Smith Mountain Lake Mystery Writer

Contemplations from a quiet cove on Smith Mountain Lake.

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Location: United States

I'm a Southern gal who loves life, my husband and our family (which, to date, includes 13 grandchildren). I enjoy being with friends and family. But I also like being alone and thinking up plots for future books. I've published two novels, both mysteries, and I'm working on my third. For more about my books, visit me at If you ever hear me say, "I'm bored," please get me to the ER immediately! Paddling my kayak and snapping pictures of the critters I see relaxes me. Beach music has the opposite effect--when I hear those old "doo-wops" I want to dance.

Monday, June 11, 2012


When we decided to travel to Scotland, I fantasized about discovering my ancestral castle, googled the "Ross" family name. I found a few sites on the web that looked promising, spent long hours studying them. I had thought about asking hubby Ron and traveling companions Joyce and Larry Horne if we could try ferreting out my roots, but then decided that would be selfish, so didn't ask. Besides, where I wanted to go was out of the way. If I'd known what lay ahead, I wouldn't have been so sorry to leave Glengarry Castle Hotel, a place I absolutely loved.

We'd driven about two hours when Ron and Larry announced we were going to look for Balnagown Castle, my castle, or whatever remained of it. I would have been thrilled for a crumbled wall, a grave yard, or a sign stating the history and "Balnagown Castle once stood here." Instead, when we rounded a curve we saw the sign below over double gates. I couldn't believe it.

We drove through the open gates. In the distance, through locked double gates, was the magnificent castle itself. I can't explain the emotions that ran through me. To the left of us stood a recently constructed building. I thought perhaps someone in the building could give me some information on the castle, so we opened the door and went inside. A lady sat at a desk in an adjoining room.

Poking my head around the door, I blurted, "I'm a Ross; my family's roots are here."

She stood, stared into my eyes for about ten really long seconds. "Would you like a tour?" she asked. "This is a private residence, so you may not go inside, but if security approves, a guard could give you a tour of the grounds." All I could do was nod.

She called security, and within five minutes John, one of the security guards, unlocked the double gates and told us to follow his car. I rubber-necked the whole way. In the security building big German shepherds and armed men stood at the windows.

Each clan in Scotland had a name and a chief; the rallying point for clan Ross was Balnagown in the Highlands. Ross is a Gaelic word for promontory or peninsula, and Balnagown guarded the peninsula called Easter Ross, a very fertile region protected on three sides by the sea. 

I'm standing in front of Balnagown Castle in my purple 
raincoat. I wore it a lot! Click to enlarge.

In the picture above and the one below, Larry and Joyce Horne and Ron and I posed with a copy of Smith Mountain Lake's wonderful "Laker Magazine." Read the "Laker Magazine" if you get the opportunity.

A view of the Italian garden behind the castle.  
Balnagown employs five full-time gardeners.

Guard John and I pose for a picture in light rain.

The original part of the castle built in the 1300s. 

The original castle, a fortress built in the 1300s, had only one door on the first floor, which made it easier to defend. As time passed and clans battled less frequently, the lairds (or their wives) added on to the castle.

Here are two pictures of the main gate, not one of the 
two we entered earlier.

After the last laird Sir Charles Ross died in 1942, the castle and the estate fell into decline. And then one day in 1972, Egyptian Mohamed Al Fayed drove by the castle, liked it, and bought it and the last 40 acres remaining of the estate. He started renovating Balnagown in 1973. My first thought after learning that this magnificent estate was no longer owned by a Scot bothered me--but only for an instant. If not for Mr. Fayed, the house probably would have become ruins. Over the years, he has bought more acreage so that this splendid property now has over 60,000 acres. More importantly, Balnagown is loved.

Hats off and three cheers to Mohamed Al Fayed for saving my castle. 

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