1st September – reporting from the top of St Rule’s Tower!

St Andrews Jo 132Those of you who have been following my blog for a while might know that I’m not over-fond of heights.

The feeling seems to be quite selective – it has a lot to do with the space I’m standing in.  If, for example, I’m on the ramparts of Doune Castle with a good solid wall and a roof behind me, I can look down fairly happily.   But if, as I found out to my cost, I’m standing on the teetering parapet of the Scott Monument, with only a few square inches between me and mid-air in almost any direction, I’m inclined to freeze.  And that was only half-way up!

Colin and I visited St Andrew’s Cathedral for the first time in March this year, and when I saw the amazing 12th century tower of St Rule and learned that there’s a spiral staircase inside, I was really tempted to try and climb it.   I could see people at the top, holding their cameras up to photograph the spectacular view.   How scary could it be?  Too scary, I decided.

St Andrews - Verity 32But when Verity came up last weekend, and we took her to St Andrews for the day, I thought I would have a tough word with myself.  After all, I have lots of loyal readers on this blog and The Hazel Tree, and I decided that you would all love to see the view from the top just as much as I would!   It’s 100 feet high, and to my knowledge, no one has ever fallen off.   What could go wrong?

There’s a turnstile at the base of the tower, and you have to get tokens from the Historic Scotland shop in order to pass through.   Then, the only way is up… and for the first 20 or 30 feet you’re climbing on an open, wrought iron stairway, with full view of the nice, comfortable ground you’ve left behind.   I didn’t like this much.  At this point Verity, who had joined us up until now, turned round and said she’d be happy to stay below.

St Rule's Tower (3)St Rule's Tower (5)But there’s a small wooden landing about a quarter of the way up, and after this the stairs became narrow stone steps, spiralling steeply within a circular stairwell.   I was concentrating on not looking up, but the views down had practically disappeared.  That was quite a relief.

In fact, it took us less than 10 minutes to reach the top, although I was very glad to see the sky and breathe some fresh air.   The wooden viewing platform is about 20 feet across, and there’s an extra railing between you and the stone parapet that you can see from the ground.  This means that you can’t lean over – unless you deliberately climb over the railing, and I wasn’t about to do that.

St Rule's Tower - top

My eyes were shut at this point

And the views… everything I had hoped for, and more.   As you gaze down into the dizzying space, the churchyard of the Cathedral gives way to red-roofed town houses and the castle beyond, with wafer-thin fingers of headland sliding into the North Sea.  The ruined cloisters and nave look like small-scale models, and the original cross shape of the cathedral is easy to see on the ground.  You are even higher than the twin turrets of the magnificent east gable which stands to your right, and it was this proximity (and the chasm between) that struck me the most.

St Andrews Colin 105

St Rule's Tower 11

St Rule's TowerLuckily, panic didn’t set in!   Instead, I set about creating a video.   I didn’t hang my camera over the side, although I did lift it up as high as I could (Colin was more successful, being taller!)   Eventually we made out the tiny figure of Verity on the ground below, and waved.

Crikey, it’s high.  I wonder if the monks came up here to sit and ponder, while they ate their sandwiches.

The white arrow points to Verity!

The white arrow points to Verity!

Then we turned around and headed back down the stairs, wondering aloud just what would happen if we met a party of people coming up.   We soon found out – it’s a matter of breathing in and flattening yourself against the wall, while trying to give them as much as possible of the widest part of the steps.   One of Colin’s cameras knocked against the wall and a lens hood went bouncing down the stairs into the darkness, sending echoes around the hollow tower.  He eventually picked it up again, undamaged!

And so, I proudly present to you… my video from the top of St Rule’s Tower!

Ready for a cup of tea now!

Ready for a cup of tea now!

St Andrews is a beautiful place, absolutely teeming with history.   If you’re interested, you can visit my other site, The Hazel Tree, to read about St Rule’s Tower and St Andrew’s Cathedral.

