We have no further trouble finding our way to Historic Stanley Mills and there’s plenty of room in the car park. The weather is cool and overcast as we walk across a little bridge into the industrial site. I’m surprised at the scale of it. It’s enormous. The entrance to the Historic Scotland displays is not immediately obvious. The building closest to where we’ve come in is obviously private dwellings. There’s some information boards here and there so that makes a good start and we soon learn that it’s the Bell Mill, the oldest part of the complex, that is where we need to go.
Historic Scotland must have made quite a considerable investment in the new displays and interactive information stations. It’s a very hands on place with demonstrations of the technology, games and first person accounts of life working at the mill for us to control. On the ground level we learn about Arkwright and his genius at the efficient arrangement of industrial mills and the reasons he set up in Stanley. The workforce was assembled from people who were evicted from their homes during the clearances. There’s a working model of how the various machines were laid out in the bell mill which you can make work. We spend a bit of time playing a game where you have to respond to world events by buying more or less cotton and hiring more or less workers. A bit of a false start as I thought they meant the price you pay for the various resources rather than how much of the resource to buy but I do alright in the end and my mill is usually in the black. Other stations let you have a go at the sort of tasks that workers, including small children, had to do for days at a time. The displays take us through the 200 years of investment and innovation in technology and industrial rights of workers, or lack thereof. After surviving so long, reading of the demise of the mill is very sad.
I have a confession to make and I guess now’s the time to make it. I’m a massive admirer of Prince Charles and the many worthy projects he gets involved with or leads. The man is a visionary and harnesses his position and influence, and in many cases, puts his own money where his mouth is, despite so much ridicule and nay-saying by the media. I remember when everyone was laughing at him for converting his estates to organic operations and insisting it was uncommercial pie in the sky stuff in the modern day. Time has proven him right though hasn’t it. I didn’t know before we came here, but Prince Charles, Duke of Rothsay was also instrumental in saving this important industrial site and the redevelopment of it, with a mix of commercial and heritage uses. An article from a newspaper from 2012 stating that the Historic Stanley Mills project was the first by the Prince’s Regeneration Trust which in 15 years was reported as having undertaken projects that attracted “£100m worth of investment, restored more than 1 million square feet of historic floorspace and directly created more than 1000 jobs.” Digging a bit more later I find that the vision of the trust is “that redundant historic sites, at risk of demolition or decay, are rescued, reused and regenerated for the benefit of the surrounding community.”
We venture downstairs for a look at the source of power: a diversion of water from the River Tay which was harnessed by evolving technologies to drive the massive amount of machinery required to get to the finished products. The displays in this area are brilliant. One of them you have to pull levers, sometimes in sequence, to make the machinery operate. It’s simplified of course but it is a great hands on way to learn. Our favourite display was one with water and sluice gates that you open to direct the flow to demonstrate the different sorts of technology used over the years. It’s so much fun. Kids would seriously LOVE this place. It must be crawling with school groups when it’s not school holidays, surely. Then we go up to the 1st floor where examples of carding machines are displayed along with some video of an ex mill worker explaining how the machines were used and maintained.
Our exploration at Stanley Mills has taken us just under 2 hours and it’s now about 2.30. Other than the Tattoo, this has been Hubby's favourite thing we've done so far.
We review our options list and decide to head for Glamis Castle for a quick look, sus it out. The drive over to Glamis from Stanley is absolutely gorgeous. A gasp-worthy moment as we round a corner and there’s an elegant arched bridge spanning a forest lined waterway. Later we can see the Cairngorms off in the distance brooding silently with their backs marbled in green and purpley-brown. I can’t take my eyes off them and the patchwork of fields flowing across the landscape in gentle rolling plains. I try to capture the mountains, but they vanish in the photographs as though they are merely a mirage. I fail miserably in trying to describe the jewel like beauty of the scene. Nature is requiring us to live in the moment.
