Many years ago, while touring Scotland with my wife, we happened upon a castle nestled in the rugged highlands north of Inverness. There, perched atop a cliff towering over the shores of the North Sea, was the majestic Dunrobin Castle, home to the clan Sutherland. This handsome estate, dating back to the 14th century, boasts conical turrets, a clock tower and a formal French garden complete with topiaries and giant rhubarb. Despite all the grandeur, what intrigued me most was a modest stone structure bordering the west end of the garden. Sitting alone, like a neglected child, this humble building appeared at odds with its surroundings. I was immediately attracted to it.
I ventured up its weathered steps and entered through a simple wooden door. Before me was a sight that I will never forget – staring me directly in the eyes was the head of a stuffed giraffe truncated at the bottom of its six foot neck. As if that wasn't enough of a shock, the wall behind the giraffe was chock-a-block with animal trophy heads – wildebeest, antelope, water buffalo and elephants. Tails, tusks and antlers of all shapes and sizes adorned the remaining walls. Guarding the corner, sitting on its hind legs, was an alligator with its menacing mouth wide open. On the floor was an eerie looking pair of elephant feet. It was overwhelming and I was transfixed. The adjoining room had three levels and was supported by a network of sturdy wooden beams. The afternoon sun, filling the room with a honey glow, illuminated dusty display cases of natural treasures. Cabinets of shells and fossils led to displays of songbirds and small mammals. Larger geological specimens and carved stones peppered the floor. Upstairs were seven expansive glass cases, one for each of the continents. Objets d’art, keepsakes and textiles crowded their shelves.