Thursday, 19 June 2014


Of all the old houses in Scotland I've visited, I think my favourite might be Traquhair. It claims to be the oldest continuously inhabited house in Scotland (since at least 1107, maybe a 150 or so years earlier, if you're asking), the name being so old it is not English or Gaelic, but Old Welsh, the dominant language in the area before the Angles arrived in the 6th and 7th centuries. It sits in mature trees and parkland where the Quair Water meets the River Tweed, nestled - but not crowded - by steep Borders hills.

Traquhair House:

For centuries it was home to the Stewart family, today the Maxwell-Stuarts, an unostentatiously Catholic family. Whilst this is of only passing interest today, in centuries past the Stuarts had to exercise great discretion to avoid the suspicion of Protestant authorities. The old faith was easier for the landed gentry to retain than the common tenant, as they could afford to hire priests, worship behind closed doors, and were not subject to the same level of intrusiveness into private affairs - and in the Borders and Northumbria, Catholicism remained common amongst major landowners. Only when the law changed in 1829 were the Stuarts able to publicly build a chapel.

Their support of the old ways included espousing the Jacobite cause. Legend has it that in 1745, as the 5th Earl closed his new gates behind Bonnie Prince Charlie - a guest on his march to Derby - he declared that he would not open them again until a Stuart sat on the British throne. These Bear Gates remain closed to this day - and ever since, Traquhair has been accessed via a side entrance.

The Bear Gates:

I was last at Traquhair in March for the Deerstalker, a muddy hill-and-obstacle night race where the wearing of tweed is encouraged. But the most tangible souvenir brought home was not Tweedside mud, but a couple of bottles of superlative Traquhair Ale, brewed in a side building the old-fashioned way using ancient equipment found in a 1960s clearout. Founded in 1965, the Traquhair brewery must be one of the oldest existing microbreweries in the UK - if not the world.

1 comment:

Heather LeFebvre said...

I think Traquhair house captured my imagination in a way that other castles and houses in Scotland have not -- probably because of the long history of inhabitants. I've always wanted to go back since my first visit in 2003. I loved the romance of the locked gate, and the intrigue of the priest's hiding place. I've always dreamed of writing a book with Traquhair at the center....