INVERNESS, Scotland — Even William Shakespeare was impressed by Cawdor Castle, immortalizing it in "Macbeth." Small wonder, because the castle and its thane (leader of the clan)have reigned over 56,000 acres of the Scottish Highlands from 1370.
Driving north from Inverness, I passed some of the farmlands, sheep pastures, glens and woods of the estate. Soon I would be meeting Lord and Lady Cawdor, stodgy relics, I presumed, of a bygone era.
Surprise!The couple who greeted me at the drawbridge were quite the opposite. Lady Cawdor is the epitome of a fashion model in height and weight, her long legs encased in fitting jeans, a charcoal blazer enhancing broad shoulders and a beautiful face framed by thick, dark hair allowing to show where it has gone gray.
Lord Cawdor, equally casual in his attire, nevertheless has the confidence of an aristocrat.
Tangled in Hounds
As I got out of the car, five or six Jack Russell terriers with short stubby legs scampered in and out between my feet as I tried to follow the handsome Cawdors into the North Courtyard.
"Stop it, Robert!" Lady Cawdor commanded one of the dogs that found reason to snarl at a litter-mate hiding behind my ankle.
"Really, darling," Lord Cawdor lightly admonished his wife at her unexpected outburst. I had the uneasy feeling that he would prefer a dog fight to the raising of a cultured voice.
Steering my attention away from the animals, he pointed out that we were standing under the Coat of Arms. The crest of the Crowned Swan indicates that the family is descended from the Swan Knight, Lohengrin, a cavalier recorded in the 12th Century for his exploits during the Crusades. (This knight of the Holy Grail was made famous in an opera by Wagner.)
Just beyond the entry hall with its impressive wall display of flintlock, muzzle-loading muskets captured from the French during the last invasion of the United Kingdom's mainland (1797)is the Drawing Room.
Large Enough for Basketball
This great room is large enough for basketball. The Cawdors use it to display paintings done by such artists as Sir Thomas Lawrence, Sir Joshua Reynolds and George Romney. Many of the pictures are of Cawdors, and the present lord bears a familial resemblance easy to see.
At one side of a massive stone fireplace is a narrow, spiral stone staircase leading to the bedchamber. Called the Tapestry Bedroom, Lord and Lady Cawdor sleep there in a small four-poster closed in at night behind worn and faded crimson velvet coverings.
All the walls of the room are covered with Flemish tapestry hung directly over the plaster, 483 pounds of cloth depicting biblical scenes of Noah. Hidden behind one tapestry is a door leading to the children's room, now a place to view TV, as the children are grown and gone.
"These are sprung floors," Lady Cawdor pointed out as we walked through the bedroom wing. "They're built to vibrate if anyone comes near. A security measure."
On to the Tower Room, the 14th-Century entrance that once had wooden steps able to be hauled up in case of attack.
Fireplace the Focal Point
It was obvious that this is the place where the Cawdors spend most of their time. Soft floral-patterned slipcovers guard the furniture;books, magazines and knickknacks vie for space on table tops. Tapestries adorn the plaster walls although the fireplace is the focal point.
"Very warm," Lady Cawdor commented, indicating the sunshine streaming through small-paned windows. "It's a very agreeable house to live in, and only heated by the fireplaces."
Noting the accumulation of objects, she explained, "Of course, for generations the family have been collectors."
"Magpies," her husband corrected.
"One is constantly worrying about it," Lady Cawdor sighed.
Impulsively, Lord Cawdor decided to list the items found on the mantle: two Wedgwood vases, a picture of Voltaire and one of Rousseau, some Chinese memorial plates ("1780ish," he guessed), an Italian Renaissance statuette of Mercury and a can of boot polish.
"Is this very boring?" his lordship inquired. "I'm boring myself."
'The Crook of Cawdor'
To liven things up he told the story of the "Crook of Cawdor." Pointing out an oil painting with a romanticized version of the castle, he recalled the time that his ancestor, an architect, tried to oust Christopher Wren, suggesting that the House of Parliament was going to collapse. "Naturally, he would be the one to rebuild it," Lord Cawdor smiled.
While he was thinking of the misdeeds of some of his ancestors, he suggested a look at the dungeon. Under the Tower Room, enemies were locked behind an iron gate.
As his lordship entered the dungeon, Lady Cawdor told of the legend of how the castle came to be built here. (In a dream the Thane of Cawdor was told to build wherever his donkey sat down to rest.)Waiting for his wife to finish the story, he was stooped over, peering out at us.
"We had a journalist here from Chicago," he interrupted at the first opportunity, "who was so fat that I knew if he got in here he'd never get out."