Torosay Castle


We went to see Torosay Castle yesterday afternoon. Like many glorious old homes, it was a glorious old home, a Victorian mansion.

The halls were adorned with paintings of the family who’d lived there for the last 150 years.

It had its origins as a gift from King Charles II, awarded to a Duke or an Earl who defeated Cromwell’s army in a battle. Not many Scots were savvy enough to beat Cromwell’s army, so Torosay must have been a substantial prize.

Like many of these places it is difficult to connect them with the contemporary world. They seem born out of fairy tales. But, in the gift shop I ended up talking to an elderly lady who happened to be the current resident, the wife of the man who’d inherited it from his forbearers.

“You live here, right now?”

“Yes, the house belonged to my husband.”

“So those are members of your family whose portraits hang on the walls?”

“Yes, my children and grandchildren. The older pictures are from my husband’s side of the family.”

“Are you connected somehow to the Royal Family?” I wanted to ask if she was a Princess or a Queen or something.

“Well, on both sides of the family we’re related to Winston Churchill.”

“Really, Winston Churchill?”

“Yes, that’s right.”

I was thinking, How on earth did you come to live in a castle?

She informed me that her husband had inherited it and his family had lived there since 1866.

There was a book at the gift shop about a man who’d escaped from a German prison camp during the war.

“Who’s the fellow in this book?”

“Oh, that was my husband.”

“Your husband escaped from a Nazi prison camp?”

“Yes, he escaped twice. The first time he was recaptured trying to board a vessel disguised as a Belgian officer.”

The guy, David James was his name, had had an interesting life. He’d visited the Spanish Civil War with his father and narrowly missed being shot by a sniper. He joined the Navy and served 19 months in Antarctica. He sailed around the world in a four mast sailing ship. He stayed on in the Navy during WWII and, when his ship was sunk by the Germans he was captured.

“How long was he in the prison camp?”

“Eleven months and ten days. Later on in his life he served as a Member of Parliament. He wrote several books about his time in the camp and his escape. He also helped with the filming of a movie about early explorations of the Antarctic. We retired here in 1979. I’ve been a widow for twenty years now. Ever since then we’ve just been battling on.”

So, are you some sort of Duchess or something? I was thinking it but didn’t ask it.

“Fascinating.” I was trying not to stare.

I wasn’t sure how to end a conversation with someone who lived in a castle.

“Well, thank you for having us at your home.”

She offered a handshake. “Thank you for coming and it was nice to meet you.”

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