Thirlestane was originally built as a fortified tower house in the 16th Century. In 1670-1676 John Maitland, a powerful Scottish politician, extended the castle and created lavish interiors with magnificent plasterwork ceilings. In the 1840’s two large wings and a south service wing were added by the architects Bryce and Burn.
When Captain Maitland-Carew inherited the castle in 1970, it needed urgent repairs to eliminate dry rot, stabilise the central tower and repair collateral damage to the ceilings. A further major campaign to eliminate dry rot in the south wing was undertaken from 2012 onwards.
A visitor tour takes in the entrance hall, Panelled Room, Library, Billiards Room, North Library, South Library, Duke’s dressing Room, Bonnie Prince Charlie’s Room, Drawing Room, Ante Drawing Room, Chinese Room, Dining Room and Servants’ Quarters. There are some superb ceilings and other contents.
The most immediately striking thing about this castle is its size – I had to take three shots of the frontage or take a long walk to get it all in – and its turreted skyline. There was a fortified 15th century tower house on this site, replaced in 1721-26 by a Georgian mansion designed by William Adam. This had four corner towers and outlying two-storey pavilions housing a kitchen and stables. In 1837-47 the Scottish architect William Playfair extended Floors, adding substantial wings, a porte-cochere at the front entrance, and multiple square and hexagonal turrets.
Around a dozen rooms on the main floor and basement are open to visitors, including much of the floor area of the central block at this level. A ground floor plan of the castle is available here.
The display rooms contain some fine paintings and furniture. The visitor route includes entrance hall, ante-room, sitting room, drawing room, needle room, ballroom, billiard room, bird room, gallery, dining room, robe room and basement. The Drawing Room has a fine set of tapestries, inherited by the then Duchess in 1929, and the room decor and ceiling were made plainer to highlight them. The Ballroom has more of the tapestries, and the original decor was covered over with plain panelling to highlight them. The Bird Room has a remarkable collection of hundreds of stuffed birds in cabinets covering all the walls. A few of the species, e.g. the passenger pigeons, are now sadly extinct. The Dining Room was formerly the Billiard Room in Playfair’s design. The basement contains a remarkable model of the castle, made of sugar icing, sporting exhibits, and a carriage and fire engine. Interior photography was not permitted.
To reach the walled gardens one has to make a substantial walk to the west. The walled garden contains flower and vegetable planting and from it one can access the Millennium garden, with pathways forming the crest of the 10th Duke and Duchess.
The castle is the centre of a 21,000 estate including tenant farms and a wind farm.
Melrose Abbey was founded in 1136 by Cistercian monks, but was largely destroyed by Richard II’s invading army in 1385. What remains today is largely a result of the subsequent rebuilding. It was still unfinished in 1504, and badly damaged by Henry VIII’s invasion of 1544. It appears that the nave was never finished. The Protestant Reformation took place in 1560. Subsequently the monk’s choir part of the church was adapted for use as a parish church, with added walls. A drawing of 1800 shows a roofless nave. In 1810 a new parish church was built in the town, and the abbey fell out of use.
Today the choir, transept and presbytery remain to full height while the monastery buildings remain only as foundation walls.
In 1822, Sir Walter Scott supervised extensive work to stabilise the ruins.
The interior was inaccessible when I visited due to concerns about unstable masonry. The outside of the choir, transept and presbytery on the south side are of particular interest because of the numbers of medieval carvings of gargoyles and other figures, including a bagpipe-playing pig.
Across a lane is a small museum in the ‘Commendator’s House’ containing carvings and other fragments found on the site.
Nearby are two small gardens curated by the National Trust for Scotland.
Traquair is said to be Britain’s oldest inhabited house. It existed in 1107 and has been extended since then. The lower side wings were remodelled in 1695-1699. The house was used by various Scottish kings and has a long association with Jacobites and Catholicism. Mary Queen of Scots stayed here and one can see her bed and the cradle in which she rocked the infant James.
A number of rooms on several floors are opened to visitors, containing period furniture, artifacts and facsimile documents. The High Drawing Room has recently rediscovered painted beams exposed in the ceiling. On an upper floor there is a large priest’s room with a concealed spiral staircase leading down. There is a lot to look at inside the house.
The Dining Room and Lower Drawing Room are in one of the wings, built 1694. In the other wing are the post-Catholic emancipation chapel, the brewhouse, exhibitions and the shop. In the grounds are a walled garden, woodland walks, a menagerie, a maze and a pond, formerly a loop of the Tweed river.
I did not have time to explore the grounds.
There is a lot to see here, so you should schedule a longer visit.
Abbotsford was the home of famous Scottish author Sir Walter Scott. Scott bought a run-down farm in 1811 and by 1819 had added various elements of the present building in a Scots Baronial style. The house contains various pieces of architectural salvage incorporated into the structure. Scott died in 1832, and his heirs extended the house in the 1850s, doubling its size, to provide additional accommodation while preserving Scott’s rooms as a museum. The extension also includes a chapel, which is open to visitors. The house recently underwent a lengthy restoration, re-opening in 2013.
