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Morrison Ancestry Tour, Isle of Lewis, Scotland.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

This evening, I am posting a record of today's private tour on Isle of Lewis, Hebrides.

We flew in from Glasgow arriving Stornoway after 8.00am and proceeded to collect our rental car at the airport.

First we drove north and stopped at Ness Historical Society where a very helpful lady provided detailed information on Morrison history and some very welome refreshment. This facilty combines help with genealogy with a local museum.

At suggestion of Society personnel we next drove down some unsealed roads to the nearby cemetery which is very old and contains some Morrison burials. By this stage the weather had deteriorated with some rain in the air.

Next we headed to Dun Eistean, a small islet surrounded by rocky slopes on the N.E. of Lewis. This was the ancient stronghold of the Morrisons of Ness where,in the 16th century, the Morrisons made their last stand against the MacLeods. This site, of which there are few remains at surface level, was subject to an archaeological investigation by Glasgow University during 2004-5 the results of which are available on the web. The island is now owned by Clan Morrison Society. Unfortunately, our arrival coincided with a deterioration in the weather but nevertheless videos and images were obtained.

On the way back to the road we stopped for photos of some peat stacks and a stone circle.

Next we headed to the other end of the island stopping briefly at Carloway Iron-Age Broch and then our prime destination of Calanais Standing Stones, one of the country's top Neolithic sites.(See image below). Here we had a spot of lunch before driving to Tarbert to get a brief view of Harris-and some refreshment.

Finally, we drove back to our lodgings at Stornoway via some stunning Hebridean scenery.

This proved a good day, achieving our key objectives.

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C.R.Mackintosh's Scotland Street School, Glasgow

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

This morning, I visited Scotland Street School which is now a museum telling the story of education in Scotland 1872-late 20th century with benefit of three reconstructed period classrooms.

As regards the architecture, this was Mackintosh's last major commission in Glasgow which serves to reveal the genius of the architect at a mature stage of his career. The design includes impressive leaded glass towers, magnificent tiled entrance hall, unique stonework and a demonstration of the interplay of light and space. Inside can be seen the designs for the building.

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Drumin Castle, Scotland

Monday, September 28, 2009


This evening, I am posting information on one of Scotland's lesser known castles, namely Drumin which is located on Speyside and conveniently situated to add variety to the Speyside Whisky Trail. About 20 mins from Grantown on Spey.

Briefly, Drumin is open all year round and free to enter. It was a small castle possibly dating to the late 14th century and may have been built by Alexander Stewart aka "Wolf of Badenoch".

Drum is notable for its 2m thick walls. It may have been built on the site of a much earlier Iron Age fort or Dun. A pleasant location next to a river.

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Border Reivers, Scotland

Sunday, September 27, 2009


This evening, I am posting information and images concerning the Border Reiver era which lasted form the 14th to the 17th centuries . The Reivers were raiders who mainly resided in the Scottish Borders areas of Liddesdale, Redesdale and Tynedale. For a long period families like the Grahams, Elliots, Armstrongs, Bells, Nixons, Hepburns, Routledges and Scotts were left to rule in a no-mans-land buffer zone between England and Scotland. These families raided the property of others in the border areas of Scotland and England taking away mobile and transportable assets such as cattle and sheep. The end came when James VI of Scotland (James I of England) unified the two countries and ruthlessly exterminated the reiving families with penalties involving death and transportation. Firearms were also forbidden.

Nowadays, this formerly lawless area has been transformed into a charming tourist trail covering such notable sites as:

  • Carlenrig, where Johnnie Armstrong met his death (hanging without trial).
  • Clan Armstrong Trust Museum, Langholm. There is also a nearby castle attributed to the Armstrongs.
  • Gilnockie Reivers Tower, associated with Johnnie Armstrong.
  • Statue to Lang Sandy at Rowanburn Village,
  • Tourneyholm and Kershopefoot, where prisoners were exchanged, disputes settled by combat and a summary form of justice administered.
  • Milnholm Cross, an 8ft high relic of the Armstrong Clan.
  • Liddesdale Heritage Centre, which holds much information on the Reiving era.
  • Remains of Mangerton Castle, seat of the Armstrong chiefs.
  • Hermitage Castle, a formidable fortress right in the heart of Reiving country. (See image above.)
Contact me for information on Border Reivers tours.

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Polnoon Castle,Clan Montgomery, Eaglesham, Scotland

Saturday, September 26, 2009


This morning I visited Polnoon Castle to undertake research in context of an upcoming Clan Montgomery Tour.

This castle does not feature on many maps or reference sources. It can be accessed via permission of Polnoon Farm, G76 OPE which is mile or so south of Eaglesham and is situated about 100 yds/metres from the road across a field which is obviously used to house cattle, i.e. terrain is fairly rough.

