Tuesday, April 14, 2009

In the land of the Picts

The weather today has turned somewhat chilly and with grey clouds overhead; a herald to the probability of wind and rain. However, this is of no concern as we are resolute to venture into the land of the Picts. This morning breakfast is a combination of orange juice, cereal, scrambled and poached eggs, sausage, toast and hot coffee.

Our fast broken, we decide to follow the Pictish trail into the Angus and Dundee Shire. One of destinations is the town of Brechin, the former royal burgh in Angus, Scotland. This is also the home of the Pictavia Visitor Centre which is dedicated to covering the Pictish culture. However, we had familiarised ourselves with other places en route, which we hope would yield hidden gems.

As we are waiting for the oncoming traffic to pass, (after a short stop to fuel the car,) we noticed a solitary black rabbit feasting on the grass verge just outside 'Frankie and Benny's', the restaurant we dined at last night! Maybe, rabbits are a sacred animal in Scotland? Leaving the rabbit to its gorging, we head NE along the A94 Perth-Forfar road towards Brechin.

Even though the day is overcast, somehow the green pastures appear iridescent in the distance. The landscape is contoured with protuberances and sinuosity's, and gentle as it is stark at times. We comment on how reminiscent the landscape and dwellings are akin to the Lakes District in England, swathed in hillocks and valleys. Many of the farms we see have tall and unusually stone constructed silos, angular or circular in shape and topped with battlements, as with castle keeps and towers! Perhaps these structures are purposefully built '

As we travel onwards we pass through, or bypass towns with familiar, and not so familiar names: Scone (NSW); Balbeggie (?); Burrelton (?); Woodside (VIC/WA); Coupar Angus (???). Although Coupar Angus has no correlation to any town in Australia, it was the site of one the major
Cistercian abbeys during the Middle Ages. Regrettably, only architectural fragments remain as testament to its former glory. So - there is a touch of trivia for you!

Our first stop is at the township of Meigle, and its museum of Pictish carved stones. The museum is adjacent to the parish church, which has a interesting cemetery. Many of the churches and/or cemeteries we've visited in Scotland which contain tombstones on the verge of collapse, have a warning sign for visitors - "WARNING - DANGEROUS TOMBSTONES" - attached to the fence or gate. However, the tombstones in the Meigle churchyard have yellow warning tape wrapped around them. Many of the capped plots are askew, which may suggest some form of land subsidence.

Apart from this nonsense, the
Meigle Sculptured Stone Museum is a treasure house of awe, containing a permanent exhibition of twenty six carved Pictish stones. The exhibits are represented by grave markers, standing stones and recumbent graveslabs, all cut and carved from sandstone. Since sandstone is easily eroded through weathering, the museum provides an excellent capsule to preserve these masterpieces. The stones are ornate in the artistry as simplistic in the detail. Many of the exhibits are early Christian with highly decorative crosses on one face, whilst on the other face are found symbols, hunting scenes and animals. As we absorb what we see, we discover there are over carved stones in the direction of our travels. Time marches on, so we leave Meigle to find the sculptured stone of Eassie. On the way back to the car we chat to locals who have the most gorgeous gardens - ever so friendly!

Eassie is a sleepy hamlet nestled in a valley some four miles north of Meigle, consisting of a number of bungalows, a primary school and a chapel ruin and cemetery. The chapel was dedicated to Saint Fergus, a monk who worked at nearby Glamis. Eassie's notoriety lies in the existence of a singular, though ornate, sculptured stone - 'The Eassie Stone". The sculpture is located in the SW corner of the ruined chapel, and preserved within a glass enclosure. Typical of the other sculptured stones at Meigle, the Eassie stone has a Celtic cross ornately carved on one face and rustic images, symbols and animals on the other.

Considering we must be back in Perth by 4pm, we must push on. Oh, why 4pm? Well, we need to rendezvous with a glazier, at the B&B, who is going to replace our front windscreen on the car. We sustained a stone chip in the said windscreen, which has gradually developed into an ever lengthening crack (....shades of Billy Connelly, here?). As our vehicle is due for its annual M.O.T. (Ministery of Transport Motor Vehicle Registration Certificate), we must have the glazing replaced.

Forward with leather, as we continue towards the village of Glamis. Apart from Shakespeare making reference to Glamis in his tragedy, 'Macbeth', this village is noted for the location of nearby Glamis Castle. This edifice is now the home of
Earl and Countess of Strathmore and Kinghorne; at one time it was the childhood home of Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon a.k.a the Queen Mother. The castle is reputed of suspected hauntings...... Glamis castle is open to the public, although, we opt to admire the architecture from a distance and press on with our quest.

We continue onwards to Brechin by taking the A90 motorway, and regrettably circumnavigating the town of
Forfar. Well, time is a premium commodity today...we can't just dilly-dally!

Eventually, we arrive at Pictavia in Brechin and attend to our priorities: ablutions and food - and in that order! For lunch, we both decide upon having the steak pie, roast potatoes and vegetables. The pies are baked in deep ceramic pie dishes, containing a delicious filling of steak and gravy, (lots of steak and little gravy,) capped with a puffed pastry lid.... Mmmm - YES, SIR! However, before we can eagerly attack the meal, we must wait for a supply of forks! It appears the cafeteria has had a run of visitors, with a similar purpose - food.

The utensil issue relieved and lunch demolished, we make our way to the
Pictavia Visitor Centre. The centre has to be experienced first hand to appreciate its impact. It relates the story of the ancient Pictish tribes, a warrior class of people who occupied Angus nearly two thousand years ago. It provides a hands-on timeline, offering the visitor with an insight into the evolution of the Scottish nation, from the Roman invasion of 79BC through to the birth of the Kingdom of Alba 900AD. Maria and I become immersed in the audio-visual displays, audio stations, iconic rubbings and exhibits. It is here we discover the existence of four other sculptured stones at the town of Aberlemno, which is in our homeward direction. As we leave the exhibition, we enquire of the gent, (who sold us our entry tickets,) for directions to Aberlemno. He cheerily surrenders the information and in a serious tone advises us to be mindful of a dangerous corner when viewing the stones. Homeward? - mindful of our pending rendezvous, we leave the visitor centre and quickly scrutinise the retail area before heading off.

We follow the directions provided by our retainer, whereby we become disorientated! Where in the hell are we and where is Aberlemno? We make our way back to the main road and continue on, where we come across a signpost pointing towards the Twilight Zone... no, Aberlemno. (A little further than the directions we had earlier received!)

Eventually we arrive at our destination and our persistence is rewarded. Three of the sculptured stones stand as silent sentinels on the road's edge, as reminders of a bygone warrior age. The fourth stone is situated in the Aberlemno church grounds, surrounded by a low iron edging. This stone has the ornate Celtic cross sculptured on one face, while the other face has a high relief battle scene and believed to depict the
Battle of Dunnichen.

After this brief though enlightening encounter, we leave in the direction for Perth, and the glazier.

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