Portencross, and Portencross Castle on the Firth of Clyde

Portencross Castle

Portencross village and the castle are well off the ‘beaten track’ so it is perhaps amongst one of the less well known castles in Scotland. Suffice to say, that having lived within 30 miles of it for more than half a century, I only visited it for the first time within the last two years. It is situated between Seamill and the Hunterston peninsula. The narrow ‘no through road’ which leads down to it is easily missed unless you are on the alert and look out for the junction, which sits at a busy bend in the road. Having found it, we have now made a number of visits, as it is beautifully situated with a coastal path in either direction, and lovely views across the Firth to Arran and the Cumbraes.

In the 1980’s, land and buildings that had been bought by the government with a view to expanding the Hunterston Power Station complex, was returned to private ownership. By 2005 the charity ‘Friends of Portencross Castle‘ (FOPC) had been formed locally to conserve and repair the castle for present and future generations. And what a great job they have done with the help of volunteers and external funding from organisations and individuals.

The Castle will be closed for the winter, but I was fortunate enough on my last visit to gain access, (which is free, but a donation is requested) and very much enjoyed seeing the restoration work, and also appreciated the information boards and leaflets which were freely available. Here are some photos.

Here is a sample of the information boards and literature that are available, some of which are presented as a teaching resource for teachers and children.

Finally, a short video combining two visits to the castle, one on a sunny day and the other on a stormy day. I hope you catch the atmosphere of the place! On both occasions the situation of the castle against the backdrop of the sea looked stunning! I would strongly recommend a visit.

Reflection: I find it fascinating visiting historical sites of interest, and have had the priviledge of doing that in many ‘far flung places’. Scotland of course has a plethora of such sites away and above one’s expectation for such a small nation. I like to think of the person(s) who first had a vision of building a ‘hall-house’ here at Portencross away back in the 1300’s AD. It’s good then to read of all the changes that have taken place down the centuries, both in the structure itself and the people who lived and worked in and around this castle. Did any of them ever imagine it would last all these centuries and undergo all these changes? Probably not!

And of course when we look back on our own lives, it is astounding to have witnessed the changes that have taken place in our world in the last century, things my own mother and father would never have dreamed of. The pace of change has brought so much blessing to humankind, and yet conversely, so much danger from new and deadlier weapons, pollution of air, land, rivers and seas, and loss of habitat for animals birds, fish and insects. It would seem mankind is now capable of destroying the very planet itself!

I am so thankful that God and His Word never change, and there we can find an anchor to our soul. I sometimes smile as I listen to our leaders in the fields of politics, science, philosophy and theology and …. telling us that the eternal God and His Word are a bit out of date, and suggest that perhaps God needs to ‘get up to speed’! Then I listen to our news bulletins and hear of disaster and carnage on a multitude of levels, and remember God’s word ‘the heart of man is deceitful above all else, who can know it’. That apparently does not change.

This morning I was reading a letter written away back in the first century AD by a man named Paul. Since he became a follower of Jesus Christ he had suffered it would seem one calamity after another,* and now he was in prison in Rome awaiting execution for proclaiming the good news of Jesus, ascerting there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ God’s Son. In his letter to his young protege he writes “That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.“** In an ever changing world, and our ever changing circumstances, it’s good to entrust ourselves to Jesus as our Lord and Saviour and as our friend, for of him it is written ‘Jesus Christ the same yesterday, today and forever, and of course for all of us there is ‘that day‘!

*2 Corinthians 11:21-33, ** 2 Timothy 1:10-12

A famous hymn written around Paul’s words you can listen to here!

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Matthew

The Pass of Brander, St Conan’s Kirk and Kilchurn Castle

On my last blog I was writing about our day trip from Oban to the Isle of Staffa and our visit to Fingal’s Cave, but we extended our holiday by choosing on our third day to visit three very interesting stopping off places on our drive back to Glasgow.

The first stop, was at the Pass of Brander where in August 1308 Sir James Douglas and King Robert the Bruce led a successful attack on the MacDougalls, It has been said, this was the final battle of Bruce’s campaign in the North, during what is called ‘the ‘Wars of Independence’. The visit reminded me of my primary school days when ‘the Black Douglas’ and ‘King Robert the Bruce’ were our folk heroes as children. Many mock battles were enacted in the school playground with imaginary swords at our play times, after being told of their many exploits during our history lessons!

