scottish castles

Stirling Castle’s medieval knight revealed

Stirling Castle's medieval knight revealed
Stirling Castle's medieval knight revealed on BBC

A medieval knight whose skeleton was discovered at Stirling Castle has been identified. This Thursday, BBC Two’s History Cold Case series will attempt to discover the identity of the warrior who may have been killed during Scotland’s Wars of Independence with England in the late 13th and 14th centuries. The castle changed hands several times and scientific tests have been used to work out whether he might have been a Scot, an Englishman or even French. The programme focuses on two of 10 skeletons excavated from the site of a lost royal chapel at the castle.A team led by Professor Sue Black, a world-renowned forensic anthropologist from Dundee University, wanted to find out how, why and when the knight, and a woman buried nearby, met violent ends at the castle. Historic Scotland, which cares for over 50 Scottish castles , has announced that it is commissioning further research to find out more about the 10 skeletons, which include two infants.
Painstaking research has revealed that, not only was the knight likely to have come from the south of England, but he was almost certainly at the centre of efforts to repel sieges of the castle when Scots were trying to reclaim it in the 14th century. Forensic experts, archaeologists and historians have joined forces on a project that has unearthed a likely name for the warrior – Sir John De Stricheley – after records showed an English knight of that name died in the castle in October 1341. The remains were found with nine other skeletons under a paved floor in a lost royal chapel in 1997, but their identities were shrouded in mystery until recently, when new scientific tests were carried out.
This work will be carried out by Dr Jo Buckberry of the University of Bradford and archaeological scientists Dr Janet Montgomery (University of Bradford) and Professor Julia Lee-Thorp (University of Oxford). Plans are also being made to include the facial reconstruction, and the other research results, in a permanent exhibition due to open at Stirling Castle next spring.
Richard Strachan, Historic Scotland Senior Archaeologist, said: “Professor Black and her team have done a great job in finding out more about two of the skeletons.

“The facial reconstruction of the knight gives a powerful impression of what a warrior who died in the 1300s may have looked like.
“He was a very strong and fit nobleman, with the physique of a professional rugby player, who would have been trained since boyhood to handle heavy swords and other weapons and who would have spent a great deal of time on horseback.
“We are building on this work through a project with Dr Buckberry, and her colleagues, to use the latest archaeological techniques to discover more about the lives and origins of all the people found buried in the chapel.

“This includes where they were brought up and the food they ate, where they were from, how they died and possibly why they were buried in the castle.”

One intriguing avenue of research will be to compare the results from the Stirling skeletons to those of soldiers found in mass graves who were killed at the Battle of Towton, the decisive clash of England’s Wars of the Roses, in 1461.

Dr Buckberry, a biological anthropologist, said: “Techniques have advanced a long way since the skeletons were discovered in 1997 and we can now tell much more about where people came from, their lifestyles and causes of death.

“This group is highly unusual, because of where and when the people were buried, suggesting that they might have been socially important and have died during extreme events such as sieges.

“As the castle changed hands a number of times these are people who could have come from Scotland, England or even France and one of my hopes is that we will be able to find out where at least some of them originated.”

The skeletons, which date from the 13th to 15th centuries, were found during preparatory work for Historic Scotland’s £12 million refurbishment of the castle’s Renaissance royal palace, returning it to how it may have looked in the 1540s.

Part of the project involves the creation of superb new displays telling the story of the castle through the centuries.

Gillian MacDonald, Stirling Castle Executive Manager, said: “The BBC’s research, and the further investigations we are carrying out, will be an important part of the new exhibitions that visitors will be able to enjoy next spring.

“They will be able to see the reconstruction of the knight, who seems to have survived many terrible wounds before finally being killed.

“The displays will tell the castle’s story from its days as a royal stronghold through to more recent times. These and the newly refurbished apartments in the royal palace will mean there is lots more for visitors to do and see.”

Should Eilean Donan Castle be featured in Monopoly?

eilean donan castle 19 pictures, e-cards
Eilean Donan Castle e-cards

Board game Monopoly is published in a new Highlands version in October . The question is , what properties should feature in the new game ?  Eilean Donan Castle must surely qualify as an iconic building and the most photographed castle in Scotland . The publishers have decided to give the public a say and anyone can vote for their favourite location or landmark between now and April 2 nd . The famous board game, celebrating its 75th anniversary this year , will retain its usual format.

