Church buildings, gravestones and stone carving


Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of the living.” – Miriam Beard

Some places leave a lasting impression on the visitor and, for me, Iceland is one such place.

Clean fresh air, steam rising out of the ground, subtle colours in the landscape, black rock, ice and barely discernible roads are some of the things that spring to mind when I think of Iceland.

Here’s what I mean:


Looking down on the coastal town of Seyðisfjörður on Iceland’s east coast. My chum and I arrived by air into the capital, Reykjavik, but left on a ferry from here, bound for the Faroe Islands.


All over the country you see steam rising out of the ground, and in this case it was coming up out of a river. They get hot water for free in Iceland, thanks to all the geothermal energy, and it left my skin feeling very soft although unfortunately tainted by the stench of rotten eggs.


Crater lake at Landmannalaugar. The shades of green and brown were striking.


Curious textures and colours in the rocks at Landmannalaugar.


Black sand, black rock, there’s a lot of it about in Iceland.

We drove right across the middle of the country, from the south-west to the north coast. This route is closed for about 9 months of the year over the autumn, winter and spring, but even when it’s open it’s not exactly obvious where the roads are:


Er…which way do we go?

We drove for miles over rough black rock, seeing very few other vehicles or signs of habitation. I found it surprisingly beautiful.


It’s a good idea to squeeze as much fuel into your tank as possible before setting off across the middle of Iceland; there are no petrol stations on this route.

We had to cross quite a few rivers, which I found both terrifying and exhilarating (I wasn’t doing the driving). The key is to avoid still water, which can be deceptively deep, and aim for the rough looking bits where there are rocks just beneath the surface.


About to cross…




Phew – made it!

Although there was a lot of black rock around, some bits of the country were very green:


Sunny cemetery with little turf-roofed church.

Perhaps one of the things people expect when they go to Iceland is ice, particularly in the form of glaciers.


Vatnajökull ice cap – the biggest in Europe, going by volume.

One thing about glaciers is that although they look nice and white when you see them at a distance, close-up they’re really quite dirty.


Me on a glacier, with grubby rocks stuck inside the ice.

Another thing I wasn’t expecting about glaciers is the way they make eery creaking noises. I noticed this particularly in Norway once where I was in a hollow next to a glacier surrounded by mountains. The creaking noises, along with the sound of tumbling ice, echoed round the valley in a manner that fairly set my senses on edge.

At the foot of the Vatnajökull ice cap was the Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon, a blue lake of floating bergs that had calved off the glacier:


Jokulsarlon glacier lagoon with floating ice sculptures.

I believe many of the bergs melt in the lagoon, but I saw some drifting off under the bridge along the coast road out into the North Altlantic Ocean:


Icebergs off to the seaside for their holidays.

I’ve been lucky enough to visit Iceland twice, and on both trips I was helping out as field assistant to a geology chum of mine. Amongst other rock-related activities we went to look at some columnar basalt.


I felt as if I were standing in Middle-earth looking at this scene. J R R Tolkein apparently drew inspiration for The Lord of the Rings from the Icelandic sagas, and studied Old Icelandic at university, although whether he ever visited Iceland himself I don’t know.

I hope I get the chance to go back to Iceland again, and if you’re thinking you might fancy a trip there yourself I would highly recommend it.


Clouds over Iceland


Neighbourhood Watch.

Categories: Churchyards, Holidays, Iceland, Inspiration, Photography, Sheep, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 38 Comments

A good day for cherubs

As promised in my last post, I am about to present you with several skulls and a host of cherubs.

They were found in Glamis churchyard, a most interesting and slightly spooky place, even in broad daylight.

Before any of that, however, I would like to make up for not including any edible treats in my last post and am starting off here with a pavlova I made for pudding not so long ago.


Pavlova made with brown sugar meringue, whipped cream, strawberries and blueberries.

Back to the graveyard, and several skulls:


This skull was skulking at the foot of a headstone.


This one, complete with crossbones beneath, has been embedded into the wall outside the graveyard. I don’t know what it’s doing there or where it came from.


The skull projects quite spectacularly from the wall.


I found gazing into the emtpy stone eye sockets slightly disconcerting.

Another skull at the foot of a most elaborately decorated headstone:


A skull at the bottom and a cheery cherub up the top, with Masonic symbols in the middle and Corinthian pillars either side = a headstone and a half.

