Friday, 27 June 2014

Abbotsford Gardens

Sir Walter Scott took as much care in the design of his gardens at Abbotsford as he did in the design of his extraordinary house. Just like the house, his garden reflected Sir Walter's passion for history and for collecting. Sir Walter used the social contacts that his fame and celebrity had brought him to seek horticultural advice from the great authorities of the day.  His gardener was William Bogie, former assistant to James MacDonald, head gardener at Dalkeith Palace, seat of his friend the Duke of Buccleuch, which was widely admired for its productivity and its innovative ideas. While later generations of his family to live at Abbotsford made inevitable changes to the garden they remain much as Sir Walter had left them. The gardens were conceived as picturesque settings for viewing the house and were divided into three walled areas or garden  'rooms', each having its own distinct character.

The South Court is the first of the three outdoor 'rooms' at Abbotsford. Work  began in 1823 on the  cloister walls to the south and west and the arcade on the east with the two battlemented corner turrets. Niches in the south and west walls were made to provide settings for Scott's collection of carved stone fragments that he prized. . This garden was originally planted in the regency style with a honeysuckle and rose pergola along the south and west walls and narrow beds of hollyhocks and roses against the walls.  Lawns were laid in front of the house, broken by shrubbery beds of trees , flowers and shrubs. These were swept away in the 1850's by Scott's granddaughter Charlotte and her husband John Hope-Scott in favour of the Victorian arrangement that remains today.

Carving of a hunting scene from a Roman burial crypt.

Figure of Mars, Roman God of War, one of five sculptures Sir Walter Scott acquired from the Roman fort of Voreda near Penrith.

The main entrance to Abbotsford was reached via the imposing main gate or 'portcullis' in the west wall of the South Court

The sunken garden to the east of the house was known in Scott's day as the East Court,  second of the garden rooms at Abbotsford. Today it is known as the Morris Garden, named after the sculpture of Morris, the devious character from Rob Roy. He is depicted begging forgiveness from Rob Roy's wife Helen MacGregor,for his involvement in her husbands capture by the authorities. The sculpture is by John Greenshields who died before the work was completed and it was presented to Abbotsford in 1850

The third of the interconnecting rooms at Abbotsford is the walled kitchen garden, reached by an imposing gate from the Morris Garden.

Of all the gardens at Abbotsford this remains much as Scott himself had left it, the herbaceous beds running up to the Gothic conservatory were his conception.

Sir Walter was at his happiest outside working in the woods, perhaps as a relief from the hours spent writing at his desk. He enjoyed chopping firewood as much as planting trees, or just walking in the woods with his beloved dogs, whom he treated as friends and whose effigies are found all over the house, and garden.

Monday, 23 June 2014

Kinneil House

Kinneil House once belonged to the Hamilton family. Robert the Bruce gave the estate at Kinneil to Walter fitz Gilbert of Hamilton for his support at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. Kinneil remained the property of the Hamilton family for the next 600 years.

While the family's main seat remained at Hamilton itself, Kinneil served as their halfway house, convenient for the centres of royal power at Edinburgh, Stirling and Linlithgow.

Kinneil House comprises a large 15th century tower house and a smaller, adjoining 16th palace. The original small tower house built in the early 1400's above a steep ravine was enlarged  by the end of the century. Then in the course of the 16th century the need for defence and security was gradually superseded by the desire for greater domestic comfort, so that in 1553 James Hamilton 2nd Earl of Arran built a small palace a little removed from the original tower. Then in 1667 William, Duke of Hamilton and his wife Anne enlarged the palace and they joined it to the  tower by one of  two new decorative towers. However within a century the Hamilton family had abandoned Kinneil and let it out to tenants. Finally in 1923 the Hamilton family sold up Kinneil, demolished Hamilton Palace and left Chatelherault to be undermined. After 600 years the Hamilton family withdrew from their ancestral heartlands in a trail of destruction.

