Friday, 1 August 2014

The Scottish Borders: Touring Scotland with Ciara Ballintyne

We’ve made it. Scotland. Ah, breathe in that air.

We never made it as far south as the Scottish Borders last time – Glasgow was as far south as we went – so this is completely new territory for me. We’ve just driven three hours from York, and I expect the kids are restless, so we’ll probably stay somewhere in the Borders overnight, do some sight-seeing, and then push on to our temporary home in the Trossachs tomorrow.

Melrose Abbey

Apparently this is the most famous in ruin in Scotland – and yet I never heard of until this year, when my hairdresser urged me to visit.

Apparently what’s remarkable about the abbey is an elegance not found elsewhere in Scotland. It was built in 1136, and then largely destroyed by the army of King Richard II in 1385. That's 249 years – well, it stood for longer than Australia has yet existed! It must have been rebuilt at some stage, as the present surviving ruins are actually from the 15th century.

The exterior of the church is unusual for its collection of statuary, including – wait for it – a bagpipe playing pig! Other sculptures include hobgoblins (right down my alley) and cooks with ladles…. Hmm.

Supposedly the heart of Robert the Bruce (he of Braveheart fame and King Robert I of Scotland) is buried at the abbey. This is marked with a carved stone plaque. Why only his heart?

Caerlaverock Castle

If you’ve been following this blog for any time you know that Caisteal Aingeal an Bhais, the castle from my novel In the Company of the Dead (release date unknown) was substantially inspired by Caerlaverock Castle. How could I be in the vicinity and not visit?

The name of this castle may mean ‘fort of the skylark’ and what’s most remarkable about the castle is its triangular design. I’d love to know why it was built this way, but the reason is lost to history. It features three defensive walls of pink limestone joined at each corner by a tower. The north tower is in fact a double-towered gatehouse, and originally housed the lord’s personal suite until the construction of the Nithsdale Lodging in 1630.

Caerlaverock had its fair share of sieges but had two of particular significance. In the first, King Edward I himself besieged the castle. The castle surrendered after only two days – but famously held out for that period with only 60 defenders against an army of 3000.

The other siege of note was Caerlaverock’s last. After holding off besiegers for 13 weeks in 1640, the castle was looted and stripped and the southern wall destroyed.

Walking these ruins will be like stepping into my own book!

Touring Scotland with Ciara Ballintyne


Ciara Ballintyne is visiting Scotland in 2016 - join her on a virtual tour of Scotland and other parts of Great Britain as she plans her trip. Somewhere you think she should go or stay? Please comment!

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