Eco Comment – A Visit to Scotland and a Real Discovery

05 July 2024

I am writing this whilst staying at a very special place that I had previously only seen on television. A trip to Ayrshire with a group of young musicians has brought a new experience that chimes so well with all things Eco. We are staying at the Tamar Manoukian centre, an outdoor pursuits centre close to one of the farms in the grounds of Dumfries House, near Cumnock, Ayrshire. We were privileged to have a tour of part of the house yesterday which was impressive, but a walking tour of the grounds and gardens today was fascinating. The history of the house and grounds is interesting but what makes it so special is that the restoration, rejuvenation, sustainability and overall vision of the estate belongs to one person formally known as Prince Charles, the Duke of Rothesay, now our King, Charles III.

The story of Dumfries House began in 1748 when William Crichton-Dalrymple commissioned the Adam brothers to design and build a new house on the estate that he had inherited from his mother. Dumfries House was completed in 1760 at a cost of 7,979 pounds 11shillings and 2pence (around £1.2 million in today’s money). The 5th Earl of Dumfries travelled to London and discovered the work of the (well known to us in Yorkshire) furniture maker Thomas Chippendale. William didn’t stint himself and bought a comprehensive list of state of the art chairs (among them 14 elbow chairs), tables, bureaus, drawers, desks and beds. 39 crates worth, which because of the invoices and book keeping now provide evidence of one of the largest collections of Chippendale furniture in the world.

History lesson over because you’re probably wondering what on earth this has got to do with all things Eco. The key word is ‘restoration’. The ‘how’ and ‘why’ it all happened can be researched very easily, but the whole site is testament to the search for craftspeople capable of restoring both the house and grounds and creating a centre for teaching these traditional skills and crafts as well as providing opportunities for the skilled workforce and local employment around the site. Some of the furniture in the house has been lovingly restored and now shows brightly coloured fabrics created to match the original items. Plasterwork and woodwork has been repaired as close to the original as possible, but often after painstaking research to discover how it was originally created by former generations.

Almost everywhere you look on the estate is evidence of people power. There are small buildings and ornamental structures which have been made by apprentices. The walled gardens show how creative thinking and hard work can produce vegetables, fruit, flowers and plants. Dumfries House has been working with Garden Organic since 2013, a charity that takes, saves and grows seed from Heirloom varieties passed down through generations of gardeners and are often named after the gardeners in question. So you can see such things as Heritage Tomato ‘Joe Atkinson’ and Heritage Pea ‘Robinson’; they’re all very colourful.

There are opportunities for local communities to join in the gardening with green houses, education gardens and willow weaving. There’s an arboretum which shows successful management and planting of trees including giant sequoia which I think are amazing. (I’ve seen the ones at Brodsworth too.) The route to the centre of the multi-faith maze is along walls made of clipped yew and there are other examples of topiary, which is another skill taught and practiced by the gardeners. One of the gardeners was born and brought up on the estate and is following in her grandfather’s footsteps as he was a gardener in his day. I spoke to some of the people working on the estate (they all wear bright red fleeces) and it appeared that they thoroughly approve of what is being done to the estate. It transpires that weekly reports are sent to the king and queen not only of work done, but of the groups who visit and take part in the many activities on offer.

The food in the café is all locally produced and sourced within a 20 mile radius and is cooked and presented in the kitchens by a team of chefs and trainees. Food ranging from top of the dining menus to the lowly packed lunches are all of a high standard, tasty and nutritious. The cakes and biscuits in the café looked delicious and were very reasonably priced.

The centre that we stayed in is powered by heat pumps, well insulated and, although modern and practical for the many groups that use it, has nice touches in the décor and quality furnishings, probably intended to last, so pretty solid but comfortable. There are lots of activities for children. The activity centre has a climbing wall and offers schools and other youth groups archery, orienteering, bush craft and team-building in a purpose-built adventure playground. This is not open to the general public but the tree house and other children’s play activities are close to the house and the café is great fun. Some of our younger pupils thoroughly enjoyed the zip wire, tree walk and slides. The group visiting before us were artists from one of the London universities and we saw evidence from work by students from the Prince’s Drawing School.

Whilst some might naysay the investment needed to begin the work, the vision is for a self-sustaining estate which provides opportunities for local people. Nearby towns have also benefited from the largesse from the royal estate. The nearby town hall in which we gave a concert has been modernised, along with the swimming pool across the road. We come back to Wakefield today but I think I shall be returning as I would like to explore the area further (possibly without the 44 teenagers) and see more evidence of how successful sustainable and repaired living benefits our society.

Susan Morgan
Eco Group

Want to know more about the Eco Group?

Wakefield Cathedral’s Eco Group brings together members of the congregation, volunteers and staff to work towards making the cathedral a greener place to work and worship.

The Eco Group achieves its goals through a variety of activities, including partnerships with local community groups.

We invite anyone and everyone to reach out if they are interested in joining the eco group, or simply finding out more about what we do.

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