Off the Beaten Path: Redhouse Castle

Hello Friends.  Guess what?  It’s almost Friday!

Today I would like to take you to another ‘off-the-beaten-path’ place.  You probably know by now that those spots are my favorite.  There is something fun about seeing things that the typical tourist doesn’t know about.  Mr. C and I discovered this one completely by accident.  Today I’m going to take you to see Redhouse Castle.

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Redhouse is a 16th century castle ruin located about a mile from Longniddry in East Lothian, Scotland.  Mr. C and I were on our way to Tantallon Castle that day and as we whizzed by on the B1377, I remember shouting, “Wait!  Go back!  I think we just passed a castle!”  We turned the car around and sure enough, it was.  We were delighted to find that although on private property, the ruin sits adjacent to a small garden center with a lovely little tearoom.  We made a note to stop back by on our way home later that day.

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Despite sitting abandoned since just after the Jacobite uprising in 1745, Redhouse Castle remains remarkably well-preserved. The four-story, red sandstone tower house is missing its roof but the shell is still very much in tact, giving the visitor a sense of what it must have been like in its day.  The castle, which has been extended and altered from its original form, sits on a rectangular courtyard which once housed a garden within its walls.

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It is quite likely that during medieval times, Redhouse served as a hospital.  The property belonged to the Douglas family, however, the Laing family acquired it in 1607 – John Laing was the Keeper of the Royal Signet.

From the Laings, the castle eventually passed through marriage to the Hamilton family. But because of George Hamilton’s involvement in the Jacobite uprising of 1745, the property was forfeited and Hamilton – the last of his family – was executed for his part in the rebellion.   Redhouse fell into ruin, despite being purchased by Lord Elibank and then going to the Earl of Wemyss.

Today Redhouse remains privately owned which means it is not maintained by Historic Environment Scotland.  However, there is nothing prohibiting you from taking a peek at this fascinating piece of history.  (*Just be sure you understand that this is at your own risk.)

When you stop to see Redhouse, be sure to see the pretty things growing in the greenhouse and have a nice cup of tea at the tearoom.

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Redhouse Castle and the nursery and tearoom were a terrific discovery.  So glad we found ourselves on the B1377 that day!

Cheers,

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What a Gem

Hi Friends!

One of my favorite discoveries from our Scottish adventures is a unique company called Heathergems.  The only manufacturer of its kind, the Heathergem company produces beautiful jewelry and other gift items from the stems of the heather plant.

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I first saw these interesting creations at the James Pringle Shopping Outlet in Leith, Scotland (a decent place to look for a few souvenirs, if not a tad bit on the kitschy side – I did once find a very good hat!).  I have since seen Heathergems for sale at the Celtic shop near my hometown here in the States.

Aside from the Scottish thistle, perhaps no other flower epitomizes Scotland the way that the heather plant does.  It makes me think of the movie Brigadoon – Gene Kelley capturing the heart of the beautiful Cyd Charisse as he sings sweetly to her of the heather on the hill.  The song follows with a dance number that has the pair gliding over the moor and I think that maybe Cyd Charisse isn’t the only one who is falling in love.  We do too a little.

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The Heather On the Hill

Can’t we two go walkin’ together, out beyond the valley of trees?
Out where there’s a hillside of heather, curtsyin’ gently in the breeze.
That’s what I’d like to do: see the heather–but with you.
The mist of May is in the gloamin’, and all the clouds are holdin’ still.
So take my hand and let’s go roamin’ through the heather on the hill.
The mornin’ dew is blinkin’ yonder. There’s lazy music in the rill,
And all I want to do is wander through the heather on the hill.
There may be other days as rich and rare.
There may be other springs as full and fair.
But they won’t be the same–they’ll come and go,
For this I know:
That when the mist is in the gloamin’, and all the clouds are holdin’ still,
If you’re not there I won’t go roamin’ through the heather on the hill,
The heather on the hill.

