Tuesday, 27 May 2014


Balcaskie and its garden were designed by the Scottish architectural genius, Sir William Bruce (1630-1710). He introduced the Baroque into the dramatic Scottish landscape and at Balcaskie, his own house,  he has left the earliest example of his architectural work. He bought the house and estate in Fife in 1665 as his own seat and his remodeling of the existing house and his design for the landscape, most of which survive, were where he first put his architectural ideas into practice.

By he time Sir William Bruce bought Balcaskie he was already in the employ of the Crown. He was the younger son of a Perthshire laird who embarked on a career as a merchant in Holland and France, the perfect  cover for espionage, which led to his involvement in the Restoration of Charles II. A knighthood and government posts followed but his greatest reward was his appointment in 1667 as collector of fines and property taxes for the Scottish Treasury Commission. The eleven aristocrats who sat on the commission, collected and distributed the royal revenues, particularly among themselves. They were wont to channel this revenue stream into rebuilding their ancestral seats, and they often sought the advice of their tax-collector turned architect, Sir William Bruce.

His transformation of Balcaskie demonstrated his virtuoso ability. The house was approached by a straight drive that passed through a cour d'honneur  (only the third such to be built in Britain) flanked by matching pavilions and screen walls that led into the entrance court. A wing of the original house formed one of the wings and Bruce built a matching copy. he gable ends of the two wings are still visible even after he entrance court was built over in the 19th century to create a new entrance front flush with them.

The garden front, which concealed the original house, was a simple classical facade with square tower pavilions at either end and a central door into the garden framed by mannerist pilasters. A wrought iron balcony that concealed the garden door has  been recently removed and the original appearance of the house restored.

Sir William Bruce was one of the first architects in Britain to tie his designs to the landscape. He centered Balcaskie on a view of the Bass Rock, the dramatic volcanic island in the Firth of Forth. To lead the eye he constructed a formal garden of massive stone terraces. They fall away from the house to an avenue of sycamores which in turn lead the eye out to the sea and the dazzling eye-catcher (on a clear day) in the distance. The entrance front was aligned with Kellie Castle, an ancient tower house one mile away.

Sir William Bruce left Balcaskie in 1685 to start work on his next project, at Kinross. The property was bought eventually in 1698 by Sir Thomas Anstruther, scion of an ancient Fife family, and it remains in the family today. The present occupant Toby Anstruther inherited Balcaskie from his cousin Sir Ralph Anstruther, Comptroller of the Queen Mother's household.

The Rose Garden is undergoing restoration, starting with the removal of the roses.

The Top Terrace has been recently replanted.

The Parterre was replanted in 2009.

The Lawn.

The American Garden was laid out by William Nesfield in the second half of the 19th century.

The highlight of the garden at Balcaskie  is the Middle Terrace..

Pan oversees the landscape beyond the confine of the garden.

Monday, 26 May 2014

Badminton Horse Trials

Badminton, seat of the Duke of Beaufort is synonymous with great three sports; foxhunting; the eponymous game involving a shuttlecock, first played in the Great Hall; and the world famous Horse Trials. Since 1949 the World's top horses and riders have competed here for the ultimate accolade in their sport. The Duke of Beaufort, President of the Horse Trials was himself a very accomplished rider, being placed second here in 1959.

Getting a taste of  home for the next five days.

Badminton, the only four star horse trials with stabling for all competitors.

These elite equine athletes come with a great deal of baggage.

The Servants Hall where the competitors, grooms and officials are fed and watered.

Many visitors are more interested in the unbridled shopping opportunities than watching the horses.

The Trot up, a veterinary inspection, is held in front of the House on the Wednesday before the competition begins and on the Sunday morning before the final phase of show jumping.

Andrew Nicholson preparing for the dressage.

The Cocktail Party for the great , the good and the very brave.

Given the distances between the lorry park, the stables and the arena  a shuttle service of buggys carry the competitors, grooms and owners.

Calm before the storm.

The briefing for the hunt staff who act as mounted stewards on cross country day.

Competitors, grooms and owners gather round the screen  in the old kitchen to watch the drama of the cross country.

After all the exertion of the cross country there is nothing like a shower.

The score board tells the story of the carnage dealt by the British spring weather on cross country day, Badminton 2014.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Glenfinnan Monument

After the '45 and Bonnie Prince Charlie's flight to France the Highlanders expressed their continued loyalty by building monuments to the lost cause. Scattered across Scotland are scores of memorials to Culloden and its aftermath and a similar number of cairns, caves and cottages where Prince Charles Edward or one of his supporters was supposed to have hidden. But Glenfinnan occupies a preeminent position in the pantheon of places associated with the Prince. It was here that the Bonie Prince Charlie's standard was raised and the long road to Derby and back to disaster at Culloden began.

