Checking Out Huntingtower Castle

The architecture of Huntingtower Castle is unusual with two separate tower houses side by side.

The architecture of Huntingtower Castle is unusual with two separate tower houses side by side.

One thing you figure out quickly in Scotland is that there are dozens of castles throughout the country, and in many cases one need not travel far in order to reach them. Our first week in Scotland we signed up to become members of Historic Scotland for which we are granted free admission to many of the castles. Today, we took a local bus just five miles out of our home city of Perth to the site of Huntingtower Castle.

The gap between the two towers has been closed in.  The walkbridge is just for tourists.

The gap between the two towers has been closed in. The walkbridge is just for tourists.

The uniqueness of this castle is that it was built with two tower houses side by side but separated by a gap of a few feet. More recent renovations had the two towers joined into a single structure. The oldest part of the castle as it stands today dates back to the 1400’s. Prior to 1600 the castle was known as the Place of Ruthven. In 1480 the two sons of William, the First Lord Ruthven, were each granted letters of legitimacy, thus giving both heirs a rightful claim to the estate. This rare occurrence may explain the building of two tower houses so close together – one for each son.

A floor once divided this room into two stories. The first floor was for cooking and cleaning. The upper floor was for dining.

A floor once divided this room into two stories. The first floor was for cooking and cleaning. The 2nd floor was for dining and receiving guests.

The reign of King James VI was an unstable time politically. Even though the king made the Fourth Lord Ruthven the Earl of Gowrie in 1581, a year later the earl captured the young king and held him for ten months as a prisoner in what became known as the ‘Ruthven Raid’. The dispute was settled and the king forgave his earl.

More political intrigue followed, and in 1600 the Ruthven brothers, John and Alexander, were implicated in a plot to murder King James. The king had them executed and their families were forced to forfeit their land. The king took possession of the castle and estate and renamed it Huntingtower. In 1643 he awarded the land and the earldom to the Murrays of Tullibardine.

The top floor was the earl's bedroom. A four poster bed sat along the left wall.

The top floor was the earl’s bedroom. A four poster bed sat along the left wall.

The last of the family to reside in the castle was Lady Mary Ross, widow of John Murray, the First Duke of Atholl, whose realm included parts of what is now Perth. She died in 1767 and the castle fell into disrepair. Farm laborers occasionally used the site for shelter. Nowadays, the castle has become a popular site for weddings. The castle is now in the care of Historic Scotland and is open to visitors all year round.

The most important historic feature of the castle is this medieval ceiling painted with pigments from the 15th century.

The most important historic feature of the castle is this medieval ceiling painted with pigments from the 15th century.

The ubiquitous cross of St. Andrew on the flag of Scotland flies over the ramparts.

These days the cross of St. Andrew on the flag of Scotland flies over the ramparts.

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The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo

Scotland's legendary Black Watch Regimental Pipe Band enters the arena from Edinburgh Castle.

Scotland’s legendary Black Watch Regimental Pipe Band enters the arena from Edinburgh Castle.

The original meaning of ‘military tattoo’ was a military drum performance. The term dates back to the 16th century in Holland. The Dutch Army was staffed mostly by mercenaries from England, Scotland, Germany and Switzerland with a Dutch commanding officer. Drummers were sent out each evening at 9:30 p.m. to inform soldiers it was time to return to their barracks. The process was known as a ‘Tap Toe’, a signal to innkeepers to shut off their taps and stop serving beer to the soldiers.

The boys' precision motorcycle team from England warmed up the crowd.

The boys’ precision motorcycle team from England warmed up the crowd.

Nowadays, a tattoo is a performance by military bands for entertainment, and one of the  world’s most prestigious tattoos is held outside the entrance to Edinburgh Castle every August as part of the festival known simply as Fringe, which we attended. The show featured groups from Korea, Mongolia, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, Australia, England and of course, Scotland.

The massed band opened the tattoo with stirring pipe and drum numbers.

The massed band opened the tattoo with stirring pipe and drum numbers.