In essence what remains is a conical mound, possibly natural, on and around which are tumbled blocks of masonry with one such block having found its way into the river below (see image).

Location makes sense in that the castle was built on a high natural elevation surrounded on one side by the local river, the Polnoon Water (a sort of natural moat-and water source) and close to a water mill which in its day would have been an important economic resource.

Research suggests that the castle was built in the late 14th century, possibly on the site of an earlier castle, by Sir John Montgomery financed by a ransom paid by Sir Henry 'Hotspur' Percy who was captured at the Battle of Otterburn in 1388. The castle was refurbished in 1617 but in ruins by 1676 and abandoned by end of that century. Apparently no formal excavation of the site has been undertaken.

The chaotic nature of the site may be attributed to locals using the castle as a quarry site for local buildings. In support of this 'looting' theory, the image at the top of this posting represents an armorial stone found above the entrance to the (now defunct/vacant) Cross Keys pub in Montgomery Street, Eaglesham which may well have originated form the castle. The triple Fleur-de-lis is the family crest of the Montgomerys whilst the triple ring is the family crest of the Eglintons. This stone may have recorded the marriage of a Montgomery with a Eglinton Heiress in the 14th century, possibly Sir John Montgomery and Elizabeth of Eglinton.

The name Polnoon may have been derived from either:

  • An old Scots word 'poinding' meaning ransom, or
  • 'Pol', a deep bend or pool in a river which is indeed a feature of the castle's location.
Overall, a satisfying morning spent finding and researching the history of this little known site.









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Housesteads Roman Fort (Vercovicium), Hadrian's Wall

Friday, September 25, 2009

This evening I am posting my portfolio of videos following my visit to this iconic site which sits high on a ridge and links with the Wall. This fort covers two hectares and was an addition to Hadrian's Wall. The site was occupied for over 300 years and the complex series of remains reflect that extended time period. On site there is a museum which houses finds from the site and provides interpretation.

The site has many facets including:

  • Commanding Officer's House
  • Headquarters Building
  • Hospital
  • Granaries
  • Various Turrets and Entrance Gates.
  • Barrack Blocks
  • Latrine Block
  • Hypocaust Heating System
  • Views of the Wall which connects with the Fort.
One of the best and popular sites on the Wall. Be prepared for a 8-10 min walk up a track to access. Well worth the exercise!!

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Corbridge (Coria) Roman Town, Hadrian's Wall

Thursday, September 24, 2009

This afternoon, I am posting images and information on Corbridge, a site on Hadrian's Wall which experienced along period of occupation. A fort was established prior to construction of the Wall in the 80s (AD). The site had both a military and civilian role with the civilian settlement extending to some 12 hectares. Corbridge was important because of its strategic location at the junction of the Stanegate Road (east-west) and Dere Street leading south.

Corbridge offers the following:

  • Museum filled with the rich harvest of excavated sculptures and inscriptions.
  • Granaries
  • Fountain, fed by an aqueduct linked to a great water tank.
  • Military courtyard building.
  • Compounds
  • Remains of a temple and fountains.
  • Ambiance-just wander round and reflect on life at the outer edge of the Roman world





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Vindolanda Roman Site, Hadrian's Wall

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

This afternoon I am posting images and information on this site which lies just to the south of Hadrian's Wall with history dating back to around AD 85 and which experienced the longest period of occupation on the line of Hadrian's Wall.

The site combines both military and civilian occupation during the Roman era. There is a cemetery, shops and houses (civilian), bath houses, and the military fort with usual complement of facilities, e.g.HQ building and commanding officer's residence. There remains much to excavate with teams working away for about 6 months of each year (see video).

The archaeology is impressive enough but the site is perhaps best known for the cache of some 2000 preserved wooden writing tablets which afford us a unique insight into everyday life on the Roman frontier and include:
  • Letters from senior officers and their wives.
  • Reports of military activities and lists.
  • Communications concerning food, clothing and other supplies, building and transport.
  • Information on local place names.
  • Administration of justice.
The inherently wet and anaerobic conditions preserved not only the writing tablets but also textiles, leather and wooden objects from the Roman period, examples of which can be viewed in the on-site museum.

The site also includes a replica of a section of Hadrian's Wall.

Overall, well worth a visit. Allow minimum of one hour. There are refreshment facilities and a shop.


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Hermitage Castle, Scotland

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


This evening, I am focusing on Hermitage Castle, a massive harsh and austere building set in the remote, rolling hills of the Scottish Borders.

The castle played a central role in the Anglo-Scottish wars. It was built by the de Soulis family in 1242 but was lost to the family in 1320. It subsequently came under English control and ultimately the Hepburns in the 15th century. Mary Queen of Scots visited an injured James Hepburn at the Castle in 1566 via a 50 mile ride on horseback which triggered a chill which in turn nearly killed her.

