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It's the weekend, and I have some time on my hands because I'm about to start the next edit of my second novel and of course I'll take any excuse to delay the evil hour of commencement, so...

Here's another batch of photographs from the Abbey of Villelangue.  I thought I'd devote today's post to the carved stones, and the carved capitals in particular. 

They're in beautiful condition, with very little sign of weathering (I'm assuming these are the originals, and not replacements, because there's no indication that the masonry's been replaced).  And they keep popping up all over the place, like these examples in the transept:-


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And these ones, peeking out from an external wall:-


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Clearly, their location hasn't been so favourable to their long term preservation here, and they're looking a bit weathered and miserable.

And here's a third, more grotesque specimen:

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So there you have it.  Another glimpse of the lovely details that adorn the place!
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I’ve been tagged for The Next Best Thing blog hop, by Australian photographer, artist and author  Keira McKenzie (thanks for that, Keira!).  For those of you who don’t know, The Next Best Thing is a meme which allows authors to showcase their latest work, so I’m taking the opportunity to highlight my forthcoming debut novel which will be published by Hadley Rille Books later this year.  For several years I've enjoyed a secret identity as endlessrarities on LJ, but in the publishing sphere, my pen name will be exactly the same as my professional name: Louise Turner

What is the working title of your book?
Fire And Sword


Where did the idea come from for the book?
Having worked in Scottish archaeology for twenty years now, I’m passionate about the country’s history and built heritage.  As someone who’d been writing fiction since my teens, it seemed natural to try and explore the past in a different way.  When I started reading historical fiction, I found myself increasingly disappointed by the way in which Scotland’s past was presented in a fictional setting, so I thought I’d try and write the kind of historical fiction set in Scotland that I actually wanted to read. 

What genre does your book fall under?
Fire and Sword is a historical novel, but of course the term ‘historical novel’ is a very broad one. I suppose it might best be described as a coming of age tale set against a background of political intrigue.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
I started putting names to faces from a very early stage in the writing of this novel – I soon realized that this was the only way I could remember individuals amongst such a vast array of ‘characters’!  Though unfortunately most of the cast have aged in the intervening period since I first started writing it...

Marcus Gilbert would have been my first choice for the hero, John Sempill, with Richard E. Grant as Hugh Montgomerie.  The Earl of Lennox would have been Sean Connery, Ieuan Griffiths as James IV, and Kelly MacDonald as Margaret Colville.  And so on…

Unfortunately, I haven’t as yet found roles for veteran Scots actors Jimmy Cosmo, Bill Paterson or Denis Lawson, but it’s early days yet!!

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
When his father dies defending the murdered James III at the Battle of Sauchieburn in August 1488, John Sempill finds his inheritance threatened by a coalition of lords who covet his property and titles; to survive, John must win favour with the new king, but this means placing his trust in Hugh, Lord Montgomerie, a local magnate who has earned a reputation for treachery and deceit and who is himself a close kinsman of the men who want John ruined, or even dead...

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
Fire and Sword will be published by Hadley Rille Books in late August or early September of this year.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
The writing of Fire and Sword was a long, long process, which started back in the late 1990s.  The background research alone took years, and though I was already an experienced writer when I took this project on, it took several drafts before I found my ‘voice’.  Once that task was accomplished, the writing became much quicker, and much easier.  So the final version probably only took a couple of years to complete.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
Oh, I really don’t know the answer to that one!  I’ve had two different beta-readers compare it to the works of Dorothy Dunnet, which I take to be something as an honour...  I’m inclined to think it’s in the same vein as Reay Tannahill’s work, i.e. historical fiction, set in Scotland, which is character-led rather than event-led and which comes across as more than a tableau or diorama where the characters are puppets driven by the course of Historical Events (with a capital ‘H’ and a capital ‘E’!) . 

As a writer, my main sources of inspiration in recent years have been C J Cherryh’s Union-Alliance Universe (which is, of course, science fiction), and Hilary Mantel’s A Place of Greater Safety.  I’m inclined to think, though, that my prose style is more Ken Follett than Hilary Mantel, which again is probably something I shouldn’t really complain about!

