Friday, September 27, 2013

Scottish Castles: A Guest Post by Becky Banks

Hi Tina and Tina Gayle fans! 

Thanks so much for having me today, I’m going to dive into one of my favorite subjects, Scotland. The weather has begun to turn Fall-like for most of us and for me it makes me think of misty cliffs and highland whisk(e)y.

Scotland is the home of the highlands, haggis, Hebrides and castles!

Not in a red kilt, but close! :0) [via]
When we think of Scotland (and we’ve enjoyed a romance novel or two!) we often times think of an image evoking a 16th century strapping highland Scotsmen swathed in a blood red kilt. And depending on your imagination’s enthusiasm he might also be standing tall (did I mention broad shouldered too?) on heather clad hillocks overlooking their foggy land. We don’t have to wander far into the historical romance section of our favorite bookstore to find it.

Though, traveling through Scotland today, our strapping Scotsman is noticeably absent. But in his place are emerald colored bluffs jutting proudly into the grey Atlantic and misty rolling hills, pink with heather, being bisected by streams and rivers that empty into one of the many lochs of the land. Nestled on those hills and dales are crumbled and in some instances still majestic stone towers and walls of ancient castles. The castles our highland hero from above would have lived. 

When my hubby and I toured Scotland a few years back, I spent most of the trip slack jawed in awe. These stone feats of strength had seen centuries of battle; bakers, cooks, ladies and chieftains had walked their halls. All of these peopled had once lived and loved within those stone edifices. Through the different castles there were three types: restored, treasured rubble and original.

Our first castle on this mini tour of Scottish castles is the unique Eilean Donan, which was built on a tiny island in the middle of a loch. Without a crane.  

One of the more picturesque of the Scottish castles, Eilean Donan, was erected in the 13th century
Eilean Donan restored to its former glory.
and yes purposefully built on the water. Why, you might ask, would someone wish to constantly have water in their cellar and mold in their closets? In one word: defense. Having Viking roots, it made sense for these water-based people to build a defensible curtain wall on an even more defensible tiny island. With just beach access, anyone wishing to do harm to the castle inhabitants would have to be brave enough to come ashore. Thus, becoming a stronghold for rebels in it’s later years. After the wall was built subsequent centuries added on to it, but it’s final glory - which we see today - is due to the restoration efforts of Lt. Col. John MacRae-Gilstrap between 1919 and 1932. Restoration was necessary since in 1719 the English sent Navy ships in to quell a potential uprising and when they met hostile forces they reduced the castle to rubble. Or as
Wikipedia says:

“Early in the morning on Sunday 10 May, HMS Worcester, HMS Flamborough, and HMS Enterprise anchored off Eilean Donan and sent a boat ashore under a flag of truce to negotiate. When the Spanish soldiers [aka rebel forces] in the castle fired at the boat, it was recalled and all three ships opened fire on the castle for an hour or more.[40] The next day the bombardment continued while a landing party was prepared. In the evening under the cover of an intense cannonade, the ships' boats went ashore and captured the castle against little resistance. According to Worcester's log, in the castle were "an Irishman, a captain, a Spanish lieutenant, a serjeant, one Scotch rebel and 39 Spanish soldiers, 343 barrels of powder and 52 barrels of musquet shot."[41] The naval force spent the next two days and 27 barrels of gunpowder demolishing the castle.[42]

I think we can all give the MacRae-Gilstrap family a big high-five for their spectacular work in restoring the castle to its former glory, as it was no small task in rebuilding it from the rubble.

Speaking of gunpowder and blowing castles to bits, that brings me to second castle I want to share with you. This one will be brief since it is its ending that I find the most interesting: Urquhart Castle.

Urquhart Castle nestled on Loch Ness. [via]
Also a water edged castle on the shores of Loch Ness, Urquhart Castle it is believed to have had its beginnings in medieval times. However, its current ruins can be dated back to the 13th century. While in Scotland I had the good fortune to visit Urquhart and walk its ruins and listen to the history lesson they gave before releasing visitors to the castle grounds below.  In the lesson we learned that ownership of the castle was with clan Grant for many years. However over the centuries they lost it to marauding cattle stealers, the MacDonalds and in the later years Jacobite friendlies. Losing your beloved castle more than once can cause any human being to fret, but being Scotsmen through and through the Grants did more than blow it a kiss. On their final goodbye clan Grant, using barrels of gunpowder, lit fuses and left. Thus, reducing the gate house to rubble. As the narrator - in the history lesson I’d heard before viewing the castle - said of the Grants, if they couldn’t have it, no one would.

And finally, Dunvegan, the original. 

There are many castles in Scotland some are rubble - as you saw - and some have been restored. But rare is it to view one that has had continual residence in it since the moment its last stone was laid. 

Dunvegan castle dates its origins date back 800 years and its artifacts to well before that. Most notably is its Fairy Flag which is thought to predate the Crusades. Dunvegan is has been and is currently inhabited by the MacLeod clan. Currently on their 30th clan chief, who I hear is a good singer, has family that inhabits the property year round (but I hear the summer parties draw the biggest crowd). Updated continuously since its inception Dunvegan Castle boasts updated amenities much like a grand century-old home with lavish paintings, gold brocade wall paper and polished Queen Anne furniture. So awe-like is the feeling of being in a castle whose inhabitants had blood ties to the founder of the place eight hundred years prior that I felt compelled to write a book. And write one I did, the novel is called The Legend of Lady MacLaoch.

The story is central around the Castle Laoch and the clan chief has many of the same headaches as well as pride points as a real life clan chief might. It can be said that for intents and purposes Castle Laoch in the story is Dunvegan. :0) 

To wrap up our mini-castle tour here's a summary of the Dunvegan-inspired novel The Legend of Lady MacLaoch

The Dunvegan inspired novel.
In present-day Scotland, the laird and chief of the MacLaoch clan is an ex-Royal Air Force fighter pilot who has been past the gates of hell and returned a changed man. Rowan MacLaoch does battle with wartime memories and a family curse that threaten to consume him-unaware that his life and that of the history of the clan will be changed forever by the arrival of an American woman.

Cole Baker, a feisty recent graduate of a master's program, stumbles upon the ancient curse while researching her bloodlines. Moved by the history of the MacLaoch clan and the mystery of its chief, she digs into the legend that had been anything but quiet for centuries.

On their quest for answers, Cole and Rowan travel to places they have never before been and become witnesses to things they have never before fathomed. The legend-one started with blood-will end with more shed as its creator finally exacts her justice.

Thank you Tina Gayle and fans for having me today. You all have been great! 

Becky Banks is the award-winning author of historical romance The Legend of Lady MacLaoch and the newly released contemporary romance Forged.

Becky can be contacted online at: | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads
Thanks for stopping by Becky, best of luck with your books, Tina

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