When we left Abbotsford, we drove for about half an hour along the River Tweed to reach the final house on our tour of the border counties, Traquair House.
Ages ago, perhaps even as far back as high school, I heard a story about a Scottish lord who locked the gates to his home and vowed they would never be opened again until a Stuart returned to the throne of Great Britain. I didn’t realize until we were actually here that this is the place. The gates are still locked, but there is another entrance off to one side and a new drive that takes you to the house; people want to be able to get in and out, after all.
Traquair House is still owned and occupied by a branch of the Stuart family today. Our guide was the most remarkable one we met on this trip: Lady Traquair. She was perfectly lovely as she and her little King Charles spaniel Delilah showed us around the house that has belonged to her family for an amazing number of years. She not only let us take pictures inside, but we were allowed to step off the protective drugget carpets that tourists are normally confined to. Most of the group remained somewhat reluctant to walk elsewhere even so; we’d all been trained by our previous stately-home visits to keep off the good floors.
The house belonged to Scottish royalty when it was first built around 1100, long before the Stuart dynasty, but it has a long connection with them.
As the story of the locked gates indicates, the family here had Jacobian loyalties up to Bonnie Prince Charlie’s defeat at Culloden in the 1740s and beyond. They were also Catholics at a time when this was not a safe religion to belong to in Britain.
Mary Queen of Scots stayed here once with her husband Lord Darnley and their infant son James (very soon to be James VI; he was just over a year old when his mother was deposed). The royal bedchamber is beautifully restored with golden draperies on the bed, and baby James’s cradle.
Upstairs are display rooms where a great deal of family memorabilia is kept. We were also shown a tree of the family’s history, a room filled with antique dolls, and behind a door in a closet, a secret chamber where a priest could hide; there was also a passage that went down behind the staircase to the ground floor, in case the priest needed to escape. I could have climbed down it–we were allowed to and I was tempted–but wasn’t feeling well enough for it. My cold was at its worst.
From the top floor windows, we could also look down into the maze in the back garden.
After our tour of the house, I went up the long green avenue that used to be the main drive. I wanted to get a photo of the locked gate, called the Bear Gate because of the figures of bears perched on top of the pillars at either side. But it was a long walk from the house; if I’d been feeling better I would’ve been able to dash up and back, but by this point I was pretty much a mouth-breather and not up to dashing around anywhere. I got about halfway there, gave up, and took my picture from that distance before turning back.
Dave, who was also developing a cold, wanted to get an ice cream from the little garden cafe on our way out, but they didn’t have any that day. We all agreed that ice cream would be really nice, and kept our eyes out for somewhere we could buy some along our drive back north to Edinburgh.
On the high street in the town of Peebles, a hand-made ice-cream shop was spotted. Our driver pulled over into the nearest parking spot and we all got out to crowd the little shop and bewilder the one attendant, who didn’t know where all the Americans had suddenly come from. Then we stood on the sidewalk outside, enjoying another sunny autumn day in Scotland with our exotically flavored ice creams. This was the final stop on our tour.
That evening, we returned to the Norton House Hotel for one last night. My room this time was right next door to my previous room, exactly the same but flipped left to right. It was like coming home to a mirror universe.