An Ancestral Adventure in Garmouth, Spynie Palace, Elgin Cathedral & Dingwall

On the morning of the 6th of May, Lindsay and I were sitting at the breakfast table at our B&B, Skerry Brae discussing our plans for the day.  We had come here to visit Spynie Palace and Elgin Cathedral nearby.  Spynie Palace was hosting a special event that day starting at noon and we planned on attending that and then afterward head to Elgin Cathedral.

Since it was still quite early, I got to thinking… “You know Lindsay, we’ve driven every inch of this northeastern coastline, except for the part between here and Spey Bay.  What do you say we drive over to it before we go to Spynie, then we can say we’ve driven every mile?”

“Sure, why not?” he replied. “We’ve got plenty of time before we need to be at Spynie, let’s do it!”


After breakfast, we checked out, put our bags in the car and drove the route, which only took us about 20 minutes. Before we knew it, there we were sitting at the edge of Spey Bay and the beach at a little village called Kingston enjoying the view to the east…


…and the west.


Afterward, we drove back through the village and enjoyed the view of Spey Bay, where the River Spey meets the North Sea.


We drove back through the rest of the very small village and immediately came to another small village called Garmouth.  We noticed a building sitting up on a hill and we both thought it was a church so we went up the hill to investigate, thinking there might be a churchyard attached. Much to our surprise, it wasn’t a church, but rather the school!


We slowly drove through the quaint little village, noticing some interesting buildings…


…and eventually found the church, but it wasn’t a church any longer, but rather someone’s house!


After we drove through the rest of the village we started leaving town when Lindsay said, “You know, I think one of our great uncles died in this town if my memory serves me well.” He quickly checked his ancestry files on his phone, and sure enough, he was right.  Our great grandfather’s brother, James MacDonald Frew, who was the Chemist in Dingwall, had come to this village where his in-laws lived at Poplar Villa.  While he was there, he passed away from tuberculosis at the young age of 33.

Instead of leaving town, we turned around to see if we could possibly find the house, Poplar villa.

We started driving back into town when we came across a woman painting her garage and Lindsay told me to stop and ask her (since she’s a local) if she happens to know where Poplar Villa is. Amazingly she did and pointed us down the street just a short distance – about 3 houses further down!

We parked the car and walked along the street. As we strolled, I happened to notice this sign on the house just inside the gate! Ka-ching! We found it!



The white painted side of the house used to be a ‘shop’ attached (and accessible) to the house.

It was so much fun to find it!  Love these ancestral “finds!” Another piece of the puzzle put into place.

As we walked back to the car we noticed this little park and sensory garden and had a look around.  Right there on the bulletin board was a map of the town! It even lists the Poplars, verifying our find!


We also found this darling little bronze statue…


After that little adventure, we went traveled the short distance to Spynie Palace.


On each side of the walk up to the Palace, we spotted wild yellow primroses growing and the freshly plowed and planted furrows of potatoes.



We came to visit Spynie Palace because they were holding an event that was of particular interest to me.


Alexander Stewart, “The Wolf of Badenoch,” was my 18th great grandfather.  He was one of the sons of King Robert II of Scotland.  His brother, Robert, was Robert III, King of Scotland.  Alexander was a nobleman, but rather a troublemaker, and developed quite a reputation with all of his dastardly deeds, including the burning of Elgin Cathedral in 1390!  The Palace was hosting an event that day, and I thought it would be interesting to attend.  Perhaps, I would learn more about this dubious ancestor.

They had all kinds of medieval tents set up depicting the types of food people ate, how they made paint, the arrows they used, the way they dressed… It was quite informative.






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About 1 o’clock they took us into the Palace and gave a demonstration on how a Knight is dressed by their Squires, starting with them in their underwear!  It was rather hilarious actually, and yet informative just the same.


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Afterward, we walked around the Palace a bit to have a look around the ruinous building.


The event was mostly geared toward children, and the next event was going to be the kid’s army against the Knights, so we decided to head out and go visit Elgin Cathedral just down the road a few miles.

When we arrived and parked the car, we noticed a big bus of tourists had arrived just before us, so we decided to stroll over to the Biblical gardens nearby passing the Bishop’s House along the way and let the tourists go through before we ventured into the Cathedral to explore.


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The Biblical gardens were quite pretty to stroll through and spend a bit of time in…



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We entered through the gift shop…


paid our entry fee and were soon standing before the magnificent cathedral spread out before us.



The first part we explored was the two tours near the entrance


We entered the arched doorway on the left tower and found a really great exhibition on carved stones depicting the Bishops of Moray which had been rescued from the rubble of the ruins.


IMG_1927Then we entered the next doorway which led us to the spiral staircase.  The stairs were made with “recycled” headstones as you’ll see in the video below.  The staircase winds up through the various levels of the tower all the way to the top, an affords access to the other tower.

Each level housed more examples of carved stones. Below are some examples of what we found.




