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Posts Tagged ‘Castle’

One of the things that repeatedly surprises me about Scotland is the number of fascinating little out of the way villages there are, sitting quietly waiting to be discovered.

The county of Fife is full of such places, and yesterday I took the delightful assistants out for a seaside adventure in search of one.

Anyone who knows the Fife coast well might already be familiar with the village of West Wemyss (pronounced Weems), but it’s the sort of place you could easily miss, being at the end of a road that leads to West Wemyss and nowhere else.

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The village of West Wemyss, nestling on the Fife coast at the end of the road.

We parked in a free car park by the harbour, overlooked by some commanding buildings complete with pantiled roofs very typical of Fife coastal villages.

The cream coloured building is called the Belvedere, and was built in 1927 to serve as a miner’s institute and reading room. I would have liked to have gone inside and had a look for the books, but alas it was all closed up.

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The village of West Wemyss was a planned community, built by the landed gentry of the Wemyss Estate to house their workers.

Despite still having a few grand buildings the current village has a popluation of around 240 and I don’t imagine that these days many of them have work within West Wemyss itself.

The Wemyss family have lived in this area since around the 12th Century and in 1421 Sir John Wemyss built Wemyss Castle, which is now in a state of some disrepair.

The castle lies a short distance along the bay from the main part of the village.

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Wemyss Castle hiding behind trees and a most curious wall which, viewed from afar, I thought was a long arched bridge.

I’m sure there’s a lot of interesting history attached to Wemyss Castle, far more than I’ve been able to find with a quick online search, but I did learn that much of the Wemyss family wealth was built on coal mining. I also discovered that in 1565 Mary Queen of Scots first met Lord Darnley (the chap who was to become her second husband) at Wemyss Castle.

As we walked past the castle we noticed that close to shore in the bay, stretched out on rocks, were a few fat seals.

I believe that both grey and common (or harbour) seals are found in the Firth of Forth and I really don’t know which these were, but they were satisfyingly plump and shiny.

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Fat seals.

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Is a shiny seal a healthy seal? I like to think so.

Just inland from the seals was a row of large concrete blocks: tank defences put there during the second world war to stop the Jerries from climbing aboard our shores.

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Between the castle and the village, stuck onto an old bit of wall, were some mosaics, including one depicting two swans:

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Swan mosaics stuck onto an old bit of wall by the coast.

There was a snazzy mosaic door, too, which didn’t seem to lead anywhere but looked very pretty.

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Lovely mosaic door stuck into an old wall.

A plaque informed us that this artwork had come about as a collaboration between three local artists and the nearby primary school at Coaltown of Wemyss (another village along the coast). The project was supported by Fife Council and included a little picnic area:

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A view that delightful assistant no.2 claims brings sorrow to his very soul – a picnic area with no picnic in sight.

Constructed in 1512, West Wemyss harbour lies at the west end of the village.

In the old days it was an important port for ships carrying coal and salt (and, somewhat unfortunately in 1590, the plague, which spread from here throughout Fife wiping out a good many of the inhabitants).

These days it provides shelter for a few fishing and pleasure craft:

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West Wemyss harbour.

Next to the harbour we spotted a beautifully weathered building with a few bricks set into the surrounding stonework. It looked to me like a work of art.

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Interesting textures created by wind and weather, nicely contrasting with a bit of brickwork.

Having enjoyed a bracing walk along the coast with a cold wind blowing rain into our faces, we were ready for sustenance and plunged into the West Wemyss Walk Inn Cafe.

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The West Wemyss Walk Inn – the cafe inside is run by a combination of paid staff and volunteers, and jolly good it is, too.

It was lovely to get inside out of the wind and rain, and settle down in the warm cafe to peruse the menu.

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Inside the West Wemyss Walk Inn Cafe – cosy and welcoming.

I opted for the soup of the day, which was cream of tomato and came with a roll and – delightfully – a cheese and chilli stick covered in sesame seeds:

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Outstandingly good soup with bready snacks on the side.

Not having been there before I wasn’t sure what to expect, but am delighted to report that it was exceptionally good soup and a very nice little stick and roll. The soup tasted of fresh tomatoes and cream, it was thick and delicious and, I’m quite sure, the best tomato soup I’ve ever tasted.

Delightful assistant no.1 went for fish and chips, which came with a side order of bread and butter.

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Battered fish with chips, peas, bread and butter. Carbohydrates covered.

Delightful assistant no.2 chose one of his favourite toasted sandwiches, a brie and cranberry panini, which came with a fresh side salad and a few crisps:

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Brie and cranberry panini with salad and crisps.

We all had tea to drink, and a free refill of the teapot. Everything we had was just the job to warm us up and make us feel contented.