After spending the night at Glenaladale, the Prince and his supporters rowed up Loch Shiel and landed at Glenfinnan at about one o'clock in the afternoon on 19 August 1745.  The Prince must have been concerned that there was no clan army waiting for him, but around three o'clock, Lochiel arrived with around 600 men and then about six o'clock MacDonald of Keppoch came over the hill with 350 more. So, in the midst of this small band of supporters  the 'Royal Standard' was raised.

The Raising of the Standard was a dramatic and symbolic act. The 'Royal Standard' was a large banner of red silk with a white area in the middle. It was unfurled and held by the Marquis of Tullibardine. The declaration, dated at Rome, 23 December 1743, was read by Tullibardine and proclaimed the Prince's father, James VIII, as King of England, Scotland and Ireland. At the end of the ceremony the Highlanders threw their bonnets in the air and cheered, 'Long live king James the Eighth and Charles Prince of Wales, Prosperity to Scotland and No Union.'

The Monument to the Jacobite campaign of 1745 was commissioned by the local landowner, Alexander MacDonald of Glenaladale whose father's cousin had supported Prince Charles Edward Stuart. The monument is suitably impressive, enclosed by an octagonal wall is a tall round tower 18.3 meters high with palmette battlements, surmounted by a statue of the hapless Prince. Erected in 1815 the monument carries inscriptions in Gaelic, English and Latin. The Glenfinnan Monument is one of the most iconic monuments in Scotland and it has a backdrop of some of the most romantic and inspiring scenery in the country.

The Glenfinnan Monument was gifted to the National Trust for Scotland in 1938. However the coach load of visitors to Glenfinnan today do not come to gaze at the Monument or even be inspired by the scenery. No, they turn their backs on Loch Shiel and the Glenfinnan Monument and wait  instead for a train to cross the viaduct, the viaduct that carried the express to Hogwarts in the Harry Potter films. No sooner has the train crossed, than the visitors head back to their coaches.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Panmure Testimonial

The Panmure Testimonial is a land mark visible for miles around that stands on top of Camustone Hill at the western boundary of the Panmure Estate. It was erected in 1839 to commemorate the generosity of William Maule 1st Baron Panmure (1771-1852) by his grateful tenant farmers. During the hot dry summer of 1826 the harvest failed leading to widespread grain shortages and the consequent inability of many of his tenant farmers to pay their rent. The compassionate Lord Panmure's extraordinary response to their plight was to suspend the payment of his tenants rent until such time as they were able to afford to pay it, and in many cases he cancelled their arrears altogether. To show their gratitude the farmers celebrated his generosity, when they were able, by the erection of the handsome Testimonial as a permanent reminder of their Laird's kindness and humanity.

The 32 meter high Panmure Testimonial was designed by architect John Henderson. It is a circular fluted column that supports an urn on the top inside of which is a circular staircase leading up to a viewing platform beneath the urn. At the base of the column is an octagonal pedestal on which four arched buttresses support the column. John Henderson (1804-1862) is a Scottish architect who built many churches in Scotland. His father had been a gardener to Willliam Maule at Brechin Castle.

William Maule was the younger son of George Ramsay, 8th Earl of Dalhousie. In 1782 he succeeded to  the Panmure Estates on the death of his great-uncle William Maule, 1st Earl of Panmure, and in the same year assumed by Royal Licence the name and arms of Maule. He was raised to the peerage as Baron Panmure at the coronation of William IV in 1831.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Badminton, Root House (Hermit's Cell)

Standing eerily alone in the  Deer Park, out of sight of  Badminton House (or any other building) and unseen by the hundreds of thousands of visitors to the Horse Trials is the mysterious Root House.  It was designed and built by architect and genius Thomas Wright for the Duke of Beaufort sometime between 1748-1756, and is an early example of Gothick experimentation.

The Root House was not only an embellishment to the landscape it also served a 'practical' purpose; it was a hermit's cell, inhabited by Badminton's resident hermit, Urganda. 

To have a hermit living in your park was the height of fashion in the late 18th century.

For a thatched building constructed from pieces of diseased wood and untreated roots, most likely riddled with worm, to have survived for two hundred and fifty years is quite remarkable.

Urganda's front door