The show opened with the massed pipe bands marching out from the castle onto the escalade while playing the bagpipes in unison. The collective musical force of fifty drummers and a hundred pipers is thrilling. It got the crowd fired up more than a Super Bowl halftime show! Following the pipers were the drum and bugle corps massed bands. There is nothing like marching bands in their dress uniforms to get the spectators energized.

From Mariachi to fiesta dancing, the Mexico band livened up the show.

From Mariachi to fiesta dancing, the Mexico band livened up the show.

The Mexican group opened with an Aztec-style fire dance followed by a musical fiesta featuring dancers in traditional bright colored dresses. The Mongolian band had the most impressive uniforms and their dancers performed a tribute to the great Genghis Khan, complete with period costumes and replica spears and arrows.

The performers from South Korea contrasted with the power of the brass and pipe bands with a delicate dance with silk scarves and ballet-like choreography. Their presentation built to a crescendo of synchronized drumming that brought roars of appreciation from the capacity crowd of 8,600.

The Kiwis go Gangnam Style.

The Kiwis go Gangnam Style.

The New Zealanders stole the show with their energy. They started their presentation with the classic Maori haka or war chant. After a classic march they performed a drinking song where they staggered while playing, which drew laughs and cheers from the audience. They followed with the final movement of the classic Sousa march, Stars and Stripes Forever with six piccolo soloists. However, they completely won the hearts of the crowd when the trombone players set down their horns and danced Gangnam Style complete with sunglasses.

The Mongolian uniforms were the most colorful.

The Mongolian uniforms were the most colorful.

As if that were not enough, the women’s drill team joined the band. Their precision movements culminated in a double file crisscross performed marching backwards. I have seen some amazing dance and drill routines, but I had never seen that before! It was one thing keeping their lines perfect, but they did so while blind to the movements of their teammates while marching in reverse. No wonder the Kiwis won over the crowd so completely on this night.

The Tattoo Grand Finale complete with fireworks

The Tattoo Grand Finale complete with fireworks launched from Edinburgh Castle.

As exciting as the tattoo was, my words are inadequate to describe how stirring the performances were to see in person. If you ever learn of a military tattoo in your area, I urge you to experience it firsthand. You will not be disappointed.

A Big Weekend in Perth, Scotland

The Kilt Run kicked off a weekend of fun in Perth. This is kind of an 'Anything Goes' event.

The Kilt Run kicked off a weekend of fun in Perth. This is kind of an anything goes event.

The Kilt Run

No Perth event would be complete without the local pipe and drum corps to kick things off.

No Perth event would be complete without the local pipe and drum corps to kick things off.

Saturday was the 5k Kilt Run. This annual event has two requirements: 1) you must pay an entry fee, and 2) all runners must wear a kilt. There were close to 3,000 participants in this year’s event – men, women, old and young, wheelchair bound, athletic and not. Many local businesses fielded teams, and it was all for the great cause of raising money for charitable works.

The UK Tug o’ War Championships were also taking place at the park. I noticed not all the participants were big, burly men as I would have expected. I asked the coach of the English team whether there were weight limits. Since his lads had just defeated the Scottish team, he was delighted to talk about the rules with me.

Weight classes for the eight member teams collectively range from 480 kilos (1,056 lbs.) for junior women up to 760 kilos (1,762 lbs.) for men plus an unlimited class. The first team that pulls the mid-point four meters in their direction wins. Few bouts last longer than a minute or so.

The Highland Games

Individual piping competition is one small part of the Highland Games.

Individual piping competition is one small part of the Highland Games.

Sunday brought the long-awaited Perth Highland Games. There were all kinds of competitions: pipe and drum bands, Scottish folk dancing, individual piping, drum majors, caber tossing, hammer throwing and bicycle and foot races. We counted twenty-four pipe bands. There were so many that the competition began at 10:00 a.m. in order to have time for everyone to compete.

The girls warm up for their turn next on stage before the judges.

