Ayton Castle's imposing silhouette is often glimpsed by passengers on express trains speeding north from Berwick-upon-Tweed towards Edinburgh. Its mighty tower, bartisans and crowstepped gables look satisfyingly foreign to the English visitor, who may be surprised to learn that they are only 150 years old. The last major work of James Gillespie Graham, Scotland's leading Gothic-revival architect in the early 19th century, Ayton is a proud pioneer of the new baronial style.
The Castle is built of magnificent Red Sandstone and was constructed for the family of Mitchell-Innes in 1851. Since then it has always been lived in as a family home with the exception of World War II when Esdaile School, Edinburgh were evacuated to it.
The house is organised along a ground-floor spinal corridor running from north-east to south-west. At its southern end it leads into a family wing, with bedrooms on two floors, at the northern into the service courtyard, which is built at a lower level than the main house. On the west side is the entrance hall with the original smoking-room above it. In the southern angle between hall and main block is a circular tower containing the principal staircase.
All the main rooms open off the corridor, and have views south-east over the Eye valley; from north to south, the dining room, drawing room and library. The last room forms the ground floor of the great tower that juts forward at junction of the main block with the family wing. The first floor of the tower was intended as a schoolroom and - perhaps Mitchell-Innes remembered what happened to the old house (it was burned down in 1843) - its upper stages contained a water cistern and fire engine. The service quarters had the full panoply of separate larders for fish, game, cold meat and vegetables as well as rooms set aside for shoes, knives, wood, ashes and beer.
Ayton Castle is surrounded by an estate of 6000 acres with breath-taking views of the rich, rolling lands adjacent to the famous Tweed Valley. Its imposing exterior belies an opulent, yet intimate and friendly interior. Original furniture, fine portraits and pictures, interesting porcelain and objects are all displayed with graceful informality.
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