Stop two, was at Saint Conan’s Kirk, which is beautifully situated on the edge of Loch Awe, and here too there is an interesting history to consider. The Kirk is not far from the Brander battlefield referred to above. In fact inside you will find an effigy tomb of King Robert the Bruce, and one of his bones is also said to be buried here. The original Church was built in 1886 by Walter Douglas Campbell, who was one of nine children. He trained as an architect, and when his mother found the journey to the local parish church too tiring, he decided to build this church for her. By 1907 he started his Church extension to ambitious plans he had drawn up. Unfortunately he did not live to see its completion, but the Church was dedicated anew in 1930. You can read the full story on-line. Highly recommended for a visit if you are touring in the area.

Our last stop, was to visit Kilchurn Castle. A Castle we have photographed on many occasions, but never found the time to visit, but this time we did! The Castle was built in the mid 15th Century and became the home of the powerful Campbell Clan of Glen Orchy, who extended it and made it their stronghold for 150 years. It contains the oldest surviving barracks on the British mainland. Lots more info on line!

It was a rather cloudy day for our visit, but the surrounding hills and landscape, and its situation at the end of Loch Awe always gives this castle that special flavour of the dramatic! Our walk from the car park, which takes you under the railway bridge and on to the grazing land, also proved to be a bit dramatic as well! As we walked along we noticed there were some highland cattle grazing in the long grass, and to our surprise they seemed to take an interest in us, whilst others had been ignored! So it was slightly ‘off putting’ when first a large brown cow with large horns came straight towards us! I hurriedly pulled some grass and offered it as a peace gesture, but after a look and a sniff she turned away in disappointment. She was follwed by an even larger black cow, who also snubbed my peace gesture! Later we saw the farmer arriving with bags of cattle feed, so me thinks we were perhaps involved in ‘a case of mistaken identity’! 🙂

Soon after we made our way over the ‘Rest and be Thankful Pass’ and home via the the banks of Loch Lomond.

Reflection: It’s such a joy to get out of town for a few days and to enjoy the summer holidays, sunshine and fresh air. We are truly blessed here in the West of Scotland as so many places of quietness and beauty are within easy reach of the city. Our evening readings these days are in the Psalms, and thus one reflected our mood as we returned to Glasgow.

It is good to praise the LORD
and make music to your name, O Most High,
proclaiming your love in the morning
and your faithfulness at night,
to the music of the ten-stringed lyre
and the melody of the harp.
For you make me glad by your deeds, LORD;
I sing for joy at what your hands have done.
How great are your works, LORD,
how profound your thoughts!
Ps. 92:1-5

All in such contrast to the gloom and sadness of our news bulletins, so of course we do need to come down from our ‘mountain top experiences’ just as Jesus did, to face the challenges of every day life. There is much need all around us. Lord help us to play our part!

Here is the Fingal’s Cave video if you missed it!

Matthew

Heading North!

We had been enjoying some lovely Sprng weather, and with a birthday coming up, we decided to take a short break, and at the same time make a visit to some family and friends in the North! The weather in Scotland however is very changeable, so it was not too surprising to read just before we left home that the weather forecasters had issued a yellow ‘snow and ice’ warning for the area we were visiting! However on the morning we set out from Glasgow the weather was still holding, so we made the most of our first day with a good number of stops on our 200 mile journey to Inverness.

There is a lovely stopping off point immediately past the Inverglas / Loch Sloy power Station, which has been operational since the late 1940’s, so we stopped there for morning coffee.

It’s a lovely drive going towards Glen Coe, and being early in the year the road was relatively quiet.

Buachaille Etive Mor seems to stand guard at the entrance to the glen and attracts those with differing climbing skills. Just choose the correct route! It’s always a treat to visit Glen Coe and recall our adventures there in the past, climbing Buachaille Etive Mor, walking the famous ‘Aonach Eagach’ ridge and exploring the village. The last stop on route was at the Commando Monument at Spean Bridge, before reaching our destination in Inverness.

After a cold blustery day, the weather had cleared again, and we decided to make a first and long overdue visit to Urquhart Castle. It was a cold and sunny day, and when we arrived the place was relatively quiet. We so enjoyed our visit there, walking in the grounds and exploring the visitors centre, the museum, and of course the cafe. They were also showing a film in the cinema. The only thing we didn’t see was ‘the Loch Ness monster‘ but maybe it was too cold for it to be out! 🙂 A visit here is highly recommended if you are in the area.

We did get to meet our friends and family as we headed east along the Moray coast, but that’s another story, which I’ll keep perhaps for next time!

Loch Ness and the ruins of Urquhart Castle

Reflection: Urquhart Castle has a history going back to the mid 13th century, and was last inhabited by the ‘Grant Clan’ until around the mid 17th century. It has a long and noble history, and was fought over by clans and opposing armies before and during the wars of independence. The current ruin is but a shadow of the proud buildings and battlements that once stood here.