Kinneil House and estate was bought by Bo'ness Council and in 1936 they decided to demolish the house. The tower house was completely gutted and then when work began to strip out the palace it was discovered that two of its rooms contained the most extensive and best preserved painted interiors in Scotland. Thankfully the demolishion was halted immediately, before any further damage was done. So while Kinneil House may look intact from the outside it is in reality but an empty shell with only the painted rooms in the palace wing surviving.

The painted walls and ceilings in the Parable and Arbour Rooms were done in several stages between 1550 and 1625. These paintings are remarkable survivors. Sadly Kinneil House is only open to visitors on a few days each year. The reward to those who see inside more than repays their effort.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

Jupiter Artland, "Rivers"

'Rivers' is a wonderful, extraordinary and very, very beautiful installation by Tania Kovats. It is a boathouse built over the Duck Pond at Jupiter Artland.

Inside the boathouse is a collection of water from one hundred rivers around the British Isles.

"Each river has a history and each river has a story and in some way I am trying to capture that in each bottle."

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Crichton Castle

Crichton Castle is a ruin, standing alone in the hills, out of site of any other building, on a bluff above the marshy bed near the source of the River Tyne. The castle's heyday lasted for only two hundred years, it was seldom the stage for important events and was abandoned at the end of the 16th century. And yet even in its ruined state, Crichton Castle remains one of the most astonishing buildings in Scotland.

 In the 14th century John de Crichton built a tower house on the site. His son William served as Lord Chancellor of Scotland and was created Lord Crichton in c.1443. He had been partly responsible for organizing the infamous 'Black Dinner' of 1440 when the young Earl of Douglas was murdered. As a consequence he obtained the Douglas property of Bothwell Castle in Lanarkshire. In retaliation a Douglas loyalist attacked Crichton in 1445. William not only made good the damage but extended the castle and built the nearby collegiate church.  But the 3rd Lord Crichton Castle made the mistake of supporting the Duke of Albany and as a result, lost his land and titles which were forfeit in 1483.

In 1488 James IV granted Crichton Castle to James Hepburn, later 1st Earl of Bothwell. The 2nd Earl died at Flodden in 1513. The 3rd Earl conspired with the English against the Scottish Crown but eventually made his peace with the regent Mary of Guise. When the 4th Earl of Bothwell sided with the Catholic Mary of Guise during the Scottish Reformation, Regent the Earl of Arran attacked and captured Crichton on 3rd November 1560.

Crichton Castle was the venue for a glittering social occasion on 4th January 1562, the marriage of Jean Hepburn to John Stuart, Lord Darnley, illegitimate son of James V, whose half sister Mary Queen of Scots attended the festivities.

The Earl of Bothwell was implicated in the murder of Mary's second husband Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, in February 1567,  and became Mary's third husband in May of that year. By December all Bothwell's estates, including Crichton and his titles, were forfeited.

In 1568 Bothwell's estates, including Crichton, were granted to Francis Stewart, son of John Stewart Lord Darnley, and Jean Hepburn, therefore grandson of James V. Francis was created Earl Bothwell in 1577. He was a highly cultured and educated man who traveled widely in Europe, and inspired by what he had seen built the ultra-modern Italianate North range at Crichton in the 1580's.

Francis Stewart entertained James VI at his astonishing new lodging in March 1586. The king himself a cultured man must have been suitably impressed. But the Earl's volatile and impetuous nature propelled him into exile in 1595 and he never  returned to Scotland. We are incredibly lucky that the King's order to raise the castle was never carried out. But Crichton ceased to be a lordly residence. Although the castle was restored to his son, also Francis, he was shackled by debt and sold up. By 1659 the stones of Crichton  were being carried away for use in other buildings.

In Marmion, Sir Walter Scott described the neglected ruins:

             Crichton! though now they miry court
             But pens the lazy steer and sheep

But interest in the ruins generated by the publication of Marmion led to Crichton being valued again and in 1926 the still splendid ruined castle was handed over to the care of the State.