The girls warm up for their turn next on stage.

The atmosphere was just like a county fair. There were rides for the kids, vendor booths, and lots of junk food (which we did not eat…except for some candy). There were good crowds although we never had difficulty seeing what we wanted to see. There are about 30 of these games throughout the summer in cities and towns all over Scotland. People come from miles around to hear the pipes and enjoy a day at the park.

We both love the pipe bands and the folk dancing. The other competitions are interesting, too. However, the folk traditions with the kilts and tartans and the music are hard to top. We both get goose bumps when we hear a bagpipe band play together. And we are relieved to be outdoors because the volume can get quite loud.

The occasional boy joins in the competition.  This handsome lad had no difficulty holding his own.

The occasional boy joins in the competition. This handsome lad had no difficulty holding his own.

I can imagine wartime when an army would wait near a battlefield. Then they would hear the inevitable bagpipes blaring in the distance as the Highlanders approached, the blare of the pipes shattering the stillness of the morning. The Scots’ reputation as fierce fighters preceded them, so there must have been times when the enemies of the Scots felt the chill of doubt creep into their consciousness. Those echoes from the past arise in us today as the pipers play.

Highland Games are at least as popular in the U.S. and Canada as they are in Scotland. If you have never been I suggest you check one out. It is fun for all children of every age.

Scone Palace near Perth, Scotland

The gateway to Scone Castle marks where the town used to border the castle grounds. When the castle was rebuilt in the 1800's, a new town was built two miles away and the old houses were knocked down.

The gateway to Scone Palace marks where the town used to border the palace grounds. When the castle was rebuilt in the 1800’s, a new town was built two miles away and the old houses were knocked down.

The local bus drops us at the driveway to Scone Palace about 10 minutes from town. (Scone rhymes with raccoon.)  After a 15 minute walk down the drive we come to the gate of the palace grounds.  Since a tour bus beats us to the door, we divert our attention to the expansive grounds which include a graveyard, gardens, and the Star Maze.

2000 beech trees, half copper and half green, were planted  to create a tartan effect.

2000 beech trees, half copper and half green, were planted to create a tartan effect.

The Star Maze is a five-pointed walk-through maze with eight foot tall hedges to prevent taking shortcuts or peeking over the tops of hedgerows to figure out the solution to finding the exit.  It is not recommended that people with poor spatial ability take on the maze challenge. People have gotten stuck in the maze which typically leads to a panic attack and cries for help.

Scone Chapel. displays a replica of the Stone of Scone visible in front of the chapel.

Scone Chapel. displays a replica of the Stone of Scone visible in front of the chapel.

Scone Palace fell into disrepair in the 1800’s, and it might have been left to crumble had not the then Earl of Mansfield realized the tourist value of the place. The castle was completely refurbished and now gets thousands of tourists every year. This site is where the coronation of kings took place dating back a thousand years to the time of Macbeth and Robert the Bruce.

The Stone of Scone, the ceremonial seat for coronations, was removed by Edward I in 1296 with the spoils of war and placed in Westminster Abbey. The stone was shelved under the royal throne to symbolize English monarchs sitting above the kings of Scotland. This never did sit well with the independent-minded Scots. There was talk of moving the stone back to Scotland in the 1300’s. However, riotous crowds prevented the moving of the stone from Westminster Abbey, and it remained in London for another 600 years.

Rob Roy Pipe Band from Kingston, Ontario, practiced for the Highland Games in Perth and the World Championship Pipe Band Competition next week in Glasgow to the delight of the tourists.

Rob Roy Pipe Band from Kingston, Ontario, practiced for the Highland Games in Perth and the World Championship Pipe Band Competition next week in Glasgow to the delight of the tourists.

On Christmas Day, 1950, group of four University of Glasgow students stole the stone from Westminster Abbey and braved roadblocks to return the stone to Scotland. They were not caught, but the stone was damaged during the heist and broke in two. Thinking the Church of Scotland would not allow the stone’s return, the students left the stone on the steps of Arbroath Abbey in April, 1951. When the British authorities were notified, they took possession of the stone and returned it to Westminster Abbey.

