Yesterday, to take a break from all the painting, decorating and tidying of the flat, Nicole and I did a day trip to Dunrobin Castle.
On the east coast of Sutherland, just north of the town of Golspie and accessible via its own dedicated railway station, it’s a spectacular location in a beautiful part of the world.
It’s the seat of Clan Sutherland and historic home to the Dukes of Sutherland, and built in a striking French style with amazing riches to see inside, ornate gardens outside, a falconry and a great wee museum of archaeology and natural history next to the gardens.
While it was all highly impressive, there was something slightly missing, and that was a coherent introduction of the place and its inhabitants throughout the years. The story was revealed bit by bit as you toured the building visiting each room, viewing the artwork and interpretations, and speaking to the guides.
However, at the risk of proposing something slightly tacky, the experience lacked a proper introduction upon entry, like an interactive display or a video to set the scene.
Of course, one reason why they haven’t done that might be that the full story of the Dukes of Sutherland would rightly have to illustrate that there is much blood on their hands, and the opulence of the castle is arguably in part at the expense of thousands of others: the people of the county of Sutherland suffered terribly during the Clearances at the hands of the then Duke of Sutherland (see the Undiscovered Scotland page on Golspie for a useful quick introduction to the story).
The empty countryside you travel through on the train up once the line swings inland after Tain is in stark contrast to the wealth of exhibits and artefacts in the castle. The people were emptied from the land to go abroad; the castle was filled with riches from abroad. An ironic swap and a matter of historical controversy.
Not that I wish to knock Dunrobin Castle too much – it’s a stunning building in a gorgeous part of the world, and in my mind is probably one of the biggest, most beautiful and most important castles in Scotland. It’s great that, though privately-owned, it’s open to the public and as a day out is great value and highly interesting.
But for such a place at the heart of the story of the Clearances not to mention that part of history – even in passing – seems insensitive to those who know about it and misleading to those who don’t. Indeed, the other manifestation of the Dukes of Sutherland on the landscape of the area is the massive statue referred to in the above article.
Not that Dunrobin should be unique in receiving such criticism, as I am struggling to recall ever seeing a museum that fully tells the story of the Clearances. It’s something we might rightly expect of the museum of Inverness, here in the capital of the Highlands. But the rubbishness of Inverness museum’s content and location is another debate entirely, and something of significant contention locally.
Anyway, here are my photos from yesterday.