Sunday, 12 April 2009

Castle of Mey

I still feel as though I'm still moving. We've done 820 miles since Thursday morning in our trip to Caithness to attend my middle nephew's wedding. He chose to fall for a girl from Thurso, which is as far north as you can get in the UK without taking a boat and heading for Orkney.
We broke the journey by staying overnight in Inverness and I took the picture on the picture on the right from our hotel window. That's the river Ness, and we're looking north.
On Friday we arrived in Thurso and found we were in luck for the Castle of Mey was open to visitors over the Easter Weekend. The castle was built for the earls of Caithness between 1560-1580, and stayed in the family for 300 years. It suffered thereafter until the recently widowed Queen Elizabeth saw it, fell in love with it and decided it must be saved as part of Scotland's heritage. So from 1952 onwards she spent her summers there and gradually restored it. She set up a trust before she died, so now I think the property is safe.
The first view is from the seaward side - it is only 200 yeards from the sea, and though the pictures are taken perhaps only two hours apart, you can see how the light is changing as the afternoon turns to early evening. Typically of me, the first picture you see is the one I took last, getting on for half past five.
The huge wall protects the castle from the worst of the winds off the sea, and shelters the walled garden. The castle seems a huddle of chimneys and odd little towers, a delight, almost a child's idea of a castle. Once through the gates, we walked round to the front of the house, which faces south across the fields.
Surprisingly, the wind shrieked in from the south! and we were glad to get inside those huge doors. Once the nine inch key had safely been turned in the foot square lock to keep out unwelcome visitors, we enjoyed a tour with Mr Jackson. Just the three of us, through the drawing room, the equerry's room, the sitting room, then up the spiral stairs to view the bedrooms. One housed a romantic four poster bed in a room designated as Princess Margaret's room though she never slept there because she thought the castle far too cold and always went back to her quarters on Britannia in Scrabster harbour fifteen miles away.
Down a set of stairs so steep the Duke of Edinburgh claimed they reminded him of being aboard ship, and into the dining room, the pantry and then down again to the kitchen with the 1950s fridge, still in use. Anecdotes and reminiscence all the way. I recommend it for your delight if you are ever that far north.
This is the view of the south facing entrance to the castle - the picture I took first, around half past three in the afternoon.
We saw the gardens. At this time of year few blooms were on display. But the front "wilderness" garden boasted clumps of naturalised daffodils and they made a pleasing show.
Our hotel had much the same sort of wild garden plus daffodils. More on that tomorrow.

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