Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Dalquharran Castle

Dalquharran Castle in Ayrshire is a castellated mansion designed by the great Robert Adam built between 1795-1780. His client was his niece's husband, Thomas Kennedy of Dunure. The Dalquharran estate can be traced back to the 14th century and the ruins of an earlier castle still lie within the policies. The Dalquharran estate was bought in the late 17th century by Sir Robert Kennedy, Lord Provost of Edinburgh and ancestor of Adam's patron. The old castle remained inhabited until  Robert Adam's mansion was completed, and after that it was allowed to fall into ruin, and provide a picturesque illustration of the Kennedy's ancient lineage.

Dalquharran Castle was not the first example of Adam's castle style in Ayrshire, nearby Culzean Castle was started in 1776. His ideas for Dalquharran began after a visit to the site in which he produced a  sketch that showed a castle overlooking the old castle and the Girvan Water, a design for a mansion that was conceived as an arresting feature in the landscape.

Adam's design for the castle was finished by 1785. The plan of  is a classical arrangement of central entrance hall and staircase. The wooden paneling in the hall survives, now fashionably distressed. Many rooms retain wooden lath and plaster on the walls.

 The top lit stairwell contains a spiral cantilevered staircase of great elegance, even in its present degraded condition.

The servants staircase was concealed in a turret.

The south facing drawing room had magnificent views across the Girvan Water valley.

Dalquharran was four storeys high, with the east wing having an oval dining room on the ground floor while the west wing had an apse ended bedroom and dressing room. The shape of the dining room inserted into the interior by means of walls of varying thickness illustrates Adam's concern to maintain the external symmetry of the mansion. The two top floors were used for bedrooms while the room at the top of the south turret was the library, with its lost fixtures designed by Adam himself. 

The basement provided the service accommodation. The blue and cream tiles indicate where the cooker used to be.

Work at Dalquharran was still ongoing at the time of Robert Adam's death in 1792. The castle passed by descent through the Kennedy family until the grandson of Robert Kennedy, Francis Thomas Romilly Kennedy  decided to enlarge the mansion in 1880 with the addition of wings to the north-east and to the south-west. This was to increase the number of bedrooms, necessary  as Kennedy and his wife had nine children.

 However the cost of the building left the family almost bankrupt and they moved out of Dalquharran in 1890 and let the estate for hunting and fishing. After nearly fifty years of being let to tenants the Kennedy family finally sold up. Until WW2 it was used as a youth hostel. During the war it was sold again to the Stewart family who lived there until 1967 when they had the roof removed, to avoid the payment of property rates. Dalquharran  Castle is now a complete ruin although the external stonework is still in poignantly good condition.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Dalkeith, Montagu Bridge

The Montagu Bridge, a spectacular single arch span over the River North Esk in Dalkeith Park is one of the last works of the great Robert Adam.  Built in 1792 Montagu Bridge was originally adorned with life size sculptures of four stags mounted on the parapet at either end. They had to be removed because they frightened the horses. Their whereabouts are unknown.

Montagu Bridge was conceived as a magnificent eye-catcher to be viewed from Dalkeith Palace, rather than merely as a means of  reaching the far bank. This splendid extravagance was named after Lady Elizabeth Montagu who had married the 3rd Duke of Buccleugh and brought with her an enormous dowry including Montagu House in London and Boughton House in Northamptonshire, the latter described as the English Versailles and with it came five villages and extensive estates. The Montagu-Douglas-Scott family still own Boughton and find time to visit every year.

From the bridge the view to the east, is of a densely wooded gorge with the rapids way down below.  To the west  the view is of Dalkeith Palace, with the great grass bowl recently restored in front of it. The design and position of the bridge, in a sublime natural landscape, is a great example of the picturesque style brought back to Britain after noblemen were able to travel to the continent following the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713.

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Yester Castle (Goblin Ha')

A ruined castle in a remote wood, Yester Castle stood on a high bluff above the confluence of two burns in East Lothian. A fragment of the gatehouse survives and a section of the curtain wall,  almost hidden in the trees. Yester Castle is not mentioned in any guide book. Nor are there any signposts. Yet these meagre ruins are among the most infamous in Scotland, that is because of a subterranean chamber known as the Goblin Ha'.

It was this notoriety, perhaps, as well as its more obvious attraction, its' relative inaccessibility  that fifty years ago in the middle of winter snow led my father to try and find it, with wife and boys in tow. Pipe in mouth dressed in his 'wood chopping' kilt, father; cigarette in hand wearing her kilt, a stepmother; and two little boys in shorts, 'you will be wearing trousers soon enough.'  The plan was to go for a picnic. Car laden we set out from Juniper Green near Edinburgh, an hour or so's drive to Gifford in East Lothian. On arrival out came the relevant Ordnance Survey map and the partly, intrepid little party set off on foot to find the castle.

Exploring ruined castles was a favourite family pastime in those distant days, and there was no shortage of ruined castles in Scotland. However this particular castle left an indelible impression, of cooking sausages  and brewing tea  and eating our picnic in the remains of a chamber  up in the gatehouse tower, reached by climbing up the crumbling walls. Eating at ground level would of course have been too straightforward.

What made that visit all those years ago so memorable was what happened next.  Led by father, with torch  through a subterranean passage into an dark underground  chamber. The stepmother sensibly waited  outside, no doubt passing the time by smoking, yet another, cigarette. Inside the chamber another stone passage with steep steps led down into the earth. As the eldest child it fell to me the dubious honour of following instructions to see where the passage led. Meanwhile the holder of the torch shone its beam on me.