There seems to be something of a skull theme going on in Glamis.

In the nearby Glamis Castle, childhood home of the Queen Mother and well worth a visit if you’re ever in the area, there is said to be a Room of Skulls.

This room, now walled up, tells a particularly nasty tale. It contains the remains of the Ogilvie family, who came to Glamis in the 15th Century seeking protection from their enemies. Instead of being welcomed and well treated by the castle inmates, they were put into a chamber and left there to await their demise.

On a cheerier note, how about some cherubs?

There were lots of them in Glamis churchyard, each with its own character and expression.







Last one (there were more but I realise I’m already pushing my luck):


The day I visited this graveyard, and the one in the previous post, was a day on which I had very little appetite due to feeling a bit under the weather.

My delightful assistant and I did partake of a little luncheon between graveyards, but I wasn’t in the mood for photographing it and in any case the interior of the cafe we had it in wasn’t conducive to photography, being rather dark.

However, I’m pleased to say that I have since indulged in a number of small treats, including a piece of deliciously moist gingerbread at the excellent Caoldair Coffee Shop near Laggan:


Delicious gingerbread with a mug of Darjeeling tea. The gingerbread had occasional nuggets of crystalised ginger in it, making it even more exciting.


An arresting sign on the road just before Caoldair.


Outdoor seating at Caoldair (there are tables inside, too).


Part of the interior at Caoldair, with all manner of things for sale including clothing, pottery, toiletries, cards and toys.

By the way, if you liked the look of the pavlova at the top of this post you might be interested to know that it’s been made into a note card and is available for puchase on Etsy, here, along with several other teatime-related cards, including the photo from the front of my Tearoom Delights book:


You might recall that I put four of my other cards for sale on ebay to see if they would sell in an auction. They didn’t sell there, but I have sold a few on Etsy, so thank you very much to my lovely customers.

Categories: Angus, Architecture, Churchyards, Darjeeling, Gingerbread, Glamis, Gravestones, Photography, Scotland, Tea, Tearooms | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 32 Comments

A good day for gravestones

Needing a change of scene yesterday, I whisked delightful assistant no.1 off to the peaceful countryside of Angus.

It was a muggy sort of day, not cold, but not sunny; the sort of day when, if feeling slightly out of sorts or under the weather, refreshment could be gained from a slow amble around quiet places.

En route to a lunch stop, we were diverted by a nice little church with an interesting looking graveyard:

Carmyllie Parish Church, originally built in 1609 (various alterations and additions have been made since). Inside, there’s said to be a pew dating back to 1657 but the building was locked so we couldn’t get in to take a peek.

There were some splendid gravestones to be seen, several of which had an agricultural theme.

This one, as well as having the most impressive stone carved rope I think I’ve ever seen on a headstone, had the motto, “We plow in hope”:


Over 200 years old and still very clear.

Not all of the headstones were in quite such good nick, but this one from 1799 possessed unusual shaping across the top:


A headstone inspired by a bat? That’s what the little peaks at the top made me think of.

It also had an open pair of scissors  and what looked like an iron carved into one side. The burial spot of a tailor, perhaps?


I couldn’t make out a date on this next one, but I would guess it was erected in the late 1700s. It had some notable features:


Near the top there was a little sort of tableau featuring a lady in the centre with an angel or cherub on either side of her:


The little chap on the right appears to be flying, while the little chap on the left appears to be affecting a teapot-like pose.

I thought she was wearing a crown, and there certainly was something above her head that seemed to be the right sort of shape, but beneath that and encircling her head there was what could have been a halo. She was cradling an infant, although whether or not said infant also had a halo was hard to tell. This wasn’t a Roman Catholic graveyard and so I think it unlikely that the lady pictured was the Blessed Virgin, but perhaps she was, or maybe the headstone marked the burial place of a mother who died along with her small child. Unfortunately, I was unable to decipher the inscription beneath the picture.


In any case, she looked serene:


Some of the stones featured fancy swirls and flourishes, like the one on the left of the picture below:


And one was bedecked with magnificently carved foliage:


Fabulous foliage on a carved stone cross at Carmyllie Parish Church.

As it turned out, this was only the first of two fascinating graveyards visited yesterday.