 

Heather is an indigenous, low growing, hardy plant that grows wild in Scotland.  It is known for its lovely blooms which typically range from lilac to purple, although other less common varieties can be found.

The first Heathergems were produced in the 1950’s but it wasn’t until 1970 that a small factory was established in a town in South Lanarkshire.  From there, the factory relocated to Blair Atholl in Perthshire and today, the family-run business is operated from a factory in Pitlochry, Scotland.  Heathergems can be found throughout the United Kingdom and at shops around the world.

I thought it might be fun to take a closer look at just how these unique creations are made.

The Process:

  1.  The heather is hand-picked, the green foliage still clinging to the upper part of the stems.
  2. The plants are cut into lengths of about 25 cm.
  3. Each plant is put into a sand blasting machine where it is cleaned of its bark and foliage. The plants come out of the blaster as bare, dried out, delicate wood.
  4. Bundles are formed which then get put into a vacuum dye chamber for two days.  The dye penetrates deeply into the heather wood.
  5. The bundles are opened and new bundles are formed by combining the different colors.
  6. After soaking in an epoxy resin for 2-3 minutes, the bundles are drained of any excess resin and are put into a mold press which applies eighty tons of pressure for a minute.
  7. The molds go into an oven for an hour to cure.  They come out of the oven as rock-hard resin-bonded heatherwood.
  8. Rough edges are trimmed off with a band saw and slices are cut.
  9. Slices are glued onto a plastic backing and a robotic cutter cuts out gem shapes.  The plastic backing is then popped off.
  10. Gems are polished on a belt sander.  Four to five coats of clear lacquer are applied by hand.  This brings out the colors and also protects the wood.
  11. Each gem is glued onto its designated pice of jewelry or gift.

Voilà!  Heathergems!

Because the gemstones are created by the random bundling of the plant’s dyed stems, no two gemstones are alike.

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Aren’t they neat?

I do hope you have enjoyed today’s blog and I wish each of you a terrific rest of the week!

Cheers,

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St. Andrews Kirk

Hope you are having a great weekend, Friends.  If you are someone who celebrates the Risen Savior, Happy Easter!

Is the calendar really turning a page today?  It feels like we just celebrated the new year and here it is already four months in.  Not that I’m complaining, mind you.  I adore the month of April.  The breeze blows softer, the grass turns greener, the sun shines warmer.  With every new leaf that springs forth on the trees and every tender shoot that arises from the ground, I am reminded that all things are being made new once again.  Kind of an appropriate allegory for today, I think.

With today being Easter Sunday, I thought it would be relevant to journey with you to the ruins of a place in Gullane, Scotland that no doubt saw many an Easter Sunday celebration.

That place is St. Andrews.  Pretty neat, isn’t it?

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Gullane, Scotland

Located about forty minutes to the northeast of Edinburgh, St. Andrews is an incredible ruin of a kirk (church) that was first built sometime around 1170 by the de Vaux Family (also affiliated with Dirleton Castle).  Built with Norman features, this remarkable twelfth century building served as the local parish church for over four-hundred years. In 1612, due to constant sand blowing in from nearby fields, the kirk was abandoned and parishioners relocated to nearby Dirleton.

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The second most important family of landowners in the parish following the de Vauxs were the Congaltons, who modified the existing church structure by adding a chapel.

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Following its disuse as a parish church in 1612, St. Andrews continued to serve as a burial place for local families.

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The Yule family maintains a section of the Kirk as a memorial aisle to this day.

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It is a peculiar and awesome thing to be able to experience the presence of such a place firsthand.  While you likely won’t find St. Andrews listed as a top tourist attraction in your guidebooks, it is in no way any less awe-inspiring than the ones that are.  In fact, I think it’s often in these off-the-beaten-path places – the quiet, unassuming ones that don’t have a giant tourist spotlight shining upon them – that you tend to find the most meaningful and soul-stirring connections to the past.

St. Andrews in Gullane, Scotland.

Go.

Cheers and Happy Easter, my Friends.

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