13 May 2009

Lauriston Castle Part 1: The Gardens

Well, the addresses are coming in and it looks like the Great Tablet Giveaway will be a success. Mailing begins Friday = exciting times.

In the meantime, let's go somewhere pretty.

Time stopped for Lauriston Castle in 1926. That was the year the Edwardian mansion was gifted to the nation, along all of its contents and the 30 acres of surrounding grounds and groomed gardens.

In accordance with the wishes of owners William and Margaret Reid, a childless couple with a love of prints, porcelain, and tapestries, the house has since been maintained and displayed just as it was when the Reids were alive, a testament to “intelligent education of the public taste.”

The oldest part of the castle is the tower house, built in 1593, with the rest of the mansion house being added in the 1800s. A litany of facts exist regarding the architects and earlier owners of the castle, but as usual we won’t clamour around on the wires of historical time lines.

Instead let’s take a moment to nestle against the idea of a massive stone house remaining unchanged and uninhabited for more than 80 years. Cared for by the City of Edinburgh, the shelves are dutifully dusted, the chimneys dutifully swept and the rugs dutifully cleaned. The grandiose gardens are kept up so that weddings and croquet tournaments can be held on the lawn that looks out to the Firth of Forth and (on a clear day) the mountains of Perthshire.

The gardens are both quaint and refined. A dancing nymph is frozen amidst the small reed bed that lies to the left of the upper driveway near the house, against which a giant’s bouquet of pink rhododendrons is growing.
On a bright blue morning in the spring, the mouths of daffodils sing mute songs along the wide trails that line the property . A long row of benches face the expansive view of the languid Forth, and a soft breeze blows the new leaves that are squeezing from the branches of the towering trees.

But guess what? There is no one else around. Thirty acres, an immaculate garden, an empty castle, but no host of eager tourists, no dog walkers or history buffs. A Saturday morning at the start of the tourist season and you can easily find yourself remarkably alone, with the exception of the single pheasant who ducks beneath a shrub every time you approach with your camera.

During my morning visit I did come across one woman who was also taking photos. She lived nearby and advised me that the castle, including the attached Japanese Garden (one of the largest in UK) it is rarely busy with visitors. The interior of the castle can only be visited as part of a guided tour, and currently there is just one a day.
Even if you removed the experience of seeing this truly stunning location, the exquisitely eerie feeling that comes from solitude amidst this lonely grandeur is alone worth a visit. Next time we shall venture inside this glorious building, which is apparently haunted by the sound of ghostly footsteps wandering the rooms.

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