Floors Castle, Playfair’s Fairy Tale

by Keith Savage · 1 comment

Floors Castle, Kelso, Scottish Borders

Kelso is home to the ruins of an ancient abbey, one of Scotland’s best breweries (Tempest), and some of the finest quintessentially Scottish lowland atmosphere. Just beyond the town’s outskirts you can find another home — Scotland’s largest lived-in castle: Floors Castle.

I first spotted Floors Castle on my walk around Kelso. From the bridge over the River Tweed, you can clearly see the immense grandeur of one of Scotland’s great country houses, and up close the magnitude and awe of this structure is only amplified. To be fair, it can be troublesome visiting castles like Floors, for they are the embodiment of vast discrepancies in the social hierarchy of the time, but one would be wise to compartmentalize any such feelings and appreciate the structure for what it is: A work of art.

Floors Castle is not a castle in the traditional sense. There are no fortifications, no curtain wall, no arrow slits or barracks. The first iteration of Floors Castle was built in 1721 for the 1st Duke of Roxburghe by William Adam, a famous architect whose work can be found in Edinburgh among other places. It was built over an existing building called the House of Floris, probably meaning ‘flowers’ in French, and Adam’s version was an unremarkable, symmetrical Georgian country house. The fact that a true fortress was eschewed puts the region into historical context — the crowns had been united less than two decades earlier, and the rampant border reiving of the past was, well, a thing of the past.

In the mid-19th century, the 6th Duke of Roxburghe invited William Playfair, another famous architect, to remodel the castle. This job was one of Playfair’s most important commissions, and he did not disappoint with his envisioning. The revised Floors Castle possesses dozens of pale turrets, stepped towers, and golden stone designed in a symmetrical, sweeping work of Georgian romanticism.

As the castle is still lived in today, there are only about six rooms open for visitation. Unfortunately, photos were not allowed inside the castle, but, on the other hand, I find the exteriors to be infinitely more interesting anyway. The day was beautiful, bright and clear, as you can see from the photos, as I stalked around Floors Castle’s enormous grounds. These lands belonged to nearby Kelso Abbey until the Reformation when King James VI gave them to Robert Kerr of Cessford, who later became the 1st Earl of Roxburghe.

Robert Kerr’s descendant, the 5th Earl of Roxburghe, played an important role in the union of the crowns, and he was rewarded for his…efforts by being named the 1st Duke of Roxburghe. Perhaps his new role as Duke compelled him to commission Mr. Adam to upgrade the old House of Floris to something more suitable to such royalty.

History aside, Floors Castle is a handsome structure. The detailed stonework of the various crenellations and faux battlements coupled with the symmetry of the layout can’t help but fill you with a feeling of rightness.

Floors Castle is a worthy stop on any trip to the Scottish Borders. Its location in the heart of the central Borders makes it an easy destination, especially if you’re staying in Kelso or nearby, and there’s really no other castle like it in the region. More than anything, Floors Castle will sing to those of you who love architecture. And if lavish castle interiors aren’t your thing, you can also skip it here and enjoy the grounds for free!

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