I did not get my Ikea Lack furniture on October 2nd, but I did get to Aberdour Castle for a wee keek around. (A keek is a Scottish peek.) The sun was low but bright, and cast long shadows over the handsome tower and the ruined backdrop which arched out over the well-groomed grounds. Aberdour castle is very engaging. This was the first time I had seen it, and it was one of those tactile, heartwarming places which is set at just the right scale for a person five feet three. It is clearly a castle, but one you can see yourself living in and loving like a home, intimate and personable. It is not grand or lofty, but it has style and presence by the bucketful.
It is an endearing place. The roses on the wall were the boogie. Lovely fat roses, set against the creamy stone of the tower. I liked the way they complement the tiny window, softening an attempted austerity belied by charm. This braw building would like to be aloof and dignified, but can't sustain the pretence. It would like to be dashing Errol Flynn, but is compact and affable Tyrone Power. It is shamelessly grinning and chuffed with itself.
Aberdour castle is named after the small village in Fife where it sits in chunky splendour. Begun around 1200, it took its final form, with the tower house, in the fifteen hundreds. The gardens were built in the 1560’s by the Earl of Morton, who was later executed regarding the murder of Mary Queen of Scots’s first husband, Lord Darnley (the English one she didn’t like and wanted rid of.) More than four hundred years later, these walled gardens are filled with the smell of lavender, even in October.
There is a very smart and well-preserved doocot, set just beyond the castle wall.
Doocots are dove, or pigeon houses, where eggs were laid in a myriad of little honeycomb nests, set around the walls like the cells in a beehive. Some poor fellow would have set his rickety ladder on the uneven floor and perhaps prayed quietly that he would not take a tumble, as he reached out in the gloom to extricate eggs, or even birds, as required by the castle kitchens. I liked this long view of the doocot through the door of one of the ruined outbuildings.
The cute dog looks very Greyfriars Bobby, stocky and stalwart and somehow suiting the place. He stood perfectly still for his ‘dug’ uerreotype.
Doo is a word still used in Dundee, to denote a pigeon. My maternal grandfather, a fount of many quirky un-vulgar jokes, told one which incorporates the term. It is not very pc today, perhaps, but it is gently chuckleworthy, and reflects his love of local dialect. A couple are dressed-up and ready to go out on a Saturday night. The wife is sighing, looking at her figure in the mirror. “There is no way around it, Dougie - I’m pigeon-chested.” Her spouse replies, “That’ll be why ah love ye like a(h) doo. ”
(Am glad to have slipped a morsel of Dundonian repartee into a spiel about a village in Fife. There is a sort of cheerfully maintained mutual tension between Dundonians and Fifers. They think us uncouth, and we think them “fly” or “sleekit” (sneaky and underhand.)
A fellow tourist smiles, indicating the path down to the little church whose profile rises up above the castle wall on the south side. I have been puzzling out how to gain access, plodding around the walls like the children in, "The secret Garden", hoping a door will somehow open amongst the slabs and let me through.
The church is tucked-in snugly behind the castle wall, and although their histories are intertwined, the church is separate from the monument I have just been visiting. It dates back to 1123 and dedicated to St Fillan, an early missionary who came as a monk from Ireland in the 8th century, lived as a hermit, and became the Abbot of St Andrews Abbey.
The deeply-roofed building lies under an archway hung with autumn ivy, vermillion and gold, vivid in the soft sun of the late afternoon. It dapples the cobbles, and I walk with a sense of peace, delighted to be there. It is just sooo pleasing. A perfect wee place.
The churchyard has many old headstones, and I try to fathom out the inscriptions, before heading into the church itself, perched on the edge of the firth of Forth.
The church entrance is decorated with the most breathtaking bunch of dahlias I have ever seen.
The blooms are giant! Someone has placed them thoughtfully in their vase, then set it down quietly on the stone porch, for others to enjoy. It is a simple but riotous offering, and suggests a love of the simple beauty which characterizes the little church.
The stained-glass windows are particularly appealing. They reflect very different styles, and were difficult to photograph, owing to the dimness of the interior, but I managed to capture two of them reasonably well. I love the nativity scene,
and the representation of Christ's baptism.
A golden light suffused the interior of the church, as we wandered around, reading the inscription on another fine window, commemorating the good work of incumbent ministers in the seventeen hundreds, and just sensing the atmosphere.
A powerful sense of the Spirit filled the ancient place, a sense of peace, and enveloping warmth. Lena walked up to the pulpit, fired by the sense of acceptance, and began to give a little five year-old’s sermon. I whispered to her to come away, lest it seem somehow unbefitting to the other visitors, entering quietly behind us. She did not move, and I saw then, that she was communicating her Faith, her appreciation of the sense of peace which filled the tiny ancient church. She was moved to talk, as I was moved to wonder in silence.
Reluctant to leave, I looked over the south wall and watched the hazy outlines of the islands in the Forth, contrasted with the vivid green of the foliage and the old grey headstones leaning into years gone by.
There is an almost Caribbean feel about the place on a day like this. You can see all the way across to Edinburgh.
On the way home, we stopped for fish and chips at a little shop in Anstruther, another Fife coastal village. The shop was voted best in Scotland for its tummy-warming wares. The light was fading at six in the evening, but still soft and golden, and the sea mirror calm. The harbour was full of sleeping yachts.
Now…my English teacher head, long unused and spitting out nine years of dust bunnies, is yelling from her hatbox, reminding me there is a piece of noteworthy poetry associated with the sea and Aberdour. (Well, the place is mentioned in the final verse, and is sort of arbitrary to the plot, but never mind.) The poem in question is the Seventeenth Century ballad, “Sir Patrick Spens.” It is the story of an ill-fated sea captain: a richly imagistic tale as all Scots ballads inevitably are, and why I love them. You can put on a heavy and implausible accent and overemphasise all the vowels to capture the gloom and the glory of the piece.
Half-owr half-owr, to Aberdour,
T’is fifty fathoms deep,
And there lies guid Sir Patrick Spens
Wi the Scots Lords at his feet.