Dornoch Cathedral + Dornoch Castle Sutherland

Highland Reel

Dornoch Cathedral Sutherland © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

In the year 2000, pop star Madonna had her son Rocco christened in Dornoch Cathedral the day before she got married to film director Guy Ritchie at nearby Skibo Castle. They divorced in 2008. In 2010 billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk married actress Talulah Riley in Dornoch Cathedral. They divorced in 2012. As a congregation of the Church of Scotland, which is Presbyterian, the church is actually not the seat of a bishop but retains its ‘cathedral’ title since historically it was the seat of the Bishop of Caithness. Previously, Dornoch was probably best known as the last place a witch was burnt in Scotland. The town is very smart with attractive sandstone buildings and a 15th century castle which is now a hotel.

Dornoch Cathedral Spire Sutherland © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

According to John Gifford, writing in The Pevsner Guide Buildings of Scotland Highland and Islands, Dornoch Cathedral is: “Much restored and partially rebuilt 13th century church of the diocese of Caithness. Gilbert de Moravia was made Bishop of Caithness circa 1223 and soon after began the erection of a new cathedral at Dornoch. The choir was presumably completed by 1239, when the bones of Bishop Adam were translated there from Halkirk, and Bishop Gilbert himself was buried there in 1245. William, Earl of Sutherland, is said to have been interred in the south transept in 1248, but the nave was probably not roofed until 1291, when Edward I granted 40 seasoned oaks from Darnaway Forest for the fabric of the church. In 1428 a papal indulgence was accorded to visitors contributing to the restoration (perhaps the rebuilding or reconstruction of the nave) of the church and to be ‘collapsed in its fabric, desolate and destitute and in need of costly repairs’. The cathedral was burned by the Master of Caithness and Mackay of Strathnaver in 1570 and the roofless nave’s north arcade destroyed by a gale in 1605. Repair of the choir and transepts was begun by John, Earl of Sutherland, and carried on by his brother Sir Robert Gordon of Gordonstoun (the Tutor of Sutherland) in 1614 to 1622, and further repairs made in 1714, 1728, 1772 to 1775 and 1816.

Dornoch Cathedral Fountain Sutherland © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

In 1835 to 1837 Elizabeth, Duchess and Countess of Sutherland, undertook what she described as ‘a plain and correct restoration’, reroofing the nave’s central vessel (but demolishing the remains of its side aisles) and fitting up the choir as a monument to her husband. Drawings for the scheme were produced by William Burn; but the Duchess, disliking his ‘modern gothic in bad taste and ‘useless plans of ornament’, dismissed him before work began, and the executed designs were by Alexander Coupar, the Superintendent of Works on the Sutherland estates, assisted by William Leslie. Advice was provided by Francis Chantrey and sketches by the Duchess. Further work was carried out in 1924 to 1927, when harling and plaster were stripped from the walls to expose their naked rubble to the gaze of the prurient.”

Dornoch Cathedral and Dornoch Castle Sutherland © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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The Queen Mother + The Castle of Mey Caithness

The Definite Article

Hoy Orkney Islands © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“That is possibly the funniest episode I have ever read,” emailed the much missed Min Hogg, Founding Editor of The World of Interiors, in response to a descriptive summary of a group visit to a certain castle in Sussex. Said summary included a luxury coach breaking down, a shuttered up gothic castle, a game septuagenarian scaling a battlemented wall, a mass trespass into the castle, a hungover hostess lying in a four poster bed… and then things went from bad to worse… Fortunately, a visit to The Castle of Mey is less turbulent.

The Castle of Mey Caithness View © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“It’s very romantic,” notes heritage architect John O’Connell, “and the walled garden is beautiful.” Teetering on the edge of the world, or at least the top of Britain, overlooking Hoy, the second largest Orkney Island, is the only private residence The Queen Mother ever owned. In August 1952, just widowed, she bought the derelict Barrogill Castle for a token £100 from a local landowner. It was love at first sight, and who could blame Her Late Majesty? It helped that her great chum Lady Doris Vyner just so happened to live next door, or rather next estate, at The House of the Northern Gate.