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At last, we came to the very top of the tower and could view the landscape all about us. There were some interpretive signs on display.  (The one directly below, mentions my dastardly 18th great grandfather and shows a picture of his tomb at Dunkeld Cathedral that I found two years ago.)





Once down below again, we walked around the graveyard and found some interesting headstones.



The fellow above was a “Glover.” I think it is interesting how a lot of the old stones depict the professions of the deceased through its engravings.

Below, standing tall on the corner of the building, to the left of the arched doorway, is the tallest stone!


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Next, we entered the Chapter House…





Just before we finished our tour, we entered the ground floor of the second tower, on the right, to view yet another display of carved stones…






Here is another mention of my 18th great grandfather, Alexander Stewart…this day has been full of reference to him!



Once we were done touring Elgin Cathedral, we continued our travels west toward our ancestral hometown of Dingwall.

map from Elgin to Dingwall

We had worked up quite an appetite so we also included a stop at Brodiecountryfare for a bite to eat. We split an Angus cheeseburger.  Yum! We did manage to resist the wonderful looking fruit cream puffs and tarts but oh don’t they look yummy too!


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Brodiecountryfare not only has a great cafe, but it is also filled to the brim with all kinds of merchandise to purchase for decorating your home, clothing, gifts, etc.  In the cafe, they had these huge big watercolor paintings of landscapes in Scotland that I quite admired. These were massive, filling up an entire wall with just one picture.


They also had some other smaller ones of animals I particularly enjoyed as well…


It’s hard to resist the depictions of “Hairy Coos!”


or these whimsical depictions of a hare and baby owls!


Our next stop was Dingwall to visit our good friends Pat & Ian Macleod. As we approached the town we caught a glimpse of Ben Wyvis just northwest of town and then a preview of Dingwall down in the valley.


We had plans to take Pat out to dinner as a belated birthday present. Before I left home in April, I had made a thread stitch portrait of her and Ian on their wedding day. I gave it to her when we arrived and when she opened it up, they seemed quite pleased.


We had a wonderful meal together at The Cottage, Pat’s favorite restaurant.


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That night we stayed at Tulloch Castle in Dingwall.  We usually stay at the National Hotel but this time we decided to splurge a bit and check out the castle which neither of had done before.


We entered and got checked in to our room which ended up being at the very top with a little window overlooking the town below!



We slept very well after that event-filled day of visiting coastal villages, Spynie Palace, Elgin Cathedral and celebrating Pat’s birthday.  The next morning we enjoyed a very nice breakfast in the dining room before heading back home to Aberdeen. I chose the Eggs Benedict and Lindsay opted for the Full Scottish Breakfast!


IMG_2266After breakfast, and before leaving town, we had one more stop to make.  We headed to St. Clement’s church to visit our great, great grandparents, Thomas MacNaughton Frew and Christina Rose Frew gravesite as well as her parents right next to it, George Rose and his wife Jessie Dallas. A visit to Dingwall isn’t complete until I visit their graves…


When we arrived back in Aberdeen later that day, we got to celebrate another birthday! It was Lindsay’s grandson, Jack, who was celebrating his 18th birthday.  It was so great to see his whole family together and to get to visit with all of them.



Great company and great food too! The perfect ending to a really great adventure over the weekend!


Attitude of Gratitude ~ I am so lucky to be able to visit Scotland over and over again, and each time making new discoveries about my ancestors! There is always something new to learn and to discover and I am so grateful for the opportunities to explore the clues with my best buddy – Lindsay!  We have so much fun together going hither & yon!

Postscript 5/28

When it comes to genealogy, Lindsay’s like a dog with a bone.  He wasn’t completely satisfied that the house “Poplars” was indeed the house where our great grand uncle passed away.  He’s been doing a bit more sleuthing in the Census records the last few days.  As a result, he actually found “Poplar Villa” where James (our uncle) actually passed away.  There WAS a difference between “the Poplars” and “Poplar Villa” after all.  With the help of Google maps, we finally discovered the actual location.

Below is a picture from Google showing the area of the beach area of Kingston/Garmouth.  The arrow on the left shows the place where I took a picture of the coast looking east and west at the beginning of this post.  After we took that picture, we got back in the car and drove east along Beach Road.  Along the way, we actually passed Poplar Villa! Its location is denoted by the arrow in the middle of the picture.  We continued on to the right side of the picture where I took a picture of Spey Bay, before heading back up through the village of Kingston into the village of Garmouth.

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Also, thanks to Google street view, we were able to capture a couple of pictures of the house as viewed from the street complete with the name “Poplar Villa” prominently displayed next to the door.  Good sleuthing Lindsay!  I love your attention to details and getting it absolutely correct!

Author: Claudia Frew

Adventuresome, independent, and fun-loving 68-year young American great-grandmother who loves to travel; often going solo!

One thought on “An Ancestral Adventure in Garmouth, Spynie Palace, Elgin Cathedral & Dingwall”

  1. Great Post Claudia – lots of information for those not able to visit these sites in person. Combination of photos and video clips particularly enjoyed. Cant wait for your next set of adventures (:-)!


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