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
The inspiration lay in real historical events.  In 1489, letters of fire and sword were issued by King James IV of Scotland to Sir John Sempill, justifying an assault he made in ‘times bygone’ on the Place of Duchal.  Sempill’s aggressive stance was itself provoked by ‘burnings, hardships and destruction’ carried out against Sempill himself, his family and tenants, by the Earl of Lennox and certain others, including Robert, Lord Lyle, whose principle seat was Duchal.

Writing this novel was fun for me as both a writer, and as an archaeologist. During its creation, I was given an excellent opportunity to explore the background to these events, in a level of detail that ‘normal’ historical research could not possibly allow.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

It often strikes me that the standard fare for historical novels set in medieval and early modern Scotland is either the Scots Wars of Independence (and the adventures of Wallace and Bruce in particular) or the trials and tribulations of Mary Queen of Scots. I like to think that Fire and Sword represents a rare departure from this norm, shedding light upon a piece of Scotland’s past which really doesn’t get much attention, namely the turbulent period which opened the reign of James IV, who achieved a lot before his premature death at Flodden and who could arguably be called Scotland’s first Renaissance King. Things were really quite exciting in the west of Scotland at this time. We had our fair share of movers and shakers who really haven’t been granted the publicity (or notoriety!) they deserved.

Oh, and for those of you out there who are familiar with the characters who played key roles in the reign of Mary Queen of Scots and are keen to get a bit more background to this period… Well, Fire and Sword gives you an unusual insight into the ancestors of Mary Queen of Scot’s consorts Darnley and Bothwell, as the two families were vying for supremacy even then, way back in the late 1480s…

Now, I tag these authors to answer these same questions next Wednesday:

  • The excellent Carol Lovekin, whose first novel The Gift of Weaving represents a contemporary novel of magic realism set in rural West Wales, and which has been described as 'Beautiful, wonderful, full of magic and life, scary, funny and truthful’, and whose LJ blog can be accessed at [livejournal.com profile] readthisandweep.
  • Up-and-coming writer of istorical fiction [livejournal.com profile] jandersoncoats  whose debut novel, The Wicked And the Just - a YA novel set in thirteenth century Wales and published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt - has received widespread acclaim since its publication in 2013.
  • Fellow archaeologist and Hadley Rille author [livejournal.com profile] kimberlywade,  whose 2010 novel Thrall, set in the early prehistoric period, has been positively reviewed by Publisher’s Weekly.
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I'm taking a rest from my editing this morning to post a few images of the interior of the abbey church at Villelangue in the Languedoc.  As I mentioned previously, all that survives of the church are the chancel, the crossing and the transepts.  These are sufficiently well preserved us to show the grandeur of the original building.

Because I don't take a photo record when I'm on holiday (for shame!) I can't actually remember how these particular photographs relate to the configuration of the church.  So you'll just have to sit back, and enjoy the faulting, I'm afraid!!


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And I leave you with a bit of structural complexity.  We have the original structure of the abbey church, shown by the vaulting, the pillars and the pointed (?transitional) arch.  This is an original opening, which once formed part of the north aisle of the nave.  It has now been completely blocked, by some pretty untidy masonry:-


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And now, alas, I must leave you and get back to my edits.
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A closer look at the abbey church at Villelangue now. 

Or what's left of it, at any rate...

Compared with a number of our Scottish abbeys, where the abbey church was often retained at least in part for use as a parish church in the period following the Reformation and the conventual buildings flattened, the converse has happened here at Villelangue.  Here, the conventual buildings have been retained as accomodation, while much of the church has been removed to make way for orchards and gardens,

The only part of the abbey church that survives is the chancel, the crossing and the north and south transepts, with the nave almost completely eradicated:-


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Here's a view from inside the east transept, looking out across the crossing towards what appears to be an isolated bay of the nave.  The nave would have had aisles, and it looks as if the level of the wallhead is original, with no evidence of windows at clerestorey level:-



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The character of the church can also be established in this view, which shows blocking of the main portion of the nave, with access to the crossing/transepts gained by the open south aisle. The north aisle, visibly as a ghostly outline in the wall fabric, is also blocked:-


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So, even though so little of this church survives, we can get a good idea of how it would have looked in its heyday. Archaeological work was been carried out here, so they've established how many bays in length it would originally have been (I'm sorry, I've forgotten...).  And even though a substantial amount of the church has been lost, the portion that remains is in very good condition, with a number of magnificent carved capitals.

