Saturday 24th of April saw the SCA tour group assembling at the Weem Hotel by Aberfeldy. Most of the group had stayed overnight here, and had enjoyed the fine fare of this historical hostelry.
Some of the party had travelled to the area early enough on the previous day to experience one of Graham Coe's impromptu castle-bagging excursions. Through that Friday afternoon we managed to visit the remains of...
ROHALLION CASTLE, the one meter high ruins of a Z plan tower, situated deep in a forest, high on a hillside, at the end of a long walk above the M9 near Dunkeld.
PITCASTLE, an overgrown ruin which is surrounded by farm buildings.
BLACKCASTLE OF MOULIN, a large ruined wall of enclosure, standing in the middle of a field.
WHITEFIELD, the ruins of a gem of a fortified house, with shot holes, heraldic panel recess, corbelled out stair tower or bartizan, and many other features that have remained in situ probably due to the isolated position and the very long walk in. The long walk in, and then back out again, caused the intrepid explorers to be very late for the evening meal and for the Council meeting that had been previously agreed. Several SCA members (editor included) returned to the Weem Hotel that evening to be frowned upon by their peers.
Our first official visit of the Saturday was to GARTH CASTLE. It sits on the edge of a forest, high on a hillside, at the end of an almost impassable track. It is protected by ravines and rushing torrents on two sides of its triangular promontory, with commanding views over its surrounding countryside. It is a solid square defensive tower of great age, and is currently being restored to a standard more in keeping with its origins than the previous restorer's attempts. Much work has been completed but much more remains to be done, all the result of the enthusiasm and finances of the owner, an SCA member resident in North America.
On leaving Garth we visited COMRIE CASTLE a picturesque ruin, sitting in the garden of a cottage, between the road and a river. We stopped by the roadside to admire and photograph this fine tower.
Due to late cancellations of previously agreed visits by owners, we were obliged to make a long detour south to Perth and HUNTINGTOWER. We had the whole place to ourselves and were able to explore this famous pair of towers. The towers are linked by other works, all of these are of good historical and architectural quality. The resultant structure is quite complete and unique.
INNERPEFFRAY CASTLE is a majestic ruin in the middle of a tilled field, at the end of a long track. While negotiating the track we began to doubt if our directions were correct, but finally we found our destination. We were able to examine this structure and wondered how many of the locals are aware of its existence.
CASTLE DRUMMOND, near Crieff, was our next visit. It was famous even before its starring role in the Rob Roy movie. The ancient tower, with its modern additions, is complemented by a large rambling house. Both of these structures stand on a platform high above the most spectacular and extravagant gardens, which also starred in the above movie.
We enjoyed lunch at the GLENTURRET DISTILLERY in Crieff, where some of the tour group were able to sample the local "produce" while others regretted being drivers.
The drive back through Aberfeldy and Weem brought us to CASTLE MENZIES. We were met by our host who welcomed us and gave a detailed description of the external and internal features plus an outline of the general history. We were then invited to explore the whole castle and to return with any questions which our host would answer. Our fascination with this place caused some delay of our departure.
The final visit of the day was to TAYMOUTH CASTLE by Kenmore and loch Tay. This magnificent baronial structure is probably the largest and grandest "castle" that we have visited. Those of us who felt that such a "grand house" was from too late a period, to qualify for our attention, were won over by the sheer scale and extravagance that awaited us. Our host told us that many of the rooms and features were utilised by the film-company making the movie "Mrs Brown". This is a story based on the relationship which developed between Queen Victoria and her faithful Highland servant and trusted companion John Brown. Again we lost track of time and found ourselves exiting from Taymouth much later than was intended. Once again our fascination with our subject matter had an unfortunate knock-on effect on the planned SCA Meeting and dining arrangements.
