My first visit to Castle Menzies was in 2009. My siblings and I had heard all about the Castle from our Grandfather, who had immigrated to America in 1924, via Canada, from Aberdeen after the Great War. When we were little, we heard stories about the “family” castle, how it was in ruins and, as Grandpa used to scowl, “It should be pulled down!” He had returned in 1958 and in 1973 and neither visit changed his opinion.
What he would think of it now! When my brother and I first visited in 2009, we already knew where all the rooms were and we ran amok like kids in a candy shop. A dream come true; as a boy, I made a pact with myself to not only see the Castle someday, but to become part of its history, to help with its upkeep and restoration. And in 2009, I began to do just that by helping Robert Menzies, of Weed, CA, return the baronial chair, to the pink ballroom in the Castle. It was one of the many items sold at the 1913 auction when the family and property dispersed,
By my next visit, this time to the Menzies Clan Gathering in August 2016, I had become a Founder in the Friends of Castle Menzies program. I had already been a life member since the late 1980’s. The 2016 visit was profoundly moving for me, since my father had just died that January and had never been able to make the long journey to see the Castle his father had so talked about. I was helping the same Robert Menzies, a botanist, clear out overgrown forests of Buddleia and other bramble in the Walled Garden. We were the start of a plan to restore the Garden to something resembling its former glory in the 19th Century.
In 2018, I attended the Gathering again, this time shooting footage to make a documentary about the Castle’s remarkable journey towards restoration. I felt like an old resident by this third visit; there was no longer a thrill walking up to the place, but a deep resonant calm instead – a sense of ancestral permanence. I have always been welcomed with open hands and arms by the other members of the Society. I knew some of them from social media and emails; but to see them in person for the first time the night of the Formal Dinner, what warmth and love! We are all aware that we have something special in the ancestral place. We are the only Scottish clan that owns its Castle, the only clan who has restored their home. We are very fortunate, most other castles have been pulled down or have fallen into other hands.
The night of the formal dinner in 2018, I was struck by how familiar it all seemed. It was only my second Gathering, but I looked around at all the faces from Australia and Ireland and Canada and North America, New Zealand and even Germany and Denmark, and felt that this was not just a museum or an historical monument, but a Great Hall where, on a balmy emerald evening in August, our global family had gathered where our ancestors had once gathered, to eat and drink and talk and connect. It felt like Home.
I am so glad they didn’t pull down the Castle!