Should Eilean Donan Castle be featured in Monopoly?

eilean donan castle 19 pictures, e-cards
Eilean Donan Castle e-cards

Board game Monopoly is published in a new Highlands version in October . The question is , what properties should feature in the new game ?  Eilean Donan Castle must surely qualify as an iconic building and the most photographed castle in Scotland . The publishers have decided to give the public a say and anyone can vote for their favourite location or landmark between now and April 2 nd . The famous board game, celebrating its 75th anniversary this year , will retain its usual format.

The ownership of property has historically been a controversial issue in the Highlands since the days of the clearances  and it is sure to cause heated debate when voting starts in Inverness.

More than 30 spots are up for grabs before the new game, in English and Gaelic, goes on sale. The Highlands have been described as the playground of the rich and famous with many well known personalities owning Scottish castles , including Mohammed al Fayed ( Balnagown Castle, Easter Ross ), Cameron Mackintosh , painter Jack Vettriano ( Easterheughs Castle )  and Peter de Savary ( the luxury Skibo Castle resort and the venue for Madonna and Guy Ritchie’s wedding ) . Many castles in the Highlands have been sold in recent years . Duncraig Castle was sold last year . Eilean Donan Castle has iconic status as one of the most photographed castles in Scotland . Urquhart Castle , on the shore of Loch Ness and its famous monster, should get serious consideration .

Other suggestions include the Glenfinnan Monument , Inverness Castle, the Cairngorm ski centre, Ben Nevis and the iconic Caledonian Canal . MSP Peter Peacock  nominated Assynt in Sutherland,  bought by crofters from private owners, to replace the prestigious Mayfair.

Maybe Highland Monopoly should feature Sabhal Mor Ostaig, the Gaelic college in Skye, as part of a Gaelic element. It could not be bought and sold, but anyone landing on it would have to learn at least one new Gaelic word in order to be able to move forward again.

A board spokeswoman said: “Gaelic is very much a part of the identity of the Highlands and its place names and we suggest areas such as Culloden and iconic structures such as the Glenfinnan Viaduct”

Cameron Mackintosh’s pocket castle is on the shore of Loch Nevis .The building commands the point between Tarbet Bay and the main loch, midway between the two tiny villages of Tarbet and Kylesmorar, looking due west to the distant Cuillin mountains on the Isle of Skye. Inaccessible by car,  it is pretty difficult scrambling miles over the headlands by foot.  Mackintosh had bought himself some abandoned estate lodge in this remote spot, perhaps last extended by an Edwardian laird, and spared no expense in bringing it back to life.

Does Eilean Donan Castle qualify as an iconic building in the Highlands . Vote now in our online poll

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Dunnottar Castle pictures

Dunnottar Castle one, scotland
Dunnottar Castle one , Scotland

Dunnottar Castle could be called a hidden gem amongst the plethora of Scottish castles . It is not very well-known but it has a fascinating history including visits from William Wallace and Mary, Queen of Scots.The castle must have the most spectacular location in Scotland , sitting on a  rocky promontory on the east coast of Scotland just outside Stonehaven , about 15 miles from Aberdeen . The word impregnable was probably invented for this castle. It is surrounded on all sides by a sheer cliff . Entry is by a tunnel through the cliff . Once you actually reach the top the views are stunning. In the 12th Century Dunnottar Castle became a Catholic settlement with the first stone chapel being consecrated in 1276. According to “Blind Harry”, a 15th Century poet, whose epic poem was an inspiration for the 1996 film “Braveheart”, William Wallace set fire to this chapel with a garrison of English soldiers taking refuge inside. The current chapel was built in the 16th Century.Dunnottar Castle was home to one of the most powerful families in Scotland, the Earls Marischal, from the 14th century when Sir William Keith, the 1st Earl Marischal, built his Tower House, also known as the Keep.  The Earl Marischal was an office bestowed on the Keiths by James II. The role was one of the three great offices of State, along with the Constable and the Steward.  The Earl Marischal had specific responsibility for ceremonial events, the Honours of Scotland and for the safety of the King’s person within parliament. Consequently it was not unusual for the monarchy, including Mary Queen of Scots, to spend time and stay at Dunnottar.Nowadays you can get married in Dunnottar castle , although you do so at your own risk since there is no shelter in the castle buildings .

