Floors Castle and Crying During Movies: Adventures in Scotland, Part 9


Floors Castle, Kelso, Scotland

My story about Floors Castle starts, not in Kelso, but a few months ago back on my couch in the U.S. (Yes, I’m doing it again – starting a story about Kelso someplace else.) This was before I knew about the newspaper story detailing my ancestor Isabella’s childhood in the castle and before I was convinced of my family’s ties to the castle.

I knew of rumors of the ties, so I was digging through the castle’s website when I noticed a movie had been filmed at Floors Castle, called “Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes” (1983).

I actually saw this movie when it came out since I am something of a Tarzan fan. (I watched way too many Johnny Weismuller Tarzan shows after school while growing up.) Plus, if you’ve read my novels, you know I have a thing for animal/human communication. But the movie was rather fuzzy in my brain since I saw it so long ago.

I decided to buy the movie for a look at the castle in preparation for my trip. When I eventually watched it (sitting on my couch), I recalled why it got panned orginally. Much of the first part of the movie features Tarzan (Christopher Lambert) grunting at apes. The critics didn’t like the lack of dialog, but hey, what are you going to do? It’s a movie about apes! Nonetheless, the movie did end up receiving three Academy Award nominations. It didn’t win any, though.

The last half of the movie is set in Scotland at Floors. My dear blogging audience, because I have no pride left, I will share my reaction to the movie with you. In short, I bawled like a baby. When the castle first appears in the opening credits and the duke and his doomed son (Tarzan’s father) race toward it on horseback, tears were coursing down my face and I didn’t know why. It’s not usual for me to burst into spontaneous copious tears at movies. I’m more of a leaky-tear-wipe-away person. And the castle scenes weren’t particularly emotional, either.

But once the movie was over, I realized the tears were from an overwhelming feeling that my ancestors loved the place and their time there.

A few months later, I found the newspaper story about how my great-great grandfather worked at the castle for over fifty years, and I decided that maybe I wasn’t so crazy after all. I mean, why would he work somewhere so long if he didn’t at least like the place and the people in it?


The castle gate.

My Bed and Breakfast was close enough that I could walk to Floors Castle. When I reached the gate, I asked the attendant if walkers got a reduced entrance fee, but she wasn’t buying it. 🙂

I meandered up the castle driveway with some trepidation. After all, if a movie could affect me so strongly, I wasn’t sure how I would react to seeing the real thing. This was after a search for my great-great grandfather’s gravestone at the Kelso Abbey that morning, which proved unfruitful. But I was told of another cemetery in town that I hoped to check on my next, and last day in Kelso.

058The driveway was long and lined with tall trees and rhododendrons. It wound through fields and afforded views of the castle and the River Tweed in the distance. Set on a hill above the river, the castle appears to grow directly out of the lawn. I knew from my research that, in addition to the castle tour, Floors features a gift shop and two cafes (one with an outdoor terrace), plus a walled garden. It was still early in the day and I wasn’t hungry, so I planned to tour the castle first and eat later.

Built in 1721 for the First Duke of Roxburghe, Floors Castle is still home to the Roxburghe family and the Tenth Duke of Roxburghe. It is the largest inhabited castle in Scotland but parts of it are open to the public.

As I approached, I became confused about where to enter for the castle tour. It seemed as if the signs were pointing to the castle’s front door. Surely that couldn’t be right. Tourists entering through the impressive massive intimidatingly wealthy front door? What if I was mistaken and I walked in the front door and everyone turned to look at me in horror?


The front door. Intimidating, much?

I decided it was safer to enter the gift shop around the side of the castle first. I browsed the Floors Castle Christmas ornaments, Floors Castle honey, and Floors Castle dish towels, then asked the clerk where the entrance for the castle tours was. “The front door,” she said.

When I explained I couldn’t believe they’d let tourists in the front door she just laughed and said, “Of course, why not?”

Buoyed by newfound certainty, I walked to the front door. I did not get yelled at as I entered. Instead, the docent gave introductory remarks to the small group of us gathered in the entry, then he set us loose upon the castle. The tour is self-guided, although docents are in some of the rooms to answer questions and to ensure that nobody walks off with a priceless vase.

I wandered amid the tapestries, paintings and porcelain. There was even a room full of stuffed birds. Apparently one or two of the dukes were ornithologically inclined. One of the duchesses collected a few Matisse paintings. When I got to the dining room (which was originally a billiards room) I encountered a particularly friendly and knowledgeable docent named David.


The dining room where David and I talked. Image courtesy of Floors Castle.

I told him about my ancestral connections to the castle, and he was intrigued. He had a list of dates when the various dukes reigned, and we figured out my great-great grandfather must have worked for the sixth and seventh dukes of Roxburghe. David said a lot of building was going on during the reign of the sixth duke and that perhaps my grandfather was instrumental in it. The castle isn’t the only business on the estate, there’s also forests, fields, horses, wind farms and the like. It’s a huge operation.