The ownership of property has historically been a controversial issue in the Highlands since the days of the clearances  and it is sure to cause heated debate when voting starts in Inverness.

More than 30 spots are up for grabs before the new game, in English and Gaelic, goes on sale. The Highlands have been described as the playground of the rich and famous with many well known personalities owning Scottish castles , including Mohammed al Fayed ( Balnagown Castle, Easter Ross ), Cameron Mackintosh , painter Jack Vettriano ( Easterheughs Castle )  and Peter de Savary ( the luxury Skibo Castle resort and the venue for Madonna and Guy Ritchie’s wedding ) . Many castles in the Highlands have been sold in recent years . Duncraig Castle was sold last year . Eilean Donan Castle has iconic status as one of the most photographed castles in Scotland . Urquhart Castle , on the shore of Loch Ness and its famous monster, should get serious consideration .

Other suggestions include the Glenfinnan Monument , Inverness Castle, the Cairngorm ski centre, Ben Nevis and the iconic Caledonian Canal . MSP Peter Peacock  nominated Assynt in Sutherland,  bought by crofters from private owners, to replace the prestigious Mayfair.

Maybe Highland Monopoly should feature Sabhal Mor Ostaig, the Gaelic college in Skye, as part of a Gaelic element. It could not be bought and sold, but anyone landing on it would have to learn at least one new Gaelic word in order to be able to move forward again.

A board spokeswoman said: “Gaelic is very much a part of the identity of the Highlands and its place names and we suggest areas such as Culloden and iconic structures such as the Glenfinnan Viaduct”

Cameron Mackintosh’s pocket castle is on the shore of Loch Nevis .The building commands the point between Tarbet Bay and the main loch, midway between the two tiny villages of Tarbet and Kylesmorar, looking due west to the distant Cuillin mountains on the Isle of Skye. Inaccessible by car,  it is pretty difficult scrambling miles over the headlands by foot.  Mackintosh had bought himself some abandoned estate lodge in this remote spot, perhaps last extended by an Edwardian laird, and spared no expense in bringing it back to life.

Does Eilean Donan Castle qualify as an iconic building in the Highlands . Vote now in our online poll

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Dunnottar Castle pictures

Dunnottar Castle one, scotland
Dunnottar Castle one , Scotland

Dunnottar Castle could be called a hidden gem amongst the plethora of Scottish castles . It is not very well-known but it has a fascinating history including visits from William Wallace and Mary, Queen of Scots.The castle must have the most spectacular location in Scotland , sitting on a  rocky promontory on the east coast of Scotland just outside Stonehaven , about 15 miles from Aberdeen . The word impregnable was probably invented for this castle. It is surrounded on all sides by a sheer cliff . Entry is by a tunnel through the cliff . Once you actually reach the top the views are stunning. In the 12th Century Dunnottar Castle became a Catholic settlement with the first stone chapel being consecrated in 1276. According to “Blind Harry”, a 15th Century poet, whose epic poem was an inspiration for the 1996 film “Braveheart”, William Wallace set fire to this chapel with a garrison of English soldiers taking refuge inside. The current chapel was built in the 16th Century.Dunnottar Castle was home to one of the most powerful families in Scotland, the Earls Marischal, from the 14th century when Sir William Keith, the 1st Earl Marischal, built his Tower House, also known as the Keep.  The Earl Marischal was an office bestowed on the Keiths by James II. The role was one of the three great offices of State, along with the Constable and the Steward.  The Earl Marischal had specific responsibility for ceremonial events, the Honours of Scotland and for the safety of the King’s person within parliament. Consequently it was not unusual for the monarchy, including Mary Queen of Scots, to spend time and stay at Dunnottar.Nowadays you can get married in Dunnottar castle , although you do so at your own risk since there is no shelter in the castle buildings .

Stirling Castle project reveals royal court life

Historic Scotland is currently engaged in a £12 million project to return the royal palace within the walls of Stirling Castle to how it might have been in the mid-16th century.New research has revealed the cosmopolitan character of the Renaissance Scottish court at Stirling Castle .

