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Ten years and an age: the family in the castle

March 7, 2013

We are celebrating an anniversary this week. Today, it is ten years to the day since my family moved into this castle. I say ‘celebrate’, but in fact we are just getting on with life, work and the school term rather than throwing a party or anything and besides, we are off the swally* for Lent. (*given up alcohol)

Still, it’s a milestone which deserves a little reflection on how far we’ve come. In one sense, nowhere at all: here we still are. That in itself is an achievement, as keeping a place like this going is a perennial headache for my husband and his management team. Often we think we should sell up and move to a sensibly sized family house. There is however, as my husband says, a golden thread of family history running through this castle, which we would be loath to cut. Although we – my husband, first child and myself – moved in ten years ago, we were taking over from generations of my husband’s family who have gone before. Four hundred years rooted in one place, building, expanding, planning, rebuilding: since 1615, the family has developed this home from a fortified tower into a gentleman’s country seat, while the acres surrounding it have turned from rough moor and pasture to the planned policies we enjoy today, studded with balustrades, grottos and stone gateways and criss-crossed with avenues of mature trees. And all by ancestors whose faces are familiar to us from portraits; so that we know that it was probably ‘Brave Sir George’, for example, who planted the first lime avenues in the late eighteenth century, and that is was his great-great-great uncle, grim-faced Sir Thomas, whose new-fangled ideas for garden design (picked up while he was at university in Leiden) were responsible for the layout of the Dutch garden in the 1660s.,7.3.13-1

Each generation has made changes inside, too. The defensive yett which was the front door of the fifteenth century tower (a nail-studded oak door behind a heavy iron grill) was replaced by sweeping curved front steps in the early eighteenth century. And although the wing where we sleep was added in the seventeenth century, there were no corridors outside the bedrooms until ‘Grandfather’ (actually great-grandfather) had them built in the 1890s. Before that, you had to scamper through one bedroom to reach the next. House-parties must have been riotous affairs., 7.3.13.-2

Our generation is unlikely to make any such major changes to castle or policies. Where historic buildings are concerned, ours is an age not of innovation, but of red tape and cautious conservation. Still, we have managed to adapt the house to the needs of a young family; the building of a family kitchen being my high point, when I felt as if all my birthdays had come at once. It’s worth pointing out that this is the first family kitchen there has ever been in the castle! We are the first generation to cook all our own meals and to eat/ work/ socialise in the kitchen: a decade ago, the housekeeper did all the cooking in a drearily functional staff kitchen, and the family were served by the butler in the breakfast room or dining room.

And that is the extraordinary thing. Looking back, I can hardly believe how different our lifestyle was then. Ten years ago, we inherited a house and way of living which were essentially Edwardian. Dinner was served in the dining room every night, whether or not there were visitors. Ladies were expected to wear skirts or dresses for dinner and to withdraw after the meal, while the gentlemen enjoyed a glass or two of port at the table. After dinner entertainment in the drawing room consisted of playing the grand piano and singing. (There was one telly, but it was banished to a small dark room at the back.) Some paperwork might be done in the mornings, but it stopped in time for the daily pre-lunch sherry or dram and was never allowed to get in the way of a shooting or fishing invitation., 7.3.13-3

It was a splendid life in many ways, and I am grateful to have experienced it; but it couldn’t last. For one thing, it was utterly impractical to try to maintain those ways without an army of house staff, which we neither wanted nor could afford. I am probably the first mother living here who has chosen to bring up my children without a nanny (gasp), and I have vivid memories of having to lug the baby miles along freezing corridors and up stairs to find a bathroom where I could change a nappy. Likewise it was an epic trip to go from the library to the kitchen, where I felt I was intruding upon the housekeeper’s domain as I went in search of a cup of milk for a toddler (who was meanwhile either left far out of earshot or dragged screaming along with me). The best change we have made is to do what almost every family seems to do in a big house: move to the old servants’ quarters in the basement and establish a warm, untidy family kitchen and ‘den’. This is the heart of the house now, from which we make occasional forays into the old formal rooms upstairs. The butler and housekeeper were not replaced after their retirement, and our supper these days is usually something like pasta or a stir fry on laps in front of the box, with the wood-stove burning and the dogs snoozing at our feet, rather than pheasant stew served over an interminable dinner in the chilly dining room. We don’t often miss the old days.

