Karen (aswanargent) wrote,

Karen and Tavi's Scotland Travel Adventures Chapter 08: Perthshire

Do your eyes deceive you?? No, it is finally Chapter 8 of Karen and Tavi's Scotland Adventures!

Previous Chapters of the Travel Diary:
Chapter One: Stonehaven: the cliffs, the old town, and harbour
Chapter Two: Fetteresso Part I: Into the countryside for barley, bullocks, and barbed wire...
Chapter Three:Fetteresso Part II: Bronze age cairns, Home Farm, and tree climbing!
Chapter Four:Kirkton Village and the Ceilidh: gothic graves, little schoolhouses, and Scottish Country Dancing!
Chapter Five:St Andrews: stone colleges, deathly harbour walks, truffles, and Latin recitations...
Chapter Six:Dunnottar Woods: hidden gorges, witches, secret shell houses...and not so hidden fungi...
Chapter Seven: Out on the Lochs: water, water, monster, water...

Chapter Eight: Perthshire:

Today we travel to the heart of Scotland! Here we see haunted castles and highland cattle, visit the palace where Scotland's ancient Kings were crowned, and the castle where aristocrats planned to sleep with the King and then kill him with sorcery...or did they? *suspense*

Teaser Preview Pics:

Tavi: Here is a photo shot on the train as we came into Perth...the real Perth, that is, as opposed to some silly, if slightly larger, city far off. Sadly Perth here, once known as Scotland's capital long ago, is now no longer legally a city. It lost its status as capital sometime after it was a little careless and let the King get murdered centuries ago, and its city status was wiped out with one stroke of a bureaucratic pen not that long ago. It still calls itself the heart or perfect centre of Scotland.

In the picture you can see the River Tay, and this was the sight of a famous battle between two clans. It had been arranged that each side would field a certain number of men, but one clan ended up a little short on the day and had to drag in a local blacksmith to help. They eventually won, reducing the other clan to about two or three who jumped into the Tay and swam away. Perth is also, perhaps slightly less, known for being a possible birthplace of Pontius Pilate.

Karen: Perth was the starting point for a lot of our castle-viewing; we kept passing through the city (and whatever its legal status, it looks like a city to me), but we never had time to actually stop and explore Perth itself. Maybe on my next visit?

Tavi: It took us about two and a half hours to arrive at Perth, including a short stop at Arbroath where Karen chased a family of seagulls around with her camera. Scone Palace itself is about half an hour out of the city and is hidden from sight by a long path through the woods.

Karen: "Path" isn't exactly the right word. It was really a long, long driveway, with a side road branching off from it so the tour buses and cars could get to the parking area. We got off the bus, crossed the road, and walked in under this archway. After walking for about ten or fifteen minutes, a vista suddenly opens up, with Scone Palace at the heart of it. (And, as Tavi will tell you in a moment, it's not pronounced the way it's spelled.)

Tavi: Scone (pronounced scoon) was the ancient place where the Kings of Scotland were crowned upon the Stone of Destiny. The stone itself is not at Scone. It was taken away to England by the Plantagenet king Edward I, and, except for a stonenap by some students in the 1950s, only returned to Scotland after devolution, and even then remained at Edinburgh instead of its original home.

Tavi: A peacock! Sadly he wouldn't fluff up his tail. Our company was also judged beneath him, for he wouldn't let us get any closer. We named him "Dominique", after the opening chapter of Serge Raffy's book two years ago which suggested that, were the prime minister of France an animal, he would be a peacock!

Karen: If you think about it, comparing l'ancien premier ministre to a peacock is insulting on oh so many levels. Raffy might possibly have a point with the vanity thing (sorry, Tavi), but peacocks tend to screech rather than express themselves in beautifully modulated tones. And I don't think they're known as being the most intelligent of birds (remember the peacock who thought a car was a love rival....)

