Exploring Scotland | A flying visit to Dunrobin Castle, Sutherland
I’ve wanted to visit Dunrobin Castle for as long as I’ve known it existed. From the first moment I saw a photo of those perfect white turrets reaching up into the sky, I’ve been imagining myself standing in front of them, on the sweeping staircase that leads down to the sea. A bit like this, actually:
Well, OK, maybe not quite like that. I mean, every time I’ve imagined myself on the steps of Dunrobin Castle in the past, I’ve been wearing something a little bit more elegant than a pink puffer jacket and a pair of trainers – and, let’s face it, pretty much ANYTHING would be more elegant than that, right?
While I’m on the subject, I’ve also mostly imagined this scenario minus the rain that you can’t actually see in the photo above, but which had just started to fall as we arrived at the castle. Or the biting cold that made even the puffer jacket seem inadequate. I’ve always imagined it in summer, with blue skies, and surrounded by flowers – but none of that actually matters, because any time I think of Dunrobin Castle from now on, I’m going to think of cold winds and drizzling rain – and I’m going to think that, actually, it was pretty much perfect. Because, you know how sometimes you imagine something for years, and then, when you finally get to see it, it can never quite live up to your expectations? This wasn’t like that. Nope, Dunrobin Castle was every bit as beautiful in real life as it was in my imagination, and it was even beautiful in the off-season, in the rain: I mean, just look at it!
(As you can see, we did eventually get those blue skies I was after, too. But I’m getting ahead of myself…)
I had, as I mentioned, wanted to visit Dunrobin for years, but I’d pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I probably wouldn’t ever have the opportunity to see it, because this is Scotland’s most northerly stately home, which makes it not particularly accessible from our home in the central belt – or not without factoring in an overnight stay, at least. When we realised it was just over an hour’s drive from Eagle Brae, however, I knew this could be my best chance of seeing the castle of my dreams: so I Googled it, and naturally it was closed for the season.
All was not lost, though. The castle itself is only open for tours from April – September (As are many of Scotland’s tourist attractions), but the grounds are open to the public all year round. As much as I’d have liked to have had a look inside (The castle has 189 rooms, so that could take a while…), it was the exterior that had really captured my imagination, so we decided not to let the fact that we couldn’t do the full tour put us off, and, on our second day in the Highlands, we got into the car, and once again headed north. Er, even FURTHER north, I mean.
The forecast showed a high chance of rain that day, and the storm clouds chased us all the way to Golspie, where Dunrobin is located. They finally caught up with us just as we turned into the castle’s impressive driveway, but we were determined not to be beaten, so we had time for only the briefest look at the front of the castle (And a particularly bad phone picture of it…) before heading around to the back, which is where the magic happens, basically:
From the front, Dunrobin is impressive, sure, but not hugely different from most of the other Scottish castles and stately homes we’ve seen. Head around the back, though, to where the castle grounds sweep down to the Dornoch Firth, then turn and look back, and it’s basically a French-style chateau, complete with white turrets and a total “fairytale” feel to it:
Naturally, it was at this point that the rain started, and I’m not going to lie – I was just a little bit (OK, just a BIG bit…) disappointed to think we’d travelled so far, for what would quite possibly be my one and only chance to see this place I’d read so much about, and were probably now going to leave without a single photo in front of it. So I got Terry to quickly snap a few with my phone, then, as the drizzle turned into a downpour, we ran for cover, ending up in a little stone shelter built into the front of the cliff the castle stands on.
I kind of figured that was us done at that point, and that we really had just driven to the top of the country just for a quick glimpse of the castle in the rain, but, well, you know what they say about Scotland’s weather: if you don’t like it, just wait 15 minutes, and it’ll probably change! Sure enough, about 10 minutes in, the rain started to lessen, and tiny glimmers of blue sky started appear. Five minutes after that, meanwhile, we stepped outside to this:
We may have finally got that blue sky I was after, though, but it was still bitterly cold, and the forecast was for yet more rain, so we didn’t get to spend nearly as much time there as we’d liked – or to take nearly as many photos. (This was to be a recurring theme for this particular trip, unfortunately…) The ones we did take, meanwhile, don’t really do the place justice, because both the castle and its grounds are truly stunning – and every bit as beautiful as I’d imagined.
What I would say here, though, is that if you’re thinking of visiting, March probably isn’t the best time to do it: not necessarily because of the weather (It was really, really cold when we were there, but, to be honest, that can be the case at ANY time of year in Scotland…), but because the grounds are basically still coming out of hibernation at this time of year. There were gardeners working on them the whole time we were there (Yes, even in the pouring rain…), but they’re not going to really come into their own until spring: as we walked back up the stairs on our way back to the car, we noticed dozens and dozens of daffodils getting ready to open, and I’d loved to have seen them in all their glory.
We might not have seen Dunrobin Castle in ALL its glory, then, but it was still pretty glorious all the same – even in the rain – so I’m really glad we decided to drive that extra hour to go and see it: and I really hope that one day we’ll get to go back…