Dunrobin Castle's lights

  will blaze once more


THAT period of adjustment for any school - the first term - is just about coming to a close for Scotland's newest educational venture at Dunrobin Castle, Sutherland. And as the current intake of 40 boys and five masters make plans for the Christmas holidays, I talked about the school to its chairman, the Countess  of Sutherland, whose family home Dunrobin is.

   Possibly no more magnificent setting for a school could be envisaged. The 110-roomed white stoned castle is surrounded by the wild grandeur of  Sutherland  scenery and stands facing South over the North Sea.

   The Keep has stood since 1401 while the main additions and alterations were carried out between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. The castle was again restored and modernised this century after part of it had been gutted by fire.


From Gordonstoun


   Used as a hospital during the two world wars, the castle could fulfil only a limited use to the present owners - and indeed the Countess has never lived there, her Scottish home being Uppat House, some two miles away.

   Even so, when the decision to advertise it was made the Countess had no definite intention of turning it into a school although her grandmother, Millicent, Duchess of Sutherland, had been instrumental in founding a school for boys at Golspie many years before.

   However, as the Countess explained, nearly all the replies they received were from schools or from people wishing to start one, and when one such application was received from two young masters at Gordonstoun wishing to start out on their own, the decision was half-way to being made.

   The establishment of a school on lines similar to Gordonstoun was certainly a viable project, for not only was the Countess assured of the help and support of Gordonstoun's founder, Dr Kurt Hahn, but the castle's natural backcloth of mountains and sea would provide facilities for every kind of outdoor activity.


More jobs


   However, Lady Sutherland had something more in mind than these obvious attributes when she finally gave permission for the conversion to take place. Aware of the need for anything which might bring more employment to the area in which Dunrobin is situated, she told me: "I like to think we are promoting an  industry which will have its focus and. growth in the community surrounding the school. Whenever possible we shall buy things locally and take part in local events."

   Already a start has been made to give the boys some integration with their school background.   One afternoon a week is set aside for them to do manual work on the estate in the belief that this will encourage them to take a personal interest and pride in their lovely surroundings.


Outdoor training


   Other activities such as sailing-the school has its own harbour-cross - country running, climbing and camping expeditions will constantly bring them into contact with the neighbouring countryside, and it is hoped at the same time develop qualities of resource and discipline.

So far as the general academic work of the school is concerned, the boys - who will be accepted from the age of 13 - will be prepared for the Scottish Board of the General Certificate of Education.' Later on, when a sixth form is established,  there will be opportunities for taking advanced level and the university entrance examinations.

   Already what-even in the nicest possible way-can .only be described as a " formidable " school   council has been established. Its members include Professor Esmond Wright of Glasgow University; Mr F. R. G. Chew, Gordonstoun's present headmaster; Mr R. H. Knight, headmaster of Ound'le  School; Sir  James Hutchison,  the   Master of Lauderdale; and Laurens Van Der Post, the explorer and travel writer.


African pupils


   The main task facing any new school is perhaps, deciding on just what sort of school  you want to have. Lady Sutherland would like to see Dunrobin specialising in languages and technical subjects as well as outdoor activities, and also to have a yearly intake of pupils from the Commonwealth countries, including Africa.

   The full complement of the school, Lady Sutherland tells me, will be 250 boys with an appropriate increase in the number of staff. At all times the classes will be kept small.

   Many of the classrooms have been converted from what were formerly bedrooms and other guest rooms at the castle, but Lady  Sutherland  says  the changeover was comparatively easy as the building bad already been modernised throughout.


Major changes


   The only necessary major changes have been in the dining hall, converted from the pantries and the billiards room, which improbably enough, has become the school chapel.

   One room, the drawing room, with its patterned ceiling bearing the Sutherland arms and its tapestried walls, has been kept in its original state and is used as the school parlour. The Sutherland family have also retained eight further rooms for their own private use.


Army surplus


   Lady Sutherland has also been playing a part in. helping to equip the school, ranging from the actual purchasing of the goods from Army surplus stores - "I found it rather fun being able to order 200 chairs - at 1s each - just like that" - to asking her friends and acquaintances for practical donations towards the furnishings. Sir George Nairn, for instance, was kind enough to supply them with linoleum for all the school corridors.

   However, she adds that the thing which gives her the most pleasure now that the school is actually established is "to see all the lights of the castle blazing once again." Something that could never have happened were it not for the planning and hard work that she and her husband have put into this enterprise.




An open-air class at Dunrobin.


The Countess of Sutherland with two of her four children, Alistair (18) and Annabel (13). Dunrobin is their family home.