Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Day 25 - Grand Tour of Dumfries House

Ah the delights of Dumfries House Lodge. We are cosy and comfortable and tired. Here we stay and it is delightful. If there was one word about the décor here it is abundance. There is an abundance of comfy cushions and pillows. At first you would think there’s too many but they sink and mould around you in such a comfortable way. Our bathroom probably takes the cake. The fittings by Thomas Crapper and Company lead the charge. The wooden toilet seat is more comfortable than I knew a toilet seat could be, support in abundance the seat is wide and square. The flush is like a raging torrent. The sink is large and broad. The shower head too is large and luxuriant. It’s the perfect hidey hole to rest and recharge. This is just as well because Hubby’s feeling a bit so so.
We have nothing compulsory until 1.30 pm when we have booked the grand tour of Dumfries House. By midday we are rousing ourselves and psyching up for venturing out to explore the grounds and pick up some lunch at the Coach House Café.  We are provided with a map of the grounds and walks and set off. Immediately outside the lodge there’s a lovely grassed area with folly protected on three sides by the buildings of the lodge. At the moment it acts like a sun trap. It’s tempting to just sit here and chill out but we have places we need to be so we wander down to the covered oak bridge and take the path along the little burn admiring the flowers, noting those we don’t know and enjoying the birds flitting among the plants and down to the water. There’s a little brown ball bouncing around which I think is a wren and a bird I don’t  know too, it’s small and upright in posture with it’s tail feathers wagging up and down. It has a clear yellow slash along its flank. It’s gone in an instant. 
We cross the burn again over a small pale arched bridge into the Rothsay Garden. Here we find a sweet fragrance in the air. It’s not one I’m familiar with and I look around to see what it might be without success. There is a small thatched pagoda-like building and an herbaceous border. Cerise pink spikes of flowers are glowing in the bright sunlight. I feel guilty that we’ve been lazing indoors on such a gorgeous day. This is another lovely area to loiter but time is a tickin’ away. We’d better get a shuffle on.
We don’t pay much heed at the Doocot (dovecote) other than to note that it’s older than Dumfries House itself.
As we near our destination we can see the line of visitor cars parked across the way. There are a lot of people here! When we reach the Coach House people are emerging with their lunches or sitting chatting at outdoor tables. Many seem to have some pre-schoolers along. Everything is schmick. Even the bins are disguised in a classy way, hidden inside large wine casks. There’s a young yew hedge planted around flowering shrubs which look like they might be rhododendrons. It’s only going to get better here over time.
We venture inside to see what’s in the offering, a classic model of Mr and Mrs Snodge meal indecisiveness. We’ve only got half an hour. Hubby’s off his food and settles for a chocolate milk. I um and ah and in the end half-heartedly go for a Brie and Onion Chutney Sandwich. We take our spoils across to the tables a little distance away where it’s a bit quieter. Oh my that Brie and Onioin Chutney sandwich is good. I think once again my brother is right. You eat the food the local culture invented. The best sandwiches are definitely in Britain! Eating doesn’t take long and I decide to leave Hubby resting at the table while I kill the remaining time wandering over to have a look at the woodland playground. 
A little girl walks excitedly up to the playground with her grandparents. Granny is asking “What do you want to go on first?” The little girl indicates her preference. Granny replies “We’ll do that one later, how about this one first.”  Why ask?
It’s a great playground. There’s lot’s of different play options, a carefully balanced see saw, flying fox, big basket swing and lots more. And the children’s artistic needs aren’t neglected either, there’s a big wooden bird giving the area a classy touch as does the artistic dry stone seat which sweeps in a graceful S.  Seating is one thing of which there is absolutely no shortage. No need to leave the kids unsupervised up at the playground, parents and carers can sit around the playground where they can keep an eye on the kids. It’s well thought out.
Time nears for us to assemble for our tour of the house. Hubby walks pretty slowly so I head back and we make a start up the path, past a yew of obviously venerable age. We approach the house from the side and assemble in a small paved area just outside the door. As the previous tour group comes out we are invited in and directed to a small room where there is seating and a health and safety briefing given by the tour helper man whose job it is to make sure none of us get left behind as we move around. This is followed by a video welcome from The Prince Charles, Duke of Rothsay. The message is sincere and longer than I might have expected. He’s clearly passionate about this project and thankful that we have come to support it. It’s a nice welcome with none of the sometimes sterile formal obligation that official communications sometimes have.
