So with a bow towards our imaginations, contemplate your choice on Leap Day.
It is that extra day in February that recurs every four years. Perhaps we should start a tradition and call it FREE DAY, when we can do anything we want -- at least in our imagination.
I found the above picture on somebody's blog and I don't know where to give credit. Thank you whoever you are. I've always thought February needs all the help it can get.
Back to that "do-anything-you-desire" idea for Leap Day. What would you do? One of my instant ideas is above. In my finest habit, I would ride a spirited mare down Rotten Row in London. Based on repeating things I have already done, my choice would be either a Venetian Gondola or a sailing yacht in the Greek Islands.
Or maybe something less nautical, like a free day in the London Library (below, l)? Or the British Library (below, r)?
What would be your choice, assuming you had no restrictions for time, complications, or price? The sky is the limit. Or perhaps you had in mind another tradition associated with Leap Year.
How about a lady's Choice for a dance, a date, or even marriage? At my high school we had a Sadie Hawkins Dance every February, leap year or not, when the girls invited the guys. Sadie Hawkins is a character in Al Capp's comic strip stories of L'il Abner. But Sadie ultimately lost out to Daisy Mae. Other female choice traditions relate to St. Brigid's Complaint, an Irish legend associated with Leap Day. Altogether, these two version and others became entwined beyond my interest in untangling them. Nevertheless, you might like to fantasize about your ultimate quarry in the Leap Year/Sadie H. Day marathon. I have a couple of covers of my novels that just might do.
Click on the thumbnails above for better images. I'd take any of the above three, wouldn't you? Or, as below, some of the portraits created by Sir Thomas Lawrence, who could do as handsome a male as he could gorgeous females. Pick your prey.
Top Row, L: William Lamb, later Lord Melbourne (1779-1848); R: Henry Brougham, later Lord Brougham (1778-1868); lower row, L; Hart Davis, Jr (1791-1854). R: Sir Charles Stewart, later Lord Londonderry (1778-1854)
So with a bow towards our imaginations, contemplate your choice on Leap Day.
Scone Palace is the traditional location for the crowning of Scottish kings, including several who attempted the honor but did not achieve it. And the palace is full of legends and stories, enough to occupy many evenings of research. But since photos are not allowed inside, my account will be limited to the few I could find on line, such as the view above from wikipedia. Below, my shot, including a lonely tourist and a feeding peahen.
Moot (or Boot) Hill was the site of Pictish Scotland kings' investiture in the 3rd century. When national Scottish councils were established, they were held here. An Augustinian abbey was built in the 12th century; Scone was also the site of the first parliament. By 1600, Scone was given by James VI to Sir David Murray, later named Lord Scone and 1st Viscount Stormont.
Above, a replica of the famous adventurous Stone of Scone. It stands on Moot Hill before the Chapel, once the site of the Abbey. It is lso known as the Stone of Destiny.
I had seen the Stone of Scone in Edinburgh Castle a few days earlier, where it is displayed with the crown jewels, the Honours of Scotland. It had been returned to Scotland in 1996, after being part of the British Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey for many centuries. There is also the story about how the Stone was stolen from Westminster in 1950...as well as many other claims and legends that question the true nature and existence of the Stone. Which are authentic and which are substitutes or copies?
The Chapel was remodeled in Gothic Style for the 3rd Earl of Mansfield (1777-1840), by William Atkinson. Below, the chapel at left, and right, an Italian alabaster memorial to Sir David Murray, 1st Viscount Stormont, by sculptor Maximilian Colt, in 1618. Please click on the small photos for larger versions.
Below, sculptures on the grounds. Left, a Sword embedded in a stone, bringing to mind Excalibur. and Right, two handsome deer who seem poised to intimacy, but alas they are made of willow.
Below, one of several white peacocks roaming the grounds. Left, my view; Right, doing a better display for the Telegraph.
The Gothic door is as far as a I got with my phone camera. This version of the Palace was begun as a Regency Gothick House by Architect William Atkinson for the third Earl of Mansfield in 1803, replacing a medieval building. The interior, as portrayed by pictures from the website, is almost as perfectly Regency today as it was two hundred years ago.
Above, the Octagon Room. The guidebook says, "Past and present come together in the Octagon Room,which was formerly part of the medieval gallery and led into the King's Room where Charles II slept the night before his coronation in 1651." Only months later, Charles II was defeated by Parliamentary forces of Oliver Cromwell and forced to flee to the continent where he remained until the Restoration of the monarchy in 1660. Octagonal rooms were often features of Regency-era decor.
