Books: Portraits of a diverse selection of Scottish country houses

Perthshire’s answer to the Ritz revealed


The subject of this book is ten beautiful and distinctive Scottish country houses, evocatively described by the publisher, biographer and campaigner (and managing director of The Art Newspaper) James Knox (no relation), who is Ayrshire born and bred. Lavishly illustrated with more than 200 photographs by James Fennell, whose images of Irish country houses are well known to connoisseurs of shabby grandeur, the ten house-portraits range from the 17th-century display of Balcaskie and Drumlanrig to the sophisticated Augustan Arcadia of Arniston and the High Victorian baronial of Ballindalloch and Lochinch Castles. Then there is the understated, distinctly barrack-like Bowhill, crammed with ducal treasures brought here from Montagu House, Whitehall, and Dalkeith Palace, and the surprise in the final chapter in the account of Monzie Castle, which looks as if the “Ritz Hotel had been set down in a beautiful Perthshire glen”. But this is not an array of impeccably presented “stately homes”. In addition to spectacular architecture and impressive furnishings, there is pleasing evidence of the occupation of the families who live in these—in the main, staunchly private—houses. Tam Dalyell’s political mementos vie for attention with his 17th-century ancestors at the House of the Binns, West Lothian, while fishing rods and curling stones attest to the pleasures of life at Foulis Castle and Ballindalloch. In a surprising number of cases, the preservation of the peculiar character of a house was caused by misfortune—long periods of neglect, a terrible fire, a crippling bankruptcy or a wayward heir. One chapter is accorded to the Adam-designed Dumfries House, Ayrshire, with all its superb Rococo Chippendale furniture, which was rescued from being scattered in a dramatic rescue bid in 2007—a tremendous feat of faith and determination orchestrated, most appropriately, by this book’s author.

o James Knox, with photographs by James Fennell, The Scottish Country House, Thames & Hudson, 208pp, £28 (hb); in the US: Vendome Press, $50

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Perthshire’s answer to the Ritz revealed'