We head out into another room where our actual tour guide joins us and we hear about the house, its design and construction and owners and its dramatic last minute rescue from having house and contents split up and auctioned some years ago now. This would not have been possible without the Prince stepping in to provide the additional £20 Million that was required above the £25 Million that was raised by a consortium of charities, individuals and the government. Before we leave this room we hear that the Prince only left the estate last night having been here for a Prince’s Trust dinner and to have meetings relating to the work here. We also note that the artwork in this room are watercolours by the Prince himself. They’re good! I think he must get a reasonable amount of practice in!
Today’s tour group is quite large compared to the average but not more than has been planned for. And we’re a surprisingly quiet group we are told. Not a great many questions. I can’t speak for others but I’m just in awe of what is here and what they’ve done in the restoration. It’s utterly amazing.  All I can think is “Thank God this was saved intact.” It’s Robert Adam’s first commission, the Chippendale furniture is also from the period before Chippendale was so famous, right at the beginning after he’d released his catalogue. There was no prohibition on copying other people’s designs in those days and indeed a designer such as Chippendale wanted people to use his designs, but the down side is that it can be difficult to prove you have a piece actually made by Chippendale himself. Consequently there’s only some hundreds of pieces around the world who have the Chippendale provenance. 10% of those are here at Dumfries House. I think they said about 60 pieces. They have all the estate documentation indicating what was supplied. It’s extraordinary. We go on like this from room to room noting treasure after treasure after treasure. There’s a famous Chippendale piece that was expected to go at auction for £20 Million it is such a significant piece. The owner too must have been pleased for the house and contents to stay together because you would think that surely if one item could go for that imagine what the whole lot would attract.
Along the way as we come to relevant portraits, we have been hearing about the family and the various marriages to wealthy heiresses along the way. The family who came to inherit this house was obscenely wealthy and they married and mixed with other obscenely wealthy people. This house became just a country get away cared for by a housekeeper. This and a range of other interesting factors that combined to result in the house and its contents being preserved intact all these hundreds of years are related to us. I can only shake my head in wonder and feel pleased that this is now a publicly accessible estate managed for the benefit of the community.
We have been exploring the large public spaces of the house so far. Of particular note is a large cedar lined tapestry room and we are in luck once again because the tapestries were only rehung a week ago after a lengthy period of cleaning and conservation work. The cedar panelling was carved in Cardiff. The use of cedar discourages moths. The links of the house to Cardiff and Wales are noted throughout our tour. The tapestries date from medieval times and had been in the family’s possession for generations before this room was built to hang them in the 19th Century. It’s a lovely room and please note that it is available for hire as a wedding venue. There’s more and more as we move from the 19th Century wings and into the original Adam house and see the entrance hall and interpret the symbolism everywhere which was used to emphasise the rank and status of the owner. Once again the role of one’s house, and especially one’s entrance way and reception rooms in establishing and promoting one’s rank and authority is pointed out. Now what was that we were saying about the Palace of Holyrood House, this is a country that understands the importance of such symbolism.
This being the grand tour our group also gets to head upstairs for an additional couple of rooms where we see a bed that took a team of 14 at a cost of £100,000 to restore. Silks for reupholstering the Chippendale furniture were rewoven using the same technique originally used. Some of it was used to return this historically significant bed to the state it would have been supplied in originally. It’s all simply gobsmacking, they have done such a fabulous job.
Then there’s the artwork that is everywhere, mostly portraits of the family and other people that the owners wanted to namedrop. We don’t focus on the art all that much, given that there’s a separate art tour of the house but we note a few from very famous portrait painters and I notice that every painting is in excellent condition.
