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The mystery of the stones – Craigh na Dun

Craigh na Dun, Lallybroch ( Midhope Castle) Outlander tours

Claire Beauchamp Randall never would’ve met her true love, if she hadn’t put her hands on a magical rock. Craigh na Dun, the site of an ancient stone circle in the Scottish Highlands, is an iconic place in the world of Outlander, 

In the very first episode, Claire visits Craigh na Dun to pick flowers while on vacation; moments later, she’s transported from 1945 to 1743 after tumbling through a Craigh na Dun stone that turns out to be a portal of sorts. Eventually, we learn that Claire isn’t the only time traveler on the show, and there are at least two other standing stone portals in the world.

Outlander‘s success has been great for tourism  in Scotland, where the majority of the show’s five seasons have been filmed. And while we’re all pretty clear on the fact that time travel isn’t possible, no one could blame a person for wanting to visit Craigh na Dun themselves…you know, just to make sure there’s not a Jamie-esque soulmate waiting on the other side.

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Scottish posters – clearance sale

“>melrose abbey poster for sale
Melrose Abbey poster

Castle pictures is holding a clearance sale of a range of 4 posters – Braveheart, Melrose Abbey , Stirling Castle and the House of Parliament London. Each poster is A3 size full colour glossy poster , 16.6 by 11.7 inches and are now avaiable for just £0.95 ( plus delivery ) . The Braveheart  poster features the Braveheart statue which used to feature at the foot of the Wallace monument .  The statue was controversial because of its resemblance not to William Wallace but to Braveheart star Mel Gibson. Pictures and text by David Rankin

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Top 5 stunning landscapes in Scotland

Scotland has an abundance of stunning landscapes to visit . This is my own selection of my favourite 5 places to visit .

1 . Glencoe

glencoe
Glencoe

Glencoe is a beautiful rocky landscape featuring the 3 Paps of Glencoe – giant mountains of solid rock. In the summer you might hear the piper in the car park playing a lament . When it goes quiet the silence is quite eery . Listen carefully and you might hear the wailing of ghosts from the Massacre of Glencoe.

2 Eilean Donan Castle

Eilean Donan Castle looks like a fairytale castle set on a little island in the middle of 3 lochs. The history of it is unique among Scottish castles and it actually goes back nearly 800 years . It has long been a favourite of photographers for calendar and postcard images

3. Loch Lomond

Loch Lomond , Scotland
Loch Lomond , Scotland

Loch Lomond is the largest stretch of fresh water in the UK . The scenery along the banks of the loch is legendary . In the summer it is a tourist honeypot . Ben Lomond dominates the eastern shore of the Loch

4 Black Mount

Black Mount Scotland
Black Mount Scotland

The Black Mount is a range of mountains stretching from Glen Orchy to Glen Coe, beside Rannoch Moor. The range features two Munros (Scottish mountains over 3000ft)

5 Buachaille Etive Mor

buachaille etive mor scotland
Buachaille Etive Mor Scotland

Buachaille Etive Mor is probably the queen of Scottish mountains. From the A84 the mountain looks like a giant rocky pyramid . It can look quite awe inspiring in the middle of the winter or on a sunny summer’s day .

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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

free castle e-cards

15 Scottish castles for sale

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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 .

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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 .

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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.

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Braveheart statue sent back to sculptor

William Wallace statue, Wallace Monument , Stirling
Braveheart - William Wallace statue, Wallace Monument , Stirling

The controversial Braveheart statue at the Wallace Monument in Stirling has been returned to sculptor Tom Church. The William Wallace statue has divided opinion equally between those who love it and those who hate it . Historians were outraged because of its remarkable resemblance to a certain actor Mel Gibson , star of the Braveheart film. That was taking historical inaccuracies to a whole new level. However tourists visiting the Monument loved having their picture taken beside it . The 13 foot statue was 12 tonnes and carved out of gold sandstone . A new visitor centre is being built where it stood in the car park at the foot of the Monument.Church said he had been inspired to create the statue, which took him five months to carve, after watching the 1997 film. Church said: “I know the purists didn’t think too much of it but the tourists absolutely loved it. I believe it’s rightful home is at the Wallace Monument. It was the ideal place for it. I think they were maybe a bit angry that some people just wanted their picture taken with the statue and didn’t bother going into the monument.”

So what has the Braveheart phenomenon done for Scotland ? I think it has had a great effect on tourism in Scotland. The film has encouraged lots of new visitors to come over here. Beyond that it has also played well with the SNP and supporters of Independence because it is just an epic , albeit  inaccurate , film which appeals to the emotions of anyone who wants freedom for their own country . The picture of the statue featured here is available as a poster from Castle Pictures.