At my wedding, people kept asking Doug “How did you get Sean Connery to come to your wedding?” They were referring to my grandfather, Thomas Mansfield Creighton I. And he really did look a lot like Sean Connery.
My grandfather was very proud of his Scottish heritage. On his 80th birthday, we surprised him with a bagpiper. As the piper entered the room, my grandfather stood up and leaned on his cane, listening with tears in his eyes. That’s one of my favorite memories of him.
So coming to Scotland, and visiting Crichton Castle (Creighton is a variation of Crichton), felt a bit like having my grandfather with me.
We arrived at Crichton Castle first thing Tuesday morning, beneath steel gray, low lying clouds. Located in a small town, this castle would be impossible to find without the signs or a GPS.
At the end of a residential country road, through narrow turns lined with high stone walls, lies the Crichton Church and just beyond that, a trail to the castle. Rolling hills, a patchwork of farmland and sheep pastures, surround the castle in every direction.
We arrived at the castle around 9:30am and were the only people there. This prompted the caretaker, a stout, gray-haired man, to offer to share the castle history with us. And of course, we said yes!
The original owner of the castle was John Crichton and later his son (or grandson?) William Crichton became Chancellor and served under King James II. This is the same William Crichton whose name and crest appeared in the stained glass windows of Edinburgh castle! (See my previous post for pics.) Unfortunately, William eventually fell out of favor with James, who stripped William of his title and land. James II then gave the castle to the Stuart family. After changing hands several times, the castle was abandoned around 1620. (Note: this castle has been abandoned since American settlers landed on Plymouth Rock. We are so young! )
We loved exploring and photographing this castle because it was a labyrinth of rooms in ruins, with crumbling staircases and flowers growing in old fireplaces. The original tower at Crichton dates back to the 1100’s with subsequent additions happening with each new owner. We also learned that Crichton Castle boasts the earliest known straight staircase in Scotland. Prior to that time, all staircases were spiral construction.
Our guide also explained that almost all spiral staircases in that era were built in a clock-wise direction. Can you guess why? So that when defending the castle, a person’s right side would be on the wide part of the staircase, allowing them to better fight with their sword-wielding right arm. They did find one castle in Scotland where the staircases were built counter-clockwise because all the members of that family were left-handed. So there’s your trivia for the day.
We had so much fun exploring and not a single person arrived during our visit, that we ended up staying for an hour and a half! On the way back to the car, I ran through the Scotland air, waving good-bye to that beautiful place that I will probably never see again.
But what a precious gift of a lifetime!
St. Andrews Links
When visiting Scotland with Doug and his father, one can be sure that trip will include a stop at St. Andrews Links, the birthplace of golf. Greens fees at St. Andrews in August cost over $200 per person (!!!) so the guys opted for sight-seeing only. Unfortunately, we failed to anticipate the crowds, traffic and general congestion in the old city. After what felt like hours and hours (though was likely only about 30 minutes) we found a parking spot and walked to The Old Course. I think my favorite part was watching white-haired men running out onto the greens giddy with delight, like little boys on Christmas morning.
After grabbing takeout (or “take away” as they call it in Scotland) at a teeny, tiny cafe, we drove to Dunnottar Castle. By now, many of you have seen our photos or videos from Dunnottar. But don’t worry…I have more.
Dunnottar was once a massive medieval castle built on the rocky bluff overlooking the sea in northeast Scotland. Driving to the car park (their term for “parking lot”) is simple, but walking to the castle, not so much. There’s something like 232 steps down toward the sea and then back up to the castle.
We arrived to a cold, light rain and strong coastal winds. Bundled in fleece and rain gear, Doug, Jacquelyn, Christina and I began our walk out the bluffs. Steve and Jean opted to stay and view the castle from the land. As we descended the first staircase, the sun started peeking through the clouds. Then, while making our way up the stone path toward the castle, we stopped to look out over the ocean and a double rainbow appeared.
After the rainbow began to fade, we continued walking up toward the castle. A stone tunnel connected the path with the castle grounds. This castle, like most others, lies in ruins, but Dunnottar offers stunning views of Scottish coastline and the open ocean.
Within a few minutes of exploring the ruins, another rainbow appeared, this one bigger and brighter than the previous one, eventually transforming into a double rainbow!
A palpable sense of awe and wonder permeated the castle grounds. As I exchanged looks and words and expressions with people from all around the world, even those who spoke different languages, I realized that awe as a shared experience needs no words. Just a simple look, a sigh, an expression, was all we needed to connect, to acknowledge that together, we were experiencing something rare and beautiful, something powerful, something moving.
Usually the saying “You can’t have a rainbow without the rain.” sounds trite to me, but this day I experienced that truth firsthand.
Our next stop? A Marriott near the Aberdeen airport. After carrying our bags to the second floor, (Europe, why are you so opposed to elevators?!?!) we found a basket of fruit, two nips of local whiskey and a personal note to Doug. This long-term work assignment keeps paying off! Exhausted, we grabbed dinner in the hotel restaurant and we. were. done.
Pitmidden Gardens, St. Machar’s Cathedral, Brig o’Balgownie and more…