In 1996, in response to growing dissatisfaction among Scots with the British Parliament, Queen Elizabeth II had the stone moved to Edinburgh Castle, where it remains today. It is only moved to London for coronation ceremonies of which the Stone of Destiny as it has come to be known, has been a part for a thousand years.

The ABC Tour in Scotland

One thing you notice in the cities of Scotland is the abundance of steeples. Perth is no exception.

One thing you notice in the cities of Scotland is the abundance of steeples. Perth is no exception.

Dear reader, in case you are not familiar with the ABC Tour, this is the part of our travels when we visit Another Blessed Cathedral. The ABC Tour is a series of mini-tours we have been doing for over two years, and we have witnessed some of the most spectacular art, architecture and antiquities imaginable.

We can see the Perth Cathedral steeple from our flat.

We can see the Perth Cathedral steeple from our flat.

Florence, like all her ancestors, was raised Catholic. She even attended a Catholic boarding school, which accounts for her exceptional preparation for post-secondary school. Upon entering a cathedral, Florence observes reverent moments of contemplation and dutifully lights a candle in remembrance of those who are the subjects of her prayers and blessings.

The Perth Cathedral, St. Ninian's, up close

The Perth Cathedral, St. Ninian’s, up close

I also stand in awe of the size, scale and sophistication of the art and architecture of the sites we visit, albeit from a different perspective. The symbols of Christianity are not new to me. I learned enough in my Protestant upbringing to comprehend both New and Old Testament teachings, enough so that I can appreciate the imagery in all of its glory. I am awestruck by the creations of artists and craftsmen who designed and built these great cathedrals. One cannot help but be moved by the grandeur or the works.

The Gothic ceiling towers over the crucifix above the altar.

The Gothic ceiling towers over the altar.

There is so much history behind each cathedral we visit. For example, here in Scotland, the Catholic Church rivaled the great monarchs and land barons in its wealth and power. After The Reformation when the Anglican Church broke away from the Roman Catholic Church, the church still shared the power and wealth of the country. In order to have a place in the church, one had to purchase a seat in the congregation. So it was that the poor were left out.

The Perth Cathedral interior is spectacular.

The Perth Cathedral interior is spectacular.

During the period of The Enlightenment, when scientific thought supplanted ignorance and superstition, the common folks in society demanded a say in how they were governed in the wake of the French Revolution and the introduction of parliamentary rule. This was true also in the way people worshiped. In 1843, there was The Disruption, when over 400 ministers and their congregations broke away from The Church of Scotland. When these congregations had the means, they erected their own churches as The New Church of Scotland. By 1929, a compromise of sorts reunified the divided churches. However, neither church regained its former stature.

The North Church behind our flat is only open on Sunday.

The North Church behind our flat is only open on Sunday.

The Church of Scotland used to preach from the pulpit the principle of Sunday as a day of worship. However, the schism in the church led more and more people to find other things to do with their time. With the advent of radio, television, organized sports and even Sunday shopping, church attendance in Scotland continued its decline. Contributing to this decline was the fact that women formed the majority of church membership, and women were denied the right to be ordained until 1968.

Even though we are not able to enter every church, like the Church of the Nazarene, it is still an interesting building.

Not every church is open to us, like the Church of the Nazarene. Still, it is an interesting building.

The decline in church attendance is why you now see many church buildings in Scotland that have been sold to private businesses housing restaurants, night clubs and offices. I was surprised to learn that today in Scotland, the largest denomination of churchgoers is Roman Catholic. I have learned a lot of interesting history on the ABC Tour.

The Perth Saturday Market

Vendors set up awning covered booths for the Saturday Market.  Hundreds of people flock to King Edward Street to create a fair-like atmosphere.

Vendors set up awning covered booths for the Saturday Market. Hundreds of people flock to King Edward Street to contribute to a fair-like atmosphere.

