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Prince's Caithness castle painting brings back sweet memories


By David G Scott

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A PAINTING by Prince Charles in an online Caithness art show had many wondering where the location of the ruined castle was.

Ian Pearson, chairman of the Society of Caithness Artists, which is hosting the show, said there was much speculation as to the exact whereabouts of a watercolour study by the prince simply entitled Caithness.

The painting by Prince Charles is simply entitled Caithness but a few keen-eyed folk recognised it as Brims Castle. Copyright AG Carrick
The painting by Prince Charles is simply entitled Caithness but a few keen-eyed folk recognised it as Brims Castle. Copyright AG Carrick

It is one of two works by the prince – who is known as the Duke of Rothesay when in Scotland – that were were late additions to the website.

"There was a lady on the Isle of Skye who recognised it as Brims Castle. She was born in Thurso, lived in Reay, and her grandparents had the farm and restored it," Mr Pearson said.

Brims Castle is in a ruinous state despite being habitable in the 1980s.Picture: DGS
Brims Castle is in a ruinous state despite being habitable in the 1980s.Picture: DGS

He said that the painting brought back memories for the woman, Finella MacKinnon, and had left her feeling "very emotional".

The image shows a ruinous house with what appear to be farm buildings to the rear and the sea in the background – very similar to Brims Castle as it looks now.

Though parts of it were habitable until the 1980s it has since fallen into serious disrepair.

Prince Charles' watercolour appears to be Brims Castle located about four miles west of Thurso. Picture: DGS
Prince Charles' watercolour appears to be Brims Castle located about four miles west of Thurso. Picture: DGS

Prince Charles is believed to have painted the image two years ago but was said to be unsure of the exact location himself, according to a source at Clarence House.

Seventy-five-year-old Finella said: "To my great surprise, I immediately recognised the Duke of Rothesay's Caithness painting to be of Brims Castle and farm. All this has made me search down memory lane and I again looked at a Brims family website [www.brims.co.uk] to which I contributed many years ago.

"Photos of my grandparents living at the castle plus a poem by the Bard of Reay, Henry Henderson, are included in the Brims Family History section under 'Begg family that lived at the castle 100 years ago'."

Brims Castle as it was in 1910.
Brims Castle as it was in 1910.

Finella joked how an OAP like herself "wouldn't be able to afford such a priceless painting" if the royal artwork had been for sale.

"I mustn't be greedy as I inherited an oil painting of Brims – I think by Florrie Dunnet – that my mother bought from the exhibition decades ago. Florrie had also been my mother's art teacher in the Miller Academy," she said.

A detail of Prince Charles's watercolour which appears to show the ruins of Brims Castle. Copyright AG Carrick
A detail of Prince Charles's watercolour which appears to show the ruins of Brims Castle. Copyright AG Carrick

"I remember my mother being disappointed that it was depicted in its ruinous state because her memories were of roses and honeysuckle growing around the steps in the centre and of a lovely old home."

Donald (Dan) Begg had Brims Farm and renovated the castle prior to his marriage in 1910 to a daughter of the manse of Reay.

Finella's late mother and aunt were both born there – in 1913 and 1916 respectively – but the family moved to another of Dan's farms at Pennyland, Thurso, around 1917 so the children could be educated in the town's schools.

A portrait of the Begg family who lived at Brims Castle after its restoration in 1910.
A portrait of the Begg family who lived at Brims Castle after its restoration in 1910.

"I also have memories of visiting the farmworkers there in the 1940s," said Finella, who sent her best wishes to the organisers of the virtual exhibition.

Mr Pearson reported that 53 works have been sold from the show to date and more than 4000 visitors have visited the website from as far afield as India and Australia, according to the online analytics.

Finella MacKinnon said she was 'so excited' to see the painting by Prince Charles which brought back fond memories of Brims Castle.
Finella MacKinnon said she was 'so excited' to see the painting by Prince Charles which brought back fond memories of Brims Castle.

"One sale has gone to France which we wouldn't have had if there wasn't an online exhibition. Quite a few sales have been outwith the county," he said.

The coronavirus restrictions meant that for the first time in its 85-year history the society had to cancel its annual exhibition in Thurso. Instead, hundreds of works are being showcased digitally at https://societyofcaithnessartists.co.uk throughout July.

The exhibition features 85 artists displaying more than 350 images.

The following poem was written by Henry Henderson, known as the Bard of Reay for Dan Begg in 1909 as he was so happy that Brims Castle had been restored and was being lived in again.

IN BRIMS CASTLE

I was taken thro’ Brims Castle,

I stood in its turrets high,

And I heard the summer breeze

Around it softly sigh.

And the soft swish of the salt sea

In its ceaseless ebb and flow

Advancing and receding

On the shingle down below.

And we spoke about the ancient

Days that had been of old,

And mentioned weird, wild legends

That would make your blood run cold.

Spoke of ships and of shipwrecks

That happened there of yore,

When the wild storms of winter

With wreckage bestrewed the shore.

Then in the conversation

That was between him and me

A pause came, while we listened

To the rhythmic sound of the sea.

And the ceaseless swish of the waters

On the polished pebble-stones,

The sigh of the briny breezes,

And the ocean’s monotones.

Our thoughts far away in the old days

Were back in the long ago

With the dead who have gone the journey

That the living have to go.

From cellar unto turret

He took me through it all,

By ancient well worn stone stairs,

And lichened moss-grown wall.

The spell of the past was upon us

And dreams of what used to be,

As we stood in the Castle turrets

And listened to the sound of the sea.

To the tenant of the Castle

A goblet to-day I drain,

Well may he be, and happy,

And long in it may he reign.

H Henderson, the Bard of Reay.

July 24, 1909.



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