A Tale of Two Castles

Viewers of BBC1’s Britain’s Hidden Heritage will remember these particular mansions from the first episode of the current series which aired about three weeks ago. If you missed it, you may be interested in watching the feature here. Inspired by this programme and my own recent visit to Culzean Castle, I’ve decided to make my own little feature on this interesting comparison.

I’ve long been fascinated by the parallels between Culzean Castle and Dalquharran Castle, separated by just a few miles of Ayrshire countryside and completely contrasting fortunes. Culzean is famous worldwide as one of Scotland’s most prized country houses and is visited by thousands of people each year. But not many will be aware of its forsaken sibling, the ruined shell of Dalquharran Castle which lies a short distance inland from Culzean’s breath-taking coastal position.

The castles are inherently linked in a number of ways. Each was built in the late 18thCentury for branches of the same family, essentially as a replacement for a more ancient seat, with Culzean being constructed around its predecessor and Dalquharran adopting a site very near to the old castle which was left to ruin. The man responsible for the design of both houses was of course Robert Adam, an architect so celebrated it can be difficult to believe that examples of his work could meet the fate experienced by Dalquharran. Each was later extended in the 19th century, arguably once again by a shared architectural practice, this time being Wardrop & Reid. However it is the Adam aesthetic which still holds precedent at Dalquharran and Culzean, inviting a host of stylistic comparisons.

The houses both encompass Adam’s castellated flair, with shared round bastion towers, circular drawing rooms and show-stopping staircases. They may even have been further twinned as tourist attractions had the council not taken a year in answering the ‘desperate owners’ of Dalquharran in the 1940s, as mentioned by Colin McWilliam in The Destruction of the Country House. In the end, Culzean was saved in 1945 while Dalquharran was stripped of its roof, putting an end to the similarities which perhaps eventually contributed to its downfall.

These resemblances offer a unique opportunity to glimpse the past and future each of these buildings may have had. Walking around Dalquharran, it is easy to envisage the fine classical interiors it undoubtedly possessed, while a visit to Culzean allows you to foresee the trees that might have grown from its walls had it not been acquired by the National Trust for Scotland. While Culzean remains an iconic piece of Scotland’s heritage, I feel that Dalquharran is equally valuable in its humbling illustration of what can, and indeed did happen to many of Scotland’s country homes throughout the 20th Century.

2 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Castles

  1. Dalquharran has always struck me as a singular case. The shell is essentially perfect due to the relatively late and sudden de-roofing. But why doesn’t someone restore this building – the interior works required are “start again from scratch” so I guess modern construction techniques would be allowed. I grew up beside Culzean so was a frequent visitor. To my shame is I have never yet visited Dalquharran. Culzean WAS at one stage a Scottish tower house – though there are no visible signs of this now on the outside. I have to admin I am not an Adam fan, and wish Culzean had been left alone! :-)

    • I too have been impressed by the quality of Dalquharran’s exterior, the stone seems as sharp as the day it was built. There has been mention of it becoming a hotel for about 20 years, but I have to say I cringe at the thought of how soulless it could become in the wrong hands. Classical is certainly not my style of choice, but I can appreciate it’s elegance and like how all-encompassing Adam’s style was, right down to the furniture and decorations. I’m generally more interested in the later building phases that grew up around tower houses, but it is a shame that no trace of the original Culzean survives. It’s nice to have a visual record of how these places evolved!

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