The Castle became obsolete in the 17th century and abandoned.

This awesome and powerful building is deserving of a visit.


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Private Scotland Whisky Tour.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Today, was the final day of our short tour which was centred on Speyside.

After breakfast at the superb An Cala Guest House (5 stars) at Grantown on Spey, we drove up to Aberlour via the 'scenic route'. This was slow but the scenery was fantastic. We tracked the River Spey seeing lots of wildlife, Highland Cows, a salmon fisherman waist deep in the river and even a couple of Llamas. After a number of photo stops (good visibilty and no rain) we just arrived at Aberlour Distillery in time to join the 10.30am distillery and tasting tour which lasted two and a haf hours. This was an excellent tour with a good guide who took us through the whole process from malting, mashing, fermentation, distillation to maturation. At the end we were able to sample 5 single malts and even some raw spirit. My guests took the opportunity to fill their own bottle with single malt (GBP60.00). It was pointed out that most of the trees and shrubs growing close to the distillery, whilst healthy, had an alcohol induced fungus growing on the bark which rendered it black in colour. I have not noticed this phenomenon at any other of the many distilleries I have visited. The image below shows the malted barley being delivered to the distillery.

After a quick lunch in the town of Aberlour we travelled down to Dalwhinnie, just making the 3.00pm tour in time. This distillery is part of the portfolio of drinks giant Diageo and occupies the coldest inhabited site in Britain. We joined the regular tour which was fine, albeit not as detailed as that at Aberlour, and were provided with a dram at conclusion of the tour.

Next on to Dunkeld in Perthshire for afternoon tea and finally to Edinburgh Airport in good time for my guests to catch their flight to London.

Overall, a good tour in course of which we visited seven whisky distilleries of all types and sizes.

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Speyside Whisky Tour, Scotland.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Today, we commenced our tour with a short scenic drive taking in Drumin Castle, a romantic ruin which may date from the 14th century. This took us through some magnificent scenery in the brilliant sunshine with views of the Cairngorms in the distance. Obtained some good photos of both castle and scenery.

Our first distillery tour was the famous Glenfiddich (see image below) where my guests availed of a two and half hour Connoisseur Tour which proved very successful. Glenfiddich has a long pedigree with the malt positioned at the top end of the market. A quality experience.

After a spot of lunch we moved on to nearby Glen Grant and joined the standard distillery tour, which was fine. This distillery is Italian owned and the product is mainly aimed at the Italian market. The whisky is sold relatively young (5-8 yrs), is light and suitable for hot climates.

Next we visited the famous malt bar at Craigellachie Hotel which has some 700 single malts the most expensive of which costs GBP280 per nip! A very helpful and knowledgeable bar tender provided hints and tips.

After a full and satisfying day we returned to Grantown on Spey from where I am writing this.

Tomorrow we plan to visit Aberlour Distillery and possibly Dalwhinnie. Hopefully, the weather will hold out.


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Whiskey Tour Scotland

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Today, we commenced our tour from Edinburgh. We had to fight our way out through the maze of roadworks due to the on-going construction of a tramway system which itself is of dubious long term value and has been subject of much criticism.We duly arrived at our first stop at Tullibardine, near Stirling but were denied the standard distillery tour due to prior booking of a large tour group. As a consolation we were provided with a tasting experience (see image below).This was OK but a tad disappointing as Tullibardine tours are usually good value.We then drove on north up to Pitlochry where we toured two distilleries, namely Blair Atholl and Edradour:Blair Atholl is part of the Diageo global drinks empire and produces a single malt for use in Bells whisky blends. The malt can only be purchased from the distillery or specialized whisky outlets. At time of our visit the distillery was in a 'silent' period when maintenance work is undertaken notwithstanding which the tour was of good standard and afforded a useful insight into the distilling process.Edradour is totally different: it is very small (smallest in Scotland) and privately owned. The tour we joined was of usual high standard, aided by enthusiasm of the tour guide. This distillery produces a wide range of malts supplemented by a selection of rare and unusual malts from other distilleries. This is an excellent tour experience and one on which I regularly receive positive feedback from guests-it is also free!After Edradour we headed north to Grantown-on-Spey (about 90 mins from Pitlochry) to our lodgings for the night (An Cala Guest House) in readiness for our Speyside distillery tour tomorrow which includes Glenfiddich.Guests dined at speciality restaurant Craggan Mill at Grantown which has a high culinary repution and known for its whisky themed meals. Feedback was very positive.Tomorrow we plan to do a little sight seeing in the morning (including a castle) and then at least two distilleries in the afternoon. Weather forecast is positive, so we should have a good day.
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Edinburgh Walking Tour, Scotland