If you think you can stomach another post along the same lines, tune in next time for several skulls and a host of cherubs.

Categories: Angus, Architecture, Carmyllie, Churchyards, Gravestones, Photography, Scotland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 36 Comments

Beyond Dull

Continuing on from my previous post, we arrived at the House of Menzies and tootled indoors out of the rain in search of a little luncheon.

From the outside of the building, which was constructed in the 1840s, the inside is perhaps something of a surprise.

Straight ahead was an open log fire, with jewellery and other gifts for sale beyond.

To the left there were more gifty things, and an area selling wines and whiskies:

To the right was the bit we were after, the cafe:

For our liquid refreshment, delightful assistant no.1 had orange and passionfruit juice, delightful assistant no.2 had Bundaberg ginger beer and I had my usual, a pot of tea.

Choosing from the tempting food menu was a little trickier but, after some deliberation, we settled on our options.

Delightful assistant no.1 had Caesar salad (with two different dressings very helpfully put into little dishes on the side, to allow her to choose which she wanted):

Delightful assistant no.2 went for a toasted panini with roasted vegetables:

And I had a curried lentil burger with spinach and tomato, which was jolly tasty:

After that we felt too full for puddings, but before we left delightful assistant no.2 reacquainted himself with one of House of Menzies’ prize attractions:

Having satisfied himself that all the little wooden trains were running nicely on their tracks, he joined us back in the car and we buzzed off in the direction of the scenic village of Kenmore, which sits at one end of Loch Tay.

As I was driving along a small road, a curious building by the roadside caught my eye. While the assistants stayed put in the warm car, I jumped out to take a closer look:

The house, which was uninhabited, appeared to have been abandoned some time ago.

Despite its somewhat neglected state, some interesting architectural details remained:

When I walked round to the back of the house, I found that part of the roof had caved in, and that the whole building was slowly becoming a part of the hillside.

This business of making a front porch out of tree trunks is something I associate with this part of Perthshire, and for some reason the trunks are usually painted red. I don’t think they’re always paired with such an interesting wooden roof structure though:

Dragging myself away from this fascinating little property, we drove on to Kenmore, where I left the delightful assistants dozing in the car while I nipped out to examine Kenmore Parish Church.

Unfortunately, the weather had turned rather grey. On a sunny day the war memorial in the foreground and the church with its lychgate and Loch Tay beyond makes for an attractive scene:

As I walked round the churchyard, I saw a small owl perched on a tree stump and thought it added a nice touch to the surroundings:

When I reached the doorway I was utterly delighted to find that the church was open for visitors.

The church building was built in 1760, although most of what you see inside today dates back to a renovation in 1870. The interior included some beautiful stained glass windows:

I can’t recall ever having seen anything quite like these in a church before, but in addition to the stained class there were two windows of etched glass:

One of the etched windows was dedicated to long-serving Elder of the Kirk, Duncan Miller, who was an engineer, farmer and fisherman, as well as being a member of the Royal Company of Archers (the Queen’s official bodyguard in Scotland). My favourite part of the window was a bit with some sheep (sheeeeeps!) on it:

Each church pew had its own unique pew cushion design, which I thought was a very pleasing situation:

Back out in the churchyard, as well as the owl mentioned previously, I found another bird. The headstone told a sad story, but somehow the little puffin warmed my heart:

When I finally joined the patient assistants back in the car (both of whom had apparently enjoyed a relaxing snooze in my absence), we agreed to head for home.

Our lunch having settled, we felt we might have room for a little something on the way, and so we called in at the Allium Garden Centre in Ballinluig for a pit stop.

Just as I was starting to photograph our afternoon tea treats my camera battery died. I took a few pictures with my phone camera, but they look very small on the screen and, not being a technical wizard or any sort, I have no idea how to enlarge them.

I wasn’t going to have any cake, since it was getting close to dinner time and all I really wanted was a drink (an extremely good decaf cappuccino, as it turned out), but the assistants both chose a sweet treat. Delightful assistant no.2 had a surprisingly tasty chocolate oaty nutty traybake composition and delightful assistant no.1 asked for a piece of the lemon drizzle cake.

When the waitress brought our orders over, she brought two plates with lemon drizzle cake on, one of which was a smaller slice. She explained that once she’d cut a portion from what remained of the large lemon drizzle cake for delightful assistant no.1, there was just this wee bit left which was too small to serve as a portion. In the circumstances, she generously decided to give it to us as a free extra.