The Drawing Room boasts portraits of George III and Queen Charlotte. The 2nd Earl served as British ambassador. to France. These famous portraits were painted by artist Allan Ramsay, a Scot who was also a 2nd cousin by marriage to the 2nd Earl. At right, William Murray, 1st Earl of Mansfield, Lord Chief Justice of Great Britain (1705-1793), painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds in 1776. He was renowned for his decisions which ended slavery in Britain.
The Ambassador's Room, above, displays furniture from the 2nd Earl's tenures in Paris and Vienna. At the upper right is the famous portrait of Dido Bell and Lady Elizabeth Murray, daughter of the 2nd Earl of Mansfield. Both young ladies lived with the 1st Earl and his wife at Kenwood House, a Murray residence at the edge of Hampstead Heath in London.
Dido's story was told, relatively accurately, by the 2013 film Belle. The portrait, once attributed to Johann Zoffany but now thought more likely to be by David Martin, hangs here because the Murrays gave up Kenwood House for continual residence at Scone in the early 20th century.
The Inner Hall displays numerous family heirlooms, perhaps most obviously two Russian bears shot by Sir Lancelot Carnegie, maternal great-grandfather of the present earl, in 1908 when he was secretary at the British Embassy in Moscow.
I would love to show you much more of this fascinating palace, but it isn't easy to find the images on line. So if I had anything to do with the marketing of tourism at Scone, I would immediately allow cameras and then rejoice as the visitors post their many pictures -- thus attracting many more. This is the policy of many wonderful castles, palaces, and manor houses all over Britain. I think they are benefiting from allowing photos. Are you listening Glamis and Scone?
Above photo from https://www.smallcitybigpersonality.co.uk/
Here we are in September, 2019, cruising the lovely blue waters of Loch Lommond. We began our adventure in Balloch, at the south end of the Loch. The begonias bloomed near the dock as if their exuberance would postpone the upcoming October chill.
Loch Lommond is long and narrow, about 22 miles in length, and varying in width from less than a half mile wide to four miles plus. The loch sits on the Highland Boundary fault, the geological dividing line between the central lowlands and the highlands. Most of the surrounding area is the Trossachs National Park.
We boarded our vessel at Sweeney's Cruises and set off for a delightful day on the water. At right below, someone forgot to tie up his sailboat adequately, certainly a marine no-no.
We encountered few others boating, though the day was perfect. Perhaps, being dutiful Scots, everyone was at work.
About a third of the way up the length of the loch, we stopped at the village of Luss, and went ashore for luncheon and to investigate the church.
We ate outside at a quaint inn and wandered the village. Please click on the thumbnails for larger versions.
On the return trip, we saw some fine country homes and more spectacular scenery.
What is more relaxing than a lovely day on the loch? Below, a painting I almost bought in the gift shop. I wish I'd shipped it home.
Next week: Scone Palace
Glamis (promouned Glams) was the childhood home of the Queen Mother and the Bowes-Lyon family, the Earls of Strathmore and Kinghorne. The property belonged to the Strathmore ancestors since the 14th century, through turmoil and strife. But in the 20th century, it reached the peak of distinction.
L to R: the 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne, the Countess, Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, Prince Albert (Duke of York, later George VI), Queen Mary, King George V, on the wedding day in 1923.
Below, the wedding portrait of the Duke and Duchess of York, and a childhood picture of the Queen Mother. Remember to click on the small photos for larger versions.
Above left, a dress saved through the years and displayed with other historic clothing; right, The Duchess of York and her daughter Elizabeth, b. 1926, the future Queen Elizabeth II.
But despite the important royal connections, the stories one hears at Glamis are also about murders, witchcraft, monsters, perhaps vampires, ghosts, feuds, treason, and rebel seizures. There is also the legend of an entire family bricked up in a room and left to die.
The Crypt is in the medieval part of the castle. Below, another view of the Crypt.
Some call Glamis "the most haunted castle in Scotland," but I admit I didn't see a single spirit. Below, the Drawing Room was once the Great Hall of the medieval castle.
The Dining Room, below, is an excellent example of Victorian exuberance -- or perhaps you call it Victorian wretched excess.
The Royal Bedroom is beautiful and relatively understated.
