Think it’s easy to own your own castle? Here’s your reality check.

Great Estates of Scotland is a four-part PBS documentary series showcasing four of Scotland’s notable estates. Filmed entirely in Scotland the series focuses on the practical side of running an estate, and as such we get the POV of the owners, champions, workers, and the all-important paying guests whose visits help keep each estate running for future visitors. The four episodes are detailed below:

“Inveraray castle” — Made famous in part when it was chosen to serve as a shooting location for the immensely popular Downton Abbey (it serves as Duneagle) the castle is home to the current Duke of Argyll, His Grace Torquhil Ian Campbell, whose wife is heir to the Cadbury chocolate family, and their family. As we see over the course of the documentary the running of the castle is a full-time job with everyone wearing different hats to make sure visitors are delighted by their experiences. Duke Torquhil is also head of the Campbell clan, one of the most famous Scottish clans and as such people who are trying to trace their fellow Campbell lineages descend upon Inveraray for historical purposes as well.

“Dumfries House” –- His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales (Prince Charles to most) plays a large role in this documentary as he spear-heads the restoration of Dumfries House. Through his passion the house has become not only a point of interest but a local revenue stream and a teaching school for young chefs.

“Kincardine Castle” — The youngest of the estates at just over a century, it’s one of the most sought-after fly-fishing locations in the world. This helps current owners Andrew and Nicky Bradford, descendants of the estates’ builders who inherited the estate along with the headache of struggling to keep the estate generating much-needed income. Aside from fly-fishing the husband and wife team sell homemade wares specializing in produce at farmers’ markets and shops, and host dinner parties, weddings, conferences and the like.

“The Rosslyn Chapel” — Another estate made famous by virtue of serving as a location for the shooting of a popular media work Rosslyn Chapel served as one of the sights featured in the world-wide phenomenon The DaVinci Code. Though The DaVinci Code film and book undoubtedly draw people to the estate there are those who come looking for the Holy Grail, the skull of John the Baptist or lay-lines. The documentary is spear-headed by Lady Helen Rosslyn, who married into the family who built and have owned the chapel for 600 years. She is an art historian who unveils the massive 16-year renovation, conservation and expansion project to the 15th century building. Some of the sights have had their details obscured for over a hundred years, thus this documentary is of historical importance as well.

There is a unifying factor to Great Estates of Scotland besides geography. Everyone involved has the utmost passion for their land, heritage, and community. There’s no way to succeed if they didn’t for that passion fuels everything they do and it shows. It’s a compilation unlike any I’ve seen and the take away is definitely an understanding and appreciation for just how much time, effort, and dedication is necessary in order to keep these estates running. That being said there is so much love for these estates within each episode you can’t help but admire how each of these places becomes a life’s work, whether intentionally or not.

In terms of technical specs it’s clear little retouching was done to the video stream, a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, but it’s hardly an issue as these locations are each quite lovely and their natural beauty is allowed to shine. I appreciate the lack of gloss or slickness which would have been applied if this was some sort of tourism video. Instead viewers get more of an authentic feel for the Scottish countryside. The audio is a simple Dolby Digital 2.0 track but it’s well-balanced and free from any issues. It’s more than serviceable as quite a few scenes take place outdoors and there is no lingering wind resistance or muffling plaguing the track.

There are no special features.

 

THE VERDICT

If you’re planning a trip to Scotland, loved The DaVinci Code or adore Downton Abbey then Great Estates of Scotland will be right up your alley. History buffs, castle enthusiasts and general documentary fans may also find this series worth their time. Not guilty.

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