A grand house and grounds near the Saltash estuary. Parts of Port Eliot are extremely old – there are fragments dating from the 4th, 9th, 10th and 13th centuries, but most of the house dates from a makeover by Sir John Soane in the 18th Century. It was previously known as Port Priory. The estuary water used to be closer, but was diverted by a dam in the 18th century.
A notable feature of the contents is a series of family portraits by Sir Joshua Reynolds. They belong to the Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery, having been accepted in lieu of death duties, but remain in the house on condition that they are available for viewing on 100 days per year. There are a number of fine rooms with contents including valuable furniture – the Morning Room, Drawing Room (library), Big Dining Room and the Round Room. I don’t recall seeing the Conservatory annex.
The Round Room was designed by Sir John Soane and is considered one of his outstanding achievements. It is painted with a 20th century mural by eccentric artist Robert Lenckiewicz, which is regarded as his masterpiece. It depicts dozens of people known to the Eliot family and is an outstanding work. In the same room is a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, restored and presented like an art exhibit.
A look on Google Satellite makes the house plan, with its two almost separate blocks, clearer.
I found that all the house guides (stewards) were knowledgeable and enthusiastic. The house is still a family home, and visitors may see family possessions lying around – and the family dog. There are extensive grounds, which I did not have time to fully explore.
Visiting – the house is about 200 yards north of St Germans village on the B3249. Approaching from this direction you will come on an entrance with gateway and lodges forking to the right, at a small car park. The pedestrian entrance is here. You could park here and walk down past the church, as the house (behind the church) is much closer than it looks. I’m still not sure what they expect car-borne visitors to do – apparently there is another entrance and car park 1Km further on, to the west, which you’d come on first if approaching from the A38. I visited on a day of low visitor numbers (they do have an annual literature festival), and not finding anyone to ask, I drove through the gate and parked in front of the house. There was plenty space and nobody objected. Important Notice: The owner of Port Eliot is in negotiations to sell the house to a trust run by Prince Charles. The implications for visitor access are unclear, but the interior will no longer look like a family home. As with privately owned mansions in general, the message is: Visit It While You Still Can.
For interior photos see Port Eliot website.
Bolsover Castle was built in the 17th century by the Cavendish family as a country retreat. It replaced the ruins of an earlier castle on the site. The Little Castle was begun by Charles Cavendish in 1612. His son William inherited in 1617 and added the Terrace and Riding House ranges, making the castle a place of aristocratic reception, entertainment and pleasure.
William fought for the Royalists during the English Civil War but having been given command of Royalist forces he suffered a humiliating defeat at Marston Moor and fled abroad. It appears that the terrace range suffered substantial damage during the Civil War. William returned in 1660 and built the riding house range, also rebuilding the state apartment.
William was an enthusiastic horseman and invented the art of ‘menage’. Wm. Cavendish’s son Henry inherited in 1676, and under him Bolsover suffered a decline as interest shifted to Nottingham Castle. The Terrace Range was unroofed by 1770.
In the 19th century the Little Castle was let as lodgings.
There is a lot to see at Bolsover Castle. The riding house range is visible across the outer bailey, and at certain times displays of horsemanship take place inside. At other times the interiors can be viewed.
The Terrace Range is a ruin, but there are various rooms to inspect, and also a series of ruined kitchens at basement level. The outer terrace gives great views over the plain below.
The Little Castle, a miniature Renaissance mansion in the shape of a Norman tower, has rooms on three floors, and a kitchen area in the basement. Each floor has several rooms of varying sizes, which retain some of the original decoration, including notable wall paintings and ceilings. Representative furnishing has been installed in a number of rooms. The Little Castle is the highlight of the tour.
The Fountain Garden is surrounded by a wall with walkway (recently restored) and has an elaborate fountain at its centre.
Scotland Street School was designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh and operated for many years as a school for the city’s children. It closed as a school in 1979 and is now operated as a museum of the story of education in Glasgow during the 20th century.
