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North East "Speak of the North..." Northumberland and the Borders


1000+ Posts
By Eleanor from UK, Summer 2013
Trip report of five days in June spent exploring Northumberland and the Scottish Borders from a base at Berwick upon Tweed.

This trip report was originally posted on SlowTrav.

An Overview

There is something about the North. As soon as we hit the A1 and start following signs to “The North” I experience a thrill of excitement and anticipation. Going south just isn’t the same.

I spent six years in Durham in the 1960s. Flower power passed me by, instead I fell in love with Northumbria. We have spent many happy holidays along Hadrian’s Wall and around Keilder Forest and Water and have got to know both areas well. Apart from a short break earlier this year we haven’t really explored the north of the county and across the border into Scotland. It was time to rectify that.

We booked a five night bargain break at the Travelodge in Berwick. It is basic accommodation but booked well in advance on a bargain break was excellent value. Full price it isn’t. There is a Morrisons supermarket with a cafe across the road for food and, on the Berwick by-pass, proved to be a good base.

This is a landscape of sweeping vistas and distant views down to the large mass of the Cheviot and across to the characteristic outline of the Eildon Hills. It is an area of fertile farmland with large farms. There are big fields of cereal or rape, still bright yellow in June. Cows or sheep graze the lush pastureland and the local meat is very good.

For hundreds of years this has been fought over by English and Scottish armies. Land and property changed hands many times. The area was subject to frequent raids by the Border Reivers. Family loyalties and ties still remain strong.

In Northumbria, the King was represented by the Prince Bishops who were responsible for maintaining law and order. The nobility built large castles. The less wealthy lived in peles like at Embleton or tower houses like at Smailholm.

Berwick upon Tweed was at the fore front of hostilities and has massive ramparts and the first specially built barracks in the country.

More settled times arrived after the Union of the Crowns in 1603 when James VI of Scotland became James I of England. Castles were no longer needed for defense and became more comfortable family homes. Some like Floors Castle have been extended over the years and are now very comfortable castles. Others like Warkworth were deserted as the family moved to more comfortable accommodation at Alnwick Castle.

Dramatic Dunstanburgh, Norham once the base of the Prince Bishops, Dirleton with its beautiful gardens and Tantallon Castles with its views of the Bass Rock are still ruins.

Bamburgh Castle was restored at the end of the 19thC by Sir William Armstrong, the Tyneside multimillionaire and philanthropist, who intended it to be a convalescent home.

Chillingham Castle was a roofless shell until restoration work began 30 years ago.

The 17thC saw the appearance of the stately home and many have survived in Northumberland and the Borders. Some like Wallington and Cragside are now owned by the National Trust and are very much display houses. Others are still in private ownership and are very much lived in and loved family homes. Money was often no object and many of these are splendid. Mellerstein House has glorious Adam ceilings. Paxton House has one of the best collections of Chippendale furniture in the country. Manderson was built for the nouveau riche Sir James Miller and no expense was spared on it, including a silver staircase.

Apart from Chillingham and Bamburgh, photographs are not allowed in the stately homes.

The north east was an important base for early Christianity with St Cuthbert and St Aidan. Holy Island with the remains of its monastery is popular for day trips - as long as the tide times are right. They weren’t for us. Saxon and Norman work survives in the churches at Norham and Chillingham. At Edrom the old church was pulled down, but the Norman doorway has been rebuilt in the churchyard.

In Scotland there are the great border abbeys of Jedburgh, Melrose, Dryburgh and Kelso.

The power of the church was strong and tithes, accounting for one tenth of your yearly produce, was payable to the church. The tithe barn in the churchyard at Foulden is one of only two to survive in Scotland.

Most people tear through on the way to the Highlands. This is a shame as they miss so much. There is a lot to do and see in the area. In five days we only just began to scratch the surface. Several houses are only open on certain days so a lot of planning went in to make sure we could fit in as much as possible. Places like Traquair, the oldest lived in Castle in Scotland, Alnwick Castle, Belsay Hall, Wallington, Cragside and the rest of the Border Abbeys will have to be left for another time.

We are members of Historic Scotland and Friends of Historic Houses Association which meant we got free admission at all the places we visited. They certainly repaid their annual fee this visit.

The quotation is the title of a poem by Charlotte Bronte.


River Coquet and Amble from Warkworth Castle
Northumberland: Berwick upon Tweed, a Border Town with a lot of History

Berwick upon Tweed is a border town and has been fought over and changed hands many times over the centuries, on average every 15 years. Under the Treaty of Perpetual Peace between Henry VII of England and James IV of Scotland in 1502, Berwick was given a special status as being "of" the Kingdom of England but not "in" it. As a result the town needed special mention in all royal proclamations. Queen Victoria signed the declaration of war on Russia in 1853, as "Victoria, Queen of Great Britain, Ireland, Berwick-upon-Tweed and the British Dominions beyond the sea." Berwick was not mentioned in the Treaty of Paris that concluded the Crimean War in 1856, leaving the town technically still at war with Russia. A peace treaty was finally signed by a Russian diplomat and the Mayor of Berwick in 1966. As the mayor said at the time: "You can tell the Russian people that they can now sleep peacefully in their beds."

Berwick is now bypassed and people drive past on their way to Scotland, perhaps just getting a glimpse of the bridges across the River Tweed. Berwick is renowned for its three bridges. The magnificent Royal Border Bridge built under the supervision of Robert Stephenson dominates the rest with its 28 arches carrying the railway 126’ above the Tweed. The old bridge is an elegant low stone structure built between 1610-24 to carry the great north road between England and Edinburgh. It is the fourth bridge on the site. It was superseded by the rather boring Royal Tweed Bridge built in 1925 and the longest concrete span in the country at the time.

About four miles upstream is the Union Chain Bridge built in 1820. Not only was it the longest iron suspension bridge in the world when built it is also the oldest iron chain suspension bridge in Europe to still carry traffic. It saved an 11-mile round trip via Berwick upon Tweed downstream, a 20 mile trip via Coldstream upstream or having to negotiate the New Water Ford. This could be perilous, especially when the river was in flood or at high tide.

On the opening day there was an excited audience watching Captain Brown, the designer, raced across in an open top carriage, waving and cheering. He was followed by a dozen heavily loaded carts to prove the strength and safety of the bridge.

Not only has the traffic bypassed Berwick so have the years. It is many years since we last visited and they haven’t treated the town kindly. This is a shame as it has a lot of character with some splendid buildings. Berwick has a very wide main street with the usual selection of national chains found in your average high street. There is nothing really to attract the shopper tourist at the moment.

There is a splendid Town Hall at the top of Castlegate which has been described as one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in the North of England. It was built between 1750-61 with steps up to a classical portico with pillars. The clock tower originally acted as the bell tower for the parish church which had no bells. As well has its administrative function, the top of the building was the town prison. In the summer months the council arranges conducted tours of the public rooms, museum, gaol (jail) and belfry.

We parked in the pay and display car park by the Co-op which is just inside the gateway through the ramparts. This used to be the site of the cattle market. From here there is easy access to the walk around the Elizabethan ramparts which were built between 1558-70 replacing the medieval walls which were susceptible to heavy artillery. Although referred to as Elizabethan, they were actually instigated by Mary I before her death and continued by Elizabeth. Based on an Italian design which involved major excavations, at a cost of £128,648 they were the most expensive undertaking of their time.

They are the only example of this type of fortification in Britain. They consist of five arrowhead earth bastions with stone ramparts. The heavy cannon were placed on the top to be used against the distant enemy. Smaller cannons were placed in the stone lined chambers at the base and controlled the base of the walls. The bastions were cleverly positioned so that gun coverage overlapped and would have provided deadly cross fire with no gaps.

Steps lead up onto the ramparts and it is a lovely walk around the edge of Berwick along the coast. The walls stand 20’ high and the tops of the ramparts are another 16’ above these. Take care, as there are no protective fences and signs warn of steep drops.

Berwick Barracks were built in 1717 and it was the first purpose built infantry barracks in England. Previously soldiers had been billeted in the town. The failed Jacobite Rebellion of 1715 persuaded the government of the need for a permanent barracks in Berwick. There was accommodation for 600 men and 36 officers in three blocks built round a central parade ground. It was used for 200 years and the King’s Own Scottish Borderers were stationed here. There is a splendid gateway with the Royal coat of arms and the arms of the different units based here.

The Barracks now house three museums, The King’s Own Borderer’s Museum, ‘By the Beat of the Drum’ which covers the life of the British infantryman from the Civil War to the First World War and the Berwick Museum & Art Gallery. We gave the museums a miss this visit and just admired the Barracks and courtyard from the outside.

The Church of the Holy Trinity and St Mary is set in a large graveyard against the ramparts and across the road from the Barracks. This is remarkable as it is one of the few churches to be built during the Commonwealth. The townsfolk petitioned Charles I for permission to build a new church to replace the medieval church. Charles gave a donation towards the cost and funds were raised. Building began the year after Charles was beheaded, using stone from the ruined 1300s castle. It was built in the Puritan style with a single preaching nave with no chancel, organ, steeple or stained glass. Galleries were built round three sides of the building.

The church was consecrated in 1662 after the restoration of Charles II. The minister was unable to accept the Act of Uniformity and was required to leave. The Bishop of Durham demanded that a chancel be added for the communion table and a font. The present organ was installed in 1773. The chancel was eventually built in 1855.

