In Conversation With Alan Titchmarsh: The Castle of Mey
Last night (Monday 23rd August), our Head of Marketing, Zenouska Mowatt, held a discussion with revered writer, broadcaster, gardener, and Ambassador for the Prince's Trust, Alan Titchmarsh MBE DL on our Instagram page. From two enviously enchanting-looking gardens, the pair discussed conservation, craftsmanship, Scotland, and shortbread.
The conversation centred on Her Majesty The Queen Mother's former northern Scottish retreat the Castle of Mey and the spellbinding gardens there that she nurtured. Today, her floral legacy remains visible, largely thanks to the work of The Castle & Gardens of Mey Trust which is run by the Prince's Foundation. In close collaboration with that organisation, Halcyon Days created the Castle of Mey fine bone china collection which depicts the Queen Mother's known favourite flowers on handcrafted teaware. Find out more about the collection and the castle through the excerpt from Zenouska and Alan's chat below.
ZM: As one of the Honorary Patrons of the Castle of Mey, who are so important in its upkeep, tell me about the first time you went there.
AT: I first went to the Castle of Mey in the early 1980s and I fell in love with it. You can't go any further north on the Scottish mainland and you think, with the climate, 'nothing can grow up here'. Then there's this enormous walled garden, and they used to say that on particularly windy days you'd see cabbages flying over the 15 foot high wall.
It was glorious when Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother lived there. I vividly remember outside a little conservatory there was a white painted bench with nasturtiums growing all around it. I've never forgotten that image. Gardens with atmosphere are very special, and this garden has the atmosphere of the individual who made it.
The secret to the garden's flourishing is the wall which acts as a windbreak. It creates this wonderful sequestered area where there's a kitchen garden with fruit and vegetables as well as fantastic ornamental flowers. It feels like a secret garden as you go through the hole in the wall.
The Prince of Wales has put his own stamp on the place; gardens must evolve. You can decorate a room with furniture and you can just leave it. Gardens, however, must develop; trees grow and views change. You can keep the essence of them but if you try to keep them the same and don't allow that vigour and vitality, then they stagnate and disappear. The Prince of Wales has done wonderful work at the Castle of Mey.
ZM: When I visited, I loved exploring the grounds and picking berries from the moss too, it really does feel amazing in those exposed conditions that any plants can grow. The journey up there and the surrounding area offer up some stunning views too don't they?
AT: It's a part of the British Isles that people don't see enough. When you get to Mey it's been worth the journey. People can go and stay there now and rent the rooms. It's a great place to stop off when you reach the end of the country and over the sea you can look out to Orkney. Though it might be the journey of a lifetime, it needs to be done.
ZM: I agree, and you should stop off as many times as you can along the way. When you get there, the one thing you really want is a cosy cup of something.
AT: I have to say, I drink my tea out of one of your Halcyon Days mugs. People nowadays so appreciate not just beauty to look at; these pieces are gloriously shaped, but also tactility. You don't forget how good something feels in your hand. How well balanced it is. How delicate it is. As William Morris said "have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful and believe to be beautiful". These items of fine bone china are both beautiful and useful. Our grannies used to put things away and only use them for 'best' meaning they rarely came out. These, though, are to be used. Every day if you use china like this you feel special using it because you know where it's come from and you know what's gone into making it.
We couldn't have put it better ourselves. Watch the full conversation over on our Instagram page and explore our Castle of Mey collection here. A portion of the proceeds from the sales of the range go directly to The Castle & Gardens of Mey Trust and the work it does in preserving the site and its gardens.