I’m not saying it tasted better for being free, but it was an exceptionally good piece of cake, very lemony and a highly satisfactory end to the day’s outing.

Categories: Architecture, Cake, Churchyards, Kenmore, Perthshire, Photography, Scotland, Sheep, Tea, Tearooms | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 34 Comments

Dull and Boring

This time last year there was an interesting piece in the Scottish news about the small village of Dull in Perthshire.

The story concerned the village of Dull forging a link with the equally uninspiringly named town of Boring in Oregon, USA.

Along with everyone else, I thought this a splendid idea. When I heard that signs had been erected outside Dull to highlight this pairing I was keen to see them.

It took me a while to get round to doing this, but a few days ago I bundled the delightful assistants into my car and we sped off towards Dull, which lies in a quiet and pretty part of rural Perthshire.

It was about an hour’s drive away, which would have been achieveable in a oner if it weren’t for the fact that it was late morning before we left. In need of sustenance, we stopped en route at one of my favourite tearooms, Legends of Grandtully:

I’ve written about this place before (here) and have already gone on about the exquisite hot chocolate available, but I can’t resist giving it another mention.

As you might have noticed from the sign, Legends is attached to a chocolate centre. If you are remotely interested in chocolate, this is a most appealing prospect.

When we visited the other day I ordered one of their chocolate beverages – the very potent espresso sized hot chocolate ganache, which came topped with a sprinkling of unsweetened cocoa that I found to be a highly satisfactory addition:

If you read my previous post about Mallorca you might recall that it featured another rather spectacular hot chocolate. This one at Legends was similar, and Legends is the only place I’ve found in Scotland that serves up this style of hot chocolate.

I know I mustn’t bang on about it too much because this post is supposed to be about Dull and Boring, but before I leave the subject here’s a close-up of the chocolate’s surface, wrinkled by a teaspoon to demonstrate how thick and glossy it was:


Delightful assistant no.1 had coffee, delightful assistant no.2 had peppermint tea (the first time he had ever ordered such a herbal beverage in a tearoom), and we all shared a large fruit scone. That might sound a bit feeble, sharing a fruit scone between three, but it was very substantial and to be honest I was rather preoccupied with my hot chocolate; I ate a bit just to be sociable.

From Legends, we drove on, feeling replete and excited about Dull.

When we reached the outer limits of the village, lo and behold, there was the promised sign:

The village of Dull is bypassed by the main road, but if you turn off at the next right after this sign, you can drive along the narrow crescent-shaped loop that takes you through the village itself.

Despite having driven along the main road plenty of times before, to our knowledge none of us had ever taken the little detour through the village, so it was a new experience.

It was very quiet and I thought it had a pleasant atmosphere.

There was an old stone church that I fancied having a closer look at, so we parked next to it and delightful assistant no.2 and myself took a wander through the graveyard. Delightful assistant no.1 has been having a bit of bother with her hip and so she stayed in the car, enjoying the warmth of the sun coming in through the windows.

As with most little churches I try to get into on weekdays, this one was locked, and I’ve since discovered that it hasn’t been used as a church since the 1970s.

It was built on the site of an early Christian monastery and slabs dating back to the 7th and 8th centuries were found in the graveyard during grave-digging in the 19th century. One particularly fine example displaying horsemen is now on display in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

I don’t know if this particular bit of stone (below) has any significance, but someone has gone to a bit of trouble to secure it to the bottom of an outside wall of the building:

There was also a large font sitting next to the front door, which I neglected to photograph, but it’s also thought to be a relic from Pictish times. If that’s the case, it could be 1200 (or more) years old and it’s just sitting there full of water in a disused churchyard, slowly being weathered away by the elements.

Not far from the churchyard, sitting unobtrusively next to a holly tree just outside someone’s garden, there was a big stone cross penned in by a metal fence.

Having read a bit about Dull since visiting it, I wonder if this is one of the Pictish relics that was found in the churchyard. Strangely, although it’s been deliberately protected by the fence, there’s no indication of what it is or why it’s sitting there. I can’t help thinking a sign should be put up to explain its presence.

