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Issue 67 - 10 Best Scottish Stately Homes

Scotland Magazine Issue 67
February 2013


This article is 5 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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10 Best Scottish Stately Homes

Keith Fergus looks at some of the best grand houses to visit

Keith Fergus looks at some of the best grand houses to visit >>

1. Drumlanrig Castle
Thornhill, Galloway DG3 4AQ
Tel: 01848 331555

Set within 90,000 acres of the Queensberry Estate, Drumlanrig Castle overlooks the gorgeous Nith Valley. The house, built in beautiful pink sandstone, was constructed between 1679 and 1691 by William Douglas, the 3rd Earl of Queensberry, and the towers in each of the four corners make Drumlanrig one of the most distinctive stately homes in the country. Internally the house was beautifully and intricately decorated with the stunning oak staircase particularly striking. Both Drumlanrig and the Queensberry title passed into the hands of the Dukes of Buccleuch in 1810 and with them came an extraordinary art collection including works by Holbein, Rembrandt, Gainsborough and Da Vinci. The Formal Garden, the Victorian Glasshouse and the Rhododendron Collection, alongside a myriad of walking paths and bike trails make a visit to Drumlanrig Castle a great day out.

2. Mount Stuart
Isle of Bute, Argyll & Bute PA20 9LR
Tel: (0) 1700 503877

Mount Stuart, on the small but perfectly formed Isle of Bute, is the island’s top visitor attraction and it is easy to understand why. This magnificent, elaborate, red sandstone Gothic mansion, was the creation of John Crichton-Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute. The building of Mount Stuart began in 1879 and continued until Crichton-Stuart’s early death in 1900. During its construction, Crichton-Smith was the richest man in Britain, with the family estates endowing him with an annual income of £300,000. Therefore money was no object when it came to building Mount Stuart. The renowned architect Robert Rowand Atkinson designed the imposing façade of the house and the East and West Fronts as well as the stunning Marble Chapel form an arresting sight. Internally Mount Stuart is extraordinary with the Marble Staircase and the Marble Hall (amongst many others) quite breathtaking, all of which provides a truly unforgettable experience.

3. Pollok House
Pollok Park, Glasgow G43 1AT
Tel: 0141 616 6410

Sitting just a short distance from Glasgow city centre, within wonderful surroundings of Pollok Park (Europe’s Best Park in 2008 and also home to the superb Burrell Collection), Pollok House was built in 1752 with further additions added in 1890 (the architect being Robert Rowand Atkinson who also designed Mount Stuart). The house stands in the grounds of Pollok Estate, which was home to the Maxwell Family from the 13th century until 1966, when the estate and house were gifted to Glasgow City Council. In 1931 Pollok House was also the location of a meeting convened by Sir John Stirling Maxwell that led to the creation of the National Trust for Scotland who took over managing the house in 1998. The impressive rooms within Pollok House include the Drawing Room and the welcoming Entrance Hall, while the beautiful maintained gardens, woodland and riverbank paths allow visitors to easily explore.

4. Holyrood Palace
Holyrood Park, Edinburgh EH8 8DX
Tel: 0131 556 5100

Of all Scotland’s stately homes, it is perhaps Holyrood Palace that has the most fascinating history. Holyrood Park was once the Royal hunting grounds of King David I who built it as an abbey in the 11th century. It later became the official Scottish residence of the British monarch, something that continues to this day. Holyrood Palace was also, in 1566, where Mary, Queen of Scots’ husband, Lord Darnley, was brutally murdered by Mary’s private secretary David Rizzio, instantly becoming one of the most notorious episodes in Scottish history. Today Holyrood Palace is one of Scotland’s top visitor attractions, with people coming from around the world to learn the history of this magnificent house and to walk around the State Apartments, the Throne Room or to see any of the exhibitions at the Queen’s Gallery. The palace is open daily except when royalty is in residence.

5. Callendar House
Callendar Park, Falkirk FK1 1YR
tel: 01324 503770

Just a stone’s throw from the remains of the Antonine Wall, Callendar House forms an arresting focal point to Callendar Park on the outskirts of Falkirk. The park was once the landscaped gardens of the house, which was built in the 15th century as the residence of the Livingston Family, who had been granted the lands by David II in 1345. The original tower house now forms part of Callendar House although the French Chateau style we see today was down to the Forbes family (the family bought the estate in 1783), who oversaw the major redevelopment of the house. When visiting today a superb museum and exhibition details much of the history of Callendar House and the surrounding landscape and tours of the house take you back in time and into the kitchen (dating from 1825), the old printing shop and the beautifully decorated Morning Room.