All of which makes me wonder, should I perhaps try to write a little more about life in the castle here on Dancing Beastie? What would you like to hear more about? Fewer trees, more castle interiors and history, maybe? I’ve avoided saying much about the castle in the past because it’s important to me to respect the family’s privacy, but perhaps there is more I could write if that would be of interest. Please let me know.

Meanwhile, here’s to the next ten years. You never know, perhaps Dancing Beastie will still be around to give you an update…

You might enjoy some stories of the ups and downs of life in a castle in the following posts: In which I talk rot; Here be treasure and Cycling in the ballroom: children’s castle memories.

62 Comments leave one →
  1. maryz permalink
    March 7, 2013 7:21 pm

    I love hearing about the trees and grounds, but I’d love to hear about the castle and its history even more.

  2. Toffeeapple permalink
    March 7, 2013 7:27 pm

    I, for one, should love to hear more about the house, having an interest in history, social history and architecture together with the odd anecdote. Could you bear to? Not to the exclusion of all else obviously.

    • March 9, 2013 11:23 pm

      Right-oh, thanks Mary and Toffeeapple. I’ll see what I can do.

      • March 13, 2013 10:11 pm

        Oh, I definitely agree with Toffeeapple. It’s like you are living parallel to history. You have a great way to explaining what it’s like to live in such a place with a family these days – respecting the heritage/history with a touch of humor…(it would all make a delightful TV series, you know…sort of “After Downton Abbey.”….)
        Wonderful post

  3. March 7, 2013 7:29 pm

    Don’t mention cosy kitchens to me – my Stanley has just broken down and I’ve been phoning all over Hampshire to find a maintenance engineer to take pity on me! Fingers crossed, one *might* come tomorrow – or next Friday….

    As for your wonderful, historic home – yes, please to more of the history and interior – individual items perhaps, but you are so right to be concerned for your privacy, so perhaps more about the experience of living in a historic house from your own personal point of view.

    My husband’s family gave their historic house to the National Trust in the 1950’s – but I was privileged to be able to visit his Granny there before she died, aged 100 (she was allowed to stay on as a ‘donor resident’). it was such fun to rootle around in the loft there – what a treasury!! I went back to visit last year and it was just so interesting to see how different the house was now that it is fully ‘National Trustified’ rather than still a home – but we took some old family albums back and the staff there were just fascinated to see them – so they have almost become the latest members of another ‘family’ to live there and love it.
    So yes, more tales of ‘life in an ancient pile’, please! (note – I did say ‘in’ and not ‘with’ 🙂 ) – I look forward to reading much more about your life there xx

    • March 9, 2013 11:22 pm

      Hope you have some heat by now, Roz – there’s a bit of snow around this weekend so you will be needing it. How fascinating to see a family house ‘N. Trustified’. That’s very special, and the staff must have so appreciated your showing them some family mementoes. As for our ancient pile: I married a younger man, so if anything he’s the one living with a crumbling wreck! 😀

  4. hmunro permalink
    March 7, 2013 7:43 pm

    Yes, yes, please … tell us more! I’d be very interested to learn more about the history — and also hear some of your favorite memories, or descriptions of your favorite rooms. I’d also be very curious to hear about the red tape, as my own ancestral family is likely wrestling with some of the same concerns at Foulis Castle.

    In any case, congratulations on a wonderful anniversary. May you and your family celebrate many, many more together!

    • March 9, 2013 11:26 pm

      Noooo, not the red tape, too depressing! You just have to jump through hoops to be allowed to do anything these days, especially if you live in a ‘listed’ (i.e. of national historic importance) building. Possibly necessary: certainly tedious. But I will try to write a bit more about the house and so on in the future. And thank you very much for the good wishes!

  5. March 7, 2013 8:18 pm

    It is an extraordinary change you have gone through in the last ten years! When I read about the extravagant expenses of the years before the Great War, I am always aghast at the possibilities (and the loss – it makes for such entertaining stories from this time distance)
    So yes, please enlighten us with more castle stories. I live in three rooms and sometimes get bored with the same walls 🙂

    • March 9, 2013 11:28 pm

      Having lived in a one-room bedsit before I was married, I hear ya. I’ll do my best to pass on some snippets to entertain you. 😉

  6. March 7, 2013 8:34 pm

    I would love to see some more of your castle, and obviously anecdotes about your life in it are always enjoyable, though of course you don’t want to compromise your private life.