Another curious sight in Dull was a brightly painted church building just up the hill a bit from the old stone church. I walked up to have a look at it and felt very much as if I were in Iceland or Norway.

Far from being used for public worship, it appeared to be a private residence with a locked gate at the end of its driveway:

The rain was coming on by the time I took the above photo, and our third-of-a-scone each had worn off, so we hot-footed it to nearby eatery, the House of Menzies, which is housed in a refurbished mid-19th century farm building:

I’m worried that this post is going to become ferociously long, because I still have some other places to add to our day out, so I’ll call a brief halt here and take up the tale in my next post.

Tune in next time for a tasty luncheon!

Categories: Architecture, Chocolate, Churchyards, Cocoa, Dull, Hot chocolate, Perthshire, Photography, Scone, Scotland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 48 Comments

Graveyard Mooching

The weather of late in my part of the world has been somewhat damp, cold and a bit on the miserable side.

My view may be coloured by being laid low by a winter bug (which, I must admit,  isn’t too bad, just a little tiresome on the sore throat front), but on the up side, it’s the perfect sort of weather for wrapping up warmly and mooching around graveyards.

As it happens, the graveyard I mooched around the other day was, for a few moments, bathed in late afternoon sunshine.

This is the entrance to the church and graveyard of Bendochy Parish Church, just outside the Perthshire town of Blairgowrie. The bell apparently dates to 1608:

Bendochy Parish Church

The eagle-eyed might have spotted a curious stone lump to the left of the entrance arch. This is, I believe, a cheese press, although what it’s doing outside the church gates I have no idea:

Bendochy cheese press

Inside the churchyard there are quite a few headstones dating back to the 17th and 18th Centuries.

Some of them have fallen over and a few others, that are in the process of falling over, have yellow and black tape on them to warn visitors that they might fall over at any minute. Most of them, however are hanging in there even if looking slightly unstable, as in the case of this one on legs:

Gravestone on legs

One that particularly interested me had a carving of what looked to me at first glance like a robot. On closer inspection I saw that it was a skeleton with some sort of yoke across its shoulders, possibly with buckets hanging down on either side (they seem too long to be the arms).

I don’t know if there’s any religious significance to this, something to do with taking water into the afterlife in order to dowse the flames of hell perhaps? Seems a bit of an assumption on the part of the person commissioning the stone, if that’s the case.


Another stone that caught my eye had rather an unusual shape and what looked to me like a jolly sort of skull wearing a bowler hat:

Jolly bowler-hatted skull

Headstones these days seem to me to lack the variety of shapes of those from past centuries. You do get some interesting design features, such as the ones I wrote about here, but on the whole the headstone nowadays is almost always a basic slab of stone, sticking up from a flat base.

I was quite taken by this one at Bendochy, made to look like a pile of stones with a scroll at the front. I think it shows a bit of artistry on the part of the designer, not to say skill on the part of the carver:

Artistry in stonemasonry

A combination of textures in a headstone

The forecast for the next couple of days here is for colder weather and snow showers. We’ve been very lucky with the weather this winter so far, with very little snow, which is just the way I like it.

Thankfully, I’m stocked up for cossetting myself indoors, with what remains of kind donations of chocolate received from wellwishers at Christmas:


Categories: Architecture, Bendochy, Blairgowrie, Chocolate, Churchyards, Dark Chocolate, Hat, Perthshire, Photography, Scotland | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 40 Comments

Collessie: a hidden gem

After taking tea in Cupar the other day, my delightful assistant and I stumbled upon an attractive and interesting little hamlet, tucked away off a main road.

I was driving through it, slowly taking in its charm but not particularly intending to stop (the weather wasn’t terribly pleasant), when I saw something that isn’t very common in Scotland – a house with a thatched roof:

Thatched roof in Collessie

They do pop up here and there, but I think of this style of roofing as more of an English thing.

First I spotted the one above, and then I saw another:

Another thatched roof in Collessie

I don’t know if Collessie has ever been used as a location for films or TV dramas but I think it definitely has potential.