Built without a tower, it is a large building with a long rectangular nave with a clerestory and lower battlemented side aisles and chancel. It has a flat roof and two small cupolas at the corners of the west end. There is a small door in the south wall with a sundial above. The main entrance is through the west door which has a pillared portico with a triangular top.

Inside round pillars and arches separate nave and side aisles. Along the walls are memorials to the great and good along with the colours of the Coldstream Guards. Across the back of the church is the remains of the west gallery. The Lady Chapel in the north aisle has been enclosed by glass. The chancel is small and quite dark.

It was a Thursday and the 10am service was just about to start so we didn’t have chance to nose around as much as we’d have liked so missed the early Lutyens reredos behind the altar.


Northumberland: Bamburgh Castle, History

Bamburgh Castle is one of the iconic images of Northumberland built on top of a crag of the Whin Sill high above the North Sea.

The site has been settled since prehistoric times and there are ongoing excavations at the western end of the castle. Flints have been found from the Stone Age, grave goods from the Bronze Age and pottery fragments from the Iron Age. The Anglo Saxons settled here and built a basilica to hold a reliquary containing the arm of St Oswald. The Normans built a castle on the site and it became the property of the English monarch.

It was the target of raids from Scotland and in 1464 during the Wars of the Roses, was the first castle in England to be defeated by the use of artillery at the end of a nine month siege.

Ownership was granted to the Forster Family and remained with them until Sir William died bankrupt in 1700 when the estate was sold to Lord Crewe, Bishop of Durham. The castle fell into a ruinous state and was bought in 1893, by Lord Armstrong, the Tyneside multi millionaire, for £60,000. He began to restore it as a convalescent home for retired gentlemen, ‘persons of superior education in reduced circumstances.’ He spent one million pounds, but died before the work was completed. The family home of Cragside was transferred to the Treasury in part payment of death duties and the castle became the family residence. It is still owned by members of the Armstrong Family and much of it is let as private apartments.

We parked in the castle car park at a charge of £2 per day and walked up to the splendid gatehouse which was the first part of the castle to be built in the 12thC and now houses the ticket office. Beyond is Vale Typping, a narrow passageway which runs between the inner and outer curtain walls beneath the massive Constable tower. Steps lead up to the Battery armed with cannons in response to the threat of invasion by Napoleon. Below is the Battery Gate which was used by horses and carts as Vale Typping was too steep for them.

The massive Norman keep dominates the site. Work began in 1164 and it was built from stone quarried at North Sutherland, Its walls are 10-15 feet thick. Inside is a well dating back to the Anglo-Saxon occupation on the site. The pinkish stone is from the original 12thC building. The grey/greenish stone dates from the Armstrong restoration and comes from a quarry on the Cragside Estate.

On the east side of the Keep in the inner ward are the State Rooms with the medieval kitchens and great hall. Along the curtain wall of the middle ward were the stables and domestic buildings which included store rooms and washroom. These divide the inner and middle wards from the west ward which is reached through the Neville Tower.

The west ward was the site of the prehistoric settlements. St Oswald’s Gate at the far end dates from Anglo-Saxon times and was the earliest entrance to the castle giving access to the harbour. The base of the windmill is all that remains of a mill built in the 18thC. Grain prices were high and the Lord Crewe trustees bulk bought grain which was stored in the castle, ground and sold at a reasonable rate to the local people.

The laundry building now houses the Armstrong and Aviation Artifacts Museum.

The cafeteria is in the clock tower. This serves sandwiches, panini, soup and a selection of reasonable size but not very inspiring cakes. The selection of herbal teas was limited. Afternoon tea is £8.95 per head.


The Norman keep
Northumberland : Bamburgh Castle, Description

The state buildings were badly damaged during the Wars of the Roses and completely restored by Lord Armstrong. Entry is into what used to be the medieval kitchen with the remains of three big fireplaces and a very high beamed ceiling. The Lord Crewe Trustees restored part of the building as a school room providing free education for local children. Armstrong completed the restoration and this became the refectory for the residents of the convalescent home. It is now furnished with a hodgepodge collection including a sedan chair, hobby horse bicycle, spinning wheel, dressers with china and pictures.

A doorway leads into the ‘first’ and ‘second’ small rooms. These were originally medieval store rooms with stone vaulted ceilings. Lord Armstrong intended the first to be the resident’s reading room but it was used as the estate office after his death. It is fitted with a 19thC form of air conditioning. The long thin wooden box on the wall by the fireplace brings in air from outside. The room has a gate legged table and chairs, grandfather clock, dresser and glass fronted display cases with blue and white china. Another cupboard has late 18thC porcelain figures. On top of the fireplace is a Victorian Tea Urn presented to Armstrong on the occasion of his marriage by the tenants of the Cragside Estate.

The second room served as the School mistress's sitting room in Lord Crewe times. It later became the sitting room of the convalescent room and then the office of the Second Lord Armstrong.

The Lord Crewe Entrance Hall was probably originally the pantry. It has a fire place with wooden high back settles. There is what is described as a ‘Cloisonné Enamel Plaque Jinqing’ which has a design of peacock, stream, mountains and flowers in blues, yellows, turquoise, white and black on a brown background.

This leads into the King’s or Great Hall, which must be the highlight of the state apartments with its glorious hammer beam roof with its elaborate carving and hanging bosses. This is made of Siamese teak and was a gift from the King of Siam who was a good friend of Armstrong who had supplied him with munitions. Along the back wall is a minstrel’s gallery part of the Armstrong restoration. Above is a lovely round stained glass window with the armorials of all the different families associated with the castle.

The base of the walls are panelled in teak. Above are pictures, pikes, spears and halberds. The only natural light is from windows on the wall overlooking the inner ward. Down the centre of the room are display cases with small arms. A bureau bookcase has a display of fans and small Chinese or Japanese figurines. Another display case has a silver mounted stationery case dated 1899 and examples of old lace. In another is a display of carved ivory. There are large glass fronted cases full of examples of Coalport, Minton and Sèvres china. There is a suit of armor, grandfather clock and an ormolu clock.

At the end of the room three steps lead up into the Cross Hall. It is lit by large windows and furnished as a sitting area with leather settees, grand piano, round table and chairs and globes. On a long table is a display of silver and china. The monumental fireplace has a carved wood surround with carved stones flanking an oil painting. On either side are tapestries.

The billiard room was designed for use by the residents of the convalescent home. This has a wooden ceiling and half panelled walls with a carved frieze of flowers along the top of the panels. There is a big fireplace with a carved stone mantle and armchairs. Walls are lined with books with the billiard table in the centre. At one end is a table set with silver trays and crystal decanters.

The Faire Chamber is off the billiard room and is a very feminine room. This has a 1740 painted wood settle and chairs in a shade of pale green along the walls. There is a small beautiful inlaid wood table and glass fronted display cases with Meissen and Berlin figurines, including a lovely one of a coach pulled by two white horses and coachman. A footman is opening the carriage door for the lady to descend. In the archway, chamber pots are hidden in cupboards. There is a tapestry on the walls and a blue frieze with pink roses and stylized gilt foliage along the top of the walls.

A passageway lined with carved wood chests, tapestries and modern copies of two panels of the Bayeaux tapestry leads to stone steps up into the armory. This was originally the chapel and still has the round apse over the east end. It has coats of armor, chain mail, small cannons, flint lock guns and a ceremonial drum. On the walls are spears, halberds, swords and a shield.

Next is the court room with panelled walls and pictures. Again there are display cases with china. There are the boxes containing the coronets and ermine robes of Lord and Lady Armstrong and the two chairs used at the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. There is a huge metal 16thC Tuscan marriage chest. This was bought by the 4th Lord Armstrong for his wife after he saw it advertised in a catalogue. It was too big for their London home and was sent to Bamburgh, where a window had to be removed before it could be lifted in by a crane.

Stone stairs lead down to the hall in the base of the keep with its 145 foot deep Anglo-Saxon well, which was the water supply for the castle. There are more armor and weapons on display. This leads into the service passage with a bakery with wall oven, wood paddle for putting the bread into the oven, working table and shelves with a display of earthenware bowls.

Beyond is the scullery with a bank of sinks along one wall with stone and wooden sinks with a protective metal top. There are sinks without a plughole used for salting meat and fish. There are wooden drying racks for the dishes. The large marble top table used for making pastry now has wash basins and jugs on it. In a corner is a lead lined Victorian fridge and there is a metal warming cupboard with shelves and sliding doors.

The last room on the tour is the dungeon complete with models in various states of agony. Wall recesses with a metal grille across contain bits of skeleton. It wasn’t particularly frightening and there was nothing to make you want to scream.

The tour ends as always in the shop which we found to have little to interest us.

We bought a copy of the £1 guide to the castle. This isn’t a glossy with pictures, but I was hoping for detailed information about the castle and its history. We were very disappointed. It was very superficial with a bit about each of the rooms and architectural changes. There was little about the castle and even less about Lord Armstrong who restored the castle to its present appearance or mention of his philanthropy and plans for a convalescent home. There was nothing about the room contents. Don’t waste your money on this.


The Great Hall
Northumberland: Chillingham Castle, Background

I’ve been wanting to visit here for years. When we were in Durham in the sixties, it was a roofless shell and not open to the public. Now it has a new owner and is slowly being restored and is loved again.

