Concluding our Scottish Tourism series, Jennifer Cunningham visits

Chatelherault country park and learns how a ducal folly now provides

some 20th-century benefits

LOOMING out of the exhaust fumes of the A74, the signs for

Chatelherault country park suggest a haven. It fulfils that expectation,

but the story of this grandest of all dog kennels is also a touchstone

for late 20th century Scotland.

Most of the 500 acres came into public ownership in lieu of death

duties on the death of the 14th Duke of Hamilton. In 1985, the National

Heritage Memorial Fund grant-aided the purchase of the Deer Park -- a

further 138 acres. Today it is hired by companies seeking an impressive

backdrop to launch new products and favoured by the brides of Hamilton

for their wedding receptions.

It was the 5th Duke who continued and expanded the landscape work in

the estate surrounding Hamilton Palace begun by his grandmother, Anne

the 3rd Duchess. He employed William Adam who, between 1727 and the

Duke's death in 1743, made considerable changes including a canal and

other waterworks and a temple and several pavilions in the gardens long

before Motherwell and Hamilton interrupted the view.

The most significant improvement was the Chatelherault hunting lodge.

Although only two miles from Hamilton Palace, it grew from its original

purpose of a kennel for the hounds for the hunt to a lodge with its own

banqueting hall and bedroom where the Duke could spend the night, as

well as servants' quarters and kitchens.

It took 12 years to build from the beginning of the project in 1732 to

provide kennels for the hunting dogs, and offers a fascinating

cross-section of life from the arrangements for the dogs and the

servants' quarters to the ornate carving and plasterwork in the west

wing, given over to entertaining and the ducal apartments. The

restoration has taken almost as long: nine years.

Originally there would have been 30-40 foxhounds in the kennels. Now

the courtyard area has become an open-air classroom for talks and

demonstrations. Already 3000 children have visited in school parties not

only from Lanarkshire but from Ayrshire and Glasgow. According to the

chief ranger, Jonathan Warren, many of them bring mum and dad along at

the weekend to see what they have learned during the week.

''We are trying to move away from end-of-term trips to more visits to

carry out specific projects during the year, which includes everything

from bird spotting to the food chain,'' he said. His staff have made a

series of displays designed to appeal to children in simple terms

including a geological chart which uses homely terms such as layer cake

to illustrate geological strata.

There are two sites of special scientific interest within the grounds:

the ancient oaks and the Avon gorge, which boasts 700 species of fungi.

There are also sites of archaeological interest from the bronze age and

iron age to the medieval stronghold of Cadzow Castle.

In 1708, Duchess Anne began the work of landscaping the grounds of

Hamilton Palace and the three-and-a-half-mile avenue of trees she

planted between the palace and the hunting lodge is slowly being

replanted (where open space allows) with broadleaves. The park includes

two and a half miles of the Avon Gorge and 10 miles of footpath, much of

it through old woodland and skirting a plantation of ancient oaks, some

reputedly planted by David I.

The history of Chatelherault, is conveyed by a tableau of characters

involved in its building -- an ingenious idea which allows the story of

the restoration of the building to be displayed as a sub-text. So we

meet Robert Mein, the stone mason, who had a lengthy correspondence with

the Duke asking for money. It was his grandson who was eventually paid

for the building of Chatelherault. The original quarry was reopened for

the restoration and the display points to the differences two centuries

have made to the stone mason's craft.

THERE is a moral to this tale of aristocratic extravagance. The

discovery of coal beneath the Hamilton estate and the profits from

mining it which funded the building of Chatelherault led to serious

subsidence and the demolition of Hamilton Palace in the 1920s.

The deteriorating hunting lodge was abandoned until 1979. The

restoration was completed and the building opened in 1987 at a cost,

including the acquisition of the land, of #7.5m. The ERDF contributed

#1m, with the rest from the Scottish Office, the Nature Conservancy

Council and Hamilton District Council, which now owns and runs the park,

giving park manager, Jim Brockie, what he describes as ''the finest

council house in Scotland''.

The restoration has been as meticulous as humanly possible. Stone

masons from a local company carved 29 urns and 34 ball finials for the

decoration of the outside of the building (only two from the original

set being re-used) but other craftsmen came north after working on the

restoration of York Minster.

From the pile of rubble in the drawing room, archaeologists were able

to identify four separate scenes on hand-made Delft tiles which had

formed the fireplace and replicas were made in Holland. The banqueting

hall (the major room) had been destroyed by fire in 1945, but a magazine

photograph from 1919 had recorded the intricate plasterwork of the

ceiling. The scrollwork patterns were faithfully reproduced using modern

methods. The result is a suite of intricately and fascinatingly

embellished rooms which have the sense of unreality of a stage set.

In Victorian times, in full pursuit of romanticism, a folly was added

to the ruins of Cadzow Castle, a medieval fortress said to have

sheltered Mary Queen of Scots after her escape from Loch Leven. Perhaps

that fuels the temptation to look at this restoration of a ducal dog

kennel as a 20th century equivalent: a gorgeous folly.

It has become considerably more than a curiosity for the 106,000

population of Hamilton district and for some of the two-thirds of the

population of Scotland who live within a 30-mile radius and hire the

banqueting hall, duke's apartments, hunting room and auditorium for

functions -- but the glory of Chatelherault is that the 500 rolling

acres are open to the public, simply to enjoy.

* Entrance to the park at Ferniegair, Hamilton, and to the house is

free. The visitors' centre, including the audio-visual display, costs

#1.15, 60p for concessions and children or #2.80 for a family ticket.