Discover Your Backyard – Aberdeenshire’s Castle Gardens
Our family adventures have recommenced within the boundaries of the slowly loosening pandemic restrictions and we look forward over this series of posts titled 'Discover Your Backyard' to highlight the great days out now available to us in Scotland. This first post will concentrate on three half day trips that we had, visiting the gardens and grounds of a trio of Scotland’s most impressive castles – Crathes, Drum and Fyvie. It should be noted that the castles themselves had not reopened at the time of our visit, but the outdoor spaces had.
2020 has been a difficult year for most of us. As we start to see the green shoots of recovery, we want to see Scottish tourism flourish again and show that Scotland is open for business. Certain sites and locations may not be open or fully functioning, but there is still an amazing range of things to do and see, with more places opening to visitors each day.
Crathes Castle was established in the late 16th century, and is memorable for its towers, turrets, and stories of its resident ghosts. King Robert the Bruce granted the lands of Leys to the Burnett family in 1323: the ancient Horn of Leys, which can be seen today in the Great Hall, marks his gift. The castle has its own ghosts of course, the most famous being the Green Lady, who often manifests as a green mist floating across the room. It is even said that Queen Victoria saw the apparition during a visit.
The 1.5 hectares of walled garden, which incorporates herbaceous borders and many unusual plants. The great yew hedges, fascinating examples of the art of topiary, date from as early as 1702. The garden, as you see it today, was influenced by the Arts and Crafts movement, and consists of 8 garden rooms, each with its own theme. The gardens have been planted in such a way that there is colour all year round. There are also seven waymarked trails, including one suitable for wheelchairs, which lead through the mixed woodlands, along the Coy Burn and past the millpond.
Drum Castle is a combination of a 13th century square tower and a Jacobean mansion house, with the additions of Victorian lairds. In 1323 the castle was granted to William de Irwyn by King Robert the Bruce. The castle remained within the Irvine family until 1975, when it was handed over to the National trust of Scotland. The original house was enlarged with the creation of an exceptionally fine Jacobean mansion house in 1619 and a later addition during the reign of Queen Victoria. The grounds contain the Old Wood of Drum ancient oak woodland. Within the old walled garden is a fine collection of historic roses.
Fyvie Castle is an imposing fortress with over 800 years of history. Starting as a royal castle around 1200, Fyvie was probably a square wooden structure initially. Over the years, several Scottish kings stayed here, including Alexander II and Robert the Bruce, and the castle eventually passed from the king to the Lindsays, the Prestons, the Setons, then eventually the Gordon family. Each owner added their own mark on the castle and it is said that each of the five families to own the castle added a tower (there are actually only four towers, but, for the purpose of this saying, the 1890 projecting wing was included as the fifth!). The interiors of the castle more than match the outside walls of this fairy-tale castle, with a rich collection of artworks, including the largest private collections of Raeburns in the world.
Dating from around 1777, the walled garden is also a must-see, beautifully laid out and brimming with Scottish fruits and vegetables, many of which are rare. The Ball Green area, in the northern third of the garden contained what was reputed to be the oldest fig house in Scotland. The central section of the garden, known as Rhymers How, was set aside for the cultivation of mulberries, peaches, nectarines, and grapes. While the southern section contained exotic trees, and shrubs. By 1984, much of the garden had been left to grow as grass, but in this year the National Trust for Scotland acquired the castle and set about bringing the garden back to life, although in a much diminished size. Today, the garden boasts of a cornucopia of Scottish varieties of apple, pear, plum, blackcurrants, raspberries, and blackberries. If you want a longer walk, the 1 and a half mile trail around Fyvie Lake is a haven of tranquillity.
Take the challenge, discover what is in your backyard, whether you live in Scotland, in the other parts of the British Isles or even Europe, venture into the fairy tale land of Bonnie Scotland.
Join us next time when our family adventures continue as we explore more of the attractions of Aberdeenshire. Until then, happy reading and safe travels.
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