Growing threat of image rights grabs

Photographers have to be aware of possible misuse of their images. Nowadays there is a growing threat of image rights grabs , mainly from competitions organised by magazines and book publishers.The scenario is straightforward. A photo competiton is announced with the winner getting published in a book or magazine. However if you read the small print a different story emerges. Chris Barton wrote on his blog about a Great British Life competition . The small print reveals “”By submitting any material to Archant, You automatically grant Archant the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use, reproduce, modify, edit, adapt, publish, translate, create derivative works from, distribute, perform and display such material (in whole or part) worldwide and/or to incorporate it in other works in any form, media, or technology now known or later developed for the full term of any rights that may exist in such content.”The BBC , Sky and other television companies have done a similar thing with their requests to viewers for their pictures of news events. If you send them a picture you are also giving them the right to publish it wherever they want without any payment .

HDR screensavers , tools for creating HDR photos

Eilean Donan Castle 314 screensaver
Eilean Donan Castle HDR screensaver

HDR photography is great way of getting a new perspective on what you can do with your own images . There are many ways of creating HDR photos , including Photomatix and and Photoshop . Photomatix is still the best tool for making HDR pictures as far as I am concerned . I used it to make my first HDR screensaver . I have just started trying out HDR PhotoStudio2 from Unified Color. The basic interface has a limited number of options compared to Photomatix .Unified Color has announced that HDR PhotoStudio, its High Dynamic Range software package formerly available only on the Windows platform, is now available for the Mac. The software is compatible with Intel systems running Leopard and Snow Leopard and requires at least a 2.5GHz dual core system with 2GB of RAM (4GB is recommended). HDR PhotoStudio gives photographers control over the colors within an image, a tool set that helps them address the effects of merging multiple exposures, and an improved workflow, the company says.
“In response to requests from photographers, we are excited to introduce HDR PhotoStudio to the Mac faithful,” said Alfred Zee, CEO of Unified Color Technologies. “With HDR PhotoStudio, Mac users can finally produce full-color HDR images that they envision, without concern that their dynamic range or colors will be clipped or shifted by applications constrained by traditional narrow gamut color models. With our technology, photographers can unlock the full color spectrum while preserving a realistic look and feel to their images.” HDR PhotoStudio’s 32-bit floating-point technology and Beyond RGB color space is designed to accurately depict and edit all the colors the human visual system can recognize. While the current evolution of HDR photography has often been characterized by oversaturated and unnatural-looking images, the makers of HDR PhotoStudio say their software enables photographers to provide a more true-to-life look for their HDR images. “Most other offerings are forced to reduce image quality to bring an HDR photo into a color range it can manage, often losing image data and clipping the full scope of colors in the process. While the current evolution of HDR photography has been dominated by oversaturated and unnatural-looking images, mainly due to these software limitations, HDR PhotoStudio enables photographers to unlock their complete photographic vision,” the company explained. The program’s tools aim to address some common difficulties in HDR photography. These include a halo reduction slider to fight the haloing problem of HDR images; a patented HDR noise reduction technique; the Veiling Glare adjustment designed to cut down on image haze from compounding lens glare; a Color Tone Equalizer which allows simultaneous management of saturation in six basic color channels; and a customizable recipe button to save macros. HDR PhotoStudio supports Unified Color’s native BEF file format which enables efficient HDR image compression, so photographers can easily manage and archive the large files, according to the company. The package includes a BEF-converting Photoshop plug-in, which enables the final HDR image to be applied to a Photoshop project. The program also supports RAW files from all the major camera manufacturers as well as TIFF, JPEG, BMP, and OpenEXR formats.
Available for immediate download via the company’s Web site, the Mac version of HDR PhotoStudio is being offered for an introductory price of $100 throughout the month of February. After that, the price goes up to its regular $150.

The secret castle , the farmer and the judge

edinburgh castle screensavers
Edinburgh Castle ( not the secret castle)

If you want to build your own castle and the local planning laws prevent it , what do you do ? Well, you could do what a farmer did – he built his castle and hid it for 4 years behind straw bales . Robert Fidler (sic) thought he could not be prosecuted after 4 years for breaking the planning law . Unfortunately a High Court judge took a different view and told him to demolish it .

A High Court judge ruled that Robert Fidler, 60, who sneakily built the luxury home – complete with ramparts and a cannon – deceived the local planning authority and was not entitled to benefit from the deception.

Mr Fidler, 60, from Surrey in southwest England, hoped to get another chance at gaining planning permission to keep his dream home.

He moved into the massive castle with his wife Linda and their son Harry in 2002 and successfully hid it from local authorities for four years by stacking up straw bales.