Below, close-ups of the bed canopy and the counterpane.
Among the collection of toys and costumes was this wonderful dollhouse.
The castle is set in lovely lawns and gardens, including the memorial to Princess Margaret (1930-2002) who was born at Glamis
Here we are near Blair Castle about to venture out into the hills of the estate. Below, our intrepid adventurers, our guide with the herd, and views of the now-docile deer.
One might assume this is the Alpha Male with his young sons and daughters...but there were several with equally magnificent antlers...and they appeared to be quite peaceful with the herd, or perhaps that was just for the purposes of the hand-outs. The fence keeps them from accessing the parking lots but be assured they have thousands of acres of freedom once mealtime is over.
Above two photos from the Blair Castle website...since I forgot to photograph the vehicle and the deer were all hungry enough to stay at the fence instead of posing in the river. However, there was no shortage of material for my own camera.
Please don't forget to click the small photos to see larger versions.
At Blair-Atholl, we are on the edge of the Highlands, into the foothills of the Grampian mountains, where the sun teased us all afternoon. While long stretches seemed without animal life other than the high-flying raptors, from time to time we came across workers, both human and equine. The Highland ponies, once loosed from their duties, make their way home unaccompanied. One lone angler, whose independence we did not dare interrupt, worked the river.
In the 18th c., the Atholl Estates held 350,000 acres; since post-WWII sales of land, they now hold about 145,000 acres. Here and there we encountered some Highland Sheep, sturdy fellows well adapted to the stern hills.
The Highland Safari was truly a unique experience. It might provide a clue to the eternal strength of the Scots, their fierceness in battle, and their appreciation of beauty.
Next, the bonny, bonny banks of Loch Lommond.
This is a second attempt to portray the beauty and attractions of the ancient Blair Castle. Last week we looked at the ballroom, drawing room, and other gathering rooms. Below, a corner of the castle on the left and the bagpiper on the right (yes, a very accomplished lady). In the lower row, at right, the corridor to the shop and tea room, adorned with hunting trophies, and an aerial few from the website.
The State Bed in the Tapestry Room with Spitalfields silk hangings and ostrich feather plumes was brought here for the First Duke of Atholl in 1704. The Mortlake Tapestries in the room once belonged to Charles I, later sold by Oliver Cromwell, and purchased by the First Duke in France.
Below, furnishings of the Tapestry room.
The Blue Bedroom was decorated by the 7th Duke of Atholl (1840-1917) and Louisa, his Duchess, pictured on the wall adjacent to the bed.
Below, furnishings in the Blue Bedroom.
A third chamber, strangely enough known as the Red Bedroom. The bed, chairs, and tea table are all in Chinese Chippendale style, by William Masters, c. 1750.
Several rooms are devoted to the children of the family and their attendants. A child's sleigh, below left to right, a fine hobby horse, and doll furniture, show the clothing and toys of the generations who grew up at Blair Castle.
At the base of the great staircase, a knight in full armor rides his steed into battle or a medieval festival of jousting.
Throughout the more than thirty rooms open to the visitor, you will find dozens of portraits and evidence of the celebrated status of the Atholl family whose heritage includes elements of the Murray and Stewart families, among many other Scottish nobles. Below, right, John Murray, 1st First Duke of Atholl (1660-1724).
Above, left, a 1902 portrait of Katharine Ramsay Stewart-Murray (1874-1960), wife of the 8th Duke of Atholl, who had an intriguing political career. After first opposing women's suffrage, she was elected the first Scottish woman member of the British Parliament in 1823 and served until 1938. I need to find her autobiography, Working Partnership, c. 1958.
Below, the Tea Room, set with 18th century Sevres china, awaiting the afternoon gathering. The settee and chairs are part of a group by John Gordon of London, 1753, purchased by the 2nd Duke of Atholl for £35, 10 shillings.
Next Week a Highland Safari...
As befits its position at the edge of the Highlands, Blair Castle has a long and complicated history of conflict and changing family fortunes through seven centuries. To quote the castles's guidebook, "Over nineteen generations the Stewarts and Murrays of Atholl have been adventurers and politicians, Jacobites and Royalists, entrepreneurs and agriculturists, soldiers and scholars. They have made fortunate marriages and have almost all, in one way or another, made their mark on Blair Castle."
In the Entrance Hall, there are sufficient weapons on hand to defend against an imminent attack, though the only belligerents we saw were tourists.