Which I'll be sharing with you next weekend, when I get the opportunity!

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Well, I'm in Writers' Limbo while I wait for some edits to come through (gulp!!), so I thought I'd post some more photos of pretty Languedoc architecture.  It's the beautiful gothic abbey of Villelangue now, which though privately owned, is opened up most days for public viewing.

The setting is picturesque, in the grounds of a private house (still occupied) which sits at the edge of a hamlet.  The monument was supposed to open at 10am, but this was actually more like 10.20 the day we visited, so we took the opportunity to go exploring:-


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Here's a view of the abbey complex itself: the precinct walls are still upstanding, as are most of the conventual buildings, with the stump of the abbey church visible to the left of the tall tree.  Note, too, the tall doocote at the left of the abbey buildings - we'll be visiting this structure again in a later post:-


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And now here's a closer view of the remains of the abbey church, seen from beyond the precinct walls:-


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Because the monument's in private hands, information relating to the building's history and architecture is lacking. But over the last couple of centuries, the owners have done a grand job of safeguarding its remains, as we shall see.

[You will note, dear readers, that I am posting in LiveJournal, because despite the ease of crossposting from Dreamwidth, images are still damned impossible to deal with!]
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I'm posting from Dreamwidth again, and I have some queries for more hardened DW users...

First of all, how on earth do you post images?  I've tried cutting and pasting the HTML code into the image section, but the link appears to be blocked and all I get is a wee box with a red x in it.

And secondly, how do you search for friends using their usernames? 

Yes, you've guessed it.  I'm not very technically minded:-(
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The second draft of my 2nd novel is now completed, weighing in at 195,791 words.  A wee bit of pruning is on the cards, methinks - I want it down to around 175,000 words.  And I'm not quite sure that the ending is exactly how I want it just yet. Gads, I hate endings,  I hate beginnings, too, mind...

Anyway, I shall be backing it up pronto. And then I shall get it ready to print out a hard copy, so I can read it through and see what bits need extra work and see if there's glaring problems in the plot or parts that I've already slashed too much out of.

LJ is under maintenance now, so I'm going to quit while I'm ahead, I think.  Speak to you soon, everyone!
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£50 of Waterstones vouchers have been spent (£40 as a Christmas present from work - I'm sure The Boss hoped we'd get something useful and intellectual and archaeology-related, but... What the heck!  I spend a fortune on archaeology books the rest of the year, so...), and I did not return with Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies. It's coming out in paperback this coming May, so I understand, so another few months is hardly going to hurt me, is it?  I did bewail the situation to the shop assistant, however, who smiled sweetly and said, "Well, she won the Booker, didn't she?"

Hmmm, yes.  So once again I am left with a big Bring Up The Bodies shaped hole on my bookshelf.  Instead I snaffled what appears to be the entire Hilary Mantel back catalogue (with one or two exceptions) including Fludd, which was top of my list.  I'm not sure what I'll make of them.  I'm a big fan of Wolf Hall and A Place of Greater Safety, and I also really like Beyond Black, but I wasn't so keen on The Giant O'Brien.  I should give the latter a second airing, I know.

Lush had a sale on, which was lovely.  I think I've bought enough soap to supply the household until summer, and I will be furnished with lovely bath and shower stuff for months to come, which is good news considering I'll be out on site through much of the year. 

Last but not least was a consumables binge. Four reams of A4 paper (three recycled) and two Hewlett Packard XL printer cartridges.  I'm due the edits for my forthcoming novel any time now, and I'll be needing to print out the second draft of my second novel for review soon, too (nearly done!  Might even get it finished today!!) so I guess the paper won't go very far.  At least now these items will count as tax-deductable, which is a lovely thought!

And tomorrow morning I'm horse-riding. Which will be very nice indeed.  Unless the lurgy doesn't release its grip - I'm still coughing and spluttering like the dying heroine of a certain Puccini opera...
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Christmas Day has been and gone, and it's kind of back to business as usual.  We went out on a two hour walk this morning, and then I did some writing.  I edited 2300 words of Novel #2 - I'm on the last chapter now, so while I'm a wee bit behind (wanted it done before Christmas) at least I'm moving in the right direction at last.  Tomorrow, I will hopefully have finished it.