The cakes on offer were freshly baked in the kitchen upstairs and looked very tempting, but we all felt too full to have anything straight after our savouries, so we’ll save that treat for another occasion.

On the windowsill next to where I was sitting there was a small Christmas tree made from driftwood and decorated with fairy lights.

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Driftwood tree at West Wemyss Walk Inn Cafe.

Behind the tree there was a framed certificate that made me happy; it declared that in 2013 West Wemyss had won a Silver award in Beautiful Scotland’s ‘Wee Village’ category.

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An award in the Wee Village category for the West Wemyss Bloomers, 2013.

I’m not surprised that West Wemyss has won such an award and I intend to revist later in the year when there are more blooms to be seen. Even on a dull, damp January day there were bright colours dotted about to cheer us up and make us glad we’d taken the little dead end road down to the coast.

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Bright colours to cheer a dull day in West Wemyss.

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To celebrate the new year, I thought I’d start a series on Intriguing Sights – things that, for some reason or other, have grabbed my attention when out and about.

Intriguing Sight No.1 is a postbox, and I expect other postboxes will pop up in due course because they often take my fancy.

Intriguing Postbox No.1

One of the strange things about this postbox is that it has a little door next to it. I opened the door to see if it led to the inside of the postbox, but no, behind the door lies a small enclosed cubby hole – dark, dank and littered with feathers, rubbish and the like. As you can see, it has a somewhat elaborate hinge and closing mechanism, but I couldn’t get it to shut tight.

I can only imagine that the cubby hole is there to accommodate parcels or letters too big for the postbox mouth, although the fact that the door doesn’t close properly makes me wonder if anyone would dare to leave a parcel in there. If parcels or large letters are seldom left in the cubby hole, does the postie collecting the mail from this box always check it? I think the only way to find out would be to conceal myself in nearby undergrowth around the time of collection and observe what goes on.

Another curious thing about this postbox is its location, down at ground level next to a quiet junction in the peaceful Angus countryside:

Junction next to Intriguing Postbox No.1

In the above picture a signpost points to Balintore.

If you go up that road you’ll find what could certainly be described as another Intriguing Sight, and which should probably have its own post. I feel sure I’ve taken photographs of it before but I can’t find them, so I’ve found a splendid one online instead (below).

This spooky pile is called Balintore Castle and it was built as a sporting lodge in the mid 1800s. It was abandoned by its then owners in the 1960s, with dry rot and a crumbling structure, and lay empty for about 40 years, until Angus Council bought it. It is currently under restoration by a chap called David, who’s doing it up in a long and no doubt exceptionally trying effort to get it back into use as a dwelling place. (If you click on his name you’ll be taken to the blog he’s writing about his progress.)

image by ClanUrbex on Flickr

image by ClanUrbex on Flickr

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The small Perthshire town of Blairgowrie sits among rolling hills and farmland in the Vale of Strathmore.

The streets of the town slope upwards towards the north-west, and if you continue walking in this direction beyond the limit of houses, you soon reach the top of a small grassy hill called The Knockie.

The Knockie, being only a few minutes’ trot from where I live, provides an easily accesible bit of fresh air and exercise for someone who spends far too much time sitting at a desk. I try to get out for a little walk most days of the week and yesterday, thinking it was too long since I last did it, I felt inspired to go and look at the views from The Knockie.

The track up the hill is often very muddy, but is apparently being upgraded and will soon be covered in stones. I think it has a nicely old-fashioned look, bounded by lovely dry stone walls covered in moss:

When you reach the top of the hill, you can read a ghost story on a board:

The story concerns a Lady Jean Drummond, who lived at nearby Newton Castle around the 13th century. She fell in love with a chap from a neighbouring castle, but the two families were at war with one another over land rights, and any sort of romance was out of the question. Heartbroken, Lady Jean is said to have wandered out into the marshes, never to return. Her ghost, dressed in green silk, currently divides her time betwen the two castles, ever pining for her lost love.

A wooden seat has been thoughtfully provided so that you can sit and contemplate this tragic tale:

Yesterday was not the brightest of days, but on the other side of the hill from Blairgowrie there are good views of the surrounding countryside, and the distant Grampian mountains:

The track on the other side of the hill has a much better surface, being covered in tarmac for some of the way, and there are more mossy walls:

We’ve had a fair bit of stormy weather here lately, and I passed some trees that had not only been uprooted, but had taken the ground with them. I thought it looked as if a giant had come along and lifted up the carpet:

As I rounded The Knockie, the setting sun broke through the clouds casting a warm glow on the hillside to the east:

Over towards the west, the sky seemed to be on fire:

The atmosphere was hazy, but the lighting created this silhouette of a horse on the horizon:

By the time I got home, I felt I’d earned a small snackerel:

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It used to be that even if everything else was closed, you could always get into a church. I tried to get into three different churches on Thursday and was spectacularly unsuccessful in my endeavours.

