Thursday, 16 February 2017

We get into mischief at Cawdor Castle

September 12, 2016

Off to Cawdor Castle soon, but first, we walked over to the museum in Nairn, where we chatted with a couple of the volunteers, and I got two names for future genealogical reference. 

Like most small-town museums, this one was a treasure trove of local lore, housed in a heritage building known as Viewfield House. Intriguingly, I later discovered it was built in 1803 by  a Col. Ludovic Grant and later bought by a James Augustus Grant when he married Elizabeth MacKintosh in 1813. The Grants in my family hail from Cawdor, near Nairn, and one of them did marry a "Mcintosh," but these Grants aren't direct relatives.

This is the exterior of the Nairn Museum,
the former Viewfield House .

We were also very taken with a special exhibit featuring automata (from the House of Automata located near Findhorn.)


An antique cat automata
or is he really Puss in Boots?

We asked the ladies behind the reception desk questions about the Grants and discovered that Budgate House (where lived my grandfather's father and several generations of Grants before him) was pronounced "budget," not "bud-gate."  My love of phonics occasionally leads me astray.

Then it was time to find the family farm, where, in the 1851 census, Caroline Grant, my great great grandmother, was listed as a 46-year-old widow and "farmer of  22 acres."  Her name was Caroline Masters Nicholls; she and my great great grandfather John Grant had been married in 1833.
John  died between sometime between the birth of their fifth child in 1844 and the 1851 census. I have not been able to find his death date, as apparently no deaths were recorded in Scottish parishes back then.  Caroline's surname solved a long-time puzzle for me, as my maternal grandfather's third name was "Nicholls."  How had that come about I had always wondered. Well, mystery solved: he had been named after his grandmother. 

Anyhow, we called a cab and the driver knew the present owner, who turned out to be one of the resource people mentioned by the museum ladies. Some of our cabbie's family had worked at the farm over the years.

Once we got there, I screwed up my courage, knocked on the door, and got permission to take a few photos.

Budgate farmhouse  as it is today near Cawdor

I wonder how long this stone wall has been there and if my forebears ever sat on it!.

Was this field part of the 22 acres?

Then it was off to visit Cawdor Castle of Macbeth fame. There is more about the connection to the Scottish play at this link:  

Since the castle was not built until the late 14th century, it has no connection to the historical Macbeth, who was born about 1005 AD. As the 5th earl of Cawdor was supposed to have said, "I wish the bard had never written his damned play." Nevertheless, it is a wonderful place to visit.

There was long, narrow, busy driveway into the castle, which we did not want to have to navigate afterwards to catch the bus back to Nairn. Our cabbie advised us to leave the castle by following a footpath to a gate, directly on the other side of which was the village of Cawdor, where there was a church yard, possibly housing deceased Grants, and a bus stop.

The castle was immensely enjoyable, especially as it was furnished and not a ruin as the ones in Kirkwall were.The Dowager Duchess of Cawdor still lives there. I was taken by how cosy the rooms we toured were made by the large, ancient (and likely priceless) tapestries festooning the stone walls. 

The gardens were spectacular as well: 

The Dowager Duchess Angelika Cawdor commissioned the Tree of Life, sculpted by Tim Pomeroy. According to a report on the website Black Isle Bronze, it was lowered into the garden by helicopter in 2011:


The minotaur is at the centre of a maze in the walled garden which was first enclosed in 1620. In 1981, Lord Cawdor had the holly maze planted in part of it. Later his widow, the dowager duchess, commissioned the minotaur sculpture.

The castle was begun about 1370 when William, the third thane of Cawdor began the central tower house. This photo shows a much later addition beside the burn (Gaelic for 'stream'):

Our curiosity about the castle and its gardens satisfied, we decided to follow our cabbie's advice and find that gate. It was not hard to find, but it was all chained up. Back we trudged to the entrance and talked to the young girl behind the counter about getting a cab. We told her we just wanted to get to the village of Cawdor and that it was a pity it was such a long walk around along such a busy narrow road. 

"Oh," she said, "just take the gate off its hinges,"  which is what the locals apparently do. In our brilliant way, we then remembered that the top hinge was not in its place, so back we went, flourishing our tickets at the ticket booth (good for the day, not just  the visit), re-crossed the sweeping front lawn and the blue bridge and headed up the path, and yes, Greg lifted the gate off its remaining hinge. We walked through, Greg replaced the gate on both hinges, and we found ourselves in Cawdor.

The only witness to our mischief was this sheep:

This is the house across the road from the sheep pasture. Cawdor is a charming little village.

We explored the church yard of the Cawdor Parish Church for a while. 

Alas, we found no Grant stones. 

Cawdor Parish Church was likely where my great grandfather was baptized. Duncan Joseph Grant was born in 1835; parts of the church, which date from 1619, are incorporated into the present church built in 1831. 

