Glasgow Cathedral

How many people can say that they have been tourists in their own country? We long to flee our country to warmer climates (understandably!) and to take instagramable photographs of random tourist attractions thousands of miles from home. If you are frequently consumed by wanderlust but your city break is still a few months away you should consider exploring the surroundings that are on your doorstep. The results will definitely curb your cravings for travel for a few days at least!

This weeks expedition (and I use this term loosely, we travelled a grand total of 8 miles) was to Glasgow’s oldest building – St. Kentigern’s Cathedral. I wish I had visited this beauty earlier. Considering I have been living 20 minutes outside of Glasgow for my entire life I have never paid much attention to this building on passing until today. The 13th century building is tucked away behind the Glasgow Royal Infirmary and as soon as you step into the vicinity of the grand structure, you are instantly transported back in time. It is clear why part of season 2 of the TV series Outlander (set in France, 1744) was filmed here.

Glasgow Cathedral, Lauren Burns 2019

Every time you turn your head you see a different set of vibrant, stained glass windows, each telling a colourful, religious story. There are different nooks and crannies at every turn, each with their own wee bit of history. Around AD550, St Mungo (Kentigern), the first Bishop of the British Kingdom of Strathclyde, founded a religious community around a small church, in an area that was to become known as the city of Glasgow. In the Lower Church of the cathedral, the remains of his shrine and church have been displayed since the cathedral was built on the site of his church. It is an amazing thing that such artefacts have been preserved for this prolonged period of time.

Glasgow Cathedral, Lauren Burns 2019

Walking round the cathedral was a beautiful experience. Choir singers echoed their angelic voices around the vast rooms and other parts tranquil and quiet unlike the bustling, busy sounds of Glasgow city outside the door. The gothic architecture inside and out were sights to behold, almost leaving you with a bittersweet feeling that such art probably won’t be created again. However, it allows us to appreciate the beauty that has been created so close to us so long ago.

Glasgow Cathedral, Lauren Burns 2019

If you are ever wandering around the city, pop in to this magnificent building and see it in all its beauty for yourself. There are definitely some instagramable photographs in there that will keep you going! Take a bit of time away from the noise of the city centre and immerse yourself in the peace and quiet of our history.

Kilchurn Castle

As a young boy, going fishing with my dad was an absolute joy. Time spent away from normal, everyday life of work and school. There was (and is) nothing better than sitting next to the waters edge, rod in hand, for hours on end in the peace and tranquility. For me that meant only one place – Loch Awe. This beautiful loch in Argyle and Bute was an amazing and magical place and one where I spend many happy times out in the water or by the bank with my dad and brother. The majesty of Ben Cruachan looking down upon you while you sat. So when my wife said “let’s go for a drive” I automatically headed in that direction.

Lauren Burns, 2019

I knew there was another thing I wanted to see again (apart from the beautiful scenery and rugged terrain of the highlands and cattle roaming free). I had, and always will be, in love with a castle which sits at the head of Loch Awe – Kilchurn Castle. It’s picture may be familiar to you as it is one of the most photographed castles in Scotland. Very much “shortbread tin” in nature! It always captivated me, since first seeing it as a young boy and growing up and I’m sure you can see why. 

Lauren Burns, 2019

The castle was built in the mid 15th centuary by Colin Campbell, 1st Lord of Glen Orchy as his home base. The area of Argyle was a Clan Campbell stronghold . The Campbells of GlenIorchy were the strongest cadet branch of the clan and at times rivalled the Clan Chiefs themselves for dominance. They certainly held most of the central highlands from Kilchurn castle’s construction for the next 150 years or so. The castle comprised a five-storey tower-house at one corner of an irregular-shaped courtyard. On the ground level of the tower were a cellar and prison. There was a hall on the first floor and private chambers above.

Kilchurn Castle remained in use until the mid 1700, although the Clan Campbell (now Earls of Breadalbane) had moved to a new castle in Loch Tay, Balloch (now known as Taymouth). The lintel above the doorway has the initials IEB and CMC for the owners of that time John, 1st Earl of Breadalbane and his wife Countess Mary Campbell. The castle played it’s part in the Jacobite uprisings – first for the Jacobites in 1715 – and second for the Government troops as a Garrison in 1745. The castle was badly damaged after being struck any lightening in 1760 and was largely abandoned a few years later and fell into disuse. 

Lauren Burns, 2019

When we arrived at the castle, it was a very cold but extremely beautiful spring day. We parked the car and walked under the railway bridge and approached the castle from the walkway. Walking up to the castle, it’s shadow made it look majestic. Due to the time of year the castle was closed, but unlike other sites in Scotland you can still approach it, touch it, walk round it. The fact that it was closed and could not be seen from inside did not detract from the amazing experience. You could almost imagine what it would have been like to be there so long ago, at the height of the Campbell of Glenorchy’s dominance over the central highlands. 

