I had never heard of Golspie or Dunrobin Castle before I started planning this family trip. I was simply searching for castles that we hadn’t been to before and were intact and interesting for all of us. When I saw Dunrobin Castle online, I knew we simply had to go. It reminded me of the chateaus in the Loire Valley; specifically, Chenonceau, which I had been to. In order to fit a visit to Dunrobin Castle into our plans, I was forced to cancel our two-day stay at the Rua Reidh Lighthouse on the west coast in Wester Ross (a little Game-of-Thronish sounding, right?) and move our trip north.
(There’s a very nice couple named Ray & Linda running Birch Cottage in Garve – if you ever get a need to stay in that area, please stay with them. They have wonderful reviews and Ray is supposed to be an excellent cook. I was on again and off again with them a few times as I figured out what time we needed to leave Golspie to get our evening ferry out of Ullapool).
As opposed to most of the castles we visited and would be visiting, Dunrobin has a very French appearance, Sir Charles Barry was commissioned in 1845 to remodel the castle from a fort to a house. He had been the architect for London’s House of Parliament. The first castle on the site (in the 13th century) was a fortified keep, and that keep still stands within the current castle, encased by many additions. (By the way: Castle #4.)
Dunrobin is the seat of the Sutherland Clan, a widely scattered clan still active today. On the way to Golspie, we saw a monument up on the mountain, which we later learned was a 100-foot statue that the first Earl of Sutherland had erected up on Ben Bhraggie. Unfortunately, this earl played a very large role in the Highland Clearances and there is now an effort underway to tear down the statue.
The castle is also stunning inside, with much artwork and furniture and such on display, but the kids found it boring until we got to the room with the ghost. I thought they’d get a kick out of the Falconry on the grounds behind the castle, which had demonstrations twice a day. The website said that the kids would get to wear the glove and “hold” one of the birds, but this proved to be untrue except for two little boys who must have been picked earlier. It was still cool to see the falconry demonstration, though near possible to capture a good photo of the hawk, owl, or falcon flying very, very close to our heads during it.Golspie itself is a very attractive (I really want to say quaint, but they hate when Americans say that), seaside town with a population of less than 2,000. I have a feeling that most are pensioners, as it seems like the kind of place teenagers can’t wait to escape but will pine for as they get older. We fortified ourselves with lunch at the Golspie Inn and then hit the road, heading for Ullapool to catch our 6:15pm (5:30pm boarding) ferry to the Isle of Lewis.
The road trip was filled with gorgeous scenery. There’s just something about places where mountains and water join that sets my heart alight. You either know what I’m talking about or you don’t: I simply can’t explain it.
As far as Doug has figured out and traced and talked to other MacAulays, our branch of the MacAulay clan is descended from the MacAulays of Lewis. We’d been there on our honeymoon and had taken the ferry from Ullapool then. Lewis shares a land mass with Harris, and together they’re the most northern of the Outer Hebrides islands of Scotland. It’s very nearly the land of the midnight sun in summertime and last time we’d been there I’d taken a beautiful photo of Ullapool at 11pm that looked like early morning. I made sure I had enough eye masks for each of us before we even left on our trip, just in case the sun never set. They’d already come in handy quite often.
Because we’d be getting to Lewis after 9pm and to our rental home even later, I had us stock up on groceries at the Ullapool Tesco, hoping it would all be fine in the boot of the car for the wait, ferry ride, and drive to the house. We would be staying on the west side of Lewis and I didn’t want to take a chance that we’d be food-less since we’d be arriving on Saturday night and a good portion of the island still observes the Sunday Sabbath (read: stores are closed).
Our CalMac ferry was running right on time and after a bit of a wait to get the car on, we were ready and excited to show the kids the literal land of their ancestors…
Next: The Isle of Lewis