He took away the bales in May 2006 because he thought that after four years, his new home was immune from planning enforcement controls.

But the local council issued a notice in March 2007 requiring that it be demolished on the grounds that the building was erected without planning permission.

A government planning inspector rejected Mr Fidler’s appeal in May 2008, saying the removal of the straw bale camouflage constituted part of the building works.

The inspector said Mr Fidler could not rely on the four-year immunity period and must demolish the building.

The court considered whether the removal of the hay bales and tarpaulin was, in the eyes of the law, part of the ongoing building operation.

Ruling that it was, judge Sir Thayne Forbes said: “In my view, the inspector’s findings of fact make it abundantly clear that the erection (and) removal of the straw bales was an integral … part of the building operations that were intended to deceive the local planning authority and to achieve by deception lawful status for a dwelling built in breach of planning control.”[poll id=”1”] Continue reading The secret castle , the farmer and the judge

Stirling Castle project reveals royal court life

Historic Scotland is currently engaged in a £12 million project to return the royal palace within the walls of Stirling Castle to how it might have been in the mid-16th century.New research has revealed the cosmopolitan character of the Renaissance Scottish court at Stirling Castle .

The palace will reopen to the public in 2011 as a new Scottish visitor experience. Freelance historian, John Harrison, has been investigating original documents .Mr Harrison’s source is The Bread Book, an account of who received loaves from the royal kitchens throughout 1549 when the palace was the main residence of Scotland’s queen mother, Mary de Guise , mother of Mary , Queen of Scots . Mary, Queen of Scots was born in nearby Linlithgow Palace and she was   only 9 months old when she was crowned Queen of Scotland in the Chapel Royal in Stirling Castle on September 9, 1543. On most days a loaf was granted to the Morys – or Moors – who Mr Harrison believes were probably either black Africans or Arabs originating from North Africa.

“This is a fascinating glimpse of the diversity of the royal court at Stirling in the mid-16th century. It was quite cosmopolitan at the time, with the French Mary de Guise at its head, and surrounded not just by Scots but by people from Spain, the Rhineland and what is now Belgium. There were a few English, but they were mostly prisoners. Just who the Moors were, and what they were doing, is difficult to say. They were quite low in the court hierarchy, but were part of the household and getting bread at royal expense.”
Hints have survived that there may have been Africans in Scotland even earlier. There is a poetic reference by Dunbar to a woman who has been assumed to be – ‘the Lady with the Meikle Lips’. Such references are mostly rather uncertain, and may have other explanations, and the importance of The Bread Book is its clarity at a time when record-keeping was still relatively thin. Just as fascinating is what The Bread Book adds to our understanding of the way the court was run, and who had access to the queen. The evidence suggests that rather than acting like many of the Tudor dynasty in England and taking her main meals in private, deep within the network of royal apartments, Mary de Guise would dine in the Queen’s Outer Hall.

“Quite a wide range of people had access to her, not ordinary farmers but lots of people who were fairly well-to-do, which is important as she was working hard to build and protect the interests of her young daughter – Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary de Guise was an intelligent, decisive woman and a smart operator.

Eilean Donan Castle pictures at night screensaver

Eilean Donan Castle pictures at night 31456
Eilean Donan Castle at night , HDR photo

Eilean Donan Castle is one of my favourite castles in Scotland , mainly because of the stunning location and ample photo opportunities .  My picture of the castle at night is an HDR photo which is now available as a screensaver. The castle can be photographed from 3 sides . Eilean Donan means Island of Donan ( a religious figure from the 12 th century ). Eilean Donan was Clan MacKenzie’s most important stronghold from the 13th Century until it was destroyed in 1719 by 3 English frigates attacking the Spanish garrison .