Lauren Burns, 2019

Although not a major player in wars or battles, Kilchurn castle still holds a special attraction for people all over the world. Perhaps it’s the scenery, the loch and the fact it was built in the shadow of a “hollow” mountain. Perhaps it was the fact the castle is built on a peninsula which in the winter or in times of high rainfall, essentially becomes an island. Whatever it is, this castle and it’s surrounding areas is one of the most beautiful places in all of Scotland, and one which I return to again and again.

One month in…

Castles, asylums, war hospitals and churches are the tip of the ice berg when it comes to Scotland’s rich history. We have been writing blog posts for little over a month now and we have loved every last second of it; so much so that we are now fully fledged members of Historic Scotland.

We now have free access to over 70 historical sites in Scotland alone, which is over 5000 years worth of history. It is almost incomprehensible and we cannot wait to explore and delve deeper into the sites of Scotland where our ancestors once roamed. We aim to uncover and discuss events from as far back as humanely possible, to allow you all to experience quick snapshots (literally) of the history that has unfolded in our country for the last few thousand years without too much effort!

Reflecting on our month of adventures we have learned, laughed and loved some of Scotland’s hidden and underrated historical sites. We have been nervous on approach to some of the sites with the fear of getting fined for trespassing (one of which we had to walk away from, pictured below!) and we have been in awe of some of the exceptional structures we have set eyes on in the last few weeks.

Torwood Castle, Lauren Burns 2019

As a result of our weekly expeditions, over the last few weeks I have been researching further into the life of Ivor Gurney (mentioned in one of my previous blog posts, Bangour Village Hospital). I plan to start writing a historical fiction novel based around the war poet (which will be adequately amateur), focussing on his descent into madness post World War I.

Ivor Gurney

Since the creation of this site, I have constantly thought about the lifestyles of our ancestors over the last one hundred and fifty years and how their actions, through love or through struggle, have impacted us in the modern era. Whether it be education, health, work life, religion, art or day to day tasks, there are thousands of stories to tell, thousands of lives to learn about and thousands of lessons to be learned. For as long as we have you reading these pages, we will continue to try and divulge this history – the history that has made us who we are today.

If you have any feedback, general comments or would like to see anything in particular on our page, please let us know in the comments!


Doune Castle

Some may know it as Winterfell from Game of Thrones. To others as it’s  Castle Leoch from Outlander. Maybe even the various castles from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Wherever you may have seen it, it’s true name is Doune Castle, just west of Stirling on the banks of the river Teith. And what a sight to behold. With our newfound love of the TV show Outlander the we thought we would pay it a visit.

Lauren Burns, 2019

The history of the castle is many and varied and rivals the fictional drama that the movies and television shows depict. It was built in the 14th Century by Robert Stuart, Duke of Albany (1340-1420) – Regent of Scotland, (and great grandson to Robert the Bruce of Battle of Bannockburn fame). He was succeed by his son Murdoch Steward, Duke of Albany who was executed by the King in 1425 for treason and the castle passed to the hands of the crown.

Lauren Burns, 2019 (Great Hall)

The castle was used for many things after it passed to the crown; mainly though as a royal retreat and hunting lodge. It has a grand great hall with fire pit and screen where cooks and servants would be hidden, working hard to provide food for the guests(picture above). As you meander through all of the narrow doorways and nukes and crannies you can start to truly get a sense of what life may have been like for the people living in the grand old place so many years ago. When you stop and think you are standing in the same place and touching the same walls that people like Mary, Queen of Scots did, it makes these people seem all the more real and gave me a sense of connection to the past I hadn’t experienced before.  

Lauren Burns, 2019

Of course, for fans of the Outlander series there are scenes that you may recognise such as the wall in the picture above; from which Claire watches children play, or the kitchen below in which Mrs Fitz cooks all of those marvellous meals. There really is something for people who are not that bothered about the history! There is an element of truth to the castle being involved with the Jacobite uprising of 1745 however, as it was used by Bonnie Price Charlie  as a prison for government troops captured after the Battle of Stirling, on 17th January 1746. Not quite Castle Leoch, but close enough!

Lauren Burns, 2019

Historic Scotland who now maintain the castle have an excellent audio guide narrated by Monty Python’s Terry Jones. He talks about the history of the castle and it’s occupants throughout the years. There is also a mini audio tour laced throughout – the Outlander audio guide – narrated by Sam Heughan who plays Jamie in the hit Starz tv series. He talks about the filming of the series at Doune castle and some excellent behind the scenes facts.