If you are expecting the usual stately home filled with beautiful furniture then you will be very disappointed. Imagine your garage and loft full of clutter and multiply by the number of rooms in the castle and you begin to get an image of what it is like. It is a repository for family belongings and memorabilia collected over the years. There is everything from Tibetan prayer horns to antlers. Throw in old shoes, spinning wheel, armor, Chinese temple lions, stuffed birds plus other objects too many to mention and you begin to get an idea. It is definitely different and you need a sense of humour to appreciate it. Unlike many properties in Northumberland and the Borders, you are allowed to take photos in the castle. The room stewards are excellent and have a wealth of stories about the castle. The tea room is pretty good too with an excellent range of sandwiches and very good cakes all reasonably priced.... We enjoyed our visit.

The castle began as a 12thC tower house. The original tower is to the left of the entrance. It was given a license to crenelate in 1344 (which is still preserved in the castle) when it was extended to four towers joined by walls around a central courtyard with a moat round the outside.

After the Union of the Crowns in 1603, the moat was filled in and battlements converted into more comfortable residential wings, probably to welcome James VI of Scotland on his way south to be crowned King James I of England. The grounds were landscaped in 18th & 19thC.

The castle used by military during WW2 and wood from the ceilings, panelling and floors was stripped out and burnt by Canadian airmen billeted there. After the war, the house was left derelict and the lead removed from the roof and sold.

In the 1980s, the estate was bought by Sir Humphrey Wakefield and his wife Katherine who is a distant relation of the Grey family who had previously owned Chillingham. They have begun the slow and painstaking task of restoring the castle. They live in the west wing and their eldest son and heir has apartments in the south east tower. It would seem that Chillingham is once more in safe hands.


Chillingham Castle
Northumberland: Chillingham Castle, Not at All What We Expected...

The castle is a mixture of medieval chambers and Jacobean staterooms.

Through the main entrance is the ticket office with armory and still room and dungeon beyond. Our first port of call was the Minstrel’s tea room in the old medieval kitchens with its welcoming fire in one of the old fireplaces. Down here, in the depths, in an old cellar is the Berthele Room. This is a collection of prehistoric artifacts especially flint and stone tools collected locally by FM Berthele between 1960-90 when he was working for the Forestry Commission.

Next to it, another cellar is set up as a torture chamber as the real one has been sealed off by Sir Humphrey as he felt it was wrong to turn all its misery and cruelty into an attraction for gawping tourists. Among other things, it includes a blacksmith’s forge, an illegal still, rack, iron cage, spiked chair, instruments of torture and an iron maiden specially made for a film about Elizabeth I. It wasn't particularly frightening and lacked atmosphere.

A flight of stairs off the cobbled courtyard lead up into the Great Hall, with two stone replicas of Easter Island statues by the door. This is an apt setting for what is inside ... it is an Elizabethan chamber with stone flagged floor and beamed ceiling. On the walls are tapestries, standards, armor, weapons and shields as well as ibex heads with antlers. The chandelier is decorated with more antlers. There are two large stone fire places, one with elephant head armor above it.

In the centre is a large table with part of a suit of Indian armor. Don’t be deceived, they are not drinking horns on the table but Tibetan prayer horns. There is a knight in a suit of armor on a horse are two wooden Chinese temple lions which have seen better days.

In a corner, stairs lined with boots, walking sticks and dog collars lead past a store room full of more boots, hats and clothes to a bedroom. As well as the normal bedroom furniture there is a cage full of stuffed birds and every available space on the walls is covered with old prints.

The stairs continue to the roof with lovely views down onto the formal garden with carefully trimmed low box hedges, taller yew hedges with topiary, stone urns rose bushes and cat nip.

Next is Edward I Room which is the oldest part of the castle. At the top of a tower it would have been well away from the stench of the moat. This was used by the family unless there was a royal visit. Henry III slept here in 1255 and Edward I on his way to the battle of Falkirk in 1298, where he captured William Wallace. The window overlooking the gardens was installed for his visit. The room has been restored to its 13th century format with a gallery, armor, weapons and furnishings of its time, including a wooden ‘throne’ in a curtained alcove. On display is the “License to crenellate”, or Royal permission to build battlements, issued in 1344 and is the only license still in its castle of origin.

Above the Great Hall is a suite of three state rooms built specially for the visit of James VI. These have been completely restored as the ceilings had fallen in. Part of the original ceiling of the James I Room was found under the oriel window and this was used as the blue print for a completely new ceiling. It is beautiful with a pattern of grey and gilt ribs on a beige background with gilt flower and leaf motifs and hanging bosses. The wall coverings and curtains are gold silk damask with pink roses. This was originally woven for Chatsworth house but had a flaw and was rejected. The white and gilt fire place houses a coal effect gas fire behind a gilt frame fire screen. Round it are armchairs and a sofa. The room is furnished with 18thC reproduction furniture and is probably the most ‘normal’ room in the house. There is a bureau bookcase, card table, spinet, gilt leg table with a marble top with a mirror above. There is a small table inlaid with mother of pearl, knee hole desk, harp and a wooden bath allegedly belonging to Marie Antoinette...

Every available space is filled with clocks, pictures, china, family memorabilia. On the window ledges are Chinese blue and white flower jugs and small painted porcelain dogs.

The Grey Armorial Room or Plaque Room Library has the 16thC armorial plaque of the Grey family above the fireplace. This was found in pieces in the courtyard, reassembled and lifted through the window. One wall is covered with a wooden cupboard with Egyptian style legs which is full of books. There are large oil paintings of the Chillingham wild cattle on the walls. Now furnished as a cosy sitting room, this would originally have contained a four poster bed where the King would receive close family and friends.

This leads into the New Dining Room. This was originally the room where the King slept and washed. The royal garderobe was inserted into the shaft of the spiral staircase in the walls. It is now replaced by an old fashioned WC. The stone walls have a series of paintings from Peru. In the centre is a long table laid with plates, large silver plate wine cooler, candlesticks and serviettes with a black embroidered bat, the emblem of the Wakefield family. There are large screens, tapestry covered chairs, a small statue of St Michael killing Satan...

Off the state rooms is the Museum with part of a clock mechanism ticking slowly. This is an eclectic collection - bird’s eggs, a teddy bear, dress suits, ladies dresses, baby walker, bath chair, magazines, rocking horses, dolls prams, saddles, treadle sewing machine, a sledge used by Sir Humphrey’s great uncle on his expedition to Everest with Mallory and Irving in 1922. It is a hotchpotch collection of family memorabilia collected over many years and rather thrown in here with little attempt to display or label.

Reached from the museum is the Chapel, which is off the Great Hall. It had been panelled over in the 16thC when private chapels were regarded as suspect and was used as a library. It was only rediscovered when the woodwork was stripped out during the war to be used as firewood. It has been restored as a chapel and family services are held here again. It contains a small stone font and has a small chancel with a piscina.

A spiral staircase leads to the gallery above the tea room. We decided it was time to sample some more cakes.

We didn’t visit the dungeon or still room with its model of the witch of Chillingham. This was a real person who was invited to Chillingham to exorcise the ghosts but left a curse on all who steal from Chillingham. There are letters of remorse from those who tried and then experienced bad luck.

The gardens are reached through the shop. To the south of the house are lawns with a pond with four herons at the corners. The formal gardens with box and yew hedges, topiary and urns are to the west of the house.


The Great Hall
Northumberland: Chillingham Estate and St Peter's Church

About five minutes walk from the castle is St Peter’s Church. This is a small stone building with a stone slab roof and small bell cote set in a graveyard surrounded by trees with 18th and 19thC gravestones.

It dates from the same time as the castle. The nave is 12thC but the chancel is probably 13thC. The roof was replaced in 16thC and the bell cote added in 18thC. The porch is 19thC.

Entry is through the south porch which has stone benches along the sides and Norman archway with a round arch. Inside it is a low building with a wood beam ceiling and 19thC box pews. At the back is a small 17thC font. On the north wall is a 17thC stone memorial with a skull and crossbones at the bottom.

There is a low chancel arch and steps lead to the chancel with a modern stone altar. The huge rectangular plain glass window, part of the 1967 alterations, with a cross above looks and feels out of place.

Round arches lead into the transepts. The north transept is very small. The south transept contains the splendid 15thC alabaster tomb of the crusader knight Sir Ralph Grey and his wife Elizabeth. The remains of red and blue paint are still visible and it must have been stunning.

Lying beside each other in prayer, Sir Ralph has his feet on a lion. The reredos behind them has angel holding a shield with a lamb on it. On either side are demi-angels with helmets with a ram’s head. Above is Royalist motto, a 17thC addition, “De bon vouloir servir le Roy”. Round the base are carvings of bishops, saints and angels set beneath highly carved arches. In the center of each side are two larger angels holding a heraldic shield.

Sir Ralph Grey was quite a character. He took Roxborough Castle, at night, with just 81 men at arms. Sir Ralph then held the fort against a furious King of Scotland and his armies. During the Wars of the Roses, he fought on different sides from his only son and condemned his son to death afterwards. He was first ordered to be hung drawn and quartered, but later the sentence was reduced to just having his head chopped off.

In the 18thC a small fireplace was added to the east wall of the south transept. Beside it on the wall is a very old grave slab with two crosses.

The wild white cattle of Chillingham which roam free in the park can only be visited on a guided walk with a warden, lasting about an hour. The herd is descended from the prehistoric wild oxen. It is thought they were trapped here when the estate was walled in the early 13thC. They haven’t been handled since medieval times and are truly wild. In fact the herd will kill any animal who has been handled. Regretfully, we weren’t able to do the tour - another time maybe...


Tomb of Sir Ralph Grey and his wife Elizabeth
Northumberland: Norham Castle, Once the Base of the Prince Bishops of Durham

Norham Castle is set on a mound above the River Tweed guarding the Scottish border. It is at the opposite end of the delightful village of Norham to its Norman church.