On my second visit, fifty years later, the ruined castle is exactly as I remember. Remote wood; fragmentary ruins; the tiny entrance to the tunnel and the underground chamber itself.  Of the small party that made that visit fifty years ago, only two are still here, and one of them, my father, has lost his mind.

Yester Castle was built by Sir Hugo Gifford, guardian of the young King Alexander III, sometime before 1267. Sir Hugo had a reputation as warlock and a necromancer. He was said to have built the underground chamber with the help of magical forces and afterwards used it to practice his sorcery. He is said to have made a pact with the Devil which enabled him to raise magical forces to do his bidding and it was this supernatural army of Hobgoblins that built the castle, hence the popular name of the underground chamber, the Goblin Ha'. However the reality is no less remarkable, the Goblin Ha' is the earliest example of Gothic architecture in Scotland.

When Sir Hugo's daughter was to marry, he gave her fiance Broun of Coulston, a pear with the proviso that should anything happen to the pear it would spell disaster for the family. The pear was placed in a silver casket and the family prospered. Until, in 1692 when the fiance of Sir George Broun decided to take the pear out of its casket. When she the found the pear to look as fresh as the day it was picked she could not help herself and took a bite. She must have regretted her impulse soon after when her husband was forced to sell his estate due to gambling debts, then  her brother in law brother and two sons were swept away by flood waters when the River Tyne burst its banks. After the bite had been taken from the pear it is said to have turned as hard as stone. The pear is still preserved at Coulston House.

In 1357 the male line of the Gifford's failed and Yester passed through marriage to the Hay's who hold the barony to this day. David Hay was created a Lord of Parliament in 1487. In 1513 the second Lord Hay was killed at Flodden. In 1547 Yester was attacked by the English and defended successfully by the 4th Lord Hay during the Rough Wooing. After the death of the 4th Lord Hay, his son and heir abandoned Yester Castle and moved to a tower house on the site of the present Yester House. (The 6th Lord Hay was created Marquess of Tweeddale in 1646). The castle was left to fall gradually into disrepair and by the 17th century was in a ruinous condition. The last known resident of the Goblin Ha' was the Marquess of Tweeddale's falconer who left in 1737.

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Drummond Castle Glasshouse

Beyond the walled garden at Drummond Castle is the kitchen garden. Fruit trees, apples, plums, pears and roses  grow against the garden wall.

R. Dr W. van Fleet

Although the number of glasshouses has been reduced, the remaining Victorian glasshouses are still used for the cultivation of figs, peaches, nectarines and vines.

The glasshouses also contain a spectacular display of pelargoniums and other exotic flora.

The kitchen garden is about four acres in size, not all of it remains in cultivation today although it is still used for the cultivation of vegetables for the castle.


Sunday, 2 March 2014


 Mnajdra (pronounced Mmnaidra) is the most spectacularly sited of Malta's Neolithic temples with views over the sea to the uninhabited island of Filfla. The temple complex occupies a shallow hollow above the cliff tops of Dingli, out of sight of any modern buildings. This isolation and solitude marked it out from all the other Neolithic sites in this  small crowded island. This sacrilized landscape was as remarkable for its great antiquity, among the oldest religious sites in the world, as it was for its unspoiled tranquility.

The Neolithic temples of Malta have been claimed as the oldest free standing monuments known in the world. These are the world's oldest buildings and its oldest architecture. These monuments are older than the Pyramids of Egypt and older than Stonehenge. They are the work of people who are believed to have migrated from Sicily and who developed these remarkable cultural innovations in subsequent isolation. This led to the building of the temples of the Ggantija phase (3600-3000 BC), culminating in the Tarxien temple which remained in use until 2500 BC. Mnajdra is a complex site, the oldest part is the small upper temple which dates from the Ggantija phase (3600 -3000 BC) This is a three apsed building which like the others was once covered by a vaulted roof.

The lowest temple dates from the Tarxien phase (3150-2500 BC). This is the most impressive of the temples at Mnajdra, and it is to me the most exciting places in Malta .It has a large forecourt with stone benches set against a concave facade and an entrance passage covered with horizontal slabs.

In the first apse is a magnificent porthole slab framed in a trilithon, the whole decorated by a close-spaced pitted surface. Underneath is a threshold slab, cut to fit around the orthostats. On either side are free-standing pitted slabs.

Through this doorway is the inner apse of the temple, separated by a double altar with pillar (phallic) supports. Another pillared altar is opposite the doorway and a third pitted altar though with no pillar is to the left.

The apse on the right of the temple has walls over 4 metres high giving a visitor the impression of standing inside a building.rather than visiting a ruin. In the eastern wall is a small doorway with a stepped approach and another porthole slab. It leads to a small chamber within the thickness of the walls.

To the right is an altar niche, a porthole slab within a trilithon leading to an altar slab supported on an elaborate pillar (phallus).

This temple is astronomically aligned and on the vernal and autumn equinox the sunlight passes through the entrance and up the main axis to penetrate the interior of the temple. On the solstices the sun lights up the edges of the megaliths on either side of the entrance.

The middle temple is the latest of the three at Mnajdra and was built in the Tarxien phase (3150- 2500 BC), inserted between the other two. On the largest upright to the left of the inner passage is a small engraving of a temple facade. The world's oldest surviving architectural representation.

Since these photographs were taken Mnajdra ,after 5000 years, has been covered with what is described as a protective tent (2009). Entry is restricted and a fee is now charged. To those who were able to visit Mnajdra and never see another soul, these developments are to be profoundly regretted. I am glad Vera Greer, who loved this place did not live to see it.