Today we had to bid farewell to the luxurious Gordon Guest House. Among the joys of the house were the two USB ports in the bedroom, which Martin later told us had been recommended by the tourist board and were usually found only at 5-star hotels. May everyone get on this bandwagon! So much easier than hassling with the adaptors that never work as expected. We had our last delicious breakfast and bid farewell to our hosts, hopped in the car and headed for Crathes Castle and its garden on the way to the airport.
As we drove in, we saw women encasing the trees in knitted and crocheted designs – yarnbombing strikes again!
Since the rain was holding off for the moment, we decided to start with the gardens. Wow. In the 1920s and 30s Lord and Lady Burnett (we never did figure out the family) expanded the existing gardens to make four garden rooms and a series of gorgeous borders in the Arts and Crafts style. After a very dry spring – everyone kept telling us that the past month had been nothing but sunny and delightful but too dry – they had a ton of rain in two days (note the sign). So everything was cool and drippy and gorgeous.
Close to the castle is this room, featuring topiary and a perfect green lawn. Close-up of the topiary here: We started by looking at the white border, and here is a closeup of the delphiniums.At the focal point where four paths meet is this ancient tree, then the June border that was in its glory. These lupins are a bit stiff and overdone compared to the wild ones in Maine, but they do make a show. Many of the cottage garden flowers in this border are no longer commercially available, making the border that much more important.
I was especially struck by the way they stake the plants, using what one of the gardeners told me was fishing nets though of a good thickness, unlike the black netting we get that does nothing but tangle. If you have a great swath of plants, it’s a good solution.
From here we scurried through the water garden, croquet lawn, red garden, gold and green garden. All beautiful, even those that were clearly not yet at their full summer glory. It certainly helps to have weathered stone walls and perfect edging. An old “dovecoo” makes another focal point. This really was one of my favorite gardens, quite traditional but quite stunning. So here are even more pictures of this amazing place.
After this, on to the castle. Unfortunately we ran into a large group of French tourists with a very loud leader, so we had to make our way through the first several rooms without looking at them in order to get ahead of the humanity. When we did find our way into the house, we appreciated the horn of Leys given to the family by Robert the Bruce and hung over the fireplace, the painted ceilings (reminiscent of the John Knox house in Edinburgh) and some of the textiles. The first image is crazy quilt chair seats (!), the second might be applique, the last might be stumpwork .But we never did connect with the family in the way we did at Craigievar. We were also aware of needing to get on the road, so we gave them short shrift. After a quick lunch in the castle cafe (and a tantalizing visit to the garden shop), we were on the road with the Vauxhall for the last time. Again the satnav took us on back roads – if only getting to Dulles were this scenic – but we got there in good time. A bit of confusion finding the rental car return caused a nice policeman to stop us, but he soon realized we were in need of help and he directed us back the right way.
We had a while to wait for the plane to Kirkwall, but at last we were boarding a small plane, quickly flying above the clouds, and just as quickly, and unexpectedly, hitting the ground again. Kirkwall is flat, wet, and cloudy so far. The brisk rental car man directed us to our little Ford Fiesta (such a comedown from the Vauxhall!),and we were on our way to the hotel.
The Orkney Hotel has several virtues: hot showers, strong coffee, and a central location. On the other hand, the bathroom is out of the 1960s complete with a yellowish light on a string over the bathroom sink, and a pervasive smell of damp or at least mustiness. But here we are, and it was not so bad (just compared to the Gordon guest house!). But there is much to explore in Orkney. Onward!