We’re in Dumfries tonight, ready for our early morning break for the coast and our ferry ride through some of the islands before heading north up through the Western Isles. As I type this I’m reclining in bed again, having dined on a rather awesome Butter Chicken from Sainsbury’s (2 for £5, can’t go wrong!) and finishing it off with a cup of Tetley tea – with a Jammie Dodger or two of course! It’s not been what we’d call long day, the drive up from Kendal was pleasant, the sun-shining – no torrential rain this time – and for once we didn’t have any arguments with Mrs. NewFoo, though there were the odd moments of ‘Ducky, what’re you doing???’ every now and then as we raced along the motorway at 70mph/117kph, at least we were on the correct side of the road this time! We watched captivated as the ruddy hued mountain ranges of the Pennine Hills gave way into the rolling green hills of Scotland, and of course the first glimpses of the Solway, the open fields of Galloway dotted with the russet red and monochrome coats of various horned beasties of a tasty nature – yes, I have a slight food obsession today!
We reached Dumfries before 11am and as we’d silenced Ducky, and relegated her infernal quacking to the backseat, we navigated our way through the town centre the old fashioned way – by sight, which of course means we engaged in a Captain Cook’s tour of Dumfries, one-way streets, pedestrian only zones and small bridges included, and yes, I did happen to drive into a ‘mall’, but I swear, the sign said slow, not ‘no-go!’ and not a single person said or did anything to indicate I may have been driving somewhere that was not customary. Eventually we managed to cross the Nith (the river that runs through the heart of the town) and make our way to the Family History Centre, which had been our destination to follow up some research that was proving illusive from Australia. Finding a spot to park would be the next challenge, fortunately there were a few not far away and once ensconced there it was with a quick check of the watch that we made for the books. Nearly an hour later we returned – and the parking was only for 30 minutes! – to discover… nothing. Apparently the local council have, in their infinite wisdom and generosity, abolished the parking wardens. They also seem to have abolished any and all technology from the last ten years. The reason we were so long at the centre was due to the ever helpful and informative OAP gentleman who kept insisting on looking things up on the computers, and informing us that BT/British Telecom had only provided broadband internet to the area recently – but only to the OTHER side of the river, not to the side we were on – and would in his aged infirmity dart between all four computers trying desperately to retrieve the information he wished to share with us. So when we eventually extricated ourselves it was with a huge sigh of relief that we also hadn’t incurred a parking fine for the privilege.
Next we decided it may be time to pay ole Rabbie Burns a visit, we were after all just around the corner from his house, or so Ducky informed us. So, once again we set off to do battle with the spaghetti that was Dumfries inner roads only to find ourselves driving around and around, being directed to drive the wrong way up one-way streets courtesy of Ducky and getting ourselves thoroughly lost and just a little ticked off. All that and we hadn’t even been able to sight where the blasted house even was! We did however find ourselves in a lovely car park near the Nith River so decided to pause and gather our wits over a cup of tea and a ginger-snap biscuit to steady our nerves, and of course as we’re leaving we manage to catch a glimpse of the building, huge white thing with the words ‘Burns House’ in huge letters across the side that faces the street. Hurrah! Off we press, navigating the roads like a local – lets face it, we’ve driven them enough times today to pass for one – and finally shoot off into the tiny little street that runs in front of the property, we slow down and pull up outside and look for the entry signs. We didn’t see an ‘entry’ sign. We did however see a ‘for sale’ sign. It was closed, no indication of why/when/ or anything useful, so we’re left with the impression that after all that effort and frustration to get there, that dear ole Rabbie has packed his bags, shut his door and pulled a Bilbo Baggins on us! Little rotter!
By this point we’re getting infinitely cheesed off, we’ve spent two hours stuck going around in circles and getting nothing done, so we decided to call it quits and make a bid for freedom, so off down the Nith we scamper heading as far, and as fast, as we can from Dumfries. We set our sights now on visiting the castle at Caerlaverock, and were determined to salvage something from the day! The drive down along the river is lovely, it’s littered with quaint Scottish villages that I’m sure I’ve seen dotted along the roads that follow along the lochs of the highlands and some cheeky sod’s just copy-and-pasted them here. Either way they’re lovely, the simplicity of the style, symmetrical doors and windows, the lime-washed walls with the window sills and door lintels painted black, hanging-baskets of pink and pale blue spring flowers dangling from cast-iron rods, as the house looks serenely over the Nith as it flows towards the sea with various mountains a hazy shadow on the horizon. After about a half hour we arrived at Caerlaverock and found ourselves parked not 200 metres from the castle, talk about convenient parking!
The castle itself is rather impressive, if not rather foolish. What at first appears to be a well thought out retreat built by a family to protect themselves, soon becomes an obvious attempt to reach for the stars whilst drawing attention to oneself and neglecting to ensure basic survival needs. The castle remains – or rather the gatehouse, as the ‘newer’ castle was completely destroyed and now all that remains is the gatehouse to the complex – are wedge shaped in a motte and bailey style with a full moat around the base of the keep. There are several towers, one still intact to a degree it can be scaled, and an almost diamond shaped courtyard. The main problem with the castle is that under siege scenarios there is no safe drinking water for the occupants. The only water would be whatever was stored, or if you fancy swallowing some of the moat water. Even from a basic inspection this fortification would never have been able to be kept, there’s insufficient defences , a serious lack of storage, and no way to outlast a siege. Which is probably why it was nearly destroyed in 1640, under a siege attack by Parliament forces. In its day it would have been a magnificent proto-palace, the stone work is impressive even today after years of weathering, to imagine what it would have been nearly 400 years ago would have been jaw-dropping. We wandered around as much as possible of the castle, investigating all the rooms that were accessible, climbed and and all stairways and towers that we could find, in many ways it reminded me of Bodmin, or other English castles of the motte and bailey type, and I’m still a fan of the moat, even if they were rather rank!
From there we sauntered our way back to our digs for the night, shuffled and repacked our bags. We have yet another early morning tomorrow, so it’s all about being ready on time for us. But for now it’s bedtime.