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25 Apr 2022

Plan your perfect day – homes with history

Three costumed guides dressed in various Victorian outfits​ stand on the stone steps leading up to a grand Georgian mansion house. There is a cook on the left, a well-to-do young woman in the centre and an estate worker on the right. Stone urns with pretty bedding plants line the staircase.
Our costumed guides outside House of Dun | Photography: Stewart Attwood
The Trust cares for many historical homes, from traditional family cottages to grand ancestral castles, and they all have a story to tell.

Crathes Castle, Garden and Estate

As the weather warms, make time to visit Crathes in Banchory and its internationally renowned gardens. The castle was built by the Burnett family, whose connections to the area date back to when Robert the Bruce gifted land to Alexander Burnett. The walled garden, comprising eight distinct sections, was largely laid out by Sir James Burnett and his wife Sybil in the 1920s, but the famous topiary at Crathes dates back as far as 1702.

Our gardeners take pride in maintaining traditions but also in constantly refreshing the castle gardens so there’s always something new to enjoy. One of the latest innovations is our Evolution Garden featuring a stumpery and circular raised beds which show how plants have evolved over hundreds of millions of years. This year we’ve also exciting new plans for the rose garden, so it’s a great time to visit and see the project take shape.

Over in the courtyard beyond the castle, Café 1702 has both indoor and outdoor seating, and is dog-friendly with complimentary dog biscuits and water bowls. After a break for lunch, head to the shop to book your slot to tour the castle, where informative panels provide insights into the long history of Crathes Castle and the Burnett family. The most celebrated features inside include the elaborate painted ceilings and, in the Great Hall, the Horn of Leys – a jewel-encrusted ivory horn that we believe was presented to the family by Robert the Bruce to celebrate their status as royal foresters.

Before you go home, take a wander back around the outside of the castle and look upwards. Among the intricate heraldic panels recently cleaned and conserved by the Trust, you’ll spot the Horn of Leys carved in stone – a proud symbol of the ancestral family that called this place home.

Plan a visit to Crathes Castle

(Interested in volunteering at Crathes? Drop us an email to find out more!)

An aerial view of the lawn, walled garden and surrounding woodland at Crathes Castle. The topiary yew hedges stand out beside the lawn.
A bird’s eye view of the elegant topiary at Crathes

House of Dun, Garden & Estate

A visit to this Georgian mansion and its Victorian gardens is an immersive experience from start to finish. Begin in the Dr Sheila Bain Courtyard and explore the sights, sounds and scents of local life here in Montrose, thanks to the rehomed Angus Folk Museum collection.

Iain Hawkins, general manager for the North East region, is familiar with many of the objects on display, and is particularly fond of an intriguing pair of horse slippers, used to protect the manicured grounds from the old equine lawnmower’s hooves!

The sound effects follow you to the house, where crackling fires and ticking clocks enhance a guided tour expertly led by costumed characters. ‘It gives you all the amazing stories of the house, but it does it in a lighter way,’ adds Iain. Take a close look at the ornate plasterwork and you’ll see that it includes real shells found on the beaches at nearby Montrose Basin, then dipped in plaster and stuck to the wall.

Absorbing all that history is hungry work. Try the ploughman’s lunch (Iain recommends it) but be sure to leave room for something sweet. Fans of a Trust scone – all of us, surely – are in for a treat, because catering manager John Richards-Clark is on a quest to serve up the finest examples in Scotland.

While away the rest of the day strolling around the estate, taking Iain’s advice by ending up in front of the house for a memorable final view. ‘It captures the overall Angus landscape beautifully. I don’t think there are many better viewpoints.’

Plan a visit to House of Dun

A costumed guide dressed as a Victorian lady in a high-collared, long-sleeved white and purple dress and a hat is stood in the Saloon at House of Dun. Behind her is an ornate three-piece screen and fireplace. The walls are adorned with intricate plasterwork designs.
Our Lady of the House, one of the costumed guides at House of Dun | Photography: Stewart Attwood

The Hill House

Our hugely passionate and knowledgeable staff and volunteers are always happy to answer your questions about Mackintosh’s beautiful Hill House in Helensburgh. Hear about the Blackie family, the first owners of the house, and learn more about how Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Margaret Macdonald designed and made the furniture and decorative features inside.

Since 2019 the Hill House has been enclosed in a giant box made of 32.4 million links of chainmail, an award-winning initiative to allow this priceless building to dry out following years of water ingress. The Box also houses a new visitor centre with an elegant café, so you can start your visit here with a freshly baked scone or Mackintosh-inspired Empire biscuit. On a warm day, a lift provides access to the café’s roof terrace, from where you can look out across the exterior of the house and the high-level walkways around the box.

Inside the house, take your time exploring Mackintosh’s domestic masterpiece with its interplay of light and dark, of strong lines and rose motifs. In the drawing room, a highlight is the Sleeping Princess gesso artwork created by Margaret Macdonald to hang above the built-in fireplace. Upstairs, the white bedroom is a space of light and beauty featuring more of her beautiful artwork and Mackintosh’s iconic ladderback chairs. There are charming nooks and unique features throughout, as well as beautiful books, many of them published by Blackie & Sons.

Before you head home, don’t miss the opportunity to explore the walkways around the Box, which enable you to view the exterior of the house from never-before-seen angles – from perspectives never seen by Mackintosh himself in fact! The main walkway is wheelchair accessible via the visitor centre lift, and provides fascinating insights into the project to conserve the house as well as wonderful views out over Helensburgh and the Clyde.

Plan a visit to The Hill House

A man and a woman looking at the Hill House, while standing in the protective 'Box'.
A view from the walkways in the Box