The castle stands on the south bank of the River Tweed, high above the river, so that the north side is protected by a steep slope. A deep ravine protected the east side and an artificial moat was dug round the west and south sides to complete the protection. The castle had an inner and outer ward. The inner ward stood on a mound and was separated from the outer ward by a moat, crossed by a drawbridge, now replaced by a bridge.

The main entrance to the castle was the strongly fortified West Gate leading into the outer ward. There was an additional gate to the south of the outer ward, known as the Sheep Gate but little of this is left.

A motte-and-bailey was established here in 12thC by the Prince Bishops of Durham who were representatives of the King and responsible for maintaining law and order. It has been enlarged and strengthened many times. Commanding a vital ford crossing on the River Tweed, it was one of the strongest border castles and besieged at least 13 times, changing hands several times. It has been described as the “most dangerous place in England”. It fell to heavy cannon attack by James IV in 1513, shortly before his defeat at Flodden Field which caused great damage. Following this, it under went a major rebuild to adapt it for use of artillery and became a powerful military fortress.

The lower courses of the outer ward were covered with earth to absorb the impact of cannon fire. Gun emplacements were added to the north wall above the river. The keep was heightened and given a flat roof for heavy artillery. This allowed the whole area to be covered by gunfire so preventing the enemy from getting close to the castle.

Elizabeth 1 refused to spend money on the upkeep of the castle. When more settled times arrived after the Union of the Crowns in 1603, when James VI of Scotland became James I of England, it was no longer needed and fell into a state of disrepair. Stone was taken for building material. Much of the outer wall has gone and internal buildings apart from the keep, a roofless shell, are low walls.

Buildings in the outer ward included a brew-house and malt kiln. Water for domestic use was brought by an aqueduct from a nearby spring and fed into a shallow well. This had steps letting people fill buckets. The overflow from the well flowed down a sloping paved floor which was probably used for washing items like woollen fleeces produced on the Bishop’s estates. The water left the castle through a sluice gate.

There is another well inside the inner ward which had buildings against the walls including kitchens, hall and the private suite for the Bishop and his household, which would have been more comfortable than the keep.

The keep has been enlarged over the years to provide extra accommodation for officials and guests. There are vaulted storage areas on the ground floor. A spiral staircase built during a later extension leads from the outside to the first floor. The centre of the keep is now open to the elements with the remains of doorways, fireplaces and windows.

Entry is free and there is a large car park off the road on the far side of the village. This involves quite a walk along a mowed path through tall grass. Hay fever sufferers may prefer to park in the small area outside the main gate nearer the village.


Norham Castle
Northumberland: Norham and St Cuthbert’s Church

Norham is a typical Northumbrian green village with old stone houses around the village green with its preaching cross. It has a small Mace shop, bakers and butchers.

St Cuthbert’s Church is a long low stone building set in a large churchyard surrounded by trees and bird song. The first stone church was built in the 9thC but apart from a few carved stones none of this survives. The present building dates from 1165 and was built at the same time as Norham Castle, by the same architect.

John Balliol did homage to Edward I here in 1292 when he became king of Scotland. In 1320, Robert the Bruce occupied the church while besieging the castle. The east end of the church was damaged and rebuilt in 1340. After the Battle of Flodden in 1513, it fell out of use and was roofless until 1619 when the parishioners restored the church. The church underwent a major restoration between 1837-52 when the west tower, aisles and porch were rebuilt. Fortunately the Norman style was maintained. The tower is narrow and not very tall. The clock was given to mark the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria.

The nave and chancel are long and low. There are beautiful Norman windows with pillars and carved round arches between the buttresses of the nave. The windows of the chancel are larger and Early English. The south aisle has Victorian copies of the Norman windows and there are elaborate carved arches above the porch door.

Inside, the nave has round Norman pillars with round arches separating the nave and south aisle. The pillars between the nave and north aisle are part of the Victorian restoration and are octagonal but still have round arches. The nave has a flat wooden ceiling with skylights providing extra light. The aisles have wooden ceilings with carved beams. There is a lovely round chancel arch with alternating red and white sandstone blocks.

There is a large 19thC organ in the north aisle. At the end of the south aisle is a simple stone altar. The font at the back of the north aisle is 19thC but in the Norman style. Near it is a pillar made up of Celtic stones thought to be from the original church found in the churchyard.

There is a dark wood 17thC pulpit and Bishop’s stall brought here from Durham Cathedral by Dr Gilly when he became rector. The arms of the See of Durham are carved on the sides of the chair.

Steps lead up to the chancel. The altar rail has the emblems of St Peter (cross keys), St Cuthbert (eider duck) and St Ceolwulf (crown), a King of Northumbria. The church was originally dedicated to all three.

On the south wall of the chancel, set under a beautifully carved canopy, is a much eroded effigy of a 14thC crusader knight with sword and shield and crossed legs resting on a lion. On the north wall is a memorial to William Sterne Gilly DD who died in 1855 and is buried in the churchyard. He was a canon at Durham Cathedral before becoming rector here.

There is a round arch at the west end of the church. Above it is an unpainted dark wood carving of the Royal Arms of Charles II. On either side are 19thC stained glass windows with St Aidan and St Cuthbert.

There is an exhibition about the Battle of Flodden Field in the church and, when we visited, the church had a flower festival celebrating the 500th anniversary of the battle.


Chancel, St Cuthbert's Church
Northumberland: Warkworth Castle, Power Base of the Percys

Warkworth Castle is a splendid setting at the top of the town. Built on higher ground, it has superb views to the coast at Amble with Coquet Island and inland over fertile farmland and woodland to the Cheviot Hills.

Not only does the castle look impressive from the outside, it is equally interesting on the inside.

The site has been fortified since the 8thC and the Normans built a motte-and-bailey castle here in the 12thC. The curtain wall was added in the 13thC and the wooden castle replaced by stone in the 14thC. It was the ancient seat of the Percy Family, the Earls and Dukes of Northumberland, before they moved to Alnwick Castle. The Duke’s Rooms at the top of the tower were given new floors and ceilings in the 1850s and continued to be used occasionally by the Duke until 1987 when they passed into the ownership of English Heritage, about 80 years after the rest of the castle.

There is a massive two towered gatehouse to the south of the castle on the side away from the town. This has a dry moat in front of it which may be part of the 8thC fortifications. At the base are the guard rooms and a spiral staircase leads to the upper floors.

Round the inside of the curtain wall are the foundations of the domestic buildings, including chapel, hall, solar, kitchens, buttery and pantry along the west wall. There are the gaunt remains of two towers. The Lion Tower has the remains of a carving of the Percy lion above the doorway. There is another Percy lion on the outer side of the curtain wall overlooking the town.

The inner and outer wards were separated by the church, but little remains of this apart from the foundations. In front of the keep are the foundations of brew-house and laundry.

The great keep is built on the motte of the Norman castle above the inner ward. Although it has lost its roof, the walls stand to their original height, dominated by the tall narrow lookout tower. It was built as a stately residence and statement of power and was not designed for defense. The portcullis slot dates from the 1850s restoration. It is an impressive building. The best way to describe it is as a cross superimposed on a square. The ground floor is a maze of interconnecting rooms with vaulted stone ceilings and pointed archways between them. Rooms were mainly used for storage and were lit by tall narrow windows with steps up to then. The keep was designed with a central light well. There are spiral staircases to rooms on the upper floors. There are interconnecting passageways in the walls and also garderobes.

The Great Hall on the floor above is reached by a long flight of stairs leading off the entrance hall. This was a large and impressive room with fire places and large windows which occupied two floors. It is now open to the sky. Smaller rooms off it include the kitchen with two huge fireplaces, one with a wall recess for salt and a slop drain. Spiral staircases lead to store rooms below. Off it are the pantry and buttery. Behind the Great Hall were the private quarters of the Percy family, Beyond were the sleeping quarters, all with fireplaces. Comfort was all important. The chapel had a gallery at the west end for the Earl and his family, again with a fireplace. There was no such luxury for the servants below.

A spiral staircase leads to the Duke’s Rooms on the second floor. The fourth Duke of Northumberland and architect Anthony Salvin had plans to completely restore the keep. Working between 1853-8 only two rooms were completed. They were furnished with tapestries, leather wall coverings and replica Elizabethan furniture and used to entertain family and friends on excursions from Alnwick Castle. Originally the Earl’s of Northumberland had used these rooms as a private set of rooms with access to the castle kitchens when the Earl carried out the annual audit of household accounts, attended by his sons and important household officers.

The Study House is over the main entrance to the keep and has a wood ceiling and four large windows. The walls have wooden slats nailed to them which have fabric tacked to them. This would have been covered with leather but this was removed in the 1970s. The restored fireplace of smooth sandstone does look a bit out of place. The cast iron fireback has the Royal Coat of Arms of Henry VIII on it. In front are Victorian fire irons. It is furnished with a buffet and two large highly carved chests.

The Clerk’s Chamber is where the Duke entertained his guests. The oak door in a corner, partially hidden by a wooden chest, leads to the servant’s staircase down to the kitchens, pantry and buttery. The garderobe was converted into a flush toilet. The room originally had tapestries on the walls and is now furnished with a long wooden table with carved legs and sides with two bench sets. The buffet was used in the 16/17thC to display silver and pewter tableware and the shelves would have been covered with a carpet. There is a splendid sideboard with three back panels carved with the Royal Coat of Arms and the Percy Arms. Next to it is a dresser with Percy lions holding flags with family emblems on them.