Posted in History, archaeology & geology, Outdoors, Photography | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

26th August – Dollar Glen, Castle Campbell… and the Dupplin Cross

Castle Campbell (7)On Sunday we explored another area of Scotland that was new to us – Dollar Glen in Clackmannanshire.   It’s just on the other side of the Forth estuary from us, and it turned out to be well worth the effort.

I’d seen photos of Dollar Glen, and I’d heard a little bit about Castle Campbell, which stands above the town of Dollar.    But when I read somewhere that Castle Campbell was once known as ‘Castle Gloom’, and that it is flanked by two streams called the Burn of Care and the Burn of Sorrow, I really couldn’t resist!

Castle Campbell (16)

Castle Campbell (18)

Waterfalls, Dollar Glen 68

Dollar Glen is enchanting… you can walk on paths and boardwalks high above a gorge where waterfalls plunge into inky pools and hazel trees stretch out their fronds over the abyss.   The perpetual shade is punctuated occasionally by shafts of sunlight on the greenest of moss.   You can breathe the energy in the mist-laden air.   It’s wonderful.

I’ve written about the trees of Dollar Glen on The Hazel Tree, and you can read it here.

Castle Campbell (9)Built in the early 15th century, Castle Campbell stands just clear of the woodlands, and its ramparts give the most spectacular views of the Ochil Hills, and south across the Firth of Forth to the Lothians.   We took a good look around, and I’ll file a detailed report soon on The Hazel Tree (I’m collecting a nice little to-do list here!)

Castle Campbell 115If you’re wondering what Colin is doing in this photo, he’s photographing a dragonfly.  He can spot interesting small things at 100 yards, and he was lucky because it had just emerged and was still drying its wings.

There was no one else there, except me and a cute rabbit.   The rabbit wasn’t asking questions, and in fact I managed to creep up on it as it munched away on the grass.


Common Hawker Dragonfly

Peacock on garden thyme

Peacock on garden thyme

Common Hawker dragonfly, maleRose hipsCastle Campbell (13)We wandered further along the gorge trails after we’d looked around the castle, noticing the first hints of autumn colour in the leaves and trying various contortions in order to photograph the waterfalls.  Then we followed the path up onto the open hillside, where a dor beetle had obviously been waiting for its turn in the limelight.   How beautiful they are – jet black, brushed with neon turquoise and ultra-violet.  (He’s less than an inch across, this is an enlarged photo!)

Dor Beetle 17A bit further on, Colin managed to photograph a grasshopper and an ‘instar’, which is one of its larval phases.   He was very pleased with himself, but nearly came a cropper when he accidentally slipped and put a leg into the Burn of Sorrow.

It was really lovely up there, and I was intrigued by the low bracken-covered hills, shaped like cones.  I think they are glacial features.   Hmm, interesting!   A bit of research is needed.

Castle Campbell 294Castle Campbell 293After that, we walked back down to the car and took a detour north, finding ourselves in a village called Dunning.   As I glanced at the church, the sight of its yellowish stone tower rang a bell – the vision of a Pictish cross concealed inside, so near and yet so far, flashed into my head and I suddenly remembered visiting about six months ago, in search of treasure, and finding it was locked.

Not so this time!    St Serf’s Church was open, and there was the 9th century Dupplin Cross in all its magnificence.

St Serf's Church, Dunning 14

St Serf's CrossI won’t spoil things by telling you stuff about the Dupplin Cross that I’m presently going to be telling you on The Hazel Tree.   But it is absolutely wonderful.   You could write a book just about the carvings.

A lovely day out, to places that are surprisingly close to home.   When we got back, Purdey was just waking up from her first sleep and fancying a snack.   It’s taken us this long to go through all our photos!

I’ll put up another post soon on The Hazel Tree, focusing on the flowers and insects that we came across in the gorge.   Then, there’s Castle Campbell, and the Dupplin Cross.   How can I squeeze more hours into the day?