It even has a little stream running under the road:

Collessie burn

There are some interesting old buildings, including this one which has tiny high up windows and a collection of pots, sticks and ornaments outside. It also has a thatched roof:

Interesting building in Collessie

The delightful assistant thought that Collessie could be listed on this blog as an Intriguing Sight, and we were certainly intrigued by the white dome-shaped structure below, which had logs stored in the lower part. I wondered if it might be an oven of some sort:

Curious domed structure

I don’t know quite why I find this next point so satisfying, but it gladdens my heart when I see buildings that can be accessed at different levels front and back:

Different levels in Collessie

We were walking up a little hill through Collessie, at the top of which stood a fine looking church. The churchyard dates back to the 12th century, although the present church was constructed in 1838. Apparently, this building was built because the previous one had started to sink into the graveyard, causing a dampness that was disagreeable to the congregation.

Collessie Kirk

Rather curiously, the churchyard wall had a yellow building stuck into it:

Sir James Melville's tomb

A plaque on the wall next to it declared the yellow building to be the tomb of Sir James Melville (1535-1617) and described him as “a distinguished soldier, courtier and diplomat during the 16th century”. At the age of 14 he was sent to France to attend a young Mary Queen of Scots, later serving both her and her son, James VI, in Scotland.

Sir James Melville plaque

I did try to enter the tomb but the door was locked. I know you can’t generally get inside graves and coffins, but somehow the idea of him being locked inside that building seemed a bit sinister to me.

The locked tomb

We didn’t spend much time in the graveyard, because it was rather chilly, but I did notice one particular gravestone. The white lichen on some of the petals and the yellow on the stamens seemed fittingly positioned:

Lichen on gravestone

If you ever happen to be driving along the A91 between Cupar and Auchtermuchty, I recommend the slight detour that takes you through the delightful hamlet of Collessie.

The detour also takes you past another church, Monimail Parish, just along the road from Collessie. Although, as with Collessie, we couldn’t get into the building itself, we walked all round the church at Monimail and noted that it was very well cared for. Every door was painted in black gloss and all the handles and lock plates were neatly touched up in gold paint.

Monimail Parish Church painted nicely

Monimail Parish Church

Categories: Architecture, Churchyards, Collessie, Famous Scots, Fife, Inspiration, Photography, Scotland, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 52 Comments

A new book

Having published my first tearoom guidebook a couple of weeks ago, I’ve been feeling a bit lost.

It was great to get the book published after writing it, but there was a feeling of deflation once it had rolled off the presses. I’ve spent the past two weeks distributing and selling it (which I don’t find easy, or particularly pleasant) and now I want to get back to writing again.

I fully intend to continue my series of Tearoom Delights, but after spending 6 months on the first one, I feel I’d like to do something a bit different before the next one.

I’d been puzzling over this, wondering what to write next, when I had the idea of writing a travel book.

The book, as it’s shaping up so far (I’ve only written the introduction and the first chapter) is a bit about tearooms and a bit about other things that interest me on my little outings hither and thither. It’s rather like this blog I suppose, but without the supporting photographs, so I’ll be relying on descriptive text more than I do with my blog.

I’m a big fan of armchair travelling, letting someone else go and see places and report back through the pages of a book, although admittedly such books are usually full of thrills and spills, hardship and endurance, and a dearth of reliable cups of tea.

The sort of travel book I’m writing is slightly different from that, considerably less alarming and eventful, and quite possibly more dull.

Is there a market for this sort of book? I have no idea, but then I had no idea if there was much of a market for a guidebook to tearooms and I wrote it anyway. Sometimes, when something grabs you, you feel compelled to run with it, whether or not it looks like a good idea to anyone else. This has, admittedly, been my downfall on many occasions, but my thinking is that if you don’t try, you’ll never know.

Chapter 1 is all about Aberdour, a village in the Kingdom of Fife that boasts many interesting attractions, including one of the oldest castles in Scotland, one of the oldest churches in Scotland, and a prize-winning railway station. Here are a few pictures to give a taste of the place.

St Fillan’s Church, dating back to 1123:

Inside the church:

The lovely lane leading to the church from the street:

An exquisite bit of stone carving on one of the many interesting headstones in St Fillan’s graveyard:

An impessive beehive-shaped dovecot in the garden of Aberdour Castle:

What’s left of Aberdour Castle, the oldest parts dating back to the 12th Century. The big chunk in the foreground fell off at some point:

The most complete part of the castle:

One of the beautifully kept platforms at Aberdour railway station:

A street leading down to the beach:

Stormy clouds over the Black Sands of Aberdour (the more well-known Silver Sands are just around the coast from here):

Categories: Architecture, Churchyards, Fife, Gardens, Guide to tearooms, Photography, Scotland, Tearooms, Travel, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 45 Comments

An unusual graveyard

While out and about on my tearoom travels, if I see an interesting looking graveyard, I find it very difficult to pass by without taking a look. I don’t know why I, and so many other people, find graveyards fascinating, but they do have a strange appeal.

