So on Saturday, I went with the International Student Centre to their final trip of the semester, to an out-of-the-way 18th-century palace perched atop a cliff on the Ayrshire coast (south of Glasgow), which is surrounded by a decent-sized forest interspersed with some gardens and follies influenced by the Picturesque movement. Rather than tell you every detail of my trip – since really you have to explore it yourself, and almost every nook and cranny there was worth exploring – I’ll just whack up some photos and throw out some interesting facts that I picked up along the way, through the guided tour of the castle itself (converted from a medieval tower house into a summer home and then a palace) and by reading various information cards scattered across the property.
1. ‘Culzean’ is apparently pronounced ‘cullain’ because the Scots make loads of sense
2. There is a luxury hotel on the top floor, where for an undisclosed amount you can stay in the same room as Dwight Eisenhower
3. On a clear day, you can see Ireland, 85km away
4. Mirrors were all over the place in old homes not so that people could fix their enormous wigs but so that candlelight would be reflected around the room
5. It was a common thing for nobles to go on a Grand Tour of Europe as young people, usually picking up exotic arts and fancy portraits; so often much so that one Italian artist had a set of template bodies you could select from and have your head and hands painted onto – and apparently the fashion then was to look fat, so the template portrait of one of the lords of the castle is considerably fatter than one painted from life
6. This castle contains cannons used as a coastal defence against the possibility of Napoleon sailing around to the opposite side of the UK to attack the west coast of Scotland; and a portrait of him – apparently stolen as a souvenir after he was defeated
7. For centuries, noble boys were raised in girls’ clothing, not because the 18th century was weird like that but to prevent kidnapping of the heirs – since girls apparently didn’t get kidnapped
8. Fun labour-saving trick – install a windmill in the chimney driven by rising smoke and use that to turn the spit roasting a delicious pig in front of the fire! Thanks, Culzean Castle Kitchens!
9. Scots were titans in the gardening trade during the 18th and 19th century, where they made up the vast majority of head gardeners on estates throughout the UK and were found running the show as far away as Russia
10. Turns out maps of country houses, even those administered by the National Trust and carefully cultivated, routinely cut their maps of the tracks off well before the tracks actually end, so you can end up in some very interesting and increasingly muddy forests without having a clue where you are, before they suddenly emerge onto stunning cliff views, which seem like they would be on the map but still definitely aren’t
11. When they made fancy houses, they would put a plaster trimming on the skirting board, with something that suggests what the room is for – dining rooms had a pattern of grapes, drawing rooms gryphons having a chat and a quiet game of cards. Guess what they put on bedrooms? Yep, that’s right: opium poppies.
12. With the right technology, you can grow grapes in Scotland, and they will be famed for, oh, at least a whole kilometre around.