I've got a few photos from the Lakes to post, and some from today's walk, but it's been difficult to get round to doing things over the last couple of days.  And tomorrow I'm going into town, which means I can spend the Waterstones voucher we were given at work.  I think I'm going to have to indulge in Bring Up The Bodies - hardback or not - as I think I've waited long enough not. 

Hope you've had a good holiday, everyone - to those of you out there burdened with lurgies (I know there are some!) get well soon!
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Well, I'm back from my annual spiritual retreat/rejuvenation session in the Lake District.

Do I feel refreshed?  Er, no.  Do I feel rejuvenated?  Absolutely not. 

This is nothing to do with the Lakes. Or with the Lancrigg Vegetarian Country House Hotel, which was its usual self. The food was awesome, the hospitality wonderful, the scenery (when it could actually be seen!) spectacular.

But alas, the nasty, pernicious horrid little bug I went down with last week has lingered, and my style has been well and truly cramped.  I managed to stagger around my usual 10 mile circuit which runs Grasmere-Ambleside-Rydal-Grasmere - you will note, however, that if it hadn't been for the massive brick of Victoria sponge which adorned my plate at the Rattle Gill cafe in Ambleside, I'd have opted for the bus.  Every time the gradient went up, I wheezed and puffed and wound up collapsing into paroxyms of coughing.  So much so, that the Coffin Route shall henceforth be known as the 'Coughin' Route' - though there were times when I wondered if I'd end up in a coffin myself before the end.

And then there was the carol concert at Allan Bank...

The weather was pretty dire, but the rain stopped for one day out of the four, and this morning, we actually saw the sun! 

All things considered, we had a lovely break, and I'd much rather have felt ill in the Lake District than felt ill at home. The only source of major disappointment came in the form of the Grasmere Chocolate Studio.  We visited them on Thursday evening, bought some yummy chocolates, and pledged to return over the weekend to buy new stocks once the next batch of handmade goodies came in. We were assured that they'd be open on Saturday, but to my dismay, the place was locked shut (with the mail waiting there to be picked up) all the way through Saturday and right through into Sunday.  My 'raspberry ripple' and 'very berry' chocolates which I'd requested were there on the shelf, waiting to be purchased (and eaten!) and there they must remain, because I'm home now.

Ah, the perils of frequenting the small business.  What's more perturbing is the possibility that they're closed because of family illness or disaster - fingers crossed that they'll be back to normal in February when we next return, because they're a damned good chocolatiers and they're usually really hard workers staying open all hours. All was not lost - we popped into Rheged on the way home and discovered another chocolatier which provided sufficient decent chocolates to fill the void.  And some fudge for J's Christmas present, too.  So at least that's the last of my Christmas shopping sorted.

Though we still need to get some sprouts from somewhere. And chestnuts. And veggie bacon...
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Tonight, I was supposed to be attending the writers' group, but one regular's got the flu, another one's got an unhappy printer, and it's horribly cold out there.  I'm supposed to be going out on site tomorrow (the horror!!) to record two openings that have been re-opened in the Ayrshire castle I wound up doing a small excavation on in the summer.

I shall work on my writing instead - thankfully, my publisher [livejournal.com profile] ericreynoldshas helped give me just the inspiration I need by sharing this, celebrating 7 years of Hadley Rille Books in a two minute video highlighting its authors and their works:-

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Q7UwTZSdDQ


I've tried to get this embedded properly, but alas, my IT capabilities have tripped and fallen at the first hurdle.  Do check ir out - the artwork's lovely!!

Have an enjoyable evening, everyone!!
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Some views inside the abbey church at Caunes Minervois now, and once again there's a paucity of information.  It's a strange mix of rounded Romanesque and pointed Transitional or even Gothic arches, which makes me wonder if there's been a bit of rebuilding in the 13th or 14th century:-



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Not the best of photos, I fear, but here's another view of the north wall of the church, showing the mixture between the rounded and pointed arches.  I can't help wondering if it was originally cruciform on plan, with the transepts marked by the tall rounded arches near the apsidal east end, and with aisles added at a later date:-




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One last photograph of the interior now, showing the lavish altarpiece:-




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A magnificent church, despite its apparent austerity!