The palace will reopen to the public in 2011 as a new Scottish visitor experience. Freelance historian, John Harrison, has been investigating original documents .Mr Harrison’s source is The Bread Book, an account of who received loaves from the royal kitchens throughout 1549 when the palace was the main residence of Scotland’s queen mother, Mary de Guise , mother of Mary , Queen of Scots . Mary, Queen of Scots was born in nearby Linlithgow Palace and she was   only 9 months old when she was crowned Queen of Scotland in the Chapel Royal in Stirling Castle on September 9, 1543. On most days a loaf was granted to the Morys – or Moors – who Mr Harrison believes were probably either black Africans or Arabs originating from North Africa.

“This is a fascinating glimpse of the diversity of the royal court at Stirling in the mid-16th century. It was quite cosmopolitan at the time, with the French Mary de Guise at its head, and surrounded not just by Scots but by people from Spain, the Rhineland and what is now Belgium. There were a few English, but they were mostly prisoners. Just who the Moors were, and what they were doing, is difficult to say. They were quite low in the court hierarchy, but were part of the household and getting bread at royal expense.”
Hints have survived that there may have been Africans in Scotland even earlier. There is a poetic reference by Dunbar to a woman who has been assumed to be – ‘the Lady with the Meikle Lips’. Such references are mostly rather uncertain, and may have other explanations, and the importance of The Bread Book is its clarity at a time when record-keeping was still relatively thin. Just as fascinating is what The Bread Book adds to our understanding of the way the court was run, and who had access to the queen. The evidence suggests that rather than acting like many of the Tudor dynasty in England and taking her main meals in private, deep within the network of royal apartments, Mary de Guise would dine in the Queen’s Outer Hall.

“Quite a wide range of people had access to her, not ordinary farmers but lots of people who were fairly well-to-do, which is important as she was working hard to build and protect the interests of her young daughter – Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary de Guise was an intelligent, decisive woman and a smart operator.

Eilean Donan Castle pictures at night screensaver

Eilean Donan Castle pictures at night 31456
Eilean Donan Castle at night , HDR photo

Eilean Donan Castle is one of my favourite castles in Scotland , mainly because of the stunning location and ample photo opportunities .  My picture of the castle at night is an HDR photo which is now available as a screensaver. The castle can be photographed from 3 sides . Eilean Donan means Island of Donan ( a religious figure from the 12 th century ). Eilean Donan was Clan MacKenzie’s most important stronghold from the 13th Century until it was destroyed in 1719 by 3 English frigates attacking the Spanish garrison .

Robert the Bruce was given refuge in Eilean Donan Castle by John MacKenzie, Second of Kintail when he was being hunted by the English at the beginning of the fourteenth century. Above the entrance to the castle there is a Gaelic inscription which translates as : As long as there is a MacRae inside, there will never be a Fraser outside. Inside the courtyard is the famous Murchison Stone with an inscription about John Murchison of Auchtertyre who was killed in the Battle of Sherrifmuir in 1715. In the upper floor inside the castle there are six bedrooms named Loch Alsh,Loch Long, Eilean Donan, Ballimore, Loch Duich and Conchra. There is also a panel with the names of the constables ( guardians ) of the castle carved on it.
Eilean Donan Castle was originally built in 1220 and owned by the MacKenzies of Kintail. The MacRae Clan who settled in the area came from the Beauly Firth where they had protected the Clan Fraser.They acted as bodyguards to the MacKenzie chiefs. Although there was a number of disputes, the MacKenzies held Eilean Donan right up until until the 16th century. The MacRaes first became Constables of the Castle in 1511 with a lot of control over the surrounding area. A feud between the MacKenzies and the McLeods of Dunvegan, over the disputed claims of Donald Gorm MacDonald to the title of Lord of the Isles, came to a head when he attacked the Castle with 50 galleys. He was shot and killed by Duncan MacRae with a single arrow. The Castle was garrisoned by Government troops but later retaken by the Jacobites before the Battle of Sheriffmuir.

