20 May 2010

Stirring the creative caldron at Balvaird Castle

There are some monuments, ruins and stately homes around Scotland which benefit from a healthy dose of history in order to bring out their finest attributes and imbue a sense of mystery or grandeur. But there are others that you see and the last thing you want is to wrap too much of the past around them because your own imagination is crying out to create new stories.

A perfect example of this is Balvaird Castle in Perthshire, just a whisper from the border to the Kingdom of Fife. I have lived in Scotland for five years, and in those five years there have been few things as wondrous and pleasurable as climbing the hill to Balvaird Castle at just past 8am on a mid-May morning.

The sun coaxes away the clouds and beams down on the green fields, which beam back the way they do when they are in the throws of a serious chlorophyll binge.

Birdsong rises in a ring around the hill, punctuated by the occasional sideways bleat of a lamb looking for its mother.

A spindly rock wall runs like a dragon’s spine up to where the tower house looms above the countryside.

With every shift in light my perception of the tower house changes, from a remnant of pleasing opulence to what must have certainly been the lair of some glowering tyrant.
Several leafy trees add a flourish of extra drama to the courtyard ruins, but as beautiful as they are, they cannot compare to the anguished claw-like curves of another tree, which bends like a old witch hiding a poisoned apple. I love that amidst the life-giving clamour of early summer, there grows a shadowy reminder of Halloween. Is it any wonder that Balvaird was once used as a film location for a production of Macbeth?

I have read that the tower house is open for tours on weekends during the summer, but I don’t think it would add much to the experience. Not that I wouldn’t fall over with excitement should the folks at Historic Scotland ever wish to grant me permission to stay there for a night, just me and my beloved and a few candles.
My attempts to absorb historical information about Balvaird have been futile. I cannot bring myself to care when this place was built, or who built it. For me, Balvaird Castle is about sheer ambience, admittedly cliché at times, but always flagrantly unabashed. This is a perfect spot for creative types - artists and writers - who have time to spend here and let the atmosphere move through them like water through a sieve.

Balvaird is not on any popular tourist routes, so it is unlikely to be busy even during the height of summer. Visiting in the early morning is just an extra gift to yourself, a way to squeeze out every ounce of pleasure from an already unforgettable place.

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