Funnily enough I wasn’t entirely sure if my energetic, noisy and sometimes sticky toddlers would be a good fit with a visit to a rural stately home. But when we were hostelling around the Moray coast we were practically on the doorstep of the alluringly ‘Austen’ Duff House and I wasn’t gonna let two rug-rats cramp my inner Elizabeth Bennett.
For any history buffs inhaling sharply yes, Pride and Prejudice was published in 1813 and Duff House is a stunning Georgian property dating back to 1735, but let’s not get all period drama about it.
You get some very masculine castles and towers in Scotland, they’re defensive and conflict always feels a heartbeat away, but Duff House is a refined property with a feminine air to it. The front of the house is so symmetrical and somehow intricately simple that it’s a popular wedding venue. I can picture any bride looking radiant descending the exterior staircases. As we wheeled our buggy up the carriageway in the rain we felt slightly less glamourous.
The house itself isn’t buggy territory so our tots (aged 3 and 1) either walked, or the little one was occasionally carried. A sling for babies would work well too. As we passed from one opulent room to another, taking in the rich furnishings, the works of art on the wall including Lavery and El Greco, hearing the history of the family, discovering how the Earl who commissioned the house had a HUGE fall out with the renowned architect William Adam, my children acted quite strangely. They amused themselves!! There is nothing within the house to particularly entertain a young child but children are versatile and can surprise you.
In the Private Drawing Room they gaped at the huge portraits on the wall which must have seemed really odd to them (our house is nothing like that!), in Countess Agnes’ Boudoir they liked looking in the many mirrors and finding each other in the mirrors, in the North Drawing Room they lay on their backs and gazed at the huge sparkly chandelier, and in another vast room they crawled about the extensive floor space pretending to be dogs and barking. Admittedly that last one doesn’t sound so good, but on the whole people (be it the public or members of staff) don’t mind happy children finding a way to entertain themselves. They weren’t crying or trashing the place so the staff of Historic Environment Scotland seemed to almost enjoy seeing youngsters take in Duff House in their own inimitable style.
We did engage our 3 year old occasionally with chat about the property; what did he think of the ‘funny’ clothes the men were wearing in the paintings, would he like a four-poster bed at home? That kind of thing naturally helped keep him involved, and one of the guides even let him play the piano (badly).
At the end of the tour there’s a video, about 15-20 minutes, presented by Kirsty Wark, about Duff House. My pair didn’t sit through this, sorry Kirsty, but perhaps your children will.
Outside there’s a playground near the car park. The grounds are meant to be a lovely walk on a pleasant day, including an impressive mausoleum and a quirky ice-house, but it was bucketing down when we visited so, whilst we were delighted to be inside, we did miss out on exploring the estate. There’s also a tearoom on site for refreshments.
I appreciate I’ve only touched on the history of Duff House. When the family moved out in 1906 it went on to be a country house hotel, then a sanatorium, and it played many roles during WW2 including a detention camp for ‘enemy aliens’ so it’s a fascinating destination. I felt I had an adult experience with my children, which made a nice change from soft play.
I guess my conclusion is that taking kids to such an elegant location made me feel I’d underestimated them (and I think parents often worry in advance about their children’s potential behaviour), secondly these attractions (run by bodies such as Historic Environment Scotland) are there for everyone and they make you very welcome and at ease, and lastly it opened my eyes to certain details. When my kids lay on their backs gazing at the chandelier it made me look up, admire the craftmanship, enjoy the sparkles, see it from their eyes, and that was an absolute pleasure.
THE LOWDOWN – Duff House is located just outside Banff in Aberdeenshire. We drove north from Aberdeen and stayed at the new Sail Loft Hostel in Portsoy, just west of Duff House . The following evening we visited the Cullen Harbour Hostel. Duff House is approximately an hour’s drive from Aberdeen with its rail, bus and airport links, or catch the 305 bus from the Granite City up to Banff. From 1 April – 31 October 2017 Duff House will be open seven days a week.
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