On a bright and sunny summer morning, the SCA tour group began to arrive at POWRIE CASTLE just north of Dundee. Our hosts had coffee and tea available in the vaulted kitchen of their beautiful home. This interesting building was originally constructed against the inside wall of the old castle. It now stands as a detached building of two storeys, with its doors and windows facing inwards towards the ruin of the main tower. One round corner tower remains and forms part of the accommodation of the house. We were guided through and around this beautiful place, and inevitably ended our visit by exploring the remnants of the old tower. After examining the ground floor vaults we made our way to the first floor which contains the great hall. Here a huge fireplace stands along one wall of what has been a large vaulted chamber. Half of the vaulting remains, but the elements are working to reduce even this. The owners are investigating the possibilities of consolidating the tower.
Leaving Powrie we travelled a short distance to GAGIE HOUSE. Here we found a place that has been continually occupied and has been altered and extended over many years. What started as a tower has become a fine country house. We were shown around the oldest parts of the house by our hosts. On conclusion we were advised to examine the outside of the building with its gardens and walls. From the gardens we were able to pick out the original parts of the structure. We took time to seek out the shot holes that are situated in the old wall that now surrounds the large gardens.
Our group moved on to CLAYPOTTS CASTLE in Dundee. This amazing and complex tower is a unique and supreme expression of the Scottish Fortified House. The builders seem to have gone to a great deal of trouble to defy gravity and to extend the Z plan building upward and outward to maximise its accommodation. Our SCA Tour Organiser had arranged for Claypotts to be opened for us and we took every advantage to examine and explore. As we climbed the turnpike stairs and entered each of the complete but empty chambers we were able to marvel at their size and space. The tower builders and the previous owners have left us a national gem. Lunch was enjoyed at the Ship Inn in Broughty Ferry, but as we were within walking distance of our next visit we were keen to press on.
BROUGHTY CASTLE consists of two towers built against one another and seems in a good state of repair. This condition is probably due to its strategic position guarding the Tay River approach to Dundee. It has been used and adapted by generations of the military, who have worked through the centuries to maintain and update its usefulness. As artillery developed through the ages the walls and defences of the castle have been developed and strengthened.
From the stark functionality of Broughty Castle we moved on to the quiet serenity of PITKERRO HOUSE. It stands surrounded by many large trees and extensive gardens. Like so many of our old defensive houses it has been extended and altered to form modern accommodation. We were greeted by our host, who is an area representative for Historic Scotland. He explained that the building is divided into individual apartments providing homes for a number of families. These families form a small Christian community and attempt to live their lives in peace and harmony. Pitkerro house and its lovely gardens must make this task a little easier for the residents.
Our next destination was the old mansion of AUCHTERHOUSE which is now a comfortable hotel. We were served with tea and coffee and made most welcome. The ground floor retains some of its original vaulting, while in other areas, fine decorative plasterwork has survived. Within the gardens stands the ruin of a keep or tower. While this structure is older than the house, it is not old enough to be the site reputedly visited by William Wallace.
Our scheduled visit to MAINS CASTLE in Dundee had been delayed to the end of the day and left as an individual option as no internal access had been possible. Torrential rain depleted the number of members on this final visit of the day. An unusually tall and slender tower rises high above a range of crow-stepped buildings. These buildings are encompassed by a strong high wall, which incorporates a handsome arched gateway. The gateway carries a machicolated defensive structure and is surmounted by three heraldic panel recesses. A good number of SCA members met later that evening at he Woodlands Hotel in Dundee, for the Annual General Meeting and Dinner. A good evening was enjoyed by all.
