancestors.
Taking my grandsons Oliver, 12, and Henry, 9 (along with their parents – my son, George York, and his wife – and their aunt, my youngest daughter, Alice York) to Scotland was a dive into the country’s history. Scottish castles, whether they rise on islands like fortresses or in the mists across the moors, are an integral part of the often rugged landscape. From medieval fortresses to turreted neo-Gothic towers to unique defensive towers, it’s estimated that there have been 3,000 castles in Scotland’s history, and only 1 remain. 500 today. For the two boys, castles conjure up legends of heroic knights, mighty wizards, fierce creatures, epic battles and faraway adventures.
The castle is indeed a metaphor for Scotland. Its mountainous and even treacherous terrain surrounds something largely worthy of protection. The majestic peaks of the Highlands are monuments to the brave inhabitants of this magnificent place. Scottish history is replete with repeated episodes of incursion followed by abandonment to the understanding that Scotland cannot be conquered – just ask the Romans, Vikings and many other forces who eventually decided to stand give back to all that is sublime in this country of castles.
After a short visit to London, the fast train took us to Edinburgh where we visited our first castle, the most famous of all in Scotland. Situated on a towering crag at the head of the Royal Mile, Edinburgh Castle has repelled many assaults on its ramparts, and its great gun, Mons Meg, one of the world’s largest guns by caliber and fitted for the first times in 1449, drew the rapidity of Henry and Oliver. Warning. It still fires daily at 1pm, heralding a moment of reflection on bravery, sacrifice and Scotland’s proud history.
Queen Margaret, who later became a saint, died at the castle in 1093. The small chapel built by her son, King David I, is Edinburgh’s oldest building. Mary Queen of Scots chose to give birth to her son, James VI, at this royal palace in 1566 due to its protected position. The Scottish Crown Jewels on display are Britain’s oldest, and the most moving is the Smooth Stone of Destiny, also known as the Stone of Scone, used for centuries to inaugurate monarchs, including the first King of Alba (original name of Scotland), Kenneth. MacAlpine, in 843. It was seized in 1296 by King Edward I of England and rested in Westminster Abbey until 1996, when it was officially returned to Scotland.
Choosing to travel to the Highlands over Spring Break meant we could take advantage of great winter rates at the two castles we stayed in and see others from less crowded vantage points. May to September are its busiest times, but we found the daffodils bursting forth as well as the beginnings of the yellow gorse that blankets the countryside in May. Thanks to the Gulf Stream flowing around the nearby Hebrides Islands, the temperature was pleasant “sweater weather”.
With Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the UK, as a backdrop, we spent two nights at 19andLast century Inverlochy Castle near Fort William in the Mid West Highlands. On a trip to Balmoral in 1873, Queen Victoria spent a week in Inverlochy sketching and painting and wrote in her diary: “I have never seen a more beautiful or romantic place. We heeded the warnings about climbing Ben Nevis when we learned that there were more climbing accidents there than on Everest, as people don’t prepare for the often icy conditions and steep climbs. Some sportsmen staying at the chateau seemed to prefer a game of billiards in the billiard room. Although pool tables are larger than pool tables, their six holes for sinking the 21 balls are smaller. But the children preferred the outside chessboard.
We decided to stick with a tour starting at Loch Linnhe, a marine loch (lake) near Fort William. We learned that in this nearly deserted terrain several films had been shot depicting many eras due to the rugged and isolated beauty of the area. Not far from the boats to the Isle of Skye is a viaduct made famous by the Harry Potter films (on which you can take the Jacobite train known as the Harry Potter Express); the legendary Ossian’s Cave, atop the Three Sisters Mountains, featured in a James Bond film; and Rannoch Moor, with its marshland created during the last ice age. Known more recently as a filming location for the Foreign Television series, it also has a trivial history: it is the ancestral home of Scrooge McDuck!
Seeing the Glenfinnan Viaduct, built from 1897-1901, was a delight for Oliver and Henry who loved the Warner Brothers “Making of Harry Potter” studio exhibits near London. Our guide shared that visitors to the viaduct mainly fall into two categories: Potter fans wearing a wizard’s cape and history buffs (and it’s pretty easy to tell the two factions apart).