Building at this site probably began well before the 13th Century when the Earl of Atholl participated in the the crusades. In his absence, a neighbor built a tower on his land. Though the neighbor was expelled upon the Earl's return, the old tower is still part of today's Castle. Built and re-built, it evolved eventually in the Victorian period into its present form, a version of the Scottish Baronial Style.
The Drawing Room is magnificently rococo and contains paintings by Zoffany and Hoppner, furniture by Chippendale, and plaster ceilings by Thomas Clayton.
The Dining Room exhibits a set of six paintings of the Atholl Estate commissioned by the 2nd Duke from the local artist Charles Steuart in the 1760s.
The scenic canvases are set in a perfect decor of elaborate plaster surrounds by mid-18th century ScotsmanThomas Clayton, who is also responsible for the ceiling.
Finally in Part One, we'll look at the ballroom, added by the 7th Duke in 1876, site of the Atholl Highlander's Ball and numerous wedding.
Many more rooms to come next week...followed by a Highland Safari.
Gargunnock House was the wonderful home of Number One London's Scotland adventure in September 2019. We had some meals at home, expertly prepared by our colleagues, especially Cecily and Andrea. The rest of us helped out now and then...and gratefully consumed the delicacies.
The view across the pasture toward the central Perthshire Mountains was breathtaking. The house evolved from an ancient Tower House known to be there in the 16th century. In the next centuries, wings were added and by the 1794, it took on its faintly Georgian appearance.
Even this late in the season the gardens remained lovely. Love the colorful hydrangeas. Please click on the pictures for larger versions.
The grounds and the path to the village also had interesting flora, but little fauna, merely the occasional presence of a few pheasants, none of which consented to posing.
Gargunnock House is about 6 miles from Stirling and a 15-minute walk from the village of Gargunnock where we took great advantage of the local pub and village shop.
Below, representing the fauna in the Hall!
The rooms are large and light. Below, left, the library; right, the Hall; lower left, the kitchen; lower right, the dining room.
The piano in the Drawing Room is a Broadwood made in London in 1794. and is said to have been played by Frederic Chopin about 1848. He was the teacher and friend of Jane Stirling, whose brother Charles Stirling, a Glasgow merchant, purchased the house in 1835. The house is now rented out for holiday guests.
Gargunnock House was an ideal base for our further rambles into the Highlands, to Loch Lommond and to several imposing castles...stay tuned.
Above. the Unicorn in Captivity, a tapestry created for the Queen's Bed Chamber in Scotland's Stirling Palace, a stitch for stitch copy of its famous original created in the Low Countries/northern France around 1500 and now residing in the Cloisters Museum of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. I will tell you the story of how these tapestries were created, but first, WHY?
The mythical unicorn is generally considered to be a symbol of purity, only tamed by a young virgin, and otherwise unconquerable. Since the 12th c., the unicorn has been associated with Scotland and used in coats of arms and on coins. Scotland and England were united in 1603 when James VI of Scotland became King James I of Great Britain. The official coat of arms, continuing to this day as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, includes a unicorn and a lion.
I was most interested to see the Unicorn Tapestries at Stirling Castle because I had visited the "originals" at The Cloisters some time ago. They are in amazing condition with very bright colors--considering they are 500 years old.
The Cloisters is located in New York City's Fort Tryon Park. a considerable distance from the Fifth Avenue flagship building of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, but well worth the effort. It was built 1935-38 to house ancient and medieval art.
The Unicorn in Captivity, from the website of the Met (image in the public domain). This probably is the most famous of the seven images in the set. Below, from the Met's images, top left, The Unicorn is Found; right, The Unicorn Defends Himself; lower left, the Unicorn Attacked; lower right, the Unicorn is Brought to the Castle
The Unicorn Tapestries were owned by the La Rochefoucauld Family in France for several centuries. They were purchased in 1922 by John D. Rockefeller Jr. and donated to the Met in 1938.
The Stirling Castle copies were carefully woven according to the original techniques and in the same materials based on high resolution digital photographs taken when the Cloisters' tapestries were cleaned and restored in 1998. Two teams of weavers worked on the weaving project, which took more than a decade to complete. Above and below the Stirling versions of "The Unicorn is Found."
According to the website, 'The project was commissioned by Historic Scotland in 2001 as part of a wider effort to restore the king's palace to its 1540s style. A team of 18 weavers from across the globe came together to reinterpret and create the "Hunt of the Unicorn" tapestries.'