The Castle of Mey Caithness Coast © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Following a three year reconstruction, The Queen Mother spent four weeks every August and 10 days every October at The Castle of Mey, as she rebranded it, right up to her death in 2001 aged 101. She furnished it simply with purchases from local antiques shops complemented by a few family pieces. And a Linley occasional table. Curtains are draped below bathroom basins in that upper class domestic fashion. Prince Charles continues the holidaying tradition and stays in the castle for 10 days every July. The building dates from the late 16th century except for the double height front hall which was added in 1819 to the design of William Burn for James Sinclair, 12th Earl of Caithness.

The Castle of Mey Caithness Garden © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Castle of Mey Caithness Walled Garden © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Castle of Mey Caithness Glasshouse © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Castle of Mey Caithness Flowerbeds © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Castle of Mey Caithness Facade © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Castle of Mey Caithness Scotland © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Queen Mother's Castle of Mey Caithness © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Castle of Mey Caithness Side Elevation © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Elizabeth Angela Marguerite’s younger daughter wasn’t just so keen on The Castle of Mey. Despite having a bedroom named in her honour, Princess Margaret never slept in the castle, preferring the luxury of the Royal Yacht. The Queen Mother’s favourite colour, Phoenix Blue, is everywhere from picture frames and towels to her raincoat on display in the front hall. There’s a well stocked drinks table in the drawing room. “The Queen Mother’s best loved tipple was one measure of Gordon’s Gin and three measures of Dubonnet served with lemon and ice,” explains her close friend Major John Perkins. He’s still a regular guest at the castle. “She always had ice in drinks and used her fingers, claiming ice prongs were an American invention!”

The Castle of Mey Caithness Wing © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Queen Mother frightfully loved picnics,” he continues, “but when she formally dined in the castle, the seats on either side of her were called the ‘hot seats’ for special guests. At the start of the meal, everyone spoke to the person on their right and then swapped to the person on their left. That way no one was left out of conversations. She rang a bell for the next course to be brought out. Her three corgis would bark at the same time. After dinner, the gents would remain in the dining room drinking port, while the ladies would withdraw to the drawing room. If the gents lingered too long, The Queen Mother would start a rousing rendition of ‘O Come All Ye Faithful’! That meant get packing!”

The Castle of Mey Caithness Lawn © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Major adds, “The Queen Mother had a terrific sense of humour. She was highly highly intelligent. She met all the world leaders of her time except for Hitler, Mussolini and Stalin.” On décor, “The Queen Mother didn’t like suspended lights. She liked soft lamps which cast more flattering light and shadows. The castle is exactly as she had it as her home. We haven’t added posh stuff!”

The Castle of Mey Caithness Keep © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Caledonian Sleeper + Stromness Orkney Islands

Norse Pole

Orkney Islands Ferry © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Caledonian you’re calling us. We’re tartaned to the nines. This week’s Country Life confirms: “In August the Caledonian Sleeper fills with… denizens of the Highland season.” It’s certainly one of life’s more memorable experiences, enjoying a wee dram (one for the rail) in London Euston then wakening up while crossing a viaduct slicing through pine fringed glens. “The Scottish Highlands are the best for me ever darling,” shares leading hotelier Astrid Bray. “I last visited them in October when the evenings were still light. The pine trees were red with the sunset. I was blown away. I just like what I like. That’s really important. I love trekking round a loch!”

