Storytelling at Drumlanrig Castle

Its undeniable, a visit to Drumlanrig Castle wouldn’t be the same without our team of storytellers. Our knowledgeable, experienced Castle Tour Guides.  One of the questions our team get asked a lot in the Summer months is “What does it take to be a Guide?”

We could tell you all about the qualities we look for in a guide, the people specification and the job description, and the rate of pay, but its not really that kind of role!  What makes our guides stand out is their general love for history, the Castle, the Collections and their passion for sharing that with the public. But you want to hear what’s its like from someone who does it. So here it is, from the words of Moira, who has been a guide at Drumlanrig for many years.

Guided Castle Tour

What its like being a Guide/Why I love Guiding

The Three Best Things about being a Guide …

  1.  Going to work, not in an office, but in one of the finest and most beautiful castles in Scotland (in one of the most beautiful locations) – and being paid to spend my day wandering around, literally surrounded by Drumlanrig’s extraordinary history, art and antiques. I love the feeling of walking in the footsteps of those who have gone before …
  2. On the more practical side, it’s great working in such a relaxed and friendly atmosphere with a wonderful and diverse team of people – of all ages and from all backgrounds – who are both enthusiastic about what they do and always ready to lend a hand however, wherever and whenever it’s needed. Help and support are never far away, no matter where you are in the building.
  3. The fact that no two days – indeed no two tours – are ever the same and that it’s not a case of plodding around day after day repeating the same script over and over again (which is the reason, of course, that so many people say they hate guided tours): I have the freedom to deliver the story of the family, the house and its stunning contents as I please. As long as I cover the basic points, I can take it in any direction I want. I don’t think I’ve ever given the same tour twice, because no two tour groups are the same, so weighing up your audience and thinking on your feet is an essential skill. Within the basic framework of the tour, there is huge freedom to ‘do your own thing’.

Why Should People Consider Becoming a Guide?

For anyone who has even a passing interest in history, art and/or antiques it’s an unparalleled opportunity to broaden and deepen your interests.

Very few people have the chance we do to get so close to paintings, furniture and objets d’art of such world importance (you’ll find fascinating, valuable things just propped up casually in corners!), and it’s a very low-stress way of doing it.

You aren’t thrown in at the deep end, but encouraged to learn at your own speed, settle in and then start leading tours gradually … perhaps just starting with one room you feel comfortable talking about. Your hand is held until you’re ready to fly solo – and even then, you’ll have another guide with you, ‘shepherding’ the tour, who can bail you out if your mind goes blank (and believe me, that happens to everyone – even those of us who have been doing it for years!).

My Favourite Item

There are so many …

Hudson’s portrait of Alice Powell in the dining room – looking so uncomfortable and out of place having her portrait painted.

Katherine Read’s beautiful pastel of Kitty in old age – another picture that tells a fascinating and complex story. And right beside it, the ‘Broken Hearted Mirror’ – which is a real show-stopper, and proof, if proof were needed, that the powerful and titled and monied have hearts that can broken just like everyone else …

But, if I have to choose just one, there’s really no choice at all, because as Duke Richard said in ‘My Rembrandt’, once you know she’s there, she dominates the whole house and, indeed the whole tour. Everything that has gone before leads up to the moment you unlock the door into the Boudoir.

The power of the painting hits you as soon as you walk in, no matter how many times you’ve seen her. You know you’re standing in the presence of genius and it’s fascinating to watch people as they enter, look around and then, one by one, inevitably home in on ‘Old Woman Reading’ and fall silent, transfixed by her. More than once I’ve had people burst into tears in front of her, and apologizing for it because they have no idea why they’re crying. They admit to knowing ‘nothing’ about art, have often never even heard of the painting, and some have never even heard of Rembrandt – but it still feels like a gut punch (as one person described it) – at which point I usually tell them about Stendahl Syndrome, and they feel much better! And in her new, much more intimate setting, her power is almost overwhelming. She’s a real presence in that room. Most people say that the longer you look at her, the more you feel that she’s going to look up at you at any moment.

It’s first time I’ve ever experienced first hand the effect that truly great art can have on ‘ordinary’ people.

After I’ve explained a little about what they’re looking at, I often shut the hell up and let them enjoy and absorb the painting in the wonderful, warm silence which seems to wrap itself around that room

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