The quintessential Victorian ‘Highland’ estate, Brodick Castle, Garden & Country Park on the Isle of Arran is the perfect place for a family day out. Dramatically set against the backdrop of Goatfell mountain, the grand red sandstone Scottish baronial-style castle has stunning views over Brodick Bay to the Firth of Clyde. The grounds and surrounds are worthy of a visit alone – from the W A Nesfield-influenced landscaped gardens to the woodland trails, wildlife ponds and waterfalls, there’s plenty to explore outdoors. Brodick Castle is packed full of treasures too – it’s renowned for its impressive collections of period furniture, silverware, porcelain, paintings and sporting trophies. Brodick Castle and Country Park is unique in being the only island country park in Britain. The castle offers 800 years of history, a fabulous collection of valuable artefacts, and stunning views over Brodick Bay to the Ayrshire coast. The gardens provide an unrivalled experience, from the formal walled garden to the woodland walks. Brodick holds three national collections of rhododendron that flower in almost every month of the year. The country park extends from seashore to mountain top with over ten miles of way-marked trails and abundant wildlife.
A fortress has been on the site since at least the fifth century, when Gaelic invaders from Antrim expanded their kingdom of Dál Riata. By the tenth century Norse influence had grown, and Arran formed part of Sudreys or Súðreyjar, administered either from Dublin or the Orkney islands (Nordreys or Norðreyjar) and nominally under the control of the King of Norway. This can be deduced by the number of Scandinavian place-names on the island including Brodick, or Breiðvík (Broad Bay). The site is thought to have been a centre of relative importance, on account of its strategic position on the Firth of Clyde.
By the mid-thirteenth century Arran was part of the Kingdom of Mann and the Isles ruled by two Gall Gaidheal kings, Magnus of Mann and Dougal of the Isles, sub-rulers of Hákon Hákonarson, King of Norway. Alexander III of Scotland had inherited his father's desire to control the islands in order to stabilise his kingdom, and made numerous unsuccessful advances to that effect. In 1262 the Earl of Ross sacked and pillaged Skye with the king's blessing. King Hákon determined to avenge this slight and set out in July 1263, with a large fighting fleet (leiðangr) for Scotland. After linking up with the fleets of Magnus and Dougal, and showing his might throughout the Hebrides, Hákon's force anchored in Lamlash Bay on Arran, where they were approached by envoys from the Scots King. The Scots envoys were unsuccessful, and battle was engaged at Largs, a short distance across the firth. Although no rout, the Scots were victorious, and Hákon's forces retreated to Arran, and thence to Orkney to over-winter, where Hákon died. The ensuing Treaty of Perth in 1266 ceded the Sudreys to the Kingdom of Scotland.
When both Alexander III and his heir, Margaret, Maid of Norway died, the Kingdom of Scots was thrown into turmoil. In 1291, Edward I of England, was called on to choose the most suitable successor. John de Balliol was chosen and was forced to admit Edward as his suzerain. John defied Edward in 1295, and did not answer his request for assistance in his war in France. Edward invaded Scotland the following year and forced John to abdicate. At some point around this time an English garrison was stationed at Brodick. During Robert the Bruces's time in hiding, following his escape from the English after his coronation and defeat at the Battle of Methven, he is said to have had his legendary encounter with a spider on Arran. On the behest of Robert the Bruce, James Douglas, Lord of Douglas, early in the winter of 1307 previous to their attack on Carrick, attacked forces supplying Brodick castle giving a first minor victory and gaining their forces much needed supplies. He was able in 1307 to dislodge the English from Brodick, one of the first castles to fall to him in his struggle to regain his country.
In 1406 – the same year that James I was captured by English pirates and Robert III died – the castle was badly damaged by an English force that had sailed into Brodick bay. Further destruction was inflicted by John of Islay, Lord of the Isles, in 1455. At some point after 1470 the castle was granted by James III to his brother-in-law, James Hamilton, 1st Lord Hamilton. His son, James Hamilton, 2nd Lord Hamilton was created Earl of Arran in 1503. At this juncture Hamilton added the Lymphad of the Isles to his Armorial bearings. The castle had been rebuilt by the Earl by 1510 in the form of a tower house, but suffered at the hands of the Campbells and the MacLeans. During the "Rough Wooing" of Mary, Queen of Scots, Brodick castle was attacked by an English force led by the Earl of Lennox on behalf of Henry VIII, in revenge for the actions of the 2nd Earl. Lord Arran was the Regent of Scotland whilst Mary was in her infancy, and was second in line to the Scots throne. In 1543, he had been heavily involved in arranging the marriage of Mary to the Dauphin of France, prior to this she had been promised to Edward, Prince of Wales. Arran was rewarded for his efforts, however, and was created Duke of Châtellerault in the Peerage of France. During Regent Arran's tenure at Brodick he continued to enlarge and expand the castle.
