Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Epic Adventure in Scotland Day 3: Inverness to Edinburgh

We left Inverness and headed for a few sites just outside the city.  The first was the Culloden Battlefield.  In 1745 Bonnie Prince Charlie’s army was defeated by the British at this battlefield, ending the Jacobite cause and firmly establishing the House of Hanover (then only recently come over from Germany, and still the family that rules the UK) on the throne.

[I love this marker, placed on the battlefield to mark the place where the English dead are buried.  There is something about the simplicity and abruptness that just says so much.]

[This cottage was on the battlefield during the battle.  During the late 19th century, while repairing a wall, a cannonball was found, lodged in its turf wall.]

[This is a Victorian marker, placed here by the man who owned the field at the time, to commemorate the battle.]

Near by is a Neolithic site, the Clava Cairns.  This is a series of four Neolithic stone rounds, one very tiny, and two that were once burial chambers (the fourth, between the two burial chambers is similar to the others, but has no passage-way, and so there is much debate as to its purpose).  It is a beautiful site, enclosed by a Victorian oak grove (the Victorians thought it was a Druid temple, and so imposed their romantic ideal on the site). 

[The top of this mound, like one of the others, would have had a domed roof at one time.  This mound is the farthest east of the four, and on the Winter Solstice (the longest day of the year) the setting sun enters the passage way and lights up the interior of the chamber, which was lined with quartz stone in order to magnify the light.]

[Here is s better shot of the passage way.  It would have been kept low, so that anyone entering would have to stoop.  This kind of low passage way is common in neolithic, Celtic sites.  In domestic buildings it forced intruders to adopt a prone position in order to enter a house.]

[This is the central cairn.  It lacks a passage way and does not show evidence of a domed roof, like the others.  Archaeological research has shown that fires where once built in the central circle.  These combine to make some think that it was used as a ceremonial circle, perhaps in relation to the burials taking place in the other cairns.] 

There are many iconic sites in the Highlands, one of which is the Hairy Coo, or Highland Coo.  Coo is the Gaelic and Middle English word for cow.  They are adorable.  The shag of hair covering their eyes is so cute you just want to hug them...if it wasn't for those enormous horns.

[Isn't he cute?]

Next we headed for Cawdor Castle.  This castle is related to Macbeth, but no scene is set here in the play.  When the witches meet Macbeth in the beginning of the play they tell him that he is Thane (similar to an Earl) of Glamis (which he is) and that he is also Thane of Cawdor and will be King.  Macbeth and Banquo, Macbeth’s best friend who he later has killed, do not believe this until soon after, when King Duncan makes Macbeth Thane of Cawdor, confirming the words of the witches and sending Macbeth on his downward spiral.  The castle is lovely.  The Dowager Countess of Cawdor still owns the castle, and the parts on the tour show a castle that is really lived in to this day.  For that reason alone it was worth the price of admission.  It was interesting to see the modern decorations.  In the living room is a desk with family pictures and coffee table books on modern British sculpture and architecture.  One room was clearly designed in the mid-eighties and consisted of green and peach everywhere.  We did not have much time in the gardens, but the short look we had made us wish we did. 

[Jamie in front of the drawbridge into the castle.  Unfortunately photography is not allowed inside the castle, so there is nothing to show from the interior.]

[This is me in front of the castle, showing how large it is.]

[I saw this in the garden and thought of Grandma Wissie, so I took a picture.]

Next on the list was the town of Pitlochry, before going to Glamis Castle. Or that was the plan.  About one hour outside of Edinburgh we hit a major traffic jam.  Just six cars ahead of us three cars hit each other, causing an accident and back up.  No one was hurt, but due to the narrow roads it took quite a while to clear the scene.  We decided we would not be able to see Glamis Castle, and instead would spend more time in Pitlochry.

For those of you who do not know, Glamis Castle is the site of Macbeth’s murder of King Duncan in Shakespeare’s play (the historical event happened a few miles away).  There is a great line that Lady Macbeth says, in relation to the castle: “The raven himself is hoarse that croaks the fatal entrance of Duncan under my battlements.”  I was hoping to get a picture of Jamie and I under the battlements, and caption it with that line (with Duncan being replaced by Jamie and Jason, naturally).  Oh well, next time.  On 25 August there will be an outdoor performance of Macbeth at the castle, and I am hoping to attend.

