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20 Oct 2020

The Great Eight at Brodie Castle

Written by Julie Armour, Housekeeper
An aerial view of Brodie Castle, showing the building surrounded by manicured lawns and woodland. A large gravel drive with several paths leading off lies in front of the castle.
Brodie Castle from above
Visitor Services Manager Julie Armour – who is the third generation of her family to work at Brodie – tells us what to look out for at the property.

The family seat of the Brodie clan since the 12th century, Brodie Castle near Forres in Moray houses a magnificent collection of furniture, ceramics and artwork, and boasts an impressive library containing over 6,000 volumes. Outside, the Playful Garden is a magical experience inspired by the colourful characters of the Brodie family.

Here are a few of my favourite things!

A large statue of a white rabbit lies against a grassy bank, with its front paws resting behind its head. A large cloth face covering has been tied across its mouth and nose.
Brodie, wearing his face covering at the moment

Brodie the Rabbit

A 6.5m sculpture made of white marble jesmonite, Brodie the Rabbit is the centrepiece of the Playful Garden, which opened in 2018. The sculpture is inspired by the castle’s last laird, Ninian Brodie, who performed in the stage play Harvey, which revolves around the main character’s large white rabbit friend. It was great being part of the whole Playful Garden project and seeing how the stories of the castle were interpreted with features in the garden. Every year, the garden seems to take on new life and gets better and better, providing a great day out for the whole family.

A very old handwritten letter is displayed against a plain grey background. Some areas of the brownish parchment have faded, and there is a long tear along the bottom.
A letter from Robert the Bruce

The Bruce letter

One of the many fascinating items in our extensive archive is a charter from King of Scots, Robert the Bruce, dated 1311. Few documents from this time survive intact and are still legible, so we are very fortunate and honoured to care for this special piece of our past. The letter reveals that Robert the Bruce demanded that the Thane of Brodie take proper care of his mill pond as the neglect of it had annoyed the local monks of Pluscarden Abbey. It offers a fascinating insight into Robert the Bruce’s authority as well as medieval kingship and the way of life for landowners 700 years ago.

A gilt-framed portrait of a young, fair-haired boy standing beside a pond in the woods. He wears a kilt and a red tie.
A portrait of the young David Brodie

Picture of David Brodie

Ninian was the third brother, and he became 25th Brodie of Brodie after the deaths of his two older brothers. His eldest brother, Michael, died in a motorbike accident in 1937, and David sadly died of a childhood illness aged only four, almost exactly a year after Ninian was born. This picture of David sits in a frame on the bedside table in the green bedroom at the castle. The family cemetery behind the pond was created at this time, with David being the first interred here. In the Brodie Castle archives, there are pictures of all the beautiful flowers and a hymn sang by the children of local Dyke School – this death must have had a huge impact on the family and on the close-knit community of Dyke.

Beds of daffodils in full bloom cover a large garden space. A wooden cabin and a large rabbit statue can be seen in the background.
There is an explosion of colour in spring!

National Daffodil Collection

Brodie Castle is home of the National Daffodil Collection and it’s a favourite springtime destination. Major Ian Brodie, 24th Brodie of Brodie, was one of the greatest pioneers in daffodil hybridisation and raised tens of thousands of daffodil seedlings in the walled garden of his ancestral home, applying a meticulous method and a ruthless precision as he strove to improve the qualities of his favourite flowers. I remember that the teachers in primary school were always grateful for a bunch of Brodie daffodils, handpicked by my grandad who was Head Forester on the estate. He started work here at the age of 14 and retired with 50 years’ service on his 65th birthday.

A floral-fabric sofa stands on a green, leaf-patterned carpet. The sofa looks almost like a chaise longue, as it has two raised ends with a low dip in the middle.
The courting sofa at Brodie Castle

The courting sofa

The courting sofa is now in the Green Bedroom but was originally found in the Drawing Room. It was used to stop any ‘hanky panky’ happening between courting couples! It’s high backed at the two ends and lower in the middle. The chaperone would have sat in the middle of the couple; with the low back, they’d have had no chance of falling asleep! Attitudes were very different in Victorian times than they are today ...

A formal dining room laid out at Brodie Castle. A long oval table is covered in white linen and set for dinner with 8 places. A large mirror hangs over the fireplace. Lamps set around the edges of the room provide a soft light.
The Dining Room at Brodie Castle

The Dining Room

The dining room in the castle displays a magnificent dinner service, shipped from China around 1802. It originally had 400 pieces, although only 120 remain today. The dinner set is all hand-painted and there’s a spelling mistake on two of the pieces, where the Brodie motto ‘unite’ has been spelt ‘untie’! I wonder if this was mischievous or simply a mistake? The dining room is hired out for weddings and corporate events, and is echoed in the Playful Garden by the giant table and chairs, placed there for families to enjoy.

The toad tile

Ninian’s mother Violet was especially known for keeping unusual pets, such as toads. She gave them names such as Volumina, Leo and Cleopatra. She was a keen herpetologist (someone who keeps amphibians and reptiles) and was responsible for the decoration of one of the bathrooms in the Laird’s Wing, which has tiles depicting leaping frogs. The toad you see in the Playful Garden was inspired by Violet’s pet.

“I remember this bathroom from my childhood and can still see my mum polishing and shining it.”
Julie Armour, Housekeeper

George the orangutan

George is a bronze sculpture, currently displayed in the entrance hall of the castle. He was used by the Brodie family as an extra ‘person’ at the dinner table when there were an odd number of diners, as this was considered to be bad luck. I’ve kept in touch with people who have Brodie connections and many remember dining with George! Although my grandad was known as Dod, Ninian always called him by his proper name George – I like to think the orangutan got his name from him. You can also see George in the Playful Garden, where there are zoetropes that produce the illusion of motion. Look inside to see George the orangutan playing on a rocking horse!

This story first appeared in The Scots Magazine.

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