Earlier in the month it was our 36th wedding anniversary, yes I can hardly believe it myself, obviously I was a child bride, but no, I wasn’t pregnant. Jack and I agree that the first 35 years are the worst!
We didn’t do anything special to celebrate but a couple of days earlier we visited The House of the Binns, another National Trust property, but this one is quite unusual because it is still a family home with the Dalyell family still very much in residence. They share the responsibility for the property with the Trust. The Dalyells have lived there since 1612.
You might think it’s a strange name for a house but the word Binn (it’s like that other word for hill, Ben) in Scottish just means a hill, and the house was built between two hills. You can see a couple of interior photos here.
Tam Dalyell is a well known name in Scottish history and the present day Tam Dalyell was/is no slouch either, he retired as an M.P. and the Father of the House of Commons in 2005, and he had/has a great reputation as an independent voice and a thorn in the side of the likes of Maggie Thatcher. Alexander McCall Smith described Tam Dalyell as That great and good man in one of the Scotland Street books. He is a baronet but doesn’t use his title and the Dalyell children were sent to the local state schools, which is more than can be said for many other Labour politicians’ children.
The house is the most interesting Trust property which we’ve visited and we were shown around by Mairie, a very friendly and knowledgeable guide. There was a roaring log fire in the hearth of the main reception area. You enter the house through what was a back door originally, it’s the oldest part of the house and the next room has a secret tunnel in it. When you open what looks like a cupboard door in one of the rooms you can see part of a tunnel which they think leads out to nearby Blackness Castle on the shore of the River Forth. It was probably used for smuggling purposes as ships from the Netherlands and the rest of Europe were frequent visitors to the area. I imagine that a lot of gin and brandy was rolled up that tunnel! As it’s hundreds of years old it would have to be excavated and shored up as there must have been lots of collapses over the years. What a wonderful project for Time Team or a university archaeology department that would be.
As you progress through the house it becomes grander but there is only one room which has one of those keep off ropes in it, and that is just to stop people from walking on a fragile Aubusson carpet. Most of the land has been sold off or rented out over the years so there’s no lovely garden to walk around, but you can walk up through a wooded area to a folly, and from there you get a 360o fantastic view over to Fife on the other side of the Firth of Forth and the Lothians on the nearer side.
There is restricted access to the House of the Binns so be sure to check the opening times before you set off, I think it’s closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Just as we got to the end of the tour we heard lots of laughter coming from the large hall/reception room. The two other guides were sitting by the roaring log fire and having a good old blether with another lady who turned out to be Mrs Dalyell, the lady of the house. Honestly, my gast had never been so flabbered, and she was so friendly, even taking us back into another room to show us a particular book. Thinking about it though, it’s obvious that Tam Dalyell would have a lovely wife. Anyway, the upshot is that I forgot to buy the guide book on the way out, so I’ll be going back for another visit. Mind you the guide book and some postcards is all that there is for sale as there is no space for a National Trust shop or tearoom. There are a couple of garden centres nearby where you can wet your whistle or slake your drouth, or in other words – get a cup of tea.
You can see more images of the house and surroundings here.
Naval ships are often in the Firth of Forth as they go about their business at the nearby naval bases of Crombie and Rosyth in Fife.
All in all we had a great afternoon out at The House of the Binns. The nearest town is Linlithgow, and Mary Queen of Scots was born at Linlithgow Palace, another interesting place to visit although it’s really just a shell now.