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Brodick Castle: A Victorian Duke and Princess

Stag heads in the hallway at Brodick Castle

At the end of September 2019, we holidayed on the Isle of Arran in Scotland. We had a wonderful time and, like most holidays, it was over too quickly. We walked Glen Rosa, where my partner stripped to his boxer shorts and swam in the natural pools (rather chilly – he didn’t last long! I sat on the side like a normal person). We saw red squirrels, red deer, a sea otter, and lots of seals. Sadly, the golden eagles remained elusive. We ate mussels and drank whisky, and enjoyed the peace and quiet.

We also visited Brodick Castle, which I’d love to tell you all about...

Since the fifth century there has been a fortress on the site, and at some point after 1470 the castle was granted by James III to his brother in law, James Hamilton, 1st Lord Hamilton. From the mid-seventeenth century until the nineteenth century, it was used mainly as a hunting lodge, but in 1844 massive building work was undertaken to expand the castle. This change was brought about by the 11th Duke of Hamilton and his wife, Princess Marie of Baden, and it is this Victorian version of the castle which is presented to the public today.

The marriage between the 11th Duke and the princess came at the height of the Romantic period. This movement emphasised the importance of nature, beauty, and the freedom of expression. Indeed, wandering along the winding garden paths, you are completely immersed in nature. The parkland is not formal: moss-covered stones and tree roots sparkle with the fresh autumn rain; soggy leaves stick to your boots; exotic plants mingle beside traditional British trees and leave the air tasting tangy and fresh. A stream cascades downhill towards the sea, hidden by plants, and tucked away at the bottom is a bird hide where you might see a red squirrel if you’re quiet enough. A summerhouse overlooks the expanse of sea, fashioned in the Baden style to remind the Princess of her home (there used to be four of these, now only one remains). And if you look carefully, you might come across the ice house buried into the grounds. In this structure, ice could last three seasons, and the building would have acted as a kind of refrigerator for other food items too. (An interesting fact which I did not know: there is evidence of an ice house from 1780 BC in Mesopotamia, and even in 3rd century Rome there were ‘snow shops’ where you could buy ice that had been brought down from the mountains.)

Inside the castle, the most remarkable (and slightly sickening sight) greets you in the huge hallway – 87 stag’s heads. All but one is from the isle of Arran (the other is much larger than the rest and from somewhere on the continent, I forget now where exactly). Hunting was the sport of the rich, and other creatures such as red grouse have their eternal resting place inside the castle’s walls. If you can face walking past all those heads, you can ascend up the most beautiful Jacobean-style staircase, its woodwork finely carved and deliciously smooth.

The usual rooms greet you upstairs; bedroom, parlour, library, dining room. But it is the drawing room which has to be the best part of this particular National Trust gem. With the curtains closed and a piano tune playing, you can truly imagine the ladies and gentlemen in their best silk gowns and dinner suits swirling around you. A place of socialising and entertaining, this space would also have been converted into a ballroom, and the servants would have been included in some of the celebrations, mingling and laughing with their employers and “superiors”.

Talking of servants, the kitchen is huge. A cavernous space, the chill from the high ceiling and flagstone floor would surely not have been experienced back in the old days when the ranges and fires would have been burning fiercely. Copper pots and pans gleam like toffee against the walls, and if you fancy having a go at Victorian cooking, check out the recipe cards on the long, wooden kitchen table in the middle of the room. Finally, make your way to the exit via the servant’s corridor. This is a big corridor, but bare of all the soft furnishings and elaborate decorations of the main house. The flagstones are uneven, perhaps gouged out by all those hurrying feet from centuries ago. Before you leave, check out the bell system – all those rooms ready to ding for attention at any minute!

I had a great time exploring this Victorian castle. You can see more of the images on my Facebook page. And, if you’re ever on Arran, be sure to visit.

About the author

Delphine Woods

Delphine Woods

Delphine Woods is an author who loves to write historical mysteries and thrillers. 

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