Sunday 6th June 1999. Leaving our overnight hotel in Dundee, on a fine summer morning, we crossed the Tay into Fife and travelled on to WORMISTON HOUSE. A larger group than on the previous day began to assemble with a sprinkling of tartan-clad and kilted members and friends setting an appropriate scene. The owners welcomed us and explained the story of the rescue and rehabilitation of Wormiston. They told us how the building visible today was revealed by the removal of much later structures. It was discovered that the material from this demolition process was stonework of a much earlier period. Further investigation found that the original walls of the old garden had been used as a ready supply of construction material for the parts of the house now demolished. The wheel of history has turned again with the demolition debris being used to replace the previously cannibalised walls. A walk around the extensive gardens showed the undoubted success of the exercise. We were conducted around the house and were given full liberty to move from room to room at will. While much of the internal work had been completed, some finishing work remained to be done. After marvelling at the design and quality of what we saw, we extended our appreciation to our hosts. The high standard set at Wormiston is a fine example to all.
Our next visit was a short distance away through the village of Crail. Passing across the site of a World War Two airfield we approached the lofty remains of the old castle of BALCOMIE. The much extended tower, house and other buildings contain a wide range of historical and architectural periods and styles. We attempted in our minds to decipher this puzzle, finally concluding that the oldest visible parts were standing within and on top of a much older castle. Remnants of large vaulted chambers are seen along the outside wall of the tower, seemingly extending across the courtyard and terminating against the old perimeter wall. These remains show where the earlier structures once stood. The perimeter wall is protected by a large gatehouse and has a further series of old buildings constructed against it. The outside view of the gatehouse reveals three large heraldic panels. The existing main tower complex consists of two joined structures forming an L plan. One part of the tower has large bartizans / corner turrets with shot holes. The individual (conical) roofs of the bartizans have been removed. These and the main part of this tower form the L-shape plan and are covered by a modern roof. Our hosts had prepared a whole series of photocopied material as handouts for our visit. These shed further light on the complex that is Balcomie.
Lunch at Kingarroch Inn was enjoyed by all, but we could see that the weather was changing for the worse. Heavy rain made the return to our cars a speedy affair.
The first stop after lunch was by the roadside at the old ruined tower of LORDSCAIRNIE. It stands on a little rise in the middle of a cultivated field. The remnant of one protective corner tower, from the outer screen wall, shows how strong this place once was. Those of us who visited the ruin became soaked by the rain and the wet field crop. Later discussion revealed recent proposals to rescue and restore Lordscairnie.
Travelling on, we arrived at the grand house of Mountquhanie. Our host spoke to us from the stairs of his house, and explained his proposal for our visit. Some members were surprised to find that we were to visit the other MOUNTQUHANIE which is the original old tower standing a short distance behind the house. In the rain we explored and examined the substantial ruin of the tower and the small attached ecclesiastical building. Much discussion centred on the seemingly altered area at the top of the tower, where already-projecting bartizans become further corbelled-out at the wallhead.
Our host then escorted us to our next destination, CREICH CASTLE. Standing on a low rocky rise surrounded by farm buildings. This strong L-shaped tower has been much assaulted by stone robbers. Many of the large corner stones have been removed and endanger the structural security of the tower.
On arrival at FERNIE CASTLE we were invited to afternoon tea and coffee with scones and cream. The hardened castle enthusiasts delayed their break and took the opportunity to view the various external features. We identified the core of the original tower and the subsequent additions. Inside, the owners are working to reveal as much of the original structure as possible and to show it to best effect. After the internal tour, we visited the amazing subterranean icehouse contained within the grounds.
Our next stop was MYRES CASTLE, which was in the middle of major restoration. Our hosts were actually busy working within the castle and so we restricted our visit to the outside aspects and took the opportunity to explore the extensive gardens.
PITCAIRLIE CASTLE house was our final stop of the day. We were made welcome by the owner, who introduced us to his house and its history. First we toured the outside and were able to see the old tower that has been incorporated into the later buildings. An unusual feature of the tower is the alteration made to its base, where three recesses have been created to hold beehives. The sweet honey produced in the hives helped supply the needs of the earlier owners. Entering the ground floor we found a series of vaulted rooms which originate, like the tower, from an early period. Climbing to the upper levels of the house we found a huge contrast to the strong defensive aspects of the ground floor. The owner encouraged us to climb the old turnpike stair to the top of the tower. From here we enjoyed wonderful views across the local countryside.
THANKS TO OUR HOSTS