Tag Archives: castle

Day 4: The Scottish Deer Centre – Touring Scotland with Ciara Ballintyne

Scottish Deer Centre
Kilconquhar Castle Estate

Kilconquhar Castle Estate

Today was the day the guys went to play a round at St Andrews Links. They had an early tee-off, so Mum and I had a leisurely check-out with the girls (during which they saw their one and only squirrel of the entire trip), then drove into St Andrews. We had an understated breakfast at a cute little cafe I don’t recall the name of, then headed off to the Scottish Deer Centre.

Scottish Deer Centre

Not exactly the most riveting of tourist attractions, but when you have small children, sometimes sacrifices need to be made. We don’t have a lot of deer in Australia (some, but not a lot), but our local equivalent involves wildlife centres where you can feed kangaroos and cuddle koalas. We’ve done that a lot, so deer was at least a nice change of pace. We even learned that in the UK “elk” means “moose”, while in Canada “elk” is something entirely different. I had no idea.

The “authentic Scottish atmosphere” (more on that later) closed in before we’d even done a full circuit, and we ended up huddled in our raincoats trying to chivvy the kids off the play equipment. On our hurried escape, we did see the otter being fed (something I can probably do without seeing again – they are not so cute at feeding time) then received the call that the men were done with golf. It was off to our rendezvous point – Loch Leven Castle.

Otters at The Scottish Deer Centre

I should note here that if you like castles a lot, then on a trip to Scotland (even if only for a few weeks) it is well worth your while to get an Historic Scotland pass. It basically costs you less than the entry fee to Stirling Castle and Edinburgh Castle and everything after that is free! Loch Leven Castle is an Historic Scotland property, so off we went.

Alas, when we arrived at the carpark, the rain had become quite steady. Did I mention Loch Leven Castle is in the middle of the loch? I did walk down to the shore in the rain, but couldn’t see anything. Since the castle is accessible by boat, we decided not to venture out in the weather. I guess that gives me something to put on the list for my next visit! Instead we stopped for lunch in Kinross, then drove on to our next accommodation – Dalnair Castle Lodge in Croftamie, and our home for the next week.

Dalnair Castle Lodge is like the gatehouse of a castle that has been extended and converted into accommodation. It was one of the best places we stayed, with two upstairs bedrooms located in the turret. Yes, an actual turret. Also arrowslits in case you come under attack or siege. Every traveller’s greatest fear… Dalnair Castle Lodge Master Bedroom

Day 3: Caerlaverock Castle – Touring Scotland with Ciara Ballintyne

Caerlaverock Castle

Caerlaverock Castle

This is it—the day we go to see the castle that inspired Caisteal Aingeal an Bhais from In the Company of the Dead. It was almost like stepping into the book.

Dad was with me, so I had someone to haul around, pointing at things saying “this is where Lyram’s suite would have been, but the floor has long since rotted out” and “this is the stairwell that led to Ellaeva’s room” and “look, I think I can see the murder holes in the barbican!”

It was definitely a highlight of the trip, though I hesitate to say it was the highlight because it happened so early. But maybe it was.

Caerlverock Castle courtyard as viewed from the tower

View from the top of that turnpike stair the kids made me climb

Driving to Caerlaverock is interesting because it’s basically a castle in the middle of nowhere. You’re driving through all these fields, down narrow, windy roads with not much to see on either side because of high walls, high fences, high hedges, or any combination thereof, and then suddenly this castle appears in the distance. That in itself is kind of incredible.

Secondly, it’s triangular. If you missed my earlier post on this castle when I was in planning phase, this castle is unique in the United Kingdom (possibly all of Europe) as it only has three walls forming a triangle shape fronted by a double gatetower at the top point where the entrance is located. The shape itself is fascinating. It’s also a moated castle,

A signed copy of In the Company of the Dead

A signed copy of In the Company of the Dead

with some evidence that there was at one stage a second wall and/or moat, making this a concentric-ringed castle as well. You can still see the mounds of the moats/walls outside the castle.