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To France, now...

Now, I don't know about you guys, but whenever anyone mentions 'Minervois', I always think red wine...

But there's more too it than that, though unfortunately I don't have a guidebook to this one...

It's another extremely well-preserved medieval abbey in the town of Caunes-Minervois (Minervois being the district...).  Unfortunately, I missed taking a shot from its best angle - it's got a glorious apsidal-ended church with Romanesque carving around its windows, and I clean forgot to take a picture, possibly because it was just so gorgeous...

Anyway, it's firmly Romanesque in character, which puts it in the 11th/12th century period, if I remember right.  Here's the bell tower:-



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And a view of the nave.  Those lancet windows next to the south door look slightly later - I suspect this part of the building has been extended outwards:-



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You will note that there are no windows - this is a very chunky, austere structure typical of Romanesque style churches.

And a close-up of the doorway, with its carving, which just shows that this place isn't quite as austere as it pretends to be.  The windows on the apsidal east end were really beautifully carved, but I can't share that with you, unfortunately, because I didn't take a picture.  Sorry...


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 The conventual buildings, which I'll share with you tomorrow, have now found a secondary use as a small museum and arts centre .
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I had a great time at horse-riding tonight. Diva did a brilliant job, her trot-canter transitions were virtually spot-on for once, no striking off on the wrong leg, and we even managed to canter some 20m circles in the indoor school. For Diva, who is neither the most elegant of beasts, nor the most agile, this was a really big deal - the girl tends to steer like a battleship.

And... WE GOT A SQUARE HALT!!  First time ever!!!!!

The secret?  A really long warm-up, perhaps, because the weather was so cold. I didn't ask her to come down onto the bit, but by the end of the session she was voluntarily working longer and lower.  A lot of the work in walk and trot was without stirrups, too, and I felt a whole lot more secure in the saddle. 

A good night, and a good day at work, too.
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It's been several centuries since the Collegiate Church of Castle Semple fell into disuse - it was no doubt a casualty of the Reformation, which was a shame, since it must have performed a valuable secondary function of educating the locals. Lord John's determination to support education perhaps explains why a number of late 16th century Sempills were renowned for their skills in writing poetry.  Arguably the most famous of these was Robert Semple, who penned the original version of the Robert Burns classic, Auld Lang Syne - his poetry is featured in the collected works of the Sempill poets, which can be viewed on-line here:-

http://archive.org/details/poemsofsempillso01semp

The Semples eventually sold their estate to the McDowall family, who were nouveau riche family who made their money from the trading of sugar and slaves.  Thankfully, the church was retained as a landscape feature - indeed it was still in use recently as a mausoleum for some of the local gentry.

This view of the church clearly shows how it was originally subdivided into two storeys - I wonder if this would have functioned as a laird's loft, where the Sempill lords could attend services without having to mingle with their estate workers:-

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Perhaps the most remarkable part of the church is, however, John, 1st Lord Sempill's tomb:-

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It marks the resting place of Lord John and his second wife, Margaret Crichton of Ruthvendeny, but whether Lord John actually made it here is open to question.  He died in battle, and the chances are that his body wound up dumped in a mass grave somewhere in Northumberland.  The presence of the tomb also causes much head-scratching.  The assumption is that it postdates his death in 1513, but the chances are he started making plans for it and perhaps even constructing it before he died.  He lost his first wife while the church was being built, and this may have sparked off an acknowledgement of his own mortality.

There is no effigy - instead, the shelf within the tomb (which is located in the north wall of the chancel, near the altar) would have functioned as an Easter Sepulchre.  The consecrated host would be placed within this space in Good Friday, representing the body of Christ waiting for the Resurrection on Easter Sunday.  This meant that the incumbents within the tomb would be granted maximum spiritual brownie points.

It's not wearing well, unfortunately.  19th century drawings show the inscriptions and the sculpture very clear, but even over the last decade or so we've seen a deterioration in the quality.  It clearly isn't deemed sufficiently high in quality to merit protection, which is unfortunate, because it's an unusual survival round here, and a focus of local interest and affection.