The building is a must-see for fans of Mackintosh, being designed both inside and out in his distinctive style. It was built between 1903 and 1906 for the School Board of Glasgow. Mackintosh had to incorporate certain standard requirements such as separate entrances for boys, girls and infants, a drill hall, teachers’ rooms on each floor, raked classrooms and electric lighting. He also had to incorporate a cookery room.
Mackintosh produced two sets of drawings for the school. One set was approved by the school board and the other set, with different detailing of tiling scheme, windows, doors, stair railings and drill hall, given to the contractors. The school board did not find out till 1905 and after heated correspondence Mackintosh had to revise his designs to something more acceptable. (This sheds a different light on Mackintosh as ‘neglected genius’. If he was known to behave like this with clients, it is not surprising that he did not get much work.)
The Museum’s permanent collection includes a Victorian classroom representing the appearance with raked floor much as built in 1906, a World War II classroom still with raked floor, a 50s/60s classroom with flat floor and brighter colours, the cookery room restored to its 1906 appearance, and the Mackintosh room with information about the building of the school.
There is also a temporary exhibition space, hosting an exhibition for “Wildlife Photographer of the Year” when I visited.
All three floors of the building can be explored, and most rooms are open.
Around the back the original divided playground can be seen.
The combination of architecture and museum make this building well worth a visit.
Admission is free (donations encouraged). The Museum is opposite the Shields Street underground station and a pay car park (parking fee £5). If you mention at the museum desk that you came by car you might get a pass-out for the car park.
National Trust for Scotland
The Hill House was built in 1902-3 with Charles Rennie Mackintosh, arguably Scotland’s most famous architect and designer, as architect. It was commissioned by the Glasgow publisher Walter Blackie, and remains a remarkably complete example of Mackintosh’s unique vision. It is also widely acclaimed as a work of art and design associated with the Art Nouveau movement at the turn of the 20th century.
Though very modern for its time, the house does not entirely turn its back on tradition, for some of its details evoke the spirit of old Scottish castles and tower houses.
Parts of the interior decor were designed by Mackintosh’s wife, Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh, a talented artist in her own right.
The house was originally run with the aid of several servants, and had only one private owner after the surviving Blackies sold it. It was acquired by the NTS in 1982, and they have gradually returned the house to its original appearance.
The entrance passage and hall incorporates a change in level and has elaborate rectangular lampshades, originally lit by gas, now electricity.
To the right of the entrance is the library, containing many Blackie publications. The drawing room is a large room with a bay window facing the Clyde. The fireplace is made of small putty-coloured tesserae with oval decorative panels. Above it is Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh’s gesso panel depicting a sleeping princess in her bower. There is also a writing desk designed by Mackintosh.
The Dining Room has dark walls with a lighter frieze and ceiling. None of the furniture was designed by Mackintosh.
Beyond the hall are the service quarters.
Upstairs are an Edwardian bathroom and a number of bedrooms. The main bedroom is L-shaped and has a barrel ceiling over the bed. The walls are stencilled and copies of Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh’s silk hangings hang over the bed. In the upstairs east wing rooms, traces of the original decorative schemes have been uncovered.
The house can be reached by car or train. It is a must-see if you are interested in Mackintosh or art nouveau. There is a cafe in the service wing. Thumbnails (no interior photography).
Dumbarton Castle, on the Clyde near Glasgow, has a recorded history going back some 1500 years. In the dark Ages, the rock was the capital of the British kingdom of Strathclyde. It was besieged by Vkings in AD870. A medieval castle was built by Alexander II of Scotland in the 1220’s against the Norwegians, who occupied lands just ten miles downriver.
In later centuries, the rock became a formidable garrison fortress, its defences bristling with guns. It last saw military action as recently as the Second World War.
Substantial new artillery fortifications were built in the 17th and early 18th centuries. These are what the visitor sees today, for nothing survives from the Dark-Age fortress, and precious little from the medieval castle.