    Please keep on posting your photos of the grounds and the surrounding countryside though; I’ve really been enjoying them since I found your site – the links you posted above are the first posts about your life there that I have seen,and I found them fascinating!

  7. Julia permalink
    March 7, 2013 9:12 pm

    I love hearing and seeing your trees. It has made me look at the trees that surround me. Definitely not as magical but beautiful.

    I would love to see and hear more of the castle life itself. I will never experience living in a castle except thru you. I would not want to intrude on your family’s privacy. Their are crazys in the internet world.

    Whatever you decide to blog-I will enjoy. You are a gifted writer that I live through vicariously. The past, the present and the future brought together by words and pictures.

  8. March 7, 2013 9:37 pm

    Great post. As I read it different thoughts went through my mind. The artist and photographer in me thought “beautiful”. The reader in me (I’m reading a book on the history of servants) thought “interesting”. The home owner in me (we have 3 residences) thought “yikes! the utilities and taxes”!

    I’d love to know what your children think about living in a castle. It would be such an interesting perspective.

    • March 9, 2013 11:31 pm

      Hah, yes, the bills! Let’s not go there… But as for the children’s perspective, that’s a wonderful idea. I’ll think about how to use that – thank you.

  9. March 7, 2013 9:38 pm

    Do write more!

  10. boyd hussey, (Douglas Ontario Canada) permalink
    March 7, 2013 10:25 pm

    you have indeed had,are having, an experience not many have the opportunity to enjoy. from what i can tell, however, you have made the most of it in your lives and that surely makes it all the more memorable. congratulations on the go of it this far. i was afraid when i started to read that you were giving it all up and there would be no more Beastie. i hope it doesn’t come to that. have you thought about a DVD of the castle or CDs of the columns or perhaps magazine articles or even collecting the comments section for the various trains of thought that you have created. i would like to read more about the castle sure but it would be even more interesting to read about your life and that of the rest of the family, in it. Maybe there are some interesting coincidences between your lives there and the lives of past residents. whatever it is your skills with words and camera will be well worth seeing. STAY CALM AND CARRY ON

    • March 9, 2013 11:33 pm

      Ooh, lots of good ideas here, Boyd. Thank you very much, and thanks for the words of wisdom. We have that motto in several places in the house!

  11. Margaret Lambert permalink
    March 7, 2013 10:53 pm

    Everyone has spoken to the points I had thought of, but I’ll say that I’ve loved what you have written to this point. I listened to family stories for the first 5 decades of my life, and loved them. You might consider sharing more of the personalities you know a little about. There must have been travels, as I recall one ancestor collected tree specimens. House parties: famous guests, old menus, antique photos of everyone gathered. Distinctive Scots traditions would interest me, as a gggrandfather was a Buchanan from nr. Aberdeen. By all means be careful of your privacy. Once that’s given up, it can’t be taken back. Your first 10 years have established a new way to live suitable to your family and this time. That seems very appropriate. All the best to you and yours for the next decades!

    • March 9, 2013 11:34 pm

      More wonderful ideas to get me writing, Margaret. Thank you, and thank you also for the wise caveat about privacy. All the best to you too!

  12. March 8, 2013 9:59 am

    The Beastie dances a fine line, particularly where your sons are concerned. But I for one, read your blog to hear about ‘living in a Scottish castle’. I have found each of your posts interesting whatever you write about. Catholicism, heartache, your family, your garden, your home, your life – whatever you choose to share with your readers.

    • March 9, 2013 11:37 pm

      Thanks, Diana. I am always very careful not to show my children’s faces in photos: some bloggers are completely happy to do so with their family, but I feel quite strongly that it’s better not. Having said that, all my best lines seem to come from the children, so they do inevitably feature a good deal.

      • March 13, 2013 10:16 pm

        I think you are very wise being cautious with the children. (but they might do a “guest” interview/blog post – that could be fun)
        Diana concisely says what many of us feel about your posts – they are alway a great read.

  13. March 8, 2013 7:14 pm

    Yes please! it would make a nice contrast to suburban Edinburgh living!

    • March 9, 2013 11:39 pm

      Yes, it’s a bit surreal here in some ways. It’s very helpful to have sensible readers who remind me of that!