6. Falkland Palace
Falkland, Fife KY15 7BU
Tel: 0844 493 2186

Dominating the village of Falkland and sitting in the shadow of the prominent peak of East Lomond, Falkland Palace is one of Scotland’s finest and captivating stately homes. Its origins date from the 1300’s and since 1952 the National Trust for Scotland has cared for and maintained the Palace and its beautiful gardens. For a time during the 19th century Falkland Palace was owned by John Crichton-Stuart, 3rd Marquess of Bute (who built Mount Stuart), and he rebuilt and restored much of the palace after it had fallen into disrepair. And Falkland Palace is a wonderful place to visit today with some gorgeous architecture and beautifully designed rooms. These include the Old Library, the King's and Queen's Rooms the Bakehouse and the awe-inspiring Chapel Royal.

The grounds also contain extensive gardens as well as Britain’s oldest Royal tennis court, which dates from 1539.

7. Culross Palace
Culross, Fife KY12 8JH
Tel: 0844 493 2189

Entering the Royal Burgh of Culross, on the banks of the River Forth, is like stepping back in time but this is the intention of this National Trust for Scotland owned village. At its centre is the idiosyncratic mustard yellow façade of Culross Palace, built between 1597 and 1611 by the laird Sir George Bruce, a highly successful merchant.

Many of the materials used in the construction of Culross Palace were garnered from Bruce’s triumphant trading forays with the Low and Baltic Countries; Baltic Pine and Dutch floor tiles and glass were used in the palace’s edifice, whilst inside the decorative mural and ceiling paintings and the 17th and 18th century furniture all added to the splendor of the building. It certainly impressed James VI who visited Culross Palace in 1617. The National Trust for Scotland has restored the 17th century garden and many of the plants growing in the garden today were used during this period. Both Culross and Culross Palace grant a fascinating day out...

8. Drum Castle
Drumoak, Aberdeenshire AB31 5EY
Tel: 0844 493 2161

Drum Castle, near to the pretty village of Drumoak, a few miles from Aberdeen, has been owned by 24 consecutive generations of the Irvine family since the 12th century. During the 14th century, William de Irwyn was appointed by Robert the Bruce to manage the Royal Hunting Forest of Drum, with Drum Castle part of the agreement. The renowned Drum oak was harvested from the Old Wood of Drum and used in the construction of Drum Castle but it is the gorgeous pink walls of the castle that immediately catch the eye when travelling along the entrance drive. The impressive tower house (built around the 12th century) dominates the castle today and the mansion house was built onto this in 1619.

Further extensions took place during the early 19th century. Internally Drum Castle is equally impressive with beautifully decorated rooms including a drawing room and dining room, several bedrooms and a library containing more than 3000 books.

9. Dunrobin Castle
Golspie, Sutherland KW10 6SF
Tel: 01408 633177

Situated on Scotland’s northeast coast, Dunrobin Castle dominates the landscape near to the lovely little village of Golspie in Sutherland, and the extensive formal and castle gardens are equally impressive. Dunrobin Castle has been the home of the Dukes of Sutherland since 1401 when the initial construction of the castle took place.

There were many extensions from the 16th century onwards, with several of the elaborate towers and spires that are visible today being added. Much can be learned about lives of the Dukes of Sutherland when taking a tour of the castle and visiting the likes of the Drawing Room, the Music Room, the remarkable Green and Gold Room and the Library, which contains an astonishing 10,000 books. But a visit to Dunrobin would not be complete without a stroll around the gorgeous gardens, which were laid out in 1850 having been inspired by the Palace of Versailles in Paris.

10. Linlithgow Palace
Linlithgow, Lothian EH49 7AL
Tel: 01506 842896

The dramatic remains of Linlithgow Palace are today under the care of Historic Scotland, but its remarkable history stretches back almost 700 years. Built in 1424 by James I as a majestic palace for the royal Stewarts, Linlithgow Palace was also en route to both Stirling and Edinburgh Castle’s and so became a stop off point for royals travelling along this busy road. In its heyday Linlithgow Palace was a magnificent sight, built around its courtyard, its elaborate fountain and the royal chapel. The palace served as the royal nursery for James V, Mary Queen of Scots and Princess Elizabeth. Fire destroyed much of Linlithgow Palace internally in 1745 but it is still a extraordinary building, particularly when reflected in the calm waters of Linlithgow Loch, which has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest because of its wildfowl population. It is well worth taking the lovely two mile walk around the perimeter of the loch.