SCA chairman John P. Wright assembled the members, their friends and new visitors within the grounds of NIDDRY CASTLE. This imposing tower stands beside the canal and rail links between east and west and is dwarfed by the strange red shale spoil heaps from the old local mine workings. The owner/restorer met us by the remains of the barrnkin wall and described these in detail. We then entered the tower and found ourselves in the huge barrel vault and were struck by the magnitude of the restoration being undertaken. We examined the excavated well within the vault before moving upwards by the turnpike stair. The great hall with its large inserted windows gave this room more natural light than is normal in these structures, much discussion and examination of the main hall and the other rooms and features followed. Our host gave an interesting insight to the time, effort and costs involved up to this point in the restoration. These have been of such a scale that the ongoing restoration and future of Niddry Castle will pass into the hands of a local community trust. Fortunately it looks as though our host will remain as the occupier and prime mover in the project.
The group travelled around Edinburgh to REDHOUSE CASTLE where we met up with our President and guide for the day - Nigel Tranter. Most of the group were meeting Mr Tranter for the first time and everyone was delighted to have the opportunity to hear at first hand the stories and details of both the structure and the various people associated with it. While access to the inside of the castle was not possible Redhouse Castle, with its barmkin and gatehouse in such a splendid state of preservation was seen as a beautiful candidate for restoration.
Moving further east we arrived at BALLENCRIEFF CASTLE, another major restoration project which is now well on its way to completion. The owner joined us outside and welcomed all in the group to his home. Nigel Tranter was made especially welcome and was clearly a regular and well known visitor. The amazing story of the external works was described. Most present were surprised to discover that what was visible was until recently completely hidden by later works. These had developed through centuries of occupation and change. In the mid 19th century the building was gutted by fire and had remained in that poor state. Most of the later additions have now been removed with much stabilisation carried out. The building is now returned to how it would have looked in the early 17th century. The internal restoration work was equally impressive with evidence of the many different periods of occupation being retained. In the great hall we were given a first hand account of how the new fireplace lintel was moved to its present position. The mobile crane hired for the job had to maneuver both its jib and the suspended lintel, from outside at ground level, up through a 1st floor window close to the main fireplace. The tonnage of the lintel, combined with the low angle and extension of the crane jib created a situation so marginal that there was an exciting period when the whole exercise almost resulted in disaster. Following the tour, and due to the June weather having become cold and windy, the owner and his family kindly invited us to use the barrelled vault/kitchen as an indoor substitute for our intended picnic.
The SCA convoy moved on towards Nigel Tranter's Aberlady Bay and LUFFNESS HOUSE. After a brief welcome from the owner he handed us over to Mr Tranter who gathered the group together on the earthworks that still surround the building. Mr Tranter then treated us to a detailed description of how closely the tidal bay, and therefor shipping, had approached Luffness. On at least one occasion the shipping was hostile and these earthworks provided some defence during the following artillery exchange. On approaching the main building we had the origiuaI tower and subsequent additions described. Mr Tranter held us spellbound during the recounting of the story of the key. This was where a ground floor chamber with an old door being the only means of entry or exit was found to be locked. No one was able to understand how this door had come to be closed and locked, or where the key had gone. Later it was discovered the at the old key was just visible through one of the chamber gunloops, it was hanging on the wall inside. removed from the locked door and out of reach from the gunloop. How had this happened, who or what could have done this? The key hangs there still. We were intrigued.
Parking our cars in Gullane, the group gathered to make our way to the ruins of SALTCOATS CASTLE. Nigel Tranter moved through the group explaining that the walk was over rough ground and that some of our older members might find the walk arduous. Those older SCA Members who were probably some twenty to thirty years younger than our guide assured him that they would do their best to maintain his pace. We soon realised that Mr Tranter was a very fit man. Stopping at the derelict farmhouse, which stands beside Saltcoats, we examined and debated the details cut in the datestone over the door. The castle itself is now entirely ruinous and overgrown, but no less interesting for that. Many of the remaining features encouraged most of the party to clamber and explore the hidden vaulted chambers, remains of turnpike stairs and concealed gunloops.
The final visit took the group out into the Lothian countryside. Parking at the roadside by a dry-stone wall we saw the final challenge of the day. FENTON TOWER, standing isolated on its elevated rocky site was surrounded by a herd of very large bulls. These showed an unnerving interest in our arrival, with general movement of the herd and loud bellowing adding to our welcome. Undaunted, our guide clambered over the nearest gate and headed off towards the tower, the noisy welcoming party apparently being ignored. The group had no alternative but to follow, despite the vocal opinions of those who preached caution. Unscathed we approached the impressive shell that remains, and quickly set about exploring. After some time we were called outside by our guide Nigel Tranter. At this point I had become detached from the group, busy in my scraping around on the basement floor. Having picked up several broken pieces of what looked to me like bone china I set them down on a large piece of fallen masonry, rejoined the group and listened to the remaining description of the structure and its history. During this I became aware of the rattling of dishes, as in any normal kitchen during washing up time. Although the hairs on the back of my neck reacted, inwardly I did not feel that the noises were out of place. Later, on mentioning this experience I began to appreciate that this was not a "normal" occurrence!
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