We have a love of surprises and blind turns.
While on a job hunting road trip, which was planned as a quick overnighter and suddenly turned into a three day journey, we found ourselves winding through the roads on the east coast of northern Scotland. It’s pretty up there, with rolling hills and thick forests. The roundabouts on the road pop up pretty regularly and are dotted with sign posts to send you on your way.
Some of those signs, no a lot of those signs, are brown. Brown road signs in Scotland mean the same thing they do in the US. Points of Interest.
We watched for them, and followed them at random.
That’s how we found ourselves exploring Huntly Castle, tucked away on the other side of a tiny village at the end of a single shady lane.
The original fort was already a hundred and eight years old when Robert the Bruce showed up as a guest in 1307.
And it’s fascinating. I can almost see the ghosts of supply carts rolling across the old roads.
I can hear the crackling fires and feel the heat from the coals in the old bake house.
I can smell the casks of wine and ale stored in the cellar.
I can see the stone masons carving intricate pieces.
I can hear the footsteps and shouts of the prisoners as they were led down the stairs to the pit.
I would have shouted too. I would have screamed.
And screamed. It’s about a fifteen foot drop down in to that pit, and nearly pitch black. I’m pretty sure they didn’t gently lower the prisoners down a ladder.
But the guards at least had a window, some sunlight to brighten the gloom.
All the while, there was music and dancing, and feasts held in the hall. Ancient kings who helped shape the country sat in this very room and shared a meal, made their plans, probably laughed and sang.
Their guards walked the walls outside.
The lady of the castle sat in her tower room, keeping warm by the fireplace. Did she do needlepoint? Did she read? Did she bring her children to play in this room? How many generations saw children fall down these stairs and break an arm, or split their head?
How many young visitors carved their names in the plaster of the walls? Did their mothers scold them?
Can you see the stable boys? The servants? The kitchen staff? The fighting men who kept them protected? Can you hear the blacksmith’s hammer? They’re all bustling around in the courtyard, working in the buildings that made up their little castle village. I think their shadows are still there.
There are two things that seem to permeate the lands of this country.
One is the constant presence of centuries of history. All of today’s life is built around it, beside it, on top of it, but it shows through. You can’t go anywhere without seeing the ghosts of the past.
The other is the realization that this is a country that has struggled, and been at war for nearly two thousand years. Pict wars, clan wars, Viking invasions, wars with the church, wars with England, World War I, World War II. Buildings, and whole towns, were designed for defense. Leaders were chosen because of their warrior skills. Towns came and went through conquer.
Rugged, wild, strong, stubborn. Scotland’s reputation as a culture of strong people has been earned through two thousand years of survival through it all. It’s well earned.
On the map: Click here to see this location on our Google Map.