The sumptuous series Secrets of the Scottish Manor Houses continues on SBS. This comely four-part documentary is a fiesta for the eyes, a boon for the trivia buff, and an affectionate hat-tip to the grand, meticulous and storied architectural wonders of rural Scotland. Be prepared to both ooh and ahh with the utmost cordiality.
Downton Abbey’s Yuletime lodging
Looking over the edge of Loch Fyne - Scotland’s longest of its kind - is Inveraray Castle, home to five centuries of the ancestral line known as Clan Campbell.
After the castle fell victim to an accidental inferno in 1975, a worldwide fundraising campaign was required in order to reinstate its picturesque potential.
Owned by the current Duke and Duchess of Argyll (below), the castle’s rooms are open to the paying public. Most permanent residents are unrelated to the couple but share the clan’s surname. In fact, Inveraray is seen as the “spiritual” home to all the world’s Campbells.
You might recognise this pad from the 2012 Christmas episode of Downton Abbey, where it was fictionalised as Duneagle Castle. The enviable location is also often home to large-scale events such as vintage car shows.
Prince Charles’s pet project
In the 1750s, architectural phenoms the Adam brothers were commissioned by William Damrymple, 5th Earl of Dumfries, to build the aptly titled Dumfries House.
Over the centuries, the house had become old, neglected news and by 2007, a grand auction was planned in order to split up its contents among cash-happy collectors.
Prince Charles would not have a jot of it. The king-forever-in-waiting saw this was one of the rare palatial houses that still boasted its original furnishings. With his affiliates, he organised the purchase of the romantic property and its contents for 45 million pounds.
Two years and a further three million pounds later, Dumfries was restored to its former glory and now boasts frequent, paparazzi-worthy visitors.
A Downton Abbey-esque holiday house
In 1894, the deliriously wealthy Mary Pickering got the idea to begin construction on this labour of love by her good friend and then-richest man on Earth, Scottish-American industrialist Andrew Carnegie.
After two short years, Kincardine Castle was built on the 3000 acre estate for 15,000 (19th century) pounds.
In a clear case of extravagance, the house was only ever used for three months out of every year. During the summer, Mary would hire an entire steam train to carry her luggage, a large cast of servants and their luggage, as well as horses, milk cows and their wranglers to the property.
The castle has been restored by current owners the Bradfords, aka Mary’s great-grandson and his wife, aka the two poshest Brits that ever lived.
The chapel saved by Dan Brown
The Rosslyn Chapel may exist due to the gothic sensibilities of William Sinclair, who commissioned the project in 1446, but it only thrives today thanks to Dan Brown’s bestseller The Da Vinci Code.
Approaching the chapel is like moving backwards into the Dark Ages, and stepping into its mysterious interiors redefines one’s definition of ambitious.
The most confounding aspect of the Catholic chapel is the overwhelming array of stone carvings – a mishmash of enigmatic imagery that includes freemasonry insignia, a rope-bound Lucifer, elephants, and maize and corn, both of which weren’t discovered until Columbus broached American shores a century later.
It’s no wonder legend has claimed Rosslyn as the home of both the Holy Grail and the skull of Jesus Christ - a story made famous by Dan Brown, whose work has turned the chapel into a bona fide tourist attraction.
Episode three of Secrets of the Scottish Manor Houses, focusing on Kincardine Castle, airs this Saturday at 7:30pm on SBS, but you can watch earlier episodes streaming now on SBS On Demand: