25 Jul 2009

The many lives of Argyll's Lodging

The exterior of Argyll’s Lodging is a faded pink, making it look like one of Barbie’s mansions. It is hard to imagine the deep red and embossed gold that would have bloomed over the outer walls, turning the courtyard into a walk of wonder for 17th century visitors.

At that time, social standing was all about intimidation. Astound your guests with colour so they could see how rich you were. Ensure they would be suitably humbled by the time they were led from the lower hall and up the broad, grandiose wooden staircase into the room where you sat, dynamic and desperately important, surrounded by the best of everything.
A visit to Argyll’s Lodging is free with the cost of entry to Stirling Castle, and while the home was once open for ticket holders to wander through freely, now it can only be visited with a guide, so it is necessary to sign up for one of the multiple tours leaving from the castle drawbridge each day.

The home has changed hands many times, but its most famous owners were Archibald Campbell, the 9th Earl of Argyll, and his wife, Anna.

Since their time the house has been used as a hospital during the war, and later as one of the most splendid youth hostels imaginable. Historic Scotland have now taken over the property and have attempted to give some semblance of what the house would have been like during the Argyll’s tenure.

After making it through the grandeur of the courtyard, the first floor of the town house would have been the least impressive. The kitchens were downstairs, as well as a long hall that would have been used as the servant’s dining area.

Despite the simplicity of the rooms, the cool, white washed walls of the kitchens and the warm tones of the wooden tables and earthenware bowls make them dreamy spaces for any cook.

It is upstairs where things would have been truly marvellous. The High Dining Room would have been resplendent with paintings, the ornately carved fireplace gleaming with bright colours as the flames pulsed with a wealth of warmth.

Do come in...

Like the building’s exterior, the walls and the fireplace are now faded, the swirling gold leaf still glowing faintly. Above the heavy door that leads to dining room are the pale words from the war, marking it as a hospital ward.

Moving into the inner chambers, it is immediately apparent that Archibald Campbell was a great believer in purple. In the 1600’s, purple was the most expensive dye around, and was the ultimate “if you’ve got it, flaunt it” shade to drape around your bedroom and even your toilet (well, not really a toilet. More like a top-of-the-range pot).

I admit, I coveted the four poster bed so much, it still makes me squirm with envy.
There is one last thing. When I was there, our tour guide Sandy refused to linger long in the bedroom. The chair under the window made him nervous, he said. Several times, he had closed up the empty house in the evening and had been the first one to unlock it the next morning, only to find the chair on the other side of the room.
While I would love to snap my fingers and see this house in its full splendour again, it is still a wondrous place, full of quaint intrigue. If you are in Stirling, it would be a tragedy to miss it.

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