A windy wedding at Shieldhill Castle

Shieldhill Castle

A return to winter

After 6 consecutive days of beautiful, warm, sunny sunshine in early April, it was inevitable that the amazing spate of weather would come to an end. After all, this is Scotland. As part of our stoic presbyterian outlook on weather, we’re always looking over our shoulders for the next change in the climate.

Personally, I spent the last week, part-jokingly and part-seriously, asserting that “this was our summer for 2015”. In my defense, it wouldn’t be the first time.

However, instead of just clouding over and spitting with rain as per usual, the weather decided to revert back to winter for one last outing and threw everything it had at us. Despite the (mostly) sunny skies, the heat of the sun didn’t have a chance to reach ground level as the powerful gusts of wind blew away the warmth.

Instead, the wind chill brought the air temperature back down to a more modest 2-3 degrees celcius, and nothing about my woolen outfit, my neoprene fingerless gloves nor my synthetic waterproof piper’s cape did anything to retain one iota of bodily warmth.

This may not have been the case across all of Scotland, but it certainly was down in South Lanarkshire at the beautiful and tucked-away sanctuary of Shieldhill Castle near Quothquan, where Arlene and Damien were married.

The journey

Being the first time I’d played a wedding at Shieldhill Castle, I didn’t know what to expect. What would I see en route? What would the place be like? More importantly, would Google Maps take me to the right place?

The drive from Dundee to Shieldhill Castle mostly took place on motorway and followed the winding A90 through Perth and down the M90 to Edinburgh, which climbs over the hills of Perth and Kinross and descends down to the Forth Valley.

The wind whipped around the car, making it feel as though I might actually achieve flight at times. Despite the obvious strong gusts of wind that seemed to want to flip the car over, Transport Scotland were kind enough to remind all the drivers of the strong winds by stating “Caution: Strong Winds” on the overhead signs. Thanks for the heads up.

A few pockets of monsoons and soon I was off the motorways driving into uncharted territory: the country roads of South Lanarkshire. Miles of unspoilt farming countryside and landscape that had been carved away by the numerous small burns lay around me. Simultaneously beautiful and barren at the same time.

Odd, I noted again, that the lowlands of Scotland are actually among the hilliest of the country!

I arrived at Shieldhill Castle and stepped out the car, immediately wishing that I’d put on my thermal under armour. But there was no time to pine over the warmth of the car. It was time to be the wedding piper. Game face on.

Shieldhill Castle

Shieldhill Castle is an unassuming tower house sitting in its own expanse of flat countryside. With the odd farm here and there in every direction, it offers stunning views of the surrounding area.

Unfortunately its flat topography led to what felt like hurricane-force gusts tearing their way across the land. It’s fair to say that I spent a great deal of my performance time with my rain cape over my face… Even the single stream fountain in the pond struggled to have a straight trajectory.

Soon it was time for the ceremony, just as the clouds rolled in. I met Arlene and her bridal party inside the castle and piped them around to the chapel at the rear of the castle.

Arlene looked stunning in her dress, but sadly had to temporarily remove her veil lest it disappeared into the abyss, taken by the grasping hands of the wind. All of us stood bracing against the wall of wind and looked as though we’d been sandblasted.

Shieldhill Castle

Arlene and Damien

After a short spell standing out freezing, we dutifully loaded into the chapel. The wooden doors of the chapel were seemingly original to the building, and whilst one happily clammed shut, the other was less enthusiastic about closing. One of the poor girls providing ushering duties had to stand, gripping onto the second door for dear life, to ensure that the wind didn’t whip it open again.

That said, the wind did its utmost to open the door, and the ceremony was punctuated with the rattling and occasional slamming of the door against the frame.

Arlene and Damien’s ceremony was another humanist affair, with the officiator using a mixture of humour, ceremony and sentiment to deliver what was a very personable and very lovely proceeding.

The string duet performed a few numbers, including the Prince of Denmark during the signing of the register, and after a few more words from the celebrant it was soon time to brave the cold again.

In the intervening time, however, the weather decided this would be the perfect opportunity to send us horizontal halestones. Thankfully, however, these stopped just as Mr and Mrs McMullen emerged from the chapel. Those of us foolish to wait outside before this point were made to regret the folly of our decisions…

After a few more tunes myself, I duly ran inside for a hot drink before playing again, and it was my return to the outside that allowed me to see the falconry show.

The falconry show

I can honestly say that I’ve never been at a wedding with a falconry display as part of the day. Local business Rhuallan Raptors brought along four birds of prey – an owl, a kestrel, a hawk and a peregrine falcon.

It was well worth standing in the freezing cold wind to witness. What beautiful animals they were, and who didn’t seem to mind the horrendous winds either!

It was here that I learned that peregrine falcons are the fastest animals on earth, being clocked at around 230mph during a dive. Did you know that? This certainly became obvious when I attempted to film the peregrine – Mason – but struggled to keep up to speed with him.

Kestrel at Shieldhill Castle

Rhuallan Raptors’ Kestrel, Duchess

Rhuallan Raptors' Hawk

Rhuallan Raptors’ Hawk

Rhuallan Raptors' Peregrine Falcon - Mason

Rhuallan Raptors’ Peregrine Falcon – Mason

After my body temperature plummeted to below a usable level I retreated indoors and huddled up in a small drawing room to warm up.

Wedding piper at Shieldhill Castle

It wasn’t long before I was performing my wedding piper duties again and piped in Mr and Mrs McMullen to their dining table and toasted to their good health. Then I was on my way back home again.

Fortunately, I had the good luck to take a wrong turn on the way back out, and ended up driving through Biggar (it was a lot smaller than I imagined) and eastwards towards Edinburgh. Had it not been for this, I’d never have had the opportunity to see the stunning countryside of the northern Borders and southern Lothian.

There truly are some amazing little places along the route, including West Linton and Dolphinton. The road ultimately winds it way around the Pentlands into southern Edinburgh, which is always a feast for the eyes.

I sincerely hope to go back to play another wedding at Shieldhill Castle some day. Just hopefully not a windy one!

Until a little later,

Rich

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