Eventually our tour concludes and we wander, dazzled in more senses than one, out into the sun. Hubby takes a seat while I wander back to the front of the house to get some photos. It’s now just after three o’clock. We go in to see about tickets for the Queen Elizabeth Walled Garden but we’re advised we’re really too late because last entry is 3.30 and it takes a while to walk over there. Oh. I’d regret chilling out this morning but we really needed to rest. We’ll have to do it tomorrow. We’re not really unhappy to just be heading back to our cosy nest to rest some more until dinner.
Ah yes, dinner. We’re off on an adventure. People say online that the Diamond Inn, Chinese restaurant in Auchinleck is good and that their shredded smoked chicken is particularly good. It’s not recommended among the many options noted in our information book at the lodge but I have the Diamond Inn noted and Hubby’s keen to try it. Doesn’t matter if we don’t like it. It’s an adventure and given my ancestral links to Auchinleck we are happy to throw some business that way. No problem parking we wander over and head on in. There’s a bank of fish tanks with ornamental fish in the middle of the room forming a partition and around the sides of the room there are booths upholstered in a pinkish velour sort of fabric. Tables are all set with flatware. No chopsticks. There’s some fairly loud Scottish voices at tables here and there but as we start to speak in our no doubt stand out Australian accent I feel a comparative hush come over the restaurant, not silence, just like people have lowered their voices and are now talking quietly. We are given a menu and our starters are not hard to choose. We’ll have Aromatic Duck and of course we also got the Smoked Shredded Chicken. Our food is delivered and the hostess offers to explain how to eat the Aromatic duck which is all the various elements for the assembly of duck pancakes. Nah, we know what to do with this, that’s OK we say.. “Like Peking Duck, yeah?” She nods clearly a bit surprised and leaves us too it. The Smoked Shredded Chicken mystery is solved. I’ve been struggling to imagine what it could be. It’s smoked chicken breast sliced thickly and coated in a “salt and pepper” coating, so for Aussies reading it’s basically Salt and Pepper Smoked Chicken but not peppery. It is good.
We’re onto the main course. Now I must note that when we gave our order of Special Fried Rice and Chilli King Prawns our hostess, who has a heavy Asian accent was clearly alarmed by our choice but between her efforts and ours was unable to communicate to us why. We asked is this not a good combination? Should we just get normal fried rice or boiled rice? But she didn’t really give us an answer so we just stuck with it. In the end she gave up and we waited in some degree of puzzlement as to what the problem was. We found out. I’m glad we stuck with it because it would never have occurred to me in a million years what the nature of this version of special fried rice actually is.
Now, in Australia, special fried rice means fried rice with a few more expensive ingredients in it. You’ll have a few king prawns or chicken etc. It’s a meal in itself. Well this local version of special fried rice is a meal in itself too. I think that’s what the lady was trying to say. How it becomes a meal is you take a large plate of fried rice, you add some beautifully cooked chicken breast pieces on the top and then you smother the lot of it in gravy. Gravox type of gravy. What the? 
Our Chilli King Prawns is what you would expect although we must be very tired because neither of us through we were ordering Chilli. Not sure what went wrong there. I leave Hubby to the prawns they’re a bit too hot for me. I’m pretty full from the starters to be honest. We do our best to get the chicken and gravy off the rice and eat them separately. It was surprisingly OK. I wouldn’t do it that way again knowingly but it wasn’t inedible, just rather strange.

When she returns our hostess is more chatty. I smile and tell her we understand why she was concerned about us ordering what we did. She seems relieved and asks us didn’t we know it comes with gravy?  No. Ah. Smiles and laughs all around. We have a more successful conversation now that she knows we aren’t just completely insane and we talk about our trip etc. It’s a nice restaurant and she’s a nice lady. We’ve really enjoyed the experience and aside from our culinary adventure with the special fried rice, the food was excellent. There’s a good Chinese chef in that kitchen.


Derek Grainge said...

Your bird with the yellow stripe. A grey wagtail, despite the yellow. There's the pied wagtail which is black and white, the grey wagtail which is, well, grey. And a bit of glack and quite a bit of yellow. Both share the habit of bobbing thir tails up and down, while they stop to eye up some insects. Commonly spotted on rocks by streams, or on paths through open woodland.

Snodge said...

Thanks Derek! It's great to know what it was. I thought it looked different to anything else I'd seen. :-)