There is plenty of pay and display parking outside the castle, charged at £3 for all day. Keep the stub of your ticket for a refund when you visit the castle. The ticket office has a small shop selling a selection of local preserves and wines.

We had visited the town in January. Today, it looked busy and the car park was full, so we gave it a miss this time.


Warkworth Castle
Scottish Borders: Kelso and Its Abbey

Kelso is a delightful Border town with a lot of free parking in the big market square, which is lined with Georgian and Victorian buildings. Tourist Information is in the ground floor of an imposing town house built in 1816. The splendid Cross Keys Hotel was built in 1760 as a coaching inn. The town still maintains a good range of small family owned shops and is busy with locals going about their business.

The abbey ruins are set in a large grassed graveyard behind the Bank of Scotland building. Next to them is the impressive red sandstone building of Kelso Public School dated 1878.

The Abbey was built by David I as a statement setting out to impress the English. It was the largest of the Border Abbeys and is unique as it was built to a twin towered double cross plan. The choir and nave each had set of transepts with a tower over the crossing. The western half of church was used by townsfolk. The choir was used by monks.

In 1545 the English Army systematically destroyed the Abbey. When they returned two years later only 16 monks and laymen were left to defend the surviving west tower.

Now all that remains is part of the west tower, north west and south west transepts and two arches and pillars of the nave.

It was a massive Norman building. There are three large round topped windows in the transept. The remains of the archway above the west door has carved arches. It leads into the Galilee Porch which is decorated with an arcade of double round topped arches, which continue into the transepts. The transepts extend on either side of the tower. These had an open walkway round the walls with round arches supported on pillars. The walkway continues above the two round arches of the nave.

A round transept arch leads from the south west transept into the nave.

The north west transept has a glorious doorway on the north wall. Massive pillars support a round arch which has a triangular portico above. This has a row of round arches with a cross hatch pattern above. Inside the arch are a series of smaller arches decorated with embossed flowers.


Kelso Abbey
Scottish Borders: Smailholm Tower and Sir Walter Scott

Smailholm Tower is in a superb setting on top of a rocky outcrop, set against the sky with gorse bushes and buttercups and views across to the Eildon Hills and the Cheviot.

It is a tower house built by the Pringles, a prominent Border family. Their position as squires of the powerful earls of Black Douglas brought them the lucrative position of warden of the Ettrick Forest. Built to protect the family from the Border Reivers, the tower house is surrounded by a barmkin wall. The tower house had nine-foot thick walls and the only entry was through a small doorway protected by a heavy wooden door and a yett of latticed wrought iron bars. There were domestic buildings against the barmkin wall and cattle could be brought into the enclosure during raids. During two raids in 1544, Reivers from Northumberland got away with 723 cattle, 108 horses and 104 prisoners.

In the 1550s, the Pringles moved into more comfortable accommodation in Galashiels and leased the lands. In 1635 Sir James Pringle died owing huge debts and the estate was sold to Sir Walter Scott of Harden, the great, great, great grandfather of the author, who was responsible for building the western range inside the barmkin wall to improve living accommodation. The tower house was abandoned in 1710 when the family moved into the newer Sandyknowe farmhouse below. In 1773, Walter Scott the author, came to stay with his grandparents as a ‘wee sick laddie’ while he recovered from polio. He listened to his grandmother’s tales of the Border country and was fascinated by the romantic ruined tower house.

The car park is set below the tower house which is reached by a long walk uphill across rough grassland. Steps lead up through the barmkin wall with the foundations of the western range. A red sandstone archway with a low doorway, still with its yett leads into the reception area with ticket office and small shop.

This was originally the cellar and store room and has a vaulted stone ceiling. A new spiral staircase leads to a small exhibition area with some information about the building and a lot more about the Walter Scott connection. This is obviously a major marketing feature of the property.

A stone spiral staircase leads to the three upper stories. The first floor was the hall with wood beamed ceiling, fireplace with cast iron fire back and very thick walls. There are large square windows with stone benches. There are a series of small display cases with dressed dolls illustrating different periods in the life of Sir Walter Scott.

The second floor were the private quarters with a small fire place and garderobe in the walls. There are more display cases with scenes from Sir Walter Scott’s novels.

The third floor was another private room with vaulted ceiling, small fireplace, small windows and yet more cases. There is an audio-guide to the castle but this seems to concentrate on the display cases and the scenes from the novels.

Two doors lead out to the parapet walk with a sketch map identifying the main features of the landscape. Views from here are good.

The settlement originally had a yard outside the barmkin with stables, livestock enclosure and rigs (lazy beds for cultivation of crops). None of these can be seen. The remains of the mill pond, now increasingly overgrown with vegetation is still there.

We were disappointed by the inside which is now an empty shell apart from the “costume figures and tapestries of extraordinary charm and captivating interest illustrating the intimate link between Smailholm, Scott and his Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border.” A lot is made of the (rather tenuous) Sir Walter Scott connection. The Border Reiver heritage is ignored but perhaps this doesn’t bring the punters in. We felt this is one of those places which is best admired from afar.


Smailholm Tower
Scottish Borders: Dirleton Castle, History

Set in the small village of Dirleton beside the village green, this is a lovely spot to visit. A stone wall with dove cote at one corner surrounds the site. Through a gateway into the ticket office, the first sight is not the castle but the the glorious herbaceous border. This is in the Guinness book of Records as being the longest herbaceous border in the world. It loops round an immaculately kept lawn and in late June was a mass of color with bearded iris, peonies, cat nip, aquilegia, scabious, stachys, allium, poppies, sea holly, campanulas, geraniums, yellow loosestrife...

To the left of the herbaceous borders behind a yew hedge are more formal style Victorian gardens with flower beds planted out with pelargoniums and begonias. Well trimmed yews and conifers (apart from the tops which have grown too tall to be trimmed) add height and interest. Nearby is a putting green surrounded by yew avenues.

Well made paths lead up to the castle which is built on an outcrop of rock. Garderobe shafts can be seen high above on the walls.

The original approach was from the south by a bridge and drawbridge over a dry moat. These lead to the main gate set in a tall archway high above the moat with guard rooms on either side. In the 16thC steps were built to access the Ruthven building.

The castle has had a checkered history and has changed hands several times. It isn’t the easiest of sites to understand as it was built in three main phases by three different families.

The original castle with huge keep and curtain wall was built by John de Vaux in the late 1200s. The castle was slighted by Robert the Bruce after the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 to prevent further use by the English. In the mid 1300s the castle passed by marriage from the de Vaux to the Halyburton family. They rebuilt the castle and strengthened the gatehouse. They added a new residential tower and great hall along the east side of the courtyard. As well as family rooms this included cavernous storage vaults, family chapel and a pit-prison. Large parts of the castle can be traced back to this period, including the extremely strong gatehouse, which was the main entrance to the castle.

In 1515, the castle passed by marriage to the Ruthven family. They built new accommodation in front of the de Vaux keep. They laid out gardens to the west of the castle and built the dove cote.

In the 17thC, the castle was used by moss troopers who attacked the supply lines of Oliver Cromwell’s Army during his invasion of Scotland. In 1651, General Monk stormed the castle and badly damaged it with his cannons. It was never lived in again. The ownership passed to the Nisbet family who lived at Archerfield and regarded Dirleton as picturesque ruins. Stone was looted to build houses and walls in the surrounding area. One good thing to come out of this are the gardens which were designed by the head gardener at Archerfield in 1858.


Herbaceous border
Scottish Borders: Dirleton Castle, Description

We followed the original entry to the castle over a modern bridge and through the gatehouse. The inside of the courtyard is small and feels congested with little space. You have to work at understanding this castle, but having done so, it is very rewarding to explore.

The de Vaux keep, accessed through the Ruthven building and a small irregular courtyard, is still largely intact. On the ground floor were the vaulted cellars and storage areas. There is a well and the kitchens may have been here. A spiral staircase leads up to the great hall on the first floor. This was lit by four large windows set in the thick walls with window seats. With a fireplace it would have stayed warm in the winter months. Off it are the smaller private rooms and a garderobe. The private rooms have no fireplaces and it is thought they may have been lit by braziers in cold weather. A spiral staircase leads up to the roof.

Steps to the right of the gateway lead down into the basement of the Halyburton range along the east wall of the castle. The bakery had two wall ovens and access to the well. Beyond are the cellars with vaulted ceilings which were walled off to form separate chambers. Each had a doorway to the courtyard which was protected by a draw bar to deter thieves. The original postern entrance to the castle, which provided a side entrance in the 1300s, was blocked during building of the Halyburton range. For a while it was used as a fireplace. In the far corner of the cellar, a spiral staircase leads to the great hall. At the end of the range is the chapel with the priest’s chamber off it. By the entrance, and now screened off, were the steps leading to the prison and pit.

The great hall was above the cellars and is now reached by a modern wood staircase. The accommodation for the Lord and his family would have been off the north end of the great hall. All that is left are the foundations. The hall would have had a timber roof and minstrels gallery at the south end. On one wall is an elaborate stone buffet with decorative carving and pinnacles above. In the outer wall near the buffet is the pantry with a serving hatch and spiral staircase to the cellars. Behind the buffet is a corridor with a large serving hatch into the kitchen. Steps off this corridor give a good view of the guard room above the main entrance and the murder hole.

