(I wonder who the mystery monk is?)
Back in June, I stravaiged to Edzell castle.
It had been more than ten years since my previous visit, and I had fond memories of the place. There had been actors in mediaeval dress back then, promenading around the wonderful formal gardens: ladies in velvets and silks, and monks in sober habits. None were very sober, however. It is a cheerful and uplifting place.
The castle was the seat of the Lindsay family, who acquired it in the mid thirteen hundreds. It began to fall into disrepair after the Jacobite rebellion in 1745, the castle having been mortgaged to raise funds for what turned out to be the losing side. Asset-stripped and pillaged, the castle eventually became the property of Historic Scotland. The wonderful formal gardens were restored in the 1930s.
The gardens are indeed breathtaking. They were the vision and design of Sir David Lindsay in the early sixteen hundreds. Whilst the castle reflects the Scottish baronial style in the tower building, the famous politician and poet carved out an Italianate villa for himself, the walls marking the garden boundary decorated with intricately wrought panels depicting the liberal arts, planetary deities and the cardinal virtues.
I was much taken with the idea of arithmetic and geometry being construed as liberal arts. I can see that there is a fluidity in the anti-chaos of mathematics. I am just out there in no man’s land, clinging to the rules for the use of the semi-colon, and feeling all ineffectual. I can’t count for toffee. Running out of fingers is a big issue for me. Am in awe of anyone who can make equations tally without looking up the answers in the back of the book. I could not make them make any sense, even peeking at the answers. “Huh?” was the only syllable ever uttered by me in relations to maths.
It is late June, and it is raining. Raining down in sheets - rubber sheets, of the sort one comes upon with a sense of chagrin in hospital, knowing that, in spite of all intimations to the contrary, you are deemed as potentially incontinent. The rubber sheets are a bald statement that no quarter is given. Rules are rules. People leak.
Today, the sky is behaving like a stern hospital matron, shaking the rubber sheets with a gimlet eye, the solid walls of rain snapping at my calves and shoulders, and nipping me into line under the soggyfying road atlas I have liberated on the quiet from my stepdad’s car. I need a proper brolly for stravaiging aboot this place. I want to take photos, to wander and enjoy. I do not want my butt electrocuted, by means of celestial moisture entering the hallowed portals of my MDA Vario. An icon of twenty-first century design, it must be kept warm and dry at all costs. This merits a dash to the souvenir shop, in search of potential portable shelter.
The little souvenir shop sells tickets for the touristy stravaigs around the property. It is incorporated into the castle outbuildings, and is very compact and cute. Tins of tartan toffee shoulder for prominence with ancient maps, postcards of lofty peaks shrouded in mist, tasteful Nessie tees and neat pens and pencils in livid hues, sporting little impressions of the castle in black ink. Whoo hoo…there are brollies. The custodian is cheerful and talkative. We are the only visitors on this rainy Saturday afternoon, and he is keen to talk to us.
He tells us that the white peacock Lena has stopped to feed her cereal bar to, has been away to Scone Palace, the coronation place of the monarchs of Scotland, to engineer a surge in the peacock population there. She has returned home, stepping proudly and regally, her chicks destined for a life of luxury and much admired-tail fanning. Janet…I think her name was Janet. I could call to check, as I am a pernickety researcher…but I feel too silly. You will just have to take my word for it.
I reach for the small telescopic umbrella in a maroon and green tartan. The custodian informs me that it is Lindsay tartan, which is a nice touch. Deft. Nevertheless, when unfurled, it does not seem to reach very much beyond the contours of my bahookie, which means that the aforementioned Vario is still in peril.
Umbrellas should have handbag room. I trudge back to the shop to purchase an enormous golfing umbrella emblazoned with a St Andrews cross, which is very patriotic, but will probably feel like William Wallace’s battle claymore in my puny hands. They cost fourteen pounds…but needs must. Somehow, in those few minutes of stepping onto the cobbled courtyard, the shop has miraculously closed, and the guy disappeared. Am left wondering if it is the Brigadoon souvenir shop, doomed to appear every hundred years, excite the public with its wares, then blitz back into the ether with a crafty chuckle.
The rain lessens to a smirr, so the stravaig becomes a pleasure. My first port of call is the hefty tower. The walls are extremely thick, and the whole edifice has a very pleasing boxy sense of self-worth. “Try and buldoze me, ya bass. Pinch ma stones for yer fireplaces fur hundreds o’ years. Just try it. Ah’m still here!”
I am never keen to wander up spiral staircases with windows open to the elements, but the rest of the family do, and Lena waves from a high vantage point, held securely by my stepfather.
Lena loves old castles. She has enthused over Stirling, and is enthusiastically investigating and questioning every nook and nuance here. The cobbled courtyard is at its finest in the heavy rain, the colours of the stones and the dark green moss growing between them brought into sharp relief against the lush green of the gardens stretching out beyond.
The gardens are unusual and spectacular. The hedges are meticulously clipped into a repeating latin motto,
and enfold beautifully maintained beds of deep red roses. It is a true feat of gardening, and leaves one more than a little agog.
The walls with the fab-tastic frieze panels are full of plant-pot sized holes, designed for songbirds to nest in, and to hold displays of trailing summer blossoms. Even now, with the nest holes filled with chicken wire to avoid bird-poop damage to rich red sandstone, the effect of the original cannot be silenced. The seventeenth century chaffinches, thrushes, blackbirds, sparrows and robins are filling the sweet summer air with their calls, resonating down through the centuries.
There is very little sense of this garden being lost to an age of bygone spendour. It is very much a glorious present. You can see what the architect had in mind, what Sir David Lindsay envisaged and etched out for himself and his family to enjoy. It is bold and clever and opulent, and you want to raise your fist in accordance with the fruition of his dream. The summerhouse at one corner of the garden is beautiful: decorative, but like the rest of the gardens, not in the least overblown. It is smart, neat and gorgeous.
Edzell castle is a place I will return to. Can imagine myself there, if only scrubbing a doorstep, or peeling potatoes in a sooty vault. I think it would have been a fun place to be, whatever one’s status. It has that sort of atmosphere. “Yeah. Look at this! It is something special, and you are welcome to come by and share.'