Archive for Lake

Return to the Lost Gardens of Penicuik

Posted in Castle, Caves, Gardens, House, Ruins, Scotland with tags , , , , , , , , on September 27, 2015 by mysearchformagic

It’s been well over a year since I made my first trip to the Lost Gardens of Penicuik, but I have thought a lot about this wild and wonderful place since that visit. Last week I was able to visit again, and explore more of its magical corners.

First on my list of things to see was Knightslaw Tower. Although it may look medieval, the tower was actually built in the middle of the eighteenth century by Sir John Clerk of Penicuik, an enthusiastic antiquarian with a taste for the ancient. When first constructed the tower could be seen from miles around, and dominated the rest of the Penicuik estate. Since its heyday, however, the tower has fallen into disrepair, and the high trees which have grown up around it hide it from the outside world. The result is a rather melancholy, but definitely quite magical ruin.

The magical ruin of Knightslaw Tower, Penicuik

The magical ruin of Knightslaw Tower, Penicuik

Next I walked on past the majestic ruins of the huge mansion of Penicuik House, built by Sir John’s son James in the 1760s, and into the valley below. Here I found the river Esk, which babbles its way down from here to nearby Roslin Glen, another of my favourite spots. Once over the river I crossed a field, heading uphill until I reached the Hurley Ponds.

The Hurley Ponds, Penicuik

The Hurley Ponds, Penicuik

The Hurley Ponds are another of Sir John Clerk’s creations, part of his ambitious plans to landscape his park at Penicuik. Once used as fishing ponds, they have now largely returned to nature, spookily quiet apart from the odd quack from the resident flock of ducks.

Sir John was obviously rather partial to a magical experience himself, and evidence of this can be found in his construction of the Hurley Cave, a rock-cut underground passage which leads from the side of the hills closest to the house into this secluded valley. The original entrance to the cave was over a bridge across the Esk, where a cascade waterfall was constructed to add to the sense of drama. Visitors would presumably have been guided through the cave with candles or burning torches, and half way down would have found a carved Latin inscription Tenebrosa occultaque cave, beware dark and hidden things. The other end of the cave emerges from a rusticated stone doorway in the hill, and can still be seen today.

The entrance to the Hurley Cave, Penicuik

The entrance to the Hurley Cave, Penicuik

Unfortunately vandalism and structural problems mean that the Hurley Cave has had to be locked up. Its heavy metal door does, however, have a large gap at the top which allows a glimpse of the dark depths beyond. I couldn’t resist sticking my camera into the gap and taking a picture. It offers an enticing hint of what lies beneath.

A glimpse into the spooky Hurley Cave, Penicuik

A glimpse into the spooky Hurley Cave, Penicuik

Much work has been done to consolidate and preserve Penicuik House and its estate in recent years, largely thanks to the hard work of the Penicuik House Preservation Trust. Apparently both the cave and the tower are on their list of works for the future, but restoring both will be an expensive job, and fundraising is ongoing. In the meantime I was happy to enjoy the overgrown, rather sombre mood of the lost gardens, and imagine the dingy depth of the Hurley Cave. I like to think Sir John would have approved!

The Hurley Ponds, Penicuik

The Hurley Ponds, Penicuik

For details on how you can support the sterling work of the Penicuik House Preservation Trust, click here.

Advertisements

Forteresse de Largoët, Morbihan

Posted in Brittany, Castle, History, Ruins with tags , , , , , , , , on June 19, 2013 by mysearchformagic

The entrance to the Forteresse de Largoët is to be found up a long, winding single-track road. At the end of this road stands a large gateway, a little house next to it decorated with carved rabbits. On the day that I visited the imposing gates were firmly closed. Luckily I spotted the small sign telling me that the castle was in fact ‘ouvert’, and when I rang the adjacent bell a man emerged from the shadowy doorway of the ‘rabbit’ house to sell me a ticket and let me in.

A large stone rabbit on the gatehouse of the chateau of Largoët

A large stone rabbit on the gatehouse of the chateau of Largoët

Next comes a long walk, past a beautifully dilapidated wellhead and along a wooded track.

A finely decorated wellhead on the way to the Forteresse de  Largoët

A finely decorated wellhead on the way to the Forteresse de Largoët

By the time you reach the ruins, you really will feel as if you are in the middle of nowhere. As a result, the huge scale of the castle’s towers comes as a shock as they emerge above the treetops – the main ‘donjon’ is immense, said to be the tallest in France.

The castle of Largoët

The castle of Largoët

A strange air of quiet surrounds the fortress. The atmosphere is disconcerting, rather sad, heavy with neglect and decay. As with many historic sites in this part of the world, the Forteresse de Largoët doesn’t get many visitors, its sense of abandoned isolation only adding to its magical aura. The lake which sits next to the ruins is odd, spooky even, with the bare branches of dead trees emerging from the dark water of its far shore. The castle’s donjon is now floorless, its damp interior thick with moss and lichen, but a spiral staircase inside one of the thick walls leads up, past many empty doorways, almost to the top of the crumbling tower. The views from up there are incredible, but definitely not for those who suffer from a fear of heights.

The mossy interior of the donjon of Largoët

The mossy interior of the donjon of Largoët

It’s only at the top of the stairs that you can really get a sense of the size of this place; in its heyday it must have been a Gormenghast-style warren of rooms, ante-rooms and corridors. Perhaps not surprisingly, there is a legend that a secret corridor links the castle with the nearby town of Elven, although the location of the tunnel’s entrance is now long-forgotten. In the 1470s, the castle’s most famous resident Henry Tudor, later Henry VII of England, was held as a prisoner here by Jean IV, Lord of Rieux for two long years.

Once back on the ground, it is worth taking a look at the exterior of the tower, with its intricately carved machicolations and elaborate window frames. The walls look rather unstable nowadays, scarred with a delicate network of cracks and crevices.

The impressive exterior of the donjon of Largoët

The impressive exterior of the donjon of Largoët

Although the castle, which also goes by the rather Tolkienesque name of ‘les Tours d’Elven’, was probably first constructed some time in the 11th Century, this keep dates from the 1300s. The impressive gatehouse and adjacent round tower, which has been more recently re-roofed and restored, were built about a century later.

Submerged trees along the shore of the lake of Largoët

Submerged trees along the shore of the lake of Largoët

After my visit to the castle I decided to explore further and take a walk around the lake, through the pretty woodland which surrounds it. I spotted an elegant heron sitting on one of the tree branches which jut out from the water; stock still and quiet as I approached, it suddenly took off into the air as I walked away. Its wide wings flapping gracefully as it took to the sky, the heron finally broke the silence of the place with a single harsh craw as is disappeared over the treetops.

An elegant heron sits above the lake of Largoët

An elegant heron sits above the lake of Largoët

As a suitably magical end to my visit, I stumbled across the ruins of the castle’s chapel, now choked with bushes and grass, its foundations hidden beneath the undergrowth. Only one gable end remains standing to any significant height, its wall pierced with the elaborate tracery of a gothic window.

The ruined chapel next to the castle of Largoët

The ruined chapel next to the castle of Largoët

http://www.largoet.com/