The kitchen had two huge fireplaces with a circular hole in the roof to remove smells and smoke. There are wooden hatches in the floor to the bakery below and another to the well which served both kitchen and bakehouse. Food should still have been warm when served.

The Ruthven lodgings were originally three stories high and are immediately recognizable by the string course (horizontal moldings) running along the walls and over the windows. The lower floors were storage. Above was the great hall and family rooms. The large windows would have been glazed at the top with wooden shutters below. The floor is now concrete but was originally covered with green glazed tiles and it may also have had a painted wood ceiling. Heated by two fireplaces, the great hall also had a wall cupboard which would have been shelved.


Cellars of Halyburton range
Scottish Borders: Tantallon Castle and the Bass Rock

This is a superb setting above the cliffs on the Lothian coast surrounded by flat fertile farmland with superb views across to the Bass Rock. Getting out of the car, the first sound we heard were skylarks singing.

Built about 1350, it was one of the last medieval curtain wall castles to be built in Scotland, as the fortified tower house was becoming more popular. It was fortress and residence of one of the most powerful Scottish families, the Red Douglas, Earls of Angus.

In 1528, James V escaped from Edinburgh Castle where he was being held as a virtual prisoner of the 6th Earl of Angus. The King issued a warrant for the arrest of the earl who retreated to Tantallon Castle. James besieged the castle for 20 days but was unable to take it. The royal army withdrew and the Earl of Angus fled the country leaving James to walk into the castle. In 1529, James strengthened the castle to resist cannon fire and also to hold cannons which could be used against attacking armies.

Towards the end of 1650, a group of 30 storm troopers based in the castle carried out a series of swift and brutal attacks on the lines of communication of Cromwell’s army as he attempted to conquer Scotland. These were well executed and did a lot of damage. In retaliation, Tantallon Castle was stormed in 1651 and ripped apart. It was never repaired or lived in again.

Set on a headland, dry ditches, earthworks and a massive curtain wall with towers cut off the promontory and enclose the outer and inner wards.

The outer gateway is the only entrance into the outer ward. In front of it is a deep ditch which has a masonry traverse wall and cannon holes in the surrounding wall to help protect from attack along the coast.

There is nothing left of the service buildings in the outer ward apart from the 17thC ‘lectern’ style dove cote which has two chambers for nesting birds.

The red sandstone curtain wall with two towers and central gatehouse cuts off the promontory and inner ward. It was protected in front by another dry ditch. The gatehouse in front of the mid tower is covered in green sandstone, brought here from Kent, with narrow bands of red sandstone. This was part of the 1529 modifications as the green sandstone is softer than the red sandstone and would be better able to absorb the impact of heavy artillery.

The mid-tower was protected by a drawbridge, portcullis and iron yetts at either end of the passage. Rooms on either side were used as guard houses. The upper floor were the lodgings for the Constable of the castle.

The private quarters of the Earls of Angus were in the large circular Douglas Tower at the north west end of the curtain wall. This was originally seven stories high and connected to the Great Hall on the north range. At the base of the tower was a pit prison.

Accommodation for guests and household was in the east tower.

The inner ward has a well. There is little left of the postern gate which gave access to the sea through a cleft in the rocks and allowed the castle to be supplied by sea in times of trouble. The bakehouse and additional private quarters by this have partly collapsed into the sea. There are god views across to the Bass Rock, gleaming white in the sunshine with it's massive Gannetry.

Only foundations of buildings of the northern range survive and these include a brew house, 16thC kitchen with two fireplaces, oven and slop drain. These had vaulted ceilings. Above them was the great hall, reached by a spiral staircase.

Steps inside the gatehouse lead through the walls to another guard room with a fireplace. The curtain wall had originally been built with chambers off the passageways. These were seen as points of weakness when James V reinforced the castle in 1529 and were filled with green stone rubble. One of these can still be seen.

A spiral staircase lead to the top of the curtain wall. The battlements were added in 1529. Handguns could be fired through the gaps (crenels) while the raised sections (merlons) covered the men. James also installed heavy cannons on top of the towers in an attempt to keep attacking armies away from the walls.


Tantallon Castle and the Bass Rock
Scottish Borders: Floors Castle and Duchess May

This is everyone’s dream castle built of pale gold coloured stone with towers topped with cupolas, pinnacles and carving with a glorious view across the Tweed Valley.

It is the largest inhabited castle in Scotland and the home of the Duke of Roxburghe. All that is left of the original castle is a bit of masonry in the grounds. It was built in 1721 to a design by William Adam and is a typical Adam design of a square building with corner turrets. It was extended between 1838-49 in the baronial style by the Edinburgh architect William Playfair when it acquired its present outline.

The other influential figure in Floors history is Duchess May, an American heiress and wife of the 8th Duke. She brought a lot of family heirlooms and furniture to the castle and remodelled many of the rooms.

The Castle is on the edge of Kelso, off the racecourse road and reached through a splendid wrought iron gateway with a crest on top and long drive through the grounds. It is a short walk from the car park, which is well screened among the trees.

I was under the impression that it was guided tours only so was pleasantly surprised to find it was free flow the day we visited, possibly because it was quiet and there were few visitors around. There were room stewards in most of the rooms who were knowledgeable and chatty. There was a certain amount of printed material in each room. The visit begins in style through the front door in the oldest part of the house, with the ticket desk in the entrance hall. Beyond is the ante-room a lovely small sitting room with views across the Tweed Valley. The family still use this room in the winter months when the fire is lit.

The holy bush in the middle of the lawn marks the spot where James II of Scotland died when a cannon he was firing blew up and killed him. The scant remains of Roxburgh Castle can be seen on a hill top.

Above the fireplace is a 15thC Brussels tapestry which was originally woven as an altar cloth with gold and silver thread. There are easy chairs, card table, Louis XVI bureau and family photos scattered around. It has a lived in and loved feel.

Beyond it is a larger sitting room with a big settee and armchairs arranged around the fire place which has a decorative plaster over mantle above a black marble surround. Duchess May redesigned the room in the 1930s and the black marble is her influence.

The next room is the drawing room which was originally the state bedroom but was altered under the instruction of Duchess May to accommodate a set of 17thC Brussels tapestries known as the Triumph of the Gods, inherited after the death of her mother. The tapestry on the east wall had to be cut to fit round the door, resulting in a foot being cut in half and now on either side of the door. It is a very elegant room with pale green painted walls with gilt decorations and a green and gold frieze round the top of the walls.

Off the drawing room is the needlework room. This was originally the closet and dressing room for the state bedroom. It was redesigned by Duchess May in Louis XVI style. It has red damask silk wall coverings and curtains. The elaborate plaster ceiling with flowers and diamond coffering is the work of Playfair and has a chandelier. The chairs have hand worked tapestry seats and backs. There is a beautiful example of an embroidered Stuart needlework cushion. On the walls are paintings from the Duchess May collection, which include Matisse, Odilon Redon and Augustus John.

The passageway leading from the drawing room to the ballroom, the largest room in the castle. This has magnificent bay windows added by Playfair in 1842 with panoramic views across the River Tweed. It is very quiet room, apart from the ticking of a clock. The walls are panelled with a carved frieze along the top. The beautiful wall carvings of flowers and foliage were carved by a local craftsman in the style of Gringling Gibbons. On the walls are 17thC Gobelins tapestries. Along the walls are William and Mary chairs covered in black/beige upholstery. There are two delightful 18thC round Chinese screens set with semi precious stones including jade, quartz and lapis lazuli on highly carved bases. These have a dark green bird with an orange beak surrounded by orange and pink flowers with green foliage.

The billiard room used to be a bedroom and has a Playfair plaster ceiling with a cross pattern on it. As well as the full size billiard table, there is a large wall bookcase and family portraits on the walls.

The bird room contains the 6th Duke’s stuffed bird collection. He was an avid collector but we were assured that he didn’t shoot any of the birds and they were all given to him dead.

A corridor leads to the gallery which contains robes of the Order of the Thistle. Display cases contain porcelain smaller works of art from the Duchess May collection. This includes miniatures, carved ivory cigarette case, carved meerschaum pipe, Meissen figures, sealing wax stamps, small Japanese and Chinese figures...

The dining room has a table set with gilded cutlery, white bone china with a deep blue border and gold rim and engraved glassware. Marble topped side tables have a display of silver gilt. Inlaid wood display cupboards with gilded carvings of flowers and scrolls contain more china. This was originally the billiard room and is a light and air room with a clerestory above the table with windows round the sides.

The Robe room has the coronation robes worn by the Duke and Duchess at the coronations of Edward VII and George V and a pages uniform. There is a lady’s court dress gown and hat. In cases are a display of combs, fans, feathers, tiaras, buckles, beaded stoles...

Stairs lead down past a display of water jugs and wash basins and more stuffed birds. There is a secure wooden document chest and a huge salmon weighing 56lb that was caught in the River Tweed.

There is a short video about the estate and an old fire engine before a room with a horse drawn carriage, Victorian pony cart and a bath chair. This leads out into the courtyard with shop and restaurant. This serves a selection of sandwiches, panini, hot snacks and cakes all reasonably priced.

There is a narrow flower border in front of the castle overlooking parkland with specimen trees to the River Tweed. The walled kitchen garden is away from the house on the exit road and has a small parking area.

Although this is a huge building, the tour only takes in ten rooms and you don’t see any of the bedrooms.