The castle rock can be seen from some way off, and great views can be seen from the twin peaks at the top.
If you are looking for an ancient castle keep, what’s here may come as an anti-climax. The most substantial buildings remaining are the King George’s battery and three-storey Governor’s House, both visible from the ground-level entrance. Like almost all the surviving structures, they were built in the 18th century. There are only two other roofed structures, both small.
The views, on the other hand, are great. The Clyde can be seen to the south, and the town of Dumbarton to the north, with distant views of hills and mountains further away. Thumbnails:
National Trust for Scotland
This house and connected byre is typical of a rural 19th century or early 20th century dwelling. The roof is supported by crucks and was originally thatched, though the thatch was raked back in the 1940’s and covered with corrugated iron sheeting.
Inside, the house still has many of its original features, including a Scotch dresser, box beds and a ‘hingin lum’ or hooded fireplace. Walls were papered, and in places there are over twenty layers of wallpaper, some of which has been separated and displayed.
There is a parlour kept for entertaining the minister and the landlord, and a kitchen and bedrooms for everyday use.
Nearby is an interpretation display hut with a small exhibition.
The opening hours are restricted to two afternoons a week in the summer.
I visited the house during a tour of fine Highland scenery. Thumbnails
Castle Menzies (pronounced ‘Mingis’) was built in the 16th century (exact date unknown), possibly on the site of an older castle.
In 1577 the upper storey and roof were altered, adding the series of dormer windows with their elaborate pediments. This completed the construction of a Z-plan house, representing a transition between a fortified tower-house and a mansion.
Despite the domestic features, the house was involved in conflict in 1646, 1715 and 1746.
In the early eighteenth century a new block of apartments was built against the north (rear) side of the main block and the west side of the north tower. A new entrance was made in the middle of the main block. This block was deemed unsalvable in the 1970’s (riddled with dry rot) and subsequently demolished. Marks of its former presence can be seen at the rear. Pictures of the vanished block can be seen on the Canmore website: http://canmore.org.uk/site/25670/castle-menzies and in particular http://canmore.org.uk/collection/1461079 showing the rear in 1942.
In 1840, another wing was constructed on the west side of the main block. This block still stands today.
On approaching the castle, its striking appearance immediately marks it as a classic Scottish castle. It stands unfenced in open fields, in front of a high escarpment.
The castle was acquired by the Menzies clan in 1957 in a greatly dilapidated condition. Since then the 16th century building has been restored with, it would seem, rather limited resources, followed by the restoration of the 19th century wing.
The ground floor consists of vaulted chambers including a kitchen. On the first floor of the main block is a great hall, panelled and with a plaster ceiling, and a withdrawing room with a fine pendant plaster ceiling.
On the second floor are two more large rooms with plaster ceilings.
The third floor is now an attic-like space open to the pitched roof. There are many other smaller rooms (the total for the castle is about 70).
In the 19th century wing, the first floor hall (Dewar Room) is the only room of note open to visitors.
The castle with its many rooms, some elegantly restored, is a fascinating place to visit. Various objects are identified by handwritten labels, which gives the place a dusty charm quite different from the high-budget National Trust for Scotland or Scottish Heritage properties. Thumbnails:
Doune castle was built in the late 1300’s by Robert Stewart, 1st Duke of Albany, Earl of Monteith and Fife. Albany was younger brother of the ineffectual Robert III, and was ruler of Scotland in all but name from 1388 until he died in 1420.
The castle is situated in a naturally strong position on a wooded river bend.
The castle today comprises the gatehouse tower, great hall, kitchen tower and curtain walls around the central courtyard. There appear to have been at one time other buildings occupying much of the courtyard, but the nature and function of these is now conjectural.
By the 1850’s the castle seems to have become a roofless shell, but a restoration was carried out in the 1880’s.
