Places to Visit in Scotland
- Drumlanrig Castle, Dumfries and Galloway
The present Drumlanrig Castle was created as a mansion in the 17th century, by which time defensive ramparts had given way to comfortable living and large, airy windows.
An earlier, more defensive castle had been built in the middle of the 14th century by the Douglases. Sir James Douglas (known also as "The Good" or "Black Douglas") was a right-hand man of Robert the Bruce. Indeed, he was entrusted with carrying Bruce's heart to the Holy Land but was killed in a battle with the Moors in Spain while on the way. To this day, the coat of arms contains a winged heart surmounted by Bruce's crown (see graphic on the right).
Drumlanrig is built of local pink sandstone on a hill (Drum) at the end of a long (lang) ridge (rig) overlooking the Nithsdale Hills and the valley of the river Nith. It was rebuilt with a central courtyard and was in a good enough state to receive King James VI on his visit to Scotland in 1617.
Between 1679 and 1691, William Douglas, the 3rd Earl of Queensberry (he became 1st Duke of Queensberry in 1684) built a new, large mansion, following the earlier courtyard layout. Despite almost bankrupting himself as a result of creating his new home, the Duke spent only one night in the building, decided he didn't like it - and returned to Sanquhar Castle! His son, however, moved in after inheriting the title and estates. Bonnie Prince Charlie spent a night there on his retreat from Derby.
After being allowed to become derelict in the 18th century, Drumlanrig passed to the Duke of Buccleuch, head of the Scott family, in 1810, following a merger of the Douglas and Scott dynasties. The castle was restored in 1827 and is still the Dumfriesshire home of the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry (though his main residence is at Bowhill House in the Scottish Borders).
The Castle Today
Drumlanrig castle is now a 5-star tourist attraction in the area and houses the internationally renowned Buccleuch Art Collection which includes masterpieces such as Rembrandt’s The Old Woman Reading as well as many other fine paintings, tapestries and objects d’art. Visitors can view the great reception rooms, magnificent staircases and ornate period features. The Stableyard now houses the art Studios and the Stableyard Cafe as well as a Visitor Centre and Ranger Service. That's where you will find cycle hire at Rik's Bike Shed and when you return after a strenuous mountain bike ride around the estate you'll even find showers to let you freshen up.
A Drumlanrig blacksmith, Kirkpatrick Macmillan, rode 60 miles to Glasgow in 1842 on what is said to be the first ever bicycle which he had invented a few years earlier. The Scottish Cycle Museum is now situated within the Stableyard (see illustration of Stableyard here), and houses a major collection of interesting bicycles including a replica of Macmillan's original bicycle, an 1868 velocipede, a number of Victorian tricycles and penny farthings, a 1912 Dursley Pederson as well as some modern cycles.
The main Tearoom at Drumlanrig (pictured here) was once the original kitchen of the Castle with its traditional flagstone floor. Visitors can now relax there with a coffee and cake or enjoy a bite of light lunch of sandwiches, toasted muffins and paté beside a display of gleaming antique copper kitchenware. I can recommend the lunchtime soup and crusty bread in the Tearoom!
There are 90,000 acres of estate to explore in Drumlanrig Castle and Country Estate, with waymarked paths and cycling tracks and off-road mountain bike trails. And if you forget to bring a bike you can always hire one at Rik’s Bike Shed where there is a wide range of bikes and trailers. There are some great scenic views in the estate with its combination of rolling hills and the valley of the river Nith.
Walkers and nature lovers have the opportunity to spot otters and rare red squirrels as well as many types of birds. Woodland areas have a variety of trees, including the "Drumlanrig Sycamore" – one of the oldest in the country – and the very first Douglas Fir to be planted in the UK.
The Adventure Playground (see graphic on the left) at Drumlanrig can also keep kids entertained in the open air for many hours with woodland slides and climbing frames.
Drumlanrig has around 40 acres of delightful gardens which are open daily throughout the season from 11am until 5pm. Some of the Formal Garden designs, such as the Long Terrace Walk, South and East Parterres, date back to the early 17th and 18th centuries, while others, such as West Parterre (or Rose Garden), have been restored using later designs.
Restoration work continues on the original "Cascade", which was once visible from the High Terrace of the Castle but was abandoned in the 1830s. There is an imposing Victorian Glasshouse and historic Heather Houses. More recent additions include a sprawling Woodland Garden and an impressive Rhododendron Collection.
A great souvenir of a visit to Drumlanrig is to buy a plant that has been grown on the estate - depending on the time of your visit, it may be an example of one that you have seen in one of the gardens as you have wandered round during your visit.
Drumlanrig Castle and Estate is situated just off the A76 trunk road, 17 miles north of Dumfries. It is signposted from the M74 motorway (J14 southbound) and A702 at Abington and Elvanfoot. See also the Location Map on Google Maps (you can change the scale of this map, if required).
Opening times for the castle cover the months of April to end August daily 11 am - 4 pm (last entry). Gardens & Country Estate cover similar dates but daily 10 am - 5 pm. In winter, the walks, cycle routes, bike trails, and some facilities open at weekends only, 11 am - 4 pm. But see the Drumlanrig Web Site for full, current details.
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