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holiday in Arran

Holiday Of A Lifetime

Just 20 miles long and 10 miles wide, the Isle of Arran is like Scotland
in miniature, with Highlands and Lowlands, a golf course for every day
of the week and history reaching back 12,000 years.

BY STEPHEN MCGINTY

When visitors to Brodick Castle walk along the upstairs corridor, the past is not only present, but actually audible. Strolling slowly, I could hear the soft clink of glasses and the murmur of conversation and laughter, as if I were eavesdropping on the fabulous salons of the Duke of Hamilton. On the walls was a fascinating, but disturbing, glimpse into the pastimes of the Victorians: etchings of bear baiting and dog fights. But once I stepped into the grand parlour, all was elegant sophistication. A member of staff was dressed in the black and white tie and tails of a period butler, happy to help if required...but it was the room that captured my full attention. A rich red carpet, with an ornate love seat in the centre, was illuminated by a crystal chandelier attached to a ceiling of wondrous alabaster carvings. A soundtrack of classical music played while the grand piano had a music book open at "The Fidgety Bairn" -- "a cradle song from Barra," it said, with words and arrangement by Hugh S. Robertson.

There is much to stop and detain the visitor to Brodick Castle, which has reopened after an extensive refurbishment, and while any change is sure to upset the more conservative among us, I'd like to declare it a bold success. The first-time visitor will immediately be struck by the enviable, and eminently defensible, position of the castle, with its commanding views over the countryside and coastline. It is believed to have been a spot first chosen by the Vikings, and was the site of successive keeps after that. What we do know for certain is that in 1503 King James IV bestowed the castle and the title, Earldom of Arran, to his cousin, James Lord Hamilton. The castle has remained in the family ever since, but is now run by the National Trust for Scotland. Yet, that is not to say it has remained unchanged. Far from it. It was demolished twice -- once in 1455 and again 1544 -- and today the oldest part is the east tower, which dates to 1588.

The building in which I'm now standing was constructed in 1844 and the National Trust has designed the new tours around the Victorian occupants, so instead of trying to cram in too much history, they have cleverly focused on a smaller period, but one deeply fascinating. As you walk around the rooms, what unfolds is a tale of excess. William, the 11th Duke of Hamilton, married Princess Marie of Baden, youngest daughter of the Grand Duke of Baden, and laid out in clever displays is her correspondence chronicling her push for refurbishment to the castle on a grand scale.

The full text of this article is available in the Autumn 2019 issue of Scottish Life.

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Photo © Allan Wright/Scottish Viewpoint; Robert Perry/Scottish Viewpoint; Iain McLean/Scottish Viewpoint