Friday, September 18, 2009

This morning, aided by a promising weather forecast, I collected my guests from their hotel and drove to our first stop at Calton Hill. This high elevation affored us spectacular views of the Firth of Forth, Edinburgh Old and New Towns and the Port of Leith. Addionally,we were able to inspect the monuments which comprise the famous 'Athens of the North' skyline. Next we drove to Holyrood at foot of the Royal Mile to commence our walking tour proper.Our first visit was the Palace of Holyrood House which developed from a guest house adjacent to the now defunct (but romantic ruin) Abbey which was established in the 12th century. The Palace could be described at the 'Buckingham Palace' of Scotland as it is an official residence of the British Royal Family when in Scotland. The Palace today mainly dates from the 17th century and boast connections with Mary, Queen of Scots, Charles I and Bonnie Prince Charlie. The Palace offers a good quality tour experience. My guests also visited the close by Queen's Art Gallery.Next we went across the road to visit the somewhat controversial Scottish Parliament building, the interior of which has an 'Ikea' flavour to it (see image below). The external design has attracted many detractors.After the Parliament we strolled up the Royal Mile negotiating the multiplicity of tacky tourist shops en-route. This famous stretch of real estate is fast drifting into an embarrassment.We went past the World End pub and John Knox's house up to St. Giles Cathedral, which is in fact not a cathedral at all but the High Kirk of St Giles with the present building dating from the 14th century. The interior is very impressive, especially the chapel of the Knights of the Thistle Chapel.Next we visited Parliament Square but could not get access to the former. Scottish Parliament due to a function of some sort being in process.Around 1.00pm we arrived at the famous Castle, availed of some lunch and joined in an official guided tour which provided a good insight into the Castle's history and function. The high elevation provides a good vantage point for photos of Edinburgh and environs.Next we walked back down the Royal Mile and turned left to the Mound and then down to the National Gallery (designed by William Playfair 1845) where we viewed the wide range of art on display including works by Botticelli, Titian and many others.Next we visted the Scott Monument in Princes Street which dates from 1844. The monument is dedicated to Sir Walter Scott, famous romantic author who, arguably, acted as a catalyst to Scottish tourism via his writings. On next to the New Town and a visit to the stunning Dome for afternoon refreshment. This dates from 1844 and was originally a bank head office. The Graeco-Roman interior is flattered by arched ceilings and a coffered central dome through which daylight is chanelled.After the Dome we walked back to re-connect with the Royal Mile and Canongate Kirkyard wherein is situated the burial place of the early economist Adam Smith (1725-1790) who wrote the Wealth of Nations.Our tour concluded we walked back to the car at Holyrood and returned to our lodgings for the night.Tomorrow we head up to Speyside in the Highands for the 'Whisky' leg of the tour. Weather prognosis is positive.
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Tour of Scottish Borders Country.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

This morning I dropped my guests off at Newcastle Airport following a successful Clan Armstrong tour.

I then drove up Edinburgh taking in:

Jedburgh with its famous (and photgenic) Abbey, Castle and Mary, Queen of Scots House. Weather was perfect for photos and consequently I have enlarged my portfolio of both videos and stills for web purposes. A pic of Jedburgh Abbey is provided below.

Kelso, which I had never before visited and lies about 20 mins from Jedburgh. This is a fantastic little town on the banks of the River Tweed with a huge, cobbled central square, lots of shops (all types and sizes, hotels and a derelict Abbey. Have to say, I was very impressed and would certainly take tour groups there in the future.

Floors Castle, a huge 18th century mansion with gardens and walks which is located close to Kelso. I did not bother with the inside of the Castle but spent time exploring the gardens and grounds. Entrance is quite cheap. This is a good visitor attraction and would be of interest to visitors interested in the architecture of Adam and Playfair. Of course, it helps when the sun shines!

I finally arrived Edinburgh about 5.00pm from where I am writing this.

Tomorrow, I am providing a walking tour of Edinburgh then up to Speyside for a whisky tour. Should be good!
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Tour of Hadrian's Wall