Floors Castle
Scottish Borders: Manderston House, No Expense Spared

This is a splendid Edwardian House built 1903-5 for Sir James Miller, a nouveau riche baronet who married into the English aristocracy. Sir James was the perfect Edwardian gentleman, a great sportsman, an excellent shot, a horse racing enthusiast and soldier. He wanted a house to reflect his new status in society and instructed the up and coming Scottish architect John Kinross to spare no expense in creating a home of glittering style. It had to be large enough for the army of servants necessary for Edwardian comfort and grand enough for entertaining. His wife had grown up at Keddleston Hall and some of the new rooms mirror those at Keddleston. Money was no object from the silver staircase to the gilded gates into the gardens.

Sir James had inherited a square mansion built at the end of the 18thC. First to be built were the Georgian style stable block, gamekeeper’s cottage, kennels and home farm. Work then began on the house. A new north front was built with a portico and a new wing provided accommodation for guests. The gardens were redesigned.

Unfortunately Sir James died three months after the house was completed, so didn’t have time to enjoy it. As he had no children, the estate passed to his brother and then his sister, who was the great grandmother of the present owner, Lord Palmer.

The front of the house is very plain, almost austere. The back of the house overlooking the gardens is much more attractive with its bowed front.

There is elegant ionic portico with a carved frieze running along the top. At the base of the pillars are gun metal lion’s heads with rings to tie up horses. Two of these were actually bell pulls which could be worked by hand or the horseman’s boot. A flight of steps runs up to the front door with a coat of arms with the family motto.

The Entrance Hall is a splendid room with a large cupola adding light. The marvellous plaster work is painted pale green and white with a slate grey, beige and white marble floor. There are fluted pillars and a classical mantle over the fire place. There is a large gilt chest with painted panels and a sedan chair. Archways with black marble pillars lead off.

The Dining Room is off the right front of the entrance hall. This was the last room to be finished and has an elaborate Adam’s style plaster ceiling. In the centre is Mars with dancing muses and vase patterns in the lozenges that radiate from him. The two round tables and chairs look lost in the huge bay window. In the centre of the room is a huge oval mahogany table with a silver planter, jugs and two small birds. Around it are reproduction Chippendale chairs. In an alcove is a serving table with gilt legs carved with lion’s heads. On this and on top of the marble fireplace is a display of Blue John. The pictures aren’t family ancestors but were bought to give that impression.

To the left of the entrance hall is the Billiard Room. This was originally intended to be the library and was the first to be decorated. It has luxurious crimson silk damask curtains and wall coverings. There are gold leaf filigree borders round the walls.

Double doors lead into the Ballroom, a splendid room with gold silk damask with a raised velvet pattern on the walls. The gold silk curtains gleam as they have a pure gold thread woven through them. There are gold pelmets above the windows and a gold leaf filigree frieze round the walls. The plaster ceiling has painted panels with classical scenes. Round the walls are red or tapestry upholstered chairs with gold arms. The white marble fireplace has pillars inlaid with different coloured marbles. With two crystal chandeliers the room must have glowed. Unfortunately Sir James only gave one ball here before his death.

Doors lead from the ballroom into the Drawing Room which is one of three rooms to have survived from the original house although it was redecorated to match the splendour of the newer rooms. A large mirror on the opposite wall makes the room feel bigger than it is. It has a turquoise, pale green, blue and pink plaster ceiling and gold pelmets above the windows. It is lined with white or gold chairs with tapestry upholstery worked by the ladies of the family.

The Ante-Room to the drawing room contains a grand piano. On the wall above set in a brown decorative roundel with full size figures on the sides are organ pipes. In Edwardian times it was fashionable to have an organ.

The Morning Room is a delightful room at the back of the house overlooking the gardens with a doorway from the entrance hall and also from the side rooms and their corridors. It is a circular room and another survival from the old house. The ceiling and chimney pieces are probably the originals and less elaborate than those in the rest of the house. The walls are painted deep plum and have a gold leaf filigree border round the edge and a green frieze round the tops. There are beautifully carved alcoves above the doors with radiating ribs forming a shell pattern. There are white marble topped tables with gilt legs which have large flower decorations on them.

This leads into the Tea Room, inspired by the 18thC fashion for ’chinoiserie’ and is furnished with Chinese style furniture. The walls are covered with gold silk damask. A round centre table is surrounded by Chinese Chippendale chairs with black and gold upholstered seats. Chinese style inlaid display cupboards contain china or figurines. Even the Grandfather clock is decorated with a pattern of Chinese scenes with pagodas, figures and trees.

A doorway leads out into a corridor with the famous silver staircase with its silver plated banisters and stair rod holders on the steps. Before the First World War, it took three men three weeks to dismantle, polish and reassemble the staircase. Now it is cleaned by volunteers three times a year. The beige marble staircase is a copy of Madame de Pompadour’s staircase at the Petit Trianon, Versailles. In winter it is carpeted. There are big panels on the walls with a carved border, painted a deep creamy beige to match the color of the marble. A cupola set in the ceiling provides extra light

The panelling continues along the wide corridor on the first floor which has another cupola. At the end of the corridor by the stairs are fluted pillars and a plaster frieze. A door leads to the bachelor’s wing, as single men guests were kept segregated by Edwardian society rules. There are big display cabinets along the walls with blue and white china and figurines.

At the far end of the corridor, a round archway leads to two large bathrooms. The corridor turns a right angle and on the window ledges are blue and white jugs and wash bowls.

The first bedroom to be visited is the North Bedroom which has turquoise walls and a plain white ceiling. The bed has a gold and silk damask head and foot board with a gold rim. There is similar upholstery on the chairs. The bed cover and curtains are crimson damask. On either side of the bed are commode cupboards. The fireplace is set in a marble surround with Wedgewood china and crystal chandeliers on the mantle piece. There are bell pulls on either side marked either ‘up’ or ‘down’. ‘Up’ called a maid from the top floor, where all the female staff lived; ‘down’, a manservant from the basement.

The adjacent North Dressing-Room has a collection of samplers dating from the mid 18thC bought as a collection when the house was being furnished. This is now another bedroom with gold and beige upholstery on the head and foot board. There is a rich cream lace and embroidery bed cover and large embroidered floor standing screens.

At the far end of the corridor is the Portico Bedroom, a huge room with yellow and white panelled walls with a frieze around the top and a plain ceiling. The curtains are green with a pattern of pink flowers and butterflies. The big bed with gold wood has a carved wyvern and flowers on the head and foot board. These have picture tapestry upholstery as do the chairs scattered round the room. Furniture includes a large glass fronted wardrobe built especially for the room to reflect light. Apparently it is very unflattering to the figure.


Manderstone House, rear view
Scottish Borders: Manderston House, Servants' Quarters

Stairs and a lift lead to the servants quarters. The lift was installed in 1960. Before that everything from coal to hot water had to be carried. On the walls are military prints and two large oil paintings of wild white cattle.

The basement is almost unchanged and is lined with white tiles which were easy to keep clean and helped reflect the light. Along the walls are huge great pipes and water hoses. There are built in cupboards with displays of china, crystal and coronation mugs. High on the wall is a long line of bells, 56 in total, each with a different tone. The housekeeper could tell them all apart.

The Housekeeper’s Room is a large and very comfortable room reflecting the status of the housekeeper. In 1905, she had a staff of three laundry maids, six housemaids, three scullery maids and one cook. There is a big table with a green chenille cloth with tassels. The walls are painted deep plum and splendid floor-to-ceiling cabinets housed the best porcelain and china. There was a small desk, piano and big settee. By the fireplace are two easy chairs and a coal scuttle with an inlaid pattern of poppies and humming birds. She also had a radio and treadle sewing machine. A big screen helped stop drafts.

The Servants’ Hall was a big room where all the indoor staff ate. Now it is a display room decorated in primrose and white, the racing colours of Sir James. There are racing pictures on the walls and a collection of horse brasses. Oil paintings include successful racehorses owned by him. Bookcases line one wall and contain 20 volumes of the General Stud Book and every copy of the Racing Calendar from 1773-1989 (the most recent one to be published). In a small room off is a big collection of Huntley and Palmer biscuit tins from the late 19thC to the late 1930s. (Lord Palmer of Huntley and Palmers is the current owner of Manderston.)

The Butler’s Room is painted green and is a small plain room with a small brass bed with a chamber pot in the bedside cupboard. There are two wardrobes, dressing table, wash stand and an easy chair in front of the fire.

The Staff Lavatories are very grand with flush toilets, huge marble top sinks, white tiles with green paint above.

The kitchen has a large open fire on one wall with a log box. In the centre is a huge central oven and hob with massive hot plates and a selection of copper saucepans. There is a large scrubbed wood table with drawers containing smaller items of kitchenware. Wall shelves have copper jelly molds and food covers, earthenware storage jars.

Next to it is the Scullery with coal fired oven and hot plate. There is a selection of lead lined and earthenware sinks and a large wooden draining rack on the wall. There is another scrubbed wood working table, a wall unit with jam jars and storage tins. On the floor are aluminium and wooden storage bins. There are a series of pantries with marble shelves used for pastries, cooked meat and cheese, raw meat, a preparation room for shell fish which had a marble work surface with drainage holes. The game room had racks to hang birds shot on the estate and a wooden table to prepare them.

Stairs lead back to the shop at the end of the visit.

Manderston is surrounded by 56 acres of formal and informal gardens. In front of the house is a large lawn covered with daffodils in the spring and surrounded by trees. The back of the house faces south and overlooks the terraced gardens reached through a metal gate at the side of the house. These are very pleasant with trimmed box hedges around rose beds with yews and hosta and a small pond with a fountain. Grassland drops down to the lake with its Chinese bridge and surrounded by woodland and a bank of Rhododendron ponticum covered with purple flowers in June.