Stromness Orkney Islands Scotland © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Stromness Orkney Islands © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Our Highland fling is far flung as we’re off to the archipelago that is Orkney. First stop, Stromness, a vision of the past with its winding flagstone paved streets and 17th century houses dipping into Hamnavoe Bay. Orkney place names are wildly evocative from Hobbister to Grimbister. Rapness. Twatt. Voy and Beaquoy. Quoyloo and Quoyscottie. Backaland and Outertown are suitably rural. So is Gorseness. Whitehall isn’t as urban as it sounds. Brough of Deerness, Calfe of Eday and Knowes of Trotty suggest a sense of belonging. A whiff of Scandinavia is hardly surprising: Bergen is closer than London. Even the ferry terminal revels in splendid nomenclature: Scrabster. But we would walk 500 miles.

Stromness Harbour Orkney Islands © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Farr Bay Inn + Coffee House Bettyhill Caithness

FBI

Fair Bay Inn Bettyhill Sutherland © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

It’s Waverley meets Wuthering Heights. Rugged architecture for a rugged location. Black painted window surrounds like heavily applied kohl eyeliner add to its air of mystery. Farr Bay Inn was built as a manse precisely two centuries ago.

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Mary Martin London + DejaVu + Fashion

Working It

Mary Martin London Fashion © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Babes, every summer, just when the mercury’s rising, Mary Martin London is the star of Africa Fashion Week London and it’s not just her hotter than hot clothes that steal the show. She’s famous for mixing her own tunes for the models to strut their stuff to down the catwalk. Last year, she collaborated with D J Shack of Seven Wallace for her song ‘Article 10’. Inspired by the wedding of Harry and Megan, it features Mary’s own lustrous vocals: “Mary Martin London Article 10 The Royal Collection… How do I look? How do I look? Wow you look fabulous darling! If you got it flaunt it!” This year, Mary asked emerging Afrobeats musician Oluwande Ayodeji Oluwaga aka DejaVu to come up with a mega track. The Nigerian music artist produces beats for local and international artists. DejaVu says, “I’m unleashing my potential to be the well spring of music to the world!” Mary gave him the concept and DejaVu pulled out all the stops on the lyrics and rhythm. ‘Fashion’ is the result. “Gucci, Fendi, Mary Martin London, Givenchy, Balenciaga, Prada, rocking finest designer…” played at the catwalk to loud cheers. “You looking fresh and clean you are the one for me…” got a standing ovation. “Sexy body fine face like you…” Such was the incredible sensation that a major label, M I Raw Recordings, has picked up the track. M I Raw CEO Tony Portelli says, “As a label we pride ourselves on being truly global. We’re proud to present our newest release to the world. We’re confident you will appreciate the vocals, song writing and high energy projected from ‘Fashion’. It’s a first in multiple ways for the company to mix an Africa Fashion Week London vibe with DejaVu’s creative artistry. We expect this single to do big things in the scene and beyond!” Yeah! It’s the ultimate case of multi hyphenates in a hyper talent pool.

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Dunrobin Castle + Garden Sutherland

Crock of Gold

Dunrobin Castle Beach © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

On a wild and windswept Sunday morn, we’re wandering through the 189 rooms, grand and not so grand, of the largest house in the Scottish Highlands. Dunrobin Castle, a fairytale in stone as mostly imagined by the Houses of Parliament architect Sir Charles Barry and later by the Edinburgh architect Sir Robert Lorimer, stands proud on a precipice. Far below, between the south elevation and the north coast, framed by a forest of violet shadows, lies a garden of nature tidied: clipped trees, manicured bushes and shaped hedgerows. Distracting, no doubt. Dizzying, definitely. Yet somehow, we’re transfixed by a didactic sign in the servants’ hall. Prosaic, probably. Poignant, possibly.