Brodick Castle did not escape the religious paroxysms that affected seventeenth century life, the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. In 1639, Scotland was divided between the Presbyterianism of the Lords of the Congregation, and the Episcopalianism favoured by King Charles I. James Hamilton, 3rd marquess of Hamilton, the King's advisor on all things Scottish, was sent north to enforce the King's will, he had previously dissolved the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland when they had abolished the Episcopacy. Archibald Campbell, 1st Marquess of Argyll, was the de facto ruler of Scotland and leader of the presbyterian faction. Argyll seized Hamilton's castle of Brodick. Hamilton was made a Duke in 1643 and recovered his castle the following year at the outbreak of the Scottish Civil War. It was lost again to the Campbells in 1646, as the Royalists fortunes foundered. The Duke was captured after the disastrous Battle of Preston, and faced the block in March 1649. He was succeeded by his brother William, Earl of Lanark, but the second Duke died of wounds received at the Battle of Worcester in 1651. The Duchy of Hamilton and Earldom of Arran passed to the first Duke's only surviving child, Anne. She had been unwittingly sent to Brodick for safety. In 1650, Oliver Cromwell's Roundheads had taken control of the castle and had extended it by building an Artillery battery to defend the Firth at this strategic position.
Duchess Anne returned to her estates in Lanarkshire and West Lothian and in 1656 married William Douglas, 1st Earl of Selkirk. Anne did not return to Brodick, however her husband the newly created Duke of Hamilton for life, used the castle as a base for hunting excursions. In the following years Brodick was used mainly as an occasional sporting estate. In the nineteenth century, it became residence for the eldest son of the 10th Duke, styled the Marquess of Douglas and Clydesdale. William, 11th Duke of Hamilton married in 1843, Princess Marie of Baden, youngest daughter of the Grand Duke of Baden and Stéphanie de Beauharnais, adopted daughter of Napoleon Bonaparte. In 1844, massive building work was undertaken at the castle, almost tripling the size of the building, under the architect James Gillespie Graham. The Twelfth Duke, William had no male heirs, so although his titles passed to his distant cousin Alfred Douglas-Hamilton upon his death, he entailed the castle upon his only daughter the Lady Mary Louise Douglas-Hamilton. She married James Graham, 6th Duke of Montrose in 1906, and so after more than five hundred years Brodick castle passed out of the Hamilton family.
Today it takes a real act of imagination to see the castle as it must have been during these centuries of conflict, occupation and reoccupation. Only occasional glimpses remain. In 1977, restoration work uncovered a staircase leading to a room that had lain hidden and long forgotten, entirely contained within the thickness of the castle walls. This is now fitted out as the castle dungeon. Other alleged remnants of this earlier history include at least three different ghosts: a man sometimes seen sitting in the library; a white deer only seen, it is said, when the Clan Chief of the Hamiltons is near death; and a grey lady thought to be the ghost of one of three women who died of starvation in the dungeons where they were placed because they were suffering from the plague. What today's visitor finds at Brodick Castle is largely the result of a large scale expansion of the earlier castle undertaken in the years after 1844. Until this time, the Hamiltons has focused their attentions on their estates on mainland Scotland and especially on Hamilton Palace. But a number of factors came together which made the conversion of Brodick Castle into a grand stately home a viable and desirable option.
The first was the advent of the era of much better transport links brought about by the combination of railways and steamer services. Suddenly the Firth of Clyde and its islands became much more easily accessible from the main Scottish centres of population. The second was the marriage in 1843 of the 10th Duke's eldest son, the Marquis of Douglas and Clydesdale, to Princess Marie of Baden, the youngest daughter of the Grand Duke of Baden and a cousin of Napoleon III. And the third was the inheritance in 1844 by Susan Beckford, wife of the 10th Duke of Hamilton, of the wealth and estates of her father, an English landowner. In 1844 the Hamiltons therefore found themselves in need of a home prestigious enough for their oldest son and his new wife; they had access to the funds necessary to undertake a major building project; and Brodick Castle, until then a far flung and inaccessible island outpost, suddenly began to seem much closer. The Hamiltons commissioned the Edinburgh architect James Gillespie Graham to nearly double the size of the main block of the existing castle by extending it south westwards. They then concluded their extension with the massive south west tower that is such a characteristic feature of today's Brodick Castle. In 1895, Brodick Castle passed to the only child of the 12th Duke of Hamilton, Lady Mary Louise Hamilton. In 1906 she married the 6th Duke of Montrose, and the castle as you see it today is very much the family home they created and lived in. In her later years Mary, Duchess of Montrose worked to enable the National Trust for Scotland to take over the castle plus its contents, gardens and surrounding park, on her death. In the event the estate was accepted by the Treasury in lieu of death duties when she died in 1957, and the National Trust for Scotland took over responsibility for running it.