Lauren Burns, 2019

To be honest, I was sceptical when I first thought of Doune Castle as a blog post. I am not a fan of “organised” ruins that you have to pay to enter. However, driving through the small windy village and walking up to the imposing castle entrance I felt like I had been transported back in time. The fact the castle has been maintained, with features such as the fireplaces, tables and chairs only added to the experience. Easily the best £6 I could have spent. Historic Scotland have done an amazing job of keeping the feel that this is a ruin, but is safe enough to wander round, touch, feel and smell – in short a great experience and one which I will repeat in future.

Scott

For more information about Doune castle as well as other Historic Scotland sites, visit the Historic Scotland website by clicking on the link.

The Fairy Pools, Isle of Skye

After recently discovering the TV series Outlander(mild spoiler alert), I have been absolutely obsessed with the Jacobite Rebellion in Scotland (more on this to come in future posts). This is one of the best TV series I have watched after only watching 9 episodes, it is full of everything I love; romance, action, Scottish scenery, good-looking men, history and best of all Scottish folklore. Around the time this was set (1743 AD) there was an array of myths, legends and folklore that influenced the daily lives of Scottish people. Fairies are one of the mythical creatures that Scottish people have believed in for centuries, and during one of the episodes of Outlander, the description and nature of the Fairies are not at all like what you heard in childhood stories and films.

During a camping trip to the Isle of Skye, we thought it wise to visit the infamous Fairy Pools. It was the height of summer, one of the warmest days of the year in 2018. Not knowing much about what the Fairy Pools were, we gazed upon a long winding path at the bottom of the Cuillin mountains unsure about what we were going to find at the top. Little did we know, we were about to embark on one of the most magical walks we could’ve imagined, despite the swarm of ambushing clegs in the grass.

Glen Brittle, Lauren Burns 2018

During season 1 of Outlander, Fairies are referred to in episode 10 where a gruesome part of the folklore surrounding these mythical creatures is explained thoroughly. A crying baby is found in the wild by the lead character, Claire, and her friend explains that she should not intervene. Extremely ill or “deformed” babies are intentionally placed in a location for a length of time and fairies will “steal” the child and leave a fairy child – commonly known as a changeling – in it’s place. It was thought in the 18th century that methods such as this would cure sick children and thankfully in modern life we know the opposite to be true. Not unlike the descriptions of fairies in modern childhood tales, these creatures were portrayed as being mysterious, mischievous, magical creatures; however, it was never mentioned in fairytales that there was a possibility they could be dangerous seducers, kidnappers and murderers.

Fairy Pools, Lauren Burns 2018

Walking further up the mountain it quickly becomes evident that each pool is going to be bluer and more extravagant than the last. The water was crystal – clear and inviting on an unusually warm summers day and would not look out of place on a Mediterranean island. Unfortunately for the wild swimmers that swarm here in the summer months, the water isn’t as warm as it initially seems. After taking a dive in, it was immediately apparent that the water was colder than the North Sea in the winter months – numbing and painful. There was something enchanting about swimming in a natural Scottish spring, knowing that we are proud to say we are among the countries with the cleanest and purest natural water in the world.

Fairy Pools, Lauren Burns 2018

It is obvious why the Fairy Pools found on the Isle of Skye are among the most beautiful places on Earth. Today, there isn’t much (if any) proof of fairies existing, only paintings, old poems and our depiction of what fairies should be like from films like Peter Pan, Cinderella and the likes. Is it really possible to definitively say that such creatures didn’t/don’t exist? How can we prove that in the 18th century there was not any hard evidence of such creatures? If such creatures did or do exist I am sure they would reside here. It is the perfect place to lure people in. Maybe fairies continue to exist. Maybe fairies bewitch the visitors to unclothe and dive into the rocky, perishing water…

Fairy Pools, Scott Burns 2018

Laggan Dam

As the Monty Python crew were fond of saying, now for something completely different…..

Renewable energy. When we think of renewable energy what comes to mind? Wind turbines? Ungainly solar panels? Tidal power? Whatever it conjures in your mind it will certainly be something relatively new, a new solution to a relatively new problem – the ever growing energy crisis. As we continue to run out of fossil fuels at an alarming rate we are forced to think of new, cleaner and sustainable sources of energy. 

Lauren Burns 2018

What I imagine it will not conjure is a category A listed structure, built by Balfour Beatty and Company Ltd in 1934. The British Aluminium Company had a smelter outside of Inverlochy in the highlands of Scotland and, much like today, it needed power. Because of it’s remoteness there may have been issues transporting coal to the location and so CS Meik & Halcrow designed a solution. The Laggan Dam. 

