Falkland Palace & GardenWritten by Catriona Stevenson
The Royal Palace of Falkland, built between 1501 and 1541 and set in the heart of a unique medieval village, was the country residence and hunting lodge of eight Stuart monarchs, including Mary, Queen of Scots.
Wandering around the Palace and gardens, it is poignant to reflect that Mary, Queen of Scots spent some of the happiest days of her life here, 'playing the country girl in the woods and parks'.
The Palace is famous for its beautiful gardens and for the Real Tennis court, built in 1539. A world away from Wimbledon, this is Britain's oldest tennis court and is home to a flourishing local royal tennis club.
Entering the Palace through the Gatehouse visitors come to the courtyard, enclosed on two sides by the South Range and the now ruined East Range. The original architecture of the building and restoration works carried out by the 3rd Marquess of Bute in the 19th century can be easily examined from here.
The Gatehouse, completed in 1541, contains the private quarters of the Keeper of Falkland Palace, a hereditary position of which the present holder is Ninian Crichton Stuart of Falkland.
The Entrance Hall, panelled by Lord Bute in the 1890s, opens on to the turnpike staircase of the Gatehouse. From here visitors ascend to the Keeper’s Bedroom on the second floor, which contains an impressive four-post bed, which is reputed to have belonged to James VI. The Dressing Room off the bedroom has an elaborate painted ceiling which bears the arms of the 3rd Marquess of Bute.
On the first floor of the Gatehouse, the Drawing Room is a comfortable family room enjoyed by successive Keepers of the Palace.
The Chapel Royal is the most significant surviving original interior of the Palace and dates from the reign of James V. The oak entrance screen and painted ceiling are of national importance and a set of 17th-century Flemish tapestries tell the biblical story of Joseph and Benjamin. The Chapel is still used as a place of worship today. The ante-chapel contains the regimental colours of the Scots Guards and an icon made by members of the Polish Airborne Forces stationed at Falkland during the Second World War.
The Tapestry Gallery forms the processional route from the king’s apartments to the Chapel Royal. The gallery is hung with 17th-century ‘Verdure’ tapestries. Look out for the goat with the eyes that follow you as you walk by!
At the end of the Tapestry Gallery visitors ascend to the Old Library, which contains an elaborately painted ceiling and which has been set up as a memorial to the generations of Crichton Stuarts who have held the position of Keeper of the Palace.
The Bakehouse, which is situated partially below ground level, gives visitors a taste of life below stairs at the Palace.
Lord Bute’s untimely death in 1900 prevented his restoration of the East Range which today remains a ruin after being accidentally destroyed in 1654 when Cromwell’s troops were garrisoned at the Palace. It originally housed the Royal Apartments. At the end of the East Range is a dovecote which provided fresh meat in the winter.
From the East Range visitors enter the ‘King’s Room’, a reconstruction by the architect Schomberg Scott to show how the royal apartments would have appeared.
Above this is the ‘Queen’s Room’, which was decorated and furnished by the Keeper, Ninian Crichton Stuart, and the National Trust for Scotland in 1987.
The orchard, one of the largest in the care of the National Trust for Scotland, remains in its original site from the 17th century. There is a large selection of fruit trees, including apple, pear, plum and cherry. From the orchard visitors can enjoy a lovely view of the Palace and village, with East Lomond hill providing a scenic backdrop.
The herbaceous borders in the main garden are still in bloom during September, with phlox and asters. Autumn colours start to show throughout the garden in the shrub and tree collection. Throughout October the autumn foliage colour is more vivid and there is fruit on the crab apple trees.
The large Palace shop will be carrying a wide range of Christmas gifts, decorations, food and drink later in autumn. Be sure to visit and stock up for the festive season!
Falkland hosts many special events throughout the year - in particular Living History events. Contact the palace for more information.
The Palace is a National Trust for Scotland property. For more information including admission and opening hours, please see the website.