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Today was fine for touring. Whilst cloudy and overcast there was no rain and little wind.By pure chance I had selected our overnight at the three star Angus Hotel in Carlisle which actually sits on the line of Hadrian's Wall and on top of the fort named Petriana.First tour stop was Birdoswald which was a major fort, housing perhaps 1000 soldiers on Hadrian's Wall. There is a good visitor information and interpretation centre with audio-visual. After exploring the site we walked across a field to observe an archaeological dig in process at a Roman burial site connected with the fort.Next we moved on to Vindolanda, a combined civilian and military site, the establishment of which pre-dates the Wall. This is one of my favourite sites, incorporating not only hundreds of years of Roman archaeology but also a replica section of the Wall and -most importantly-the famous Vindolanda Tablets. The latter were voted one of Britain's top 10 historical treasures. They comprise hundreds of routine personal and military communications which were discarded in a waterlogged pit and thereby preserved and affording us a unique insight into daily life in the Roman era.Next we visited the nearby Housesteads fort which is an integral part of the Wall. This is in reasonable condition and affords classic views of Hadrian's Wall as it snakes across the landscape (see image below). The site includes granaries, Commanding Officer's residence with hypocaust, latrines , complex water supply and drainage system and barracks for the soldiers. Location affords superb views over the local landscape.Next and final stop was Corbridge, which like Vindolanda had a history of occupation by both the military and civilians. I always describe this as a 'Mini Pompeii', an exageration but not wildy inaccurate.The site includes granaries, civic buildings and even a safe for the military. Alongside is a very good museum and interpretation centre run by English Heritage.With our tour concluded we moved on to our lodgings for the night at Newcastle upon Tyne.Overall, a very satisfying day. I obtained a good supply of images and videos for future use.
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Armstrong Border Reivers Tour, Scotland

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Today, we achieved all our objectives and perhaps a little more. Weather was sunny and benign, which helped considerably.

We set out from our lodgings in Hawick and travelled along minor country roads down to Eskdalemuir and then Lockerbie. Lots of photo stops en-route for sheep, pheasants and general scenic shots of the magnificent Borders countryside. Lockerbie was "OK" but is best known for the tragic 1988 air crash.

After Lockerbie we drove across to Dumfries which has a lot to offer the tourist, not least of which is the Robert Burns connection at the Globe Inn. At the latter we saw Burns chair and bedroom.

After Dumfries we drove back to the Reivers Trail area to visit Gilnockie Tower and the Armstrong Museum.

At Gilnlockie we benefited from a private tour escorted by a curator who clearly had considerable knowledge of the Tower and passion for the Armstrong Clan. The extensive and detailed tour took about 2 hours (see image below).

Next, we dashed up to Langhome to visit the Clan Armstrong Museum before closing time. We were looked after by a very helpful lady.

Finally, we departed Langhome about 5.30pm to drive down to Carlisle to our next lodgings in readiness for tomorrow's tour of Hadrian's Wall. Incredibly, I discovered that our hotel in Carlisle is actually built on the site of a fort on Hadrian's Wall which was built over in Victorian times.

So, overall, a very productive day leaving is well set for tomorrow's dip into Britain's Roman past.


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Armstrong Clan Border Reivers Tour, Scotland

Monday, September 14, 2009

Today proved just great.

We had overnighted in an excellent 3 star Guest House in Hawick (Whitchester). After hearty breakfast we commenced our tour which encompassed the following:

-Carlenrig, where the Scottish reiver, Johnnie Armstrong, met his death by hanging without trial. There are monuments to both his actual burying place and his life, with latter in nearby graveyard.

-Langholm. Here we parked at the Clan Armstrong Museum (closed today) and explored the small town and its ruined castle. Museum opens tomorrow when we will return.

-Gilnlockie/Hollows which is one of the best preserved reivers towers house or pele. Closed today but we will return for opening tomorrow afternoon.

-Ettletown Cemetery which has a number of Armstrong memorials including that of Armstrong who was shot dead by a minister of religion without warning.

-Milnholm Cross, one of the oldest relics of the Armstrong Clan which extends to eight feet in height.

-Lunch at the Liddesdale Hotel in Newcastleton. Our visit coincided with a leg of Tour of Britain cycling event.

-Liddesdale Heritage Centre which has information on the reiver era and Armstrong history.

-Mangerton Tower, the 12th century seat of the Armstrongs and now a ruin by side of defunct railway line.Not easy to find. Look for holiday park.

-Kershopefoot to see the Tourneyholm site where English and Scottish prisoners were exchanged and arguments settled by single combat.

-A small herd of Llamas en route to Hermitage Castle.

-Finally, the stunning Hermitage Castle, a massive edifice which stands isolated and austere in the rolling landscape.This must have proved a forminable fortress which had links with the Douglasses, Hepburns, Elliots and Scotts.

We returned to our lodgings about 5.30pm, in good time for dinner at 7.00pm.

Look forward to another successful day tomorrow.


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Mackintosh, Glasgow Architecture, Scotland

Sunday, September 13, 2009

This afternoon, I am posting information on Charles Rennie Mackintosh, a Glasgow born architect who left a considerable legacy of work in the city of his birth.