As you drive along the A87 Loch Laggan is visible through the trees on the winding road on your right, but what you do not expect to see, suddenly in the distance is a magnificent man made structure stretching 700 ft from one shore to the other, its 2000 ft radius curve evident. It is a beautiful thing to see, separating the Loch with the river Spean, it’s purpose on the surface is clear; to hold back the massive volume of water. 

Lauren Burns 2018

What is not clear and visible is the hidden masterpiece, and engineering genius behind the dams almost hidden purpose. It holds back water from the loch but if you stay long enough you will note that the loch water level never changes massively. As the water level naturally rises the dam opens valves and water is carried from the loch, through underground tunnels hidden from view to loch Treig and then from there on to Ben Nevis and down into a power station at Fort William through 5 massive steel pipes. A distance in total of 15 miles. The excess power generated by this falling water is then sold to the national grid and was used by the British Aluminium Company. 

The dam is an amazing piece of engineering, well worth a visit if you can spare the time. As you look at it remember the hidden engineering beneath your feet tackling a problem that we struggle with even today. We think of sustainable and renewable sources of energy as being a problem for the 21st century, but if you look around there are lots of examples of engineering pioneers tackling this problem in the early 20th century, albeit with different motives and reasons. I wonder what those engineers might think of the 21st century solutions.

Bangour Village Hospital

When you think of war you think of conflict, dispute and hostility. It is difficult to imagine positivity, creativity or love. Delving into the life of one particular patient of Bangour Village Hospital has proven otherwise. 

In 1906, Bangour Village Hospital was first opened as a psychiatric hospital. During the emergence of the first world war, it was evident that there was nowhere near enough provisions in place for military casualties. As a result of this, Bangour hospital was taken over by the War Office and was known as the Edinburgh War Hospital from 1918-1922. Laden with almost 3000 patients, the hospital was constantly expanding to keep up with demand and to this day 15 of the buildings remain listed and abandoned. Much like Hartwood Hospital, Bangour had a community structure and was self-sustaining but on a larger scale. It included a shop, power station, a kitchen, a laundry and even a bakery. 

Bangour Village Hopsital, Lauren Burns 2019

During the first world war, an English man named Ivor Gurney was one that managed to keep creativity and love afloat during such a dark time. Despite his several mental health issues, Gurney was only admitted to the hospital after a gassing incident. During his time at Bangour, he fell madly in love with a voluntary aid detachment nurse, Annie Nelson Drummond (born in Armadale), perhaps as a result of his way with words and her nurturing and caring manner. Ivor Gurney was a well known war poet in his time and while on the front line, managed to write and publish works as well as compose music. After his treatment at the hospital, the pipe dream love affair tragically ended and Gurney then spent his remaining years spiralling, but continued to create poetry and music (some examples can be found on https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/ivor-gurney). Some even claim that he was eventually convinced that he was Shakespeare himself, writing poems and songs about his lost love in the ward and his time spent on the front line.

Bangour Village Hospital, Lauren Burns 2019

Ivor was institutionalised for the remainder of his life due to his mental state and his family officially declared him “insane”. Some researchers have thought that shell shock was a major factor in Ivor’s demise, but this can be argued as he always portrayed signs of mental illness and “insanity” before the war.

Bangour Village Hospital, Lauren Burns 2019

After the war, Bangour hospital resumed its role of being West Lothian’s psychiatric hospital until 1939 where it was claimed once more by the War Office.

Walking through the abandoned hospital village is a chilling experience – everything still, grey and marked with “DANGER KEEP OUT” – however, the sense of what was once a warm, thriving and caring community remains. In modern day, we have a perception of what these institutions were and how they were run. The treatment of mental health issues remains questionable and unethical but amongst the remains of these buildings, we can begin to imagine and understand the thousands of lives that passed through here at the darkest of times, and there is every possibility that there was a flicker of light somewhere for everyone.

Art was created here. Relationships blossomed here. Soldiers were mended here. All of this on top of a community all striving for one thing – caring for others. Not everything is as grey and still as it seems.

Dundyvan Parish Church

If you think of the town of Coatbridge in North Lanarkshire, should you ever have the mind to, what would be brought to mind. Maybe a spot of shopping at the Faraday retail park. Like most towns across the UK though, a high street that is struggling to survive can be seen. Competition from supermarket chains is killing off most of the small independent businesses around. Lack of industry has slowly suffocated the community. 