Vendors from around the region set up booths just off High Street in Perth from 9:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. on the first Saturday of each month (and twice in December).  So we grabbed our re-usable grocery bags (which are needed here) and set out to beat the midday rush.  There are about 30 canopies along King Edward Street, few enough that we can stroll by each one and then go back to our favorites.  And that is just what we did.

Seafood

The seafood table had cooked lobster, crab, and fresh salmon. Haddock and sole were the top sellers. The was the busiest booth at the Market.

Jellies

This fellow’s apron reads ‘I Love Hot Pepper Jelly.’ As it turns out, so do I, so I got some. The back label reads ‘After opening store near your plate.’ I love that!

Beer

Paul, the beer guy from St. Andrews told us his company was owned by an American who came to St. Andrews to play golf.  When he asked what the local beer was, he was told there wasn’t any.  So he funded a brewery.  His name is Peter Coors.  After sampling a few I bought some to take home.

Breads

These breads were amazing.  We bought loaves of whole grain sourdough and hazelnut bran. We also got some scones and some of that cake you see in front.

Cheeses

Let’s see, we bought ginger cheddar, cranberry cheddar, grilled onion cheddar and cheddar with chives.  Do you see a pattern here?  She got us with the samples!

Berries

Fresh berries are still in season, so we got some raspberries.

Candyman

Homemade candies – what do you think?

Food Booth1

We could have eaten at the Market, but we had already purchased enough.  We saw much more, too.  The people were open and friendly.  They even seemed to like our “American accents.”  Hmm – I never knew I had an accent. 

There is Nothing Like Home Cooking

The historic Perth Theatre is just down the street from our flat.

The historic Perth Theatre is just down the street from our flat.

A look up the spiral staircase three stories to our apartment

A look up the spiral staircase three stories to our apartment entry

Now that we have our own kitchen, I have begun preparing meals at home. Celeste, if you read this, I want you to know that I am working on a plant-based diet, although I have not given up eggs and cheese. That may come as I find more sources where I can purchase the ingredients I need. I will also be reading the vegetarian and vegan blogs for more ideas. There are mouth watering recipes posted daily, and I look forward to trying lots of them.

A mixture of fresh vegetables served over a bed of basmati rice

A mixture of fresh vegetables served over a bed of basmati rice

Last night’s dinner was a stir fry. We found green, yellow and red bell peppers which added appealing color to the dish. I added zucchini, onion and snap peas plus a fresh mix that included bean sprouts. Stir-fry has to be the easiest veggie dish in the world, and it cooks quickly. The only thing missing was some cashews or sliced almonds to add some texture and flavor. You should not be surprised to learn I added some jalapeño peppers to my serving to spice it up.

Window Shopping

We good shoppers put together our own little library for under $20.

We good shoppers put together our own little library for under $20.

Our casual walks through Perth have revealed some treasures we overlooked previously. We found a frozen food store, Farm Foods, which also offers fresh foods during the growing season. We also found some used books bookstores. This is important to us since we do not have a television. We visited Thornton’s, a UK-based chocolatier, and we picked up a couple of handmade chocolate creams for 50 cents apiece. We checked out the Perth Theatre just down the block from us, the perfect venue for some live entertainment in the weeks ahead. We have a bit more exploring to do. There is supposedly a branch library within a couple of blocks of our apartment, and there is still the Performance Center and cinema to check out.

The historic steam train through Scotland's West Highlands Photo credit: visitscotland.com

The historic steam train through Scotland’s West Highlands
Photo credit: visitscotland.com

I am currently looking over the train schedules to plan our trip along the west coast aboard the historic steam train that goes over a picturesque bridge featured in the Harry Potter movies. Like everything in Perth, the train and bus stations are about six blocks away, and where the trains do not go, the buses do.  There is much yet to see and do.

I look forward to our daily walks.  I look forward to finishing another book and starting a new one.  And I look forward to writing whatever my next story will be.

Cheers from Scotland!