Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Deer stalking, Crag Abbey and the heir

A red deer stag

Deer Stalking: The Duke, Cyndi’s grandfather, invited us all to one of his hunting lodges in the Scottish highlands for a few days of deer stalking, what we call hunting in the U.S. Deer stalking is primarily a male sport, but I think he offered because he knew from an earlier conversation that I want to see his hunting lodge and he would have me where I couldn’t easily escape his amorous attention. I know that sounds conceited of me to say that, but he told me as much when he said it was extremely isolated and was I sure I wouldn’t mind being with him for that length of time. I asked him straight out what about his mistress, Penelope, and he said she would have to make do with my escort, Colin, for the time we were all at Crag Abbey, the 13th century ruin parts of which he converted to a hunting lodge. Cyndi said Red deer stags come in season on July 1st in Scotland, but a detail like didn’t stop the Duke from stalking on his own land. She said he routinely takes high profile guests hunting regardless of the season if there are quality animals to shoot. So, for the past several weeks Anya, Cyndi and I and our men have been enjoying more of the hospitality of the Duke. He was looking forward to some company in the field, especially of men with military backgrounds who understand that silence is a hunter’s friend and don’t need to carry on conversations while stalking. He also wants companions who are good shots as it’s a terrible bother to send a guide out to track and kill a wounded buck that got away because of a poorly placed shot.

The heir: His Grace’s son, John, Marquis of M …, who at 37 is taking an advanced degree in archeology at Oxford after years as an officer in the Royal Marines, joined us at Crag Abbey for deer stalking. His arrival was a surprise to all but his father and he is gorgeous! He has a beautiful hard body, is quite strong, has a great sense of humor, is an expert shot and is amazing in bed. Not necessarily in that order. After my last three hour session with his Grace (which, as this is written, was more than a week ago) he had to take a nitro tablet under his tongue and finally realized he has to reduce his bedroom athletics a bit, at least with me. And quite rightly I think since I clearly remember the Duchesses caution to me about not killing him during sex. That has left Penelope, his mistress, still with Colin, who is nominally my escort for our stay at the Abbey. So I became the intimate partner of Lord John who hadn’t brought a girlfriend with him. At lunch on the day Himself fell ill, John asked if I would like to have a tour of the Abbey and while the Duke had shown me around briefly I was anxious to be in the company of the handsome budding archeologist who offered to “slake my fascination with the chapel and other subjects of mutual interest”. In a later entry I will write more about my tour of the Abbey with John and especially the early Roman temple(s) over which the chapel was built.

Hunting rifles: Several years ago His Grace bought four hunting rifles from a London gun maker, J. Roberts & Son (Gunmakers) Ltd. He bought J. Rigby mountain rifles with 26 inch barrels bored for a 7x64 Brenneke cartridge that fires a 154 grain bullet at 2,900 FPS. All have Zeiss 3x12 VARI telescopic sights. One of the Rigbys is crafted as a left hand rifle to his Grace’s personal specifications and three have standard right hand actions for guests who didn’t bring their own rifles. His son, John, the Marquis, Fiona’s brother and Cyndi’s Uncle who will eventually inherit the Duchy, bought a similar left hand action Rigby 7x64 Brenneke. The first day we were here His Grace took the men out to a small range to let them fire the Rigbys to check the zeros and see what firing them was like. His gillies had been spotting deer during the previous week knowing that Himself was having guests to hunt and said they had found some lovely bucks. The five men have been out most days stalking and have had great results. The meat that doesn’t go to the Duke’s table is distributed to the villagers who work at the Abbey so none goes to waste. On the coast and in the valleys the temperature has been in the 60s (Fahrenheit) and at the Abbey the temp has been in the 50s and is often shrouded in low clouds in the mornings. So for us girls tights and legwarmers under jeans as well as anoraks are needed if we go out on the terraces and ramparts.

Crag Abbey: Begun by the Benedictines in the early 12th century as a place of refuge and contemplation it was overrun in the mid 13th C by the local Clan whose Laird then added greatly to its fortification. Built over a natural spring of fresh water the Abbey was never again captured by force, but due to its isolation its occupants were either starved into surrendering or it was bypassed. One of the Dukes ancestors came by the Abbey and the thousands of hectares surrounding it as part of the marriage settlement when he married the Laird’s only daughter. Even so an English Duke owning Scottish land has never set well with the local population even though the family has owned the Scottish estate for several hundred years and the surrounding villages are dependent on the estate for their livelihoods. So the estate agent has been instructed to go out of his way to get along with the villagers and surrounding landowners and (according to the Duke) that has significantly reduced any local discontent. Much of the fabric of the Abbey was left to deteriorate over the centuries, but the present Duke and his father before him reclaimed and refurbished a range of apartments and the original chapel which contains the Roman temples. From the upper stories the apartments have splendid views of the surrounding mountains and lochs and when the weather is clear even views of the Atlantic in the distance. In recent years the Abbey has been fitted out with modern conveniences and there is a large generator to power them all. Located in the mountains of Western Scotland the Abbey gets heavy rains from weather systems coming off the Atlantic and even in mid-summer the weather can be cold and damp since at the elevation of 2600 feet the Abbey is often in the clouds for days at a time. So the many fireplaces are kept lit throughout the year since central heating, while available, is insufficient to thoroughly warm the stone of the walls, even though tapestries cover the walls to insulate the rooms from most of the chill.

The Roman Empire and the Abbey: It was while at Ascot hearing the Duke talk about the Roman iconography in the chapel that caused me to ask Himself if I could see the chapel and hunting lodge. I was particularly interested in the mosaic images of Roman Goddesses in the floor of the chapel which is the part of the abbey that was the least damaged by neglect over the centuries. The part that archeologists have found puzzling is that the mosaics appear to be of Roman origin perhaps of the 1st or 2nd centuries CE, long before Christianity became the state religion of the Roman Empire. There are representations of four powerful Roman Goddesses; Venus, Diana, Minerva, and Juno, which together are said to be unique. The Abbey wasn’t founded until the 12th C and none of the founding documents of the Abbey exist to tell us why it was built directly over an earlier Pagan holy site, but it probably had to do with the location of the spring and in order to co-opt the beliefs of the local population in order to convert them to Christianity as was done with placing Christmas near the Winter Solstice to appease the Celts etc. That seems to have been what happened, but why the pagan mosaics weren’t destroyed or paved over by the Benedictines is a puzzle. During the Roman occupation of the Britain tribes from Scandinavia were actively raiding coastal communities in the British Isles so perhaps the original site was a mountain sanctuary from Scandinavian raiders of the time. The site hasn’t been the subject of proper scholarly study so this is mostly conjecture by the Duke.

The Abbey is far north of the Antonine Wall, a stone and turf fortification built by the Romans across what is now the Central Belt of Scotland, between the Firth of Forth and the Firth of Clyde (just north of Glasgow and Edinburgh). Construction began in AD 142 at the order of Emperor Antoninus Pius and the barrier represented the northernmost frontier of the Roman Empire. So perhaps they had outposts in the hills along the coast and pulled back to a more defensable position when the wall was completed.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Blog Archive

Lijit Search



About Me

My photo
Powys , Wales, United Kingdom
I'm a classically trained dancer and SAB grad. A Dance Captain and go-to girl overseeing high-roller entertainment for a major casino/resort