In September 1842 the 2nd Marquis of Breadalbane and his family welcomed Queen Victoria and Prince Albert to Taymouth Castle. They were greeted, with great ceremony, by pipers and by crowds of well-wishers in full highland costume, and a gun salute was fired. The Queen was charmed. During their brief stay Albert went hunting and shooting, returning with a bumper bag each evening, whilst the young monarch spent the days walking and riding in the park.
One day the royal party walked to the Dairy. Queen Victoria wasn’t sure quite how to describe the building, but settled for ‘a sort of Swiss Cottage, built of quartz’. As well as its practical purpose, the Dairy was also a belvedere, with the upper room and balcony giving a magnificent view of the River Tay flowing into Loch Tay, the pretty village of Kenmore, and up the loch to the hills and distant mountains.
Catherine Sinclair, visiting a couple of years earlier, had a more fanciful description: ‘nothing enchanted me more than the fancy dairy, built some years ago of transparent spar, like rough blocks of ice […] It looks as if an ice-berg had been stranded here and excavated for the occasion’.
The Queen’s own journal entry about the visit to the dairy is short, but by ‘her Majesty’s command’ Sir Thomas Dick Lauder wrote a detailed account of her visit to Scotland, published as Memorial of the Royal Progress in Scotland in 1843. He describes how the Queen walked in by the kitchen door, much to the surprise of the ‘damsels of the Dairy’ who were ‘astonished to see so fine a lady, though they could hardly have guessed that it was the fair Sovereign of these mighty kingdoms’. (This seems highly unlikely, as the workers on the estate had been preparing for the royal visit for weeks, but we must allow Sir Thomas his hyperbole.)
The dairymaids escorted the Queen around the Dairy, where she tried her hand at making butter before asking to try oaten cake. This caught her hosts unawares: they had nothing so rustic, but instead only a plate of ‘delicate’ cakes sent from the castle. The Queen did however enjoy a glass of ‘fine cold milk’ before continuing her walk. She was so impressed with the building that she revisited with Prince Albert on her final morning at Taymouth; the weather was clear and bright and she took her consort up onto the balcony to admire the view, where the Prince ‘entered fully into her Majesty’s admiration of it’.
Her visit was also celebrated in a poem by Samuel Fergusson. Be prepared – it’s very much of it’s time…
And then with steps of love descends
To learn some dairy lore;
And churning with her snow-white hands
Looks lovlier than before.
Tommore (or Tom-more), the hill on which the Dairy stands, was formerly home to a little 18th century pavilion, the Temple of Venus, which like its replacement had been so placed to take in the marvellous view of the lake and mountains.
The Temple of Venus was maintained until 1814, but demolished only a few years later to make way for the Dairy. Erected in 1830-31 to the design of William Atkinson (c.1774-1839), a pupil of James Wyatt, the ‘elegant and costly dairy’ rapidly became a highlight of a tour of the ‘celebrated pleasure grounds at Taymouth’. Its builder, John Campbell, created Marquis of Breadlabane in 1831, died in 1834, and it was his son the 2nd Marquis, who welcomed his sovereign to Taymouth Castle in 1842.
Sadly, as the photographs here show, the grade A listed Dairy is surrounded by scaffolding which has been in place now for a decade, and the structure lingers on the Buildings at Risk Register for Scotland. Trees now surround the building, and the famed views can no longer be appreciated. Taymouth Castle became a hotel, and its grounds a golf course, in the 1920s, but after various uses the mansion has sat empty since the 1980s. It is currently being renovated as a hotel, and hopefully the Dairy too will be brought back to life in the not too distant future.
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