Mary Queen of Scots Slept Here

It was still dark when I woke up on Saturday morning so I padded to the window and keeked oot from behind the blind – yuck! it was pouring it down. By the time I showered and shaved it was looking better out.

The weatherman on the television was telling me that tomorrow, Sunday, we would be between two fronts, no rain, but a bit windy. Now since my motorbike has not had a wee run for a week or so – out comes the maps.

I have a few places in mind to visit, and with the trees colouring, one place I did wish to visit (and if I was lucky) catch the Meikleour Beech Hedge in autumn glory -– Keathbank Mill – Glams Castle – Miegle Church – Tealing Earth-House the circle would be complete. However, I decided to do the circuit anti-clockwise.

The main reason for the anti-clockwise route was to clear Dundee in the early morning traffic got underway.

Black menacing clouds still hovered over the Sidlaw hills, but the winds were rising and the weatherman did say they would be clear of the east coast by around 9 am so as ever we travel hopefully.

The traffic was light and through Dundee onto the A90 with no hold-ups, and only a few miles on I turned off for the site of the souterrain. There are two properties to see here, both cared for by Historic Environment Scotland. First, the picturesque, lectern dovecot (or doocot) with nesting boxes intact, the style of dovecots appeared around 1600 the Tealing dovecot was on the land of the Maxwell family and was built in 1595.

But what I really had come here to see was the curved souterrain, probably constructed to store grain or other supplies to see them through winter months, more so at a time when the Romans occupied this area so a sort of hidden outdoor cold store. Alas open to the elements for many years has taken its toll on the structure, but well worth a visit.

I retraced my wheel tracks back to the A90 travelling north for a few miles before branching off onto the A928 for Glamis. Just outside the little village, we come across Glamis Castle, home of the Lyon family since the 14th century, although much of what we see today was constructed in the 17th century.

Mary Queen of Scots Slept Here
So did James the first

Clamis was the childhood home of the late Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother. Born in 1900 Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon was the youngest daughter of Claude Bowes-Lyon, 14th Earl of Strathmore and Kinghorne and his wife Cecilia (nee Cavendish-Bentinck). On the 26th of April, she married Prince Albert, Duke of York, second son of George V at Westminster abbey, their second daughter Princess Margaret was born at the castle on 21 August 1930 Glamis was used as a First World War military hospital.

What a beautiful and idyllic setting this is for any castle, lying in the broad fertile lowland valley of Strathmore, and hemmed in by the Sidlaw Hills to the south and the Grampian Mountains to the north and around 20 kilometres inland from the North Sea.

A few family pets
There are statues all around the garden but look more Greek than Roman to me.
I loved this little lion – to me he looked so much like the cowardly lion in the Wizard of Oz – “Get em up”.
this ornamental dove cot was never about food and I believe it housed white doves

There is so much to say about Glamis Castle and its grounds I would be here all day, but we must press on.

This area was the home of the Picts in years gone by, and a stone, known as the Eassie Stone was found in the burn at the nearby village of Eassie, and where we are off to next.

Unfortunately, the stone is housed in a protective glass case and the glass acted like a mirror when I took the picture

Not far from the Eassie stone are more Pictish treasures – the Meigie Sculptured stone Museum, formerly a Victorian school contains a collection of more than thirty Pictish Stones. This was probably the site of an early medieval Pictish monastery and was again cared for by Historic Scotland. 

Only open in summer
The church is adjacent to the museum

On now into Blairgowrie and Rattray, hard to tell where one ends and the other starts so close together are these two villages. I came here as a boy on the back of dad’s motorcycle. It was the trade’s holiday and we had come to camp and pick raspberries, I remember the pub in the village full and overflowing with young people all here for the trade fare holidays, the first week of the Glasgow trades and the second week of the Dundee. The noise and music from the pub were at a crescendo, for all sang along to the folk songs being sung and played inside. this is a beautiful wee town.

The river that powered the jute mill a little upstream from here, you can see the lay sluce on the far bank

Today I had not come to pick raspberries but to visit Keithbank Mill, it was one of a series of water-powered textile mills along the banks of the River Ericht and dates back to 1820, the 8-bay jute spinning mill dates from 1864-5. The mill was driven by a large iron-framed water wheel (4.27m wide and 5.49m diameter) which can still be seen today. This was augmented by a horizontal single-cylinder, drop-valve engine by Carmichael and Co. Dundee. 

I retraced my tracks back into Blairgowrie and Rattray, to pick up the A93 for Meikleour and the Beach Hedge. The hedge was planted by Jean Mercer and her husband Robert in 1745 (note the date) on the Meikleour estate. It is said that the hedge grow upto the heavens because the man that had planted it were killed at the Battle of Culloden. The hedge is the longest and tallest hedge in the world reaching 30 meters (98 ft) in height and 530 meters (1,740 ft) in length. It is usually trimmed once every ten years, although the most recent trim, which took place in late 2019, was the first in almost 20 years. Owner Sam Mercer Nairne, last got the hedge cut and faces a bill of £90,000. The cost includes management of traffic on the A93, accessing the hedge via a hydraulic platform and the labour to cut and shape the hedge.

Sorry no autumn colour today
Time to go home

Speaking to the ‘Scotsman’

Claire Mercer Nairne, 45, said: “In the past it was quite straightforward – Meikleour estate did the work of cutting the hedge by hand.

“We just hired a hydraulic platform. If I remember the tourist board helped us out.

“It was perfectly manageable, considering it was every ten years.”

But by 2010 the costs had ramped up, as traffic management now had to be paid for separately – and with the job lasting six weeks, it was decided not to do so.

The mum-of-three added: “I thought ‘this is really not going to work – the big chunk was traffic management.

“It has become a very big job and a very difficult one.”

The hedge was planted by her husband’s ancestors in memory of soldiers who died in the Jacobite War.

Mrs Mercer Nairne was hopeful that the local authority, Perth and Kinross Council, might chip in with the cost of traffic management as it was within their remit.

“If we wait for too long, the hedge won’t be a hedge anymore – it will be a group of trees.”

SNP councillor Grant Laing, for Strathtay council, called the hedge, an “iconic natural phenomenon”, and said he wants to see it trimmed and back to its natural glory.

“I am not blaming anyone for the state of the hedge, but £90,000 for the owners is a lot to fall on their shoulders.

I really enjoyed my ride out today, the weather was good for this time of the year, a little cold first thing, and blustery as the day progressed. Sad that the preservation of such national treasures as this Meikleour Hedge comes down to money – or the lack of it.

Stay safe. 

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