Robert the Bruce was given refuge in Eilean Donan Castle by John MacKenzie, Second of Kintail when he was being hunted by the English at the beginning of the fourteenth century. Above the entrance to the castle there is a Gaelic inscription which translates as : As long as there is a MacRae inside, there will never be a Fraser outside. Inside the courtyard is the famous Murchison Stone with an inscription about John Murchison of Auchtertyre who was killed in the Battle of Sherrifmuir in 1715. In the upper floor inside the castle there are six bedrooms named Loch Alsh,Loch Long, Eilean Donan, Ballimore, Loch Duich and Conchra. There is also a panel with the names of the constables ( guardians ) of the castle carved on it.
Eilean Donan Castle was originally built in 1220 and owned by the MacKenzies of Kintail. The MacRae Clan who settled in the area came from the Beauly Firth where they had protected the Clan Fraser.They acted as bodyguards to the MacKenzie chiefs. Although there was a number of disputes, the MacKenzies held Eilean Donan right up until until the 16th century. The MacRaes first became Constables of the Castle in 1511 with a lot of control over the surrounding area. A feud between the MacKenzies and the McLeods of Dunvegan, over the disputed claims of Donald Gorm MacDonald to the title of Lord of the Isles, came to a head when he attacked the Castle with 50 galleys. He was shot and killed by Duncan MacRae with a single arrow. The Castle was garrisoned by Government troops but later retaken by the Jacobites before the Battle of Sheriffmuir.

Snow covered landscape – the big freeze in Scotland

Blackmount , Scotland
Blackmount in the snow , Scotland

Scotland is in the middle of the longest cold spell for 40 years . NASA has released a satellite image of Scotland and it is totally white.While this is causing problems for many people , as photographers it is an opportunity for us to get some great pictures. On Thursday I went up to Blackmount and Glencoe. It was the first time I have ever seen Blackmount totally covered in snow . The loch was frozen over and it was a total whiteout. Further up the road I stopped at Buachaille Etive Mor to take some pictures. As soon as I got out of the car I felt the bitter cold . I walked towards the mountain to take some pictures and within 3 or 4 minutes the tips of my fingers were numb. I quickly took some pictures and headed straight back to the car.The temperature must have been sub-zero. I continued along the A84 to Glencoe . Unfortunately the sun was behind the paps of Glencoe by the time I reached it and it wasn’t ideal for pictures. I took a couple of shots and headed back to Blackmount because I knew there were more pictures to be had there. As soon as you got off the road the snow was about a foot deep. The sun was shining and the landscape looked like a winter wonderland. I took quite a lot of pictures including a set of 4 which I am going to put together for a panoramic image in Photoshop. I also recorded some
video of the scene . This is probably the best I have seen the Highlands in the snow for about 2 years[poll id=”1″]

New video screensavers – Falkirk Wheel

Just over 5 years ago I uploaded a video of  the Falkirk Wheel and since then it has received nearly 225,000 views online . I have now decided to release a unique video screensaver of the Wheel . My video shows the wheel turning and transporting a canal boat from one canal to the other . I have speeded up the video as it takes about 5 minutes for the whole transfer to take place . The Wheel is one of the Millennium projects funded in Scotland.The Millennium Link was an ambitious £84.5m project with the objective of restoring navigability across Scotland on the historic Forth & Clyde Canal and Union Canal, providing a corridor of regenerative activity through central Scotland. A major challenge faced, was to link the Forth and Clyde Canal, which lay 35m (115ft) below the level of the Union Canal. Historically, the two canals had been joined at Falkirk by a flight of 11 locks that stepped down across a distance of 1.5km, but these has been dismantled in 1933, breaking the link. Completion of The Millennium Link project was officially marked by Her Majesty The Queen on 24 May 2002 at The Falkirk Wheel. I have also published stock videos of Scotland on my stock pictures website

Edinburgh Castle stays top of visitor attractions

Edinburgh Castle
Edinburgh Castle

Edinburgh Castle remains the most popular visitor attraction in Scotland according to figures released by Historic Scotland .Edinburgh Castle had more than 580,000 visits in the four months to the end of August, a 7% annual rise. Stirling Castle was the second most popular of Historic Scotland’s sites – with over 228,000 people over the same four months. The top 10 attractions also included Skara Brae, Iona Abbey and Fort William. All saw a rise in visitors over the year before.The main reasons for the increase are the Year of Homecoming and the fact that the weak pound made Scotland an attractive holiday destination for Europeans.

Kari Coghill of Historic Scotland said: “Our attractions enjoyed a good summer right across the country. The 2009 Year of Homecoming campaign was clearly a major help as it brought the whole of our tourism industry together to focus on the common goal of attracting visitors by promoting all that’s best about Scotland.
At the same time we obviously benefited from the fact that a weak pound made Scotland an attractive destination for Europeans. But we have also been doing a huge amount to market all that Historic Scotland has to offer, and the good value it provides, and that has seen our membership numbers pass 100,000 for the first time.” Historic Scotland is one of 2 main agencies in charge of Scotland’s castles , the other one being the National Trust for Scotland. more Edinburgh Castle pictures