Saturday, November 1, 2014

Holiday in the Highlands - Langwell House Gardens

Holiday in the Highlands Part B

In 1881 an article was published in the Northern Ensign as part of a series called A Holiday in the Highlands of Caithness. Chapter V was about Berriedale and Badbea. My previous blog ‘Caithness Convoy’ was the second part of the article. This blog starts at the beginning of the article for reasons explained previously. 
Entrance to Langwell House at Berriedale, Highlands
"A cherished tradition in the neighbourhood is the fact that about 16 years ago the old Duke of Portland paid a surprise visit to his peer-less property in Caithness, intending to stay for three days and remaining five weeks. During the time he busied himself in laying out most of the extensive private walks and drives which have opened up miles on miles of superbly-grand mountain scenery. On the further side of the Langwell burn, but at a much lower level than the “Upper Drive,” is the principal entrance and carriage way, a smooth, beautifully-kept road.
For some distances it, too, passes under a leafy archway, and from it we obtained several new and almost awe-inspiring views of that ever interesting mountain torrent.
The bridge crossing the Langwell burn
Crossing the stream by a stone bridge, the road forms a junction with the upper path, and a little way further up the glen stands the keeper’s lodge – (our old friend of the Museum) – a cosy, homely little place, in the rear of which are the kennels, where, prince amongst the many canine beauties, was a splendid deerhound which, had he come under his notice, would, almost to a certainty have been immortalized by Landseer.
Langwell Gardens from Google Earth
Still keeping up the strath, which disclosed fresh objects of admiration at every step, we came upon the gardens, two large enclosures, surrounded by a wall eight or ten feet high, and sheltered on all sides from the keen winds off the neighbouring hills by noble old trees. Tall, narrow postern doors, occurring at intervals in the walls, gave the place a delightfully convent-like feeling.
House in Langwell Gardens.
At one of the entrances, amid a perfect wealth of sylvan glories, stands the gardeners cottage, one wall of which is completely covered by a vast rose bush, of the species known as “the Rose of Sharon,” from the fact of its having no thorns attached. This beautiful plant had attained quite tree-like dimensions, the stem at the ground being several inches in circumference, while high up, round little white curtained windows, its flowers clustered in luxuriant profusion – a realization, for once, of the impossibly pretty cottages depicted in the story books of our juvenile literature. The interior of the cottage was equally bien ideal with its fair-like surroundings.
Langwell Gardens showing a wall.
Source: Bill Fernie, 
Langwell Census 1881. Note the Gardener John Sutherland
and Neicy Cormack the Domestic Servant
The gardener, (another respected Sutherland clansman – the keeper, in turn, being a bulwark in himself of the Ross party) was either a widower or a bachelor, and presiding over his housekeeping was a young woman, a relative, distinguished by the unusual name of “Niecie,” who, with capable willing hands, made the face of everything to shine! In the gardens, beautifully laid out, and evidently carefully tended, we found the gardener, an elderly man, with a dignified, almost courtly manner, all his own, and an inexhaustible fund of quiet, dry humour  in his genuinely Scotch eye.
In agreeable contrast to beds of rare flowers, in almost tropical bloom, were substantial representatives of many old favourites – great banks of “forget-me-not,” clumps of “gardener’s garters,” a foot or two in circumference; and large enough to outfit every bachelor in Caithness !
Langwell Gardens

At the corners of the broad central walks were specimens, ten or twelve feet in height, of a tree, something evidently between a holly and a cactus, with prickly leaves of a dark brown colour, on long, graceful, arm-like branches.

As the gardener mischievously persisted in giving us, with the utmost gravity, the Latin botanical names of each plant or flower we remarked upon, this curiosity was also assigned some unintelligible title, leaving us as wise as before, till Niecie obligingly whispered, “The right name’s ‘Monkey Puzzles!’ His bees, of which he had a number of hives, were absorbing the gardener’s attention when we called. The new swarms, led off by their queens, were evidently desirous of “seeing life” before settling down to work, and flitted incessantly from one part of the garden to another, the danger being, of course, that they would extend their explorations over the walls, and emigrate to pastures new.

Langwell Gardens. 
Source:Bill Fernie
One specially lively colony “lifted” nine or eleven times in a week – one of their cloud-like ascents taking place while we were looking at them, clustering on a bush, and for some minutes there was an uncomfortable likelihood of their settling on the crown of the visitor’s hat! We left the gardens with the flattering feeling of having enjoyed a private flower show all to ourselves. Another of the old Duke’s promenades of which we carried away a very vivid recollection was a species of Marine Parade along the cliffs to the south side of Berriedale. Below us as we walked the flocks of white sea-mews circles and wheeled in their tireless airy manoeuvres. We were informed that when these sea birds are seen hovering over the water in large numbers at this season of the year, the fishermen take it as in indication that the shoal of herrings is near the shore, as the birds prey upon the fish."

The Fifth Duke of Portland
The old Duke of Portland referred to, must, according to the dates given, have been William John Cavendish Cavendish-Scott-Bentinck, 5th Duke of Portland (12 September 1800 – 6 December 1879) a British aristocratic eccentric who preferred to live in seclusion. He had an underground maze excavated under his estate at Welbeck Abbey near Clumber Park in North Nottinghamshire. The various reports on his eccentricities make for fascinating reading.
The Abbey's kitchen gardens covered an area of 22 acres (8.9 ha), surrounded by high walls with recesses in which braziers could be placed to assist the ripening of fruit. One of the walls, a peach wall, measured over 1,000 ft (300 m) in length.

Despite his vast wealth the Duke of Portland was still collecting rent from the Badbea residents at that time.

 A Holiday in the Highlands of Caithness, Chapter V, Berriedale and Badbea, Northern Ensign, Thursday January 13, 1881.

I think it is likely that the gardens have been renovated since the 1881 article was written.

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