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Victorian Castle with the Heart of an Ancient Keep

UNITED KINGDOM | Thursday, 28 August 2014 | Views [388]

Between Invrness and Thurso, my sister and I wanted to stop at the impeccably Victorian Dunrobin Castle. As we were at the Inverness train station checking the boards and waiting for a platform to appear, we noticed that Dunrobin Caslte had an asterix by it, as did several other stops. Investigation revealed the explanation that those were request stops. “Passengers wishing to get off at these stops should inform the conductor upon boarding the train. Passengers wishing to board at these stops should make the appropriate hand signal.” My sister was pretty sure that the “appropriate hand signal” was waving our arms to make sure the train saw us.

The train ride to The North, (as several train stations called it. As in, this way for Edinburgh and Glasgow, this way to The North) was much less crowded than the train to Inverness. My sister and I had no problem finding seats, and even got a table all to ourselves, with the exception of a woman who sat down for all of two stops.

When a woman came around to check our tickets, we told her we wanted to get out at Dunrobin Castle. And we relaxed, watching to see what other passengers did at request stops, and, more importantly, what soon-to-be passengers did to get on it. For the most part, they didn't. Undaunted, when the Dunrobin Castle stop appeared, we hopped out of the train. Emphasis on hopped, because there was quite the height difference between the train and the platform;. There was a set of three stairs which might have been helpful if they were positioned properly and I wasn't carrying a suitcase. As was, hopping was the best choice.

Before leaving, we triple-checked the time of the next (and last) train (4:11). We also read the instructions on the hand signal that was on the timetable. “Make yourself seen to the conductor.” Jumping up and down while waving our arms in the air was a perfectly acceptable hand signal, then.

From the exit of the train station, the driveway to the castle was clearly in sight. So we crossed the road and began the walk up. Once inside, there was a sign asking people to leave backpacks in their cars. Without a car to put them in, we were told to check them behind the desk, which we were all too happy to do.

We had lunch in the castle, which was not as expensive as it sounds. I got a brie and cranberry panini, and my sister got a sandwich. We managed to get in right before a large bus of tourists appeared to order lunch, which was nice. The roomw as crowded, but we found seats by the window. It was hard for the man coming around with our food to see us, but it did give us a nice view of the parking lot. We watched a man cleaning the windows of the bus and speculated about his motivations. (Does he need to stay outside castles and wash windows? Did he oversleep and tell himself 'I'll do it while they're looking at the castle?)

After lunch, we went up to visit the actual rooms in the castle. The first room was a type of parlor, only with more glass-covered cases than it would have had when the house was being used. Also more informative plaques. I went over to read one of them. “Hugh O'Neill, 2nd Earl of Tyrone.” I immediately lost interest in what he had done. O'Neill, Tyrone, Long Day's Journey Into Night! I went over to explain my realization to my sister, who was a good deal less excited about it. She was looking at bagpipes and saying something about three drones weren't common during Victoria times, but this wasn't exactly a typical household... Personally, I find O'Neill's reasons for choosing the surname of one of his most famous families way more interesting than bagpipes. I might be in the minority on that.

The castle was incredibly furnished. We continued through enough libraries to make me madly jealous, (the shelves were mostly full of books that made them look impressive, but there was the occasional anachronistic book that didn't even look that pretty on the shelf0 a drawing room with gorgeous tapestries, (I've always loved tapestries) a nursery, a bathroom, a bedroom, and a breakfast room. The breakfast room had the explanatory note that during the Victorian era people were obsessed with having a single purpose for everything. Hence a room with the sole purpose of eating breakfast.

The castle was certainly big enough to accommodate that many rooms. The core of it was a keep built in the 13th century. In succeeding generations, people added on to the castle, most extensively during the Victorian era. But there was “the original defensive part. That's why we can still call it a castle. Because ti was used for defense.”

One of the more interesting objects I saw was a fire extinguisher circa 1920. “In case of fire, draw in knob by hard knock against the floor.” Shortly after this, I was relieved to find much more modern safety equipment nearby.

Although we saw a great many rooms, there were many more than were closed to the public. Although we could gaze through a window at the keep, we never stepped inside it. Even on the most recent additions, many rooms were closed off. Which was kind of intimidating.

We finished our self-guided tour of the interior with enough time to look around the gardens slightly before the falconry show. Specifically, we had time to take this photo. There were only three problems with it. First, all pictures of Dunrobin Castle looked photoshopped, because it's simply too fairy tale. Second, any pictures on my phone look photoshopped. Something about the colors being too vibrant. Finally, some pictures with me in them looked photoshopped. It's a problem I have.

Me standing behind Dunrobin Castle

I swear I was at this castle and stopped to pose for a picture that my sister took. The picture hasn't been touched since, and is shown above. (I wouldn't believe me either.)

 The falconry show was amazing. The man showing his falcons was so clearly enthusiastic, it would have been hard to remain ambivalent. He showed off some of their abilities and instincts (like having them fly just over the heads of people to land on his arm, or feeding the falcon and showing how he's constantly looking around to make sure we don't steal his food. {He knows you eat and McDonalds, so you'll eat anything.]) and included plenty of anecdotes about the birds (for example, he names birds after the first tree they land in. His owl was named Bonsai, because when he was still quite young, he landed in a Bonsai tree he kept in his windowsill.)

 It was a very impressive show, and it even related back to the castle we were standing in the backyard of slightly. Specifically, in his introduction of the birds. “150 years ago, if you had one of these, you had to have the rank of king. I have 4,” he explained before introducing his first falcon Then, before the owl “Remember the falcon, that you needed to be a king to have? Well, if you had one of these, you'd be an idiot. I have 3. “ He later amended that to “wizard or idiot.”

 Unfortunately, it started raining near the end of the falconry presentation. Pouring, more accurately. It was almost worth it for the sight of the owl hopping up on a bench to be under one man's umbrella, though.

Random Birds of Prey

 After he'd finished with the birds and people were merely taking pictures, my sister and I went back into the castle for carrot cake. We'd been rained on, so it was extra-satisfactory. When we finished, the rain had gone, so we walked around for a bit outside. We found a muddy trail that led nowhere, and then another side path, this one leading to a bonus museum. Bonus being a relative term.

 The museum had some pretty sea shells and neat Pictish stones. Mostly, though, it had stuffed animals. Not of the cute, teddy bear variety. More of the “this is a bear I met while I was out hunting. I won” variety. I tried to amuse myself by uncovering the light-sensitive cases and seeing what was underneath. Seashells were much more pleasant to find than snakes. Both were more pleasant than looking too closely at the stuffed heads around us.

 I was quite happy to leave the museum. Even if it also meant picking up our stuff and leaving the castle. We got to the train station about fifteen minutes early. They were about ten minutes late. But they saw us standing there and came to a complete stop. No elaborate hand signal required.

Tags: castle, falcons, oneill, train, train station

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