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Issue 87 - A Touch of Nostalgia

Scotland Magazine Issue 87
June 2016

 

This article is 18 months 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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A Touch of Nostalgia

William Hay looks back on his return to Melville Castle

It was late autumn in 1993 when I passed the gates of Melville Castle and noticed a large ‘For Sale’ sign. I pulled over and pondered on the notice. Remembering times past, when I had been an occasional visitor to the castle’s Dungeon Buffet, I thought of how I’d always been very fond of the friendly atmosphere that had been Melville’s hallmark.

It was still daylight and the gates were open, so I turned the car and drove in. Even from here one could see that the road was in bad shape – full of potholes – but I was curious, and began to negotiate my way carefully down the long driveway which wound its way into dense woodland. I contemplated how long it had been since my last visit – it must have been more than twenty years – and after a series of twists and turns, between the trees, it came in to view.

Poor Melville. Corrugated iron covered most of the ground floor windows and one or two had only broken glass in the frames. Plastic sheeting had been pulled over the roof, clearly in an attempt to offer the damaged structure some defence against the elements. It was quite depressing to see this majestic old building in such a sorry state; I'd had lots of happy times there. It had been a sanctuary, just a few miles and yet a world away from Edinburgh. Even then it had been a bit run down, but its modest little downstairs bar wasn’t expensive and had an interesting set of regulars. We all sort of fitted in.

Stopping at the front door, it was clear that there was nobody about and I’d be free to have a look around. I got out of the car and stood for a moment, taking in the front doors which, again, had been covered with corrugated iron – thankfully the original iron bell pull was still there – and searched for the stone lions that once had surmounted the entrance. No sign of them. Above the archway the coat of arms remained, deeply etched into the stone with its own fully faced lion, wolf heads and a blazing salamander; still defiantly extolling the same message: ‘Essayez. Quod Potui Perfecti.’ I had never quite known what it meant. Something like, ‘Try. I have done what I can.’ I had a slow walk round the property and peered into a basement filled with pools of water and fallen plaster. Above my head, the flagpole was still there, but of course, no flag . A mast without its sails. The windows of the Court still had their iron bars but the window frames were nowhere to be seen and only a few rotten timbers remained of the roof. Through the bars a piled up heap of old joists, floorboards and other debris was visible; probably ready for burning. I stopped and wondered at it having been cleared. Was it the first step towards restoration, or demolition?

As I stood there beside this fallen titan, the wind dropped and a hush fell on the place, broken only by the sound of water – the river! Despite my numerous visits to the castle, I had always driven past without noticing it. True enough, I’d heard it mentioned a few times when somebody was ‘down at the river’ or somebody had caught a fish. But that was all.

At this moment it had an appealing sound, a welcoming roar of life that made up for the sad state of the castle. I walked back to the car, backed it up and parked at the side door with the river just a hundred yards away – time to have a look.

I waded my way through tall grass that had once been the south lawn and slowly, following its gentle call, I found what I was looking for.

Not a big river, about 25 metres across, but making up for its size with the enthusiastic vigor with which it flowed over the rocky bed. A few Mallard were on the water, which quickly made themselves scarce upon on my approach. I had obviously disturbed their peaceful enjoyment of this abandoned haven. This was a very special place indeed.

When I got back to the castle, dozens of crows were circling overhead, their calls making a tremendous noise that echoed in the square between the castle and the surrounding woods. I felt like I was an intruder in their territory and, in the failing light, the atmosphere had changed. I felt quite alone and slightly apprehensive, so was glad to get back into the car. Little did I know that, years later during the restoration, a ghostly apparition would be seen in the castle on a very similar evening.

Visitor Information

Melville Castle Gilmerton Rd,
Edinburgh, EH18 1AP
+44 (0) 131 654 0088
www.melvillecastle.com