On a bit of an impulse, I visited Arran a couple of weeks ago. I wasn't quite sure how best to spend my few hours on the island, but as all the tourist websites seemed to agree that Brodick Castle is the leading attraction, I decided that was as good a place as any to start (in spite of the typically exorbitant National Trust for Scotland admission price). Little did I realise what I was letting myself in for. My first mistake was to attempt to walk to the castle, rather than simply hopping on the rather inviting-looking open-top bus that was waiting by the ferry terminal. Don't get me wrong, it was a very pleasant walk in the sunshine, but I was naturally quite hot and thirsty by the time I got there. Didn't seem a huge problem, as I was fully stocked up with bottled water - but if only someone had warned me that I was about to step inside a building more comprehensively policed than Buckingham Palace, I might have seen the wisdom of taking a good few sips before I actually went in. The horrific reality that there isn't a square inch of the castle where you're not liable to be glared at from a distance of five feet hit home rather quickly. It's the age-old dilemma, isn't it - is dehydration a greater enemy than the National Trust bouncers? I decided on balance it probably was, and so took a crafty few sips from my bottle while the nearest member of staff was engrossed in a conversation with another visitor.
Well, yes, you're probably way ahead of me here - that conversation came to an abrupt and ill-timed end.
To be fair, he handled the whole thing in an immaculately low-key and jovial way - after reminding me of the rules, he hushed his voice and said "don't worry, I didn't see a thing", and a few seconds later added "you got away with that one", which I presume was intended to drive home the sheer gravity of the offence I'd just got away with. I can of course understand the need for the rules, as there's always a danger of spillage - but, there again, where does it all end? Do they start checking people's shoes for mud? There's every chance there'll be some, given that there's a network of woodland and mountain paths nearby that the NTS openly encourage people to take in during their visit.
Needless to say, I was on my best behaviour afterwards, but I can't say I enjoyed myself much from that point on - and not just because of the pangs of thirst. Narrow corridors to navigate with precious items on either side wired to alarms, chairs that will apparently disintegrate if you so much as brush against them with your trousers (let alone sit on them), and - most of all - attendants who look ready to pounce if you move more than half an inch to your left or right at any given moment. In a nutshell, the visiting experience in these places is so oppressive that you begin to wonder if it's even worth the bother of opening them to the public in the first place. Looking at photos or videos of the interior would probably be a rather more relaxing experience, and one that would at least afford a meaningful opportunity to take it all in. I can't have been the only person trying my level best to admire a painting or a dolls house, whereas in fact the sole thought going through my head was "I am being looked at, I am being looked at, I am being looked at". Heaven only knows how they cope with children.
Still, chuck in a few dozen extra CCTV cameras to assist with the mammoth surveillance regime, and you've got a little Blairite paradise in the making there. For my own part, I think I might be sticking to ruined castles for a little while.