We have a special guest today. Laura Voskia, author of the historical fiction novel, Blue Bells of Scotland: The Trilogy (Gabriel’s Horn Publishing) , is here to tell us about one of the many castles she has visited. Enjoy!
by Laura Vosika
With over 3,000 castles in Scotland—that’s one for about every hundred square miles—it is unlikely I’ll ever be able to visit them all. But during my two week trip to Scotland in 2008, I visited 13, a castle almost every day. Several of those stand out as favorites, ones I hope to go back to, but one in particular captured my heart and imagination.
It is isn’t the oldest or largest. It has nothing as fascinating as Dunvegan’s Fairy Flag. It lacks the history of Stirling. In fact, very little is written about its history. Even with detailed descriptions of its structure, articles on it are a scant few paragraphs, at best. Still, if I could fly back to Scotland today, I would go straight to Finlarig Castle in Killin.
Maybe the attraction, for me was in the way I found it. While my husband and I were staying at the hostel in Killin, the manager there—full of great stories and advice about places to see—told us to look for it on our walk around Loch Tay. He warned us to watch for a small path. I watched all too well, and discovered a dirt track six inches wide pushing through the foliage of a small copse. We followed it and burst into a clearing in the forest, in which rose the gray stone ruins of a castle and mausoleum, overgrown by ivy and woodland. We hadn’t seen anyone else on our walk. The clearing was empty and silent. It felt as mysterious and wonderful as the children discovering the ruins of Cair Paravel in The Chronicles of Narnia.
My husband and I spent a good long time exploring the castle ruins. The structure stands three stories high in places, while the walls are completely gone in others. We walked through the arched entrance, into a tower—and out the other side into what might have been the courtyard, now overgrown and with a tree springing up in the middle of it. We climbed the faint remains of stairs, to fragments of the second floor, and descended into dim recesses that, I later learned, had been cellars and kitchens. We never did find the beheading pit the manager told us to look for. (And I later read that the ‘beheading pit’ was really only a cistern to gather rain water!)
The grounds also feature a mausoleum, very complete on the outside, and with the entrance so overrun with years of dirt and debris that you must climb up and squeeze through what’s left of the opening, near the top of the arch. As a result, exploring the inside of the mausoleum means walking close to where the ceiling would have been. Nearby are a pair of lichen-covered Celtic crosses, the graves of Lord and Lady Campbell, that, though dating only to the 1920’s, give the place even more of an ancient and mysterious feel.
As we left Finlarig, the opposite way from which we entered, we discovered the ‘small’ road we were supposed to have found: a five foot wide tar-topped road, complete with large signs giving dire warnings about the danger of getting too near Castle Finlarig: Do not climb on the structure! Do not go near the structure! The structure may collapse!
I most likely would have heeded those signs. I’m comfortable in my un-extreme world of piano, harp and teaching music lessons to 8-year-olds. Which is why I’m really glad I didn’t see those signs! There was something wonderful about exploring these isolated and abandoned ruins.
Perhaps my attraction to Finlarig was that very isolation and abandonment. We were alone. I think had we stayed longer, we would have continued to be alone, a unique experience among the many castles we visited. It allowed us to feel the atmosphere in a way that’s not possible with hundreds of tourists crowding the place. There were no placards to explain or reveal. I think that left the imagination free to roam, to look at the place as it is now, and all the ways it might have once been, to create possible histories and lives.
Whatever the reason, as much as I loved the elegant beauty of Linlithgow, the wax statues of Eileen Donan, the twisting passages of Doune, as much as I would try to return to each of them and more, Finlarig holds a special place in my heart.
She earned a degree in music, and worked for many years as a freelance musician, music teacher, band director, and instructor in private music lessons on harp, piano, winds, and brass.
Laura is the mother of 7 boys and 2 girls, and lives in Minnesota.
Her latest book is Blue Bells of Scotland: The Trilogy.
You can visit her website at www.bluebellstrilogy.com.