A rather wet and grey Sunday morning greeted our group as we headed off across the countryside to our first visit of the day. We finally stopped the SCA convoy and arranged our numbers into the selection of four-wheel drive vehicles necessary for the approach to GLASCLUNE. Parking in the adjacent farmyard we followed the path to the ruins of the castle. In the mist we found that two main structures were visible. One of these was in an almost totally collapsed state and ready to collapse further. The other structure was more complete, showing entrance way, windows, shot holes, and the corbelled out remains of a bartizan or stair turret. The outline of the original barmkin wall, which linked the two structures, was also clearly visible.
NEWTON CASTLE was our next visit and was one of those "special" occasions. The titled owner, famous in the law courts of the land, was waiting to welcome us as we arrived. Accompanied by his son he took us into an outbuilding and set the scene for the main building that we were about to see. Newton has a history of continuous and colourful occupation. Such a long period of occupation can result in much alteration to the original building, but in this case the changes and additions have not detracted from the original. We found that this castle was indeed a home where signs of the historic inhabitants sat side by side with the current family. In one panelled room one of our group commented that the overpainting with modern pastel emulsion detracted from the historical feeling. We were surprised and amused when our host explained that the panelling was added in the 18th century, that a cheap wood was used and was immediately painted to disguise this. The paint-work we could see was original and was therefore over 200 years old. Our host then invited us to wander at will around his home and to consider closed doors as no barrier to our examination. We extended our appreciation and thanks on our reluctant departure.
BELMONT CASTLE was our next visit, as we approached it appeared to be a Scots Baronial mansion. Examination of one end of the exterior revealed the possible outline of a tower house. We could not be sure of the age of the outline, so we decided to look for internal features that might resolve the issue. On meeting our hostess we were advised that Belmont is a residential care facility for the elderly, and as such most of the rooms were the private rooms of the residents. We were shown around the public rooms of the mansion and saw no signs of the original tower. We eventually asked our hostess if there were any vaulted rooms at a low or underground level or if any stone spiral stairs existed. This worked and we were advised that this was the area of the building where the "older cases" were to be found. We were led through a maze of passages and stairs and noticed a deterioration of the standard of decor and an equal increase in the age of the architecture. After a final decent, a door was opened and we saw that the "older cases" were the unclaimed suitcases containing the personal effects of departed residents. We were a much saddened and humbled group as we stood in that ancient vaulted basement viewing the many dozens of old suitcases, some covered with holiday destination stickers, each with its resident's identification tag. None of us had seen a more poignant indicator of our own transience.
We were quietly relieved to move on to the BELMONT ARMS HOTEL for lunch. A replica Pullman dining carriage was made available to us as a novel setting for our meal. Later, and just a short distance away, we arrived at the almost complete restoration project which is today's HATTON CASTLE. Many of us were surprised to be greeted by a lady who had been one of our tour group earlier in the day. We stood outside for a while and had the external features explained. On entering we found a beautiful home that was clearly a traditional Scottish fortified house of large size and complexity. Most of the work has been done with only final details and finishing to be completed. The Great Hall is a superb room, where the various musical instruments and music sheets seen around hinted at the good use that the room is now being put to.
Next visit was to PITCUR. The truncated bulk of this large tower stands in the middle of a modern farm. At some time the upper works have been reduced with much of the wall-head levelled and capped to minimise water penetration and deterioration. Venturing inside we found that some ground-level vaulting remains. The upper floors are now gone and the structure is open to the sky.
The final visit of our enjoyable two-day tour was to STOBHALL, the traditional home of the Earls of Perth. We were delighted to be met and hosted by the Earl and his adult grandson, both of whom made us very welcome and guided us through this beautiful and ancient series of structures and gardens. Stobhall is on a compact scale but incorporates many structures. Our main focus was concentrated on the old tower house and its attached hall-house chapel. Sitting high on the banks of the Tay, the older parts of the place are protected by an impressive gatehouse. Passing through the gatehouse pend, you enter an inner court, which contains several small residential structures. Magnificent gardens surround Stobhall, these are complemented by smaller enclosed spaces containing unique sculptures.
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