The history of the region, settled 5000 years ago, is rich in military victories and defeats and, of course, clan battles. The Picts lived in the area during the Iron Age and took their name from the Romans, possibly due to their tattooing. Due to the rugged terrain created by retreating glaciers, the Romans chose not to settle in this vast area which stretches to John o’ Groats in the far north of Scotland.
The ruined castle, pictured above, proved fascinating, with its tales of family rivalry: that of the MacDonald and Campbell clans which ended in the massacre of Glencoe. The Earl of Argyll’s Regiment, led by the Campbells, were guests of the MacDonalds and proceeded to massacre 38 of their hosts and other guests. The MacDonalds had refused to swear allegiance to the new monarchs, William III and Mary II. The feud is still discussed to this day with generations of Scots said to “never trust a Campbell”. Scotland’s favorite poet, Sir Walter Scott, commemorated the massacre.
The dinners at Inverlochy couldn’t have been more delicious. George particularly enjoyed ‘savoring’ the full Scottish breakfasts, complete with haggis, while the children stayed with the pancakes and oatmeal sprinkled with brown sugar. Dinner included beautifully prepared dishes overseen by Chef Michael Roux Jr. For Scotch lovers, a separate bar featured an amazing collection, including the popular Ben Nevis variety (Alice and I kept their impressive selection of teas). And we were sure to try the “neeps and tatties” in the area.
Throughout the countryside, signs are in English and Gaelic, as a nod to the region’s heritage, although it is estimated that only 1% of Scotland’s population – more in Skye and the islands of the Inner Hebrides – speaks it. Speaking of traffic signs, if you’re driving, be aware that the roads are quite narrow, be careful.
In nearby Glencoe and many restaurants along the lochs, the seafood is incredible: tiny scallops, lobster, clams and wonderful oysters, not to mention terrific fish and chips.
Our ancestors, the Carmacks, who were members of the Clan Buchanan, lived along the shores of Loch Lomond. From the austere northern terrain to the gentle farmland adorned with newborn yew trees as we drove towards Perth, we could see why this striking landscape is one of the most famous in Scotland. After lunch along the Loch, we passed through Stirling, known as the gateway to the Highlands from the Lowlands, which served as the original residence of the Scone of Destiny and the seat of the first Scottish kings. The grand monument to William Wallace, the great hero of the battle for Scottish independence (and made iconic in our modern times by the film Brave heart), can be seen in the distance. We wished we could stop to learn more about Wallace’s Battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297.
The destination of the day, and the challenge for all, was to discover Aldie Castle, home of the ancestors of the Mercer family, one of whom came to the United States in time to fight with General Washington. Using map coordinates and advice from a woman we met on a side road, we found Aldie Castle from a distance. George had visited when he was only six years old with his grandmother, my mother, Bonnie Carmack, who, without Google at the time, had found her by asking at the local post office. Granny, as Bonnie was known to her grandchildren, was an inspiration for the entire journey and journey of that particular day. With her spirit in our hearts and her binoculars close at hand, she also helped guide us – her daughter, two of her grandchildren and two of her great-grandchildren – to our destination.
It was all on the way to Dalhousie Castle, just outside Edinburgh, for that special dungeon dinner, surrounded by armor and swords, and a night at the hotel and spa, the most Scotland’s oldest inhabited castle with foundations laid 800 years ago. from.
While many other fabulous sights, the newborn lambs frolicking in the Highlands and the wonderful meals, are part of our Scottish memories, the castles remain most etched in our memories through these three generations: “These castles are the heart fighter of this country. It was there that the heroes defended their home and established a national identity. You feel like you’re part of the story,” George said. “You feel your boots sinking into the marsh as you gaze across the loch to the castle on the opposite bank. You feel the sun shine, the humidity in the air and see the rocks glisten in the clouds. To stand here in this place with the family, it’s an experience that’s imprinted in your DNA, to be able to come back to honor our ancestors and introduce them to your children. It’s that connection that makes this trip truly special.
Photos courtesy of York and Bross families and public domain unless otherwise noted.