Dunrobin Castle Sutherland Garden © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Dunrobin Castle Parterre © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Dunrobin Castle Garden © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Dunrobin Castle View © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Dunrobin Castle Terrace © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Dunrobin Castle Wall © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Dunrobin Castle Lawn © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Dunrobin Castle Topiary © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Dunrobin Castle Border © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Dunrobin Castle Flowerbed © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Dunrobin Castle Flowerbeds © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Dunrobin Castle Flowers © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Dunrobin Castle Stone © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Dunrobin Castle Scottish Highlands © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Dunrobin Castle Garden Front © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Dunrobin Castle South Elevation © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Dunrobin Castle © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Dunrobin Castle Oriel © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Dunrobin Castle Sitting Room © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Dunrobin Castle Bedroom © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Dunrobin Castle China © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Dunrobin Castle Portraits © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Dunrobin Castle Silverware © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Dunrobin Castle Tartan © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Dunrobin Castle Taxidermy © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

“Fire. In order that the Household Servants should be instructed in their duties in the event of fire, I direct that the following rules be observed: Every Indoor Servant is expected to make himself or herself fully acquainted with these rules, with the positions of the fire alarms, chemical extinguishers, fire hydrants etc, and to act with the utmost speed. If the fire discovered appears to be more than can be quelled by an extinguisher, the alarm should be given by the cry of ‘Fire’ and by sounding the Castle ‘hooter’ from the nearest point. This is done by breaking the glass front of any of the alarm boxes. This is to be followed by ringing the fire bell, using the steel rope which is accessible at any point of the Clock stairs. Any servant, hearing either of the foregoing alarm signals, should immediately ring the electric bells within the wall case with sliding glass cover opposite the door of Housekeeper’s Sitting Room, and the Telephones, as per notice in the Telephone box. Servants, other than those engaged in sending out the last named fire calls, should at once proceed to the scene of the fire and act as the situation requires, which may mean collecting of more fire extinguishers, buckets of sand, smothering cloths, or running out hosing from the nearest hydrants, as per Drill instructions, and carry on extinguishing operations until relieved by the Fire Brigade. Sutherland.”

Dunrobin Castle Uniform © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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St Margaret’s Hope + Water Sound Orkney Islands

Harbour Lights

St Margaret's Hope Water Sound Orkney Islands © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The Ancient Greek traveller Pytheas of Marseille claimed you could glimpse the edge of the world from Orkney Islands. It certainly feels like a possibility in this arcadian Orcadian setting. St Margaret’s Hope with its population of some 500 souls is the third largest town. There are just a couple of main streets: Front Road and Back Road. Crowstep gabled houses with canted corners and chamfered dormers look over the quiet Water Sound. Romantics in search of the Sublime would not be disappointed by the Islands of the Tribe of the Wild Boar.

St Margaret's Hope Front Road Orkney Islands © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

St Margaret's Hope Orkney Islands © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

St Margaret's Hope Orkney © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

St Margaret's Hope Scotland © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

St Margaret's Hope Houses Orkney Islands © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

St Margaret's Hope House Orkney Islands © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

St Margaret's Hope Gable Orkney Islands © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

St Margaret's Hope Cottage Orkney Islands © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Lynnfield Hotel + Restaurant Kirkwall Orkney Islands

Freighted for Heaven

Highland Park Distillery Orkney Islands © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

A sea of chairs fills the drawing room. And somewhere at the core of Lynnfield Hotel is the 1790s manse of Kirkwall Cathedral. In 1902 Walter Grant, owner of the adjacent Highland Park Distillery, bought the house for his daughter and son-in-law. Mr Grant lived at Highland Park House next door. The house was doubled in size. During World War II it was requisitioned as an officers’ mess. In 1947, Lynnfield Hotel was born. A quadruple pile hipped roof of pyramidal complexity reflects the complicated history of the building.

Lynnfield Hotel Orkney Islands © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Lynnfield Hotel Kirkwall Orkney Islands © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Dunnet Head + Dunnet Beach Caithness

Been There

Dunnet Head Caithness © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

The most northerly tip of the British mainland.

Dunnet Beach Caithness © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

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Cheyne Walk London + The Doors

The Pursuit of Love and More

Cheyne Walk London Doors © Lavender's Blue Stuart Blakley

Well, if it was good enough for Marianne Faithfull

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