Visit to Doune Castle - 26 Aug 2017
We decide to head off to vistit DOUNE CASTLE about half an hour’s drive away. A favourite stop on the filming locations trail for the hit TV series Outlander the castle was also the set for many scenes of the 1974 hit film Monty Python and the Holy Grail
Leaving Appletree Cottage we head west along the A811 stopping briefly at east end of the village of Bucklyvie for some excellent refreshment at the newly opened roadside café.
From Bucklyvie we continue along the A811. We see Gargunnock village some distance away on the hill to the right. Then we turn left by Gargunnock Sawmill (B8075 signposted Doune)
To get to the castle we drove through the village and turned right (signposted Doune Castle) at the end of the main street.
We made our way along the single track road and soon the castle came into sight. It was a Saturday and parking was tight but we managed to find a space in the small carpark.
The exterior of the castle was clearly recognisable both as the factional Leoch Castle, the seat of the McKenzie clan in the Outlander TV series and multiple locations from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
We entered through the huge open oak doors and bought our tickets. (£6 for Adults and £3.50 for children at time of writing.
Free with each ticket is a headset guide to the castle narrated mostly by Python Terry Jones with a couple of notes form Sam Heughan who plays Jamie Fraser in Outlander.
Terry Jones’ notes are particularly interesting.
A brief history...
Doune Castle is situated on high ground and defended by rivers on two sides where the Ardoch Burn meets the River Teith. It is thought that the Castle was built in the thirteenth century on a site previously occupied by some other fortification. Following damage in the Wars of Independence the castle was rebuilt by Robert Stewart, Duke of Albany sometime in the late 14th century. Albany who was Regent of Scotland (1388 - 1420) and was the son of Robert the Second of Scotland.had great plans for the enhancement of the castle but did not survive to see them through.
Occupying one of the main routes to the highlands the castle was of strategic importance.
There is a good story of how, after the Battle of Falkirk in 1746 (part of the Jacobite uprising) the Jacobites took several prisoners back to Doune Castle and incarcerated them in the upper storey of the Castle's kitchen block. Among the prisoners was a minister calledJohn Witherspoon and being a young (23) and enterprising chap tore up some material and knotted it together to use as a rope and escape to the ground. Shortly after this Witherspoon emigrated to the America and became the only clergy member to sign the Declaration of Independence.
Inside Doune Castle
After passing through the entrance tunnel we were in the courtyard withi its well in the centre. The courtyard was used as the interior of Swamp Castle for the wedding massacre scene (the exterior was Bodiam Castle in East Sussex) The large wall of the courtyard (the one without any windows) was used as Guy de Loimbard’s Castle from which livestock was catapulted onto the unsuspecting seekers of the Holy Grail.
A flight of steps from the courtyard leads up to the Kitchens, Servery and the Great Hall.
The kitchen has a hugely impressive seventeen foot wide fireplace – large enough to roast an entire ox. Serving hatches allowed food to be passed to servants who would distribute it to those feasting in the main hall.
In The Holy Grail the kitchens were used as Castle Anthax where Sir Gallahad is unwillingly rescued from Zoot and her girlfriends. The Great Hall was the location of the Knights of the round table song and dance routine.
Doune Castle is a fantastic castle to explore. A medieval labyrinth. There are lots of narrow passages, stairways where you least expect them, many bedrooms, halls, cellars, minstrels galleries, nooks and crannies.
Most of the castle is open to the public so you are free to roam as you wish. The height of the doorways serve as a reminder as to how much smaller the human form was four hundred years ago!
Upstairs in the Duchess' hall is the setting for a famous scene from Swamp Castle in the Holy Grail - "One day lad, all this will be yours....!"
A gift shop in one of the cellars of the castle sells both OUTLANDER and MONTY PYTHON souvenirs including Outlander Tartan Shawls, Outlander Cookbook and half coconut shells for the Python fans!
As well as Outlander and Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Doune Castle has been used by other productions as a filming location including Game of Thrones (Winterfell) and
Ivanhoe (BBC) as well as featuring in Sir Walter Scott's novel Waverley (1814)
After two very satisfying hours we returned our guide headsets and left through the entrance through which a Trojan Rabbit was once dragged!
Conclusion: A great family day out and well worth the money.
Another fine day at Appletree Cottage and today we explore the peninsula immediately north of Sallochy Bay on the east side of Loch Lomond (about 15 minutes drive away)
Sallochy Bay is a beach with a Forestry Commission run campsite beside it. It is clean, the water clear and the beach fine white pebbles where it cost us £3 to park the car for the day.
Setting out across the bridge
Fork in the road...
Also out at this time of year are the blaeberries (or wild blueberries) which grow in abundance by the side of the path. Our fingers are soon a deep red colour from the juice as we pick them.
The heathers are also in full bloom in shades of purple.
After a while the path splits. The West Highland Way route is to the right, up a series of steps climbing the hill. We opt to continue straight ahead on the level.
