Overlooking the village of Ayton just north of the Scottish Border near Eyemouth, stands an unmissable turreted fairytale castle. Ayton Castle’s main entrance on the village’s main street is an equally imposing gate lodge, with stone arch entrance, leading to a long driveway through the woodland grounds to the castle entrance. The baronial pile is still a private home, but once a year, it opens its doors to the public to host a wonderful two-day arts event. Art in the Castle is organised by The Tin Shed, an arts organisation staging pop-up art fairs and exhibitions, often in unlikely and beautiful venues and locations.
The recent Art in the Castle event was the second at Ayton and showcased the work of twenty artists from the North of England and the Scottish Borders. What makes this event even more special is that it is set amongst the Castle’s furniture, even using some of it for displays, and the owners’ very colourful private art collection, which includes pieces from Scottish artists John Bellany and Neil MacPherson.
Visitors to the free event are treated to four rooms filled with colourful, joyful artwork and get a chance to meet the artists who are showing their work. This year there was also a craft demonstration by Scottish Borders-based weaver Janis Embleton, who set up her loom and beautiful textiles in a stunning space off the main entrance hall.
The entrance to the Castle is imposing and dark with its original hand-painted 18th-Century plaster walls and two grand fireplaces, though brightened by a colourful mix of contemporary paintings containing florals and graffiti, alongside the primary colours of John Bellany. The Tin Shed carefully curated the work of its own artists to sit with it, with bright florals by artists Helen McKnockiter and Alision Gargett, along with colourful abstracts by Val Payton.
In the Keyboard Room work by illustrator Sara Rhys and artists Jill Shields and Deborah Fallas, popped up amongst its four pianos!
The circuit of delight continued into the Castle’s grand and light-filled dining room, with its incredible views and stunningly intricate plasterwork ceiling. Visitors are met with traditionally papered walls, entirely adorned with the colourful quirky work of Neil MacPherson.
Beneath this was an array of work ranging from wildlife, to land and seascapes, printmakers and pottery. Through a usually-hidden double door in the wall we are led to the beautiful ballroom, filled with work by a wide selection of artists, from watercolour portraits to vibrant acrylics, printmaking and sculpture. Artists in this room included award-winning printmaker Alison Diamond-Rogers, Borders-based artist Terry Howson and world-renowned scultor Peter Fagan, who is well known for his Colour Box Bears, though he was showing the more serious side of his work here.
Art in the Castle is a truly unique experience and the feedback from most visitors is about the fantastic atmosphere and great friendly vibe, as well as the incredible talent and variety of art on show.
The aim is to hold the two-day event at the same time each year, to coincide with the Castle’s longer Open Weekend, when the cafe is open, and a train gives rides through the grounds. Funds raised via the cafe, train and visitor donations help towards the restoration of the Castle’s grounds and walled gardens.
With thanks to Lesley McNish for this review.