Who Built Scotland

(2018) [2017 Hardback]

This wonderful series of essays—journeys in the title—transports us from Mousa Broch on Shetland, to Abbotsford in the Borders; from Bell Rock Lighthouse off Angus, to Sweeney’s Bothy on Eigg.

Kathleen Jamie ignites our imagination with her reflection on Geldie Burn, and more specifically Mesolithic sites in their landscape. Her essay on Maggie’s Centre in Fife makes sense of contemporary therapeutic space by comparing this location with the prehistoric site at Links of Noltland on Westray.

Some of the locations are well-known and perhaps to be expected: Calanais (James Robertson), Iona Abbey (Alexander McCall Smith), and Edinburgh Castle (Alistair Moffat). But there are some unexpected gems here: James Robertson in Innerpeffray Library.

I was surproisingly gripped by Alistair Mofffat on Glenlivet Distillery and Inchmyre Prefabs, and James Crawford on Hampden Park and Sullom Voe. They were reminders of how society can leave its mark on the built environment.

James Robertson’s essay on Auld Alloway Kirk not only explores Tam O’ Shanter, but also rural parish churches, for example at Kiltearn and Croick. Alexander McCall Smith reflects on the Italian Chapel on Orkney.

This creative volume provides a range of insights and voices on Scotland’s history.

Dryburgh Abbey: main west door

Dryburgh Abbey © David Gill

In 1385 the English army under King Richard II sacked three of the monasteries along the line of Dere Street: these included Dryburgh and Melrose. The western entrance to the abbey church was rebuilt in the 15th century in part due to the award of properties by Richard III.

A window would have been placed immediately above the doorway.

Dryburgh Abbey © David Gill

Carnasserie Castle: signs

Carnasserie Castle © David Gill

Canrasserie Castle lies to the north of Kilmartin village. In February 1559 the castle was awarded to John Carswell (c. 1522–1572) [ODNB], the minister of Kilmartin. (Note the alternative spelling on the site sign.) In 1567 he was presented as bishop of the Isles. One of his main contributions was his translation of the Book of Common Order (1564) into Gaelic, Foirm na n-urrnuidheadh (1567).

The present castle was constructed between 1565 and 1572, replacing an earlier building. The castle was destroyed in 1685 during the rebellion of the 9th Earl of Argyll.

Carnasserie Castle © David Gill

Leading Visitor Attractions 2019: Historic Environment Scotland

Iona © David Gill

The visitor numbers for Leading Visitor Attractions in 2019 are now available. Properties managed by Historic Environment Scotland attracted over 5 million visitors in 2019. Top of the list is Edinburgh Castle with 2.2 million visitors, followed by Stirling Castle (609,000), Urquhart Castle (547,000) and Glasgow Cathedral (537,000). Skara Brae on Orkney received over 115,000 visitors, no doubt reflecting the presence of cruise ships.

The top six sites attract over 4 million visitors in 2019.

Heritage sites in Scotland reopening

Doune Castle © David Gill

Historic Environment Scotland has released details of its plans to re-open the heritage sites in its care during August and September. From 15 July this includes the grounds of Caerlaverock, Doune and Dundonald Castles.

Caerlaverock Castle © David Gill

Melrose Abbey: commendator’s house

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Melrose Abbey © David Gill

The Commendator’s House at Melrose Abbey was constructed in the 15th century although its original function is not clear. It became the Commendator’s House in 1590 (recorded above the lintel of the house) after the Reformation.

It now house the site museum that includes finds from the nearby Roman fort at Newstead.

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Melrose Abbey, Commendator’s House © David Gill

Alan Sorrell: creating visions of the past

Sorrell_RB_cov
2018

How do you interpret archaeological sites to make them understood by the public? This book looks at the influential work of Alan Sorrell: the subtitle, ‘The man who created Roman Britain’, perhaps indicates the impact of his work.

Roman Britain features prominently: Hadrian’s Wall (fig. 99; Cover), the Carrawburgh mithraeum (fig. 102a–b), Housesteads fort (fig. 110), Caerleon legionary fortress (figs. 1), 80, the forum at Leicester (fig. 25), London (figs. 87, 104a–c, 106), Caerwent (figs. 28, 84a–b, 86a–b), Wroxeter (fig. 118), Bath (fig. 119a–b), Llantwit Major villa (fig. 85), and Lullingstone villa (fig. 98c). Medieval structures in state guardianship appear: Harlech and Conwy Castles (fig. 54a–b), the Bishop’s Palace at St Davids (fig. 69), Tintern Abbey (fig. 65a) and Jedbergh Abbey (fig. 65b).

Looking to Greece there are reconstructions of the Palace of Nestor at Pylos (figs. 17, 105), excavated by Carl Blegen, and the Palace at Knossos on Crete (fig. 41a).

The section on his work for the National Museum of Wales was particularly helpful. The reconstruction of Maen Madoc in the Brecon Beacons was instructive (fig. 89). Sorrell’s work with William Francis Grimes was given prominence.

The commissioning of reconstructions for sites in state guardianship is presented in some detail. We are presented with the views of P.K. Baillie Reynolds, Chief Inspector of Ancient Monuments: ‘They should have a good public appeal’. Yet at the same time Baillie Reynolds opposed the use of such reconstructions. This was in contrast with A.J. Taylor: ‘I should, personally, very much like to see in due course Sorrell drawings of all our North Wales Edwardian castles’. The use of Sorrell reconstructions in the Ministry’s ‘Blue Guides’ is itself constructive.

Sorrell, Julia, and Mark Sorrell. 2018. Alan Sorrell: the man who created Roman Britain. Oxford: Oxbow.

Outlander and heritage tourism

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Doune Castle © David Gill

The Outlander series of books and TV series is having an impact on visitor numbers at heritage sites in Scotland (“Outlander tourism effect a ‘double edged sword’“, BBC News 15 February 2020). Doune Castle is reported to have a 200 per cent increase, rising from 38,000 in 2013 to 142,000 in 2008. It is now the fifth most popular Historic Environment Scotland site.

Culloden, managed by the National Trust for Scotland, has also seen a large increase in visitor numbers to over 213,000 in 2018.

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Source for Data: ALVA

MacLellan’s Castle: the ‘Laird’s Lug’

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MacLellan’s Castle © David Gill

The Laird’s Lug in MacLellan’s Castle is located behind the fireplace in the main hall and would allow conversations to be overheard.

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MacLellan’s Castle © David Gill

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MacLellan’s Castle, Great Hall © David Gill

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MacLellan’s Castle © David Gill

Cardoness and Carsluith Castles: guidebooks

Cardoness_Carsluith_HS
1996 (repr. 2009)

The combined guidebook for Cardoness and Carsluith Castles was published in 1996. It was prepared by Doreen Grove. Cardoness has sections on the story, short tour, and architecture of the castle; Carsluith just has two sections, the story and the architecture.

The revised guide was by Adrian Cox and Doreen Grove. There is some overlap, e.g. ‘The story of Cardoness Castle’ and ‘The Lordship of Cardoness’; the McCullochs of Cardoness. Some of the themes are continued, e.g. ‘The castle as a defence’, and ‘The castle as a residence’.

Cardoness_Carsluith_HS_n
2013