I guess many folks over the centuries have sought refuge in this once impressive castle, but alas the stronghold was eventually destroyed and it was interesting to see the type of machine used at that time to smash down the walls! A massive sling that hurled huge cannon balls over a distance of hundreds of yards. It reminded me how as a child my family, after hearing the wail of the sirens, sought refuge, not in a castle, but in an air raid shelter behind our block of flats in Glasgow. We were escaping the bombs falling from the sky during WWII ! Today in Ukraine there are reports of thousands of people fleeing to a theatre, and to a steel plant, and many tunnels to escape the horrors of war.

Well we are not in a war situation for now, but it got me thinking about where or to whom, do you and I run when things go horribly wrong, as they do for us all at times? Where do I hide in a relationship crisis, a grief crisis, an unemployment crisis, a health crisis, a pandemic, or the energy crisis, ….. and when it justs seems difficult to get out of bed in the morning’?

For me, I find my hope and shelter in the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Solomon, reputedly the wisest man ever to have lived, apart from Christ Himself, said ‘The name of the LORD is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.‘ Do you remember the hymn we once sang in Church?

Beneath the cross of Jesus, I fain would take my stand, the shadow of a mighty rock within a weary land; a home within a wilderness, a rest upon the way, from the burning of the nootide heat, and the burden of the day’. We sang a version of that in Church recently as we approached the Easter Weekend.

Greetings and best wishes from Glasgow, Scotland.

Scotland – Coast, Castles, and Cathedral

Culzean Castle on the Ayrshire coast is a National Trust for Scotland property and is a place that we love to visit each year in late summer. It is beautifully situated on the edge of the cliff with magnificient views over the firth to the Isle of Arran, and Ailsa Craig. The top floor apartment was given to President Dwight D Eisenhower after the last world war in appreciation of his leadership as the Supreme Commander of allied forces in Europe. It is said that he visited on four ocassions, once while President of the United States. Other apartments are available for rent today from the National Trust. Nearby is the village of Dunure with a more ancient (1256) castle. The remains seen today however are from the 15. -16th century. Both these castles are associated with the Kennedy clan, although the Mackinnons are said to have held Dunure Castle at some point after the battle of Largs.

We love to stroll in the quietness through the woods, and visit the walled garden and the castle gardens as well. This year the fountain unfortunately was under repair, so we didn’t see that operational.

This month we made an unplanned return trip to the Isle of Cumbrae. We had driven down to Largs on a beautiful sunny day, but found the resort very busy, so hopped on the ferry which was awaiting at the quay. We were so glad we did as the island was was so beautiful and we took the opportuniity to visit the Cathedral of the Isles and College of the Holy Spirit for the very first time. This is a Scottish Episcopal Church building.

Reflection

When we are out and about we often stop and stand in awe at the greatness of God. Last Sunday at church we were reading from Paul’s letter to the Church at Colossae in Chapter 1 which speaks of the supremacy of Jesus Christ. It reads

The Supremacy of the Son of God
The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.

And at out Wednesday Prayer Fellowship we sang that well known hymn ‘How Great Thou Art’. Some veses go like this –

When through the woods
And forest glades I wander
I hear the birds
Sing sweetly in the trees,
When I look down
From lofty mountain grandeur
And hear the brook
And feel the gentle breeze 

And when I think that God, His Son not sparing
Sent Him to die, I scarce can take it in
That on the cross, my burden gladly bearing
He bled and died to take away my sin

Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee
How great Thou art, how great Thou art
Then sings my soul, my Savior God to Thee
How great Thou art, how great Thou art

I hope you enjoy what remains of the summer

Matthew

Free, but to do what?

So where should we go after months of restrictions, which saw everyone in Scotland being compelled to stay at home, and if you did need to travel, it was restricted to your own home area? That was the pleasant decision we had to make in the last ten days, as permission was granted to travel freely again around Scotland.

We decided, let’s head for the hills and sea, in the Bute and Argyll region, just a comfortable afternoon’s drive from Glasgow. The Rosneath Peninsula, which is just south of Garelochead, was our chosen destination on a beautiful sunny day. The Rosneath peninsula separates the Gareloch from Loch Long, two sea lochs on the Firth of Clyde. Our journey took us over the Erskine bridge and on to Loch Lomond, before we turned off, onto the ‘new’ road to Garelochead. I am always amazed at how beautiful, and invariably quiet this road is.

Arriving at the village of Cove we enjoyed a scene of peace and tranquility on the edge of the loch, and soon we were enjoying our picnic lunch.

We next moved a few miles south to Kilcreggan, and like Cove, it is another village dating back to the Victorian era. In fact the pier at Kilcreggan is said to be the last original ‘Victorian’ pier on the Firth of Clyde.

