Stately Homes and Castles - Scotland, Borders and East Lothian
The largest inhabited castle in Scotland with some splendid rooms
is everyone’s dream castle built of pale gold coloured stone
with towers topped with cupolas, pinnacles and carving with
a glorious view across the Tweed Valley.
It is the largest inhabited castle in Scotland and the home of the Duke of Roxburghe. All that is left of the original castle is a bit of masonry in the grounds. It was built in 1721 to a design by William Adam and is a typical Adam design of a square building with corner turrets.
It was extended in between 1838-49 in the baronial style by the Edinburgh architect William Playfair when it acquired its present outline.
The other influential figure in Floors history is Duchess May, an American heiress and wife of the eighth Duke. She brought a lot of family heirlooms and furniture and remodelled many of the rooms.
The Castle is on the edge of Kelso, off the racecourse road and reached through a splendid wrought iron gateway with a crest on top and long drive through the grounds. It is a short walk from the car park which is well screened among the trees.
I was under the impression that it was guided tours only so was pleasantly surprised to find it was free flow the day we visited, possibly because it was quiet and there were few visitors around. There were room stewards in most of the rooms who were knowledgeable and chatty. There is a certain amount of printed material in each room. Photographs are not allowed inside the castle.
The visit begins in style through the front door in the oldest part of the house with the ticket desk in the entrance hall.
Beyond is the ANTE ROOM, a lovely small sitting room with views across the Tweed Valley. The family still use this room in the winter months when the fire is lit. From the windows can be seen the holly bush in the middle of the lawn which marks the spot where James II of Scotland died when a cannon he was firing blew up and killed him. The scant remains of Roxburgh Castle can be seen on a hill top.
Above the fireplace is a C15th Brussels tapestry which was originally woven as an altar cloth with gold and silver thread. There are easy chairs card table Louis XVI bureau and family photos scattered around. It has a lived in and loved feel.
Beyond it is a larger SITTING ROOM with a big settee and armchairs arranged around the fire place which has a decorative plaster over mantle above a black marble surround. Duchess May redesigned the room in the 1930s and the black marble is her influence. There are wall tables around the room and one is used as a desk with silver writing set.
The next room is the DRAWING ROOM which was originally the state bedroom but was altered under the instruction of Duchess May to accommodate a set of C17th Brussels tapestries known as the ‘Triumph of the Gods’, inherited after the death of her mother. The tapestry on the east wall had to be cut to fit round the door and has half of a person’s foot on each side. It is a very elegant room with pale green painted walls with gilt decorations and a green and gold frieze round the top of the walls. There is a sofa and easy chairs around the marble fireplace and beautiful inlaid wood furniture with a lot of china figurines.
Off the drawing room is the NEEDLEWORK ROOM. This was originally the closet and dressing room for the state bedroom. It was redesigned by Duchess May in Louis XVI style. It has red damask silk wall coverings and curtains. The elaborate plaster ceiling with flowers and diamond coffering is the work of Playfair and has a chandelier. In a corner is a green marble fireplace with mirror above. The chairs have hand worked tapestry seats and backs. There is a beautiful example of an embroidered Stuart needlework cushion. On the walls are paintings from the Duchess May collection which include Matisse, Odilon Redon and Augustus John.
The passageway leads to the BALLROOM, the largest room in the castle, with magnificent bay windows added by Playfair in 1842 which have panoramic views across the River Tweed. It is very quiet apart from the clock ticking. The walls are panelled with a carved frieze along the top. The beautiful wall carvings of flowers and foliage were carved by a local craftsman in the style of Gringling Gibbons. On the walls are C17th Gobelin tapestries. There are two marble fireplaces with Chinese ware and figurines on them. Along the walls are William and Mary chairs covered in black/beige upholstery and tables displaying Chinese porcelain. There are two delightful C18th round Chinese screens set with semi precious stones including jade, quartz and lapis luzuli on highly carved bases. These have a dark green bird with an orange beak surrounded by orange and pink flowers with green foliage.
The BILLIARD ROOM used to be a bedroom and has a Playfair plaster ceiling. As well as the full size billiard table, there is a large wall bookcase and family portraits on the walls.
The BIRD ROOM contains the sixth Duke’s stuffed bird collection. He was an avid collector but we were assured that he didn’t shoot any of the birds and they were all given to him dead.
A corridor with a lovely cross stitch embroidery dated 1930 showing the house with an owl on the roof, pheasants on the lawn and a dog chasing a rabbit leads to the GALLERY which contains robes of the Order of the Thistle. Display cases contain porcelain and other smaller works of art from the Duchess May collection. This includes miniatures, carved ivory cigarette case, carved meerschaum pipe, Meissen figures, sealing wax stamps, small Japanese and Chinese figures.
The DINING ROOM has a table set with gilded cutlery, white bone china with a deep blue border and gold rim and engraved glassware. Marble topped side tables, two standing on huge carved and gilded eagles have a display of silver gilt. Inlaid wood display cupboards with gilded carvings of flowers and scrolls contain more china. Originally the billiard room, it is a light and airy room with a clerestory above the table and windows round the sides.
The ROBE ROOM has the coronation robes worn by the Duke and Duchess at the coronations of Edward VII and George V as well as a page’s uniform. There is a lady’s court dress from 1895 with net frills and a long train. There is a red silk damask lined crib and a baby in a long lace gown and hat. In cases are a display of combs, fans, feathers, tiaras, buckles and beaded stoles.
Stairs lead down past a display of water jugs and wash basins and more stuffed birds. There is a secure wooden document chest and a huge salmon weighing 56lb that was caught in the River Tweed.
There is a short video about the estate and an old fire engine before a room with a horse drawn carriage, Victorian pony cart and a bath chair. This leads out into the courtyard with shop and restaurant.
There is a narrow flower border in front of the castle overlooking parkland with specimen trees to the River Tweed. The walled kitchen garden is away from the house on the exit road and has a small parking area.
We enjoyed the visit and the rooms were lovely although we were disappointed visitors don’t see any of the bedrooms.
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