Q: Mistress of all you survey. How far is that?
A: Well, thousands of miles. I would say as far as I can see but, of course, it's rugged. Tremendous mountains, hills. But it's at least 40 miles one end to the other. That perhaps conveys something of the size.
Q: How many castles are you chatelaine of?
A: I suppose you could say three because we own another castle on the Isle of Mull in the Inner Hebrides where we go very frequently.
Q: Your husband, as the chief of Clan Farquharson, has two castles here near Braemar?
A: Exactly. He has Invercauld and the other one is Old Mar but has for a very long time been called Braemar. I'm a little overcastled.
Q: They call you "herself" in the village. What does that mean?
A: I don't quite know but I think someone who is the wife of their chief and their laird probably might be termed that. Normally I'm called either "Madam," (as in) "Call Me Madam," or I might be called the Lady of Invercauld. (To be laird) means great responsibilities for the people, for the birds, the beasts. For everthing and everyone.
Q: You have a lot of tartan in your house. In this room we're sitting in the settees are decorated with tartan, the table, the screens. You obviously love tartan.
A: Well, it's called the Tartan Room.
Q: Some people are said to have lived checkered lives but yours is a tartan life in the full sense of that word. You've got your private bagpiper. Your friendship with the royal family. Could you have ever guessed as a girl in Seattle that you'd own an estate larger than 300,000 acres?
A: I don't feel I own it even now. I feel I belong to it. As I belong to the laird, my husband.
Q: On big estates like Invercauld, Scots landowners take in paying guests at certain times of the year. Why?
A: There are quite a number of reasons. One is tax. Our taxes here on the land are crippling and if you do a certain amount of open house, not really paying guests but opening your house to the public, you get certain concessions on maintenance. And, of course, maintenance in this part of the world is a very costly thing. Your rooms, your doon spoots, everthing to do with the maintenance of a big property.
Q: You said doon spoots. That's down spouts.
A: Yes, it is. And if they can get some concession on some of their tax it's a great boon for them. But Scots are notoriously very hospitable and in these days it's nearly impossible for them to open house as they used to without contribution. In our case I don't know whether we would ever come to it but for our sport. We started taking people for a week at a time, sometimes two weeks, for the shooting, and staying with us as a house party, as averse to simply coming to shoot from an hotel.
Q: Do you shoot?
A: No. I don't do any killing at all and I don't really like it. I always laugh, I must love my husband very much to be where a great deal of the economy is based on killing and I don't believe in killing a fly.
Q: Is the fishing as expensive as the shooting?
A: Not quite.
Q: You're on Royal Deeside. The River Dee is called Royal Deeside because the royal family lives down the road at Balmoral.
A: Yes. And it's a wonderful river, salmon mainly. An unusual river in that it's very, very clear. A great number of the big rivers you can't see the bottom, but with the Dee, except in a storm, you can see every pebble in the bottom. It's rather special.
Q: You live in a tiny back part of your castle when just the two of you are alone in the winter. Why is that?
A: It's a question of heating. We had no central heating when I first came here. We had the various big oil companies come and see what could be done about heating Invercauld. They stayed weeks and at the end they had to admit complete failure, both of them, because there are so many stairs up and down that windows really would leak air all the time. They simply said you could never guarantee any heat at all. What we save on the heating, we'll spend in going abroad in winter. We just have a smaller place and heat it with open fires and electric fires.
Q: You and your husband greet the royal family as they arrive in your husband's territory every year for their holidays at Balmoral. How did this tradition begin?
A: It used to be that they arrived in my husband's territory at Ballater, a little township on Invercauld, in their private train. We went to meet them because that was polite and correct. It's probably always been for centuries that the owners would be pleased that the queen or the king arrived and went to meet them along with the lord lieutenant and perhaps a physician and a few people who were important to them.
Now they come by car so we are on Balmoral when we meet them. As it's been traditional they would be quite upset if we were not there. In fact I know they would be because once I was ill -- only once in all this time -- and Lord Plunkett, who had been with them all his life, rang me up and said that the queen was very upset. Where was Frances?
Q: Do you ever entertain the royal family?
A: Yes, we do. Sometimes they come up shooting with us and we entertain them in a lodge up in the hills. For lunch.
Q: I believe Queen Elizabeth, the queen mother, once in fact stayed here for some time.
A: Yes she did. She was doing Birkhall (estate), changing and adding on a certain amount after the king died. They knew we were going to stay at Braemar Castle that year so she asked could she rent Invercauld and my husband said, "You cannot rent it, ma'am, but we'd love to lend it to you." She was very thrilled at this and came to me and said, "Now I want to give you a present. What will we give you?" I said, "Nothing at all." She offered all sorts of lovely things and finally I said, "I know what you can do, ma'am, you can give us a boiler for hot water because the one we've got we've inherited and it's in a very dicey state, I'm told by the gardener. At any moment it could completely collapse and it would be awkward for you if you had guests." She was very amazed by this but pleased to do i. Ever after that whenever (people) tell us what staggering hot water they have, I say, "Well, you must write a note to Queen Elizabeth. She is the one who provided it."
