Dunrobin Castle is one of Scotland’s “great houses”, a French chateau-looking mansion house with conical spires and towering walls on the east coast of Scotland. Dating back to the early 1300s, it has actually been continuously inhabited since then, which makes it one of the oldest in Britain, first by Earls, then the Dukes of Sutherland, then as a Naval Hospital, and finally as a Boys’ Boarding School. It could easily have been drawn for a Disney movie, but this place is all about how the other half live.
Dunrobin Castle, Scotland.
We visited on the final day of our North Coast 500 road trip. We were travelling the 100 miles or so from Wick down to Fortrose Bay, just north of Inverness. The A9 between the two is much wider and faster than the roads on the rest of the road trip, and so the journey was to take us much less time than the previous four days. We had planned a number of short walks a little like the ones we’d done at Rogie Falls and Knockan Cragg, but the weather had other ideas with rain, very low cloud, and therefore non-existent views. Dunrobin Castle was our back-up plan, somewhere we thought we’d stop for a quick look anyway, but that ended up being the bulk of our day.
The Castle overlooks the Moray Firth close to Golspie and Dornoch and is accessed directly from the A9 main coastal road. At £11 each it isn’t expensive for a day out and would provide us with some inside things to do to keep us out of the worst of the weather. After queuing a little to get in (lots of others had the same idea as us, along with the tour bus loads), we soon realised this was a very good call. Dunrobin is steeped in history, and there was plenty to keep us occupied inside – and outside when the rain wasn’t falling.
We started with the Falconry display in the gardens, which was the most impressive such display I’ve ever seen, before wandering around the castle itself, having lunch in the café, and visiting the museum and the gardens in the afternoon.
Once inside the Castle we rushed straight to the Falconry Display, as we had read online that it was rather spectacular. The large seating area was already full so we stood to one side and listened and watched as Andy Hughes, the Dunrobin resident Falconer demonstrated and explained the different hunting methods used by owls, hawks and falcons. Each display differs slightly as he uses different birds from the Castle collection, but I was very pleased to see the Peregrine Falcon used in this particular display as we have some resident in Lincoln Cathedral and I often hear them calling when out on my lunchtime walks.
Andy told stories and provided plenty of facts (most of which were true…), and allowed the birds to fly over the crowd – sometimes quite low over our heads. It has probably ruined any future falconry displays I might see, it was utterly fascinating and very well done, well worth the entrance fee alone.
Andy and one of his Falcons.
Inside the House
One wing of the house is still occupied, but there is a large part of it open to the public, and it was so interesting to wander around the different rooms, still decorated in 1850 finery. The sweeping main staircase boasts hunting trophies and paintings (it was a hunting lodge, after all), and the tour is filled with information boards telling stories of what might have taken place in each of the rooms on display.
There’s the dining room, music room, breakfast room, drawing room, an impressive library with over 10,000 books that just made me want to sit down and read, the Ladies’ sitting room which was traditionally this a quiet place for the ladies of the house to pursue such hobbies as embroidery (!), the day nursery and night nursery with some amazing children’s books that I remember having as a child, the seamstresses room which is said to be haunted, and the “Cromarty Stair” which is known as the hanging staircase. Oh and I can’t forget the Fire Engine Tea Room, which is where we had lunch!
View from the Castle.
Dunrobin Castle Museum is hidden away behind a gate to one side of the gardens. I’m not really sure I knew what I was expecting, but when we opened the door and went in I admit I was a little shocked. The building, which was originally built as a summer house, is full to bursting with hunting trophies, mainly the heads of animals shot by the family on safari. Including a giraffe. There are also a variety of archaeological artifacts such as Pictish symbol stones and cross-slabs, carved more than 1,500 years ago, but I just couldn’t get beyond the display of dead animals I was presented with. I’m told it is one of the most remarkable private collections in Britain, I don’t recall ever seeing anything like it, it was both quite horrifying and strangely interesting at the same time. Certainly not the sort of thing that would be created in todays society (I hope), but an interesting insight into the aristocracy of days gone by.
With an Eagle Owl.
In all we probably spent four hours or so wandering around the Castle, including having a lovely (but expensive compared with other places we’d eaten that week) lunch in the café. It really is a lovely place to visit and well worth the time and money. Find out more about Dunrobin Castle on their website.