Tavi: On that note, here is a short clip I made of a peacock trying to cross the road and calling to another friend. Yes, it is a pretty hideous noise. I really don't know how the castle staff manage to work every day with them as a constant back noise. The sound is so ingrained into my memory that I can instantly identify a peacock sound effect used in Midsomer Murders or another programme with a manor house setting. 'Imagine a eunuch being strangled on the main stage at Glastonbury,' writes William Sitwell, 'accompanied by a choir of a thousand shrieking car alarms, and you're in the right territory.'

Tavi: This peacock was more cooperative! Though, horribly, inside the palace they have a real stuffed peacock, which someone had to make sure I saw!

Karen: I don't remember doing any such thing!

Tavi: Our photographs here have to be limited to the outside of the palace and the grounds, because inside it's not allowed. Most palaces and museums have such a rule, although some Scone guards can be particularly dictatorial: even telling me off for carrying my small rucksack on my back. Perhaps fittingly, the motto of the family who had this as a seat (although they did not acquire all their possessions naturally, as you will see latter) is "Imperio"

Karen: This is a small chapel on the palace grounds. And just at the edge of the shadow you can see Dominique strolling along.

Tavi: My mother can't stand our cats sleeping on top of our flowers...wonder what she would make of "Silvio" here.

Karen: I think if you had a peacock in your back garden, he'd sleep anywhere he wanted to!

Tavi: Further along we found a pure white peacock, who goes by the name of Ségolène for us.

Karen: I'd never seen a white peacock before. This one was really quite elegant!

Tavi: Ségolène was as uncooperative for the camera as Dominique was; they both preferred to turn their magnificent tails and stride off away from us.

Tavi: A pair of nosey goats who paid us more attention than the peacocks did.

Karen: The goats probably hoped we had food in our pockets that we'd be willing to share with them.

Tavi: Here you can see Dominique the Peacock with two peahens, who are kissing each other and ignoring him, no doubt to his bewilderment.

Karen: Or perhaps he's simply waiting for his real love to come wandering by.

Tavi: Meanwhile, Ségolène the Peacock hides under a bench to spy on Dominique secretly.

Tavi: As we were trying to find out way out of the gardens to catch the bus back, we happened upon an actual maze! This is the birds eye view of the labyrinth.

Karen: The two-toned map isn't coloured that way simply to be decorative. The maze is actually constructed out of two different types of hedges, which looked quite attractive together.

Tavi: Not from inside they don't!

Tavi: A very thrilling clip of me battling the labyrinth/going round and round amongst hedges for 3m55. (Karen was too scared! :P )

Karen: I saw Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, and I know what can happen to people in mazes!

Tavi: Part way through the maze, you can climb up a bridge to survey the rest of your path.

Karen: See what I mean about the two different types of hedges? Isn't it pretty?

Tavi: Spot the uninvited dinner guest!

Karen: The adults and kids were totally blasé, as if this sort of thing happens at every picnic. And who knows, maybe it does!

Tavi: Ruthven Castle is a little off the beaten tourist track; this, and its difficultly-located location may be linked. After spending a couple of hours at Scone, we caught a bus back into the centre of Perth, walked for five minutes, and then caught a bus back out of the centre, which dropped us off at the side of a dual carriageway ... and no castle in sight. The computer generated route on our map seemed to represent the displacement of us to the castle, rather than the distance, and so tried to get us to climb either over or under a long hedge fence.

Finally, following twenty minutes of dashing back and forth over the dual carriageway, we spotted the castle in the distance, and eventually made it there, despite a subsequent accidental five minute detour up a road to a horse field and manor house, which tricksily bore the name of our castle but was no longer connected to it.

Karen: The road we should be on is just on the other side of that stone wall.

