Traquair, Borders, Scotland

Acclaimed as the oldest inhabited house in Scotland, Traquair House makes a hauntingly beautiful picture, buried deep in a thickly wooded valley beside the River Tweed. Roughly translated, 'Traquair' means a dwelling on a winding stream, and this appears to have been the case for at least one thousand years. Prior to the 12th century, the history of this imposing property is a little hazy but it has been suggested that around AD950 it was known as a heather hut in the great surrounding forest. Certainly by 1107 it had become a Royal hunting lodge, a fortified property then called Traquair Castle, and was frequented by many Scottish kings. For over 300 years the castle's ownership was in a state of turmoil until, finally, in 1491 the three-storey tower was bestowed upon the first Laird of Traquair, James Stuart. Descendants of the same family continue to occupy this fascinating house, surrounded by mementos of past events and controversial associations.

Gradually transformed and developed into a large country mansion, Traquair House's original tower and attic were incorporated into the new 17th century building, and it has changed little since that time. Internally, the rooms have been rearranged and redecorated as fashions dictated, and Traquair House is now a tantalising combination of styles spanning nine centuries. On the first floor of the 12th century tower are the King's Room and the Dressing Room, displayed to represent two very different periods. The state bed is a lasting memorial of the time that Mary Queen of Scots stayed at Traquair House in 1566, together with her husband Lord Darnley and their son. Just a baby at that time, the future King James of Scotland and England slept peacefully in the beautifully carved oak cradle at the foot of the four-poster. Next door, the little dressing room has been given an early Victorian look, to show the less convenient preparations involved at bath time. Above these rooms, at the top of the old tower, is a museum room exhibiting assorted family memorabilia and a rare section of early 16th century mural decoration.

Following a long, unsettled period for many Scottish families, Traquair House's final act of defiance against the English throne came about one evening in 1745. Bonnie Prince Charlie, had been a guest of the 5th Earl of Traquair and, with his departure through the great 'Bear Gates' at the end of Royal Avenue, the gates were closed for the final time, the Earl promising that they would not be opened again until the Stuarts were restored to the throne.

Exploring the estate at Traquair is essential to the total experience, and the best way to cover all areas is by taking the woodland walk in the first instance to capture the beauty of its rugged riverside location. Working inwards to discover the maze, the terraces and formal gardens, will eventually lead back to the old brew house. Situated beneath one of wings of the chapel, the large 18th century copper and mash tun are still used today to produce traditional rich and malty ales. A wonderfully intoxicating aroma seeps into the chapel on 'brewing days', but this is no substitute for experiencing the taste of these really smooth and deliciously dark beers. For the visitor wishing to enjoy a more 'sober' day at Traquair House, there is a quaint cottage tearoom in the old walled garden.

Romantic, evocative, and tranquil are all adjectives that perfectly describe Traquair House as seen today, but its history of traumas, tragedy, poverty and eccentricities are so vividly brought to life in this ancient residence.


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