Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Inn at John O'Groats - End-to-Enders. A Place to Refresh, At Last

Drive -- or walk, or cycle, bless you --  from the southernmost point of England to the northernmost point of Scotland, and you used to be disappointed.  Land's End in Cornwall in the southwest has places to stay, eat, view.  John O'Groats, however, at the northeast, had only a virtually abandoned 1875 hotel, empty since the 1990's.  Find also a trailer park and souvenir place. Those who made the journey as we did were disappointed.  End-to-Enders had to go back the way we came for lodgings.

We can all go back. The Inn has been restored and improved, with character and low-key style, according to the gist of a fine article in the Financial Times, 9a/21-22, 2013 at p.9, Travel: A fresh start for the end of the world.

So: Take any circuitous, arbitrary route to  John O'Groats now, and be disappointed no more. John O'Groats is home to only some 300+ stalwart residents, and now it has an Inn again.  The Inn at John O'Groats.  

The name derives from the 1496 Jan de Groot, an entrepreur who established the first ferry to Orkney and charged a groat for the journey. He was awarded land for his house, from the Earl of Caithness.  Jan built an octagonal house, says Financial Times, because his eight sons were quarrelsome and each needed his own entrance.  The house is gone, but the octagon echoes on in the tower of the new Inn.  Again, we were at John O'Groats before the new Inn, but we are happy to believe the Financial Times. See

Aberdeenshire, Balmoral Castle

Balmoral Castle.  When castle gates are closed, small visible areas - towers in the distance -- suffice.  Prince Albert rented the castle in 1848 sight unseen, after the royal family had enjoyed visiting the Highlands as a favorite destiination since 1842.  With everybody happy with it, he bought it for Queen Victoria in 1852.  The only problem was the castle itself:   too small, just too small.  So the family lived in it only until a replacement could be built 100 years to the northwest -- and then the old castle was demolished, with only a commemorative memorial stone left to mark the old front door.  Another stone!  At the new castle, Victoria put a parchment marking the date and with currrent sample coins in a bottle and inserted the bottle into the foundation stone.  

Balmoral, Castle, Scotland

Balmoral is not easily found.  Drive around enough, and find a small vista. 

Victoria's will:  the property passed to Edward VII, and then passes to each of his successors.  Fine.  

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Sutherland. Dunrobin Castle. Clearances of Crofters.

Dunrobin is notorious here in the old Norse "south lands" -- from which the family Sutherland took its name when first settled by a Fleming in the 1200's. 

This castle, later remodeled in the French chateau mode, represented the vast wealth of the noble classes who engaged in the brutal, profit-motivated clearances of poor crofters, the great evictions, so that the noblemen could make more money in sheep.

Clearances of crofters.  A crofter is a poor small-farmer, with tenure rights to till a portion of arable land, a means of producing food for the family. Dukes and Earls of Sutherland:  dominating the countryside. What is the difference?  King: Heavenly.  Prince:  Just below Heavenly. Duke:  highest after Prince. Then come Marquess-es. Then Earl:  below Duke.  Viscount:  below Earl.

Earl derives from the Norse Jarl, but in Scandinavia, could also mean rank like a Prince.  Earl was a term not used on the Continent. An Earl was a chieftain.  That rank authorized him to rule in place of the King.  In the middle ages, Earl was used less commonly, and the term Duke arose to rule.

The water beyond:  We went by car ferry from Scrabster, after arriving from the southwest and Hebrides;  to Stromness, Orkney; and returned with immediate aim to Wick and the northeastern coast of Scotland.  Suddenly, there was Dunrobin Castle.

On the upper floors was, it is said, the bedroom of the Lord's daughter, the 14th Earl of Sutherland no less, and he had forbidden her to marry her true love. She let down a rope to escape, and fell, haunting the place thereafter.

Ayrshire. Culzean Castle. Scots Kennedy Family. Robert the Bruce as well?

Ancestry buffs will enjoy that this is the Scots Kennedy family home, and that they claim ties back to Robert the Bruce.  Sir Thomas Kennedy was killed (murdered) on the beach at Ayr in 1602.  Scots hauntings: A spectral piper pipes on the occasion of each Kennedy marriage, it is said, and on dark and stormy nights, with a second ghostly apparition, a young woman in a ball gown seen, it also is said, in 1972.

 The architecture dates from 1759, so does not sport the walls and turrets and keeps of medieval times.  The echoes of those times are in attached decorative tower-elements.  It is located on the South Ayrshire coastline, about an hour and a half southwest from Stirling Castle.

See a room-by-room description at

There had been a castle on the cliffs here before the current version,  

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Largs. Viking Scotland

Largs is known as the last stand of the Vikings, whose King Haakon lost to Scotland's King Alexander in 1263.  The event, to the Norwegians, was but an inconclusive skirmish tangled by bad weather etc.  To the Scots, it was Battle.  Haakon planned further fights, but died in the Orkney Islands.  Both sides then negotiated rather than fight on and on, and the western Islands, Hebrides and also Argyll on the mainland, were ceded by the successor King Magnus in 1266 to the Scots. The event is commemorated annually, see By way of update, the 2013 celebration is shown at that site.  Go in September and enjoy.

A look at the geography of northern Europe shows navigable waterways, even for distances, seas, and islands that could be, and were, hopped-skipped-and sailed across by early Norse.  The Spring 2013 issue of Scottish Life, see; does not seem to show the article on page 22 about how and when all that happened -- migrations because of overpopulation on sparse arable lands, and later, incursions by Christian zealots intent on unifying all under the Christian Soldier Banner.  Soldier?  Really?  Who was it that turned that down in the first instance?

1.  Course began with the closest, Shetland and Orknay;
2.  The Northern and Western Isles, Hebrides;
3.  Northern areas of Caithness, Sutherland, Inverness.

In Edinburgh is an exhibition called Vikings! with artifacts and displays showing life in those days. Vikings were traders long before their anti-Christian response to the incursions of militant Christians in the late 700's - 800's and the centuries following.  But horned helmets be they none.   A fiction. So sad.