Very briefly, Mackintosh (1868-1928) was a designer, architect and artist whose work covered a very broad compass, from jewellery to graphics, from wall decoration to exhibited paintings, from pottery vases to wood engraving. Often working in conjunction with his wife, Margaret McDonald, Mackintosh designed a wide array of objects for domestic use including tables, chairs, cutlery and napkins, carpets, mirrors, curtain fabric and light fittings, beds, hat stands, wardrobes and clocks. He also designed buildings in their entirety, including foundations, structural steel, ventilation systems and plumbing. He also painted landscapes and flowers.

However, Mackintosh is perhaps best known for his underlying theme of designing places to be inhabited taking account of the rooms, sequences of rooms, their form, light and material. Perhaps the best known example of his domestic design work is the famous 'House for an Art Lover' which is located in the same vicinity as the Burrell Collection, one of Glasgow's top visitor attractions. Other famous examples of Mackintosh's work include the Hill House (Helensburgh), Mackintosh Church, Willow Tea Rooms and Scotland Street School Museum.

It should be remembered that Mackintosh did not work in isolation. He was one member of the 'Glasgow Four' comprising Mackintosh, Herbert MacNair and the sisters Margaret and Frances McDonald. This group worked within the Glasgow School of Art (itself designed by Mackintosh) around 1890-1910 and produced decorative works of furniture, architecture, panels, embroideries and graphic material.

Via my tour guiding company, catswhiskerstours.co.uk I provide private tours of the Mackintosh sites.

Today I am focusing on just one aspect of Mackintosh's work, namely the Daily Record Building in Renfield Lane, Glasgow G2. This is tucked away and is best accessed on foot. In designing this building Mackintosh made striking use of colour on the facade and skilfully combined sculptured sandstone with white glazed bricks to maximise light.



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Jacobite 'Harry Potter' Steam Train, Scotland

Saturday, September 12, 2009

This evening,I am presenting a couple of video clips of the famous steam train which covers one of the most scenic rail routes in Britain, from Fort William in the Scottish Highlands up to Mallaig and then back again. The return trip takes most of a day and well patronised. The journey is very popular with devotees of the Harry Potter stories in which the train featured as the Hogwarts Express.

Clich here for a clip of the train as it passes over the famous Glenfinnan viaduct. This structure is famous in its own right owing to it being the first concrete bridge ever built.

Click here for a view of the train as it winds its way up to Glenfinnan and beyond.

Apologies for camera shake which is due a combination of wind and precarious vantage point.

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Private Walking Tour of Glasgow, Scotland

Friday, September 11, 2009

Today, I met a small group of visitors from England. We commenced our tour at Bath Street, moving on as follows:
  • Mackintosh's Glasgow School of Art at Dalhousie Street.
  • Mackintosh's Willow Tea Rooms at Sauchiehall Street.
  • Glasgow Cathedral (private tour with local guide).
  • Glasgow Necropolis-burial place of the 'great and good' of Victorian Glasgow.
  • Glasgow City Chambers, including interior at ground level.
  • George Square.
  • Tobacco Merchant's House in Miller Street,
  • Stroll along the River Clyde including Squiggly Bridge, Squinty Bridge and views of Science Centre.
  • Pot Still whisky bar in Hope Street.
  • Greek Thomson's St. Vincent Street Church-see image immediately below.




Squiggly Bridge
Tour took about four hours. We availed of a refreshment stop on a floating restaurant on the Clyde, which was great in the (unusual) sunshine.

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Tour Uist, Hebrides, Scotland

Thursday, September 10, 2009

This evening I am posting images , information and videos obtained during my tour of North and South Uist.

The Uists are part of the Hebrides. South Uist is 35km long and 13km wide while North Uist is the largest island measuring 21km in length and 29km in width. The scenery is both stunning and diverse with miles of sandy beaches, hilly terrain, seascapes, landscapes and an usual quality of light. Fishing, crofting (farming) and tourism are some of the key activities. Peat is still used for fuel. The islands have much to offer the visitor including a rich historical heritage, wildlife, scenery and photography-not to mention the omnipresent sheep! Visit and enjoy these islands, but don't expect a sun tan.


This is a traditional style thatched cottage.

Scolpaig Tower, a folly which dates from 1830 on site of an Iron Age fort.

Aspect of Pobull Phinn stone circle.
Sensible sheep sheltering from the prevailing wind.
Art at Cladach Baleshare

Click here for a video of Dun an Sticir fort.

Click here for a video of Cladh Hallan Round Houses

Contact me for a private tour or information.

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Sligo Abbey, Ireland

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

This afternoon, I am posting information of Sligo Abbey which is the sole surviving medieval building in Sligo, a port which sits at the mouth of the River Garavogue and ranks as the largest town in the North West of Ireland.