Notable rooms include the entrance hall, study, library, drawing room, armoury, dining room, and ante-room. Little remains of the original decoration scheme for the dining room. Otherwise the decoration and contents of the rooms are more or less original.
The study and library contain Scott’s collection of 9000 books, many of which he used to research for his novels.
A modern cafe, shop and exhibition building stands between car park and house. Around the house are walled gardens and woodland and river walks. The ruins below the house, next to a car park, are the original stables.
Though Manderston House looks Georgian, it was built in 1901-1906 as a remodelling of an earlier house on the site. The north front was completely renewed, a new bachelor’s wing added and other parts converted. The architect was told that the cost ‘simply didn’t matter’. The interior designs are inspired by Robert Adams’ work at Kedleston. Downstairs a number of elegantly furnished rooms are on show, including the outer hall, dining room, hall, library, ball-room, drawing room and various ante-rooms. The main staircase has silver-plated brass banisters which required a lot of polishing – now done by volunteers.
The upstairs rooms were closed on my visit, but the basement, which is almost unchanged, was on view. The housekeeper’s room, servant’s hall, manservant’s bedroom, kitchen and scullery were all finished to an unusually high standard. The kitchen has an island cooker with hidden under-floor flue.
The house was filmed for the TV series ‘The Edwardian House’ aka ‘The Manor House’ broadcast by Channel 4 in 2004.
Outside, a disused service wing can be seen attached to the house, screened by trees. Further away are the impressive Stables, and a marble diary with tower and staff housing (not seen). There are also various formal and informal gardens and a boathouse (not seen).
Privately owned. Not to be confused with the National Trust’s Canons Ashby.
I remember cycling to Castle Ashby some years ago, when I was younger and fitter, and entering the central courtyard. The house is no longer open to the public, but the gardens and church are regularly open.
The gardens are impressive, and include an area of formal gardens with an Orangery and other structures, an arboretum (woodland), and a walk past stretches of water. Adjacent to the gardens is the walled garden, laid to grass. It can be looked into but not entered, and the house’s terraced garden likewise can be looked into but not entered. There is a menagerie housing meerkats, monkeys, exotic birds, pigs, a giant tortoise and a miniature horse.
The church is normally open but I did not find the interior of especial interest.
The gardens are well worth a visit. Allow 2 to 3 hours.
Entry to the gardens is much cheaper in the winter months but some auxiliary facilities may be closed. Admission was by online booking only. If you need the loo on arrival, it is in the left hand end of the row of reception buildings (not well marked).
While there were houses on the site from the 17th century, the current house was built in the early 1900’s. It was bought by and fitted out for super-rich McEwan brewery heiress Maggie Greville and her husband Ronald. The principal rooms received showy interiors in a succession of different architectural styles with much use made of architectural salvage. Maggie Greville was a famous society hostess who entertained the rich and famous, including royalty. During the wars she was apparently sympathetic to appeasement and entertained the Nazi ambassador, von Ribbentrop.
Maggie Greville added to her father’s collection of art, and the picture collection is impressive, including some Old Masters. There is also china and other objects of art.
The grounds include various formal and walled gardens as well as various lawns, areas of woodland, and walks.
At the time of my visit only the ground floor rooms were open, and these were decorated for Xmas. Most of the items of interest could be seen in a 2-hour visit. It is probably worth having the guidebook to hand as you look around the house. There is also a more expensive guide to the pictures, but it only illustrates about half of them, so more use for taking around than reading afterwards.
The Hatchlands estate has passed through various hands. The present house is mostly as built in the 18th century for Admiral Boscawen and his wife. Boscawen died of a fever soon after his retirement, and his widow sold the house after a few years. The next owners, the Sumners, are responsible for the present parkland. The following owners, the Rendels, made some alterations and eventually presented the house to the National Trust in 1945. At this point the house was empty. After various tenancies, the house was offered to artist and collector Alec Cobbe with the suggestion that he fill it with his family’s collection of musical instruments, furniture and pictures.
The interior has been redecorated and now contains a collection of grand pianos and harpsicords, and a large number of pictures, as well as some casts of classical sculptures. All the instruments are kept in playable condition and there are occasional recitals. Guide leaflets for the pictures and instruments are available, and it would be worth taking round the (rather expensive) house guidebook rather than reading it afterwards.
In the grounds there are some walks and patches of woodland. There was no NT shop, seemingly a casualty of Covid19.
The tower is now surrounded by housing, but was earlier attached to a farm. Connected parts of the building originally formed the manor’s Great Chamber etc but English Heritage only own the tower, the remainder now being a private residence. The main chamber contains some extremely rare medieval wall paintings, uncovered in the 20th century. The upper chamber can also be visited. Visits are currently by booked guided tour only.
The wall paintings are of considerable interest, but parts are much damaged and one needs the guided tour for interpretation.
Visitor parking is in Woburn Close about 100 yards away. Note that there is no waiting area inside the building so visitors should arrive on time and wait at the foot of the stairs to be admitted. There is no convenient waiting area outside either, other than the access lane. The postcode covers a large area, so drivers should set their satnav for Woburn Close.