Even today, the tomb can be a curious focus of attention.  I've seen it stashed with the empty cans and bottles of someone's 'cairry-oot', but on the day J visited it to try and take photos for the website, he found this:-

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If you look closely, you'll find that it's dedicated to animal victims of war.

I don't know if it was meant to be there, and I'm not even sure that Lord John would approve, but I find it rather poignant and lovely.





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And now an introduction to a personal favourite of mine.  It's one of my local monuments, built in 1504 by John, 1st Lord Sempill, who just so happens to be the hero of my forthcoming novel Fire And Sword which will be hitting the shelves in the summer of 2013 (not too long to wait now, woo hoo!!!).

It was built in 1504, and as well as providing a place of worship for Lord John and his family, it also functioned as a 'sang schule' (or song school) for the sons of local families, who would learn basic skills in reading, writing (presumably in Scots and Latin) and also in music. Particular reference is given to polyphony, which was coming into vogue at the time as epitomised by the work of the wonderful Robert Carver, who was active in the court of King James IV:-


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The foundation charters of this church still survive, giving a detailed insight into the duties of the resident clergy and giving strict guidelines regarding their moral behaviour. A clergyman would be dismissed, for example, for frasternising with prositutes...

The church itself is very much an example of local vernacular architecture.  It gets a very bad write-up from the esteemed building historian Professor Richard Fawcett, who implied that it was architecturally illiterate.  Okay, so maybe it's not exactly splendid late Gothic with elaborate tracery and carving to-diefor?  Well, it's ours, so please don't knock it.  And hey, for a humble lord who wasn't exactly in the same league as the Douglases and the Sinclairs and the other wealthy donors who funded the building of elaborate churches at this time, it's not a bad effort.  Considering Renfrewshire and Ayrshire were pretty much like the Wild West when it was built, it was a brave attempt by Lord John to even try and shine the light of civilisation in a world where feuding and violence was still rife.


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It's unclear whether the apsidal east end was part of the original build, or added after the death of Lord John, whose memorial tomb we''ll see later in the week.  The windows are all built to slightly different designs, which is odd, and which adds to the general impression of architectural chaos.  I like to imagine that the patron, faced with the terrible choice of deciding which form of window to use, couldn't decide and just opted for one of each!  
 

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The other puzzle is why such a minor lord chose to build such an edifice in the first place. A former colleague once said that collegiate churches were built for one of three reasons: 1) the patron was particularly devout; 2) the patron had done something dubious and feared he'd p****d off either God, or the church, or 3) the patron was trying to appear wealthy and powerful by showing his neighbours he had the financial ability to construct and run such an instituion.

In this case?  Local legend has it that Lord John managed to offend the Bishop of Glasgow, the beautifully and appropriately named Bishop Blacader (who managed to die on board ship in the Mediterranean while travelling on a pilgrimage to the middle east). 

As for the truth?  Who knows?  Though I've found plenty of possible explanations in the course of writing this novel, I must admit!
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More from Crookston Castle now.  It's not particularly photogenic, I suppose.  It is a stubbornly defensive structure, and unfortunately I don't have much information about it architecturally, as it's insufficiently well-known to have a guide book dedicated to it, and it being Friday, I really don't have the energy to go and research it.  Someday I will revisit it, and do it justice!

It has early association with the Cruiks of Cruikston (probably from the de Croc family...) but it eventually passed into the hands of the notorious Stewart family.  It gets a mention in my forthcoming novel, because it was besieged in 1489 by allies of King James IV. During this siege, its structures were subject to a bit of a battering when two large bombards (including the famous Mons Meg) were put into action here.  At least, that's the theory. In reality, the garrison might have surrended just as soon as the guns appeared at the base of the hill, though it's been suggested that one of the towers was wrecked in the attack:-


 
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Here's another view, showing the surviving tower, with its epic twentieth century handrail around the parapet:-




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  And that's it, I fear.  It's Friday night, and I've had enough heritage for the week, I think!!  
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Tucked away in the middle of a council scheme on the outskirts of the City of Glasgow, there is a castle.  It lies a wee bit off the tourist trail - when we tracked it down yesterday, we were surprised to see that its presence was still advertised by some old Ministry of Works signs, which pre-date the advent of Historic Scotland... 

