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Castles: the Hidden Towers
Castles in Scotland, at least the older ones built for defense, have an odd look to them that I didnít expect. The whole thing is raised on a very high foundation. Look at Craigievar.
It was closed for renovations; we only walked around it. It looks like the castle is floating up in the air. This kind of castle is called a tower. I think of a tower as a smaller structure, often an appendage on the corner or side of a larger building.
The Scottish tower was a stout prop under the great hall. Craigievar was the best example we saw of this, but Crathes had the same look (below). Ignore the el; that part is actually quite new, having been destroyed in this century by fire and rebuilt. But even before it burned, the two-story house was added a couple of centuries after the tower was built.
It was a recurring theme that the castles were built in fits and starts over centuries. How old is this castle, we would ask. And the answer was always something like, the tower was built in 1200, the other half was built on in 1500 but was destroyed by fighting, then it was rebuilt in 1600, burned down in the eighteenth century and built again in the nineteenth. Sold to the Trust in the middle of the twentieth.
Ceilings were raised and lowered, windows bricked in and reopened. The furniture in any room was likely to span the centuries as well: a worn heavy wooden table from the original great hall. A carved bed from the sixteenth century. An ornate chest three hundred years old. Carved Victorian arm chairs.
Another thing we noticed about Scottish castles that was markedly different from those of England and France was that they were hidden. They were high and commanded a long view. But you hardly ever got a glimpse of them until you were at the foot of the walls.
Not sure how they accomplished that. I didnít read or hear this, and I canít prove it, but we both noticed, just because we were trying to find these castles and we never could do it by seeing them in the distance. Not once!
By contrast, it seems like in France you would see a castle from many miles away. Could be just the difference in the way the land is, but we didnít think so. We thought about the French and English castles standing on the hilltops bringing on all comers. The castles in Scotland seemed cunningly secreted where they could see you but you couldnít see them.
In fact, my pictures belie this impression, mainly because I was always looking for a prospect from which I could show the whole castle, and generally I found one. But we never saw it from the road. We never even saw it from the car park.
Above, for example, is Inverary Castle. We couldn't see it at all from the road or all the way up the path. Eventually, as we walked out, I found the view above through a break in the trees. Meanwhile, from the village, I snapped the shot below. Inverary Castle is right there in the trees to the left. If I could have seen it, I would have shifted left and taken a picture of that. But I had no idea it was there.
It always happened like this, arriving at a castle: we would park, mystified and excited. But where was the castle? And weíd see a sign and follow it, and then weíd find it. I want to say we never saw a castle until we were within a hundred feet of it. Or less.
Eilean Donan was an exception. But we didnít see it until we were within less than a quarter mile, which is pretty close when you consider how exposed it is. We didnít go inside; it is actually rather new, reconstructed, but atmospheric as all get out from a distance. Nothing phony about that setting!
In all, we visited (or at least saw) ten castles. Two we meant to see got away: Cawdor and Dunnottar, the ruin that overlooks the sea at Stonehaven. I'd still like to visit them, and I would go back to Drum and Crathes. In addition, I'd like to see the mounds near Castle Douglas and Threave Castle. For such a small country, so much to see!
SEPTEMBER 2007: SCOTLAND
Dumfries & Galloway: