A day in the life of... Thirlestane Castle's Housekeeper
As 2017 is Scotland's Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, we asked the Housekeeper at Thirlestane Castle to tell us about a day in her life. Over to Anita...
“I first came to Thirlestane Castle as a visitor 10 years ago. As I was walking around I mentioned to one of the guides that “I would love to work here”. She told me they were looking for a Housekeeper so we spoke to the Captain, who inherited the castle from his grandmother – 15th Countess of Lauderdale. I got the job and went home to hand in my notice. A month later we moved into our cottage on the Estate, with my husband taking the position of Groundsman. I enjoy working here now even more than when I first came.
Each morning I arrive at the castle around 8am and will go straight to the Lauderdale Apartment, which is the luxury self-catering apartment at the castle. I want to make sure it is perfect for the guests arriving so it can take around five hours to clean and polish the bedroom, bathroom, living room and kitchen. I’ll put together a ‘Taste of Scotland’ welcome pack and include some Scottish treats, such as Tunnock’s tea cakes and Mackie’s crisps, local oatcakes, cheese and shortbread, as well as fresh, local milk. If the guests have booked in for a special birthday, I’ll write them a card on behalf of all the staff and leave that for them as well. If the guests are staying for their wedding, I’ll leave some Champagne and lay the table - I want every stay to feel like a treat for our guests, and for it to be warm and cosy when they arrive too!
If we have a function or wedding, I will have spent the previous week polishing the castle’s wooden floors, arranging chairs and helping with preparations. It is all about teamwork, we all pull together to make sure everything runs smoothly. The State Rooms are magnificent at Thirlestane so we host all kinds of events here, from wedding ceremonies to private dinners, and company meetings to large outdoor events. The day before a big event I will spend the morning handling all the finishing touches. If the event is going on into the evening lights will be set up to shine on the walls of the castle. Everyone has their job to do and we all know where we need to be. I never touch the elaborate plasterwork ceilings, cleaning them is a specialist job. Every second year, we need to bring in scaffolding to clean the large mirrors in the State Rooms, that is a big job too.
In the afternoon, if we have guests checking into the Lauderdale Apartment, I will meet and greet them outside the castle and warmly welcome them to their home for the next week. We offer a free guided tour for guests staying in the Lauderdale Apartment and we open the castle up especially for this. One young couple wanted to know every detail and we wandered around the castle for over two hours, so I tailor the tour to suit what each set of guests are interested in. They learn about the Maitland family who have lived here since the 16th century, and how the castle was used as a hospital in the First World War and a school in the Second World War! I’ll explain what a significant role the castle has played in Scottish history and all about the Duke of Lauderdale in the mid to late 17th century.
Did you know that Bonnie Prince Charlie stayed after his victory at the battle of Prestonpan? My favourite areas of the castle are the nurseries and the State Dining Room. I ask the guests to stand at the door in the Dining Room in the pitch dark, then I switch on the lights. The lights come on and light up all of the huge collection of family portraits around the walls, a magical moment which wows guests!
At the end of the day, if it is the evening before a big event like a wedding, I will take one last walk around the State Rooms to check if everything is in order before closing the blinds for the night.
What I love the most about working at Thirlestane Castle is not only the people that work here is walking up the drive and seeing the castle every morning, you just know it is a special place. That is why I fell in love with it when I first came here.”