I do like visiting a castle but didn’t get chance when walking the east coast to go back and visit this castle. By now I had reached the west coast of Scotland and was in fact staying in Ullapool for this 5 day trip. Unfortunately the weather forecast was for heavy rain and gale force winds, to last the entire day (which turned out to be accurate). That wasn’t the sort of weather that makes for a pleasant walk, so unfortunately I’d abandoned plans to do a walk and decided to have a “day off” walking so was in search of an “indoor” option for the day (There isn’t much indoors around Ullapool and I didn’t want to waste the day sitting in the hotel room, not helped by the fact the hotel was not very good).
It occurred to me that the north of Scotland is much less wide then the rest of Britain, so travelling between the west and east coast does not require covering the huge distances it does further south. So I decided that it was feasible to drive from Ullapool to Golspie and visit Dunrobin Castle for the day. The weather forecast on the east coast was to start dry, with the rain not arriving until later in the afternoon so I should at least keep dry for some of the day.
The journey took about 1 hour 40 minutes with many deep puddles to go through. Most of the roads that go west-east in the north coast of Scotland are single track with passing places, as was the case here, but the views were stunning (despite the rain) and there wasn’t much traffic so I didn’t have to stop too often.
I parked in the car park in front of the impressive castle and paid my admission to go in (this being the days, prior to 2020, when it was possible to just turn up at a visitor attraction, pay money and go in rather than being told you have to book in advance as seems to be the case at most places now). The admission ticket included access to the interior of the castle, gardens and a falconry display, which would be taking place in the gardens later on.
Whilst I had seen the castle from the coast the view from the front was equally impressive.
Given the forecast was for the rain to arrive later and it was currently not raining I decided it was a good idea to start with the gardens.
The first view of the gardens is from the terrace, with the formal gardens below and heading down to the coast.
They are impressive though I suspect more colourful earlier in the year (spring).
From the terrace I headed down the steps to explore the gardens more closely.
The gardens are extremely well kept and despite the wind, the fountain was running.
The gardens however offered the most wonderful view of the impressive castle.
At the far end was a sort of walled formal garden.
The gardens were large and impressive. As I had been advised when buying my ticket there was also a falconry display and at the far end I found the birds which would likely be a part of this display. Apologies if I get this wrong but I think I’m right in saying that first off is a Peregrine Falcon.
Next, a Gos Hawk.
Next an Eagle Owl.
Next a Harris Hawk.
Finally, a golden eagle.
All the birds had names, which unfortunately I did not note down and I have now forgotten.
I was glad to see the rain had held off so rather than go around the house I decided to watch the falconry display. 3 of the birds took part in the display and they were wonderful to watch.
The falconer flew the birds one of which (the Harris Hawk) particularly enjoyed the windy weather and flew way out of the castle grounds. If it was mine I’d be worried it might not come back, but of course it did and he explained that the bird loves the windy weather and was enjoying flying. One thing I hadn’t realised is that stately homes such as this used to employ several falconers and they would be used to catch rabbits for food as well as kill vermin such as rats. I hadn’t ever really though about the food aspect, but it makes a lot of sense.
All in all it was impressive to watch and the falconer allowed us to take some close up pictures of the beautiful birds too.
After enjoying the falconry display it was time for lunch, which I had in the castle cafe. After lunch I explored the interior of the castle. Although originally built as a defensive castle, it was significantly remodelled in the early 1800s to become essentially a stately home, owned by the Duke of Sutherland. During World War II it was used as a Naval hospital. After World War I and II the castle found use as a boarding school until it was opened to the public in 1973, though the Duke of Sutherland still rents some rooms as a private residence.
All remnants of the boarding school seem to have been erased with the rooms that are open to the public restored to their original use.
You can see from this photo of one of the internal courtyards how the older medieval castle has been combined to form part of the more modern house.
Inside it was an impressive grand home.
My favourite room was the children’s play room with lots of old toys, a few of which I remember.
In the ground floor and basement were the kitchens and house keepers quarters.
I actually remember my mum using a variant of that yellow Hoover vacuum cleaner (hers was blue and white, but other than that looked the same).
Having explored the open parts of the house there was also a museum in the grounds. Sadly one part of this displays the trophy heads of animals shot by family members on safari. I was warned about it before going in and it was indeed grim (I am reminded of the scene from the film Ace Ventura Pet Detective film where such a room was described as a “room of death” which seems accurate to me). However it also had some archaeological artefacts including some Pictish stones.
Having explored the house, museum and grounds I went for a short walk down to the shore where I had walked 3 years earlier.
The wind had increased in speed but the rain held off. It was a little more bleak than when I had seen it last but it was nice to at least see the coast today – and without having to shelter from rain.
Having finished exploring the castle and grounds I headed up the drive and decided to look at one more thing before I left. When railway lines were built over private land it was quite common for the landowners to request (or sometimes) demand a station be built for their own use as a condition of allowing the line to be built over their land.
That is the case at Dunrobin Castle with the station opening in 1870 (and rebuilt in 1902). For most of it’s existence it was a private station, for use by the Duke of Sutherland and family. The station closed in 1965 but was re-opened in 1985 now becoming a public station with the primary purpose of serving visitors to the castle. It is almost unique on the British railway network in being a station that is only open during the summer months (corresponding with the opening dates of the castle) and even then trains stop only by request.
The station was featured in the 4th and 5th Harry Potter films as Hogsmeade station. Since it was just across the A9 from the castle I decided to have a quick look before departing.
The station is small but very pretty. The yellow steps are I believe because the platform is very low and to help any passengers get on or off the train. The waiting room is a railway museum though when it opens I have no idea, so I had to make do with peering in the window.
I really enjoyed my visit to Dunrobin Castle and was very pleased I had managed to find the time to come back and explore it properly, rather than simply see it from the outside.
As it was still only mid afternoon I had picked up a leaflet about the “Golspie Big Burn Walk” in the castle. Since Golspie was only a mile or so away and I would have to drive through Golspie anyway I thought it was worth a look (though the name did sound rather american). I parked in Golspie and walked to the start of the walk.
This turned out to be well worth a look. The walk is a couple of miles long, a circular walk along the valley of the Golspie Burn.
The burn and walk soon head under the railway line, which crosses the burn on an impressive viaduct.
The valley is wooded and the burn fast flowing.
There are also a couple of small waterfalls you can get close to thanks to some bridges and board-walk paths.
It is really beautiful and I suspect the river was a bit swollen from all the recent rain.
At the far end of the walk was a large waterfall, rather more impressive than the one I had passed earlier.
The return route, along the eastern side of the burn was easier and much of it raised up and through woodlands.
It was nice to get a bit of a walk in and I was lucky that it stayed dry still. It was a lovely short walk through a beautiful valley with a surprising variety of scenery, so it was well worth stopping to see.
Now I returned to the road and headed back to the car (I hadn’t realised there is actually a small car park by the start of the walk, so had parked a bit further down the road in Golspie). As I did so the first spots of drizzle began to fall, which soon became rain (fortunately, after I had got back to the car).
The drive back to Ullapool was all through rain, soon becoming heavy and the road was now very wet with numerous puddles having formed after a day of seemingly solid heavy rain. I was glad to make it back to Ullapool as it was not a pleasant drive through all that water. Ullapool was certainly wet with deep puddles everywhere now (especially around the hotel, with it’s numerous leaking gutters) so I was glad to have spent the day on the east coast where the weather was drier (and better than forecast with the rain not coming until late afternoon).