It's a shame Crookston Castle isn't better known, because it lies just a short hop away from Pollok House and the Burrell Collection, which are 'must see' destinations on any tourist itinerary of Glasgow.  It hasn't played a monumental role in the history of Scotland, but as a bit player, it's seen its fair share of action.

It cuts quite a dash from a distance - apart from the naff handrail at the top of the tower, which looks horribly intrusive, but with the chances of falling from the top (or getting pushed!!) relatively high, I suppose it's a necessary requirement for visitors:-


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Eagle-eyed blog followers will, I hope spot the earthworks at the base of the tower - now planted by mature trees.  No, the castle is not built upon the site of an earlier Iron Age hillfort. Nor are the earthworks contemporary with the stone tower, which itself represents the remnants of a much larger stronghold.

The earthworks are, instead, the remains of an earlier medieval ringwork - a circular rampart which would once have enclosed a timber defensive structure.  Ringworks are akin to the Irish cashels, and they're quite rare in Scotland, though there are a couple in the west.  I guess they fell out of favour when the motte-and-bailey castle became fashionable amongst the followers of David I, who brought all sort of novelties to Scotland, like planned burghs, and parishes, and a feudal system of land tenure.

The earthworks at Crookston are very well preserved.  In fact, the weather being what it is, the castle might even be called a moated settlement, in places:-



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And at the heart of the ringwork is the castle proper, an imposing structure which has seen its fair share of wear and tear throughout the centuries.  It gets a mention in my forthcoming novel, though it never actually makes an appearance, and that of course is why I paid it a visit yesterday.  I was renewing my acquaintance, because I'd already had a good look round it when I was researching the novel:-



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Sadly, it was all locked up and the interior inaccesible to visitors. Hopefully this is because it's been mothballed for the winter season, rather than because Historic Scotland can no longer afford to keep it open on account of the recession.  It's not exactly in the Premier League as far as Guardianship Monuments are concerned, but it's one that should really be better appreciated by the locals!!

I'll give you a closer look at the castle later on in the week.
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Huzzah!  We have photographs! 

I gave up on the beta version of Photobucket, which seems to hate me, and opted for the good old original version, which itself seems more like the beta version, so please don't ask me what's going on 'cos I DON'T KNOW AND I'M CONFUSED AND LIFE'S TOO SHORT!!!

Anyway.

My last photos of Villerouge-Termenes, now, and for this I'm taking you beyond the castle, to some of the other historic buildings which litter (if that's the right word!) the place.

The church, first of all:-


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Dedicated to Saint Stephen, the church's fabric dates back to the 13th century.  It has a 16th century retable behind the altar, a 12th century font and a 15th century bronze bell, but alas, it was closed the day we visited and we could not get inside to explore.

Another little treasure that survived in the town was this early gateway. Named Saint John's Gate, it has a portcullis slot and bears the arms of Pierre de la Jugie, a 14th century archbishop of Narbonne who - if you'll remember back to our earlier posts - held the lands during this period:-


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And that is that.  Today we took an executive decision not to go cycling because of the risk of ice on the roads and the cycle track, so I had an entertaining little sojourn to a castle a bit closer to home  instead: Crookston Castle, a rare survivor which sits in splendid isolation in the midst of a council estate on the outskirts of Glasgow.  It was locked up for the winter, but I'll share some pictures with you next week, all being well.

Be warned - I'll be undertaking a few castle odysseys over the next few months, so you'll soon be getting introduced to a lot of Scots castles, some more obscure than others!
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Another post dedicated to Villerouge-Termenes now, but this time we're going to go inside the massive curtain wall to an equally well-preserved interior which has, however, been subject to quite a bit of alteration:-



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A substantial portion of the building is now dedicated to an exhibition detailing the life and death of the last Cathar, Guillaume Belibaste. However, the castle also plays host, on an occasional basis, to medieval feasts, faithfully recreated for visitors.  The ticket prices were exorbitant, but I think I'd have given it a go, if I'd had the opportunity!


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Another view taken from within the courtyard, this time looking towards the entrance, which was evidently subject to alteration at a later date, with - I presume - the addition of this slightly strange superstructure:-


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 And I don't have much more information about this site, I'm afraid.  Other than the fact that archaeological works carried out here previously have revealed that this is the second phase of castellated architecture to occupy the site. 
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