A Final Day at Kincardine Castle

imageMy last day of volunteering at the castle happened to coincide with the Annual Opening of the castle gardens. This is a day filled with picnics, games, food, tours of the garden, and little garden fairies. Over 500 guests attended and a great deal of money was raised for Scottish charities. It was a rewarding day because all of our hard work on the gardens was on display and looking grand. I will miss this beautiful little corner of Scotland. Next, it’s off to Glasgow.imageimageimageimageimageimage
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Dunnottar Castle and the Northeast Coast of Scotland

Dunnottar Castle
Dunnottar Castle

Today we drive to the northeast coast of Scotland. Our first stop on this damp and chilly day was Dunnottar Castle. The dramatic and evocative ruined cliff top fortress was the home of the Earls Marischal, once one of the most powerful families in Scotland.image

William Wallace, Mary Queen of Scots, the Marquis of Montrose and the future King Charles II have graced the castle with their presence. Most famously though, it was at Dunnottar Castle that a small garrison held out against the might of Cromwell’s army for eight months and saved the Scottish Crown Jewels from destruction.

imageDunnottar Castle has probably the most spectacular surroundings of any castle in Scotland and it has played a role in numerous important moments of Scottish history.

In 1297, William Wallace lead the Scottish rebellion against the English and besieged Dunnottar Castle, which at the time was held by English troops.image

Terrified by the progress of Wallace’s troops, as many as 4,000 English soldiers holed themselves within the stone chapel inside Dunnottar Castle – naively believing that hiding out in a church would spare them from death. They were, unfortunately, to meet a grisly end. Wallace’s army ransacked the castle and torched the church, burning those within. Some, of course, managed to flee – but their only choice was to leap off the steep cliffs into the thrashing sea.

imageAnd it is the views of the cliffs and the North Sea that are almost more awe inspiring than the castle itself. On this damp and misty day one can almost feel the history and conjure up the ghosts of centuries past.

From Donnottar we drove on to Stonehaven and the beach, where we had “the best fish and chips in Scotland.” The Bay, a tiny little beachfront restaurant was recommended to us and didn’t disappoint.

Stonehaven
Stonehaven

We finished the day with a stop in the village of Banchory, then home to Kincardine for a good nights sleep.

 

 

*Dunnottar historical information courtesy of exploring-castles.com and the BBC

Balmoral, Ballater, And Braemer

imageIt’s my day off from my duties at Kincardine Castle so I’m off to some of the neighboring villages. My fellow volunteer, Elizabeth from Canada, and I took the winding country road west to Ballater, then on to Balmoral Castle.

Village of Ballater
Village of Ballater
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Village of Ballater

Balmoral Castle has been the Scottish home of the Royal Family since it was purchased for Queen Victoria by Prince Albert in 1852.

In the autumn of 1842, two and a half years after her marriage to Prince Albert, Queen Victoria paid her first visit to Scotland. They were so struck with the Highlands that they resolved to return.

The foundation stone for Balmoral Castle was laid by Queen Victoria on September 28, 1853 and construction was completed in 1856.

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Balmoral Castle

When Queen Victoria died in 1901 Balmoral Estates passed, under the terms of her will, to King Edward VII, and from him to each of his successors. Balmoral Estates has been home to successive generations of the Royal Family.

Lucky for us, the Balmoral property is open to the public until Queen Elizabeth arrives to spend August and September here. Inside the castle only the ballroom is accessible as the rest of the castle is the private home of the royal family. But the gardens, forests, farm, numerous secondary buildings, and the stables are open to all.

imageWe visited on a Wednesday and took advantage of the free weekly ranger led hike to one of the highest points on the estate. This 2.5 hour hike gave us views of the castle, gardens, mountains, and the river. It was a beautiful day and we topped it off with a picnic lunch courtesy of our hosts at Kincardine.image

Scotland is chock full of small villages and we ended the day in the Village of Braemer, tiny and charming and set along a vibrant section of the River Dee.  A small world story: one of the first people I met after my arrival in Scotland was my host’s sister, Maggie. She had come to Kincardine to spend a few days with her brother. This evening, as Elizabeth and I strolled a cobbled lane in Braemer, we came upon one of the very few people we know in this whole country –  Maggie! The perfect end to a lovely Scottish day.

Village of Braemer
Village of Braemer
A Balmoral garden
A Balmoral garden
Balmoral
Balmoral
Village of Braemer
Village of Braemer
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River Dee

 

Garden in the countryside

imageAs many of you know, I like to combine travel with volunteering. It helps me feel like part of a community and not just a tourist.  This time around it will be the gardens of Kincardine Castle where I’ll be toiling away.

imageWhile the castle was passed down to Andy Bradford,  the funds to keep it going were not. When Andy and his wife Nicky took over the estate in the 1980s it was in need of major repairs. Additionally, the cash flow needed to care for 3000 acres and a 75 room castle is enormous. So Andy and Nicky set out to make the property an income producing asset. They have come a long way. The castle and its garden have been restored. It is often the setting for private and corporate events, as well as fundraisers for local charities. There are 60 other properties located throughout the estate’s 3000 acres. They are primarily houses and a few commercial buildings, all of which are rented to local residents at below market rents. The community of Kincardine O’Neil is a very small one. So when one of Andy’s tenant families had outgrown their cottage, rather than move to a bigger place, they asked Andy to build an addition to the house. And he did!

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The village of Kincardine O’Neil
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The River Dee

While Kincardine Castle is mostly supporting itself now, Andy and Nicky still rely on volunteers in what is really a win win arrangement. imageVolunteers get to live in the castle and all meals are provided. In return, volunteers help with projects on the estate, typically contributing about 28-30 hours a week of labor. This time of year the gardens require pruning, weeding, and planting. So I am spending part of my days with the Bradfords and my two fellow volunteers getting the beautiful blooming garden ready for its grand annual opening event next weekend. In the evenings and on weekends I am exploring this lovely rural Scottish countryside and its deliciously quaint little villages. A win win indeed.imageimage Continue reading Garden in the countryside

Kincardine Castle

imageI have now been at Kincardine Castle for four days and my luggage arrived on day two, so all is well with the world….or at least this little corner of Scotland. My hosts are Nicola and Andrew Bradford, owners of the castle and surrounding estate. An interesting note, Andrew’s great aunt a few generations back is none other than Jane Austen and her portrait hangs in the castle drawing room. Kincardine Castle is surrounded by 3000 acres of beautiful rolling hills, fields, and gardens against a backdrop of blue skies.

The Great Hall
The Great Hall

The estate was handed down through the generations of Andy’s mother’s family. During both World Wars Kincardine served as a convalescent hospital for the wounded. Queen Elizabeth, when she was just a princess, honed her Scottish country dancing skills with Prince Philip at Kincardine Castle. Photos, letters, documents, paintings, war medals, antique furniture, weapons, and china fill the 75 rooms of the castle. And, while it is a lovely castle, it is first and foremost Nicky and Andy’s family home. They have made me feel welcome from the moment I arrived and have opened their home to me in many ways. Stay tuned for more on Kincardine Castle tomorrow.

Drawing room
Drawing room
Dining room
Dining room
Dining room
Dining room
The family kitchen
The family kitchen

 

Continue reading Kincardine Castle