Castle of Mey for sale – brick by brick

The Castle of Mey is raising funds for a new turret in a unique way – by selling parts of the castle brick by brick. Anyone donating £1000 will have a brick with their name on it in the new turret . The Castle of Mey was a favourite residence of the Queen Mother . It is in the far north of Scotland near John o’Groats .The aim of the appeal is to raise £35,000 to build the new turret in the south-east corner of the walled garden at the castle . The turret will be built with local Caithness stone and it will give an outstanding view across the garden towards the Pentland Firth and Orkney. Bricks will cost £35 , £65 , £250 to £1000 . Subscribers will become either a patron or friend of the Queen Elizabeth Castle of Mey Trust

Top ten Scottish castles ecards

Scotland has hundreds of castles old and new ,  some in ruins , some refurbished and inhabited  . I have compiled a list of my top ten castles , now available as free ecards . I have been taking pictures of castles for over 10 years and each one offers a unique challenge .  I have published a new set of castle wallpapers which can be downloaded to your mobile . These castles  are in no particular order

1 Eilean Donan Castle
Eilean Donan is an old favourite . It in a spectacular setting in the middle of 3 lochs and surrounded by mountains . Eilean Donan Castle is one
of the most photographed castles in Scotland , if not the
world . It is on a small island in the middle of 3 lochs .
On a clear day you can see the Isle of Skye in the distance
. The original castle was built in 1220 . It was destroyed
by 3 English frigates in the 18th century and totally
rebuilt in the 1920s by the Macraes . Send a free Eilean Donan Castle ecard

2 Stirling Castle
Stirling is on a rocky crag overlooking the town with great views to the Wallace Monument and Ben Lomond  . Stirling was a vital crossing point during the Wars of Independence . William Wallace , Braveheart , won the battle of Stirling Bridge at the foot of the castle.
Send a free Stirlng Castle ecard

3 Dunnottar Castle
Dunnottar Castle is perched on a spectacular rocky crag on the east coast of Scotland 4 miles from Stonehaven . In olden days the castle was impregnable because of the sheer cliffs on each side . Send a free Dunnotar Castle ecard

4 Urquhart Castle
Urquhart is on the shore of Loch Ness in the Highlands of Scotland . The Grant Tower is the only part of the castle which is not completely in ruins . If you’re lucky you might see the Loch Ness monster as she swims up the loch for a snack around lunch time . Send a free Urquhart Castle ecard

5 Linlithgow Palace
Birthplace of Mary Queen of Scots . The fountain has been totally refurbished

6 Blackness Castle
Blackness Castle is long and narrow because of the shape of the rock on which it is situated and it is sometimes called ‘ the ship that never sailed ‘ . It guards the bay at Blackness and is only a few miles from Linlithgow Palace . Send a freeBlackness Castle ecard

7 Blair Castle
Blair Castle is the ancestral home of the Duke of Atholl and his own private army

8 Caerlaverock Castle
Caerlaverock Castle near Dumfriess is an unusual triangular shape

9 Castle Campbell
Castle Campbell is high on the hillside near Dollar and it has spectacular views over the Forth Valley

10 Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle dominates the Edinburgh city skyline with views over the
whole of the city . The one o’clock gun is fired every day
to wake up sleepy tourists
Send a free Edinburgh Castle ecard

The castle wallpapers can be downloaded to your mobile

Melville Castle Hotel redevelopment plans

A Scottish castle hotel is beating the credit crunch with news of a major expansion
Hotel owner Steven McLeod has bought Melville Castle Hotel near Edinburgh and intends to develop it into a five-star spa and event facility.

Melville Castle Hotel is due to open in March after a comprehensive refurbishment with an extra 50 staff .
However, the redevelopment doesn’t stop there and there are plans for a further 120 bedrooms, a luxury spa, a steakhouse, fine dining restaurant and meeting and event facilities for more than 500 guests.

The 33-year-old is in talks with Historic Scotland with the aim of submitting plans for the new venue within the next 18 months. The hotel is set in a 60-acre estate on the banks of the North Esk river.
The new development will create 1500 construction jobs .

Mr McLeod said: “We are facing difficult economic times but it is at times like these we have to stick together.” Guide to best hotels in Scotland