Friday, 4 November 2011


According to Billy Connolly, the mark of an intellectual is someone who can listen to the William Tell Overture without thinking of the Lone Ranger. That cultural reference is before my time. I am of the vintage that hears of the Madonna of the Yarnwinder and finds the Madonna With the Big Boobies popping insistently to mind.

The Madonna of the Yarnwinder (Wikipedia):

The Madonna of the Yarnwinder is a Leonardo da Vinci painting, stolen in 2003 from the Duke of Buccleuch's art collection at Drumlanrig Castle, and recovered in strange circumstances from a Glasgow architect's office in 2007. It doesn't get much posher than having a da Vinci in your private collection, but then the Duke of Buccleuch & Queensberry (it was a different Queensberry who endorsed boxing's 'Queensberry Rules') is no ordinary art enthusiast. With 1/4 million acres under his control, he is the largest landowner in Britain, and his showpiece pile Drumlanrig Castle is no ordinary house. Constructed from a beautiful pink sandstone between 1679-1691 by William Douglas, the first Duke of Queensberry, its cost was so vast that the disgusted - and presumably after twelve years of construction, penniless - duke spent only one night in the castle once it was finished.

Drumlanrig frontage:

Drumlanrig is approached via miles of neatly maintained red tar road, all of course on the Buccleuch estate. I had been before, but not been inside, and was unaware of the art treasures it held. Rembrandt, Gainsborough, and of course all the other paraphernalia an extremely rich, cultured aristocratic family of the 18th and 19th centuries would acquire. Indoor photography is, of course, verboten.

The most famous Duke of Buccleuch was probably the second one. He was instrumental in bringing about the 1707 Union with England - his Edinburgh townhouse, attacked in 1706 by anti-union mobs, is now incorporated in the new devolved Scottish Parliament - and he was one of the lucky few Scots peers to enter the peerage of Great Britain. Should Scottish independence come to pass in the next few years, I wonder how the peerage will be affected? From the Duke of Queensberry down to former working-class boys done good like Michael Martin, there are quite a few Scottish members of the House of Lords.

Away from such esoteric questions, the grounds around Drumlanrig have matured magnificently. My favourite spot is a specially created viewpoint, where a gap has been created in the mature trees above the house, with views over to the hills of Moffatdale. It is a magnificent panorama, the best of Southern Scotland, bird song high in the treetops, a sharp scent of autumn, a scene that - whatever the political weather in this part of the world - is timeless.

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