Caerlaverock is a really good castle for kids, although mine made me climb up this ruined turnpike stairway that is so narrow you literally cannot do it without the help of the rope strung up the central pillar. Consider yourself warned. Also, there is a great playground for kids, and a decent café.

While I was there, I signed five copies of In the Company of the Dead, so there are now five limited editions in existence signed at the castle. One of them I have already given away to one of my biggest fans, but there is another up for grabs in my Christmas Giveaway.

Entering Scotland

Tank crossing

Tank crossing – because that’s a sign you see everyday

English countryside - somewhere north of York

English countryside – somewhere north of York

Scottish Border

Welcome to Scotland

Because I started in the middle, I kind of forgot to say this was the day we drove from York to Scotland. The English countryside, which I’d not driven before, isn’t really much like Scotland at all, and I was a little disappointed because I wasn’t getting that “homecoming” feeling I had last time, and then the countryside started to get steeper and rockier and then bam! There it was.

We also drove through Penrith, England. This is interesting because I was born in Penrith, Australia, and my parents still live there. In fact, Mum one day had a guy come in the shop where she works and ask her where the castle was. She gave him a funny look and told him she thought he had the wrong Penrith. We missed the castle, but Mum and Dad saw it in passing and assured me there is, actually, a castle in Penrith. Just not our Penrith.

I hung out with the camera trying to get a shot as we crossed the border, with some success.

After we saw Caerlaverock Castle we drove to Fife and spent the night at a nice little cottage at Kilconquhar Castle not far from St Andrews.

Me signing a copy of In the Company of the Dead at Caedrlaverock Castle

Me signing a copy of In the Company of the Dead at Caerlaverock Castle

Castle Design and Sieges Poll: I Need Your Help

Castle Design


I’ve just started writing In the Company of the Dead, an epic fantasy novel for adults, and I’ve belatedly realised I need to do some research, something I don’t usually find I need to do.

See, the story is set in a castle. Nearly the whole story. A small castle. So I think I need to have a very clear visual myself of the setting in order to be able to describe it, because there’s not a lot of space here for me to get creative with, and if I make a mistake, that also means not much space to make excuses with.

I had already decided to loosely base the castle on Caerlaverock Castle in Scotland, purely because I stumbled across it and thought it was pretty. It has the advantage of being really defensible, too, which is important since the reason the whole story is set in the castle is because it’s under siege. And we want it to be a long siege or, you know, the story would end prematurely…

So here’s where I need your help.

Firstly, I’ve got most of my castle mapped out, but I have some empty space, and I’d like your thoughts on what else should be included. Here’s what I’ve got:
  • Guardrooms
  • Well room
  • Kitchen
  • Servery
  • Bakery
  • Servant’s Quarters
  • Banqueting hall
  • Withdrawing room
  • Lords’ suites
  • Gatehouse
  • Library
  • Guest rooms

What else do I need? I’m thinking a small barracks, which was noticeably absent from the plans of Caerlaverock Castle, either because it was in the ruined section of the castle, or came under some other heading like ‘public rooms’ or ‘private rooms’. At least, I assume it must have had somewhere for guards to sleep. 

What about stables? My people have horses, but it could either be inconvenient having the horses in the castle during a siege, or a source of food (blargh…). 

Anything else?


The other thing I need your help on is the siege. Caerlaverock Castle was famously defended for 36 hours by 60 men against 3000. Not long, but the fact that such a small number held out for any length of time against such odds is incredible. At least, the attacking king was impressed, and I daresay he was more qualified to judge than I.

So my castle is being attacked by 1000 soldiers. We’ll say they have some small siege equipment, but nothing too huge. As you can see, the castle is surrounded by a moat, which is surrounded by a marsh, so the only approach is front on, at the gate. I want the siege to stretch out for some time, but the odds to be bad enough that the attackers will likely fail before help arrives.



Please do contribute any other thoughts in the comments below. I’m also open to suggestions for the name of my castle, as it remains nameless for the time being.