It’s the summer of 1882, and three very excited children are making their way from their home in Kensington to London’s King’s Cross Railway Station. The summer holidays are here at last and it’s time to head north to Scotland. Big sister Constance is 14, younger sister Hetty is 13 and wee brother Alistair is coming up for 12. The children are travelling with their parents William and Georgina. William is a London barrister, specialising in the conveyancing of property.
Cars are beginning to appear on the streets but London is still largely a city of horse-drawn transport. Hansom cabs, brewers’ drays and even buses operate on real horse power. Once they arrive at King’s Cross, the Taylers step into the modern world. The vast railway station with its glass and iron roof is a soaring monument to Victorian engineering. The means of transport is thrilling. The Taylers will travel north by
Only twenty years before, the quickest way from London to Edinburgh or Aberdeen was on one of the numerous steam packets which sailed up the east coast. Even then, it took days to complete the journey, almost a week. The train whisks you from King’s Cross to Edinburgh’s Waverley in a mere ten and a half hours. That thirty minutes is to allow a stop at York for a spot of luncheon. No one has yet had the
brainwave of adding restaurant cars to the compartments and carriages.
In 1882, The Flying Scotsman is the name of the London to Edinburgh train. The iconic steam locomotive which will bear that name has not yet been built. The train service is also known as the Special Scotch Express.
After York the train heads for Newcastle-upon-Tyne. As the engine thunders ever farther north, the magical shimmering views of the Northumberland coast unfold. Lindisfarne. Bamburgh Castle. Berwick-upon-Tweed. The Royal Border Bridge is another wonder of the modern age. Its 28 arches follow a graceful curve across the river that for centuries has defined the border between England and Scotland.
The actual border is a mile or two farther north. Like generations of returning Scots before and since,
the Taylers raise a cheer as they cross over. The Special Scotch Express speeds along the cliffs. Eyemouth.
St Abb’s Head. The Bass Rock with its wheeling and diving colonies of gannets and puffins. Then it’s on
past Dunbar and the glide into Edinburgh.
The Taylers spend the night in the Scottish capital and travel on up past Dundee and Aberdeen to Banffshire the following day. The train goes via Stirling and Perth. It’s a year till work will start on the mighty project that will become the Forth Rail Bridge. Only half a day this time, and then the family steps down onto the platform at Rothiemay Station on the Great North of Scotland line. William Tayler is a
director of the railway company and one of those who pushed for the line to be laid.
The station is a busy hub above the river Deveron and the solid and impressive railway bridge that
spans it. That will be replaced by an even more solid bridge but that’s a few decades in the future. This is farming country, with fields full of waving barley and long drills of flourishing green potato shaws, hill
sheep and sturdy cattle. It’s 50 years until the tractor will be introduced and the larger local farms are labour-intensive ferm touns. There might be a dozen people employed in each of these farm towns: horsemen, cattlemen or cow bailies, senior ploughmen, young ploughboys, shepherds, dairy-maids and the orra men, who are the jacks-of-all-trades. People work hard and enjoy their scant leisure time. There’s someone in
most ferm touns who can play the fiddle, often a bagpiper too.
Charles Esson the Rothiemay House coachman is waiting at the railway station, a smile of welcome on his face. William Tayler the London barrister is the Laird of Glenbarry here. He’s known as a fair landlord and a courteous man, always prepared to listen to any grievances or suggestions for improvement. A countryman born and bred, with his own prize-winning herd of Aberdeen Angus, he’s highly respected for
his knowledge of cattle and cattle-rearing.
The coachman drives the laird and his family the two miles and a little more along the sparkling rivers Isla and Deveron to the substantial and long-established village of Milltown of Rothiemay. The journey
which began with horse-drawn transport ends with it too.
They bowl past the lodge house, a turreted extravaganza in miniature. That’s where Charles Esson lives with his wife Maggie and their six young children. Up the driveway and the butler will be waiting to greet them. He’s Alexander Dey. His wife is Margaret and they too have six children.
The Tayler children are eager to renew their acquaintance with the old house. At first glance it’s a
typical Scots Baronial pile, adorned with turrets. Look closer at this rambling building and you’ll soon see that its core dates from much earlier. The old Scottish tower house is the original Rothiemay Castle. Over
the centuries, successive generations have built on in the style of their own times.
Constance, Hetty and Alistair know that Mary, Queen of Scots is said to have spent a night in the older part of the house, way back in the 1560s. The room where she slept is always pointed out to visitors. So is
the bedstead on which she slept, a solid four-poster.
The ancient stone circle of Rothiemay stands in a field no distance from the house, one of many of these Neolithic monuments that dot Aberdeenshire and Banffshire. The Rothiemay Standing Stones are a few hundred yards from the site of the old house and easily viewed from the nearby road. A short walk along the Deveron brings you to Dykehead, believed by many to have been the site of a Roman marching camp.
William and Georgina Tayler are modern people, always keen to foster progress in farming, transport
and education. William’s also an antiquarian, fascinated by relics from the past. There are plenty to choose from in Banffshire and nearby Aberdeenshire: the stone circles, old ruined churches and chapels, castles and tower houses. He will pass his love of history on to his children.
Rothiemay House, its policies, walled garden and the countryside around it must have been a wonderful place for bright and imaginative children to spend their summer holidays. No wonder Alistair and Henrietta are going to grow up to become historians.
Henrietta Tayler will spend most of her life in London but Rothiemay, Banffshire and North East Scotland will always be home. In later life, she will write with huge affection of ‘our “Nor-East corner.’
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