Crathes Castle of Scotland

With its curved walls and fairytale pink towers, you might think Crathes Castle has a story to tell and you’d be right! Some say a green mist fills one of the chambers – a ghostly lady checking on her domain perhaps, but it is the history of this site which holds me in its spell.
Outside, too, does not disappoint. If you love secret gardens, your feet will be drawn towards an old wooden door leading to the most perfect of spaces. Step through into a walled garden where a gentler world of aromatic borders bursting with colour and hobbity mounds of ancient topiary awaits. Immediately, your breath slows and you inhale warm earth and blue-sky days. But I get ahead of myself…
Crathes Castle lies in in the far north east of Scotland, a land of winding rivers and forested hills. Its earliest origins was a crannog on a nearby loch, now drained, where those who dwelt within found safety from predators. Even earlier back, hunter gatherers – some 10,000 years ago – constructed a lunar calendar nearby in a series of pits, which captured the seasonal drift of the lunar year. Hailed by archeologists in 2013, this precious find was thought to predate the first known formal calendars of Mesopotamia by at least 5000 years. Who would have thought those early folk would have need of such information or have the necessary sophistication and skills to carry out such a task?
More recently, the Burnett family, came north when David I recruited trusted men from the south to tame the land and people. Within the great hall of the castle, visitors are drawn to stand in awe; the jeweled, ivory ‘Horn of Leys’ sits within its glass box in pride of place over the mantlepiece – gifted by Robert the Bruce, king of Scots, to Alexander Burnett for services rendered in the fight for Scottish independence. In 1323, he was granted all the land within symbolic hearing of the horn when it was blown and held the title of Keeper of the adjacent Royal Forest of Drum. Probably at that time, his family and retainers would have lived in a fortress, walled with spiked timbers, on the crannog island.
The current castle was constructed in the 16th century – slowly, for there were many political disruptions; its history, entwined with the mixed fortunes of Mary Queen of Scots and later Scottish kings. Some of the Burnett ancestors found power and wealth in the Americas. One became a Baronet of Nova Scotia and another once owned half of the land upon which Los Angeles now sits.
Crathes Castle is one of my favourite castles, notable for its beauty, mystery and unique place in history. And the garden awaits!
References: The official Burnett website – burnett.uk.com; National Trust of Scotland.

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On the Issue of Scottish Independence

In a few days, Scots will step forward to vote on the complex issue of independence. I wish them well whatever the outcome.
But I would like to hark back to a much earlier time, no less complex or divisive, when a group of Scots, albeit magnates and nobles, appended their signatures to a document. Though written in 1320, the Declaration of Arbroath continues to fire the imagination.
“… for as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule. It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom – for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself…”
Abbot Bernard, Scotland’s Chancellor, is believed to have penned these inspirational words, probably at the bequest of the king.
When representatives of the Community of the Realm gathered at Arbroath Abbey, bitterness, doubt and hope must have rippled beneath the surface like an unseen wave. Many had been enemies of Robert the Bruce yet here they faced him, their king, putting aside – for a time – lifelong hostilities, presenting a rare show of optimism and solidarity alongside his supporters. For such a diverse group to gather under one roof no doubt represented the enormous political skill and good will of many influential parties.
The Declaration was an affirmation of Scotland’s past as an independent nation, longer even than that of England. Underlying these conflicts, a yearning for a peaceful future acted as a powerful catalyst for change. Perhaps King Robert’s policy of reconciliation and political inclusion also brought a measure of healing to the land. He was certainly motivated by his desire to be recognised as king and to have all religious punishments lifted from both himself and his people.
It was hoped that Pope John XXII in far off Avignon in France would heed this desperate plea and mitigate on Scotland’s behalf for an honourable peace with their powerful neighbour through recognition of the country’s independence.
One of the most notable aspects concerns the Community of the Realm’s right to throw out the king should he fail to maintain Scotland’s independence; the people could choose someone else in his stead, reminiscent perhaps of the ancient Celtic process of Tanistry and in direct opposition to the feudal concept of primogeniture – the hereditary right of the first born to become king upon death of his father.
Today, the jagged ruins of Arbroath Abbey stand testament to the resilience of these powerful themes. Most fascinating of all, the medieval abbot’s house and the original hall where the Declaration was believed to have been signed are still in existence.
Imagine walking through such history with Professor Barrow – that great historian – to hear his thoughts.
“Certainly, we shall find no clearer statement of Scottish nationalism and patriotism in the fourteenth century. Equally certainly, no finer statement of a claim to national independence was produced in this period anywhere in Western Europe. In this respect, the conservative Community of the Realm stands out in advance of the age.”(ref: Robert the Bruce and the Community of the Realm)
Did the document achieve its goals you might ask?
In time, Pope John put his considerable political weight behind Scotland’s fight for independence;
‘Not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting but for freedom…”

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The Enigma of Temple Church in Scotland

Many legends abound about the Knights Templars. One Scottish site associated with this intriguing institution is the old church in the village of Temple. How did the Templars find themselves in such an idyllic, out-of-the way place so far from the burning desert winds of the Crusades?
Surrounded by steep-banked hills, the ruined sandstone kirk nestles on the banks of the South Esk River, lined now with trees bent over to form a tunnel of twisted trunks.
Parts of the original 13th century building have morphed into newer additions of stonework which the brain registers, then ignores. As the stone wears, so does the atmosphere become more malleable, holding an imprint of long-forgotten chants and psalms: they still weave their old magic and I catch the unmistakable echoes of spent grief on the wind. Weathered grave stones lie toppled here and there – testament to the faith of long dead occupants. A sad place indeed! I had many questions but there were few answers on the day of my visit. I would love to have known more about the people who lived and worked here – their lives, passions, hope and dreams. All gone now. A cemetery holds its secrets close forever…
But what of Temple’s known history?
In 1129 Hugh de Payns, one of the original Templars, approached King David I who granted the group land for a grange at Balantrodoch – now known as Temple, in southern Scotland. This land was given as a reward. For what, you might ask?
Under the aegis of the Pope, the Templars were a religious and military order of knights whose mission was to escort pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem to offer protection from bandits and warlords. As they developed into the early bankers of the time, their power grew to threaten royal schemers, ultimately leading to their violent suppression by King Philippe of France in 1307.
By 1312, King Edward II had abolished the Templars in England and Scotland and as southern Scotland was generally under English rule, their assets were absorbed into those of a rival group, the St John Hospitallers, whose principal preceptory was at Torphichen to the west of Edinburgh.
Robert the Bruce, as Scotland’s king, was under edict at the time, excommunicated for his part in the murder of John Comyn, so he was unlikely to have enforced this royal edict from France, or the Pope, and certainly not at the request of his enemy, Edward II!
What happened to the Templar treasure removed from France in the dead of night is a mystery – though some believe it was brought to Scotland, the galleys landing either in the far west or perhaps much closer to Temple on the east coast.
The lack of recorded facts has led to the creation of an illusory tapestry which intrigues and delights conspiracy enthusiasts. But over time, a local legend has evolved, offering its own suggestions.
If you look…
“Twixt oak and the elm tree
You will find the millions free”.
Good luck!

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