Two countries united as castles are twinned

Duns Castle
Duns Castle

ALTHOUGH the twinning of towns and cities is not an unusual occurence, the ceremony of twinning two castles may well be unique.

Well following an exchange of flags a few weeks ago between respective owners Alick Hay and Count Juan t’Kint de Roodenbeke, Duns Castle and the Castle of Ooidonk near Ghent in Belgium are now paired.

Castle Ooidonk

Castle Ooidonk

Although very different buildings at first glance, the fascinating places have much in common. Both are buildings of great antiquity which have remained in the same families for many generations and each of them plays host to a festival held annually in August, Berwickshire County Show being held in the grounds of Duns Castle of course.

Its new twin, Castle Ooidonk was built in the 14th century in the Wasserschloss style; the extention of a farmstead that was already 200 years old at that date.

Frequently in the thick of the various continental wars in the centuries that followed, it was destroyed in 1491 and its successor suffered the same fate in 1579, to be rebuilt in the renaissance style. In 1864 it was acquired by Count Henri t’Kint de Roodenbeke in whose family it remains.

Closer to home, Duns Castle also has an interesting history.

One of its first owners was Thomas Randolph, Earl of Moray, who was granted the castle by his uncle King Robert the Bruce.

It went on to play an important role as General Leslie’s headquarters during the Covananting wars of the 17th century before being acquired by The Earl of Tweeddale in 1696.

He took on the castle as as a home for his younger son, William Hay of Drumelzier and it is William’s direct descendant, Alick, who lives in the castle today and went over to Ghent last month to seal the twinning deal.

And speaking to ‘The Berwickshire News’, he said the partnership between his family home and Castle Ooidonk came as a something of a shock.

He explained: “Clan Hay have a very strong contingent in Belgium and it was the members over there who first came up with the idea of twinning the castles to coincide with a Scottish festival at Ooidink.

“The head of Clan Hay in Belgium is Tom Hye, he spells his name that way as the Belgians dropped the ‘a’ whereas when the family came over to Scotland they dropped the ‘e’.

“The Belgian Clan Hay members wanted to pair Oidonk with a Hay-owned castle in Scotland and as we are the only remaining one it was me who got the phone call. I only found out about it three weeks prior to the event and it took me by surprise.

“We’ve all heard of towns being twinned but I’m not aware of any castles being twinned before.”

Alick admitted that he didn’t know anything about Ooidink before the idea of the pairing was mooted but after visiting the castle and speaking to the Count, he was mightily impressed.

“Castle Ooidonk is what they refer to on the continent as ‘a water castle’ because it is moated. Its architecture is completely different to that of Duns Castle. It’s very contintental in outlook with its magnificent turrets and I was very impressed.

“Count Juan t’Kint Roodenbeke is a charming gentleman as well. I think, like me, the twinning came as a shock to him, so going ahead with the arrangement was a leap of faith on his part too.”

Journeying over to Belgium to take part in the Scottish-themed celebrations, Alick didn’t know what to expect but said the Belgians certainly did the Scots proud. He continued: “We stayed in Ghent for all of the festival weekend so we got to experience the whole thing.

“There were a few pipe bands, including Clan Hay, and one run by an Irishman living in Belgium, and some Highland dancers.

“The people of Ghent obviously have a great affinity for Scotland as they went all out and the event was very well attended; they even had haggis on the Friday night although there weren’t too many takers, I think everyone was a bit suspicious of it!

“One of my personal highlights of the weekend was when we visited Ypres and marched up to Menin Gate to pay homage to the fallen of the First World War. My father fought at Ypres so it was quite an emotional moment for me.”

Duns Castle and Castle Ooidonk agreed to twin with a view to promoting each other and their respective regions, and to launch new initiatives in common.

One of the ways Alick and his family will honour their castle’s side of the agreement is with a link on their website to Ooidonk’s and they are also planning on returning the favour for their invite to Belgium by having visitors from Ghent, including Count Roodenbeke, as guests at Duns Show in 2012.

Alick added: “I think the twinning will prove to be an interesting exercise. We are hoping to have a tent at the Show next year- I’m just hoping there’s no repeat of the weather we had for this year’s event!”