086We also got to talking about the Tarzan movie. He told me he was in the movie – he played a cleric. He said the rainy scenes at the castle were shot with the help of the local fire department up on the roof, spraying “rain” with their hoses. He also mentioned that the film directors were sticklers for historical accuracy. All the television antennas on the roof had to be hidden during the day, and were put back out in the evening so the residents could watch TV.

David promised to look into some things for me. I gave him my card. As yet, I haven’t heard anything from him, but who knows? So, although I didn’t get to totally “vindicate” my ancestors’ role with the castle estate office, at least David knows about him, and my family, and all of you!


My bird friend.

By now I was hungry. Thankful that I didn’t burst into tears during my castle tour, I made my way to the terrace café. I sat outside and indulged my sweet tooth in chocolate eclairs and meringues. A friendly (and hungry) bird kept me company – reminiscent of the Kelso Welcome Swan.

Sated and peaceful, I toured the walled gardens. But I must confess the flowers that truly impressed me were rhododendrons growing in the forest on the trail to the gardens (see photo below). After another visit to the gift shop to buy mementos, it was time to go.


As I left and walked down the drive, I couldn’t help but stop and turn back to look longingly at the castle several times. It was like the ancestors inside me didn’t want to leave just yet. I indulged them for a while, but then it was time for the next adventure.

Kelso Ancestor Quest: Adventures in Scotland, Part 7

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“Main Street,” Springfield, MN

My trip to Kelso starts, not in Scotland, but in the small southwestern Minnesota town of Springfield. That’s where my mother (from whom I get my Scottish blood) was born, and the museum there is home to a set of family scrapbooks she put together.

A few weeks before my Scottish trip, I visited the Springfield Museum on a quest. You see, one of my ancestors — my great-great grandfather William Dick — was rumored to have worked for Floors Castle in Kelso. He was the lead carpenter (or “joiner”). But when my parents and aunt visited Kelso in the late 1970s, they were told by the castle estate office that they had no record he worked there.


My Scottish great-great grandparents, Susan and William Dick.

As a journalist, I know that could mean a lot of things. It could mean the records were lost. It could mean no records were kept so far back (the mid-1800s) or it could mean nobody looked very hard for the records.

While tooling through the family genealogy book one day (months before my trip), I noticed mention of a newspaper article about William Dick working at the castle. The note said the article was in the family scrapbooks.

The castle, on its website, says it is interested in historical information about the people who worked there, so I thought a visit to the museum was in order to find records to prove that my great-great-grandfather worked there.

I also noticed in the genealogy and census records that at least one of their ten children, Isabella, was born on the castle property in 1842. Why would she be born there if my ancestors had no connections to the castle?

Since it’s a good chunk of a drive from Duluth to Springfield, my oldest son kindly offered to join me in the quest. This was also a good chance for him to learn more about his family history since he had never been to Springfield.

We took off one afternoon with tents in tow — planning to camp in the Springfield City Campground overnight so that we could get to the museum in the morning. The museum wasn’t actually open on the day we planned to visit, but I had made prior arrangements with the museum director to meet us there.

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Very helpful Springfield Museum Director Carole Young with some of my family’s scrapbooks.

We met the director, Carole Young, as planned. She had the scrapbooks waiting for us, spread out on a table. It didn’t take us long to find the newspaper article in question since my dear organized mother had indexed the scrapbooks by family name.

There it was, a story from the Spirit Lake Beacon, a newspaper in Iowa. It was dated 1913 and had the title, “Scenes and Reminiscences of a Spirit Lake Lady Reared Among the Royalty of England and Scotland.” It was an interview with Isabella (the one born at the castle) and the story featured her memories of life growing up in a grand house on the castle grounds. Her father was the head state carpenter at the castle, holding the position for “upwards of fifty years” until he retired.

Their house was apparently near a cricket field and castle visitors, such as Queen Victoria and the Prince and Princess of Wales would drive down from the castle to their house to watch the games. The article says “rooms were prepared especially for them” by Isabella’s mother and the children. During these visits, Isabella said, “We children were always on our best behavior and willing to do little things to make it pleasant for the visitors,” who often stayed three or four days at a time. Isabella also met famous composers and pastors. She and her siblings were sometimes called on to “make up the required number” for a cricket game, and Isabella was proud that they could play the game well.

Eventually, Isabella, a widow with children, left the U.K. and came to America to marry a childhood neighbor who lived in Illinois. They later settled in Minnesota and then Iowa. Her brother, Francis, came to America also, settling in Minnesota. He was my great-grandfather.

Viola! Proof that William Dick worked at the castle! Unfortunately, there was no way to photocopy the article from the scrapbook, so my son and I took scans and photos with our cell phones. However, they didn’t turn out so well. Once I returned home, I searched for a digital copy of the story. I couldn’t find it in the Spirit Lake newspaper database, but I was able to find the same story in The Des Moines Register, which had published it a week later. Score!

I sent the story and a photo of William Dick and his wife to the castle. I had also emailed the castle previously, but did not receive a reply to either attempt.

Harrummph. Whatever. It was proof enough for me. And the quest was a good bonding experience for me and my son. I realize there’s almost nothing more boring than reading about someone else’s ancestors, but I hope this story wasn’t too painful.

Next posting: Kelso — for real this time!

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