If you aren’t familiar with the name Floors Castle, you will almost certainly have heard of its inhabitants. The current & 10th Duke of Roxburghe, Guy Innes-Ker, is a close friend of the Royal Family, Prince Andrew in particular, and attended the recent wedding of Harry and Meghan. In fact, it was at Floors Castle that Prince Andrew proposed to Sarah Ferguson – and the Duke’s oldest daughter, Lady Rosanagh, was a bridesmaid at their 1986 wedding.
Scotland’s largest inhabited castle was designed by William Adam and is located in Kelso, a market town in the Scottish Borders. Its gardens are beautiful; we walked through them to the Castle, spotting the Duke’s youngest daughter, Lady Isabella, practicing show jumping as we did so.
The first thing to say about visiting Floors Castle (other than that you definitely should), is that we received an incredibly warm welcome when we arrived. The lady manning the ticket office chatted to us knowledgeably about both the building and the family that has lived here since 1721.
Claire and I were enthralled by the story of Duchess May, who married the 8th Duke, Henry (a first cousin of Winston Churchill), and came to Floors Castle in 1903. She was a member of the second-richest family in America, the Goelets – but, unlike many of the marriages between British aristocrats and American heiresses of that era, this was a love match. Duchess May was passionate about design and interior décor and her influence is felt all around the Castle.
One of the things I noticed immediately is that this feels very much like a family home. In that respect, it reminded me of Clarence House: stately, but informal – and lived in. Indeed, several of the rooms we explored today are regularly used by the Roxburghes, photos of whom are dotted around.
We began our tour in the Ante Room, one of the oldest parts of the Castle, dominated by a breathtaking, late-15th century Brussels tapestry depicting the Day of the Pentecost. This room is also notable for the fact that it looks out over the holly tree by which James II of Scotland was killed (rather unfortunately, he blew himself up by standing on a cannon whilst besieging neighbouring Roxburgh Castle in 1460).
Moving into the Sitting Room we encountered the first in a series of guides who are strategically positioned throughout the Castle. Immensely knowledgeable, he chatted away to us for ages, patiently answering all our questions and giving us a greater understanding of what it’s like to live and to work in Floors Castle (I should say here that all the other guides we met were equally helpful and friendly).
I liked the Sitting Room, which again felt like a room you could make yourself at home in. Originally a Drawing Room for the State Apartments, it was refitted by Duchess May in 1930 and contains beautiful marble statuettes sculpted by Pierre Falconer, sculptor to Madame Pompadour, as well as a striking pair of Chinese Pheasants from the K’Ang-Hsi period.
The Needle Room may well have been my favourite room, however, not least because of its two Matisse paintings and stunning Queen Anne walnut bureau complete with barley sugar stand. This room as decorated by Duchess May in the style of Louis XVI and contains her collection of post-impressionist paintings. The lady had impeccable taste, that’s for sure – as well as a keen eye for objects of historical interest; the Needle Room also features a silver needlework cushion sewn during Charles I’s reign, still in impeccable condition.
The current Drawing Room, too, benefited from Duchess May’s attention; she refitted it in 1930 to display a magnificent set of Brussels tapestries known as ‘The Triumph of the Gods’, inherited from her mother. One of the Duchess’s key decorating tips, we learned, was to make ceilings as plain as possible, so that guests’ eyes were drawn to the walls, instead. I loved the Louis VI Escritoire and André Charles Boulle clock; they complement the décor perfectly.
There was definitely a more formal feel to the other rooms that we visited, for example the Ballroom, a large stately room hired out for wedding receptions. It was refurbished by Duchess May to accommodate the larger works of art in her collection, including some beautiful 17th century Gobelins tapestries. I also spotted a fabulous Edinburgh tea service, which turned out to have been a wedding present to the 8th Duke – and some stunning 18th century table screens inlaid with jade, quartz and lapis.
Likewise, the Dining Room, which displays the family’s collection of fine china, crystal and gold-plated sterling silver, has the air of a room used for functional rather than familial purposes – not that this detracts from its elegance, more that it lacks the personal touch of the first rooms we viewed.
It was a treat to spend so much time in this characterful stately home, admiring its treasures and soaking up its fascinating history. On our way out, we visited the Robe Room, which displays the Roxburghe Coronation Robes and the family’s costume collection; a giant dressing-up box, as it were, and a memorable way in which to end our highly enjoyable visit.
I will return, of that I feel certain.