  14. March 8, 2013 9:21 pm

    I enjoy all your posts, but learning more about the castle interior would be great.

  15. March 8, 2013 10:23 pm

    Congratulations on a notable anniversary, DB. This was such an interesting post and gave me a very clear picture of the enormous culture shock of coming to live somewhere so far from most people’s experience. I would love to learn as much about the history and architecture (and anecdotes: )) as you feel you can share without infringing on your family’s privacy.

    PS I’m so glad to learn that DH and I aren’t the only ones to eat our supper on trays in front of the TV. 🙂

    • March 9, 2013 11:42 pm

      Yes, at least some aspects of our lives are very ordinary! There seems to be a fair bit of interest in the castle and its family history,though, so I’ll do my best to come up with some further posts on the more extra-ordinary areas. Thank you.

  16. March 9, 2013 7:39 am

    Just the brief glimpse in this post is extraordinary; so, only 10 years ago, life in the Castle was regulated along the lines of Downton Abbey? That must have been daunting in ways that we probably can’t even imagine! I would love further insights into the history of the castle and its former owners, and what it is like to live there – but, as you say, without compromising your privacy. It looks a truly beautiful place.

    • March 9, 2013 11:45 pm

      Well, it wasn’t quite Downton Abbey, but in some ways at least it had a lot in common with it. Quite a contrast to my single girl’s life in London working in the City!

  17. March 9, 2013 9:57 am

    Happy anniversary, Dancing Beastie – here’s to the next ten. I’d love to hear more about the castle too. It sounds wonderful, but I know it must be a huge responsibility and expensive to run. I “down-sized” about 10 years ago and although I miss the house and farm, life is a lot simpler and cheaper 🙂

    • March 9, 2013 11:47 pm

      Thank you very much, Jo. I guess family history would be right up your street: I’ll see what I can come up with. We do look forward to down-sizing when the time comes, wonderful though this place is!

  18. March 9, 2013 1:31 pm

    Brave Sir George planted the lime avenues? Fabulous! I’d love to hear more stories like these! Congratulations on your anniversary and thank you for sharing your wonderful stories x

    • March 9, 2013 11:49 pm

      Thank you very much. Good old Sir George, he has my favourite ‘title’. I’ll try to find a bit more along those lines if you like.

  19. Lorraine permalink
    March 9, 2013 2:37 pm

    Yes – it would be wonderful to see more castle photos – the deep-set windows are lovely. However, I thoroughly enjoy your outdoor photos of trees, gardens, animals, birds…I am new to your blog – stumbled upon it by accident. I keep coming back – doing a little lurking – to see what’s new and to take in a few more past posts. Congratulations on your 10 years in the castle – AND to your fine blog. You’ve done a wonderful job. Here’s to the next 10.. Thanks for sharing.

    • March 9, 2013 11:51 pm

      Thanks so much for your kind comments, Lorraine, and welcome out of the lurking shadows! 🙂 Funnily enough the deep-set windows appeal very much to me too. I love photos of windows and doorways and there are some rather special ones here. I’ll do my best to show you some more.

  20. March 10, 2013 3:29 pm

    I’d love to read more about your life there in the castle, even if only from the point of view of yourself and your family – the members of the family, anyway, who don’t mind a little public involvment from time to time. I’m sure we’re all quite benign anyway!

    I would still want your tree posts, though!

    • March 12, 2013 10:49 pm

      It’s a very benign and courteous group here on Dancing Beastie, Val. 😉
      You won’t escape the trees, don’t worry: I couldn’t not post about them if I tried.

  21. Erika W. permalink
    March 10, 2013 4:07 pm

    Every entry of yours is a joy and often a surprise. I won’t dream of making suggestions. But this last one has brought back to my mind , with much pleasure, memories of my grandparents’ huge mid- nineteenth century apartment in Vienna, above formal stores in the Ringstrasse., and my grand mother confiding to me what bliss it was to move in to permanently, rather than for flying visits, after they had to flee Lithuania during World War II. Modern convenience and only a few servants, although it was 1920s style, was complete joy after a crumbling, old country mansion with little heating and no hot water and crowds of hangers on to support. Although very elderly they made a wonderful home when we grandchildren turned up, in rags and with feral manners, from post-war Lithuania

    Thank you so much for bringing this back to me..