Although known as "The Abbey", this was established 1253 as a Dominican Friary by Maurice Fitzgerald. There is:
  • a great wealth of carvings including Gothic and Renaissance tomb sculpture;
  • well preserved cloisters;
  • the only sculptured 15th century high alter to survive in any Irish monastic church; and
  • delicate lancet windows.
For the visitor, the site is easily accessible from the town centre and car parking is close by.


video

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Cladh Hallan Round Houses,South Uist, Scotland

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

This evening, I am posting information on Cladh Hallan round houses.






The stones (in the video) mark the walls of three round houses and part on an outhouse (smokery) dating from the late Bronze Age and early Iron Age (1100-200 BC). There is a similar outhouse about 100m to the North West dating from about 200BC. These houses formed the northern end of a terrace of probably six or seven houses. The whole settlement was 80m long and most of it remains buried beneath the big sand dune in the south.




All the houses had sunken floors and thick cored walls revetted with stones. The roofs came down to knee-height on their outside walls and were probably made of large driftwood timber, covered by turf and straw..




Another five houses have been excavated on other areas of the settlement.




North House: This was rebuilt twice. Cremated human bones inside suggest it may have been the 'house of the dead'.




Middle House: This is the largest and most important. It was occupied continuously for 900 years and rebuilt 7 times between 1100BC and 200BC. One of the longest inhabited prehistoric houses in the world. Owner/occupiers presumed wealthy.




South House:This is the smallest and poorest house. It was occupied for only a short time around 1100BC.




video

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Cille Bharra, Barra, Hebrides, Scotland

Monday, September 07, 2009



This evening, I am posting information on a fascinating historic site on the Isle of Barra.

This religious complex at Cill Barra ('Kilbar') is considered as one of the most important of its type in the Western Isles. The church may date from the 12th century, possibly based on an older, refurbished structure. The separate St. Mary's chapel has been re-roofed to house the late medieval carved tombstones (see image below) which formerly lay in the graveyard.

The central stone in the image below is, in fact, a replica. The original can be found in the Scottish Museum of Antiquities in Edinburgh. This is known as the Kilbar Stone and is Christian-Nordic Runic in origin. On the front there is a cross decorated with a four plaited pattern and bordered by a scroll. On the reverse is an inscription "This cross has been raised in memory of Thorgeth, daughter of Steinar."




The burial ground associated with the church holds the remains of many local inhabitants including the writer and novelist, Compton MacKenzie.
A pace for reflection and contemplation. It seems likely that the coastline has been pushed back since the site was originally established-due the growth of extensive sand dunes which now separate Cille Bharra from the sea.

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Neil Gow, Dunkeld, Scotland

Sunday, September 06, 2009

This evening, I am posting summary information, with video clip of memorial stone at Dunkeld, on the legendary Scottish fiddler, Neil Gow:

  • Born Strathbraan on March 22nd 1727 and grew up in nearby Inver.
  • Originally destined to be a plaid (tartan) weaver but forsook this trade for a fiddling career and became firmly established by age 20 yrs.
  • At age 18 he played before Bonnie Prince Charlie and briefly joined the Jacobite army but subsequently lost interest and returned home.
  • Gow travelled widely in Scotland and played at grand houses and homes of the wealthy. His patron was the Duke of Atholl.
  • Gow mainly performed solo but at times was accompanied by his brother, Donald on the cello.
  • Gow's repertoire included airs, jigs and laments, many of his own composition. He was best known for his slow airs.
  • Gow married twice and had eight children. four of his sons took up fiddle playing.
Inscription on the memorial shown in the video reads-

" Niel Gow, died March 1st 1807 age 80 yrs. Margaret Wiseman his first wife and Andrew, their son. Margaret Urquhart his second wife. Erected by John and Nathaniel, only sons of Neil Gow and Margaret Wiseman who survive them"

To this day Neil Gow is synonymous with Dunkeld which continues to be a centre for traditional Scottish music and is home to famous names such as Dougie MacLean. The Taybank pub hosts regular, traditional music sessions.



video

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Crannog Centre, Scotland

Saturday, September 05, 2009


This afternoon I am posting information on one my favourite Scottish sites, namely the Scottish Crannog Centre on Loch Tay.

This reconstructed iron-age building is unique. It was built using information obtained by archaeologists working underwater, at the Oakbank site on the opposite bank of Loch Tay.

A Crannog is a type of high status, loch (lake) dwelling in use from about 3000BC through to (in rare cases) the 17th century AD. The structure is that of a timber built roundhouse supported on wooded piles driven into the loch bed and situated just off the bank so that a short bridge is required to access the building.

It is believed that the occupants of crannogs were wealthy farmers who kept animals and exploited and managed the local, natural environment.

This is an excellent interpretation centre with volunteers demonstrating wool spinning, wood turning and fire lighting using ancient technologies. Visitors can participate in these activities.

I can arrange tours to the Crannog Centre.


video

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Govan Old Parish Church, Scotland

Friday, September 04, 2009


This evening, I am posting information on Govan Old Parish Church, near Glasgow.

