Of bats and bravery in battle
22 August, 2013
Last week took me again to Crichton Castle, located near the village of the same name, a couple of miles south of Pathhead, near Edinburgh. The castle overlooks the attractive and unspoiled Crichton Glen, rich in woodland and meadow. My purpose there was to examine bat habitats in the castle and neighbouring stable block, which some people believe may have been a chapel.
A couple of miles away lies Vogrie Country Park, a 19th-century estate centred around a listed mansion, now managed by Midlothian Council. It has two children’s play areas and over 11 miles of country walks. The park and castle make an ideal destination for a family day out.
Vogrie Estate was owned by a local family, the Dewars. It was bought by James Dewar in 1719, and eventually expanded to some 2,000 acres. The Dewars enlarged their wealth by exploiting coal reserves beneath the estate, but they were philanthropists, instrumental in many reforms to working conditions for miners. For example, their campaigning led to a ban on children under the age of 10 working down the mines.
The present Vogrie House was built by Lt Colonel Alexander Cumming Dewar, who was born in 1803. Visitors to Crichton Castle will notice historic graffiti scratched on some of the walls. One inscription reads ‘A.C. Dewar, 1820’ – could this have been the 17-year-old destined to inherit the neighbouring Vogrie Estate?
A later laird of Vogrie was Captain James Cumming Dewar (born 1857), who was severely wounded in the Zulu War, but was rescued by Privates Flawn and Fitzpatrick, who were both awarded the Victoria Cross for their valour. Captain Dewar survived to become a justice of the peace and, as a devoted Catholic, privy councillor to two Popes. At his death aged 51, he left Vogrie to his youngest child, Katharine, disinheriting his son and two elder daughters.
In 1928 the estate, the house and some of the grounds were sold to the Royal Edinburgh Hospital for Nervous Disorders. The well-appointed Vogrie House became a private nursing home, keeping wealthy patients in the manner to which they were accustomed. Older residents of Gorebridge and Pathhead can recall patients visiting the shops and tea rooms in chauffeur-driven limousines.
In 1963, the hospital passed to Midlothian Council. For a while it served as the local Civil Defence headquarters until Vogrie was opened as Scotland’s second country park in 1980.
Crichton Castle may be a ruin but it is still home to some. Look out for signs of those bats. Like many of the castles managed by Historic Scotland, the building is very much like a natural cliff or cave, as far as a bat is concerned. As at Doune, Hailes and Craigmillar Castles, bats roost here at various times of the year.
Bats, which account for 20% of all mammal species, are protected animals, so we have to take great care not to disturb these lodgers. They seem to like it here, although as a creature with famously poor eyesight, they perhaps don’t appreciate the view.