Dodo tasked with saving Brodick Castle

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Standfirst

There can be no doubt that Brodick Castle has been turned into a modern living museum. Here Hugh Boag gives us a personal guided tour of the new interactive visitor experience.

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It has been a long time in coming but Brodick Castle is – at last – open for businesses again and I for one was excited to see what the promised transformation would look like.

As I had expected the character and essence of Brodick Castle remains but all its Victorian charm has been brought vividly to life and the history of the generations of Hamilton who called Brodick their home is explained clearly without too much fuss.

As with a lot of modern museums you can spend as little or as much time in one particular room as you like. As well as the unobtrusive but informative outline boards – there is a whole host more to find in hidden drawers, interactive displays and of course in discussion with the guides – who look resplendent in their new Victorian garb – which they will wear at all times on duty.

Of course Brodick Castle has always been keen to remind people of its elegant Victorian past after the present building was fashioned in 1844, almost doubling the size of the castle which dates back to the 13th century, but the latest incarnation takes it to another level.

There really is something to interest everyone. As I say visitors can take as long as the want to study the fascinating artefacts and the facts and stories surrounding them. The most interesting are big and bold and told in a simple style and for the younger visitors there is a running trail to find the Dodo – which has become the castle’s mascot in a clever marketing move. The priceless item itself is the only remaining dodo decanter in the world designed by Alexander Crichton in 1895, thought to be modelled on the dodo character in Alice in Wonderland.

Exciting to are the sights and sounds which have been added to make the castle really feel like it is being lived in. The stunning drawing room, which has always been my favourite, is the only room where the shutters will be kept closed, and lit with mood lighting and with a piano playing – an elegant Victorian evening soiree could be just about to start.

Next door, in what was once the library, the centrepiece is still the circular inlaid table given as a wedding present to Prince Marie of Baden and her husband, later to become the 11th Duke of Hamilton with the Goodwood Trophy of 1882, who by the horse Friday, on top. A curved display board, with additional information cards, tell the whole story.

Then it is into the dining room where there is no longer a table set fit for a banquet but a single place where one of the Dukes – probably the 12th – has just finished his supper after losing – again – at the races. The room does look a little bare and less elegant than before, but I am sure it is a work in progress.

In the dining room as in most other rooms the splendid paintings which adorn Brodick Castle largely remain where they were including my favourite above the sideboard which depicts The Dirtiest Derby by J F Herring from 1844 in which the winning horse was running under a false name having been dyed with hairdresser’s dye!

Back into the Red Gallery it is time to head downstairs and even before you see anything you hear the sounds of a busy working kitchen. Food being prepared, bread being baked in the over, a spit roast and the general clatter of domestic staff at work. The table is groaning with – pretty authentic looking – Victorian food and there are even the recipes as to how it was made.

We are now downstairs and heading to the wine cellar, where some surprises await including some of the weird and wacky drinking vessels of the 12th Duke in the shape of seals, sea lions, owls and of course the dodo. It is also now also the home of the pair of fabulous goose tureens of the Ch’ien Lung period (1736-95)

And that’s it. Time to head for the gift shop which is spacious and bright and well stocked. And of course the shelves are stuffed with branded merchandise much of it featuring that dodo – from bags, to mugs and water bottles, to notebooks, cards and bags and, of course, you can take your very own cuddly dodo home.

Oh, I almost forget, another great new attraction is the Victorian games arcade featuring a range of traditional games which many parents and grandparents will remember from days gone by.

The centrepiece is the Grand National and all castle entrants will be given a free token to have a go and see if they can beat the rest of the field. There are sure to be some fun times in this room.

Outside work is almost complete on the new-look walled garden and the reopening of the Plant Hunters’ Walk.

The Victorian games room. 01_B15castle01

Dodo merchandise lined up on the gift shop shelves. 01_B15castle02

The new Beckford Collection room. 01_B15castle03

The famous painting of Beckford on his deathbed has pride of place. 01_B15castle04

The new Meet to Family display board at the start of the tour. 01_B15castle05

Not a hair out of place all 87 stag heads are back where they belong in the entance hall. This is no longer the start of the castle tour. 01_B15castle06

One of the new interactive displays with a Victorian slideshow. 01_B15castle07

The private bedroom of the Duchesses of Hamilton has only been slightly reworked. 01_B15castle08

The 18th century Dutch marquetry bureau cabinet in the boudoir where Princess Marie is writing to her father. 01_B15castle09

The letter visitor hear Princess Marie is sending. 01_B15castle10

The castle’s famous Red Gallery corridor. 01_B15castle11

The dining room table has been stripped of its banquet settings. 01_B15castle12

The Goodwood Cup takes centre spot in the room, which was once the library. 01_B15castle13

The drawing room has been slightly rearranged but still looks stunning. 01_B15castle14

The end of the dodo trail for youngsters. 01_B15castle15

The table groaning with food in the kitchen. 01_B15castle17

Sarah Beattie, regional curator for NTS Ayrshire and Arran puts the finishing touches to one of the cabinets. 01_B15castle18

The magnificent library now open to the public which was, in recent times,  the administrator’s office. 01_B15castle20