According to my parents, I was taken to quite a number of Scottish castles as a kid. And yet, somehow, I can never seem to remember any of them.
With the Scottish sun finally hitting its stride after several centuries of build up, it was decided that rather than spend another day in the garden or pottering around Broughty Ferry it was time to go a little further afield.
Having visited Glen Doll and Kirriemuir only recently, a course was set for nearby Glamis, a small village situated on the River of Dean. In particular, the plan was to visit Glamis Castle, a 17th century mansion that once served as the birthplace for the late Queen Mother, and was before that imagined as the childhood home of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
Not far from Forfar, Glamis Castle and the surrounding grounds occupy fertile lowland in the valley between the Sidlaw Hills and Grampian Mountains. Covering 14,000 acres, the estate houses a variety of non-native trees, cash crops and smaller wildlife, including the ever-elusive red squirrel. The resident Earl and Countess of Strathmore and Kinghorne also keep a relatively large number of Highland cattle, each carrying his or her own weight in flies.
The castle itself is said to be haunted; indeed, it is often listed as one of the most haunted buildings in Britain. The legends include a young deformed boy who was bricked up in one of the castles many allegedly hidden rooms; either a monster or a vampire, depending on who you’re humouring, he was known only to a select few servants, but was rumoured to reveal himself on occasion to visitors. There’s also Jack The Runner, a harmless spectre occasionally seen crossing the grounds, and Earl Beardie, who lost his soul to the devil during a game of cards.
Having parked in the grounds for the princely sum of £13, we began the morning by tracing a proscribed route to The Walled Garden. Skirting the visitor’s centre and a children’s playground, we made our way to the river, and, following it north-east, crossed a picturesque brick bridge approximately half-way to the flower garden. The riverside boasted a number of impressively twisty trees — each tagged with its own metal ID (hence my sudden knowledge of trees) — including Western Red Cedar and False Cypress.
The garden itself was absolutely spectacular, a beautifully wrought iron gate leading into a courtyard centered around a large, ornate fountain, which was in actual fact added only last year (or so the internet tells me). Each of its two dissecting corridors were flanked by crisp and colourful flora — including a stunning display of primrose, rhododendrons and azaleas — the flowerbeds as structured and symmetrical as the surrounding brickwork. Scientists may be trying to convince you that bees are disappearing, but really they’re just taking up residence here.
Crossing the Earl Michael Bridge to the Pinetum, the track lead through a towering forest of hay-fever-inducing Douglas Fir and various North American conifers. Re-crossing the river at an intersection marked by bathing Highland cattle, wet flies and another iron bridge, the trail passed a memorial dedicated to Princess Margaret and ended suddenly and ceremoniously at the elaborate Italian Gardens.
We closed the gate behind us to keep out the rabbits, and followed the perimeter yew hedges around the formal lawns, the path taking us over two raised terraces. I’m not sure what made the gardens Italian exactly, but they were commissioned by Countess Cecilia (the Queen mum’s mum) in 1910, and designed by Arthur Castings (the Queen’s great-, great-gardener). Embedded in alcoves in the hedge stood magnificent marble statues, depicting a number of unknown figures alongside what appears to have been Little Bo-Peep.
Exiting through the south gate, wrought to celebrate the Queen Mother’s 80th birthday — and passing by a small animal graveyard commemorating the likes of Hercules, a Labrador which died in 2006, and something called Fizz Whizzy — we left the treeline and emerged back onto the manicured lawns. Glamis Castle once again rose before us, as we made our way back to the visitor’s centre — the Pavilion Shop — for some much needed ice cream and the sun cream we had stupidly left in the car.
I may have forgotten it once, but Glamis Castle is not the sort of place you could ever forget twice; enchantingly vast and exquisitely maintained, it really is one of the most stunning estates Scotland has to offer. And we never even went inside.