It goes on, 'In the 1540s, the palace was home to James V's wife, Mary of Guise, and their young daughter, Mary Queen of Scots. It was known from royal inventories that when James V built the palace he owned more than 100 tapestries, but there is no record of what happened to them. The inventories, however, described a set of tapestries depicting "the historie of the unicorne"... Peter Buchanan, Historic Scotland's project manager who oversaw the process, said it had been a "privilege to watch" the weavers recreate the tapestries "in all their Renaissance glory"... He said: "Whilst we may never know what happened to the original tapestries, the fact that we now have these fantastic recreations, with the assistance of the Met in New York and through the generosity of our donors, will provide visitors to the castle now, and for generations to come, with a real insight into how the palace may have been at the time of James V.'
Above, the Mystic Hunt for the Unicorn, a 'new' tapestry, recreated from fragments in the Cloisters. It is thought that the tapestries might have been trimmed to fit a particular room, amazing as that seems from our viewpoint. Below, part of the exhibit chronicling details of the creation of the Unicorn Tapestries.
The myths and legends of the Unicorn's purity and the role of the innocent maiden in taming it has long been a favorite of artists, particularly those who designed tapestries. Another famous set of Unicorn tapestries resides in the Cluny Museum in Paris, below. Note that the backgrounds of both sets of tapestries show elaborate millefleur designs, beautiful flowers and small animals in intricate detail.
We spent a half-day in the musee de Cluny in 2014 where we viewed 'The Lady and the Unicorn,' six tapestries woven around 1500 in the Low Countries or northern France. part of the Cluny's collection since 1882. The represent six senses.
Above left, the Sense of Hearing; right, Sense of Sight.
Like the The Hunt for the Unicorn, these tapestries represent, in the words of the Cluny curators, "a crossroads between two historical eras--that we nowadays call the Middle Ages and the Renaissance--in blurring the boundaries between the real and the imaginary ... and merging the secular and spiritual worlds."
Below, left, Sense of Taste; right, Sense of Touch.
The senses are allegorical observations on earthly pleasures and courtly culture. The Sixth Sense is portrayed by the lady returning her jewels to a casket. Scholars have long debated the sensory representation -- be it moral or emotional.
Legends involving unicorns have flourished for many years...and I am tempted to add some of the images from contemporary cartoons and videos. But to place them alongside the brilliant images above almost seems blasphemous.
Long live the Scottish Unicorn!
This magnificent aerial view, via Wikipedia, shows the town of Stirling at the top and the castle sprawling on the stone outcrops in the center and lower part of the photo. What is does not convey is the height of the fortress, which you can deduce from the view, below.
From the ramparts, looking northeast toward the Monument to Sir William Wallace (1270-1305) leader of the Scots against the English. He was victorious in the battle of Stirling Bridge in 1297 but later was captured and died a traitor's death in London.
The entrance to the castle clearly reveals its tactical value and military purpose. No doubt about those cannons. One guidebook (Michelin) states, "Stirling has been strategically important from time immemorial...perched on its well-nigh impregnable crag..." between lowland and highland Scotland.
Though the fortress had been there for centuries and was supposedly captured by the legendary King Arthur, the palace at the castle was built in Renaissance style in the late 15th century by James IV. His son, James V, lived here.
Below: left, Stairway to the entrance; center, costume of the Queen, Mary of Guise, for the Christmas celebrations in 1540; right, a recreation of the King's Inner Hall.
Above, the exterior of the Great Hall, probably built by James IV in 1501-1504; Below, the interior, the Great Hall with its hammer beam ceiling, the site of royal meetings for a century.
Below, the view to the west, overlooking the King's Knot, earthworks remaining from a 17th C. formal garden created for the visit of Charles I, in the 1620's. Sometimes known locally as the 'cup and saucer' the area inspired legends associated with King Arthur and his Roundtable.
Inside the Palace, the rooms used by royalty have been recreated. Below, the King' Bedchamber, featuring the unicorn, a symbol of royal strength and purity, over the fireplace.
Below, two views of the Queen's Bedchamber.
In the Queen's Inner Hall, a costumed guide tells the story of the Unicorn tapestries. Next week, you'll find more about Scotland and the Unicorn in this blog.
Stirling Castle Walls
Victoria Hinshaw, Author