These days, it seems, you have to save up all your church-going for a Sunday, which could make it a jolly busy, not to say organisationally complex, day. I’m not sure how early churches open their doors on a Sunday, but I don’t imagine it’s much before the start of the service, and once you’re in there and other people start arriving, it could be rather awkward to get up and leave in order to get to the next one before its service starts. The courteous thing would be to sit through an entire service in each church, but since they tend to have their services around the same time it could be extremely difficult to visit three in one day.

I can get into my local Buddhist temple any time I like, 7 days a week. Come on Christians, rally round and let the heathens in!

Anyway, before I knew I was going to be stumped at every turn, I set out with a happy heart and my delightful assistant by my side, for one of my favourite local tearooms. I was going to need energy for all this church visiting and how better to stoke up the boiler than with a big pot of leaf tea and an exemplary fruit scone.

Crisp on the outside:

Soft and fluffy on the inside:

Quite superb. And so, very satisfyingly fuelled up, off we popped to church number 1.

Our first church of the day was Trinity Gask Parish Church, “a simple rectangular structure dating from around 1770″ (quote from the website you find if you click on the church name). There was a nice stained glass window at one end of the building and I tried peering in the windows along the sides but I couldn’t see it from that angle. It did seem to have some fine old wooden church pews, but it was too dark for me to take a photo of them.

Nice yew tree, very menacing in the dark if you happened to be creeping amongst the gravestones on a stormy night. (Branch cracks, owl hoots, muscles tense, heart rate quickens….is there someone behind you?)

Having failed to get into church number 1, we had a bash at church number 2, which seemed a much more likely candidate. This was St Serf’s Parish Church at Dunning. It dates back to the 13th Century and is looked after by Historic Scotland, who apparently open it to visitors during the week in the summer months.

St Serf’s is home to the Dupplin Cross, a piece of carved stonework from 800 AD and one of only a few surviving complete free-standing early Medieval crosses in Scotland. I would like to take a peep at it some time, but on this occasion I had to make do with a view of the outside of the church. Workmen warned us that the building was unsafe and so we weren’t to go in, even though the door was invitingly open.

Church number 3 was, I think, my favourite (it’s got crow-stepped gabling).

Here we have Tullibardine Chapel, another one under the care of Historic Scotland, only I’m not sure you can ever get into this one. I have a feeling I visited years ago and just walked straight in on a week day, but I may be imagining things. Tullibardine Chapel dates from 1446, when it was built by the family who inhabited Tullibardine Castle a couple of miles away, but sadly the castle is no longer in existence.

The windows were very small, but the stonework was beautiful.

There were a number of gravestones dotted about around the chapel, some of which were lying on the ground and being cosied up to by moss:

There were some delightful carvings too:

Having failed dismally to get inside three churches, it was high time for a spot of luncheon. Off we tootled to nearby Auchterarder and, instead of a tearoom, went to a restaurant.

We ordered salads, which I’m sorry to say were a bit woebegone, but the tea was excellent. There was a whole tea menu which included some interesting green teas and I plumped for one called Sencha, described in the menu thus: “steamed green tea steeps a pale and delicate liquor with just a hint of dew covered meadows and roasted chestnuts” I think it was the dew covered meadows that reeled me in.

It was nicely presented on a wooden tray containing the teapot, a teacup and a little dish for the teabag, which also had the teabag’s empty packaging on it. Note the leaf sticking out of a hole in the teapot lid:

The teabag itself was pyramidal and was attached to a small cardboard leaf on a wire.

After lunch I did wonder about trying another church nearby, but decided I’d had enough of organised religion for one day.

My dad has come up with a brilliant idea. All these churches are sitting idle 6 days a week, not allowing anyone in to see their glorious interiors and only raking in the shekels on a Sunday. In the excellent tradition of perfect partners it seems these churches have missed a trick. If they had tearooms attached to them, they could make a bit of money from selling tea and cakes during the week and also keep their doors open for visitors to wander round. I assume that the reason most of them remain closed is to avoid vandalism when there’s no-one about. A tearoom next-door would surely solve this problem, while at the same time producing a bit of profit for church upkeep, providing employment and raising the profile of the church itself.

There is in fact a Tibetan Tearoom next to the Buddhist temple I mentioned earlier and so, rather surprisingly, the Buddhists are already a step ahead of the Christians when it comes to getting money out of tourists in Scotland. I think it’s high time we made more of our beautiful country churches, and a church with a tearoom would be a match made in heaven.

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