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The Pink Palace

With a hundred-plus rooms, plus turrets, towers and a priceless collection of art,
Drumlanrig Castle is the Duke of Buccleuch's crown jewel.


The clouds are hanging low and grey, like a dirty shroud, above the soft undulating hills of Border country. Driving south and peering through the rain-speckled windscreen, I can't help but feel a sense of quiet foreboding, which always seems to wrap around me when travelling into the realm of the Border Reivers.

I've always felt that if you pull over, switch off the engine and step outside into a green and quiet nook, you can almost hear the pounding of hooves and the clash of armour against pike and saber.

Yet, when we crunch into the parking lot of Drumlanrig Castle, it is another sound that begins to echo around my head, this time it is not the gasps of dying men, but the insistent, irritable complaints of its original owner. Prior to my visit to the wonders of what is known as "The Pink Palace" (because of its russet-coloured stone), I'd read up about the man who paid for its construction in the late 17th century. William Douglas was previously The Lord High Treasurer of Scotland and a man used to getting his own way.

As one historian wrote, he "loved to be absolute, and to direct everything." The duke also wrote to the overseer of the new castle: "Tell him I'm very angrie that Ja. Smith [the architect and builder] can give me noie account of his having agreed for the wrightwork in the Gallerie. And till that be done he cannot expect Ill be pleased. Its still his way to putt off and delay things, which displeases me and injures me."

William Douglas may have once been displeased, but any visitor who gazes up at the castle's four towers and 17 turrets, even on a grey and squallish day, can't help but break into a wide smile. Drumlanrig Castle and its 40 acres of elegant, pristinely manicured grounds has that kind of effect; it is grand and imposing, but at the same time has rather intimate corners. One can imagine Christmas trees decorating the rooms, fires in the hearth and a life as a landed gentry comfortably beckoning you forward. Which is how Douglas wanted it to be -- it is a castle as grand lifestyle rather than defensive keep, a castle in which to entertain and show off the life that he had achieved rather than a fortress to keep people out.

The full text of this article is available in the Summer 2015 issue of Scottish Life.

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Photos © James Fennell / The Scottish Country House / The Interior Archive & Allan Devlin / Scottish Viewpoint