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Scotland Isle of Arran and Brodick Castle

Sitting off the Ayrshire coast, Arran is often described as Scotland in Miniature. It is easily reached by a 50 minute ferry crossing from Ardrossan to Brodick. It was a popular day out for Glaswegians in the C19th and still attracts day visitors in their thousands as well as those coming for a longer stay.


Arran is dominated by its mountains and particularly Goat Fell. Most of the settlement along the coast. There is quite a lot of commercial coniferous forestry but pastoral farming is still important and the lower slopes are green and fertile. Many of the mountain tops are bare.



The main road follows the coast around the island. There are only two east west roads. The B880, known as The Sting, runs through a valley across the north of the island between Brodick and Blackwaterfoot.


This northern loop is a popular circuit for tourists with views dropping down to the coast with across to the Mull of Kintyre.


The A841 runs north up the coast with views across to Mull of Kintyre. Apart from a few small villages along the coast, there is little settlement.


The Twelve Apostles are a terrace of beautifully maintained cottages in Catacol. Originally built to house crofters cleared from the interior, most are now holiday cottages


Lochranza with its ruined castle and distillery is based around a sheltered bay at the north of the island.


To the south, an unclassified road crosses from Lamlash to between Sliddery and Lagg.

Although Lamlash is the capital, Brodick is the main visitor centre with its ferry terminal.

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Brodick Castle

Brodick Castle nestles among the trees, under the mass of Goat Fell.



There has been a fortress here since the C5th when Gaelic invaders from Antrim expanded their kingdom of Dai Riata. The name is of Norse origin and thought to have been derived from Breiðvík, meaning broad bay. By the C10th Arran, along with other islands off the west coast of Scotland, was under the control of the King of Norway. They only became the property of the Scottish Crown in the C13th when Alexander III of Scotland defeated Haakon IV at the Battle of Largs. After Haakon’s death, his successor Magnus IV abandoned his claim to the Scottish islands in exchange for a substantial payment.

A castle was built here at the end of the C13th as a military stronghold to try and secure the west for the Scottish throne against the English. It was a simple enclosure fortification with a curtain wall and a rock cut ditch that surrounded at least part of the structure. The main entrance into the castle was on the east side and this was protected by a substantial round tower with arrow slits enabling covering fire. The defensive strength of the entrance was enhanced in the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century by addition of a barbican.

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After the Battle of Bannockburn, Arran was granted to the Stewart family. In the C15th Brodick Castle passed by marriage to James, Lord Hamilton. His son was created Earl of Arran and substantially restyled and rebuilt the castle as a rectangular three storey tower house. The barbican became the gatehouse.

During the English Civil War, Cromwells’s forces occupied the castle and built an artillery battery to the east of the tower house.



The castle was returned to the family at the Restoration of the Monarchy and was used as a hunting Lodge. The castle was given to William the future 11th Duke on his marriage to Princess Marie of Baden and it became their home.

The present castle dates from the 1840s when the 11th Duke began a massive construction project to modernise the castle into a comfortable family home, where they could hold lavish parties. They doubled the size of the castle by building a new tower containing an impressive entrance hall and a block for their private apartments next to the C15th tower house. This also included a larger kitchen and cellars. The turrets, parapets and arrow slits were now decoration not defence.

The original castle is shown in beige on the model, with the main hall and a bedroom on the first floor. These later became the dining room and library. The 1840 additions are in dark green.



Marie turned the walled kitchen garden into a Victorian pleasure garden with lawns and flower beds, and also created pathways through the surrounding estate.


The 12th Duke had little time or money to invest in the castle, having squandered much of the family fortune gambling. He sold many of the contents to cover his debts. As there was no male heir, on his death the estate passed to his daughter, Lady Mary Louise Douglas-Hamilton who lived in the castle and continued to develop the grounds. On her death in 1958, the estate was transferred to the National Trust for Scotland in lieu of death duties.

There are plenty of information boards both inside and outside the castle as well as knowledgeable room stewards. The guide book is disappointing, concentrating more on people than the castle itself.



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Brodick Castle cont...