During various conversations with my dear parents over the past year or so, on more than one occasion they had mentioned a graveyard just outside the Angus village of Edzell. Although I have visited Edzell quite a few times over the years (it has an excellent tearoom), up until recently I had never seen this graveyard. It’s on a little country road that I had never been along before, and I had been thinking for a while that I must make a deliberate effort to go and visit it.

Last week I got round to it.

It was a beautiful sunny day, and I had delightful assistant no.1 with me as my guide.

One of the first things I noticed on entering the gate was a rain butt with a kettle on top of it:

There being no way of heating the water, I suspect this kettle was placed there to be used as a watering can for flowers, rather than as a container for making tea (a pity – a small, discreet tearoom might have enchanced this already attractive graveyard).

I had no idea that this graveyard would hold so many firsts for me. As far as I can recall, I had never seen a rain butt with a kettle in a graveyard before.

I don’t think I had ever seen a headstone fashioned out of iron, either:

Nor had I seen a gravestone made of cobbled together lumps of rock:

As is often the case, the older gravestones were mostly grouped together in the main section of the graveyard, while newer ones inhabited a different area. This was one of the older ones, displaying some beautiful stone carvings:

It was interesting to compare the old method of decoration with its modern day equivalent:

There were quite a few headstones sporting photographs, which is certainly something I’ve seen elsewhere, but in keeping with the other oddities aforementioned, this new area also held some surprises.

I don’t know if it’s clear in this picture, but this one had a sort of bas-relief image carved into the top, which is something I don’t remember ever seeing before:

And this one had the same sort of thing coloured in:

I liked this one with the curly ‘W’ at the top and the little anvil at the bottom, a fitting headstone for a blacksmith:

Looking at all these different gravestones, I began to wonder if I should consider designing my own, and felt a slight sense of panic that I hadn’t given it any thought up till that point.

I asked my delightful assistant if she’d considered what she’d like on a gravestone and she said she hadn’t, but she knew where she’d like to be put (cremated and then scattered in the graveyards of two little churches in Scotland’s south-west where she’s enjoyed many lovely holidays) (the holidays weren’t mainly spent in the graveyards, just to be clear). A bench seat in one of her favourite gardens would seem very fitting, too.

My father, being the extremely well organised sort of chap that he is, has already given his own demise some considerable thought. He is very keen to be donated to medical science, and has even written to Dundee University to register his desire to be put to good use. He lodged a copy of the forms he had to fill in for this with his lawyer, who warned him that there was a possibility the University might not be able to take him if they happened to be (to quote him verbatim) ‘awash with bodies’ at the time of death. In that event, however, I believe it is possible to contact another university instead. I’m not entirely sure how the body gets to the university, but I hope they have some sort of collection arrangement.

It’s a bit morbid this, isn’t it? Sorry about that, I do hope I haven’t offended anyone.

Back to the gravestones, my assistant and I were particularly interested in this one:

It wasn’t so much the headstone that caught our attention, as the jam jars at the foot of the stone. One of them contained a very cheerful looking teddy bear:

Two other jars contained letters, written by young members of the family:

One of the letters was very clear to read, and I hope the people concerned won’t mind me quoting it, but it seems such an excellent way of helping children to deal with death:

“To Uncle Berty, Granny Edzell, Grandad Edzell, I’m 14 now, Sarah is 3. We have been travelling over Edzell today – exploring all the rivers and skimming stones where my dad played when he was little. Hope you are all getting on fine up in the clouds and staying healthy. Lots of love from all the family.”

Reading that letter and sitting quietly next to that gravestone gave me a great sense of peace and contentment, and I thought how lovely it was that this granddaughter had written a letter to her dearly departed relatives, remembering them and wanting to share her news with them.