Later we drove home via Glen Fruin.

A week later, on another sunny day we had an afternoon drive to the Ayrshire coast on the southside of the Firth of Clyde.

Shhh! we are sitting quietly at Croy Bay

On route we stopped for lunch at Dunure and found a parking place by the harbour, before viewing the castle. Later we stopped at the ‘Electric Brae’, and yes, the car did run up the hill when we stopped and put the gear into neutral!

Croy Bay is beautiful, and was a favourite haunt for us when the children were small. In those days the beach was busy, but how many people do you see there today?

Then we had a short visit to Maidens, frequented in earlier days by two famous Roberts. King Robert the Bruce, and the Scottish bard Rabbie (Robert) Burns! Time then for a drive along the coast and back to Glasgow!

Reflection:

Free to Worship! It is so good to be back in Church again! Our house groups however are still meeting on Zoom.

Our Study Book

Our Church house group is using this study guide to look at six of King David’s psalms written some 3000 years ago (recorded in the Bible). The Psalms comprise five books of poetry, and were read and sung by ancient Hebrew worshippers. They are still read and sung today, and have been throughout the ages. The title of the study guide certainly got me thinking, “WORSHIPPING THE GOD OF ALL, IN ALL OF LIFE“! We started off by reading psalm 145, and when we were out and about picnicking these last two weeks we found that worshipping the ‘God of All’ was an almost spontaneous reaction to the beauty of his creation, seen all around us.

Psalm 145:1-3

I will exalt you, my God the King;
I will praise your name for ever and ever.
Every day I will praise you
and extol your name for ever and ever.
Great is the LORD and most worthy of praise;
his greatness no one can fathom.

At the start of the Psalm, David is praising God personally ‘for the power of his awesome works‘, which he says speak of ‘his glorious splendour‘, something that even the youngest child can appreciate and understand. By the end of the psalm he is calling every creature to praise his holy name for ever and ever. But is this great and powerful God good you may ask? David, who himself lived an imperfect life, and suffered through many sorrows, trials and dangers goes on to describe this God whom he has come to trust.

He describes him as having ‘abundant goodness’, ‘righteous’, ‘gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love’, ‘good to all’, ”faithful’, ‘trustworthy’ ‘upholds all who fall’, ‘lifts up all who are bowed down’, ‘is near to all who call on him’ and ‘watches over all who love him’. This is the Jesus that I seek to follow! He also reminds his readers, that the God we worship is a God of justice and judgement and that ‘all the wicked he will destroy’.

Throughout the psalm the word ‘all’ is used over and over again. Yes, God wants to be part of all our everyday lives, not just on a Sunday, if we will just let him. Like David, I am so glad that he has walked beside me every day of my life, since that day I learned to trust him, even picking me up when I have fallen down, and have been bowed down!

Isaac Watts hymn of 1719 beautifully summarises psalm 145. Take a read!

Wherever you are, and whatever your circumstances may you find strength to lift your heart to God, perhaps for solace, perhaps in great need, or perhaps with a heart full of praise!

Matthew

One picture per month from 2019 reflecting the beauty and joys of life

As we come to the end of the year, it’s nice to look back and review the year in pictures! I have selected one of my pictures from each month of the year, not an easy task when you are a compulsive photographer!! It might just have been easier choosing 12 of my favourite pictures. It does remind us however of the many blessings we have enjoyed throughout 2019.

JANUARY 2019 – This country lane just a few miles from our house is a favourite drive in winter!

FEBRUARY 2019 – ‘The Lonely Planet’ a visit to St Abb’s Head and Eyemouth in winter!
MARCH 2019 – Beautiful Inversnaid on the bonnie banks of Loch Lomond
APRIL 2019 – A walk to Greenan Castle on the Ayrshire Coast on a sunny Spring day!
MAY 2019 – Glen Nevis at the foot of the Ben – a place of quiet serenity!
JUNE 2019 – Lachlan Castle on the edge of Loch Fyne, and a baby Loch Ness monster?
JULY 2019 – Irvine on the Clyde – always good for a paddle!
AUGUST 2019 – Ah, how I love my garden! Flowers in August!
OCTOBER 2019 – Two of our great-grandchildren reaching new heights!
NOVEMBER 2019 – A walk on the local Golf Course on a frosty Morning!

As we look forward to a new year and a new decade, I wish you all a Happy New Year, and God’s help and blessing in a very uncertain world. I like to follow the advice given to me by my father many moons ago. ‘Trust God from the bottom of your heart; dont try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track’. Proverbs 3:5-6