Tavi: To guidebooks...and generally to most people for the past few centuries, the castle is known as Huntingtower House. However, several centuries ago, it belonged to the House of Ruthven and was the setting for the "Gowrie Conspiracy". It began when King James VI was riding about near Perthshire, only to be met by the nineteen year old Master of Ruthven (the title given to second sons), Alexander. Alexander allegedly told the King in private that he and his older brother, the Earl of Gowrie, had captured a mysterious man with an immense pot of foreign gold upon his person, and that the King must come to get it. Now this gold was about as real as leprechaun gold, but no one can be sure just who made up the tale...Alexander to lure the King to Ruthven Castle for a murder/kidnap plot, or King James as an excuse to go there for what happened next.

Karen: These are very definitely Tavi's photos, and not mine. While she gave no thought to going up and down narrow, steep, stone stairs to capture dizzying shots like this one, I tried to stay a little closer to terra firma.

Tavi: Seconds after Karen's declaration that the stairs were too unsafe for her, this one-legged girl on crutches positively scampered up them!

Karen: If you don't have a photo or a video, it didn't happen. :P

Tavi:When the King and Alexander arrived at Ruthven Castle, Gowrie was noted to be very surprised and worried at the King's arrival. No mention was made of the magic gold, but the King (notorious for his love for...male favourites )went upstairs to a locked chamber with Alexander to spend a couple of hours alone with him, while Gowrie and the King's entourage waited in the hall downstairs...

Karen: Perhaps the earl and the king's men passed the time talking about interior decorating. For example, they could have discussed this very lovely ceiling....

Tavi:...until suddenly, after those few hours, the King's equerry comes in to tell everyone that the King has left Perth. Gowrie dashes to the gates; his porter denies any departures. Upon hurrying back to the castle, King James suddenly appears from a window up high, shouting that he is being murdered and fighting with a hand near his face. The King's entourage dash upstairs, but they can't break through the locked door.

The King's page, however, heads to the courtyard instead and uses a secret passage called "The Black Turnpike" which leads to the chamber. There, according to King James's published report, the page comes across Alexander and the King wrestling, whilst a mysterious stranger in armour watches them. The page, upon James's request, draws his sword and stabs Alexander to death. They then go downstairs and have Gowrie killed on the spot. Occultish things were "found" when they ransacked the castle proving the King's suspicion that Gowrie and Alexander were sorcerers!

Karen: Wall frescoes. You know, I can't help wondering just how the page knew about the secret passage. (Keep scrolling through the pictures to find a possible answer.)

Tavi: After that, James set an attainder on the House of Ruthven, handed its lands over to the Murray family (who helped him kill Gowrie), and ordered the name of the castle to be changed to Huntingtower. The foreign heads of state to whom James addressed his account of the matter were rather sceptical of it all, and the mysterious man was likely an invention by James to cover up that he was alone with Alexander for all that time.

The Ruthvens did have a habit of plotting (both physically and of course sorcer..ously) against the royals: Gowrie and Alexander's grandfather threated James's mother, Mary Queen of Scots; their father kidnapped James himself when he was a boy and held him hostage at Ruthven Castle for many weeks.

Karen: Tavi's now up on the castle roof. I'm down somewhere on the ground below, just hoping she doesn't decide to do a reenactment of Dorothea crossing The Maiden's Leap! Dorothea, daughter of the first Earl of Gowrie, is said to have been visiting her lover in his room in one of the castle towers when she was almost caught there by her mother. In order to escape unseen and get back to her own room, which was in the other tower, she had to leap between the towers, a distance of a little over nine feet! She was successful, though, peacefully sleeping (or feigning sleep) in her own bed when her mother checked on her. The next morning, Dorothea and her lover eloped.

Tavi: Here is the Maiden's Leap. It would have been fun to do, but I might have been crucially distracted by Karen's screaming from down below.

Karen: I'd be down there trying to imagine a graceful way of introducing myself and explaining things to your mother when they called her back home from England to identify your ragdoll-like corpse!

Tavi: James's capture at Ruthven would interestingly provide an explanation for how the King's page so conveniently knew to use the secret passage...King James, who was the only person other than the Ruthvens themselves, to know the castle well must have told him! Implying the whole thing was plotted beforehand. James had reasons other than the history of treachery of the Ruthvens to be afraid of them: he was deeply, deeply in debt to Gowrie and Alexander, and they also threatened a passion of his: his claim to the English throne.

