A House For All Seasons
This autumn, only a week ago, I visited for the first time, a place that has hitherto been known only in my mind – as the oldest continuously inhabited house in Scotland. It took thirty years for me to get there. I can only trust that there was a ‘reason’ for this delay. Perhaps I wasn’t ready, till now, to fully appreciate the wonder of this mysterious house, and garden.
It probably has something to do with how much I’m enjoying a ‘proper’ autumn after – finally – a proper summer. I’m loving these watery suns, and hazy hills. Not to mention the making of endless crumbly desserts in this ‘season of mellow fruitfulness’.
By now, anyone who’s read more than two of my posts will already know I’m just as nutty about an untidy, forgotten corner of a field as I am about a great and grand, formal landscape. Most of all I love old orchards for their combination of trees, sunlight and shade, their jam, chutney and pick-nicking potential..and their dishevelled wildness. I like my orchards untidy, thanks. This garden has all three – and much more besides.
The house is Traquair, near Peebles. In 1744 Bonnie Prince Charlie rode out of the Bear Gates never to return .. and at the insistence of the fifth Earl the great gates will never re-open until a Stuart sits again upon the throne of Scotland. I hope the ghostly gatekeepers have brought a flask of whisky- for they may have a long wait.
Then again .. they could order up a pint of the famous Traquair House Ale – created after the twentieth Earl, Peter, discovered the remains of the old eighteenth-century brewery, conveniently located below the chapel – an answer to the prayers of some, no doubt.
A substantial structure already pre-existed here in 1107 – on the winding bend of the Traquair burn where it meets the River Tweed. It is known that Scottish Kings administered authority and justice .. and on their time off for good/bad behaviour – hunted wolf, bear and boar in these early days. Which must have made for a hearty sandwich to soak up the beer.
No doubt artists of the time did not risk life, or essential limbs, to paint the murals of these then abundant animals on display in the Museum Room.
Mary, Queen of Scots, her husband, Lord Darnley, and their infant son stayed here in 1566, when thankfully, there were no paparazzi, and thus no 16th Century equivalent of Hello magazine – or no doubt she would have been persuaded to drape herself, indecorously across the magnificent state bed. Catholic or no Catholic.
None of this is what endears me to Traquair. It has a “spirit of place” about it – owing nothing to it’s associations with monarchs and celebs’.. and everything to the sense of undisturbed tranquility. All the more remarkable given it’s turbulent, at times racy, and never less than intriguing history.
After visiting the house I wondered through the wooded glades towards the distant lake. I passed a man and a woman who looked very familiar. They were – from the portraits I’d seen on the castle walls. The walkers were the 21st Lady of Traquair, her husband, and dogs.
They have created a magical piece of living history by loving and nurturing it. Above all, they have – simply let it be.
I have a personal invitation to taste The Traquair Jacobite Ale beside a roaring fire. Somehow I doubt I will wait for winter – and the Traquair Christmas Fair – to return.
Already my dreams are carrying me back.
A House For All Seasons