We went to Morton Castle, nr Dumfries in Scotland today. What a remote place, even the Historic Scotland guidebook says it is difficult to locate . . .’finding it is an adventure in itself’. There is not one single signpost to it, until you arrive at the actual field-gate where they have put up a tiny board announcing that yes, this is Morton Castle.
It’s in ruins but they have erected a visitors illustration inside showing what the Great Hall must have looked like so you do get a sense of how it must have been. To be honest, Scotland is full of wonderful castles and this is not the most dramatic, beautiful or bloody. The guide admits as much when it says that the castle isn’t particularly interesting, that the setting is the feature visitors come to see. It does have a dramatic setting amongst blue-green hills, surrounded on three sides by the loch. It was raining when we arrived and didn’t really let up but the rain and the gloom and of course we were the only visitors, all added to the breathtaking scene.
You can hear the wind.
I’ve visited several Scottish castles over the years. One of my favourites is Hermitage Castle which is featured in my first novel, RICCARTON JUNCTION. This is another rarely-visited castle, dating I think from the early thirteen hundreds, as is Morton Castle but it doesn’t have anything like the same dramatic setting. Many dastardly deeds were done there however and the gloom and oppressive atmosphere still pervades, even on a sunny summers day.
Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye has a beautiful setting, perhaps the best of all of Scotland’s Castles; Crathes, in Aberdeen is a beautiful building in its own right but it is another Aberdeenshire castle, Dunnotter Castle that is my favourite Scottish castle. It hangs off the edge of a cliff and you have to walk for ever to reach it from the road, so usually you are the only one there because no-one else can be bothered to make the effort. I can remember my father taking me there as a child. My dad was from Aberdeen, so he knew about it and a little of its history. In those days, it wasn’t subject to health and safety like ruins are today so it was pretty-much the ruin left behind after 1685, when two-hundred Covenanters were locked in the vaulted cells and left to die of starvation. The iron grilles through which they could be heard begging for water were still in place then.
Stones can sometimes convey a sense of history and I felt it as a child but the last time I went to Dunnotter, that sense of tragedy had all but been tidied away by Historic Scotland. I think though, that Dunnotter for the very first time in my life brought me face to face with horror; it wasn’t difficult to imagine women and children locked away in that dungeon until they died; in rags and lice-ridden, emaciated, sick, starved and imprisoned by cruel men. Real cruelty and real life, not something in a comic or a story-book. Made a huge impression which I can bring to mind even sixty-years later.