Gowrie had his own claim to that and had used his power to stop the Scottish nobles from giving James a grant of money to bribe the English. There was another lesser known reason: the Ruthvens were also said to be the keepers of the famous Casket Letters...which you will hear of more in our Edinburgh Holyrood post.

Tavi: After managing the ambitious feat of travelling around Perthshire by bus and foot and seeing two castles, we planned a slightly less stressful day of seeing just one other castle in Perthshire: Blair Castle. However, while the others were 20 minute bus journeys from Perth, Blair Atholl required an extra train change and very few trains a day.

Karen: If it weren't for the flag flying above the roof, would you even guess you were looking at a Scottish castle? I think it looks more like a French chateau.

Tavi: For the moment, though, unaware that we would be spending slightly more time in Blair Atholl than we had predicted, we enjoyed the sights of Blair Castle. This was built naughtily by the Earl of Atholl's neighbour on the Earl's land in the 13th century whilst the Earl was off killing infidels. Upon returning to find this castle (which is quite unusual, as most Scottish castles are grey stone), and no doubt having to blink a bit first, he complained to the King, who had the neighbour kicked out, and so the Earl got this lovely castle for free.

We were a little naughty ourselves. The ticket desk thought I was under 16, so I got the child pass. In the spirit of this, we decided to pick up and follow the children's pack for the castle, which involved searching for a white cockade hidden in every room in the castle as well as reading all the guide signs to answer the pack's questions. And yes, of course we did find all the cockades, and we also now know what a claymore is. Invisible scottish tablet to anyone who knows.

Tavi: At the entrance to Blair Castle hangs this little ornament. Naturally there's no helpful sign explaining it, because this is a little masonic trinket: those are the signature compass and set square. The black sun in the centre isn't usually found there; that's a little more occultic than most masons...most non-Nazi masons would go. Inside the palace, amongst the Earl of Murray's things, you can see a lot of masonic memorabilia, alongside medals with the word 33 on, signifying that he rose to the highest rank there, the 33rd degree.

Tavi: A most unconventional rubbish bin!

Karen: This verse must have been written by a gardener who was fed up seeing all his lovely plants eaten by snails. I do think he's a bit harsh on the poor wee beasties.

Tavi: Perth may be the centre of Scotland, but here is a dweller (with some friends out of the picture) who clearly has come from up north like us. Blair Castle had a vast array of books for sale in its giftshop, and we bought a book of pictures of Highland Cattle and learned that black ones exist, and even white haired ones, although cattle connoisseurs call them "blond."

Karen: Sadly, this one was more interested in grazing than in letting us photograph its face and shaggy hair.

Tavi: One of the many hazards of trying to cross a road in Scotland.

Karen: *rolls eyes* We're still on the Blair Castle grounds, and that's a visitors' carpark in the background.

Tavi: This was a surprising sight as we hurried along to try to make our train. Surprising because firstly I would never have imagined to see wooden river houses like these in Scotland...secondly because we certainly didn't pass them on the way to the castle!

Karen: Yes, well that would be because (as Tavi was the first to realize), there were two drives leading to Blair Castle from the main road. We entered by one, but unknowingly left by the other.

Tavi: We were actually heading away from the railway station in our hurry to make the train!

Tavi: We ended up missing the train, and unfortunately the next train coming into the village of Blair Atholl was at least two hours away. We whiled away the hours with a new friend instead from a little shop outside the castle.

Karen: This is Tavi's March Hare, swaddled in bubble wrap to protect him on the journey back to Stonehaven, where he was living happily in the dining room when my visit ended. I think by now, though, he's found a place in the back or front garden.

Tavi: Not at all! This very spoiled hare ("Alice") lives in the warmth and comfort of our living room!

Next Chapter: Into the West.

Tags: karen and tavi's scotland adventures, perth, scotland, travel

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