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Ancient, Enduring Traquair

Traquair House dates back nearly a thousand years, and if its walls could talk,
the stories would hold you spellbound for hours.

BY RICHENDA MIERS

When I visited Traquair recently the heavens had opened and it was like viewing the world through the glass walls of an aquarium. And yet, even seen thus, I was enchanted.

Part of Traquair dates from at least 1107 when it was used as a base for Scottish kings who came to administer law and order over the surrounding area. While they were there, they and their court didn't miss a chance to hunt, shoot and fish. There was considerably more scope for hunting in those days when wolves, boar and even bears lurked in the Ettrick Forest and salmon and game birds abounded. The house, probably built on an even earlier dwelling, stands -- ancient, beautiful and tranquil -- at the bottom of a grassy avenue, closed off at the top by its famous Bear Gates. The grey-harled walls rise impressively to four stories with corbelled turrets and a steeply pitched roof like a French château.

Traquair is the oldest mansion in Scotland to have been continuously inhabited by the same family. It had been given in succession to various of James III's favourites, sold by one of them and finally in 1491 handed to James Stewart who became the first Laird of Traquair. (Stewarts became Stuarts in the days of Mary, Queen of Scots because the French couldn't cope with the letter w.) The name Traquair comes from the Celtic "tret" or "tre," meaning a dwelling or hamlet, and "quair," meaning a winding stream, the Quair Burn, an offshoot of the River Tweed. The river used to flow so close to the house that the laird could fish from the window (or so they say; I am told by fishing friends that one cannot cast for salmon from indoors). When it was discovered that the cellars were awash, the 7th Laird diverted the flow. The Well Pool to the west of the house lies in the bed of the river's original course. Entering the hall you come to an impressive inner door on which it is said the Earl of Montrose hammered in vain seeking refuge after his defeat at Philiphaugh in 1645. The 8th Laird and 2nd Earl of Traquair, John Stuart, pretended to be "not at home," thus saving his family and house from the wrath of the victorious Covenanting General Leslie who was pursuing Montrose.

The full text of this article is available in the Summer 2007 issue of Scottish Life.

Click here to preview our feature article on Riding The Shetland Post Bus by Will Hide.

Photos above: D. Barnes/Scottish Viewpoint. Photo upper right: © P. Tomkins/VisitScotland/Scottish Viewpoint.