Photos copyright © Colin & Jo Woolf

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18th August – Galloway Country Fair and Drumlanrig Castle

Drunlanrig, Galloway Country Fair 19Well, we survived the weekend at the Galloway Country Fair, despite the weather!   After we heard the forecast of gales and heavy showers, we wondered what Sunday would bring.  Having our own marquee suddenly didn’t seem like such a great idea!

The crowds still turned up for the show, although both days were slow to get going.   The folks in Dumfries & Galloway don’t seem to mind the rain.  Our marquee flapped around and made some alarming noises but luckily our open sides were facing away from the wind, and it was all well pegged down.   We took a few of the small panels off the top of our stand, just in case.  Nearby, two massive beech trees seemed to be rising and falling like the sea.

At 11 o’clock I deserted my post and walked up the hill to Drumlanrig Castle, where I joined a guided tour of the inside.   I mean, look at it!   How could you pass up that opportunity?   (And yes, this blue sky pic was taken on the same day!)

Drumlanrig, Galloway Country Fair 27

Drumlanrig Castle sits in an estate of 90,000 acres, and is owned by The Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry.  Inside those pink sandstone walls is a collection of paintings by old masters such as Rembrandt, Lely, Holbein and Gainsborough;   there are portraits of James I and Anne of Denmark, William and Mary, and Queen Anne, together with illustrious (or notorious) family members from the 17th century onwards.

The tour took about an hour, and I felt as if I’d been swallowed up by the splendour.  Photography is not allowed, partly because the castle is still a home, and partly for security reasons (10 years ago they had a da Vinci stolen, although it was re-discovered four years later and is now in London).  I’ve got loads to tell you… including some interesting titbits that you would only find out from a guide!

Drumlanrig Castle Gardens Drumlanrig Castle gardensAfterwards I took a quick walk around the gardens, but you’d have to be about two miles away (slightly exaggerating, but still!) to do justice to the magnificent front facade.   I didn’t have that much time, so I used my lens on its widest angle and hoped for the best.  Most of the other visitors had gone into the tea room, but I knew that Colin was probably waiting for lunch and couldn’t leave his stand, so I called it a day and headed back to the showground.

Drumlanrig, Galloway Country Fair 30

You might be wondering about the display of Ferraris outside the castle.   According to one of the marshals, they belong to members of an owners’ club who sometimes drop in for a snack in the tea room.

Drumlanrig, Galloway Country Fair 70Back at the show, our marquee was still holding up and was filling with visitors every so often when the displays in the arena finished.  We were lucky – but the guy on the stand across from us was packing up.   He only had a flimsy gazebo, and according to Colin it had filled with wind and almost taken off.

We had grandstand views of the events going on in the arena – a motorbike stunt rider, traditional Highland games, the Buccleuch fox hounds and a display of daredevilry from a horse-riding troupe called Les Amis d’Onno.  I had a quick walk around the show, and there was some pretty good stuff on offer – a big food hall, a craft marquee and rows of stalls selling outdoor gear and practically everything related to dogs and farming.   There was a small fairground and the usual side stalls selling doughnuts, curly chips, and burgers made with local beef.   It wasn’t just local people attending – we heard accents from Northern Ireland and Northumberland.

How was the show for us?  Not bad, considering the weather!   As always with a new show in our calendar, time will probably tell.   Since it was fairly close to home we were able to travel there each day, down the M74 and then the beautiful Dalveen Pass to Thornhill.

This morning we packed the exhibition into store and took the van back to the hire place.   Colin aches a bit from struggling with boards that wouldn’t come apart, and we are both weary after being on our feet for two days (why is standing more tiring than walking?)

Drumlanrig, Galloway Country Fair 4It’s hard to believe that less than four weeks ago we were sweltering in tropical temperatures.  This weekend I was wearing a fleece with a padded jacket over the top, and there’s a real smell of autumn in the air.

Watch out for a report about Drumlanrig on The Hazel Tree!

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