It seemed as if we would have to wait three hours for the bus back to Nairn. I thought there must be somewhere close by to eat, so we walked along and found this pub, the Cawdor Tavern.

It was cosy, low-ceilinged, and wood-panelled, and we had a great meal. I had pork chops, haggis and potato mash, more vegetables and Canada Dry ginger ale, which made me think of home. Restaurants in Scotland don't seem to carry ginger ale except as a mix for drinks, so our waiter apologized for the very small bottle. Greg enjoyed an Orkney beer and asked about why it was available here, of all places. We were told the owner of the Orkney Brewery, where we had lunched a few days before, also happens to own these premises.

Alas, we were told there were no longer buses running even though the route (#252) was listed on the Stagecoach web-site. We decided to take the locals' word for it and returned to Nairn by cab. 

The driver this time regaled us with stories about the lawsuit for continued possession of the castle which the Dowager Duchess fought against her stepson, the new earl after his father died. The son took his case all the way to the House of Lords, spent a million pounds and lost! The cabbie's sympathies were not with him. He told us of other profligate young heirs as well. 

We ended our day with our heads full of history past and present and concluded taking a cab in Scotland is well worth the extra expense.

Thursday, 2 February 2017

My "steely blue eyes" take in more sights in Thurso and Nairn

Hello again, folks,

I am trying to get you to Nairn as quickly as possible, but first, I must mention our  effervescent hostess at 4 Princess BnB in Thurso.
The very small sign indicates the  premises of the 4 Princess  BnB

She was, as my travel journal for the rest of Sept. 11 attests:

 ... very very talkative, but pleasant. She said my steely blue eyes were "evidence of my Norwegian ancestry." [I thought that was so cool: so I have steely blue eyes. Wow. As far as I was concerned, she could carry on and just talk and talk. But to continue with my journal record:]

We settled ourselves in our very small room, which fortunately had its own bathroom in the room, not off the corridor outside, as in Stromness and Fort William. 

Then we walked up the street for dinner —  nice cheese appetizer, which was a mistake, alas, for my innards later on. I had a teriyaki stir fry many veg (onions, broccoli, carrots, green peppers) but no noodles. Greg had a fish platter. 

It was rainy and cool the evening we made our way to the Holborn Hotel and the Red Pepper
Restaurant  (Source

We sat at the table to the right by the wall . The night we were there the place was packed.

Home by 8:30 pm — watched Poldark, the trial episode. I fell asleep, woke at  1:00 am, awake for  two to three hours. Grrrr.

September 12, 2016

We probably could have caught the 9:00 am train to Inverness, but we didn't rush. Nice breakfast: yogurt, fruit, scrambled eggs, dry toast for me. Pain and diarrhea, so I  took a whole codeine and felt better after a while. I would likely be enjoying the trip much more if I felt better. 

Our hostess again regaled us ... [in fact she had me laughing so hard at her comments about the state of my health, I almost didn't notice my stomach cramps on the way to the washroom.]

Then we headed out; it looked like rain and was very windy. We came to the train station and took turns going for walks. I found a nice park, The Mall, by the river.  

[This afternoon while writing this rather dull account, I decided to spice it up by adding Internet pictures and of course, more information: viz. "The Mall dates from Victorian times, but the new foot bridge was completed in 2009 after the old one washed away in a flood in 2006. The new bridge ... goes across the river in a single span." Source:] 

Photographer: Bill Fernie, and  taken on a much nicer day!

Then, while Greg walked, I  read a book by Trollope I had bought at a used bookstore:

It was a charming cubbyhole. Source:

Now we are waiting for the imminent arrival of the train back to Inverness.
The train was delayed 15 minutes and seemed to go rather slowly at other times with the result that we missed the connection to Nairn by just a couple of minutes. Our conductor was miffed that they wouldn't hold the train. However, the next one came in just under an hour [for the 15-minute or so trip to Nairn].

Our BnB at Nairn, Cawdor House, is a stone's throw away from the station. A very enthusiastic young German couple run it, and we have a bigger room that we have had so far.

The outside of Cawdor House on a day very like the one on which we arrived.
The postmodern photo-art was created by our host.

[We decided to explore Nairn High St. and walked down to the shopping area. On the way, we ran into the young woman from the BnB taking the laundry into a laundromat. We all said hello, and later I reflected that being the arty one in the family, i.e., her husband, had its uses]. 

We walked to a park by the sea shore (nearby, the Moray Firth joins the North Sea). I put my hand
 in the water just to feel close to PEI (Source:
The BnB proprietors recommended the Classroom Bistro down the street, where we had a very nice meal. I had sea bass, boiled potatoes and mixed vegetables cooked just right. 


Back at our BnB, our TV wouldn't work, so we read our books.

And that is the end of the excitement for that day.