For our next trip to our backyard, we chose to do something a little different for us. Pamela and I joined up with a number of our friends from our Church, and stayed the weekend at a retreat at St. Drostan’s Church, in a small village called Tarfside. This quaint settlement is situated in the scenic valley of Glenesk, in the county of Angus. We looked forward to the fellowship that we were going to have, but it was a bit daunting not having wifi, mobile connection or even television, for the weekend. How were we going to survive?
The Church has a very interesting history, being built in 1879 near the site of where St. Drostan spent his later years in seclusion as a hermit. St. Drostan had sailed from Ireland to Scotland in the year 563, accompanying St. Columba, who is credited with spreading Christianity throughout Scotland. On arriving in Scotland, St Drostan made his way to Aberdeenshire, setting up and running a successful missionary centre in Deer, before deciding to retire to Glenesk.
The Glen that Makes its Mark!
After spending the night in the comfortable self-catering accommodation at St. Drostan’s, we ventured out in the unseasonably warm weather to explore Glen Mark. The open moorland of this valley and the Water of Mark, which flows through it, spreads down from the Cairngorm mountain range, joining with Glen Lee to become Glenesk, and provides a fairly flat, easy and scenic walk.
Our first stop on arriving at Glen Mark, however, was to inspect the little New Lochlee Kirk. For me, the graveyard, with its aging, monumental gravestones, and the scenery of the valley and hills beyond, gave this Church a magical element. We were surprised to find that this remote Church was actually open to the public, and we were heartened to learn that a charitable group, The Friends of Lochlee Kirk were successfully raising money for the repair and maintenance of this 214 year old building.
Water Fit for a Queen
Our group then carried on into the heart of Glen Mark, retracing the steps of Queen Victoria. The queen had set off from her home at Balmoral Castle in September 1861 on ponies and rode over the shoulder of Mount Keen down into Glen Mark. On the way, the royal party stopped at a water well called the White Well. Since that time, the well has been called Queen's Well, and a beautifully ornate crown like stone structure has been built over it. After a pleasurable walk, our little band of seven recreated the queen’s stop and had a well-deserved picnic of sandwiches and fruit by the well.
The combination of the walk, the fresh air, and a little touch of sunburn, pretty much tired us all out, and after a hearty communal meal together, we had a merited quiet night together in front of the warming coal fire back at St. Drostan’s.
The next morning saw us on the search for the Cross Stone on Rowan Hill. What was meant to be a short 15 minute walk from our accommodation actually took twice as long, as we walked passed the stone without realizing and had to double back! The Cross Stone is associated with St. Drostan, and legend has it, Robert the Bruce planted his standard on the stone before entering battle against the Red Comyn, the Earl of Buchan in the winter of 1306.
The Cross Stone lays in the shadow of the Maule Cairn which sits resplendent on top of Rowan Hill. The walk to the summit is rewarded with great views of the valley, and you can even get inside the monument. The Maule Cairn stands an impressive fifty feet high and was built in 1866 by Fox Maule, 2nd Barron Panmure. He and his wife had not children and he built the tower to commemorate the last of the Panmure line.
It was at this point that we said our goodbyes to our group, but before heading back home, we had one more walk to attempt. We headed back to the start of our walk from the previous day, but instead of heading towards Glen Mark, we chose to explore the neighbouring Glen Lee. The walk started with a view of the imposing tower walls of Invermark Castle. The castle was built around 1528 by Lord Lindsay, who owned Glenesk at that time. The castle is ruined and cannot be entered, but is well worth a photo or two.
Although not as sunny and warm as the previous day, we had a pleasurable walk along the Water of Lee. However, once we got to the source of this stream, Loch Lee, and out of the shelter of the forested valley, we were assaulted by the strong wind sweeping down the glen. What we hoped would be a scenic walk along the shores of the loch, turned into a bit of an ordeal, so the decision was made to head back and find a comforting cup of coffee! On our walk round the loch, however, we did find another interesting graveyard, with what looked like some ancient tombstones.
Sounding the Retreat
Our reward of coffee was to come at The Retreat in the small settlement of Glenesk. With it being the only café in the valley, The Retreat was understandably packed with walkers and day trippers. We found the staff very welcoming, but did find that the service was slow, and would advise visiting the café at more off-peak times. On the positive side, the site hosts the Glenesk Folk Museum. This small museum was packed with artifacts of local history, which we found very interesting and informative.
Pamela and I continued our journey back along Glenesk. Soon, mobile connection was made, and civilization reached. At first it was a relief, but the realization of a packed email inbox, Facebook traffic and Instagram likes, made us somewhat yearn for our weekend retreat.
Please join us for our next BESPOKE travel blog post when we meet a pack of Siberian huskies in Stonehaven, Scotland.
Until then, happy reading and safe travels!