Brodick Castle, Gardens and Country Park
Did you know that on the beautiful Island of Arran (often called Scotland in miniature) you can find Brodick Castle (which is packed with treasures) along with its lovely gardens, woodland walks, adventure playground and waterfalls. This is a must see during your visit to Arran. (I’ll be writing another Blog post – All About Arran in the near future – so look out for that).
The History of the Castle
A fortress has been on the site of the Castle since at least the fifth century, when Gaelic invaders from Antrim expanded their kingdom of Dál Riata. By the tenth century Norse influence had grown, and Arran formed part of Sudreys or Súðreyjar under the control of the King of Norway. Over the next several centuries Brodick Castle was fought over by the Norse, the English and the Scots – eventually leading to James Douglas, Lord of Douglas, early in the winter of 1307 being able to dislodge the English from Brodick, one of the first castles to fall to him in his struggle to regain his country.
In 1406 Brodick Castle was badly damaged by an English force that had sailed into Brodick bay. Further destruction was inflicted by John of Islay, Lord of the Isles, in 1455. At some point after 1470 the castle was granted by James III to his brother-in-law, James Hamilton, 1st Lord Hamilton. His son, James Hamilton, 2nd Lord Hamilton was created Earl of Arran in 1503 and rebuilt the Castle in the form of a Tower House in 1510. Over the next several centuries the Castle had various incumbents – leading to in the nineteenth century, it becoming the residence for the eldest son of the 10th Duke, styled the Marquess of Douglas and Clydesdale. In 1844, massive building work was undertaken at the castle, almost tripling the size of the building, under the architect James Gillespie Graham and in 1958 the Castle was acquired by the National Trust for Scotland and saved for all our benefits…..
All about the Castle
Brodick Castle is teeming with history and set in beautiful surroundings with mountains (including Goat Fell) to the rear and looking out over the Firth of Clyde to the Scottish mainland. It is indeed very inch the quintessential island castle. When you go to explore the castle you can use the new self-guided visitor experience, which focuses on the fascinating stories of the people who lived there. There are also several interactive activities, including the Victorian arcade where you can race a horse on the roll-a-derby or play other traditional Victorian games. All of these activities, combined with special lighting and audio, help bring the castle to life for everyone who visits.
Inside the Castle dark wood, heavy Victorian colours and sporting trophies hark back to an age of aristocratic leisure and luxury. Just some of the places you can visit and the things you can see in the Castle are:
The Drawing Room – Entertaining and impressing illustrious guests would have been an important part of life at Brodick during the Victorian era. Built as part of the extension of the castle in 1844 this magnificent room with a grand and opulent interior definitely has the ‘wow’ factor. It houses many grand family portraits as well as an intricate Jacobean-style plaster ceiling, designed by skilled Italian stuccadores. Its pictorial heraldry tells us much about the Hamilton family who owned the Castle for many years.
The Dodo Claret Jug – This beautiful object is connected to the 12th Duke of Hamilton, who had a penchant for animal-themed tableware. Many fascinating and unusual pieces from his collection can be seen in the castle. A number of these pieces were designed by the renowned craftsman Alexander Crichton, who was often referred to as the ‘fairytale silversmith’ because of his whimsical creations. Crichton based his animals on John Tenniel’s illustrations in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and it’s said that bringing these fantastical creatures to life was the triumph of Crichton’s career. They were one of the Duke’s most prized possessions – in fact, the dodo jug is completely unique.
The Castle also hosts an amazing collection of period furniture, silverware. Porcelain, paintings and sporting trophies so make sure you plan a visit….
Brodick Castle Gardens
Wander around the beautifully kept gardens and explore the Silver Garden Trail and Plant Hunters’ Walk. Keep an eye out for fairies on the Fairies and Legends Trail, where you can also learn about the fascinating early history in a reconstructed Bronze Age roundhouse.
Featuring a new border design and full of exotic and delicate plants, the walled garden provides a sheltered site in which to grow and develop plants that are rarely seen growing outdoors in Scotland. Built in 1710, it’s the oldest part of the gardens and has stunning views out over Brodick Bay. The walled garden also has a new centrepiece around the sundial, with sandstone paving reflecting outwards.
Built in 1845, the Bavarian summer house (equipped with a compact kitchen, so that tea could be served on sunny summer afternoons) was constructed as a wedding present for Princess Marie of Baden who moved to Brodick Castle from Mannheim Palace in Germany. She made her mark by redesigning the gardens and building within them four picturesque wooden summer houses of which this is the only surviving one. It holds a prominent position perched atop a rocky crag with a magnificent view over the coast road and Brodick Bay and the interior decoration is a delight to behold, created with hundreds of pine cones gathered from the castle gardens.
Brodick Castle Country Park
There’s so much to see in the country park, with over 10 miles of trails to choose from. These pass by woodland, waterfalls and bathing pools, all helping to conjure up an island charm that will enchant children and adults alike.
The Island of Arran is a fantastic place to spot wildlife, and if you’re lucky, you may encounter all of Scotland’s ‘Big 5’ – seals, otters, red deer golden eagles and Red Squirrels.
In the country park there is a wildlife hide that you really want to check out to see those squirrels playing along with seeing various species of bird life. To find the hide – follow the first signpost beyond the castle, and you’ll find yourself heading along a winding path, edged by a gushing burn and lots of exotic foliage. The hide itself is positioned in a magical grotto, which feels like a remote secret world. Here, if you are lucky (and very quiet), you’ll see the gambolling antics of these acrobatic creatures, attracted by squirrel ‘sweetie jars’. They often come quite close, so you may experience flicking tails, death-defying leaps and aggressive stand-offs over food. This is an experience not to be missed, so make sure to ask for directions!
The Isle Be Wild adventure play park is ideal for explorers of all ages to enjoy – one section is for toddlers and younger children and one is for older children. This epic woodland playground features zip wires, high towers, bridges across burns and jungle-style walkways – a real paradise for our younger visitors. The play park also includes the Red Squirrel Kiosk, perfect for tasty ice creams, hot dogs and hot/cold drinks.
I remember as a child how much fun I had in the play area – I never went home clean – but the memories lived on even if the mud had to be scrubbed off!!! For several years at Easter time my family rented a cottage on the outskirts of Brodick and one of our favourite things was to hire bikes cycling round the Bay (usually past some seals basking) up the steep hill to the Castle. Then we would have an amazing day out with a picnic – then looked forward to freewheeling back down the long drive usually with the Rhododendrons in full bloom – those were fun days and live long in my memories.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my blog – and can see that visiting Brodick Castle Gardens and Country Park is a must do – and even if you only visit Arran on a day trip it’s well worth the journey on the ferry – enjoy………