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.

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.

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.