The gardens and lake
Scottish Borders: Mellerstain House and Robert Adam Ceilings

This is the well loved home of the Earl of Haddington. It is a fairly plain house with central battlemented tower with side wings and earlier wings at right angles to the building. Steps lead up to the main door which has a crest above it.

In 1725, George Baillie commissioned William Adam to build a house for him. Work came to a halt after the two wings were constructed. The family lived in the East Wing while the West Wing was stables and servants quarters. Forty years later, the grandson commissioned Robert Adam to complete the house. This was his first important commission in Scotland and his ceilings are the crowning glory of Mellerstain.

Entry is through a doorway in the earlier west wing and ramps lead up along a corridor into the main house which has a series of six rooms along the length of the house which have lovely views across the terraced gardens to the lake surrounded by woodland.

They start with Lady Hadington’s Sitting Room with its Robert Adam’s ceiling. There is a carved plaster fireplace with a gilt mirror above and comfy chairs.

This leads into the Library which was the most important room in the house and one of the best examples of Robert Adam’s work. The walls are painted green and have grey and white bas relief carvings with a Roman or Greek theme. The green, pink and white ceiling is in three sections. In the centre of each is a portrait. There are Wedgewood blue panels with white plaster cameos. The walls are lined with book cases with mock white classical pillars. Between them are mirrors in white carved plaster surrounds on a grey background. The room is comfortably furnished with sofas, arm chairs, a huge desk and occasional tables.

A door leads into the Music Room with another beautiful Adam ceiling, this time pale green and blue with darker green and blue roundels with white plaster figures and urns. The walls are painted deep plum. The fireplace is carved with classical figures on either side. There is a small grand piano, sofas, white and gilt wall tables, an inlaid marquetry chest of drawers. On the end walls are large mirrors in white and gilt frames with gilt wyverns on top on either side of a coat of arms.

The Drawing Room has a less ornate ceiling painted pale green, pale blue and white with darker blue panels with wyverns and urns. There are sage green silk damask wall coverings. Round the top of the walls is a decorative frieze in pink with white plaster wyverns and urns and this theme is continued on the door lintels. The elegant white fireplace has a dark brown and beige marble surround.

The Small Drawing Room has a blue, white and dark blue Adam ceiling with a crystal chandelier. The walls are painted green and decorated with plaster panels with musical instruments and there is a splendid wall mounted clock. The small black and gilt wood chairs look very uncomfortable. A wall cupboard has a marquetry front and a huge china turkey on top.

The Small Library ceiling is divided into two with two different Adam designs in pale and dark blue and white. The walls are pale blue. The doors and skirting boards are stripped wood. The fireplace has a carved wood surround and a picture above. Alcoves have large glass fronted bookcases full of books.

A corridor runs along the length of the front of the house with doors into the different rooms.

The main doorway in the centre of the house has a grand Entrance Hall with semi-circular ends and a fireplace at one end. Alcoves have classical busts. It has a splendid Adam ceiling and a pale beige and white frieze round the top of the walls. From the entrance hall a double staircase leads to the rooms on the first floor. This is unusual as it is the opposite way round, with the stairs going up over the entrance hall rather than leading off it.

A corridor runs along the length of the first floor with bedrooms off. Above the doors is a display of blue and white plates.

The Green Bedroom was the main guest bedroom with off white wall paper with thin gold and green stripes. There is a mahogany four poster bed with a blue tasselled canopy and a greenish gold bed spread. The family motto, ‘Praesto et Persto’ is embroidered on the bed head.

The Blue Bedroom is a smaller room and was originally a dressing room for the bedrooms on either side. It has a late 17thC style Victorian four poster bed with lace drapes. A large cupboard doubles as wardrobe and shelves and there is an inlaid dressing table.

The Machineal Bedroom is named after the West Indian wood which was fashionable in the mid 1800s. It is a mid brown colour with little grain and all the bedroom furniture is made from it. There is a splendid four poster bed with floral design drapes. The wallpaper has a yellow floral pattern and there is yellow velvet Victorian love seat or ‘confidante’.

At the end of the corridor, stairs with a well worn red drugget carpet lead up to the top floor. The Chinese Room with hand painted Chinese wallpaper has a beautiful inlaid cupboard with etched ivory and semi precious stones.

The Great Gallery runs across the full width of the building above the main door. Ladies used to walk here when the weather was bad. Allegedly badminton was played here in the 1960s.

The walls are painted pale green and there is a green and white plaster frieze round the top. There are Adam’s fireplaces on the long wall and at either end of the room are classical pillars with a roundel between them with a classical plaster figure between them. There are family portraits on the walls and framed plans for the Adam ceilings. Display cabinets have children’s toys, puppets, clothes including two gents' suits from 1750 and a ladies dress dated 1770-85. There are fans, bead purses, examples of 17thC embroidery and a sampler dated 1706. On the wall by the fireplace are two unusual lace and silver gilt filigree panels. There are the robes and coronets (in need of a clean) worn at the coronations of George VI and Queen Elizabeth and the coronation chairs from Queen Elizabeth’s coronation.

There is a small oratory off the gallery behind a locked metal grille door. This has an altar with a carved wood Virgin and Child, candlesticks and a glass and ivory crucifix. In front is a small prie dieu.

The gardens on the south east side of the house are reached through the stable yard. William Adam landscaped the gardens with a lake. The present gardens were laid out by Reginald Blomfield in 1909. Along the front of the house is a herbaceous border. Three balustraded terraces lead to a sweeping lawn which descends to the lake which he enlarge. Beyond, in the distance, are the Cheviot Hills. The upper terrace with lawns and clipped yews leads down a divided flight of steps to the middle terrace laid out with parterres on either side of a central paved area. This leads to another divided flight of steps, round a fish pond, and down to the smaller third terrace and then to the lawn with a statue of Eros, sloping down to the lake. In June the grass was yellow with buttercups.

The small cafe in in the stable yard serves soups, sandwiches and had a rather uninspiring selection of cakes.


Gardens and lake
Scottish Borders: Paxton House, History and Kitchens

Paxton House is one of the finest examples of neo-Palladian architecture in Scotland and contains one of the largest collections of Chippendale furniture.

It is in a lovely setting on the north bank of the River Tweed, a few miles west of Berwick upon Tweed. Hidden from the road it is approached through the lodge gates with stone lions on top of the pillars and a long tree lined avenue. Set in woodland, it is a large but plain building surrounded by lawns with rhododendrons and herb borders colourful with geraniums, astilbe, hosta and alchemilla.

The house was deigned by John Adam and built between 1758-63 for Patrick Home at a cost of £6000. The red sandstone was quarried locally and provided a rough cut stone. There is a central building flanked by two pavilions joined by a single story curved corridor. Steps lead up to the front door with pillars and a triangular portico. The stables, coach house, smithy and men’s quarters were on the left. The kitchens, brew house, cook’s sitting room and women’s accommodation was on the right. Joined to the main house by connecting corridors, the doorways could be left open to provide ventilation. They were designed to be high enough to ride a horse through.

Patrick inherited the nearby estate of Wedderburn Castle and lost interested in Paxton House, which he sold to his cousin Ninian who was responsible for nearly all the decoration and furnishing provided by Chippendale. Ninian was killed in a slaves' uprising in Grenada, and Paxton House passed to his younger brother George. He asked Edinburgh architect George Reid to design a new east wing behind the existing stables to hold a library and a picture gallery to accommodate all his books and paintings. This was furnished by the Edinburgh furniture maker William Trotter.

Visits are by guided tour only and run every 45 minutes. Ours took nearly 90 minutes and I was conscious that we were rather galloping through the rooms towards the end. There is so much to see and take in.

The tour begins in the kitchens with a door to the brew house off. The walls are painted a drab khaki colour which is similar to the original shade used. It has two large fireplaces and a pastry oven in a corner with the bread oven behind. This was fuelled by coppiced hazel cut on the estate. It took 20-30 minutes to heat. Temperature was checked using a piece of parchment. If it began to singe, the oven was the right temperature. The wood and ash were removed, the oven floor cleaned and the pastry put inside using a wooden paddle. The door was closed and it cooked in the residual heat.

In one fire place is a four ring hob which was heated using charcoal produced on the estate. The rings had a grill and trivet whose height could be adjusted to control boil or simmering. The ash was cleaned out daily and sieved. The finest ash was used to scour the pots and pans. Coarser ash was used to absorb spills on the floor.

Next to it is a coal fire in a cast iron basket whose sides could be adjusted depending on what was being cooked on the spits in front of it. These were originally worked by a chain and pulley but were later adapted to be worked by a hot air fan in the chimney. There are irons over the fire to hang saucepans or a griddle. A metal warming cupboard on castors was placed in front of the fire. As well as being used to keep food warm, the shiny surface reflected heat onto the meat to speed up cooking.

There is a large scrubbed table in the middle of the kitchen and storage shelves along the walls. There are copper saucepans, jelly molds, china meat dishes, preserving pans. mixing bowls, pestle and mortar, earthenware storage jars... All the items on display appeared in an 1812 inventory of the house.

A wooden sink under the window has a lead lining and large draining board. There was no running water. Water was carried in buckets from the stream and poured into a container above the kitchen which led to the tap in the sink. From about 1814-5 water from local springs was collected in a reservoir and then pumped by an overshot waterwheel to the stable block for use. There are plans to reinstate this.


Paxton House from the gardens

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