It’s not a long journey to Glamis Castle and there’s no turning back once we see those gates and the drive extending beyond. We head in and drive, and drive, and drive through the park to reach the castle itself, paying our £11 each for both house and garden access.
We are very conscious of limited time so we make our way directly to the kick off point for the house tours. There’s a 20 minute wait until the next tour leaves, so we head to get some lunch in the onsite restaurant, which is in a huge space that looks like it must once have been the castle kitchens. We’re not all that hungry after the massive breakfast at Dalqueich Farmhouse so first up we decide to try the Cullen Skink. It is extremely good. I think it is the best Cullen Skink we’ve had so far. Very creamy and lots of body. Perfect with the slice of bread and butter provided. Delicious!! I decide I’ll have a bowl of that, but Hubby decides He’ll give me the one we’ve got and order a bowl of the soup of the day which is Leek and Potato, just to try that as well. The Leek and Potato is on a strongly flavoured chicken stock base by the taste of it, also good but not really in the race with their wonderful Cullen Skink.
We gobble up the last dregs and head off because it is almost time for the tour to depart. There’s some displays in the waiting area to keep us amused. I read ones about the restoration of the chapel and a royal visit by Charles and Camilla back in 2008. Then our guide arrives and leads us into the dining room. Wow! Wow! And let me just say WOW!! It’s one very very impressive space and they have the table set up with the silverware. The silver Galleon on the table was a gift from the estate tenants for an anniversary! It’s enormous. It’s not a terribly old space having been built when so much lavish construction was going on in the 19th century but it certainly makes a statement. The table can seat 36 -40 when fully extended and by the way, you can hire this space for functions. I don’t ask how much that would cost, though I do wonder. It must surely be a LOT. We move on through what feels like a stone passageway but is in fact the walls of the original building- they are 10 feet thick. We’re now in what is called the crypt. Once covered in plaster a change in fashion had that all stripped back and for the last hundred or so years they’ve been bare stone. They are decorated with lots and lots of trophy heads many of them from various African antelope. Eland, Hartebeest. It’s awful but as they’ve killed for them, I’d rather they were up than just tossed away or put in the basement. There’s also lots of armour including some from Cromwell’s Army who raided Glamis in their rampages across the country. Bastards. The heavy furniture in this area is Jacobean. On another section of wall there is a scold’s bridle. We’re given some time to look around and then we’re on the move again. Next is the current drawing room and this too is filled with amazing paintings and furniture. The most amazing thing in this room for me was the paintings of the great and the good wearing flesh coloured armour. Apparently this was fashionable in France at the time. It’s gross. Truly. What were they thinking? These blokes look naked but not in an attractive way. As we walk through the corridors we see many more impressive paintings, I noticed one portrait by Lely as I walked by. Just trying to maintain the artwork here must be quite an expensive job.
There’s also a very significant feature in this room celebrating the union of the crowns. It’s the royal coat of arms surrounded on one side by a garland of thistles and on the other by a garland of roses. We hear of the great optimism of the time about what this union would bring and indeed, it has brought much prosperity and lasting domestic peace for both Scotland and England, well, after a bit of ructions along the way.
We take a seat in the chapel, which is still used by the family and was extensively restored back in the 1980s. It’s dedicated to St Michael and All Saints. The ceiling is painted in scenes from the life of Christ by the Jacob de Wet an artist of the Dutch golden age. The walls feature paintings by the same artist of Simon wearing glasses and Mary Magdalene finding Christ in the garden of Gethsemane. We hear the story of the resident ghost.. but no spoiler here from me on that one, or the other ghosts said to frequent the castle and we move along into what is now the Billiard Room but originally the Library. There’s a fusty sort of smell which probably comes from the enormous number of ancient books. This room too has a venerable history including some features lingering from the Great War when Glamis was used as a convalescent home for veterans. It is here we see a portrait of the heiress who contributed the name Bowes to the family who had previously been Lyons. She was the richest heiress in Europe, daughter of a Durham coal magnate and her father had stipulated that to get the money the person who married Eleanor Bowes had to take the Bowes name. Easy peasy. Change your name to get the fortune. Later generations picked the Lyons name back up to give the double barrel surname of Bowes Lyons.