We arrived at Pitlochry and went instantly to the Edradour Distillery, the smallest whiskey distillery in Scotland.  We took a tour and I bought a bottle of their 10-year-old single malt.  I am not usually a whiskey person but, when warmed, it smelled like a cedar sauna and tasted like it as well (go with me on this one, it was quite good).  The distillery itself is so cute: little white and red out buildings alongside a river and pushed up against a pretty green hill.  We ate dinner in Pitlochry and then moved onto Edinburgh.

[I thought I had more and better pictures, showing the landscape and the distillery, but alas I was wrong.  This is me in front of their, now disused, malting barn.  In order to malt barley for whiskey, the dry barley is soaked in water for two days, until it sprouts and the sugars begin to form in the grain.  It is then dried.  In the old days (up until about the mid 80's, when this barn was disused) that involved laying the barley on a perforated floor, under which a kiln was used to heat the barn.  Workers had to constantly turn the barley in order to prevent fires and evenly dry the grain.  Once it was dry you could begin the whiskey making process.  Now, larger companies malt the barley for every whiskey distillery in Scotland (the guide was sure to tell us that no one malts their own barley anymore, even Edradour), and this involves heated tumblers that do the job faster.]

[Edradour is the smallest distillery in Scotland, producing only fifteen barrels a week.  This is their storage shed, which smells like whiskey.  There are only about 5,500 barrels in here.  That might sound like a lot, but consider that it takes a minimum of three years aging to be considered whiskey, and the minimum they age here is ten.]

[These are the two stills they use at Edradour.  The production is so small that they need only these two, relatively small stills.  The one in the back is used first.  When the spirit comes out of that it is about 19% alcohol.  It is then distilled though the second, which jumps it up to 60%.  Water is then added to make the alcohol level correct and the spirit is moved into barrels for the aging process.]

We decided to spend our evening in Edinburgh doing the Auld Reekie ghost tour, taking us into the vaults of the city.  I took this tour four years ago with my friend Emily, but Jamie had not and she was excited to see the scary bits and hear the ghost stories.  It was a basic tour, but incorporated history (yay!) and ghost stories along with accounts of torture, as well as a torture museum.  The big draw of the tour is the vaults. 

In the 18th century a bridge was built in Edinburgh, and in order to maximize the space, a series of storage vaults were built in the arches.  These rooms became popular as a place to safely store goods, but the material used in their construction soon made them less than ideal.  Lime was used to construct the vaults, which is a very porous material that water can seep through.  The lime walls, combined with the very wet weather in Edinburgh, caused damp conditions that ruined the goods stored in the vaults, so they were disused. 

At the time Edinburgh was a very cramped city.  People from all over the country were flooding into the capital, as well as many Irish who were trying to escape the famines in Ireland.  It became illegal to be homeless in Edinburgh (caught once: flogged with chains; caught twice: hung), so the poor moved into these vaults.  There is no light in these rooms (“If you could afford a candle, you could afford to live somewhere else.”) and dozens of people could be crammed into one small space.  The city authorities did not bother going down in the vaults, as there were far more people down there than there were authorities to deal with them, and so let them alone.  Criminals thrived in the vaults, where you could kill a person and no one would see, even in a crowded room. 

The vaults were cleared and sealed in the 1870s, and forgotten about until 1972, when students living in what is now The Torture Museum heard a constant scratching behind their wall.  When they investigated (ok, they didn’t investigate, they tore a whole in the wall) they rediscovered the vaults.  I wont go into the specifics of each room, or of the various stories, but it was creepy!  There is a coven of witches who practice in the vaults, hoping that they can negate the negative energy of the space with their practices.  The man in charge of the coven, George Cameron who is now in his 60’s, refuses to enter one of the rooms in the vault after he spent the night there.  He decided to spend a night in the room with only a sleeping bag, flashlight and book, in order to investigate some strange going-ons.  Nothing happened until 2am, when he heard a noise in the hall.  “Is anyone there?” he yelled.  Hearing no reply he got up and went through the metal gate that covered the door to look around.  He came back to the room and the gate and been closed behind him.  He opened it, entered the room and said, “Is anyone here.”  He will not tell anyone what happened after that.  He says that if he did tell, no one would enter the vaults again.  He only entered the room one more time, when his coven formed a stone circle in the room as part of a ceremony.  The circle is meant to attract and capture evil spirits.  No one is allowed to enter the circle until the guide says it is ok.  Our guide would only let people get in the circle once she left the room.  She said she has had three people enter the circle, turn white and fall to the ground in a seizure, with blood coming out of their noses. 

And then we went to bed.

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