The grandparents I knew best are buried in a graveyard in Edinburgh and it’s many years since I went to their grave. I’ve only been there a few times and found it a bit upsetting, but perhaps if I’d visited it more often I might feel more at peace with it. Somehow, when I saw their names on the stone, it seemed cold and very final.

I think if I was planning this for myself, I would prefer a little plaque attached to a park bench. Then, anyone wanting to come and visit me would have somewhere to sit and have a wee chat (and perhaps a nice cup of tea, that would be ideal), and hopefully there would be a lovely peaceful view for them to enjoy while they sat there.

I wouldn’t particularly want to be buried in Edzell, since I have no real connection with the place, but as graveyards go, if I was going to be interred in one, I could do a lot worse:

Categories: Angus, Architecture, Churchyards, Edzell, Gardens, Photography, Scotland, Tea, Tearooms | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 43 Comments

Sunny St Fillans by the Loch

Scotland has a lot of lochs (‘loch’ is Gaelic for ‘lake’).  I’m not sure what the most famous one would be, perhaps Loch Lomond, or Loch Ness, but there are lots of others worth a peep, and one of those is Loch Earn in Perthshire.

As is the case with many of Scotland’s lochs, Loch Earn is long and narrow, and jolly nice for bobbing about on in a kayak, or just gazing at from the shore.

At the eastern end of Loch Earn lies the pretty village of St Fillans. That’s it over there, on the other side from where I was standing taking this photo:

One day not so long ago, my delightful assistant and I trotted off to St Fillans for a lochside stroll, followed by luncheon in the wonderfully relaxing Four Seasons Hotel.

It was getting on for 2.30pm by the time we rolled up for lunch (I’m relieved to report that we had stopped for tea and scones en route) and they’d stopped serving their full menu in the restaurant. They were pleased, however, to offer us sandwiches in the bar area instead, which suited us very well, especially as we had it all to ourselves:

I chose a cheese and chutney sandwich, which came with crisps and a few interesting little leaves. I forget now what my glamorous assistant had, and appear not to have any photographic evidence, but she also had a sandwich of some sort.

Usually, in a hotel in a small place like this, I might expect there to be one or two types of black tea, and maybe a selection of fruit teas, but I was very pleasantly surprised by the Four Seasons menu:

My assistant opted for the Mysore rich coffee (which came in a large cafetiere containing five cupfuls), and I had Lapsang Souchong tea (which came with enough hot water for five cupfuls – 10 hot beverages between the two of us!), with a couple of pieces of home-made shortbread on the side. We sat there, very contentedly, enjoying the restful calm of the hotel bar and delighting in the splendid view from our window seats:

On our way out of the hotel, we passed the hotel’s interesting lounge:

While driving through the village to the hotel, we had noticed an attractive looking church. I wasn’t really expecting it to be open, but fancied a closer look all the same:

I don’t seem to have a record of the name of this church, I did a quick Google search but couldn’t find it.

To make up for this lack of information, I’ll relate an interesting bit of recent history about the village of St Fillans.

In November 2005, a builder began creating a housing development at the east end of the village. His plans meant disturbing a big lump of rock that, according to legend, was home to fairies. The locals did not want him upsetting their fairy community, and persuaded the builder to change his plans in order to leave the rock alone. The rock now forms the centrepiece of a little park in the middle of the building development, and the fairies are – so I’m told – happily still in situ.

As it happens, the church was, to my great delight, open for viewing. It was quite plain inside, but very restful:

There were a number of bibles on the pews and I flicked open the cover of this one, perhaps because it was unusually imprinted with the name of a well-known Scottish regiment:

Inside the front cover there was a letter, dated 11 February 1946, to a Major Stewart. The first couple of paragraphs read: ” I hope you will not mind my taking the liberty of sending you the 6th BW Bible for custody.  For security reasons I was advised to leave it at home when we sailed for North Africa! Many a time its larger print would have been useful for lesson-reading in the odd and sometimes dark places in which we worshipped.”

After an enjoyable time soaking up the ecclesiastical atmosphere, we stepped out into the sunshine again, and the view of knobbly hills across the loch from the church steps:

If you happen to be passing through this bit of the country (and it is quite a popular tourist area being near The Trossachs National Park) I can recommend a detour through St Fillans.

Categories: Architecture, Churchyards, Coffee, Perthshire, Photography, Scotland, Tea | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 53 Comments

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