Q: How many staff do you have when the house is full?
A: Usually 12. Sometimes 14. It's very, very large, and you have an awful lot of steps.
Q: How do you cope with a big full house party?
A: It's really kind of a rhythm you get into. The main thing is to get your temporary staff, who can manage to get temperamental fairly easily. When I interview them, I explain that I expect them to work very hard and to remember that they are the host and hostesses as much as we are. They can make their stay happy and comfortable or they can make them uncomfortable.
Q: Can you describe how a house party of say fishermen or hunters actually shapes up, how it begins.
A: If it's the fishers they're very few because we only keep about three or four miles (of river), private water, out of the 20 that my husband has for private guests.
We only take two (fisherman) and sometimes the wives share the husband's rod. A very small party. One greets them when they come and I hope they feel that they're just coming home. Now in the grouse season, (my husband) greets them at the front door, enormous numbers, and there's boys with all their luggage, which is huge, because all the things to do with the shooting are very cumbersome. They come into the library and have some tea and we discuss everything and then the ladies very often come up and look at the rooms and sort out where they'd like to be. I don't put people anywhere because I feel that sometimes I might make a mistake not realizing various sorts of habits.
Q: You mean whether they sleep together or not?
A: Exactly. Once long ago a marvelous Scottish housekeeper lived here who was born at Braemar Castle, as her father and mother were caretakers there. I said, "Mrs. Pegg, I'm very worried that Americans are very partial to twin beds." This was quite a while ago. "What am I going to do? I cannot throw out all these fourposter and wonderful brass (beds)." "Let's do this," she said. "You get some twin mattresses and put it on the big bed amd make them into two."
I thought that was marvelous. We did that with one of the big fourposters. A charming couple we made great friends with arrived in a large Rolls with a chauffeur and were taken in. Mrs. Pegg bustles them up to the room that I'd prepared for them and she says the lady looked at the twin bed as if she'd never seen any such horror in her life. They were middle-aged, not very young. She said, Oh! So Mrs. Pegg quickly whisked the sheets down so they could see they were two beds. The woman said, "I couldn't sleep that close." Mrs. Pegg said to me later, "Now then what do you Americans marry for?"
We had another girl I couldn't understand. She was very young, feminine and a nice looking, attractive husband. I found that the husband had gone up to the top of the tower and was sleeping up there. I thought well, maybe they wanted twin beds. I said to the housekeeper, just try and find out what the reason for all this is because we can't move them. She couldn't find out. The woman wouldn't say much and the man seemed happy, so she said I think we'd better just leave it. However, the girl came down one day when I was alone and I said to her, "Good gracious, at your age don't tell me that you've already banished your husband to another room?" She stood up, put her hands on her hips and said, "Now, Mrs. Farquharson, if I can stand it, surely you can!"
Q: Wasn't there a story about some Swedish couples?
A: There were a very grand group. The women wore some of the very best clothes, the most wonderful jewels. The men, their suits had all been tailored on Savile Row. They were fine looking people. However their names were sometimes four and five words and each word was about what we could call three or four words, so I thought I can never get all this cleared up, nor can I ever realize who's married to who if I don't. So I'll put the ladies at the table and I'll ask the men to sit next to their wives. In that way, after maybe two meals or so, I'll at least see who's married to who.
However, when I'd sorted out who was married to who, I'm sitting in the upper hall and two people come up who are obviously retiring. I thought, heavens, I had no idea that those two were married. Now the whole thing is falling apart. I'd better speak to them. I stopped them to say good night, and said, "Will you help me? I really have been trying very hard to sort out your party and I thought that you were married to X." The man stood very rigid -- very often in Norway and Sweden they do -- bowed from the waist and said, "Madam, have no concern, we're all great friends."
Q: So they weren't married to each other.
A: They were all married but they all swapped about. I had a Swedish friend and she said to me, "Darling, you are so ingenue, it's incredible. I've told you for years what goes on in Sweden."
Q: Now. We've got the guests to tea and you've given them their rooms and then they'll be told what time dinner is.
A: At 8:30, we're supposed to go to dinner in the upper hall. Dinner is rather, when I say a formal affair, I mean it is well-served and everything looks very nice. I take a lot of trouble because I'm interested in food and presentation.
Q: And when does the piper appear?
A: The piper appears after their seats have been taken and the candles are lighted. It all looks very pretty and then in comes the piper looking magnificent because he's in full regalia and it's marvelous. He goes around the table, usually only twice because it's rather noisy, and then he goes out in the passage and plays up and down for about 10 minutes. Then he's called by the laird to come in and have a dram. They drink to each other with a Gaelic toast which means good health. Sometimes the guests will ask him questions. If they're musical or interested in bagpipes he'll come back after we've had coffee in the drawing room and play up and down this passage. He'll play the pipebrook, the classical pipe music which has never been written but handed down from father to son. This particular piper we have is a very special. He came here to be our plumber so he could study with the queen's piper who is a very fine piper. You see, you have to have a job and earn your living and then at night he has a good time. He pipes by day and he pipes by night!
Q: He must be the only piper/plumber in Scotland.
A: I would think so.