Today's visitors enter the castle through the 1840s front door in the south west tower. Inside is the magnificent main hall and staircase, complete with a remarkable, if slightly unsettling, collection of 87 mounted stags' heads, 86 of which were shot on Arran. Up on the first floor you are able to pass through two separate, though linked, sets of rooms. The first is a series of private apartments housed in the south west corner of the castle. These include a dressing room, a bedroom complete with a magnificent four-poster bed, and a boudoir. There is also a bathroom complete with a spectacular bath shower. You then enter the Castle's main reception rooms, the drawing room, library and dining room. These extend along the length of the south east face of the castle, passing from the Victorian extension through the Cromwellian addition to the earlier parts of the castle. Throughout the castle, but especially in these public rooms, you encounter the enormous collection of artefacts on display, ranging from the paintings to the remarkable collection of sporting trophies assembled by a family with an interest in the sporting life that verged on the fanatical. Back on the ground floor you enter the huge kitchen and adjoining scullery, before passing via the service passage to the castle tearoom. En route you can take minor diversions to view "Bruce's Room", the room discovered within the walls of the castle in 1977, and presumed to be a dungeon; and another room displaying part of the Hamilton's magnificent silver collection in what used to be the castle's wine cellar.
For the modern visitor there is much more to Brodick Castle than the castle itself. The most recent addition is an excellent visitor centre. But most visitors will divide their time between the castle, the gardens, and the extensive country park that covers much of the hillside to the north of Brodick Bay. Parts of the castle gardens date back to at least 1710, according to a date in the enclosing wall. Further work was undertaken from 1814, but the main development of the gardens as they are today date back to the elevation of the castle to a stately home in 1844. The gardens were subsequently a passion of the Hamiltons and especially of the Duchess of Montrose in the years from 1895. Like the Castle, its gardens offer a glimpse into another world and another time. In the surrounding country park, visitors can follow waymarked routes that extend for a half mile or a mile, or simply find their own way around. For some it is the plants themselves that will form the highlight of the tour. Others will enjoy the ice house under its heavy turf roof. A real oddity is offered by the Bavarian Summer House. This has an outer surface imitating tree roots; and the interior is largely lined with pine cones. The end result is impressive, but in a way that is more spooky than simply pleasant, bringing to mind the story of the gingerbread house, or even the more recent fable of the Blair Witch Project. Overall, Brodick Castle offers visitors a remarkably complete example of a stately home to enjoy, plus some excellent gardens and a country park. It is no surprise to find it is one of the major visitor attractions on the Isle of Arran.
Parking is available at the rear of the castle and at the Reception Centre for visitors with a disability. There is an electric bus from the Reception Centre to the castle. Two wheelchairs are available at the castle, and a motorised wheelchair is pre-bookable for use around the grounds. Castle: The ground floor (including entrance hall, restaurant and toilets) is accessible. There is a chairlift to the old kitchen and silver room. There is no lift to the first floor apartments but there is limited access to certain areas. Full details are available on request. The main rooms on the first floor are accessed via a broad staircase. A virtual tour and armchair photographic guide are available. Grounds: Some areas are unsuitable for wheelchairs while others, Wilma’s Walk for example, are designed with these in mind. The top part of the Walled Garden is accessible. There are accessible toilets at the castle, Reception Centre and Countryside Centre. The shop is Accessible to wheelchair users. Refreshments: There is access to the coffee shop and tearoom for wheelchair users. A DVD is available to view in the castle. Large-print guides are available. Braille information sheets are available in the castle. Audio Information: There is a listening tape guide for the castle, and an audio tour of the gardens. There is an inductive ear hook loop for the audio tour of the castle. The guidebook is available in French and German. Explanatory text: Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Norwegian, Polish, Spanish, Swedish. Assistance dogs are welcome. Guided Tours only - booking essential.
Location : Brodick Castle, Garden and Country Park, Brodick, Isle of Arran KA27 8HY
Transport: Ardrossan Harbour (ScotRail) then Ferry. Ferry: Caledonian MacBrayne from Ardrossan to Brodick then connecting bus. Bus Routes : 324 stops outside.
Opening Times :23rd March - 30th April, September, daily 11:00 to 15:00; 1st May - 31st August, daily 11:00 to 16:00; October, Daily 10:00 to 15:00
Tickets : Adults £12.50; Concessions £9.00
Tel. : 01770 302202