3 Jun 2010

A ruin with a view: Dunure Castle

Scotland can sometimes make you feel like you have landed inside a postcard. You can stand there and not know whether you are moving inside this world or whether it has wrapped itself around you like a collective memory, a perfect, solidified expression of beauty.

Just like that, you have popped up here in the southwest of Scotland on the Firth of Clyde. A wide green lawn drapes down the hill towards Dunure Castle, which kisses the jagged edges of the Ayrshire shoreline. The dark cliff stones seem to creep upwards over the castle’s crumbling foundations, a jawline set against the tide of imminent destruction by the elements.

On a calm summer day the sounds are simple ones. The bees scour the patches of scotch bloom that are bursting with the crayon yellow we used to paint the sun as children. The waves are so lazy they barely lap over the rocks below, and in the shallows an occasional bird can be seen poking around the kelp for snacks. In the distance the island of Ailsa Craig looms like a muffin top above the water.
I imagine a storm would have been blowing through a soup of complete blackness on the night Gilbert Kennedy roasted Alan Stewart on a spit over the kitchen fires. Dunure’s history is long and varied but it is this story that sticks with people when they hear it, and how could it not?

What a scene it would have made: behind the thick stone walls of a castle perched above the water, a wealthy landowner from a prominent family uses his cruel imagination to coax an agreement from an abbot of a nearby abbey into signing over the rights to the abbey lands.
Much of the castle is closed off now, thought to be too dangerous to wander around. There are still some areas open to see, but up close much of the building’s drama is lost. It is only when you step back and see it in its glorious, wild surroundings that Dunure becomes a place to remember.

The dovecot is the same. Inside it is littered with sweet wrappers and juice bottles, not to mention the pungent scent of bird droppings that plumes out at you when lean in for a closer look. But if you move back just a little and look again, you will see it slot into the wide-screen vision of history, sea and sky.
The stone maze is a new addition, built by volunteers with the aim of adding to the ambience of the place. I still haven’t decided whether it has worked. This spot is already surreal and inviting - did it need anything else?

Granted, I don’t know how many visitors make the commitment to venture off the main road that leads to Ayr, and venture down into Dunure. It can be difficult for small villages to lure people to their beauty spots, when they are surrounded by bigger, bolder sights nearby.

But it is this edge of isolation that also makes Dunure Castle special. This is just the kind of thing people comes to Scotland to see: nature curled up against history, a genteel flourish in the midst of an otherwise unforgiving landscape. Like stepping into a postcard.

What places in Scotland give you that “postcard” feeling?
I had a wonderful surprise today - a visit by two fellow bloggers! The lovely Canadian Ms Toastburner of One Slice at a Time, and the incomparable Neil Tasker of the Scotland blog Light and Dark were in Edinburgh today and popped by to say hello. Ms Toastburner even brought me treats from Canada in the form of Kraft Dinner and Shake ‘n Bake! It made my day. Hooray for blog friends!

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