    • March 12, 2013 10:58 pm

      Erika, what a fascinating snippet of family history from a vanished past. I wonder how many people living in the States today began their lives in war-torn Europe. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  22. Sarah permalink
    March 11, 2013 11:54 pm

    I am fairly new to your blog. I am interested in learning more about your home and seeing photos of your home and furnishings. I love knowing some of the history of old things. Thanks, Sarah

  23. Kerry permalink
    March 12, 2013 2:26 am

    Thank you for your blog which I really enjoy reading. I’m not a blogger so I do wonder if it feels like a very one-sided affair of which us the readers are the beneficiaries? I agree that your family life is separate and should not form part of your blog. Your blog is about seasonal living in a Scottish castle. The castle, land, and its history form a separate identity if you like and I think it is wonderful that you can photograph and write about it from your own perspective as the current ‘tenant’. In my view you are not only writing for the readers of your blog, but I see it as a diary of sorts for your children to read later on. I often wonder about the diary or journal aspect of blogs and what may seem unimportant or trivial will eventually be of future interest to social historians.

    • March 12, 2013 11:45 pm

      What a lot of interesting points you make, Kerry. I agree that the trivial can become extremely useful to social historians – should these digital diaries survive, of course.

      You ask if blogging seems very one-sided. On the contrary, the feedback from readers is the best thing about it, and is a wonderful way to exchange information and support, especially for those of us who work at home and/ or in rural areas where we wouldn’t otherwise interact with many people. I gain a huge amount from the people I have ‘met’ (some even in real life! 🙂 ) through the blogosphere.

  24. March 12, 2013 8:17 pm

    Like them all, your posts.
    And that old leather chair beside the window! Perfect with a book, dozing off…for which you probably won’t have a lot of time 😉

    • March 12, 2013 11:47 pm

      What a lovely idea. Not much time for that at the moment…and anyway (whispers) that room is perishingly cold! 🙂

  25. March 13, 2013 10:21 pm

    Congrats on the anniversary! You are such a talented photographer. It looks like you live in such a storybook land…then you giggle how cold one of the rooms is or struggling down long corridors with a child in need of a bathroom. You certainly breath life into words.
    As you can guess – we are all enthralled – and will gladly take whatever you feel like writing/taking pictures of that day! It’s all Wonderland to us.

  26. March 15, 2013 9:14 pm

    I’m late to this one (I feel like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland at the moment….sigh…) Anyway – Happy Anniversary! And I’ll add my voice to others – I love hearing about history and different ways of life!

    • March 19, 2013 6:32 pm

      Thank you, Sian. Hope you have time to draw breath/ sit down for a cup of tea soon!

  27. March 19, 2013 4:33 pm

    Talking of perishing cold, we are a few days off the official arrival of spring here in east coast canada anjd looking down the double barrel of 15-20 cm of snow and gales with a possibility of ice pellets and freezing rain. I am scrambling to get enough firewood inside for the duration.
    Lovely to see your snowdrops and jonquils peeping above the snow.
    As for subject matter of your posts – whatever you put out there I enjoy but also would love to see more info on the castle itself. And also, life in the surrounding communities, I recall one post whose subject was the local highland games – very engaging. Anything to do with social history and bult heritage draws my attention.
    Must get back to bringing in wood – if the power goes off there is no backup electric heat – so best have a good supply in.
    Happy anniversary and may you enjoy the next ten years, challenging as I’m sure they’ll be!
    Janet, just outside Hall’s Harbour

    • March 19, 2013 6:35 pm

      Hello Janet, lovely to hear from you! Thanks for your helpful ideas. We are having vile weather this week but I have no doubt at all that your side of the Pond gets the worst of it. Hope you’ve got the wood in OK!

  28. March 20, 2013 4:40 pm

    oh do tell us more,from one living with history in an old chapel in the North Pennines,the past fascinates me and buildings .

  29. Ann permalink
    March 22, 2013 2:51 pm

    Oh my, I feel like I’ve been given a gift this morning when I discovered your blog. I follow Kate Davis and she mentioned you and I clicked over and WOW! I would love to hear more about living in your castle. It’s an amazing story so far.

    • March 22, 2013 11:46 pm

      Welcome, Ann. Good old Kate has led a large number of readers over here! Clearly the idea of writing about the castle has struck a chord with people, so I’ll try to offer a little more on it in the near future.


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