Scotland Day 6: Dunrobin Castle

One June 21 we left Nairn and drove up the east coast to Dunrobin Castle. On the way, our guide taught us about the history of Dunrobin, seat of the Earls and Dukes of Sutherland and the largest mansion in northern Scotland with 189 rooms. It has a sordid past because the owners, Elizabeth, Countess of Sutherland and her husband George Levenson-Gower who became 1st Duke of Sutherland in 1832, were responsible for Highland Clearances. They forcibly evicted thousands of people who lived on and farmed the land (The estate was 1 1/2 million acres.) They set the croft homes' thatch roofs on fire, even killing people who were not able to get out of the burning houses in time. These families, Gaelic speaking for the most part and descendants of the clans who had lived here for hundreds of years, knew no other home. The reason for the clearances was money. Though the owners were already wealthy and earning millions a year, they wanted more. (Even the queen thought their mansion more impressive than her own.) The advice they received for "improvements" was to kick the people out and bring in sheep. We saw abandoned stone croft homes all over the Highlands which are the sad leftover skeletons of Scotland's past. I can only hope the people who lived in them found happier and more prosperous lives whatever they eventually settled, either near the shore or on a different continent. Here are a few links if you'd like to learn more.

Knowing how cruel the past owners and builders of the castle had been did put a damper on the visit. It is beautiful, fairy tale like setting. The castle reminded me a great deal of the Biltmore House in Asheville, which I've visited several times. The styles of both are mostly French. But Dunrobin has an interior section which is medieval, and some parts date back to the 13th century. The interiors of the rooms are incredibly rich with artwork and priceless furniture. No photos were allowed inside. You can see some interior photos here:
Cedar, the European Eagle Owl
The gardens and falconry demonstration were my favorite parts. I had never seen falconry before and have always had an interest in it. These trained birds of prey are so impressive. I was amazed to learn wars had been fought in the middle ages over Gyr Falcons and that now they can cost as much as a BMW car.
Here is the official site for falconry at Dunrobin.
Quince, the Golden Eagle

The gardens were incredibly beautiful. As a gardener, I was keen to look at as many of the plants as possible. I noticed everything grows really well in much of Scotland. Due, I'm sure, to the large amount of rain and the peaty soil. The gardens lie between the castle and the ocean. Almost anywhere you stand here and take a photo, it looks like a postcard.

For lunch here I had a delicious Highland pie. This is not a dessert but a main course filled with venison and vegetables with potatoes on the side.


Anonymous said...

Vonda, although this period in Highland history is truly one of the bleakest, I'm glad that you included it in your blog. My first thought when I saw Dunrobin Castle was of how beautiful it was. As I read on, I found the beauty of the castle was much diminished. County Sutherland has never fully recovered from the Highland Clearances. It is still the least populated county in Scotland. Micheale Shelton

Vonda Sinclair said...

I felt the same way when visiting, Micheale. On the surface it is a beautiful fairytale like setting, but when you look beneath, you see that the money to build it came from others' suffering and losing the only homes they'd known for centuries. Which causes the castle to lose much of its appeal. But I was glad our guide had included the history before we arrived. It enriched the experience.