Indications are that the church is located on an important Christian site dating to the 9th and 10th centuries.and possibly earlier. It is the only part of pre-industrial Govan to survive and contains many interesting gravestones dating from the 17th-19th centuries which record the changing nature of the community and occupations reflecting the transition from agricultural to industrial society.

The present church is possibly the fourth church building on the site. It was designed by Sir R. Rowand Anderson and completed 1884-88 under the ministry of Dr. John Macleod.

Dr. Macleod selected the important collection of stained glass which were made by English craftsmen. The magnificent windows in the main church are attributed to Charles E Kempe.

This church is, perhaps, most famous for its collection of 30 sculptured stones the design of which suggest Norse (Viking) settlement in the area. Yesterday's blog posting covers the important carved stone collection the most prominent of which is the carved stone sarcophagus which may have been intended to hold the bones of St. Constantine.

Past ministers of this church include George F. McLeod (Lord MacLeod of Fuinary) who founded the Iona Community.

Hidden away in an industrial community, this building and its contents are an important part of Scotland's heritage yet, strangely, the facility is not well advertised and consequently often overlooked by visitors to Glasgow.


video

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Govan Carved Stones, Glasgow, Scotland

Thursday, September 03, 2009


This evening, I am posting a video clip taken at Govan Old Parish Church which covers some of the 31 monuments located there, most of which are intact and highly decorated. Key facts:

  • These stones represent some of Scotland's most important early medieval sculptures.
  • Age of the stones is about 1000 years ( 9th-11th centuries AD.)
  • All the stones emanate from the Govan Church site which suggests it was originally a major ceremonial and administrative centre for the kings of Strathclyde, a pre-unified Scotland fiefdom.
  • The carvings show Viking influences and date from a time when the Norsemen were converted to Christianity. Some of the stones bear both pagan and Christian markings.
  • The Govan location is important because here was a ford providing a waterway from the Atlantic and Irish Sea into central southern Scotland. The carvings suggest strong links with Pictland to the north and Cumbria to the south.
  • The piece de resistance is the ornamental coffin ( see single image above) carved from a single block of sandstone and decorated with knotwork panels and hunting motifs. It may have been intended as a reliquary for the bones and relics of St. Constantine who was martyred by pagans.
  • This site is open to the public, but subject to restricted hours, especially in winter. Contact me if you wish to arrange a private tour.


video

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Private Small Group Tour Scotland

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Today proved quite successful

Overnight I motored down to Dumfries for an overnight stay in a genuine farmhouse B&B and was well looked after by the farmer and family. Had a short course on farming economics and Galloway Cattle.

Collected my group of six guests form the U.S.at Dumfries and we then proceeded on tour up to Culzean Castle which sits in a magnificent setting on the Ayrshire coast. This mansion caters for a wide range of interests including architecture, history, gardens, wildlife and much more. One could easily spend a full day here but, unfortunately, our time was restricted.

Next stop was the Govan, and industrial part of Glasgow which houses an ancient religious site on which sits then current Old Govan Church. Inside this building is one one of Scotland's national treasures as manifested in a stunning collection on carved stones dating from the 9th and 10th centuries and which incorporate Viking and Pictish influences from early Christian times. We had the benefit of an excellent local guide who talked us through the history of the stones and the current church building which is of architectural merit in its own right.

Finally, we moved on to Glasgow Cathedral, one of Glasgow's top tourists attractions which dates from the 12th century. This building is distinguished by the fact that it is one of the very few places of worship which escaped the Reformation relatively unscathed. My group had benefit of a private tour guide.

This completed a full day, covering some distance. Last stop was East Calder where the group was deposited at their lodgings for the night prior to return to the U.S.tomorrow.


Detail of carved stone at Govan.


Butterfly at Culzean
View of the Adam designed, Culzean Castle today.

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Distilling Whisky in Scotland

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

This afternoon, I am posting a video clip taken at Tullibardine Distillery in Perthshire, Central Scotland.

Although established as recently as the late 1940s this privately owned little distillery is (a) conveniently situated on the main A9 road and (b) provides fantastic distillery tours with no restriction on photography.

At Tullibardine you get the full experience of of a working distillery with associated smells, steam and activity. Tullibardine is one of the few distilleries in Scotland which allow private investors to purchase a barrel of whisky and leave it to mature in the warehouse for the 10 years or whatever period of time the owner prefers (min 3 years). A barrel costs about GBP1100.00.

The tour at Tullibardine takes visitors through the complete whisky making process-

  • Barley selection
  • Malting
  • Crushing
  • Fermenting
  • Distilling
  • Maturation.
Contact me if you are seeking a Scotland Whisky Tour !

video

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