The picture could not have been more different in the late 18th century. Coatbridge was a busy, vibrant industrial town. The industry of choice was Iron. There were several ironworks in the Coatbridge area in places like Gartsherrie and Summerlee (now a busy heritage museum showcasing the industry and the rich local history). The development of the Blast furnace technique for producing Pig Iron was new and Summerlee works was one of the first ironworks to employ the method.

Dundyvan Parish Church, Lauren Burns 2019

This new method of producing iron meant workers were in demand and soon  men were moving to Coatbridge from surrounding rural areas as well as an influx of immigrants from Ireland, where at the time work was not as readily available.

This population increase meant that employers started erecting housing quickly and cheaply. This housing in the area of Dundyvan was affectionately known as “the slap ups” due to the speed at which this new housing was being “slapped up” around them. These new communities needed a place to congregate and in 1905 the Dundyvan Parish Church was built. 

Dundyvan Parish Church, Lauren Burns 2019

In that time the church was a beautiful red sandstone building with a slate roof. It was built by the notable Architect of the area Alexander Cullen. The church, although once the heart of a thriving community is now unused and in a sad state of repair. As can be seen from the pictures, the slate roof has been totally destroyed, being ravaged by fire. The building is a ghost of its former self, a sad reflection of happier times. The rare crown tower and spire can still be seen and is the main reason this beautiful building has not been demolished. 

The building looks somewhat out of place now, surrounded by housing estates, flats and, of all things, a car showroom and a leisure centre. The spire and tower pierce the skyline and the building seems almost otherworldly. It’s broken stained glass and sandstone carcass seems to being pulled to the earth by the trees and weeds that now infest its once beautiful stonework.

Dundyvan Parish Church, Lauren Burns 2019

While people drive past, barely having time to look up and notice the amazing piece of early 20th century architecture, which was once the centre of a thriving working community, you may ponder; what would those Ironworkers and their families think if todays fast pace, yet industrial-less North Lanarkshire. Smartphones, cars, leisure parks, and frozen microwave dinners. Would they consider it an improvement? Or would they long for the sense of community, family and worth that buildings such as the old Dundyvan Parish church represented.  Heavy industry has been left to decay, now a shadow of its former self – much like the building that stood for so long to represent it.

Did you enjoy this post? 

If you find this interesting you can find more about the industry in North Lanarkshire by visiting the Summerlee Museum of Scottish Industrial Life, well worth a visit. 

Scott

 

Hartwood Hospital

How do you begin to understand modern society? Should you observe passers by? Should you keep up with monotonous daily news reports? In place of these, could you simply dive into the lives of our ancestors using what is around you? Of course you could.

In the 21st century, mental health is a subject that is becoming increasingly prominent in every day conversation. Openness, honesty and talk around these matters is encouraged (as it should be). The number of resources and people that can be accessed to aid with mental health issues is growing and techniques to promote positive mental health and wellbeing is evident throughout schools and workplaces. It is insanely difficult to imagine anything other than this.

Hartwood Hospital Nurses Building, Lauren Burns 2019

The dark winding road leading to the infamous (now closed) Hartwood Hospital provided feelings of anticipation and unease. These feelings not far from those once termed “madness”, “insane” or that of a “lunatic”. The nurses building (pictured above) is the first of the ruined collection. Through the twisted trees, the building lies silent and grey – much like it would have been in 1895 during the 85 hour working week – working tirelessly to secure the “deranged”, “demented” and “disturbed” from what was then known as “normal society”.

Hartwood Hospital, Lauren Burns 2019

In 1901, the psychiatric hospital was exceeding 800 patients that had little to no chance of ever reentering normal society. Medical Superintendent Dr. Archibald Campbell Clarke was deemed a forward thinking man and he was one of the first psychiatrists to realise that not all patients could be cured, but that the best possible treatment would always be given. As well as occupational therapy techniques, controversial methods were also employed. Electroconvulsive therapy was widely used to treat mental illnesses and Hartwood has gone down in history as the first institution in Scotland to perform a lobotomy, resulting in patients being left in a vegetative state.

Hartwood Hospital, Lauren Burns 2019

The hospital was secluded but self-sustaining with its own gardens, farmland, cemetery and reservoir. The community continued to grow exponentially and finally closed in 1998 following the 1990 Community Care Act.

Following the progress of society’s view on mental health is crucial to allow us to understand how far as a species we have come. In one fifteen minute visit, so much gruesome history was perceived, however; the incredible journey that we and our ancestors have undergone was recognised. It is important to look around. It is important to know what is on your doorstep. It is important to discover what has been. Observing these eerily beautiful sandstone buildings, in a sense, allows us to capture what once was and – more importantly – what will be.

Lauren.