The towers and great hall all have vaulted storage chambers at ground level. At first floor level the kitchen tower has the great kitchen, and an irregularly shaped servery. Stone-floored rooms survive above the kitchen.
The great hall was restored in the 1880s and the roof and some other features date from this period.
The first floor chamber of the gatehouse tower is known as the Duke’s Chamber. The present interior finish dates from the Victorian restoration. The room has an unusual double fireplace.
On the floors above are a small mezzanine chamber and further up another small chamber leading to the second-floor hall. This is now open to the roof, though clearly there was a third floor of wood, which has not been re-instated.
It is possible to exit onto the battlements, for a great view of the River Teith and country below.
The castle is well worth a visit. Some will be interested to know that it was used as a location for the movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” Thumbnails:
The loch is about eight miles long and under a mile wide. It serves as a water supply for Glasgow, the water level having been artificially raised, and there are restrictions on the fuelling of boats that can be operated on the reservoir.
There are two cruise calling points on the lake – at Trossachs Pier, essentially a car park with pier, cafe, cycle hire etc, and the settlement of Stronachlachar.
I took a cruise on the SS Sir Walter Scott, a steamship built in Dumbarton in 1900, before being transported to Loch Katrine. She was converted from coal to biofuel firing in 2007 and the forward cabin added.
(If you are wondering how the ship was transported here, it was assembled with nuts and bolts for trials, disassembled and carted to the loch, and riveted together at its destination.)
The cruise was very pleasant, and affords a view of the sides of the loch on the way to Stronachlachar and back. You can look down into the engine room and see the engine and the traditional brass engine telegraph.
The Sir Walter Scott is notably quieter than a diesel boat, so it is worth paying the small supplement to cruise on this boat rather than the other cruise vessel.
Energetic visitors can hire bicycles at Trossachs Pier, take the boat to Stronachlachar, and cycle back around the northern side of the loch. Thumbnails:
Argyll’s Lodging is a splendid and complete example of a 17th century townhouse. Situated on the upper approaches to Stirling Castle, its fine architecture marks it out as a property intended for a great nobleman serving the royal court.
It is entered by a courtyard. Across the courtyard a door gives access to a hall (ground floor cellar). On the first floor above are the principal rooms – the High Dining Room, the Drawing Room and other furnished rooms.
Back on the ground floor the original and extended kitchens can be seen, and there are gardens at the back.
See Stirling Castle entry for more details.
Some people prefer Stirling Castle over Edinburgh Castle, and having seen both I can appreciate why.
The first record of Stirling Castle dates from the 12th century, but most of the buildings withing the walls date from the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The Palace was used as an army barracks until 1965. Now traces of army occupation have been removed and the original Renaissance interiors are being recreated where possible.
Surrounding the Inner Close are a series of notable buildings. The Palace, dating from the 1530s and the work of James V, is the first Renaissance palace in the British Isles. It contained separate suites of rooms for the king and the queen. The interiors were recently recreated, including the notable ceiling with carved and brightly painted heads.
The Great Hall was built by James IV from 1497 onwards. It had a hammerbeam roof and decorated crenellated parapet (now recreated in a recent restoration)
The Chapel Royal was built for James VI, in around 1594, replacing an earlier chapel.
The King’s Old Building, on the western side of the Inner Close, was built around 1497 for James IV. Sections of the building may be older. Parts of it have been altered or rebuilt since. Today the range contains exhibition rooms and the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders regimental museum.
There are are also various vaults and outworks to look at. Below the castle and car park is Argyll’s Lodging, a town house of historic interest. Access is free with a castle ticket.
There are fine views from the castle ramparts. Look out for the remains of formal gardens on the flat land far below.
There is so much to see at the Castle that you should plan for at least a half-day visit. This is easily expanded to a whole day if you want to walk around the old town as well. The Palace and the Great Hall interior are the highlights.
If you arrive by car, parking on the Castle esplanade is convenient but at £4, not cheap. Thumbnails: