Month: August 2014

Falconry at Dunrobin Castle


Dunrobin Castle and Gardens (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford


Toward the end of our Scotland Adventure, we toured the amazing Dunrobin Castle, a majestic home in Sutherland in the Highland area of Scotland.  Dunrobin Castle is the family seat of the Earl of Sutherland and the Clan Sutherland.  It is about 5 miles south of Brora on the east coast of Scotland, overlooking the Dornoch Firth.  There are 189 rooms within the castle, making it the largest in the northern Highlands. Externally, the castle has elements inspired by the work of the French architect Viollet-le-Duc, such as the pyramidal roof over the main entrance. The French influence extends into the gardens, completed in 1850, with Barry taking inspiration from the French formal style of the Gardens of Versailles. The total landscaped area is 1,379 acres.



Gardens and Firth (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford


Dunrobin’s origins lie in the Middle Ages, but most of the present building and the gardens was added by Sir Charles Barry between 1835 and 1850. Some of the original building is visible in the interior courtyard, despite a number of expansions and alterations that made it the largest house in the north of Scotland. After being used as a boarding school for seven years, it is now open to the public.  (Wikipedia)  The view, above, was taken from a window in the castle and only shows about a quarter of the formal gardens at Dunrobin.  The castle may have been built on the site of an early medieval fort, but the oldest surviving portion, with an iron yett, is first mentioned in 1401.



The Falconer and the Golden Eagle (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford


A visit to Dunrobin Castle now includes daily birds of prey flying demonstrations at 11.30am, and 2.00pm on the Castle lawnThese spectacular shows feature golden eagles and peregrine falcons, both resident birds in the Scottish Highlands. Shown here feeding the golden eagle when we first arrived.  Additionally, he had Harris hawks, steppe eagles and goshawks on display.  Our show included a goshawk, peregrine falcon and owl.



The Falconer’s Son and Bongo (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford


The falconer’s son is in training and already handled many of the birds.  A film crew was there filming the falconer’s son and another young boy. I talked with them before and after the show. At first I thought they were doing a film on the falconer and his son, but it turns out they are doing a film on an egg collector and HIS son, both who were there. Egg collectors (never knew there was such a thing) helped track down the reason for sharp declines in hawk and falcon reproduction – DDT – making the shells fragile, breaking before they could hatch.



Falconer and Goshawk (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford


Andy Hughes, Dunrobin’s professional resident Falconer demonstrates and explains the different hunting methods used by owls, hawks and falcons in a series of fascinating aerobatic displaysAndy took this hawk through the motions. It was fascinating. The hawk had a little bell on him so that Andy could tell his whereabouts. Apparently, the hawk likes to sneak up on him.



Owl Games (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford


We adored Bongo!  Andy had him skim over our heads many times so that we could hear (or not hear) just how quiet his flight is.  An owl is mostly feathers – his body is about a quarter of the size he appears.



The Peregrine (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford


Falconry was originally developed as a means of hunting fast or difficult prey as food for the table, and is still practiced for this purpose in many parts of the world today.  This display of falconry was one of my favorite experiences in Scotland.  Not only was the setting breathtakingly beautiful, the display was more than I imagined.  Andy and his son were very personable, chatting with us all before and afterward, plus we were allowed to tour the area where the birds are kept.  It’s a humbling experience being around such graceful and intense birds.  Andy and his son treated the birds the highest respect.



Falconry at Dunrobin Castle (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford


If you are ever in Scotland one of the tours you simply must do is the falconry exhibit at Dunrobin Castle.  Right after you see Eilean Donan Castle.  Well, it’s all good.  It’s all good.


Eilean Donan Castle


Eilean Donan Castle (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

Eilean Donan Castle was my hands-down favorite castle throughout Scotland.  Picturesque beyond description, the castle is on a small tidal island located where three lochs meet, Loch Duich, Loch Long and Loch Alsh, in the western Highlands of Scotland.  The footbridge isn’t original architecture, but was constructed early in the 20th Century to connect the castle to the mainland.  Read more about the architecture, below.



The Grand Entrance (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford


The castle, founded in the 13th century, is named after Donnan of Eigg, a Celtic saint, martyred in 617.  Eilean Donan, means simply “island of Donnán.” Donnán is said to have established a church on the island, though no trace of this remains.



Eilean Donan Portcullis (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford


The castle was founded in the thirteenth century, and became a stronghold of the Clan Mackenzie and their allies the Clan Macrae. In the early eighteenth century the Mackenzies’ involvement in the Jacobite rebellions led in 1719 to the castle’s destruction by government ships. (Wikipedia)



Inside Castle Walls (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford


After lying in ruins for about 200 years, Lieutenant Colonel John MacRae-Gilstrap bought the island in 1911 and proceeded to restore the castle to its former glory.  The castle was rebuilt according to the surviving ground plan of earlier phases.  After 20 years of toil and labor the castle was re-opened in 1932.



View from the Top (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford



Lush Countryside and Loch (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford



Alex and Shonna, Castle Docents (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

I’ve never been more thoroughly entertained nor happily educated about Scottish lore, dress, warring, and All Things Eilean Donan Castle than I had on this day.  We shuffled into the grand entrance hall, where Alex entertained us with his witty monologue of how one enters castles, WHO can enter castles back in the day, castle secrets, castle defenses and a lot about the people who inhabited this place.  Once Alex gave us our leave we traveled upstairs to the dining hall where Shonna (A MacLeod, by the way) educated us as to the way of Scottish lassies and why they dressed as they did.  She also treated us to behind-the-scenes lore of castle life and named people in portraits, and explained about the decor.  These two people were wonderful additions to the castle tour!


Low Tide (C) by Debi Bradford

As we left I turned to see this incredible view.  Sun lowering, mist rising, the grasses an impossible shade of green.  I did not want to leave this place.

I was unable to come up with anything to post today, so sad I am about Robin Williams’ sudden passing. But I logged on determined to try, to post something, and I spied this post by my friend Cnawan. Perfect for reblogging….thanks, Cnawan.

Ethereal Nature


“Koko instantly connected with Robin,” Koko’s longtime caregiver, Dr. Penny Patterson, said at the time. “Koko, like us, can sense a person’s nature, and in this case, she was quickly drawn to Robin’s warm heart.”

for those who haven’t already seen this video, it should not be missed:


And here is a shortened video that accompanies the news of Robins’ death:
Robin Williams & Koko
Robin Williams was one of the most famous people on the planet. And Koko the gorilla is one of the most famous animals on the planet. So, when the two first met in 2001, it made sense that they would naturally get along.

Koko is fluent in American Sign Language, can communicate in over 1,000 signs and can reportedly understand several English-language commands.

Williams was brought in to meet Koko at the Gorilla Foundation in northern California.

“We shared something extraordinary: laughter,”…

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“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.  It turns what we have into enough, and more.  It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity.  It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.” 
Melody Beattie


I’ve determined that now it is simply my time to be quiet.  To be still.  To simply Be.
It’s a relief to come to a conclusion about it, frankly.
This means I can stop seeking the answer and just get on with the act of Being.

Now that that is settled I made a blogging decision.

I love photographing sunrises, as you know.
During my Breath Walk Meditation morning walks I sometimes take the camera in case there’s something to capture.
Today, this sunrise which was five minutes in between grey clouds.
A surprise sunrise.
The Unexpected Sunrise.
Preparing to blog I looked for an appropriate quote and found this:
“The biggest cliche in photography is sunrise and sunset”
Catherine Opie

I just laughed and laughed!  Thanks, Ms. Opie, for keeping me humble!

The Hidden


The Hidden Green (C) 2010 by Debi Bradford


“If you look for the truth outside yourself,

It gets farther and farther away.

Today walking alone, I meet it everywhere I step.

It is the same as me, yet I am not it.

Only if you understand it in this way

Will you merge with the way things are.”


Years ago it was necessary for my sanity to take day trips out into Nature.  Leaving in the morning, car packed with a cooler of water and snacks, passenger seat with camera kit, CD player loaded with my favorite tunes I would practically scamper out of the neighborhood.

I was seeking.

Seeking Nature.  Seeking Self.  Seeking Solace.  Seeking Peace.  Seeking Answers.

It was there, in all the green and water and sunshine and storms and whatever the day brought, that I felt the most Alive.

Why have I stopped doing that?  Why have I gotten sedentary?  Where did my curiosity go?  What keeps me at home?  Some answers are revealing themselves yet I’m not sure how to overcome them.  It is time for Mindful Awareness activities.  When you get this way what do YOU do?



Armadale Castle and Gardens


Armadale Castle (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford


Armadale Castle Gardens are a scant 3/4 of a mile from the terminal for the Mallaig ferry at Armadale on the Isle of Skye. The first item of notice is what looks to be a massive doorway facing the Sound of Sleat, looking back toward Mallaig.  This is an eleborate doorway and towering stonework which appears to have once housed a window.  This was the original entrance to a major Gothic extension to the castle built in 1815 to the design of architect James Gillespie Graham.



Vine-covered Architecture of Armadale Castle (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford


You can enter what little is left of this part of the castle. In doing so you pass into what was once the grand hallway, and you are faced by what was once the equally grand Imperial Staircase. Today this all has the feel of an elaborate garden folly. The hallway is open to the sky and, apart from the doorway, has few standing walls. Here some of my new friends are taking their own photos of the Sound from atop the staircase.



Stairway to Nowhere (C) by Debi Bradford




Armadale Castle and bench (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford


There is nothing to be seen inside the castle itself, which is nothing more than a shell.  In 1855 a fire destroyed much of the original mansion house, and in 1858, the “gap” in the frontage left by the fire was filled by the addition that today forms the most imposing part of the castle. In 1981 the ruinous Gothic wing was made safe, effectively by demolishing most of what was left of it, and the 1858 building was consolidated to allow for possible future restoration.  (Undiscovered Scotland)  Truly, the castle wasn’t the draw here, except for the Gothic portion.  What we enjoyed most were the gardens.



My Tree (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

A mild climate due entirely to the “Mexican Gulf Stream,” as our guide insisted upon calling it, means lush gardens grew in abundance in the western Highlands and Isle of Skye.  Our brief time here wouldn’t allow all 40 acres to be explored, but we did our best.  Magnificent trees, some almost 200 years old, tower above stunning carpets of bluebells, orchids and wildflowers in spring and summer. Sheltered below the giants are the young firs which will eventually replace them, as well as the growing collections of elegant birch and beech trees.  (Clan



Artist Palette (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford


Native azaleas, rhododendron, moountain laurel, daisies, ferns, bluebells, woodland plants and flowers that reminded me so much of home … because that’s where they also grow.  The Gulf Stream sweeps north past Scotland, bringing temperate climate that creates lush gardens.  This is only the first of many we visited.



Armadale Castle (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

Part of their forty acres includes a series of nature trails through both woodlands and pasture, leading up a hill to the panoramic viewpoint at the top of Cnoc Armadail.  This is the territory of red deer and golden eagles with the opportunity of a rare glimpse of the sea eagle.  Our time did not allow that sort of stroll but it’s on my list for when I return to Armadale Castle on the Isle of Skye.


Garden Treasure (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

Mallaig, Port to Skye


Reliance II (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford


Mallaig, a bustling, thriving, incredibly beautiful port, is situated on the north west coast along the famous Road to the Isles.   Very much a working fish port, Mallaig is a fabulous central base by which to explore this area of Scotland.  The ferry to the Isle of Skye runs regularly and the isle is just a short hop across the Sound of Sleat.  Founded in the 1840s, Lord Lovat, owner of North Morar Estate, divided up the farm of Mallaigvaig into seventeen parcels of land and encouraged his tenants to move to the western part of the peninsula and turn to fishing as a way of life.  (



Mallaig, Scotland (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford


The well known Jacobite steam train (featured in the Harry Potter movies) follows the famous Road to the Isles and operates in the summer months from Fort William to Mallaig, calling at Glenfinnan Station where visitors can visit the museum, have a meal in one of the old dining cars and even stay in one of the restored carriages.



The Jacobite Express aka Hogwarts Express (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford


The above photo of the Jacobite Express steam train was taken during a stop at Glenfinnan.  Our guide said he wasn’t certain but “heard” that the train might be making its way through Glenfinnan while we were there.  We were hopeful but doubtful.  Within ten minutes or so we began to hear the puff-puff-puff of the train coming through the mountains.  Finally, it came into view!  Hogwarts Express!



Repairs (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford


Castles and gardens of Scotland were incredible experiences.  However, I found that, for me, the simple pockets of crofts and fishing villages and hamlets spoke to me maybe even more so.  This is real Scotland.  This, these small places teeming with Highlanders and “outlanders” filled my cup to overflowing.



Fisherman and his granddaughter Sculpture, Port of Mallaig (C) 2014 by Debi Bradford

Here you see the statue in Mallaig Harbor of an 8 foot tall fisherman holding a young girl’s hand and pointing out to sea.  This sculpture was given to the port of Mallaig by its sculptor Mark Rogers of Airor in Knoydart.  Mr. Rogers originally used chicken wire base onto which he molded cement to make the figures.  But when he found out the sculptures were going to be erected on Mallaig Pier he cut off the legs and cast them again in concrete in order to withstand the gales.  (Road to the