The later section of the tour takes us through the bedrooms of significant royal persons including the Queen Mother and 14th Countess. There’s much of interest but perhaps the highlight in these rooms for me was the embroidered copy of an Italian art work, the two hanging side by side on the wall. I ask who was responsible for the embroidered copy and our guide thinks probably the 14th Countess, who also embroidered the bed furnishings. As the group moves on, myself and a man on the tour each go over for a close look at the embroidery. It is absolutely perfect and completely stunning. Whoever did it was extremely proficient. Extremely proficient.
The tour ends after we visit another room from the original building where people would enter and surrender their arms which were then locked in the adjacent room. The family calls this Duncan’s Hall in homage to the fictitious location of King Duncan’s murder in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
We have no time to spare now because we are due in Aberdeen by 6pm. We can’t leave without a photo of the whole enormous castle so I walk around the front to do that but we have no time to explore the gardens or pinetum today. We pile in the car and take the fastest route into Aberdeen arriving pretty much on time for getting the keys to our AirBnB apartment. First of all we need to complete the journey to get off the estate. It's a trek.
Immediately after turning out of the main drive we enter a tunnel of greenery with the light breaking through as the angle of the sun becomes more acute.
What we see of Glamis Village is quaint with low stone cottages. It would have been nice to have time to explore the Estate and village in more detail but you come to accept that you're probably going to feel like that in most places and we head determinedly on.
So, what’s for dinner tonight? We decide to go for a jaunt down to Stonehaven to check it out but aren’t tempted to stop so we go for our other option and return to Aberdeen and head for the Tippling House. Moments of emotion as without any particular effort we find ourselves on Chapel Street, which I notice has a particularly good array of flower baskets brightening the place up and other streets where I know my forebears lived all those years ago.
Parking is simple in the Harriet Street car park – once we find it! Then we have a ridiculous adventure trying to find our way out of the joint and onto Harriet St. Up, down, round and round. It's all very simple really - including us. But at least our timing is good. We're in the right place to listen to the bells of St Nicholas chime the quarter hour.
It’s almost as hard to find the Tippling House, but eventually we spot it down a narrow doorway. The bar /restaurant is underground and quite dark and we’re a bit uncertain about it at first but we’re given a choice of tables and brought a menu. First drink for Hubby is Bearface Lager by Drygate Brewery which comes with an elaborate description: Heavy on the hops, light on the tongue. Clean and crisp citrus hints. Lager that refreshes the body. Vigorous. Sounds like he should be showering in it. I hesitate and our waiter, who can only be described as suave with a twist of public school, recommends a mocktail. Sure. Lets go with that. Unfortunately the mocktail recommended can’t be done tonight, but the barman mixes me us something else. It’s smokey and delicious. Food here is what I would think of as American in style. Again our waiter anticipates what we need to know. Reassured we order the Tippling House vs Meat for £20 which we are advised would generally be sufficient for both of us. This includes Meatloaf sliders; Chicken and chorizo croquettes; chicken wings in red pepper and tobacco ketchup; marinated chump of lamb. I was a bit worried that some of the items might be spicier than I like but not so. Everything is delicious and we have just the right amount of food. Hubby is determined to try the desserts and equally determined that we will both have one so we get to try both menu options. Warm carrot cake comes with sweet carrot ribbons and salted caramel ice cream. Hubby’s gone for the Bourbon and walnut tart with maple whisky ice cream. Both desserts were good but not outstanding, and perhaps a tad expensive at £6 and £6.50 respectively. We may be hard task masters given we’ve been pretty spoiled lately.
Heading back to the car is considerably easier than finding our way out of the carpark and it’s no time at all before we’re back home, bickering about parking spots and groaning that this late in the evening we need to park down the street a fair way. Never mind. Time for bed.