Entry to the castle is through the front door in the 1840’s tower.


This leads into a splendid entrance hall with walls lined with the heads of stags shot during the many hunting parties held here.



There even two guns mounted on a case on the wall.


A splendid carved wooden fireplace with carved crest above kept the hall warm.


Just inside the door is a jockey’s weighing chair. Apparently the Duke used to weigh guests as they arrived and just before they left...


The grand staircase leads up to the first floor where there are more stag’s heads. There is information about the castle and the 1840’s building plans.



Off the staircase is the small dressing room used by the Duke if he was late to bed.


This leads in to the main bedroom, a light airy room with large windows overlooking the grounds and a four poster bed.


Beyond is the Duchess’s boudoir where she would write her letters, do the daily menus etc. It is a very comfortable room with attractive inlaid furniture and fireplace with patterned tiles. It is very much a personal room with family photographs.







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Brodick Castle cont...

A long corridor with a scarlet carpet and curtains lined with carved chests and display cabinets leads to the three main rooms.




On the wall are footman’s chairs used by the footmen while waiting for orders.


The drawing room is the first of the three rooms and was very much for display of wealth with its elaborately carved plaster ceiling which traces over 450 years of Hamilton marriages through the coats of arms.



The library is in the old part of the castle and used to be the Duke’s bedroom before becoming a library. The books are kept in small bookcases round the base of the walls.



The final room is the dining room in the old building. With few windows it is a dark and intimate room with carved panelling around the base of the walls and a plaster ceiling.





The dining chairs are covered with Cordovan leather which comes from he rear quarters of a horse and is extremely durable.




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Brodick Castle cont..

The next room on the tour is the Butler’s Pantry. The butler was the most senior member of staff. As well as overseeing the rest of the staff he was responsible for the castle valuables. The sink was used to wash fragile items and silver and glass were carefully polished before being locked up.




Steps lead down into the kitchen. Fruit and vegetables were grown in the walled garden and venison, grouse and other game came from the estate.


Across one wall is a range with spit next to it. The bread oven is in the wall nearby.




There is a warming range designed to keep food warm before serving by the window with a sink nearby.



Copper cooking utensils are displayed on the walls.



Other utensils are on the work tables. There is a sugar loaf and sugar cutter.



There is a huge pestle and mortar.




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Brodick Castle cont...

From the kitchens, stone steps lead up into the original tower, lit by narrow circular holes, to the ‘Bruce Room’.


This was discovered within the walls of the castle in 1977, and presumed to be a dungeon.


Back down the steps, a corridor leads past the wine cellars to the exit.


As well as storing wine, these now display some of the C12th Duke’s esoteric collection of drinking vessels.






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Brodick Castle Gardens

Brodick Castle is surrounded by a large estate, with many paths and way marked trails. Trees and plants flourish in the mild climate.

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The walled garden was developed in 1710 to supply the house with fruit vegetables and herbs. Bees were kept to provide honey and beeswax.

Marie of Bavaria turned this into a pleasure garden with trees and flower beds, with network of paths linking places of scenic beauty. Only one of the four Bavarian summer houses survives. Her work was continued by Lady Mary Louise Douglas-Hamilton in the 1920s who began clearing large areas of the gardens and planted cuttings and seeds from the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh as well as plant collecting expeditions she sponsored to to China, Burma and the Himalayas. Planting was carefully planned to enhance the natural landscapes.

The walled garden falls steeply down from the terrace in front of the castle, with views across Brodick Bay.



There are lovely views back up to the castle.


The garden is formally laid out with a regular pattern of paths with ornamental arches and lined by herbaceous borders.




Next to the walled garden is the Silver Garden, a new addition to the gardens with its sculptures of a pyramid, wind chimes, and what are described as ’speaking tubes.




There is also an open metal work statue of a stag. According to legend, the appearance of a white stag warns of the death of the Duke of Hamilton.


Paths drop down to the last of the four Bavarian summer houses with views across the bay.



Climbing back up to the walled garden, through the area planted by Lady Mary, there are two small ponds surrounded by tree ferns, Gunnera and herbaceous plants.





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