There is also a good selection of attractive flora still out at this time of year
We continue along the shoreline, climbing over fallen branches, ducking under low boughs until eventually we reach a little rocky promontory. Bog Myrtle abounds – a shrub like green plant with a fantastic smell if you rub the leaves – fragrant with a hint of eucalyptus.
Unable to follow the shore any further round we head inland following another very rough path through high bracken and heather. The path leads us quite a distance inland and up hill to the centre of a coppice and then disappears. We are now lost, without a path to follow.
As it is near the end of a damp August, come across a few interesting fungi..
Spotting the sun and keeping the hills to the east in view we make a direct line, or as direct as we can, through quite rough undergrowth and young birch trees until we eventually (and happily) join the West Highland Way again.
We’ve rejoined the West Highland Way at the top of a hill and follow the path downwards until we reach the flight of steps we saw earlier in our walk. We descend to the shore line and once again follow the path, this time back to the car park.
This walk would have been a lot easier if we’d stuck to the paths!
A lovely day with a little bit of a breeze and occasional cloud. Perfect for walking.
The plan was to walk from Arrochar at the head of Loch Long and follow the northern end of the Cowal Way up to Loch Sloy
Leaving Appletree Cottage we drove to Balloch and then up the western shore of Loch Lomond. At Tarbert, about half way up Loch Lomond we continued straight on towards Arrochar and Invararay.
Arrochar was only a couple of miles further on and we drove through the village and parked in the car park immediately before the bridge at the head of the loch.
There was a sign saying there was a charge of £1 per day for parking at the time of our visit (although the machines were still being installed and were wrapped in plastic bags - hooray!)
Walking out from Arrochar
From the car park we crossed the main road and followed a narrow road up the south side of the river (we did not ever cross the river) After about quarter of a mile (1/2km) there was a sign to the right saying “Cowal Way” . We followed the track up about 100 yards and turned left, away from the loch and continued along this for about a mile when it eventually became a path.
The walk was relatively easy, very peaceful and unspoilt. Mostly on the level there was the occasional small hill or mound which the path would contour up. It was easy to see where we were going and the path, though rutted in places with some loose rocks on the inclines, was generally well maintained.
After about 4 miles (6.5 km we skirted round the side of and entered a wood of tall handsome trees. Emerging eventually in open country and through a gate at the end of the path.
We had a choice to turn left or right (as signposted) across a small wooden bridge and up onto there dam service road (tarmac) where we turned left.
It was only about another mile to Loch Sloy Dam as the road climbed gently up the hillside.
About Loch Sloy Dam
Loch Sloy is the largest conventional hydroelectric plant in Britain. Its water flows from Loch Sloy along 3km tunnels cut through Ben Vorlich, to power the station on the shore of Loch Lomond below. Four huge pipes are clearly visible from the Loch Lomond shore carrying the water on its final journey to the generating station next to the main road.
Construction on the Dam commenced in May 1945 and was completed in 1949, the official opening ceremony being on 18 Oct 1950. Initially prisoners worked on the construction but when the war finished workers came from as far away as Cornwall to join the project. At its
peak the workforce exceed 2,200 men. The tunnelling was hard and 21 men lost their lives during construction.
The dam doubled the lengh of Loch Sloy and raised its water level by 47 meters.
The complex is used as stand-by power to the national grid and can be at full capacity (152mw) from a standing start in only five minutes.
For more detailed information about Loch Sloy Dam visit http://www.engineering-timelines.com/scripts/engineeringItem.asp?id=1014
At the Dam
The road had been gently climbing since we joined it and after about half a mile we got our first glimpses of the dam. Looking dark, menacing and somewhat satanic in the day’s light.
It grew larger and larger as we approached and the bold designs of architect Harold Ogle Tarbolton’s now A listed structure became clearer.
As we arrived at the foot of the dam the stillness of the air and the silence in the hills, with not another person in sight served to exaggerate the presence of this enormous structure.
We walked up the road to the west end of the top of the dam and through the short tunnel which obviously serves as a shelter for sheep on the wilder days. We were free to walk across the top of the dam and through the gate at the eastern end. From there led a set of stones set in the hillside as a staircase. The interesting thing about this staircase was that it could only be seen from above as not clue to its existence could be discerned from below.
End of a great day
After exploring the dam and taking in the surrounding views we made our way back along the route from which we’d come to return to our car.
As an alternative we did consider walking up to the dam from Inveruglas (where the four huge pipes come out the hill down to the generating station on the shore of Loch Lomond.
We decided not to do this as the parking in Inveruglas car park was £4 and there was quite a long walk (about ½ mile) beside the main road before beginning to ascend the service road to
Our route was moderate, about 10.5miles in lengh (17km) and thoroughly enjoyable.
Car journey – about 50 minutes from Appletree Cottage
Walking duration – about 5 hours with lots of stops.
One of the best walks we’ve had this year!